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.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

TV Land

After enduring recent discussions on such childish topics as religion and politics, it is finally time to move on to a more substantial topic: television.

TV Land has released its list of the Top 100 Quotes & Catch Phrases in television history in anticipation of its five-day countdown special beginning December 11. If you want to take a gander at the entire list, you can go HERE today. But to save you the trouble, I’ve taken the time to narrow down the list to my personal Top Ten for your fun-filled derision.

My personal theory in ranking these “Quotes and Catch Phrases” is popular endurance. In other words, these are the phrases made famous by television that I believe the proverbial “person on the street” will still be saying long after TV Land has filed bankruptcy.

Here they are:

#10: “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” (Miller Lite advertisement)

#9: “I’m Not a Crook…” (Richard Nixon)

#8: “One Small Step For Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind” (Neil Armstrong)

#7: “Holy (whatever), Batman!” (Robin)

#6: “The Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat” (Wide World of Sports)

#5: “Come On Down!” (Johnny Olson from “The Price Is Right”)

#4: “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” (Candid Camera)

#3: “Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You…” (John F. Kennedy)

#2: “Is That Your Final Answer?” (Regis Philbin, “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”)

#1: “Two Thumbs Up!” (Siskel & Ebert)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Improvising the Missing Act

I’ve recently finished reading The Unnecessary Pastor, by Marva Dawn & Eugene Peterson. The book, in fact, consists of lectures at a conference at Regent College, where Dawn & Peterson were the keynote speakers.

It wasn’t my favorite book of all-time, but there were some really interesting parts. I thought over the next several weeks I’d offer some of those parts for your consideration and/or discussion.

This one is from Dawn:

IMPROVISING THE MISSING ACT

“N.T. Wright offers an especially helpful analogy for dealing with the question of how we apply the biblical texts to our lives. Frequently, the ultra-conservatives take texts and slap them on the present situation without any concern for the original or current cultures and how the differences between them might affect how we apply the Scriptures at least two thousand years after they were written. Extreme liberals, on the other hand, often react by insisting that the Bible has nothing specific to say directly to this culture, that we can only abstract some sort of ethereal principles out of the text. As a creative and yet faithful alternative beyond both sides, Tom Wright suggests a brilliant comparison.

“Suppose we found an incomplete play by William Shakespeare. How could we produce it? If we discovered the first five acts and the last bit of the seventh, we could try to write the missing parts – but who could ever write as well as Shakespeare? Besides, Shakespeare is no longer alive for us to check out our attempts with him.

“Instead, we could go to Ashland, Oregon, which has one of the finest Shakespeare festivals in the world, and there we would secure the best Shakespearean actors we could find – people who have performed lots of his plays, who know his ways, his idiosyncrasies, his twists of language. They would immerse themselves in the acts that we do have, and then we’d let them improvise the parts that are missing. Since the audience would be different every time the play was performed, it would be improvised differently every day according to who is there and what is happening. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

“Similarly, the Christian community has passed on the unfinished drama of God. Act I of the play, the creation, teaches us that we are all created equally to bear the image of God, that we are responsible to care for each other and the cosmos. Act II, the fall, enables us to understand the world’s brokenness and destruction. Act III and V present the stories of Israel and of the early Christians, respectively, to offer us examples of both disobedience and trust and to demonstrate the consequences of our rebellions and our following. Act IV gives an account of the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus as the culmination of all God’s promises to Israel in Act III and the foundation for all the Holy Spirit’s work through the saints of Act V. Those five acts are complete, but Act VI is missing, and we have only a fragment of the drama’s end (Act VII) from the book of Revelation. What we know of the grand denouement of the world, when Christ comes again and destroys evil and death forever, is only a sketch meant to encourage us in the struggles and sufferings of the present.

“How do we apply the Scriptures? We immerse ourselves in the first five and partial last acts of the drama, in all the texts passed on as the grand biblical story of God and his people. By means of the commandments, speeches, narratives, poetry, warnings, promises, and songs of the entire Revelation, we are formed with the character of God’s people to imitate the virtues and deeds of God himself. All over the world Christians are improvising the biblical story – differently in each place because of the surrounding audience and circumstances…

“We need a lifelong immersion in the texts of the Scriptures – soaking ourselves in the language so that when we put down our Bibles we can improvise living our that language in whatever we encounter.”

Monday, November 20, 2006

Draft

Thomas Ricks has an interesting online article about the Pentagon's likely recommendations for how to move forward in Iraq.

Our 3 basic options, as the generals see it, are: go big, go long, or go home. Going big means sending an additional 20-30,000 troops. Going long means reducing our overall force size while sending more advisors to help train Iraqi troops and police, and staying for another 5-10 years. Going home means just what it sounds like.

They dismiss the 3rd option because it would lead to total civil war in Iraq. As you may have heard over the weekend, Gen. Abizaid favors the 2nd -- going long. What the Pentagon favors is a hybrid of #1 and #2: send an additional 20-30,000 troops for a short time, while transitioning to a smaller, longer term force composed of more advisors.

Frankly, I don't see how that would work. The problem, as best I can tell, with the Iraqi forces isn't that they lack the ability to fight; it's that they lack the will to fight. That is, the lack the will to fight for Iraq. They'll fight to defend their own region or sect or ethnic group, but if they're sent to fight for some other region or sect or ethnic group, they literally walk away. They quit and go home. (And take the guns we paid for with them.) I fail to see how sending more American military advisors is going to fix that. All we're doing is arming and training people for the sectarian militias.

