Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Swiftboating of Barack Obama

This is another article that was suggested to me. The website, "The Smirking Chimp," is an unbashedly liberal website. David Michael Green makes some interesting points, however, and I wanted to share this. My thinking is that the main stream media is working mostly with sound bites and this, as well as the article by Martin E. Marty, are actually looking to delve deeper into the subject.

The Swiftboating of Barack Obama
By David Michael Green

If there's anything I've learned about American politics over the past decade, it's this: First, regressives will do anything - and I mean anything - to obtain power (the real purpose of which is to loot the public fisc of all items not securely nailed to the floor). And, second, just about everything they try works when employed against an American public possessed of stunning political immaturity.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that two things happened over the last couple of weeks. One, that Barack Obama was swiftboated by means of a bogus inference in order to make him look like an angry black radical. And two, that a lot of dumb voters went for it.

It was pretty inevitable, really. I mean, the guy was getting rather, um, uppity, if you know what I mean. Winning elections and all. Mobilizing millions of voters. And so on. Plus he's talking like he might actually, really, seriously, shut off the government teat of Iraq war no-bid contracts, NAFTA/WTO-based cheap labor, and massive tax transfers for the hyper-wealthy. This shit had to end.

True, John McCain is not quite as reliable a special interests whore as, say, Mitt Ownme, but he knows where his bread is buttered, and sometimes it seems like he even genuinely believes all the crap they feed him. Anyhow, he's far more controllable than some Democrat, especially one who seems increasingly able to get voters (with a massive assist from the complete failure of Bush and the regressive agenda) to cease responding to the cues for which they've been so well trained these last decades. Hear that bell? Salivate now. We say "Jump"? Ask "How high?" See that grainy image of a black criminal? Vote Republican. Oh, and please be sure to hand over your wallet before exiting the building.

No doubt about it, people. The American plutocracy paid good money to create such a well disciplined voting class, and they're not about to let that investment go down the drain without a fight.

The damn thing about it, though, is that Obama hardly gives them anything to work with. I mean, the guy is mild-mannered to a fault. He's inspirational when he speaks, never angry and alienating. He was supposed to be vulnerable for opposing the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made, but instead all except the most low-wattage voters see Iraq as, well, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made. I mean, the guy doesn't even really seem black.

That only leaves one option remaining, then: Swiftboat the SOB. Find some tangential pseudo-vulnerability that goes after Obama's biggest potential asset and turn it into a negative. Is he coming off to a mesmerized public as some kind of post-ideological, post-racial-divide healer who could unite the country and return us to our sanity? Then he must be turned into Eldrige Cleaver. All that's needed to complete the picture is a big 'fro, a beret and an AK-47 with a menacing tilt to it.

Preposterous? Think it can't be done? So did I, until I saw a guy with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Cross turned into a weak, wimpy, lying coward, in order to make sure that a weak, wimpy, lying coward who went to Margaritaville instead of the Mekong Delta during the Sixties could be portrayed as some sort of macho tough guy, and thus steal another four years in the White House.

Fortunately, Obama is no John Kerry. The latter waited three weeks to respond to the attacks against him. He might as well have waited three years. Obama didn't make the same mistake. And when he did speak, what a tour de force it was.

The most stunning feature of his speech was the least overt. This was a speech about his pastor, but that was not its central motif. This was a discussion of race, of course, but that was not its deepest theme.

What really mattered most about this speech was the way in which Obama addressed us. American politicians have treated the voting public with barely concealed contempt for so long now, we've largely forgotten what respectful discourse looks like. On March 18th, Obama reminded us.

Forget about charisma, a very much overrated if not dangerous characteristic in politicians anyhow. What matters instead is this: It's been decades since someone spoke to the public with this much honesty and sophistication about our society and its choices. It was breathtaking just to witness that level of esteem pointed in our direction.

All the more so because of the epoch we've just survived. George Bush is far from the only contemptuous politician in recent history, but he is surely the worst of the lot, and his politics are instructive because of that.

In Bush's world, everyone is two-dimensional, at best. They're either good or evil. Folks is either with us or with the enemy. In Bush's comic book reality, no issue is ever nuanced. There's only right - which, remarkably, always happens to be his way - and there's wrong. Once asked if he could name any mistakes he'd made as president, a flustered Bush was unable to identify even a single one. (I wish I could have been there to assist him. We probably could have made a dent in it after a week or two.) He cannot conceive that anyone he's labeled evil could have legitimate grievances. He cannot imagine that America could ever have committed any crimes, such as using violence to achieve political ends.

Or so he acts when he speaks to us. I doubt he truly believes his own sorry shtick, which of course only makes it far worse.

Nor has the so-called opposition been much better. While their positions on issues might be slightly more thoughtful (and how could they be less so?), one has little sense from a John Kerry or a Hillary Clinton that they can say something just because it is truthful, as opposed to because they've calculated that it's popular. Theirs is different from Republican pandering in scale and destructiveness, but not in kind. It is still pandering for purposes of personal benefit.

And American politics have been deeply impoverished for decades now because of our politicians' contemptuousness. Worse, the effect has been cyclically corrosive. The more of it we get, the more of it we breed.

