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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Karen Armstrong Explains It All To You

You all may remember from previous posts (or maybe this came up in a discussion) that I am a huge fan of Karen Armstrong and find her ideas about religion to be refreshing, inspiring, and closer to truth than anything else I've encountered so far. I actually think that she and Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith, a highly inflammatory book about Why (Organized) Religion Is Bad, are coming from exactly the same place, notwithstanding that she denounces some of his ideas in this interview, which is a MUST READ. Where Armstrong and Harris differ is that he says we have to scrap these old books, and she says we have to become educated enough to read and use them wisely. He's cynical about the capability of humans to do that, while she's hopeful. But their understandings about values and the need for the spiritual are precisely the same (as each other, and as mine). Hers is obviously the more publicly palatable position, but I read them as much more similar than do the critics. In any case, just a little light reading for your Tuesday morning. :)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Abortion, Continued...

[Note: Since I think Joe is busy flying back to the mainland, I'll post the first set of remarks from Hauerwas following the sermon posted below for the possibility of continued discussion...]


I wanted to read that sermon because I suspect that most of you ministers have not preached about abortion. You have not preached about abortion because you have not had the slightest idea about how to do it in a way that would not make everyone in your congregation mad. And the reason that you have not known how to preach a sermon on abortion is that you thought that you would have to sake up the terms that are given by the wider society.

Here you see a young minister who knew how to cut through the kind of pro-choice and pro-life rhetoric that is given in the wider society. She preached a sermon on abortion that derives directly from the Gospel. Her sermon is a reminder about what the church is to be about when addressing this issue in a Christian way. That is the primary thing that I want to underline this evening: the church's refusal to use society's terms for the abortion debate, and the church's willingness to take on the abortion problem as church. This sermon suggests that abortion is not a question about the law, but about what kind of people we are to be as the church and as Christians.

Abortion forces the church to recognize the fallacy of a key presumption of many Christians in this society--namely, that what Christians believe about the moral life is what any right-thinking person, whether he or she is Christian or not, also believes. Again, that presumption is false. I want to underwrite what I call the Tonto Principle of Christian Ethics. The Tonto Principle is based on the Lone Ranger and Tonto finding themselves surrounded by 20,000 Sioux. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "What do you think we ought to do, Tonto. Tonto replies, "What do you mean we, white man?" We Christians have thought that when we address the issue of abortion and when we say "we," we are talking about anybody who is a good, decent American. But that is not who "we" Christians are. If any issue is going to help us discover that, it is going to be the issue of abortion.

Beyond Rights

Christians in America are tempted to think of issues like abortion primarily in legal terms such as "rights." This is because the legal mode, as de Tocqueville pointed out long ago, provides the constituting morality in liberal societies. In other words, when you live in a liberal society like ours, the fundamental problem is how you can achieve cooperative agreements between individuals who share nothing in common other than their fear of death. In liberal society the law has the function of securing such agreements. That is the reason why lawyers are to America what priests were to the medieval world. The law is our way of negotiating safe agreements between autonomous individuals who have nothing else in common other than their fear of death and their mutual desire for protection.

Therefore, rights language is fundamental in our political and moral context. In America, we oftentimes pride ourselves, as Americans, on being a pragmatic people that is not ideological. But that is absolutely false. No country has ever been more theory dependent on a public philosophy than America.

Indeed I want to argue that America is the only country that has the misfortune of being founded on a philosophical mistake--namely, the notion of inalienable rights. We Christians do not believe that we have inalienable rights. That is the false presumption of Enlightenment individualism, and it opposes everything that Christians believe about what it means to be a creature. Notice that the issue is inalienable rights. Rights make a certain sense as correlative to duties and goods, but they are not inalienable. For example, when the lords protested against the king in the Magna Charta, they did so in the name of their duties to their underlings. Duties, not rights, were primary. The rights were simply ways of remembering what the duties were.

Christians, to be more specific, do not believe that we have a right to do with our bodies whatever we want. We do not believe that we have a right to our bodies because when we are baptized we become members of one another; then we can tell one another what it is that we should, and should not, do with our bodies. I had a colleague at the University of Notre Dame who taught Judaica. He was Jewish and always said that any religion that does not tell you what to do with your genitals and pots and pans cannot be interesting. That is exactly true. In the church we tell you what you can and cannot do with your genitals. They are not your own. They are not private. That means that you cannot commit adultery. If you do, you are no longer a member of "us." Of course pots and pans are equally important.

I was recently giving a talk at a very conservative university, Houston Baptist University. Since its business school has an ethics program, I called my talk, "Why Business Ethics Is a Bad Idea." When I had finished, one of the business-school people asked, "Well goodness, what then can we Christians do about business ethics?" I said, "A place to start would be the local church. It might be established that before anyone joins a Baptist church in Houston, he or she would have to declare in public his or her annual income." The only people whose incomes are known in The United Methodist Church today are ordained ministers. Why should we make the ministers' salaries public and not the laity's? Most people would rather tell you what they do in the bedroom than how much they make. With these things in mind, you can see how the church is being destroyed by the privatization of individual lives, by the American ethos. If you want to know who is destroying the babies of this country through abortion, look at privatization, which is learned in the economic arena.

Under the veil of American privatization, we are encouraging people to believe in the same way that Andrew Carnegie believed. He thought that he had a right to his steel mills. In the same sense, people think that they have a right to their bodies The body is then a piece of property in a capitalist sense. Unfortunately, that is antithetical to the way we Christians think that we have to share as members of the same body of Christ.

So, you cannot separate these issues. If you think that you can be very concerned about abortion and not concerned about the privatization of American life generally, you are making a mistake. So the problem is: how, as Christians, should we think about abortion without the rights rhetoric that we have been given--right to my body, right to life, pro-choice, pro-life, and so on? In this respect, we Christians must try to make the abortion issue our issue.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

A Sermon on Abortion

Note: Since I'm on a Hauerwas kick, I thought I'd reopen the abortion topic with this sermon delivered by one of his former students. Hauerwas used this to open a lecture at a conference and followed it with some very interesting remarks, some of which I may post in subsequent Sundays (depending on how this goes). With our eclectic group here, I thought reaction to this sermon might prove interesting all by itself.


The text for the sermon is Matthew 25:31-46. I will be reading from the Revised Standard Version. "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or n stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.' And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'"

"As a Christian and a woman, I find abortion a most difficult subject to address. Even so, I believe that it is essential that the church face the issue of abortion in a distinctly Christian manner. Because of that, I am hereby addressing not society in general, but those of us who call ourselves Christians. I also want to be clear that I am not addressing abortion as a legal issue. I believe the issue, for the church, must be framed not around the banners of 'pro-choice' or 'pro-life,' but around God's call to care for the least among us whom Jesus calls his sisters and brothers.

"So, in this sermon, I will make three points. The first point is that the Gospel favors women and children. The second point is that the customary framing of the abortion issue by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible for both herself and for any child she might carry. The third point is that a Christian response must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights."

Gospel, Women, and Children

"Point number one: the Gospel favors women and children. The Gospel is feminist. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus treats women as thinking people who are worthy of respect. This was not, of course, the usual attitude of that time. In addition, it is to the women among Jesus' followers, not to the men, that he entrusts the initial proclamation of his resurrection. It isn't only Jesus himself who sees the Gospel making all people equal, for Saint Paul wrote, 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus' (Galatians 3:28)."