As Ricks notes, the Pentagon came up with the 20-30k number in their "go big" option because they realized they simply didn't have the several hundred thousand more troops needed to actually conduct a counter-insurgency war. Even to get that smaller number, they're going to have to extend tours and call up more reservists and National Guard.

Which is why, in my opinion, we should institute a draft. I mean, how is this not a draft situation?

  • We're at war.

  • It's a two-front war -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- that in 4 months will have lasted as long as America's involvement in World War II.

  • We can't afford to lose in either place.

  • For several months, we've been losing in both places.

  • We flat don't have enough troops to change that.



It seems to me the rubber has met the road. Either we give up, or we make this a truly American war. So far, this has been a war the military has fought, but America hasn't. America isn't at war; the military is. America's non-military families have not had to contribute a single thing to the war effort. We aren't even picking up the tab (unless you count putting it on the national credit card for later generations to pay off). I worry about the future of a democracy when a majority of the populace slips into thinking "going to war" means "sending to war." It makes us careless and sloppy about how and when we decide to declare war. If the history of this adventure in Iraq is any guide, we're already much too cavalier. It's time to make this thing real, and fight it for real.

World War II is the last substantial war America won. If we want to take anything resembling victory from this one, maybe we should learn something from what we did in WWII: go hugely big, get the whole nation involved, make our point, then go home. We need to draft and train that several hundred thousand soldiers the Pentagon knows it needs to really fight a counter-insurgency, and go fight it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Hodgepodge

POLITICS: The rest of the Houseflies are admirably addressing this area, so I’ll just tip my hat to their thought-provoking posts and comments…

POLITICS + RELIGION: Most of you will stay away because we’ve fought this fight many times before, but I’ve enmeshed myself in another discussion of Christianity as it relates to war/pacifism over at my friend, Danny Dodd’s, blog. But feel free to come on over if you wish.

BOOKS: I’m still working on two, which is my normal practice. I’m just two chapters away from finishing my book for work, The Unnecessary Pastor (by Marva Dawn & Eugene Peterson). I’ll probably post a few thoughts from it when I’m done. Even though it might be my least favorite book by Peterson, there are still several good thoughts interspersed. And on my fun book front, Lemony Snicket’s book #7, The Vile Village, is sitting on my nightstand at home. I haven’t started it yet, but I will. I think all of you should read a Lemony Snicket book. Seriously!

SPORTS: I’m all about the Razorbacks this year. Number five in AP, but number seven in the BCS. There is no way Notre Dame should be ahead of Arkansas, but I was still surprised to see the AP bump us ahead of them. For some reason, sports folks love Notre Dame. Rutgers has me worried. Arkansas really needs West Virginia to take them down. Here’s my plan:
* Cal (or UCLA) over USC
* USC over Notre Dame
* WVU over Rutgers
* Ohio State beats Michigan by 40 points (or vice-versa)
* Arkansas beats MSU, LSU, and Florida

Okay, a bit far-fetched, but it could happen…

RELIGION: This emerging movement still has me thinking. I brought it up to a couple of Episcopal pastors yesterday, but they immediately gravitated to the worship service end of it. Which is the one part that doesn’t interest me. I’m much more captivated by the “how you live is more important than what you believe” aspect of it.

I started thinking, if you asked folks who best epitomized the life of Jesus…
* Roman Catholics would say the Pope (I’m guessing)
* Evangelicals would say Billy Graham (look at all those people he converted)
* I don’t know who Mainline Protestants would say (I’ll have to ask)
* Emerging folks would probably say Mother Teresa.

Evangelicals would then point out that Mother Teresa was Catholic, to which emerging folks would say, “I don’t care if she’s a chicken, she lived more like Jesus than anyone I’ve seen.” 1st John says, “Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.”

Quit bugging me, Mikey. I have no point. Just thinking out loud…

SEE YA: I’m on the road today through late tomorrow night. I hope to check in late tonight, but otherwise, just thought I’d throw some random thoughts out for fun.

Yours,
Al

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Farmers Branch: I wish I never knew you

Forgive me for barging in to the Houseflies domain after going so long with nothing useful to contribute. But I finally have something to talk about.

Larry James contributed to our blog some time ago. For those that don’t remember, James serves as the President/CEO for Central Dallas Ministries, “a human community development corporation with a focus on economic and social justice at work in inner city Dallas.”

On his blog today, he put forth a great articulation of my hunch that most Americans are ignorantly nodding their heads in agreement with bigotry, and I’m sick of it.

I’m sick of the pundis that portray “illegals” as greedy, criminals that weasel their way in to our country taking jobs from deserving Americans.

I was repulsed to see the portrayals of immigration in the Pennsylvania Senate race. Does Pennsylvania really have an imminent threat of border jumpers? Take a look at the tone from the front lines of the issue in places like California (this link is well worth the read!) and Arizona. The term “illegals” is almost universally replaced by the moniker “migrants.” In a previous post James questioned, “How can a human being be illegal?”

Enter Farmers Branch, Texas. Growing up I considered Farmers Branch Church of Christ my surrogate church. They hosted a youth leadership conference I attended from 8th grade until my college years.

In James’ post he discusses FB’s new attempt to crack down on these illegals. I find it noisome, this legislation led by FBCoC member, Tim O’Hare.

Where is the compassion? Where is the concern for humanity?