We live today in a polity characterized by the most unsophisticated public discourse, one where twenty-second scare ads win elections every time. And one where attempts at thinking through basic questions - such as whether our enemy resides in Afghanistan or Iraq - are ridiculed as effete intellectual elitism.

Look what it's produced for us. Whether it is the federal debt, falling economic standards, environmental crisis, or our diminished world standing that we're discussing - or, more likely, not discussing - Americans have dug themselves into failed policy holes of epic proportions. In very large part, this is because it's been mutually convenient for both politicians and voters alike to indulge in a Potemkin politics of fantasy.

But the stunning sub-text of Obama's speech is that we can think of these issues and the people involved in them as more than mere caricatures. In adopting this posture, he telegraphed to Americans more respect, and less contempt, than they've seen from any politician in three decades, ever since Reagan seduced them into assisting in their own looting.

When Obama reminded us that his former pastor had not only bad but also good ideas - like most anyone, black or white, emerging from the cauldron of American race relations might - he treated his listeners with a dignity and an intellectual esteem largely absent for a generation.

When he rejected the expedient route of completely disassociating himself from Reverend Wright, he demanded sophistication in our thinking. He asked us to use our minds rather than our emotional reflexes, and to invest more energy into determining our own fate than that which is required for passively imbibing deceitful television ads, cold beer in hand.

When he implored us to reject the divisions of race, religion and nationality that right-wing politicians have been exploiting for decades to divert attention from "the real culprits of the middle class squeeze," he showed a political courage that is as exemplary as it is rare.

And when he did all of these things - but especially when he showed us an intellectual respect that we frankly haven't often deserved - Obama demonstrated that he perhaps really might belong in that pantheon of American political giants that includes Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and King, but precious few others.

He also made clear why those who peddle the politics of contempt have lately shown such desperation to somehow silence his revolution, a revolution not so much of policy - Obama is no V.I. Lenin; he's not even a Paul Wellstone - as it is of esteem. Think, for a moment, of the sheer absurdity of what they are asking you to accept on the face of their argument.

Has this man committed treason, like Scooter Libby, for example? No. Did he lie to the world at a cost of a million lives, like Bush and everyone else in his reprobate camp? Uh, no. Has he bankrupted the future of our children through his environmental, fiscal and foreign policies, like the entire Republican Party? No, he did not. Heck, is he even guilty of the heinous crime of screwing an expensive prostitute, like silly Eliot Spitzer? Nein.

Barack Obama's great crime, as the regressive noise machine (as well as a certain senator from New York) would have you believe it, is failing to quit a church where the pastor has controversial ideas. Let's say this again, because the absurdity of it is so astonishing (as with all regressive politics, once you look closely). This man is being excoriated for the crime of failing to quit a church whose pastor has ideas with which he doesn't entirely agree. That is why, it is being argued, Obama should be rejected as a contender to lead America as president.

This, by the way, while John McCain has been actively wooing televangelist (a modern euphemism for crook) John Hagee for his endorsement, despite that the good reverend has called Catholicism "a godless theology", blamed the Holocaust on Jewish "disobedience and rebellion", argued that Katrina was "the judgment of God against New Orleans", and claimed that the Koran gives Muslims "a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews". Notwithstanding any of those slightly controversial remarks, McCain sought this clown's support, got what he wanted, and thus stated at a campaign event that "I was pleased to have the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee yesterday".

If it seems like a helluva logical conundrum that Obama gets trashed for comments his pastor makes, over which he has no control, while McCain goes scot-free after seeking the endorsement of a king-size bigot, well then welcome to Swiftboat Land. Park your brain over there, to the right. By the same 'logic', John Kerry, who went to Nam, became our national security wimp, while Wee Caligula, who couldn't even stay sober enough to show up for the faux service Poppy arranged to keep him out of the jungle, became our tough commander-in-chief.

Of course, logic has nothing to do with swiftboating, apart from the crucial requirement that it must be murdered in more ways than Rasputin was, and buried deep on some distant continent, lest anyone in America should actually awaken from their regressive-induced stupor long enough to ask why that emperor dude is running around in his underwear.

In truth, what Reverend Wright said is of as much actual concern to regressives as was John McCain's supposed black love-child or Willie Horton's crimes. Which is to say none at all. The point is to swiftboat Obama by injecting race into the campaign and frightening away closet racist voters. The point of doing that is to win power. And the point of that is to steal your money and your country.

That's why Obama's 'revolution' represents that most threatening commodity of all for those who employ contemptuous deceit to mask "economic policies that favor the few over the many," as he accurately labeled it.

It's a revolution, ultimately, of respect - and that's really dangerous. For the first time in a very long time, a presidential candidate is speaking to Americans as if they were grown-ups.

We're about to find out if anyone is listening.
_______

About author

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.

Prophet and Pastor

Dr. Martin E. Marty is a Lutheran clergyperson and one of the country's leading church historians. He wrote this article about Jeremiah Wright which at least casts a different perspective on things. Marty is one of the least controversial, most respected church historians in the United States right now and has some interesting perspectives in this well written article in the Chronicle Review:
OBSERVER

Prophet and Pastor

To his former professor, congregant, and friend, Jeremiah Wright has been both







Through the decades, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. has called me teacher, reminding me of the years when he earned a master's degree in theology and ministry at the University of Chicago — and friend. My wife and I and our guests have worshiped at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he recently completed a 36-year ministry.