"And yet, women have been oppressed through recorded history and continue to be oppressed today. So when Jesus says, 'as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me' (Matthew 25:40), I have to believe that Jesus includes women among 'the least of these.' Anything that helps women, therefore, helps Jesus. When Jesus says, 'as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,' he is also talking about children, because children are literally 'the least of these.' Children lack the three things the world values most-- power, wealth, and influence. If we concern ourselves with people who are powerless, then children should obviously be at the top of our list. The irony of the abortion debate, as it now stands in our church and society, is that it frames these two groups, women and children, as enemies of one another."

The Woman Alone

"This brings me to my second point: the issue as it is generally framed by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible both for herself and for any child she might carry. Why is it that women have abortions? Women I know, and those I know about, have had abortions for two basic reasons: the fear that they cannot handle the financial and physical demands of the child, and the fear that having the child will destroy relationships that are important to them."

"An example of the first fear, the inability to handle the child financially or physically, is the divorced mother of two children, the younger of whom has Down's syndrome. This woman recently discovered that she was pregnant. She believed abortion was wrong. However, the father of the child would not commit himself to help raise this child, and she was afraid she could not handle raising another child on her own."

"An example of the second fear, the fear of destroying relationships, is the woman who became pregnant and was told by her husband that he would leave her if she did not have an abortion. She did not want to lose her husband, so she had the abortion. Later, her husband left her anyway."

"In both of these cases, and in others I have known, the woman has had an abortion not because she was exercising her free choice but because she felt she had no choice. In each case the responsibility for caring for the child, had she had the child, would have rested squarely and solely on the woman."

Reframing With Responsibility

"Which brings me to my third point the Christian response to abortion must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights. The pro-choice/pro-life debate presently pits the right of the mother to choose against the right of the fetus to live. The Christian response, on the other hand, centers on the responsibility of the whole Christian community to care for 'the least of these.'"

"According to the Presbyterian Church's Book of Order, when a person is baptized, the congregation answers this question: 'Do you, the members of this congregation, in the name of the whole Church of Christ, undertake the responsibility for the continued Christian nurture of this person, promising to be an example of the new life in Christ and to pray for him or her in this new life?' We make this promise because we know that no adult belongs to himself or herself, and that no child belongs to his or her parents, but that every person is a child of God. Because of that, every young one is our child, the church's child to care for. This is not an option. It is a responsibility."

"Let me tell you two stories about what it is like when the church takes this responsibility seriously. The first is a story that Will Willimon, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, tells about a black church. In this church, when a teen-ager has a baby that she cannot care for, the church baptizes the baby and gives him/her to an older couple in the church that has the time and wisdom to raise the child. That way, says the pastor, the couple can raise the teen-age mother along with the baby. 'That,' the pastor says, 'is how we do it.'"

"The second story involves something that happened to Deborah Campbell. A member of her church, a divorced woman, became pregnant, and the father dropped out of the picture. The woman decided to keep the child. But as the pregnancy progressed and began to show, she became upset because she felt she could not go to church anymore. After all, here she was, a Sunday School teacher, unmarried and pregnant. So she called Deborah. Deborah told her to come to church and sit in the pew with the Campbell family, and, no matter how the church reacted, the family would support her. Well, the church rallied around when the woman's doctor told her at her six-month checkup that she owed him the remaining balance of fifteen hundred dollars by the next month; otherwise, he would not deliver the baby. The church held a baby shower and raised the money. When the time came for her to deliver, Deborah was her labor coach. When the woman's mother refused to come and help after the baby was born, the church brought food and helped clean her house while she recovered from the birth. Now the woman's little girl is the child of the parish."

"This is what the church looks like when it takes seriously its call to care for 'the least of these.' These two churches differ in certain ways: one is Methodist, the other Roman Catholic; one has a carefully planned strategy for supporting women and babies, the other simply reacted spontaneously to a particular woman and her baby. But in each case the church acted with creativity and compassion to live out the Gospel."

"In our scripture lesson today, Jesus gives a preview of the Last Judgment. 'Then the King will say to those at his right hand, "Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?" And the King will answer them, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to men (Matthew 25:34-40)."

"We cannot simply throw the issue of abortion in the faces of women and say, 'You decide and you bear the consequences of your decision.' As the church, our response to the abortion issue must be to shoulder the responsibility to care for women and children. We cannot do otherwise and still be the church. If we close our doors in the faces of women and children, then we close our doors in the face of Christ."

From Aunt Jenny's Restaurant

My daughter, Hillary, took this picture last evening!

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Friday, May 26, 2006

Sports Debate

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, is running a series on the greatest playoff moments in history. They have a top 10, complete with video, and they are encouraging us to cast our vote.

I looked through the top 10, took out the "oldies" including "Havlicek stole the ball!" and Willis Reed's dramatic entrance in Madison Square Garden, and I ended up with five I remember myself. These five featured three players: Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

I wanted to ask our readers a couple of questions:
#1: Of these three players, who is the best "money" player of all-time?
#2: Of the following "top three" games (my opinion), which was the greatest game performance?

Here they are:


Magic Johnson began his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers by leaping into the arms of team captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following a last-second victory over the Clippers on opening night. The Lakers' center had to tell the exuberant rookie to calm down, there were still 81 games to go--and that was only the regular season. By the time the playoffs came, Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers had caught Johnson's enthusiasm, and they rode it to a Finals date against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers somehow managed to win anyway 108-103. Abdul-Jabbar limped his way to 14 points down the stretch. Game 6 looked like it would be a different story. When the team gathered at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar stayed home. Not to worry, said Johnson, who boarded the plane and planted himself into Abdul-Jabbar's customary front-row seat. He winked to coach Paul Westhead and then playfully announced to his teammates: "Never fear, E.J. is here!" Johnson's confidence lifted his team's spirits, and then he backed it up with one of the most remarkable games in NBA Playoff history. He began by jumping the opening tap in Abdul-Jabbar's place, then went on to play every position on the floor at one time or another, from his customary point guard role to Abdul-Jabbar's pivot spot. Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 7 assists as the Lakers stunned the 76ers 123-107 to clinch the first of his five NBA championships. After the game, he looked into the TV cameras and sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar back in his Bel-Air home: "This one's for you, Big Fella!"