I don’t profess to be the most informed person on the history and origins of our border issues, but I know racism when I see it.

James makes excellent points about the notion that migrants take from “hard working Americans.” Even though, as Larry points out, they pay sales tax, contribute to property tax. If employed, they contribute to social security with no expectation of return.

When it comes to the security concerns of our porous border, our elected officials certainly have a difficult problem on their hands. However, they ran for office to deal with the tough problems facing our country.

When they resort to preying on American jingoism and xenophobia, I don’t know whether to fight, cry or puke.

New Leadership

This topic seemed newsworthy enough to move it from the comments section to an actual post. In voting today, John Murtha lost his bid to become the Democrats' Majority Leader, 149-86. As the president might say, it was a thumpin'. Nancy Pelosi, who was supporting Murtha, won the Speaker's chair unanimously. It sounds like the caucus asserted itself and said, "Nancy, we love you as Speaker, but you're wrong about Murtha. We can't say we're going to set new standards for honesty and ethics, then turn right around and elect someone with Murtha's problems."

Earlier in the week, the senatorial GOP chose Trent Lott as their second-in-command, despite his endorsement of the 1948 Dixiecrat platform only a few years ago. Based on reports I heard this morning, the general sentiment among GOP senators seemed to be that Lott had been punished enough for that. In other words, the punishment they had inflicted was for being impolitic in expressing his racism, not for being a racist. Apparently, it's still okay to be a racist, as long as you show a little politesse about it. The South's swaggering style is too gauche for a senate leader; the North's haughty style, however, is fine.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Whistling Past Dixie?

So the new topic of hot conversation among some Democrats these days is what this election means -- and specifically, one theme that has arisen again and again is the question of what role the South plays in politics vis a vis other regions. The message some gleaned from last Tuesday's election is that the West and Midwest have rejected the far-right agenda of the Republican party, and that indeed the South is the only region that embraces this agenda in large/majority numbers.

Tied in to that is the idea that Howard Dean's 50-state strategy was either vindicated or proven folly by this election. But with the West and Midwest in play, the states some Democrats think should be excluded from our efforts are the Southern states. Thomas Schaller, a political scientist at the University of Maryland, forcefully advocates that we should forget the South, that it's beyond hope, and concentrate our time and money on states we have a chance of winning. This generated a firestorm of debate on the letters board, with the vast majority of people who wrote in disagreeing with Schaller and supporting the 50-state strategy.

As you may know, I have a troubled relationship with the South. I don't understand the embarrassingly large chip that so many Southerners have on their shoulder. I find the (white) people there largely insecure and unpleasant. The whole Civil War thing mystifies me -- you can't get over something that happened 150 years ago (and in which, by the way, you're still in the wrong)? The churchiness and sanctimony about religion are obnoxious. The racism is palpable and disgusting (and yes, having lived in both places, it is worse in the South than in the Northeast, contrary to the party line among defensive Southerners). And as much as Southerners will try to defend their homeland (I don't anymore), the stereotypes exist for a reason: with respect to a large majority of the white population, they are true. I have never seen another place where people cling with such ferocity to notions that have been disgraced by, like, basically everyone else. I would be embarrassed for them if they weren't just so hateful that it isn't worth the effort.

People aren't monolithically like this, of course. There are tons of sane people living in the South, and they find their neighbors just as strange as I do. The key is that the people who are not sane are very loud, visible, and memorable. And there are a lot of them. You know what I'm talking about -- they still use the N-word, they hold and espouse egregious stereotypes about Jews, Muslims and anyone else they know nothing about, and they are dittoheads, whether they listen to Rush Limbaugh or not. I.e., never had an independent or critical thought, just parrot whatever the current angry white man grievance is. Their numbers and volume just give the whole region a regressive feel that stifles opposition and debate. So, yes, I kind of despise the South.

Still yet, I count myself among the many who disagree with Schaller about writing the South off. Maybe it's my optimism that there are well-meaning hearts and minds that can turn away from the dark side if educated. Or, maybe it's just the fact that demographic trends indicate some openings for my people. The Latino population is growing exponentially in many areas. The Southern population, particularly in urban areas, is not nearly as homogeneous as it once was. Things are changing slowly but surely. Too slowly for my taste in terms of subjecting myself to it day in and day out, mind you, but changing nonetheless. Moreover, as several letter writers pointed out on Salon, the divide is as much urban versus rural as it is South versus everywhere else. Rural voters in Pennsylvania voted for Rick Santorum by a wide margin, for example. So there's something to that. I think that means we need to reach out to less populated areas, as Claire McCaskill did in Missouri.

The other thing the Democrats need to do (in addition to redefining themselves as a party, of course) is to engage in some long-term thinking and start putting in place an infrastructure as the Republicans did starting in the late 60s and 70s. The Republican ascendancy didn't happen overnight, and Democrats won't start winning Southern states quickly either. But permanently excluding a changing region from a party's vision is a sure way to alienate people who might otherwise be inclined to vote for them one day. As Howard Dean says, you show people respect by asking for their vote. And because I firmly believe that you have to give respect to get respect, that's exactly what we should do.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weasel Words

It's always interesting -- and frequently infuriating -- to pay close attention to the language politicians and their proxies use. This is Ken Mehlman's response to a question about what the GOP needs to do to get back into the American voter's good graces:

We have to recommit ourselves to being the party of reform. We have to push things like earmarks. We have to focus aggressively to reduce spending in Washington. Tax reform is another one. Immigration reform.