Images of Wright's strident sermons, and his anger at the treatment of black people in the United States, appear constantly on the Internet and cable television, part of the latest controversy in our political-campaign season. His critics call Wright anti-American. Critics of his critics charge that the clips we hear and see have been taken out of context. But it is not the context of particular sermons that the public needs, as that of Trinity church, and, above all, its pastor.

In the early 1960s, at a time when many young people were being radicalized by the Vietnam War, Wright left college and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps. After three years as a marine, he chose to serve three more as a naval medical technician, during which time he received several White House commendations. He came to Chicago to study not long after Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder in 1968, the U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia in 1969, and the shooting of students at Kent State University in 1970.

Wright, like the gifted cohort of his fellow black students, was not content to blend into the academic woodwork. Then the associate dean of the Divinity School, I was informally delegated to talk to the black caucus. We learned that what Wright and his peers wanted was the intense academic and practical preparation for vocations that would make a difference, whether they chose to pursue a Ph.D. or the pastorate. Chicago's Divinity School focuses on what it calls "public ministry," which includes both conventional pastoral roles and carrying the message and work of the church to the public arena. Wright has since picked up numerous honorary doctorates, and served as an adjunct faculty member at several seminaries. But after divinity school, he accepted a call to serve then-struggling Trinity.

Trinity focuses on biblical teaching and preaching. It is a church where music stuns and uplifts, a church given to hospitality and promoting physical and spiritual healing, devoted to education, active in Chicago life, and one that keeps the world church in mind, with a special accent on African Christianity. The four S's charged against Wright — segregation, separatism, sectarianism, and superiority — don't stand up, as countless visitors can attest. I wish those whose vision has been distorted by sermon clips could have experienced what we and our white guests did when we worshiped there: feeling instantly at home.

Yes, while Trinity is "unapologetically Christian," as the second clause in its motto affirms, it is also, as the other clause announces, "unashamedly black." From its beginning, the church has made strenuous efforts to help black Christians overcome the shame they had so long been conditioned to experience. That its members and pastor are, in their own term, "Africentric" should not be more offensive than that synagogues should be "Judeocentric" or that Chicago's Irish parishes be "Celtic-centric." Wright and colleagues insist that no hierarchy of races is involved. People do not leave Trinity ready to beat up on white people; they are charged to make peace.

To the 10,000 members of Trinity, Jeremiah Wright was, until just a few months ago, "Pastor Wright." Metaphorically, pastor means shepherd. Like members of all congregations, the Trinity flock welcomes strong leadership for organization, prayer, and preaching. One-on-one ministry is not easy with thousands in the flock and when the pastor has national responsibilities, but the forms of worship make each participant feel recognized. Responding to the pastoral call to stand and be honored on Mother's Day, for instance, grandmothers, single mothers, stepmothers, foster mothers, gay-and-lesbian couples, all mothers stood when we visited. Wright asked how many believed that they were alive because of the church's health fairs. The members of the large pastoral staff know many hundreds of names, while hundreds of lay people share the ministry.

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright's sermons were pastoral — my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives — they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet. Though Jeremiah of old did not "curse" his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses — what biblical scholars call "imprecatory topoi" — that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called "the jeremiad," a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

In the end, however, Jeremiah was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet's letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile." Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon.

One may properly ask whether or how Jeremiah Wright — or anyone else — experiences a prophetic call. Back when American radicals wanted to be called prophets, I heard Saul Bellow say (and, I think, later saw it in writing): "Being a prophet is nice work if you can get it, but sooner or later you have to mention God." Wright mentioned God sooner. My wife and I recall but a single overtly political pitch. Wright wanted 2,000 letters of protest sent to the Chicago mayor's office about a public-library policy. Of course, if we had gone more often, in times of profound tumult, we would have heard much more. The United Church of Christ is a denomination that has taken raps for being liberal — for example for its 50th anniversary "God is still speaking" campaign and its pledge to be open and affirming to all, including gay people. In its lineage are Jonathan Edwards and Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, America's three most-noted theologians; the Rev. King was much at home there.

Friendship develops through many gestures and shared delights (in the Marty case, stops for sinfully rich barbecue after evening services), and people across the economic spectrum can attest to the generosity of the Wright family.

It would be unfair to Wright to gloss over his abrasive — to say the least — edges, so, in the "Nobody's Perfect" column, I'll register some criticisms. To me, Trinity's honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan was abhorrent and indefensible, and Wright's fantasies about the U.S. government's role in spreading AIDS distracting and harmful. He, himself, is also aware of the now-standard charge by some African-American clergy who say he is a victim of cultural lag, overinfluenced by the terrible racial situation when he was formed.