With Game 6 of the NBA Finals on the line, everyone in the Delta Center -- Utah Jazz coaches and players included -- knew the ball would end up in his hands. For the Chicago Bulls, too, it was another no-brainer. There was no play to call, no screens to set. It was simple: Get it to '23'. That Michael Jordan is the go-to guy in the last seconds of any close Bulls game is the worst secret in basketball -- and still it makes no difference. Further, the Jazz learned in heartbreaking fashion that the more there is at stake, the more pressure-packed the moment, the more unstoppable Jordan becomes. With Chicago trailing by three points in the final minute, Jordan first scored on a drive. Then he stripped the ball from Karl Malone at the defensive end. Finally, he buried the game-winning shot, a 20-footer with 5.2 seconds left, that gave the Bulls an 87-86 victory and their sixth championship in eight years. Jordan had overcome fatigue and finished with 45 points as he won his sixth Finals Most Valuable Player award, while reaffirming his status as the NBA's best player. "Let's face it," said Bulls guard Steve Kerr. "We all hopped on Michael's back. He just carried us. It was his game tonight. That guy was ridiculous. He is so good it's scary." Jordan shot 15-of-35 from the field and 12-of-15 from the line. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, including Chicago's final eight over the last 2:06, carrying the offense as Scottie Pippen -- hampered by a back injury -- struggled. Jordan's critical steal from Malone set in motion the Bulls' climactic rally. "We've been trying to double-team (Malone)," Jordan said. "And (Utah's Jeff) Hornacek was trying to, I guess, pick Karl Malone, and he never really cleared, which gave me an opportunity to go back. Karl never saw me coming, and I was able to knock the ball away." Moments later, Jordan finished off the Jazz with a simple swish. With the clock ticking below 10 seconds, Jazz swingman Bryon Russell occupied Jordan's path to the basket with tight one-on-one defense. But in an instant, Russell fell for a fake, slipped to the floor, and allowed an essentially wide-open Jordan to bury the shot and play the role of hero once again. "As soon as Russell reached, he gave me a clear lane. I made my initial drive, and he bit on it, and I stopped, pulled up and I had an easy jump shot," Jordan said. "I had a great look, and it went in. Once it went in I knew from that point on, we've been hanging around long enough, it was the game-winning basket, and it was a matter of playing solid defense. Our defense has held us strong all series, we wouldn't be in this scenario without the defense. All we had to do was play defense for 5.8 seconds, and I knew we could do that." Said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan: "You can't afford to give them second chances, with Michael Jordan out there, he was going to make the plays, he was able to do that and you live with that."


The defending champion Boston Celtics were down and almost out. Playing the young, tough-as-nails Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, the aging Celtics were in danger of losing Game 5, which would have given the Pistons a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 6. With Boston down by a point and Detroit in possession of the ball in the closing seconds of the game, those famed Celtic leprechauns decided to make an appearance. As Detroit's Isiah Thomas prepared to toss the ball inbounds from the sideline, Boston's Larry Bird looked away from his man and stole a glance at Thomas. He saw the Pistons' captain look toward center Bill Laimbeer in the low post an instant before releasing the ball. So Bird cut into the passing lane and stole the ball before it could reach Laimbeer's hands. His momentum looked like it would carry him out of bounds, but Bird somehow managed to gather his balance at the baseline and turn toward the court, where he spotted teammate Dennis Johnson beginning his cut from the foul line toward the basket. Bird whipped a crisp pass to DJ who laid it in with one second remaining for a 108-107 victory. The steal was remarkable. Bird's instinct and ability to turn it into the winning basket only compounded the greatness of the play. "Larry's mind takes an instant picture of the whole court," noted Bill Fitch, Bird's first coach with the Celtics. "He sees creative possibilities." The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row, where they would surrender their title to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Breaking Down a Seminar

It would be quite an understatement to say the seminar in Rochester was an interesting experience. Around 190 people from 30 states & provinces and 20 or so Christian fellowships gathered together to consider the question, “Dare we live in the world imagined in the Sermon on the Mount?” The featured speaker was Stanley Hauerwas from Duke’s School of Divinity, but we were also treated to the vast intellects of Chuck Campell, professor of homiletics at Columbia Theological Seminary, and Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City. There were others, but these formed the intellectual center of the attempt to address the question.

Hauerwas was, without a doubt, his anticipated cantankerous self. He only delivered one lecture (which was hard for most of us to follow and seemed a bit scattered), but he was in top form seated on a panel discussion the first evening. At one point he laid it on Churches of Christ, though his rapid-fire academic attack was so far over everyone’s head that no one could really understand what he said (the only word I understood was Constantinian), but without a doubt, we all knew we had been given what for. After the laughter, he countered with, “Hey, I’m from Texas. I’ve seen you at your worst!”

During his solitary lecture, he shot harder. Hauerwas was raised a Methodist, and he offered that Methodists today seem to have as their maxim, “God is nice,” to which they offer a necessary corollary, “We ought to be nice, too.” Hauerwas countered that following Jesus will produce enemies, to which he added, “You Church of Christ folks have an advantage since most of you aren’t very nice people. Mean, mean, mean, mean, mean…”

It was interesting to watch many of the seminar participants squirm in their seats. It was my opinion that most of the conference participants were of the Church of Christ persuasion that like to view themselves as “progressives,” meaning primarily, “We like all those denominational people, and we have a praise team, and we want to be mega-churched evangelicals.” Still, many seemed a bit uncomfortable with the women at the microphone directing the liturgy and offering prayers. But much greater than that, I found cruel pleasure in watching the squirms while lecture after lecture railed against war & violence and American imperialism and promoted Christian pacifism time after time after time.

No, that last statement is inaccurate. It would be better to say that each lecture “assumed” (not promoted) Christian pacifism, much to the chagrin of much of the audience I’m sure.

I should start with Chuck Campbell and his lecture on the “principalities and powers” mentioned in the New Testament. He opened with a selection from chapter five of The Grapes of Wrath which refers to the “bank” as “the monster,” and from there he developed the idea that the forces that rule this world (e.g. government/politics, economies, “busy-ness” life, religious institutions), the things that are larger than people (to recall the Civil Rights Era phrase, “the man”), are powers that were created good, but have fallen and become aggressive and relentless in their selfish pursuits. Humanity is simply a pawn for these world powers, ending up helpless before the violence prompted by the powers’ thirst. His conclusion, however, was that Jesus engaged, exposed, and overcame these “powers” through his life, and that he rejected their tactic of violence for a new, creative way. He argued that the Sermon on the Mount was in essence Jesus’ way of offering an imagining of a world free from the control of the “powers” of this world, both in the present and the future. Campbell later explained his conclusion that Jesus in fact lampooned world powers in the sermon, serving as almost a court jester who saw the world from a completely different vantage point.

Warren Carter extended the argument. He effectively explained his conclusion that the Sermon on the Mount should be placed contextually into Matthew’s overall story, offering that it is a work of imagination that allows disciples to imagine life created by God’s saving presence (i.e. Jesus) and act accordingly. He described the Roman world at the time of Jesus, emphasizing the huge disparity between the powerful & wealthy 3% upper class and the poor 97% of the lower class, with nothing in between, and uses this setting to explain that Jesus offered followers an alternative vision of life, ruled not by the empire of Rome, but by God’s empire.

Tied together, all the lectures combined to offer the point that violence is the way of the “powers of this world” to get their way, whether by physical force or by coercion/manipulation, but that Jesus offers a creative path to freedom that resists the way of the world: a way that doesn’t stoop to its level. Then, as Chuck Campbell said it, “maybe even the oppressor might be redeemed – if we don’t kill him.”

This ought to be plenty to think about for now (I’ve been reading lots of Hauerwas, so I’ll throw out some fodder from him soon: let’s just say that both Campbell & Carter drink from the same fountain as he…). The “stuff” just described should lend itself to plenty for us to discuss. It, in fact, attempts to describe pacifism as something different than popularly conceived and offers a theological basis for subscribing to the idea. It offers reasons to discuss hot-button issues such as war and capital punishment and economic oppression, so I’ll just step to the side and see if anyone draws a card and opens play.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Random Question

I just remembered something that I had always wanted to ask you guys, and it's looking more and more like it will become relevant in the near future. So here it is: Why do people hate Hillary Clinton with such a passion? I was honestly always just confused by it. Well, actually, that also begs the question of why people hated Bill so much. And I mean even before the whole Monica thing. I mean like in 1992 people already hated him. Rush Limbaugh foamed at the mouth about him every single day for eight years (and probably beyond) and I just don't get it. I have to understand why people hated them so much during his presidency to understand how those views have evolved to whatever they are now. Can anyone enlighten me on this point? Anyone, anyone ...