People put us into power for different reasons than Democrats. They put us in power to reform things. If all we're doing is managing the bureaucracy and not reforming it, we are not living up to the most important thing we stand for.

Message two is we have to try as hard as we can to work in a bipartisan way, where we can, consistent with our principles, and we have to make sure our tone is always a respectful tone. Washington is polarized. Americans have disagreements on issues. But Washington has personal disagreements on issues. Outside the Beltway, people who are in a different party don't look at each other differently. Just because someone disagrees with you is no reason to call them names.

The third message is to say that people who are in public service ought to be about serving the public not aggrandizement for themselves, and certainly not for personal enrichment.


It's really an extraordinary performance. A prime example of how Mehlman rose to become the head of one of our two major parties. People like Mehlman, whatever their party, aren't paid to be consistent, principled, honest, or even sensible. They're paid to win. If that means saying tomorrow the exact opposite of what they said today, and insisting that such has always been their position and anyone who says otherwise is low born and high smelling, that is what they do -- and with a perfectly straight face.

Both sides do it constantly, of course, but I thought this was an especially swell example of packing more b.s. onto the same sized shovel. What's more, if the GOP takes it to heart, it won't win. Let's break it down a bit, shall we?

His opening paragraph attempts to define the GOP by its classic campaign issues: smaller government, less spending, lower taxes, and generally more common-sense lawmaking. He says them as if the last 12 years hadn't happened.

We have to push things like earmarks.

I should think the GOP has pushed earmarks quite far enough. As I read recently, Pres. Reagan once vetoed a transportation bill because it had the extraordinary number of 152 earmarks in it. The last transportation bill Pres. Bush signed had over 6,000.

We have to focus aggressively to reduce spending in Washington.

See above. See also: debt, national.

Immigration reform.

Meaning what, exactly? As Mehlman's party should have learned, when you're actually governing (not just critiquing the other guy's efforts to govern), you don't get to just be for "immigration reform." The GOP couldn't have been any more for "immigration reform" than it's been for the past several years. The problem is, they couldn't come to any agreement on what "immigration reform" means, and therefore they accomplished nothing on the issue. The GOP doesn't need to come out for immigration reform; it needs to figure out what kind of immigration reform it wants.

Do Democrats have the same problem? Yup. And probably on more issues than the GOP. That's historically been the case, at least. Yet the Dems managed to govern the Congress for nearly the entire post-WWII era. How? It's called compromise, both internally and with the minority party. The congressional GOP has not brooked much compromise over the past 12 years, and certainly not with the minority party. (Recall that one of the first things they did was change the House rules to radically reduce the input and influence of the minority, and they consolidated the majority's power in the offices of the leadership to reduce even intraparty compromise.) That's what bit them on immigration reform, even though they owned both houses of Congress and the White House, and all of them were "for" it: they wouldn't compromise with each other on how to do it. As a result, nothing got done. That's what happens when you try to govern using the same methods and principles you used when you were the loyal opposition.

What the GOP needs, if they want get back in good graces with the American voter, is not to come out for "immigration reform." What it needs is to learn how to function as a governing majority.

People put us into power for different reasons than Democrats. They put us in power to reform things.

No, actually, they don't. People elect Republicans for exactly the same reasons they elect Democrats: because there's something they want done. When people want things reformed, they vote for the party that's currently out of power, whichever party that is. If the GOP goes forward with the self-righteous mindset revealed in this particular Mehlman remark, its next attempt at governing will be as disastrous as this one was.

Washington is polarized. Americans have disagreements on issues. But Washington has personal disagreements on issues.

Ah, the passive voice. Anytime you hear a politician slip into the passive voice, check your wallet. (President Bush is a frequent offender, especially on Iraq. The Dems are currently commiting the opposite offense -- using the active-sounding word "redeployment" in place of the more accurate but passive-sounding "retreat.") Going passive here allows Mehlman to make it sound like the polarization, etc., is just a condition the GOP encountered; they had nothing to do with creating it, but now that they know it's there, well, by golly, they're going let the people know they're for fixing it.

Notice he didn't say, "Both parties are at fault here, but for our part, we've been using increasingly shrill and polarizing rhetoric, going all the way back to Newt's days as a backbencher, and we've got to find a more productive way of expressing disagreement." Or, "We've made a point of campaigning on the most divisive issues we could find, and we've learned that, even if we win, that makes it really hard to govern." Or, "It's not all our doing, but we, through our style of leadership, helped make the disagreements in Washington much more personal, and we need to find a way to start undoing the damage."

Saying those things would mean taking personal responsibility, something the GOP favors, but for others.

Going forward, if the GOP doesn't recognize and take responsibility for its faults over the past 12 years, it won't mend them, and it won't be any better at governing the next time.

The third message is to say that people who are in public service ought to be about serving the public not aggrandizement for themselves, and certainly not for personal enrichment.

Well, actually, the GOP doesn't need to say people in public service ought to be trying to find and enact the best available policy for the country, it needs to do it the next time it gets a chance to govern.

Karl Rove talks about building a permanent Republican majority. It will never happen as long as Mehlman's (and Rove's) kind of thinking prevails in the party, because that kind of thinking doesn't work when you are the guy who has to govern, and therefore no like-minded Republican majority will ever be anything like permanent. Based on the last 60 or so years of congressional history, one would have to say that the Democrats are simply better at governing than the Republicans are. That's why they had a near-permanent majority during that period. It'll be interesting to see if that's still true after 12 yrs. in the wilderness.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Hail the Conquering Heroes!