Having said that, and reserving the right to offer more criticisms, I've been too impressed by the way Wright preaches the Christian Gospel to break with him. Those who were part of his ministry for years — school superintendents, nurses, legislators, teachers, laborers, the unemployed, the previously shunned and shamed, the anxious — are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

Martin E. Marty is a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a panelist for On Faith, of Washingtonpost.com. His most recent book is The Christian World: A Global History (Modern Library, 2008).


http://chronicle.com
Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 54, Issue 30, Page B1


http://chronicle.com/free/v54/i30/30b00101.htm

Friday, March 28, 2008

Great Moments in Stupidity

I marvel at great moments in stupidity.

Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh told voters in Ohio to vote in the Democratic primary to cause chaos for the Democrats. Ohio does not have an open primary. A voter has to declare their party. I lived in Ohio for eleven years and voted there for eleven years and voted in the primaries. You had to declare.

If you wanted to change parties you had to sign a document saying that you were honestly changing parties. It wasn’t a loyalty oath it was simply a legal document one signed to protect BOTH parties from people from the other party playing games. If you don’t like it, don’t vote or live in Ohio.

Well, Rush told people to make the jump. Many did and signed that they were honestly changing parties when they weren’t. Now there are allegations of voter fraud. How could people be foolish enough to listen to some fool on the radio telling them to break the law and then do so?

To think I had given up selling the Brooklyn Bridge...

But Elisabeth Hasselbeck of “The View” has to win the award for great moments in stupidity. In the conversation about Jeremiah Wright the point was made that we were looking at three minutes broken into 30 second sound bites of a twenty year career. (It was actually over thirty years.) The point was made that Wright had done an amazing amount of good in his pastorate there and it was unfair to judge him entirely on these sound bites.

This was not enough for Elisabeth Hasselbeck, however. She compared Wright’s ministry with the statement that maybe Jeffrey Dahmer had eaten peanut butter sandwiches growing up and that didn’t make him less of a cannibal...

That’s all I have to say. She wins the great moments in stupidity award and she has rendered me speechless other than this. One of the better days in my career as a Giants fan was when they Giants cut her husband Tim. From that day on Elisabeth and I no longer had to be kin. Ugh!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Camille Wright Pool

The Camille Wright pool is closing. The pool has lost a considerable amount of money and needs major repairs which, obviously, will cost a great deal of money. The pool has lost much of its appeal because of the new, more fun pools, that have opened in Jeff.

But now the housing project children (and families) have no place else to go. It seems to me that we used to be fighting a war on poverty and we seem to be now fighting a war on the impoverished.

Isms

This current Presidential race is just loaded with ‘isms.’

Isms are those prejudices that people have that we don’t like to talk about. Racism. Sexism. Ageism. We like to believe that we are past all of the ‘isms,’ but we often find, much to our dismay, that we are not.

The candidacy of Barack Obama, the excerpts from some of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, the reaction of many, indicates that there is still a racism issue going on in the United States. Whenever we presume that someone is going to behave in a predictable fashion with that prediction based upon race, racism is alive and well.

I like to think that much of the racism we have endured in our country is in the past. When the Division Street School was rededicated I was fascinated to hear the premise that schools were segregated back then, in my lifetime, to make sure that people were separate but equal. Separate but equal. Right. Sure. A nice illusion. It was quite a racism approach to the issue back then that is mostly in our past. Mostly. It doesn’t mean that we are not a color blind society.

Sometimes I wonder if some of the angry comments of Jeremiah Wright made people angry because of what he said or if they were angry that he is still angry. We often like to gloss over things and make nice, but racism still exists. We have been reminded that the ‘ism’ of race is alive and well, however.

The candidacy of John McCain has demonstrated that ageism is still alive and well. Many television pundits found it wildly entertaining that McCain, as a child, remembered Pearl Harbor. Age, obviously, is a factor in terms of health and stamina, but it often evolves into an ‘ism’ kind of thing. A person is not capable of something because of his or her age. It often borders on the absurd. Remember Rush Limbaugh said about Hillary Clinton that people shouldn’t vote for her because she’s 60 and who wants to watch a woman age in the White House? I mean, duh, how crass is that. Of course, Rush Limbaugh ventures into all the ‘isms’ and it’s very difficult to take him seriously about much of anything.

Of course, with Hillary Clinton running for the Presidency we have seen sexism rise up as well. Women are still so often seen as not having the fortitude, wisdom, or knowledge of men. Churches remarkably still ignore Scripture and keep women from speaking in churches. People are often still convinced that women don’t have the fortitude to make difficult decisions. There are still people who have the moronic attitudes that aging women’s appearances mean something bad. Ugh.

One of the many things I am finding interesting about the current Presidential race is that it is a race loaded with ‘isms.’ It continues to confront us in ways that might make us uncomfortable, but also force us to grow.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We get the leaders we deserve...

Here’s the big political news of the week.

John McCain confused Purim (Jewish holiday) with Halloween. Dumb? Sure. But.

Hillary Clinton, it turns out, did not have to duck in Bosnia. Did she miss speak foolishly? Sure. But.

A Butler University student asked Chelsea Clinton an incredibly stupid question about Monica Lewinsky. Chelsea, to her credit, rebuked the young man in a brilliant and stinging fashion. But.

There is the ongoing saga of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. If you want to know what Barack Obama really thinks, don’t look at 30 second clips from Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, but read Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope.”

