Wednesday, December 31, 2003

A quickNew Year's Eve check-in, and a long entry below:

1. We witnessed a glorious Cal victory in the Insight Bowl last Friday...

2. I had a happy time with the family at the MLA Conference in San Diego. I especially enjoyed the juxtaposition of the presence of 11,000 academics and many more football fans in town for the Holiday Bowl. Given that MLA participants tended towards exclusively black clothing, they were easy to distinguish from the brightly-clad Texas Longhorn and Washington State Cougar football supporters.

3. My dear father (whom I love and honor, and a Unitarian Universalist) gave me Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Rita Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker. (Both are Unitarian theologians, which is -- to my surprise -- evidently not an oxymoron). I knew I was in for it when I read the back cover:

In an emotionally gripping and intellectually rich combination of memoir and theology, Brock and Parker show how emphasizing Christ's obedience to God and sacrifice on the cross sanctions violence, exacerbates its effects, blesses silence about the abuse of human beings and hinders the process of recovery...

Hoo boy.

But it gets better. Rita Brock writes:

The Christianity I have studied now for over three decades does not understand the power of ghosts. Christianity is haunted by the ghost of Jesus. His death was an unjust act of violence that needed resolution. Such deaths haunt us. Rather than address the horror and anguish of his death, Christianity has tried to make it a triumph. Rather than understand and face directly into the pain of his death so his spirit can be released, we keep claiming he is alive. We try to use him for our personal well-being, to release us from our own burdens. We keep calling his ghost to take care of us, instead of letting him go. This haunting has erupted into violence in the name of Jesus: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust -- the need for punishment, for judgment of the unredeemed, as if the infliction of more pain on others could cure our own.

Talk about your stunning intellectual leaps! Christ's atoning death leads his followers to inflict more pain on others, and the thoroughly pagan horrors of Nazism stand as evidence.

Rebecca Ann Parker wrote a section of the book about her own recovery from childhood sexual abuse, and relates this painful journey to her own critique of the atonement. But I thought this book captured the exact nature of the problem that I have with liberal theology:

While I was working most intensively on remembering and integrating my own life experience, I intentionally avoided reading psychological and therapeutic literature about child abuse. I chose to relate to my own experience as primary text. (Emphasis mine).

Its a succinct summation of most of what seems to pass for liberal theology -- the primacy of personal experience over reason, scripture, and tradition.

I'm not done with the book. And I love my UU family and friends; some of the kindest and best folks I've known were Unitarians. But theirs is not a faith for the homeless, the downtrodden, the addicted and the desperate - a Christ who is a "ghost" can offer little comfort to the miserable, though the fact that he is believed to be a ghost might well be convenient for the already comfortable.

The best defense of a traditional theology of the atonement I have read is a 2001 essay by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary (available only to Christianity Today online subscribers, but email me for a copy). Here are some (long) excerpts:

In his redemptive suffering, Christ was experiencing the agonies of hell that we deserve as sinners. If we were to understand hell to be God's actively inflicting violence on sinful persons, then it would indeed be important for Christ to take on that kind of violence as our substitute. But if we see hell—as I think to be theologically appropriate—as a state of radical separation from God, then it was not necessary that Christ be actively punished by the Father; rather it was fitting that he experience something far worse. It is a terrible thing to be punished violently by someone who is capable of loving us but who instead turns upon us in anger. But it is even worse to have so provoked that person's wrath that he or she simply gives up on us and turns away. This is the hellish abandonment that Christ experienced when he hung as our substitute on Calvary.

This way of viewing the significance of what has traditionally been seen as the penal substitutionary work of Christ has an important implication for our present discussions of violence. If the forsakenness, the experience of cursedness, is what is in the most basic sense the redemptive significance of Christ's substitutionary work, then there is some thing important about Christ's suffering that cannot be imitated, namely, the experience of being abandoned by God.