I’ve been absent for a while, but some of you may remember me. I’m the grouchy old retired guy who dabbles in history and long convoluted sentences.

I ‘d just like to echo Juvenal in sending out Congrats and Condolences to all concerned. Our election process has gotten so brutal that anyone who is willing to enter the public arena, whatever their motivation, deserves a little respect. Politicians being what they are, however, I’m sure that some of those on the short side will see their defeat as the final straw that ushers in a new “Dark Ages” of chaos and tyranny, while some of the winners will see their victory as the well deserved vindication of their morally and rationally superior character and philosophy. As usual, both will be mistaken.

More than anything, however, I’d like to congratulate us, the American electorate, for having peacefully completed the 109th election cycle under our present Constitution. The first assembly of Senators and Representatives convened in New York City on March 4, 1789, and it’s been pretty much business as usual ever since - except for two cycles during the Civil War (or, as some of my un-reconstructed friends call it “The War of Northern Aggression”). During that time, there were actually two congresses sitting - one in Washington and one in Richmond - resulting, I’m sure, in twice the bickering, back stabbing, name calling, and general all around “politicking” we’ve all come to know and love. Some of those election cycles were calm and uneventful, and some would make even our modern mud slinging contests look like church socials. Through it all, our country has survived and prospered beyond the wildest dreams of those men who first took office back in 1789. Hurray for the average American!

So much for the good news. For those of us who are sick to death of political hog wash from either side, the bad news is that the 110th election cycle has already started.

In 2008, it will have been 56 years since we’ve had a presidential election without either an incumbent president or vice-president on the ticket for either party. The last time this happened, we were in the middle of a confusing and not very popular war with American boys dying every day in some far off place; there were accusations of scandal; and the party in power’s approval ratings had sunk like a stone. The opposition nominated a very popular figure who ran on the platform of cleaning up the government, ending the war, and bringing the troops home. Does any of this sound familiar?

Fifty-six years ago, the opposition party candidate won 55.2% of the popular vote and 83% of the electoral vote. Running as an incumbent four years later, he received 57.5% of the popular vote and 86% of the electoral vote. History doesn’t always repeat itself, but, in this case, it has to make the current party holding the White House very nervous. Two years from now, it may be a different lady ordering new drapes for the Oval Office - again. For those of us who enjoyed watching the “Bill and Hil” show in the ‘90s, we might wake up some morning now long from now and hear some TV pundit saying

They’re Baaaaaaaaaack!

Fasten your seat belts.

The Emerging Movement

(Since you guys wouldn't read the 30 page document I linked in a previous post, try my 4 1/2 page summary instead! I needed to do this anyway. I'd really like a conversation about this - yes, I'm begging.)

I’ll begin by admitting that, as a non-academic, I prefer the lectures I read from the Westminster Theological Seminary to be funny. So Scot McKnight is my hero. In his lecture, you’ll find terms like suck and lookee here alongside dictionary-searching words such as orthopraxy and epistemology. And an awful lot of Mark Twain.

McKnight begins by laying some groundwork:
* First, denying that the emerging church can be defined by the popular stereotypes such as… folks who deny truth exists, folks who are simply enamored with using candles and incense in worship, and folks who are Brian McLaren.
* Second, he denies any such thing as the emerging “church” even exists, calling it instead more of a movement or conversation.
* Third, specifically for Terry Austin, he clarifies the difference between the terms “emerging” and “emergent.” The latter refers to Emergent Village, as directed by Tony Jones. The former is “bigger, broader, and deeper.” A movement, not a place.
* Fourth, he agrees to the premise that the “emerging movement” is a protest movement, but not in the ways some characterize it to be: instead of denying “truth” per se (my understanding of his use of the term, epistemology here), it is more a protest about, or maybe against, “church” as we know it (ecclesiology).

And just before he develops his metaphor that grabbed me, he summed up his groundwork this way: “…if you narrow the emerging movement to Emergent Village, and especially to the postmodernist impulse therein, you can probably dismiss this movement as a small fissure in the evangelical movement. But, if you are serious enough to contemplate major trends in the Church today, at an international level, and if you define emerging as many of us do – in missional, or ecclesiological terms, rather than eptistemological ones – then you will learn quickly enough that there is a giant elephant in the middle of the Church’s living room. It is the emerging church movement and it is a definite threat to traditional evangelical ecclesiology.”

I found the lecture both scary and exhilarating, and for the same reason: I discovered that I am not alone in the world after all.

(Melodramatic? Maybe, but I’m not so sure…)

McKnight’s metaphor employed to describe the emerging movement is a lake (Lake Emerging) with four rivers flowing in (postmodern, praxis, postevangelical, and politics). Some folks are on one river near the point it flows into Lake Emerging. Some are in the lake, but near one of the specific rivers. Still others are splashing around in a confluence of all the rivers in this theoretical lake.

#1: THE POSTMODERN RIVER

It is in this river from whence the accusation of denying the existence of truth comes. Yet McKnight argues that this is a mistaken accusation. Instead, in this river, emerging thinkers “embrace…a chastened epistemology.” He goes on to explain, “LeRon Shults claims ‘from a theological perspective, this fixation with propositions can easily lead to the attempt to use the finite tool of language on an absolute Presence that transcends and embraces all finite reality… The truly infinite God of Christian faith is beyond all our linguistic grasping…and so the struggle to capture God in our finite propositional structures is nothing short of linguistic idolatry.’ Flaubert once remarked, when trying to express his love for his mistress, that the ‘language to do so was inept.’ That, my friends, is [what] some emerging postmodern Christians are trying to say. Language is inept to talk absolutely about God. I must confess that I am smitten with the potential adoration and awe that derives from such apophatic approaches to Christian theologizing, and I’m inclined to say Shults is right.”