We get the leaders we deserve because we make decisions on stupid things. In all of this here is what has not really been discussed this week.

The war turned a corner. There are now over 4000 dead American soldiers from Iraq. This is not big news because a candidate may have found a booger on his/her finger.

Gas prices are numbingly high and the housing market is a disaster. The economy is bad. All major issues for the election.

But, we need to know if McCain really knows his Jewish holidays, or if Hillary’s hyperbole is significant, or what Chelsea’s thoughts on Monica Lewinsky are. (Could you imagine even giving this a thought????)

We get the leaders we deserve because:

The press is too lazy to pursue real stories.

People think talk radio people offer something to the national conversation.

People tend to vote on idiotic issues instead of really paying attention to the world around them.

Oh yes, it turns out the lad from Butler is a Hillary supporter and he thought he was giving Chelsea a great question that would make Clinton women shine. Butler is a good school and I’m sure he’ll figure out better questions to ask. Of course, if he stays at this level, he’ll soon be giving Matt Lauer competition in the stupid questions awards...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Faith and Skepticism

Faith and skepticism, or is it better stated skepticism and faith? I’m never quite sure.

In an era when there are lots of presumptions that Christianity is going gang busters, there is a lot of evidence to indicate that Christianity in America is waning. The vast majority of people under the age of 30 have no real church affiliation and 80% of the population under the age of 20 has had virtually no religious affiliation whatsoever. Maybe in the Bible Belt these statistics might be a little high, but just a little.

Increasingly people are growing more and more skeptical about religion. As I read the arguments of those who are skeptical much of what they have to say makes a great deal of sense. I say this not because I readily agree with the skeptics, but I say this because many Christians are making excellent arguments for skepticism.

Here are some of my thoughts.

The first reason many people are skeptical about Christianity and religious faith in general, is the area of judging others. Many people presume that Christianity is focused on calling people out for their sins and promotes a sense of casting judgment over others, most especially the sin of others.

Christianity is actually about quite the opposite. When you read of Christians judging others or citing that they have a right (or obligation) to judge others, they are doing what they want to do as opposed to what their faith teaches. Christianity is very much in opposition to the judgment of others.

There are, in the Gospels, numerous instances of Jesus teaching and preaching on not judging others. In 1st Corinthians St. Paul has a moment where he judges another (in the Corinthian community) and the 2nd Corinthians tells the people to bring this person back into the fold and not be judgmental. Paul obviously either changed his mind or recognized that he was going down a path that was not particularly appropriate in his faith journey.

Martin Luther was emphatic, in his writings, in opposition to judgment because as he read the New Testament, he came to the conclusion that the ban on the judgment of others was because no one is actually good enough to judge another human being.

Christianity has, historically, challenged social ills, such as slavery, but believes that the calling out of sinners, as individuals, is God’s realm, not the realm of people.

Secondly, some of the teachings of Christianity are found to be disturbing by many. We’ve heard the quotes a great deal:

God helps those who help themselves.

Charity begins at home.

Hate the sin, love the sinner.

People hear these great citations of Christianity and come to the conclusion that they often lead people towards unkind behavior.

God helps those who help themselves gives an indication that people who are impoverished do not deserve God’s help (or anyone’s) because God helps those who help themselves, and they obviously didn’t.

Charity begins at home seems to indicate that the service of ourselves supercedes the service of others.

Hate the sin, love the sinner seems to indicate that we have a right, even a responsibility, to render judgment on others.

Only one small problem. None of these are Biblical teachings.

The Gospels seem to indicate that God helps those who help others. St. Francis of Assisi’s great prayer, “It is in giving that we receive,” is very much in harmony with the teachings of Jesus and not in harmony with being concerned if people help themselves. I might think it’s great if people work hard and help themselves, but the Gospel commands me to feed and clothe those who are impoverished and whether or not they helped themselves is irrelevant.

Charity, by its very nature, does not begin at home. Charity, by its very nature, is external. It is reaching beyond ourselves, never beginning with ourselves. In the gospels, personal sacrifice is exalted and personal preservation is not. Charity, by definition not only doesn’t begin at home, but cannot.

And, hate the sin, love the sinner is just a way of trying to give permission to ourselves to judge others. Judging others is fun because it makes us feel superior to others we see as less worthy of God than ourselves.

Much skeptical thought comes from the belief that Christianity has become increasingly ignorant.

Christianity has been responsible for fine institutions of learning. We think of some of the great universities in our nation. Harvard. Yale. Princeton. Brown. Fordham. Notre Dame. Georgetown. More locally, Bellarmine, Spalding, and Hanover.

All schools founded by people of faith. All of which, today, provide outstanding education opportunities for students who attend them. Many other institutions across the country, and around the world, indicate that Christianity has a strong belief about a great education.

And now, about 50% of the American population lives with the belief that the universe is less than 10,000 years old. If ignorance is bliss, there are many happy people. The fault of this, however, is not on Christianity, but on some within Christianity who have decided it is better to revise anthropology, history, and science, than to live with conclusions they do not like.