Christianity v. Christianists?

I don't have too much to say this week (except that boy was I right that the feud ain't over, now we've even dragged the View into it -- see the New York Times and Time Magazine articles on my girls for more delightfully (or horrifically, take your pick) incendiary comments) ...

But I did rather belatedly see this article by Andrew Sullivan on the Time Magazine website, and thought I would post it since the readers of this blog might find it interesting. Do any of you feel excluded by the Religious Right from a PR standpoint or otherwise? What is the solution to the problem described in the essay from a political standpoint? From a religious standpoint? Is it even really a problem? It seems to me that the various types Sullivan describes exist just as often within churches as between them. Has this led to any rifts or splits within congregations in your experience?

I promise a more substantive post soon; in the meantime, help me out here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Gospel According to Jimmy Buffett

Of all the places to find inspiration for a religious article, listening to Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville wouldn’t make the short list. But this just goes to prove you never know. I was listening to a concert recording recently, and when he sang, But there’s booze in the blender / And soon it will render / That frozen concoction that helps me hang on, tens of thousands of parrotheads sang along with lusty conviction that sounded as if these lines connected them to the singer on a spiritual level. Which got me to thinking.

Fans of Jimmy Buffett have the reputation of being beach bums / alcoholics, and what dawned on me was that for untold numbers of people, an alcoholic beverage really is what helps them hang on. And although it may have been obvious to everyone but me, to those who share this life approach a gathering of a hundred-thousand people or so in a fun concert is a form of a worship service. I could hear it in the live concert.

At this point, most preachers would say how sad it is those poor people in the world are like that, but as you probably know by now, I’m not a typical preacher. Instead, I wonder aloud what modern-day “church” offers as an alternative. My fear is that it often offers a place of pretense where one tries to dress up and shape up and feel better than other people in the “world.” If so, compared to that, I can see how a sing-along with Jimmy Buffett with no pretense where you can just admit your failings could be more desirable.

But if this is the perception of “church,” it is not related to Jesus. Oddly enough, I can see those very same concert-goers forming the crowd that followed Jesus, and finding, instead of either alcoholism or self-righteous pretense, a love that could help them hang on in life. Wouldn’t it be something to be a part of a church like that?

It is just so sad that people rarely see Jesus when they look at church.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans (December 2005)

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

From Larry James Blog

Larry James is President and CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, a human and community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas, Texas.

This is from his blog two days ago titled, “Creating Poverty.” I thought it might provoke an interesting discussion. (Thanks to either DeJon or Terry – or maybe both – for leading me toward Larry’s blog.)

What we have at work in America today amounts to a production model for manufacturing poverty.

Think about it.

Wages today, calculated in real dollar terms, have slid lower than five years ago.

Good paying jobs are outsourced overseas. The new jobs being created by our economy do not pay anywhere near wages of the jobs they replace.

Gasoline prices don't need to be described!

Utilities cost more, much more in some sections of the country.

Auto liability insurance, required by law, grows more expensive each year, but provides less and less benefit.

Housing costs, calculated in real terms and as a percentage of income, continue to soar.

Consumer prices also inch up so that food, clothing, medications, transportation, child care, all cost more every year.

Government at every level slashes public programs benefiting the poor, even those with a work requirement, even those tied to food security.

The number of uninsured Americans increases by the day, as health costs soar.

No surprise then, is it that over 1 million Americans fell below the poverty line last year?

In inner city communities the impact is often disastrous.

Simply put, these are the facts of life in my part of Dallas.

Ground Truth

Sorry for the extra post this week, but I had to get this one out there. It's a letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune from the Joint Task Force Commander here in GTMO. It was written in response to the question "What should we do about Guantanamo?"

It's a very good outline of our operations here in GTMO. And it's all true, even the unpleasant "cocktails" he describes.

My time in GTMO is drawing to a close (only 9 more days!). I've been down here long enough and seen enough that I might be able to answer some of the questions you may have. Fire away.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A New Book Post!: sadly, it's just another article about music and politics

(Sandi! Why oh why did you have to post about music and politics yesterday? I actually tore myself away from the beach for ten minutes this past Saturday putting this little article together, and you have to go and write about something similar the day before I post it? There is no justice!)

I know we’ve spent a bit of time discussing MLK here in the past, (and I also know my role is disagreeing with everyone about politics rather than posting on them) so I hope this post isn’t repeating stuff. I recently finished reading the book: Bono in Conversation with Michka Assayas. During their conversation, Assayas asks Bono a lot about his work as an activist. During one section, Assayas asks how Bono works with politicians who have vastly different political views than he has. Bono has a few good things to say, and I’m about to copy a bit of the book below. The first thing, he says, is that he tries not to assume the worst of politicians. He knows politicians could easily make a lot of assumptions about him because he’s a rock star. So, he does his homework on the issue (in the book he focuses on his work with Debt Relief in Africa, and trying to get funds for medicine for Africans) so that he doesn’t waste their time. And then he does his homework on the politician to find common ground with them.

The following is Bono’s version of a story Harry Belafonte told him about Dr. King.(And reading the story is a bit ironic given Belafonte’s recent comments, but the story is ultimately about King, I guess, not Belafonte.) The italics are Bono telling the story. The bold sentence is Assayas. When you get back to normal font, it's me again. I'm cutting into the middle of a discussion about balancing idealism and the realities of dealing with people you have little in common with.

Harry Belafonte old-school leftist and holds on to certain principles like others hold on to their life. He told me this story about Bobby Kennedy, which changed my life indeed, pointed me in the direction I am going now politically. Harry remembered meeting with Martin Luther King when the civil rights movement had hit a wall in the early sixties: ‘I tell you it was a depressing moment when Bobby Kennedy was made attorney general. It was a very bad day for the civil rights movement.’ And I said: Why was that? He said: ‘Oh, you see, you forget. Bobby Kennedy was Irish. Those Irish were real racists; they didn’t like the black man. They were just one step above the black man on the social ladder, and they made us feel it. They were all the police, they were the people who broke our balls on a daily basis. Bobby at that time was famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble. We were crestfallen, in despair, talking to Martin, moaning and groaning about the turn of events, when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the bitchin’: "Enough of this," He said. "Is there nobody here who’s got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?" We said: "Martin, that’s what we’re telling ya! There is no one. There is nothing good to say about him. The guy’s an Irish Catholic conservative badass, he’s bad news." To which Martin replied: "Well, then, let’s call this meeting to a close. We will re-adjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass." So he stopped the meeting and he made them all go home. He wouldn’t hear any more negativity about Bobby Kennedy. He knew there must be something positive. And if it was there, somebody could find it.’

Did they ever find anything redeeming about Bobby Kennedy?

Well, it turned out that Bobby was very close with his bishop. So they befriended the one man who could get through to Bobby’s soul and turned him into their Trojan horse. They sort of ganged up on this bishop, the civil rights religious people, and got the bishop to speak to Bobby. Harry became emotional at the end of this tale: ‘When Bobby Kennedy lay dead on a Los Angeles pavement, there was no greater friend to the civil rights movement. There was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man,’ which is what I always thought. I mean, Bobby Kennedy is still an inspiration to me. And whether [Belafonte] was exaggerating or not, that was a great lesson for me. And what Dr. King was saying was: Don’t respond to caricature – the Left, the Right, the Progressives, the Reactionary. Don’t take these people on rumor. Find the light in them, because that will further your cause."