McKnight concludes, “What I’m suggesting in this first point is that postmodernity, at various levels, is a recognizable river flowing into Lake Emerging: it is conscious, it is intentional, and it is desirable. Someone who eschews or bad-mouths – or who curses, as the Lutherans sometimes do – postmodernity cannot be emerging.”

#2: THE PRAXIS RIVER

To McKnight, this is the heart of the movement. He had suggested earlier a book by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger (Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures) as the best description of the movement, and he quotes it here: “Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures.”

My first impression of the “emerging movement” was that of candles and incense, and for many this remains the picture. McKnight inserts this aspect on the Praxis River, but wonders if this is really that big a deal to emerging folks after all. Instead, there is a definite feeling that “the way we do worship” is obviously not the end-all, be-all to Christianity. So they wonder – and practice – other ways to physically express worship.

But this is not the major current on the Praxis River. Instead, McKnight explains: “To be straight up about it, the emerging movement thinks how a person lives is more important than what they believe… And that the power of a life forms the best apologetic for the way of Jesus.”

Before the tomatoes start flying, McKnight goes on to say “I know of no one in the emerging movement who thinks one’s relationship to God is established by how one lives, nor do I know anyone who really thinks it doesn’t matter what one believes about Jesus Christ…” But… “emerging folk are quite proud to remind us that we will be judged according to the parable of the sheep and goats on how we treat the least of these, and that the wise man is one who practices the words of Jesus. On top of this, some are quite fond of reminding us that Jesus didn’t offer a doctrinal statement but a way of life, and that he called people to follow him and not just to get their theology right.”

Emerging folks notice that no one has ever got it all “right” when it comes to theology, which (McKnight concludes), “leads them to concentrate on living the way of Jesus. We may not get it right when it comes to theology, so what we are called to do is live right…”

As a result, emerging folks are interested in social justice. McKnight argues that the approach to social justice, however, is not related to the Religious Right’s emphases on the issues of abortion and militarism, but the historical approach of Walter Rauschenbusch (architect of the social gospel) and Jane Addams.

Finally, the Praxis River is missional. McKnight writes, “…the missional impulse of the emerging movement finds its perfect expression in the ministry of Jesus – who went about doing good – to bodies and to spirits and to souls and to families and to societies. He swept up the marginalized from the floor and put them back on their seats at the table, and he attracted harlots and tax collectors, and wiped the lame clean and opened the ears of the deaf. He cared, in other words, about bodies and whole persons. He attacked the vicious injustices of the Herods and the Caesars and the religious elite of Israel, and he declared in tones even more strident than Jim Wallis that what they were doing was flat-out wrong and it had to change. The central element of this missional praxis is that the emerging movement is not attractional in its model of the church but is instead missional: that is, it does not invite people to church but instead wanders into the world as the church. It asks its community, ‘How can we help you?’ instead of knocking on doors to increase membership. In other words, it becomes a community with open windows and open doors and sees Sunday morning as the opportunity to prepare for a week of service to the community, asking not how many are attending the services but what redemptive traits are we seeing in our community. It wants to embody a life that is other-oriented rather than self-oriented, that is community-directed rather than church-oriented.”

(It is here that I’m prepared to come forward as we stand and sing.)

#3: THE POST-EVANGELICAL RIVER:

The emerging movement is a protest against evangelicalism.

McKnight begins with this simple explanation: “The gospel is more than Jesus coming to die for my sins so I can get to heaven.” He explains that this reduction of the gospel is rejected by the emerging movement. “Not in the sense of abandonment, not in the sense of rendering obsolete, but in the sense of taking up and moving beyond…”

McKnight guesses that the emerging movement is not necessarily post-evangelical in basic theology, but very much so when it comes to the Christian life and theology. (My gross simplification: “God, Jesus, Bible, Church, Spirit, etc. – okay, that’s not the argument. But how do we live?”)

First, “the emerging movement is perhaps annoyed more by Bible thumpers and Christians who are obsessed with being biblical than anything else – not because they disparage the Bible but because they know too many Christians whose theology is all that matters to them, who render judgment on everything and everyone – with Bible verses to back it up – but who don’t live compassionately…” He goes on, “When I wrote Jesus Creed to show how central loving God and loving others was to his ethics, I didn’t know my idea was emerging. Whether it is or not, it is biblical: Jesus said the whole Law hangs from these two commandments… The emerging movement thinks love defines Christian existence. Which means reading about love and exegeting agapao and the likes are not enough."

Second, the emerging movement is suspicious of systematic theology. After offering several reasons why, McKnight writes, “Frankly, the emerging movement loves ideas and theology; sometime sit down with its leaders and its participants and you’ll find that they love theology – they just don’t “have” a theology and don’t “subscribe to” a theology or “confess” a theology. They believe the Great Traditions offers us ways of telling the truth about God’s redemption in Christ, but they don’t believe any one theology gets it absolutely right.