In the 13th century, church theologians wrote and believed that the creation story in Genesis was a theological treatise on a science they could not explain. In the 21st century more people take the story as a scientific treatise in ways that are mind boggling. When attempts are made to demonstrate that parts of early Genesis were reactions to other, earlier, writings, history and anthropology are changed to make Genesis older.

Many Christians are intelligent, well educated people who do know and appreciate anthropology, history, and science and can live, well, in the modern world.

I’m a huge believer that people need to come to their own understandings of God and faith, and grapple with skepticism. We all do. I just hope that faith is not rejected because it is so often mis-represented.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Different is not Deficient

Several years ago I heard a sermon. The theme of the sermon was that ‘different is not deficient.’ The preacher used a myriad of examples showing how people might be different from one another. They might have different theological world views. They might have different political world views. They might be of different races. They might have different sexual orientations. They might have preferences about many issues in life that are different. He went on to say that different is not deficient. In a generous world, different simply means different and differing people can learn so much from one another and grow together.

The preacher was Jeremiah Wright and I haven’t seen any excerpts from it on You Tube. And we won’t.

Jeremiah Wright has been preaching at Trinity United Church of Christ for over 30 years and his entire ministry is being summarized and caricatured by three minutes of video people have watched on You Tube and the nightly news. Much of what he has preached is available on recordings and video and we have seen all of around three minutes of what he had to say. An entire career in the ministry has been summarized into a small, not very nice, not so neat, package.

Jeremiah Wright is a colleague. He is a United Church of Christ minister, as am I. I’ve met him and have heard him speak on several occasions. He recently retired as the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and I recently heard his successor, Rev. Otis Moss III speak----in Louisville, just last week.

This is a painful time. Like so many others, I found the words we have all seen Jeremiah Wright speak to be painful and, frankly, mean spirited. I do not know the context of the rest of the sermon and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Most of us preachers, however, can live in fear that a 30 second excerpt from one sermon can end up on You Tube. Most of us, if we are profoundly honest, can attest to times when we were angry or dumb or half crazed when we spoke----at least in short blocks of time. But, yes, did I dislike what he had to say, absolutely? Do I disavow myself from those particular comments? Yes, of course.

Here is what the nightly news is not going to tell you.

Trinity United Church of Christ does tremendous outreach in south Chicago. In a portion of the city where poverty is at its strongest, Trinity feeds, clothes, educates, and empowers the poorest of the poor. It is mostly an African American part of the city where they are located and most of the people that Trinity serves are African American. But no one is turned away. Jeremiah Wright is angry and has expressed great anger at the poverty in his neighborhoods. He lives with the belief that our nation’s government has turned away from doing a war on poverty to making war on the impoverished. It makes him angry. Sadly, I don’t think enough people share that anger.

Jeremiah Wright has preached, loudly and longly to the people in his church and neighborhoods to stop waiting for hand outs and stop blaming others for their plight in life, but to lift themselves out of poverty, and to make something of themselves. Again, we won’t be seeing this on the nightly news.

Every group at every gathering at Trinity United Church of Christ does Bible study. If you belong to the choir, you did Bible study? If you come late to choir to miss Bible study, you aren’t going to succeed. If you plan on leaving early from choir to miss Bible study, you aren’t going to succeed. Jeremiah Wright does not want to have more Biblically illiterate people in this world, so Bible study is always held in the middle of everything so people can’t avoid it. We won’t be seeing this on the nightly news.

Children, at Trinity, do not go to Sunday School. Sunday School means getting dressed up and walking to church. Lots of kids hate getting dressed up. Trinity’s Sunday School is on Saturday morning. The place is packed with kids learning about Jesus. We won’t be seeing this on the nightly news.

I am not trying to defend or justify anything that Jeremiah Wright said that might be offensive. What I am trying to say is that there is much more to this man than people are seeing. It is tragic, sad, and even disgraceful that so many people are judging this person on so very little information about him.

Jeremiah Wright is not, and never has been a politician. He is a preacher. He never has looked for popularity or acceptance. He simply has tried to preach and teach the truth as he saw it. Jeremiah Wright is not Biblically illiterate and never has been----but he is being observed by a largely Biblically illiterate society.

Biblical literacy is our day and age is coming to a position and finding Bible verses to ‘prove’ ourselves right. You take small nuggets of Scripture and apply them as you desire and, wham, you are Biblical.

It doesn’t quite work like that. The Bible is written in whole books and the whole books are a lot earthier than people often give them credit for being.

Read the Book of Amos. Amos was one mad guy who made Jeremiah Wright’s comments seem mild.

Hosea. Angry prophet.

Jeremiah. Angry and depressed prophet who called God a liar.
Isaiah. First Isaiah was hated by the people of Israel because life was good and he kept telling them that life wasn’t nearly as good as they thought. He was decreed to be anti-God and anti-Israel.

Then there was Jesus. I often hear Jesus portrayed as ‘nice.’ The word ‘nice’ isn’t in the Bible. Actually, Jesus was often not nice at all and had the ability to insult virtually everyone with whom he was speaking.

Preachers in 2008 have learned tact and diplomacy but Christianity is not always reflective of a history of tact and diplomacy from pulpits. Jonathan Edwards, the most famous of the Puritan preachers once referred to people being as ‘rats’ dangling open a fire, saved only by the grace of God holding them by their tails.