I read that a week or so ago, and it’s had me thinking. Not that I have access to any politicians or anything, but I do think this sort of suspension of belief in caricatures is lacking in a lot of political discussions going on. I’m definitely guilty of it. I’m not sure how successful this philosophy would work as far as running for political office. However, the point is not directed at politicians but at activists. I have no desire to go into politics as a career, but I do think that this could be a much more productive approach to activism than is going on in America right now.

I also think it is important because Bono, with King as his inspiration, isn’t advocating ignoring the policies of politicians that you think are unjust. But if you have a goal in mind, civil rights or debt relief, then you have to focus on the goal and refuse to let someone you think is unjust stand in your way. Rather than complaining about unjustness, you have to find a way to overcome it.

The reason our editor didn’t ask me to write about politics is, well, I really don’t have any original insights. So this is my excuse for an article about books. Deal with it. (It is a good book, by the way, and it’s out in paperback – Riverhead Books, your local bookstore, you can probably read it in the bookstore because it’s a quick read, and if you aren’t a big U2 fan, then a lot of the book won’t be that interesting to you. If you are a U2 fan, then it might be interesting to you, although I’d recommend Bill Flanagan’s U2 at the End of the World instead of this one if you want more about the band and music and touring and writing songs and history, but it’s a bit longer and harder to find.)

Keeping Dr. Laura and the Dixie Chicks Off the Air

The other night, the Dixie Chicks appeared on 60 Minutes. After TiVo recorded it, I could hardly fast-forward through the other two segments quickly enough. Anyone who knows me well knows that the Dixie Chicks have been my favorite band since early 2000, when I was first "forced" by my friend Amelia to listen to one of their songs. Like a lot of people at the time (or, well, maybe just like a lot of people, period), I was highly skeptical, often derisive, of all country music. Growing up in the South you learn that country is associated with rednecks and racists, and lord knows I wanted no part of any of that. Okay, I said to Amelia, after raising my eyebrow at her for buying this album at all, one song. After that one song, "Cowboy Take Me Away," I said, well, okay, maybe we can listen to the whole album.

Amelia never got that CD back. That summer I saw the band on their Fly tour twice -- in Lafayette, Louisiana and in Atlanta. I put an "Earl's in the trunk" bumper sticker on my car. I was a true believer. When "Home" was released in August 2002, I snapped it right up. It was their best album yet, and I listened to it constantly. I joined their fan club so that I could have access to pre-sale tickets for the "Top of the World" tour and arranged for my friend Lilian and myself to see the show in Little Rock. I think the tickets went on sale in February 2003.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard about the debacle -- in the car on my way to meet a friend for dinner, pulling into a parking spot and catching the tail end of the segment on the radio, going "what? what did she say?" Upon learning more about it the next day, I figured it was a classic Rush Limbaugh moment and would soon pass. I had no idea of what was coming. I mean, when the name of your band becomes a verb meaning "to be shunned, retaliated against, sent death threats, and banned from the radio for making a political statement," you know something significant has happened.

It put me in mind of something that had happened when I was in law school that I never completely resolved my feelings about. I don't remember the specific details, but I think it had something to do with a threatened boycott of products advertised during Dr. Laura Schlesinger's television show (which either never went on the air or was quickly cancelled, I don't remember which). I do remember there being much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing among my classmates about whether it was okay to silence someone in this way. Even though this was consumer and organizational action applying pressure to a television network and advertisers and there was no government action involved at all, the argument was made that it was the functional equivalent of prior-restraint censorship. So, although there was no legal obligation to refrain from such activity, there was some sort of ethical obligation to allow people to say their piece and not silence them through coercive tactics. Just sort of a general sense that this was a moral shortcut, not something that complied with basic principles of democracy, community, and fair dealing. And this from people who abhor everything that that woman stands for. (In case you're wondering, I'm pretty sure it was her homophobic stuff rather than any of her other offensive views that drove this effort). There were only about six vocal conservatives in the whole law school, so I don't know that we got that perspective.

So I guess my question is, what are the boundaries of acceptable responses to views that we disagree with from celebrities? Is it ethical to use threats of boycotts and other economic tactics to silence people who say things we don't want to hear? The core principle that undergirds the First Amendment is that you counter bad speech with good speech and that the right answer is always more speech rather than less. I have sometimes felt that this is not an adequate response to harmful speech in a society in which power and money are so unequally allocated. On the other hand, what is the alternative when the question of what is harmful is so subjective? Maybe the people who sent her death threats really believed that Natalie's offhand remark that she was ashamed that President Bush was from Texas (which is not even really true, but anyway) was harmful in a way that deserved a draconian response. I know that a lot of people believed that about Dr. Laura's homophobia too. Some will say, all's fair in love and capitalism. Others might say, what's the harm here? Neither party was completely silenced -- they both still have strong careers and millions of fans. No harm, no foul.

But the backlash against the Dixie Chicks, like the war that precipitated it, is not over despite the shift in public opinion against the Iraq war. Some radio stations still refuse to play their music, acquiescing to a few vocal callers with an irrational grudge. For their part, the Chicks responded to the furor like artists do -- they wrote a song, which you can hear on their website (and see the video). It's a little pop, a little oversimplified, but it makes clear that they're not sorry. Their new album, Taking the Long Way, comes out next Tuesday. I've already pre-ordered my copy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Should we call it Cal-istan or Iraqifornia?

I found this article very interesting. The author's point is not to compare California to Iraq, but to demonstrate that the media has the power to shape our perception. He states:

So is California comparable to Iraq? Hardly. Yet it could easily be sketched by a reporter intent on doing so as a bank­rupt, crime-ridden den with murderous highways, tens of thousands of inmates, with wide-open borders.

Definitely something to think about. A lot of folks will credit the press with being a fourth "branch" of the government, a "watch dog" branch with no checks or balances to its power. And just like any watch dog that isn't disciplined, it can turn on its master at any time.

My point? Be wary of what you read in the press. Remember that the newspaper that gets tossed on your front lawn is sometimes just about as worthless and stinks just much as something else a dog might leave on your lawn.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

On Mother's Day

Adam fit the male stereotype. He had a piece of land (Eden), a steady job (gardener), and a good dog (I’m assuming). He may have liked sports, but I’m not sure. Still, God found his life insufficient, pinpointing the problem as loneliness. So God created Eve.

Through the years, many have mistakenly concluded that this means everyone should grow up and get married, though nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus did not marry. Later, Paul lived life as a single man, going so far as to implore others to be like him in this regard if at all possible: undivided devotion to God.

But both Paul and Jesus still witnessed to the fact that it is not good “for man to be alone.” Jesus surrounded himself with a group of friends, some closer than others. And Paul’s various letters display his intricate web of relationships that were so important to him. Christianity does not require marriage at all; neither does it “require” any sort of intimate relationship with others. But it does declare loneliness as “not good” and intimacy as the solution.

Here on Mother’s Day I notice that Eve solved the loneliness dilemma in more ways than hooking up with Adam. In addition to becoming a wife, she became the first mother, and in so doing, unleashed an inevitable course in intimacy for every single human being.