Third, the emerging movement is skeptical of the “in vs. out” mentality that comes with evangelicalism. McKnight explains, “Let’s get the foil for the emergents on the table: evangelicals render judgment on who is and who isn’t a Christian… The emerging movement is skeptical of our ability to know such things.” McKnight goes on to show the negative implications this has toward evangelism and challenges the movement in this regard, but this strand of protest is against a movement defined by evangelism, even if it hasn’t articulated a coherent alternative to its traditional practice.

#4: THE POLITICAL RIVER

Quoting yet again, “Lake Emerging also receives a river called political, and here I’m talking now only about the USA. Tony Jones is regularly told that the emerging movement is a latte-drinking, backpack-lugging, Birkenstock-wearing, group of 21st Century left-wing hippie wannabes. Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells ‘doomed’ for conservative evangelicals.”

Later, “…although emerging leaders often speak of the bi-partisan or non-partisan nature of emergent, I don’t see it. I think they are mostly political left. Brian McLaren called for a ‘purple’ politics. I’ll believe the emerging movement is ‘purple’ in politics when I see a politics that is genuinely moderate, genuinely independent, and genuinely willing to criticize both the Republicans for their godless emphasis on money and the Democrats for their godless emphasis on amorality.”

McKnight believes that Jim Wallis is Walter Rauschenbusch a century later and argues that Wallis’ solitary message to the evangelical church is that justice in the world matters to God. McKnight agrees, but raises the question of how justice is defined. He goes on to say that when he reads emerging folks write about justice, he thinks he is hearing the Democratic platform. He concludes, “I could be wrong. But this is what I see.”

CONCLUSION

McKnight concludes with his thesis that the emerging movement is more about ecclesiology than epistemology – more about “how to do church by practicing the way of Jesus in postmodernity” than a theological statement.

I conclude by saying that I was both frightened and exhilarated to read about myself in light of a “movement.” Frightened because I haven’t been subscribing to the company newsletters (my initial impression of emerging led me to avoid the literature), and exhilarated because I’m a lonely person (although I find encouragement from the houseflies from time to time, I feel very much alone in the world as to my worldview).

I guess I am not alone after all. I do not know the implications of being able to say that aloud.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Congrats and Condolences

Congrats to Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the first woman in American history to be Speaker of the House.

Condolences to Rick Santorum's kids, who were just pitiful, standing there behind their dad.

Congrats to Claire McCaskill, who defeated an incumbent who had done nothing to annoy his constituency. She simply convinced the people of MO that she could do the job better.

Condolences to Jim Talent, said incumbent, and to Lincoln Chafee, who also had done nothing to annoy his voters.

Congrats to Christopher Shays, a similarly situated Republican incumbent who managed to avoid the same fate.

Condolences to Harold Ford, Jr., who came up a bit short, but gave the best speech I heard all night.

Congrats to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gets the "Comeback Kid" Award for this cycle.

Condolences to the people of Virginia, who had to choose between a [mostly] closeted racist and a [mostly] closeted misogynist for their senator.

Congrats to Jon Tester, who can now say, "That's Senator Meatloaf, to you, bub."

Condolences to gays and lesbians who wanted to get married in, well, name a state.

Congrats to Jeff Greenfield, who turned in another pitch-perfect night of brainy-whimsical election coverage.

Condolences to Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough, who, come awards season, will share an Emmy for "Best Performance as a Cranky Old Ass."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day Kerfuffle

Here's a spot for discussing Election Day stuff. I see, already, that we're going to be hearing a lot about problems with the new electronic voting machines, again. My question is this: don't these election officials do anything ahead of time? Like, say, turn their machines on and see if they even run? I mean, cripes, it sounds like Election Day at the official poll-opening time is quite literally the first time they'd even turned these things on.

I should add that I'm not complaining about the volunteers who work in polling places. They are volunteers, providing a public service, and do the best they can. The problem is the paid officials, who apparently did no advance planning, testing, or training with the new voting technology.

Monday, November 06, 2006

And Speaking of Amendments ...

I had no idea until today that Virginia has a truly frightening, draconian one on the ballot tomorrow. What is the world coming to?

Another One Bites the Dust

Are my friends and I bad people for cackling just a little at the Reverend Ted Haggard story? I mean, I know it's not the case that every homophobic man might be projecting a little, but then you hear these stories and raise an eyebrow ... I say hats off to the guy who outed him. It was absolutely hypocritical to be campaigning for that sad, tired constitutional amendment when you're getting some from a man on the side. (Or has he admitted to anything beyond the massage yet?) At least gay men who want to marry their partners aren't cheating on their wives. I mean, really, what is the worse kind of life to lead? If Haggard is gay (and he may not be, he may just have been experimenting), I hope that he will be able to live an honest life in the future.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sailing on Lake Emerging

Wow.

This is for the religiously-interested among us. I took the time to print off the thirty-page document found here titled, “What is the Emerging Church?” by Scot McKnight. It is his lecture given eight days ago at Westminster Theological Seminary, and it is very thought-provoking for me at the very least. I’m obviously sailing around Lake Emerging somehow (which will make sense once you read his diagnosis). This will give me great cause for reflection, and I suspect a few of you will be interested as well.