Again, I’m not saying that Jeremiah Wright should have said what he said, but he was not the first one to do this in the history of Christianity.

I have found this whole story to be incredibly sad. Jeremiah Wright was and is a fine many who ought to be retiring with a great legacy. Because a member of his church is running for the Presidency some of Wright’s worst comments have been presented to the world as the sum total of who he, Wright is, and he is cast as the devil because of it.

I’d like to say that most people are intelligent enough to recognize this for what it is.

I’d like to say that most people have enough charity in their hearts to overlook one thing to see the vast array of that which is good.

I’d like to say all of these things, but my optimism in the wisdom of society and the goodness of society is something greatly lacking in me right now.

As for me, I am pretty different from Jeremiah Wright. Or I might say that Jeremiah Wright is different from me.

I live, however, with words spoken by a great preacher. Different is not deficient.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Top 3 Stupid Questions

I have a top 3 stupid questions asked on TV.

1. Larry King asking Elizabeth Taylor: "What are the keys to a successful marriage?"

2. Matt Lauer asking Bob Costas:

"Do you really think that Dodger's fans will boo Barry Bonds?" (This was before Bonds went to play a series in LA while trying to break the HR record. Costas' facial expression was classic.

3. Matt Lauer asking a prostitute he was interviewing: Do you think Eliot Spitzer should resign because of his immoral act of seeing a prostitute?" (For the record, she thought he should.)

I'm beginning to understand why I have an urge for Twinkies every time I see the Today Show.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Silda Spitzer

I feel for Silda Spitzer. Her husband, rightly so, is resigning today. Late night TV shows will not be airing in the Spitzer household. One can only imagine the joy Leno and Letterman are having at his expense. Saturday Night Live looms ahead.

I feel for the public humiliation Silda Spitzer is now enduring. Eliot Spitzer's tryst with a prostitute (or others) was not a one time deal. He paid at least $80,000.00 for escort services. That is a mind numbing amount of money.

Eliot Spitzer made a career out of pursuing the likes of, well, Eliot Spitzer. His favorite targets as a prosecutor were high profile people and sex and large amounts of money were right up his alley. Mr. Self -Righteous, Mr. Law and Order himself got caught doing that which he had built a career and a reputation on doing.

The list of wives seems to be growing. Larry Craig's wife, Suzanne, is dealing with his closeted homosexuality and the many, many jokes about his wide stance. Each day she wakes up and looks at him she just has to wonder.

Dina Matos McGreevey's facial expression as her husband, the former Governor of New Jersey, is still a classic. One had to feel for her because the announcement he was making was not only telling the world that he was no longer going to be the Governor but she was recognizing that she was soon no longer going to be a married woman. He, at least, unlike Larry Craig, was honest enough to actually address the fact that he was, in fact, gay, and thus allowing his wife to go on with her life.

Wendy Vitters has had to endure her husband's Senator David Vitters affairs, also with an escort service. He, like Craig, has stayed in the Senate.

As for me, right now, I'm not going to make fun of these men. Their lives have an element of tragedy to them that, frankly, is not very funny. And there are the women, at their sides, deeply betrayed, and severely wounded. And there is no humor in that.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Sins!

The Roman Catholic Church has announced that there are 'new sins.'

I was, at first, amused. In reading their information on this, I was actually quite impressed.

Before I go any further, there are things about Roman Catholicism that one needs to recognize in whatever they do.

First, the Roman Catholic Church is not an American Church or an American organization. It's organization structure dates back to Constantine and is, in many ways, the last vestige of the ancient Roman Empire. The Pope is elected by the Princes of the Church (Cardinals) but from that point on he functions very much as a powerful monarch. They do not act on what they see to be the best interests of the United States or any nation in particular. Because of their structure, and because of their international presence, they are pretty impervious to polls and what people perceive about them.

Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy is not easily classified. The Roman Catholic Church's positions are very much their's based upon their view of the teachings of Christ. As a result, they do not have a moronic attachment to labels such as liberal or conservative.

For example:

John Paul II condemned Communism and was loudly applauded in our country until he pretty much condemned our system of capitalism as being oppressive to the poor. The new 'sins' are very clear on this. They do not embrace, and never have embraced, the alleged 'Prosperity Gospel,' that is so popular right now.

The Roman Catholic Church is opposed to abortion. This gets applauded in some circles until the discussion continues and one learns that they are also strong opposed to capital punishment.

When John Kerry ran the American Bishops mostly dissed him because of his positions on abortion. They are probably sitting this one out, however, because they have since been strong in stating that our current President is blatantly immoral in regards to war, torture, and economic policies.

The new sins are about economic injustice, genetic manipulation and what they would see as questionable advances in medical technology, drugs that weaken people, and misuse of the environment.

I'm not sure that they are covering new ground but they certain are an interesting voice in our current society.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Electoral observations

I think that the Democrats are in major trouble. Neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton appears that they will have enough delegates to win the nomination out right. There also seems to be a real need to have ‘real’ primaries in Michigan and Florida. The Democratic Party, by trying to take a stand, shot itself in the feet.