Mothers teach intimacy. They just do. Intimacy is required for a woman to become a mother in the first place, and then intimacy is instantaneous with the baby to whom she gives birth. The horizontal relationship teaches us of God (Trinity), while the vertical enlightens us to our own relationship with God.

If you are lucky enough to be a mother, you understand these lessons on a special level I’m sure. But none of us can escape the concept. Mothers teach us that loneliness is not good just by the nature of their existence. Intimacy appears as God’s answer, and we have mothers to thank today for being our introduction to the idea.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hank Aaron Statue at Turner Field

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by alsturgeon

Friday, May 12, 2006

Theocracy, Anyone?

So I had to share this article from Salon, an excerpt from Michelle Goldberg's forthcoming book on the rise of Christian nationalism. (Worth the day pass to read). Of course, having worked at Americans United for Separation of Church and State for two years, and the ACLU before that, I already knew about these people and exactly how mentally ill they are. I mean, it's really sad how distorted their thinking and perceptions are. When I worked at the ACLU people would call and curse at us sometimes; I had more than one person ask me why the ACLU hated Christians and try to convert me. After two years of getting bloodthirsty, venomous e-mails at Americans United, I was done with all that. I moved on to a new job and tried to forget about it. Eventually I almost started to believe that those people couldn't hurt me, after years of thinking they would have taken me into a field and shot me if they could.

But there has been some debate in the letters to the editor (Salon has a feature where anyone can post a letter responding to an article) about how much of a threat this is. Some people have said, oh this is a small fringe group and they pose no danger to us. Others feel that a fascist takeover is imminent, noting that Germans thought the Nazis were a fringe group as well. Since most of this audience could at least nominally be described as fundamentalist -- although I assume that none of you are in any way associated with the tripe described in the book -- I thought it might be useful to get your thoughts. Have you encountered anyone in your churches who thinks this way? Do your churches participate in the types of rallies described in the article? Would you chain yourself to the Capitol steps to prevent Roy's Rock from being removed? Do you know anyone who would? Do you receive (or send) those mendacious e-mail forwards planted by the Heritage Foundation et al. about how the ACLU is conspiring to ban the Bible? Do you know people who actually have read any of the Left Behind books? (Shudder) Will Alabama or South Carolina really secede and try to form a Christian state? How imminent is this threat, really? And also, I think I've asked this before but I forgot the answer -- is the Church of Christ millenialist, premillenialist, postmillenialist, or none of the above?

Sports Day

Let me rip you away from "Bonds-Watch" long enough to argue over the best in MLB so far in 2006. Here's a starting lineup of this year's best of the best - feel free to offer your opinions as to who should be replaced as well as how to restructure the batting order.

1. Derek Jeter (SS)
2. Miguel Cabrera (3B)
3. Albert Pujols (1B)
4. Jim Thome (DH)
5. Carlos Lee (LF)
6. Alex Rios (RF)
7. Vernon Wells (CF)
8. Jose Vidro (2B)
9. Victor Martinez (C)

Starting Pitcher: Pedro Martinez
Closer: Jonathan Papelbon

Thursday, May 11, 2006

With Mother's Day Approaching...

Let's Talk About You and Your Mother
April 25, 2006

I'd like a word with you about your mother, and I want you to read this column all the way to the end, otherwise I will slap you so hard your head will spin.

I realize that Mother's Day is a fake holiday perpetuated by the greeting card industry and the florists, but it's here to stay, so make the best of it. The president is a fake, too, but we still pay our taxes. And it's time you did something nice for your mother.

I bring this up well in advance of Mother's Day so you can plan a little bit and not roll out of the sack on SUNDAY, MAY 14, and fritter away the morning and then dash over to Mom's and on the way pick up a cheap box of chocolate-covered cherries at the gas station, or a gallon of windshield cleaner, or whatever you were planning to give her.

Cheap chocolates are not appropriate for your mother, nor is a bouquet of daisies marked down 50 percent at the convenience store. What you owe your mother is a sonnet. A fourteen-line poem, in iambic pentameter, rhymed, just like Shakespeare's "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcaste state." Look it up. You can do it, if you try.

Your mother loves you, she has loved you from Day 1, she loves you on your good days and your bad. She was on her way to Broadway and Hollywood was taking a look at her when your father got her in a family way and she put glamour and fame behind her and had you instead. Think about it. All that pain, and then out you came, not the high point of her day, believe me.

She changed your poopy diaper when the stench was such as to make strong men dizzy. And when you hopped up and ran off, leaving a brown trail behind you, she mopped that up, too. At a certain age, you put everything into your mouth - dirt, coins, small toys, cufflinks - and when she stuck a finger down your throat, you refused to vomit. Nothing would come up. All she could do was pour Listerine in you and hope for the best. But if she tried to coax you to eat green leafy material, then you would throw up quarts of stuff. And she'd clean it up and take you in her arms and comfort you although your breath was rancid.

You were not a bright child. I realize that you think you were in the accelerated group, and that was your mother's doing. Her great accomplishment was to protect you from the knowledge of your own ordinariness. The rest of us knew. You didn't. Nor did you realize the extent of your bed-wetting. Three a.m., you sat in a stupor, while Mom changed your urine-soaked sheets, tucked you in, and sang you to sleep with "If Ever I Would Leave You" from "Camelot."

She loved you through the dark valley of your adolescence, when you were as charming as barbed wire. You surrounded yourself with sullen friends who struck your mother as incipient criminals. Her beloved child, her darling, her shining star, running with teenage jihadists, but she bit her tongue and served them pizza and sloppy joes, ignoring the explosives taped to their chests.

When you were 17, when other adults found you unbearable and even your own aunts and uncles looked at you and saw the decline of American civilization and the coming of a dark age of arrogant narcissism unprecedented in world history, your mother still loved you with all her heart. She loves you still today, despite all the wrong choices you've made. Don't get me started. Go write your mother a sonnet.

It costs you nothing except some time and effort. Do not buy her chocolate. She doesn't care for it. She only pretended to, for your sake. Do not take her out to dinner. She has eaten plenty of dinners with you and one more isn't going to be that thrilling. She might prefer to snuggle up in a chair all by herself and watch "Singin' in the Rain" and have a stiff drink. (You do know your mother drinks, don't you? Ever wonder why?)

Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil. Here's an idea for a first line: "When I was disgraceful and a complete outcaste." You take it from there.

© 2006 by Garrison Keillor.

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Critique of the Movement to Ban Contraception

I couldn't let this excellent article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine pass without comment.

I find these folks so maddening because they have a point about one thing: given all of the moral, spiritual, ethical, social and psychological consequences that it carries with it (both positive and negative), our culture indeed takes sexuality too lightly. In a number of cases, we dehumanize each other in the process of pursuing it, watching it, wearing it, singing it, evaluating it, and, yes, doing it.

Comma, however: these people have just got it all wrong when they propose their solutions. Fascism is not persuasion. We need to change hearts and minds on this, folks -- starting with our own actions and the example we set in the world as individuals, then raising our children to have a healthy respect for sexuality and, for Pete's sake, for themselves. (I had to throw that in there because I find the poor regard with which many young men and women out there treat themselves in this vein to be disheartening). Education should play a part; and definitely popular culture needs to be reined in. The part law and government would ideally play in this transformation, I'm not entirely sure. I just know that banning contraception is not gonna get it. It is just so not about that.