Beyond the Pale

JU mentioned in a comment the other day that he finds electioneering depressing. Well, yes. When the attack ads are as vicious, slimy, and utterly false as they have been during this election season, it does tend to make one pessimistic about the state of the country and of democracy in general. I will be the first to admit that both parties use negative ads to distort their opponents' positions -- and that that is wrong when anyone does it. But as this article demonstrates, whatever their other faults, Democrats ain't got nothin' on Republicans when it comes to dirty and false campaigning. (I can probably get away with saying this now since all those who once would have challenged me are no longer involved with the blog). If anyone can point out to me a Democratic ad from this year that is anywhere near as disgusting as the ads discussed in this article, I would be willing to rethink my position.

P.S. What the f**k is up with the whole NAMBLA thing? I'm about tired of hearing about it. Can we just set the record straight right now: the ACLU does not defend the right of men to have sex with underage boys. Rather, they defend the First Amendment associational right of the organization to exist. Geez.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Finally...

You will all be glad to know that we’re finally to the end of Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be (smile). Below, I will offer my overall summary of the book’s argument, followed by printing the epilogue from Wink.

My summary:
* Unseen world forces (i.e. “principalities and powers”) seek to dominate the world, and in so doing, war against God’s desire for justice.
* God’s war strategy (taught by Jesus) dismisses both the practice of violence (“morally illegitimate or excessive use of force”) and pacifism as commonly understood, choosing instead to fight the Powers in a third way: nonviolent, creative resistance.
* The reason for this choice of weaponry is a love for ALL mankind (including enemies).
* The path to war begins in prayer, calling on God to do what is right in the world (to the extent that God can act in the face of the Powers’ freedom), and realigning those praying with their role in social justice.

EPILOGUE

My friend Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer once found himself walking through the streets of Calcutta, so enraged by the poverty that he wanted to scream at God, “How can you allow such suffering?” Then he came to a painful realization: “In the suffering of the poor God was screaming at me, in fact at all of us and at our institutions and social systems that cause and perpetuate hunger, poverty, and inequality.” We end, then, with that divine cry ringing in our ears, exhorting us to engage these mighty Powers in the strength of the Holy Spirit, that human life might become more fully human.

This is the goal: not only to become free from the Powers, but to free the Powers. Jesus came not only to reconcile people to God despite the Powers, but to reconcile the Powers themselves to God (Col. 1:20). We seek not only to break the idolatrous spells cast over people by the Powers, but to break the ability of the Powers to cast idolatrous spells. “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). We need to escape idolatry, not this planet. We do not seek to rid ourselves of subsystems and structures in order to secure an individualistic paradise on earth or an afterlife in heaven. We seek, rather, to relate these systems to the One in and through and for whom they exist, and in whom all things hold together (Col. 1:16-17).

The passion that drove the early Christians to evangelistic zeal was not fueled just by the desire to increase church membership or to usher people safely into a compensatory heaven after death. Their passion was fired above all by relief at being liberated from the delusions being spun over them by the Powers. Being thus freed determined them to set others free. In the final analysis, the gospel is not a message of escape to another world, but of rescue from the enticements of “this world” (the Domination System) and its ultimate transformation, when “all nations shall come and worship” God (Rev. 15:4). Eternal life is not something reserved for the future in another reality, but begins now, the moment we become alive to God and God’s revealer (John 17:3).

In a pluralistic world in which we are privileged to learn from all religious and philosophical traditions, Christians still have a story to tell to the nations. Who knows – telling it may do no one so much good as ourselves. And as we tell it and live it, we may see ourselves – and maybe even the world – a little bit transformed.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The No A**hole Rule

I apologize for being so absent the past few weeks. I had an insane week at work two weeks ago and then I was out all last week. My friend Lucy got married this past Saturday and I was in my first wedding, in a fuchsia bridesmaid dress. (Lucy loves bright colors and had wanted a summer wedding, which scheduling issues did not permit). My hair did turn out well, though -- everyone was complimenting me on it, which I took as a sign that my hair usually looks like crap. :)

I also haven't had much to post on lately, but a colleague from work sent me a link to this blog post, a review of a new book with the above-mentioned title, and I thought, I need to go out and get this book. It is truly one of the most difficult parts of being a lawyer to have to deal with a**holes. (I include the asterisks out of respect for Al, who asked me not to curse on the blog in case his daughter reads it). And there are a lot of them. Occasionally they are clients, but most often they are your co-counsel or opposing counsel. Generally you get it most within your own workplace.

I've basically come to the conclusion that neither of my bosses has much respect for me, though one is definitely nicer than the other. The nicer one is the one I work with, the other one I have avoided since my last review when he said, in so many words, that he didn't think I was cut out to be a lawyer. It was a completely unfair assessment of me, and he gave no specific examples to support his assertion, which, in fairness, was phrased as a question of "whether I really wanted to do this work."

The truth is, in a lot of ways I'm not cut out to be a lawyer, but all of them are to my credit. I am honest, above board, and civil/kind in my dealings with people. I do not try to deceive through cleverness and I do not play dirty tricks. I have a hard time arguing a position when I don't believe in it personally or when I know the law is not on my side. I hate schmoozing (even if it's politely called "networking") and am terrible at it. I don't care about money and am more interested in helping people, which I have come to realize is not considered a valuable trait at my firm. I think the concept of the billable hour is an absurd way to evaluate employees, and as I've mentioned in a previous post, I believe in the 40 hour week, also not a popular view in the legal profession.

I don't know where I'm going with this, except to say that this post was sent by a colleague to all of the associates in my office. We're all in a bit of a funk about the direction of the firm. Fortunately, there is one saving grace -- we all like each other a lot and get along well. We just needed a little primer on how to deal with those we don't.

Locations of visitors to this page