Neither Obama or Clinton are going to bow out. They are both ready and willing to have a fight to the finish. One question is going to be how the supporters of one are going to treat the nomination of the other. Presidential coalitions of voters are often fragile and the margin between parties is often very small. The Democrats might take themselves out of the race unless there is an equitable resolution that both candidates can embrace. That does look like a long way off, however.

The Republicans have nominated John McCain. He received the endorsement of a President who has led us into an unpopular, perhaps unwinnable war, and who has presided over a major recession. Parties in power do not get re-elected during recessions.

At present the answer to the recession is to say that there is no recession. I suspect that sales of bridges in Brooklyn and swamp land in Florida are going to be next...

For John McCain, there are some great difficulties to overcome. While he supports the war and voted for it, it was not McCain or his administration to got us into it. I strongly suspect that had McCain been the President we would not have ended up at war in Iraq as he would not have cooked the intelligence to his liking. But, had we, in fact gone to war, he’d have done it properly and assured that the right nation building was done. The bad news for him is that he is a member of the same party as the President who did all of the above.

John McCain lacks much insight on economics and that will hurt him. Pretending that everything is fine does not work long. People are paying over $3.00 a gallon for gasoline, cannot afford to heat their homes, and cannot afford healthcare.

It is one of those rare times, but of the three who are in the running right now, I find all of them to have some very good qualities and all of them have, I think, the ability to be very capable, effective Presidents. The biggest albatross around their necks is that they are following a truly bad President whose hubris and incompetence are going to plague them for years.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Absurdity of War

On Sunday afternoon I had the great delight to watching a New Albany High School production of the play, “A Piece of My Heart.” The play is centered on six women who served in Vietnam and their story of not only their lives during the war but in subsequent years. The story is, in itself, extraordinary and the production at NAHS was magnificent. The performances of the six young ladies in the play was nothing less than stellar. The fact that I knew three of these remarkable women made it even better.

The movie also reminded me of my time in high school. The Vietnam war raged through my middle school years and the Paris Peace Accord was signed in January of my last year in high school. The ‘draft’ was never far from our minds.

The peace accord was signed and finalized, American troops withdrew, and within two years the nation was an entirely Communist nation. The Vietnam War is often referred to as the only war the United States ever lost. Theoretically, this was not a war we lost on the battlefield, it was a war that we were doomed never to win. Critics like to point out that the war was ‘lost’ when Congress refused to fund it any longer. In reality, it had been lost a long time before. South Vietnam had a dreadful and corrupt administration with the only redeeming value being that they were not Communists. The Viet Cong insurgency made life incredibly difficult for our troops.

Our soldiers in Vietnam, in my mind, received and continue to receive a bad rap. There was drug use and there were bad things that happened. Frankly, when you put soldiers in difficult situations, bad things do happen. They have taken place in every war that every nation has ever fought. Our troops lived in constant danger, often lived in dreadful conditions, and faced an often faceless enemy. On the home front, tragically, people did not separate not supporting the war and the troops. Many people chose to support neither and returning troops, heroes, were treated with disrespect and disdain. It was an ugly era in American history.

It has made me ponder war. War is horrendous and mostly avoidable.

Most wars take place because of hubris on the part of someone and people, if they truly wanted to, could have solved many difficulties without going to war.

In the history of the last century we have seen wars at their worst.

World War I was an absolute nightmare. European nations had grown strong and belligerent and greedy. The hubris of the leaders of so many of the nations was massive and it was a conflict just waiting for an excuse. One assassination later there was an excuse and a war was launched that killed millions and accomplished nothing other then to completely rape Germany and re-draw the map of Europe. Nation building (post war) was anathema and the consequence of not doing nation building after World War I was World War II. Europe and Japan have been at peace since World War II largely because of the efforts of General George Marshall and his Marshall Plan which did do great nation building after the war. (The Marshall Plan was vilified by the current Bush Administration which chose not to do nation building after invading Iraq and the result has been only to validate the wisdom of George Marshall.)

Korea and Vietnam were wars to stem Communism and keep or get more land.

The First Gulf War was to free a sovereign nation (Kuwait) from an aggressor who was seeking more land and more oil.

The War in Iraq was fought because they had weapons of mass destruction even though they didn’t. It was fought because of 9/11 even though they had nothing to do with 9/11. It was fought to push forward the war on terrorism even though terrorists were training in Syria and Iran more than Iraq. It was fought to conquer an oil producing nation even though, well, I haven’t figured one out.

As I was watching “A Piece of My Heart,” I was thinking of our troops in Iraq.

The surge, putting a large number of troops in the region, has helped suppress the violence. We have great, dedicate, and brave soldiers who are quite competent. Their success with the surge is no surprise. It will not, however, solve things.

I keep thinking about Vietnam. When we left, the ending was quick and bloody and the resolution was not what we had wanted. If we leave Iraq it’s going to be quick and bloody there as well and the resolution will not be what we want. If we stay, it will be long and slow and bloody.

There is no good solution, for us, with Iraq. It was a place we should have never gone and it was a war we should have never fought.

It was and is a sad reminder of the absurdity of war.