Consider this quote from the American Life League: "The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set. So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child. Therefore seeking an abortion is a natural outcome. We oppose all forms of contraception."

That one got the ten-second eye roll. First of all, because the vast majority of people who use birth control want to be parents someday, but not until they are ready emotionally and financially. Or, they know they are not parent material and thus are reasonably acting to prevent becoming a parent. I think that could most accurately be characterized as "pro-child." Second, this quote was misguided because banning contraception will not work to remove the so-called “antichild mindset” of the couple if it indeed exists. Rather, it will only make abortion more likely by making unintended pregnancy more likely. If a couple doesn’t want to have children at a particular time or at all, then they don’t want to. Removing access to contraception will not make people who otherwise don’t want to have children, want them. Duh.

Consider next this quote from Dr. Joseph Stanford, a Bush appointee to the F.D.A.'s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee: "Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification."

Oh, I see. So basically, the threat of having to support another child is the necessary constraint men need to prevent them from seeing their wives as pieces of ass and nothing else. Nice. Talk about the tyranny of low expectations and an anti-child mindset, and by the way, where is the woman’s sex drive in this picture?

The logic is that contraception is the thing that opened the floodgates to sexual experimentation and (in the view of these radicals) sexual deviance. But to the extent they are talking about gay sex or basically anything other than penile-vaginal intercourse, this makes no sense whatsoever, since none of these practices cause pregnancy and thus do not require the use of contraception.

The President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had this to say: "I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the pill," Mohler continued. "It became almost an assured form of contraception, something humans had never encountered before in history. Prior to it, every time a couple had sex, there was a good chance of pregnancy. Once that is removed, the entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there could be no question that the pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation."

After the Fall? Is that not a little hysterical? Moreover, the Pill came on the scene long after several other forms of birth control, and I'm pretty sure adultery has always been around.

Contraception was advocated in this country in the early 20th century by Margaret Sanger and others not primarily because it would allow people to have more sex, but because of the incredible damage that is done to women’s bodies by having too many children. According to my boy Jared Diamond, the switch from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural society led to shorter birth spacing, which a recent study shows has highly detrimental effects on the too-soon-conceived fetus. (Sources for that are JD's The Third Chimpanzee and a New York Times article that's in the archives now so I can't post it). Granted, there is a much lower chance of dying in childbirth than there used to be (although it still happens), and grotesque complications such as fistulas are unknown in the developed world. But there is a reason that birthrates have been declining in first world countries –almost all children now survive infancy, and our economy simply doesn’t permit supporting numerous children. The whole structure of our society assumes small to medium-size families. And the quality of life is generally better for children in smaller families – more resources go to each child, not only in terms of food and material goods but also more crucially in the form of parental attention.

I assume the anti-contraception folks would preach “natural family planning.” As I mentioned in a previous post, I preach it too for different reasons (plus condoms, which are not sanctioned by NFP). But you have to be really diligent and have a really stable life in order to practice it well, and I’m not idealistic enough about people to assume that everyone is capable of it. Moreover, I'm not sure why, given their perspectives on separating sex from procreation, that natural family planning is any different. You're still altering your behavior to prevent pregnancy. Whatever distinction they draw is lost on me.

And here’s the quote that really gets me: "There are two philosophies of sexuality," Rector told me. "One regards it as primarily physical and all about physical pleasure. Therefore, the idea is to have lots of physical pleasure without acquiring disease or getting pregnant. The other is primarily moral and psychological in nature, and stresses that this is the part of sex that's rewarding and important."

I have never seen a clearer example of a false dichotomy in my life. Sex is manifestly about physical pleasure (hello, McFly!), and also is moral and psychological. I don’t understand why these crusaders can’t see that. I also don’t get why separating sex from procreation is necessarily “anti-humanistic.” It seems more humanistic to me to only bring life into the world when you are prepared to care for it properly and give it the love and attention it deserves. I know, natural family planning again. And abstinence, that favorite concept of the Religious Right. Don't even get me started on abstinence-only sex education.

I guess it comes down to “you can’t close the barn door after the horse is already out.” We can teach people to treat sex with more seriousness and care than some have been, but we can’t strong-arm them into not having sex at all. And I’m not convinced that sex is in all places and at all times as harmful as they think it is. The moral element needs to be there, undoubtedly. Sexuality is a powerful force that should be utilized wisely. And it seems clear that not everyone is on that page. But birth control did not cause that, and getting rid of birth control won't end it.

My Stint As a Vegetarian

I have two things I would like to put out there today, based on articles I read that got me thinking. The first is about vegetarianism. Naturally, being the soft-hearted lefty that I am, I decided at age 17 that eating meat was not morally all that. And I sort of stopped, for a while. I started out allowing myself one Chick-Fil-A sandwich a month. (I love me some Chick-Fil-A). Then I gained 10 lbs. (or maybe it was 5, but it seemed like 10) because I was eating so much cheese in lieu of meat. I was a freshperson in college at the time and didn't really know how to eat nutritiously or cook for myself. That translated into a lot of pizza and fried cheese sticks. So I gradually got back on chicken and fish, and just cut out red meat. But I eventually began to make exceptions to that too, and started focusing on eating healthy rather than excluding anything in particular.

Over time, I've come to a place where what little I know about commercial meat production sickens me, both in terms of the unsanitary conditions and the cruelty to the animals. I still eat chicken that I don't pay a million dollars at Whole Foods for, and try not to think about it. I make an occasional exception to my fear of mad cow and have a burger or steak. But I would estimate that I eat meat-free meals maybe 65-70% of the time, not out of any moral convictions but just because I prefer them. I'm not entirely comfortable morally with the fact that I eat meat, more because I can't know the conditions under which it was produced than because I think it's intrinsically wrong to eat meat at all. I get the whole food chain thing. But I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of killing animals, as "natural" as it may be.

Here's the question that interests me, though: not the merits of vegetarianism, but the fact that so many meat-eaters get so defensive and angry when the subject is raised. I first experienced this during my stint as a vegetarian; when I turned down a hamburger, people would get up in my face, saying, "what's the matter, you think there's something wrong with eating meat?" and cracking crude jokes about how tasty the bacon was. Just today, I was reading an interview on Salon with a philosophy professor who advocates more humane slaughter practices and generally that we (humans) should do what we can to minimize suffering wherever it occurs, including in animals. The letters in response to the interview were so vitriolic, I couldn't get over it. I mean, I would think that the idea of reducing suffering as a general goal would be pretty uncontroversial, and let me just say that anyone who thinks we shouldn't reduce suffering where we can is not somebody I would like to meet.

Does anyone have any insight on why people get so defensive about eating meat? And don't regurgitate the militant vegetarian canard -- in all of my experiences with vegetarians, including my own, even the very nonjudgmental, quiet ones who would just like to enjoy their Boca Burger, thank you very much (which was all but maybe one), have encountered this same attitude. And for me, even when I did eat meat but said I didn't feel comfortable with it, people would still foam at the mouth and trip over themselves trying to explain to me why there was absolutely nothing wrong with it and anyone who thought there was, was a raving idiot. Obviously this topic touches a nerve. Is it repressed guilt or what?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Putting "Us" In Our Place

Many believe the creation accounts in Genesis 1 & 2 are myths, in part because they are presented as two distinct stories. I'm not intending to argue that particular point today. Instead, I'll offer my personal belief that these two renditions are offered to make two separate points. I subscribe to the theory that Genesis 1 teaches life’s rhythm of time, while Genesis 2 teaches us that life is to be lived in a “place.” Genesis 1 talks of days. Genesis 2 talks location. For Adam and Eve that location was Eden. For my wife and I it happens to be Ocean Springs.

It should stand to reason that God expects us to live our lives right where we are, but we don’t often look at life that way. Waiting in line at Wal-Mart doesn’t seem so spiritually significant now, does it? Nor does sitting in traffic. Nor work on, say, a Thursday afternoon. Nor doing laundry (of all things). But truth be told, this is life as we know it. This is our Eden, where Satan woos and God goes for walks and we make decisions that have far deeper consequences than we realize.

Eugene Peterson tells a story of a former student who, for several mornings in a row, told his wife on the way out the door that he was going to immerse himself in God’s creation that day. After a few days, his wife suggested he might want to go to class instead. “Oh, I’ve been going to class every day,” he responded. “Then what is all this business about immersing yourself in creation?” she asked. “Well, I spend forty minutes on the bus each morning and afternoon. Can you think of a setting more thick with creation than that – all these people created, created in the image of God, created male and female?” His wife responded, “I never thought of that.” “You mean you’ve never read Genesis?” he said.

Okay, if I said that to my wife, someone (me) would be slapped for being a smart aleck. But I think the point is worth noticing. We are surrounded by God’s wondrous Creation every single day, wherever we happen to be. Our spiritual lives aren’t on hold for discovery on a mountain monastery retreat someday. They are to be lived right here (Genesis 2) and right now (Genesis 1).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Front Beach Ocean Springs

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by alsturgeon

Taken a few years ago now...

Friday, May 05, 2006

The New Bush Administration

Of all the attention New Orleans has received over the past eight months, the interest of two men named Bush have been noteworthy to the citizens of the devastated city.

One is older, the other much younger. One works in the field of government, the other in the world of sports. One has promised to help the city recover; the other is expected to do that, too, just by carrying a football.

George W. Bush is not the most popular man in the city of New Orleans. Reggie Bush suddenly is.

When the Houston Texans blew it and drafted a defensive end, for the first time in quite a while, New Orleans felt fortune smiling in its direction. And they seized the opportunity and drafted the wildly entertaining tailback from Southern California.

Tickets sales are soaring. Excitement in The Big Easy is rising dramatically. Even I, a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan, am finding myself looking at tickets for the Monday Night Football home opener with Atlanta and wondering if I might end up finding the New Orleans’ combination of Drew & Reggie more compelling than my ‘boys combination of Drew & Julius. Who knows, I might even wear the black and gold this year, too?

Two men named Bush have looked hard at New Orleans this year. They share the same name, but are very different in so many ways. One’s family received private kickbacks from boosters in exchange for his talents. The other played football for USC. (LOL! Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!)

And one stood in the messed-up city and said unequivocally that he will get the job done. That was the politician. The other, the young football player, said upon his recent arrival to New Orleans, “I’ve been to Little Rock. How close is that to here? I’m still a kid. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about it all. I realize now for the first time I’m leaving the perfect world of Southern California – perfect weather, all my family, my friends – and I’m becoming a man. I just hope I can help the team and the people in this city. They’ve been through so much. I want to help.”

I, for one, hope he is able to do just that.

The Puritans Win Round One

I'm sure you all have seen the headline about the soda companies agreeing to stop selling most of their products in schools. This is a good example of companies agreeing "voluntarily" (i.e., when the tide of public opinion is turning against them in such a way as might affect their bottom line) to do the right thing.

Now, you guys know I love William Saletan. He spends most of this article saying not-so-nice things about Bill Clinton (I'm posting it for those Clinton-haters who might enjoy such -- I have a love-disappointment relationship with the man myself), but I thought this was a good insight about the tension in our culture between libertinism (is that a word?) and puritanism:

A couple of weeks ago, I speculated that the first stage of the war on fat, which Clinton has adopted as one of his post-presidential missions, would be a rout. In this phase of the war, health advocates have targeted the sale of junk food to kids. I figured soda companies would lose this round, eventually fleeing schools where they currently hold contracts to sell their slush. But I didn't expect them to surrender—or, in homage to Clinton, look like they're surrendering—this fast. Score one for the big guy.

The reason I expected the companies to lose this round is that it's easy to wage moral crusades when the only freedoms in the way are those of children. Americans have long been driven by two deep longings. The first is to be left alone. The second is to tell other people what to do. On most moral issues—abortion, porn, video games, alcohol, tobacco, guns—the easiest way out is to inflict our piety on minors. All the righteous satisfaction, none of the libertarian backlash. Great taste, less filling.

Clinton's the perfect guy to lead this phase of the war. Remember V-chips? School uniforms? He and his on-and-off political mistress, Dick Morris, knew we wanted our president to affirm community and family values, as long as none of those values messed with our HBO. The war on fat follows the same script. Who's coughing up the Coke machines? Schools, not offices. Who's getting squeezed to drop junk food ads? Nickelodeon and Channel One.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

National Day of Prayer

If you didn't know, today is the National Day of Prayer. This will be the eighth consecutive year I have participated in a ceremonial prayer service in front of City Hall in Ocean Springs. I always have mixed feelings: the negative being the showiness of praying on a street corner to be seen by men, given Jesus's comments on that sort of thing, the positive being that this is one of those rare opportunities for a CofC man such as myself to play with the other boys and girls.

(It's also a bit interesting that, although this is a day set aside for people of ALL faiths to join together and pray, I've yet to see anyone participate in these events outside the Christian faith [though not too strange because I don't know of any "church" in Ocean Springs that isn't Christian in one flavor or another], and when I went to the website for the National Day of Prayer Task Force, it appears to be a "Christians only" task force [might not be, but that's just the appearance from my first glance].)

Every year there is a national chairman for this event, and in 2006, it is Dr. Henry Blackabay. As usual, the chairman offers a "prayer for the nation." It seems a bit odd to critique a prayer, but since this particular prayer is offered for critiquing, I thought it would be interesting for all of us to have a go at it.

Here's the prayer for the nation in 2006. I'm interested in your comments...

2006 Prayer for the Nation
Dr. Henry Blackaby

Oh Heavenly Father, You have made Yourself known to us as a nation by Your mighty works throughout our history. From the beginning, You have been with us through many wars and conflicts; Your right arm has saved us. We have been amazingly and graciously blessed.

Today, we confess our sin of not responding to Your right to rule in our lives and our nation. Too often we have despised and rejected Your will while imposing our own, and we are now facing the consequences of our disobedience. Draw us back to Yourself that we may return to Your ways once again. Without You we can do nothing. You have promised that if we honor You, You will once again honor this great nation.

That is our fervent prayer.

For Your honor and glory we pray,

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Colbert's Truthiness

Okay, anyone who loves the President should not read this transcript of Stephen Colbert's performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner. But if you're among the 68% who don't, this is freaking hilarious. And it's not just him. The Vice President, John McCain, and Justice Scalia get it too. I'm not saying I approve of insulting people to their faces in public ... but if I did, no group of living Americans deserve it more than the ones Colbert skewered the other night. Almost every barb was a gem. In fact, it was so good I think I'll go read it again.

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