The very same God who pours out the divine wrath is the One who experiences the wrathful forsakenness of divine abandonment. God, in the unity of the divine being, is both the violated One and the One who counts that violatedness as satisfying the demands of eternal justice. Charles Wesley's wonderful lines point to the mystery of this divine single-mindedness:

Amazing love! How can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

In the death on the Cross, God also took our violent impulses upon himself, mysteriously absorbing them into his very being in order to transform them into the power of reconciling love; and then he offers that love back to us as a gift of sovereign grace. One of the wise, but difficult, lessons taught to me by my predecessor at Fuller Seminary, the late David Allan Hubbard, is this: leaders do not inflict pain, they bear pain. This is a lesson, as I see things, that is illustrated most profoundly in the atoning work of the Son of God. In the incarnation we see a supreme example of what James MacGregor Burns defines as "transformational leadership," where a leader so engages his or her followers that both leaders and followers are changed by the experience.[18]

When God drew near to us in Jesus Christ, God did indeed engage us in a way that God himself was deeply affected by taking on our frailties and temptations. This includes God's making himself intimately familiar with a most pervasive symptom of our sinful condition, our propensity to get ensnared in webs of violence. Here too our only hope is that "he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Mouw's faith, not Brock's or Parker's, saved my life -- and his faith, I think, is better equipped to address the problem of "our propensity to get ensnared in webs of violence"!

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I won't be blogging much for a bit -- for obvious holiday-related reasons! My girlfriend's family is staying with me (lots of Colombian tamales for me tomorrow -- hurrah!)

This Friday will see us briefly in Phoenix to watch Cal play Virginia Tech in the Insight Bowl, then a return home to participate in an advent service at Pasadena Mennonite, then off to LAX Sunday night to pick up my brother, who is flying in from England for a forty-eight hour visit with his family. He's giving a paper at the MLA conference in San Diego on Tuesday morning, and I will be there to cheer him on.

And thanks to a kind friend with connections, we have two much-coveted tickets to the Rose Bowl game. I'll be rooting for the Trojans, both to support my gal (class of '98) and because if USC wins the national title, Cal can truly crow as the only team to defeat them on the field.

If I don't blog before the New Year, I wish my exceedingly small readership a very Merry Christmas and a very joyous 2004. I will be back to regular commentary on January 5, if not before.

I leave you with the favorite Christmas poem of my childhood, one which my mother recites from memory each year, and one which always makes me puddle up:

King John's Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon ...
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune in the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

King John was not a good man,
Yet had his hopes and fears.
They’d given him no present now
For years and years and years.
But every year at Christmas,
While minstrels stood about,
Collecting tribute from the young
For all the songs they might have sung,
He stole away upstairs and hung
A hopeful stocking out.

King John was not a good man,
He lived his life aloof;
Alone he thought a message out
While climbing up the roof.
He wrote it down and propped it
Against the chimney stack:
And signed it not “Johannes R.”
But very humbly, “JACK.”
“I want some crackers,
And I want some candy;
I think a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I don’t mind oranges,
I do like nuts!
And I SHOULD like a pocket-knife
That really cuts.
And, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
He wrote this message out,
And gat him to his room again,
Descending by the spout.
And all that night he lay there,
A prey to hopes and fears.
“I think that’s him a-coming now,
(Anxiety bedewed his brow.)
“He’ll bring one present, anyhow —
The first I’ve had for years.

“Forget about the crackers,
And forget about the candy;
I’m sure a box of chocolates
Would never come in handy;
I don’t like oranges,
I don’t want nuts,
And I HAVE got a pocket-knife
That almost cuts.
But, oh! Father Christmas, if you love me at all,
Bring me a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John was not a good man —
Next morning when the sun
Rose up to tell a waiting world
That Christmas had begun,
And people seized their stockings,
And opened them with glee,
And crackers, toys and games appeared,
And lips with sticky sweets were smeared,
King John said grimly: “As I feared,
Nothing again for me!”
“I did want crackers,
And I did want candy;
I know a box of chocolates
Would come in handy;
I do love oranges,
I did want nuts.
I haven’t got a pocket-knife —
Not one that cuts.
And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all...
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!


-- AA Milne

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

J. Bottum, who writes for both First Things and the Weekly Standard, shares this touching Christmas memory from his childhood. I liked this part immensely:

But it's the buying of presents, rather than the receiving, that remains my strongest memory. There was the simultaneous feeling of titanic generosity and utter miserliness, an endless calculation of love measured to the penny, and an irrecoverable sensation--the proud knowledge that one has, in a rage of magnanimity, squandered every cent, matched with the shameful awareness of just how paltry the result looks. If I spent the extra $ 1.43 to buy my older sister the metal stands instead of the plastic to hold her dolls, it was at the well-understood cost of getting the plastic tea set instead of the china for my younger sister. If I bought the Irish handkerchiefs for my grandfather, it was at the heartbreaking expense of the potholders for my mother. Very little in my life has ever been judged as carefully; and yet, even now, I'm not convinced that I shouldn't have gone with the taffy for Aunt Helen and saved the money the chocolates cost to buy my grandmother the larger size of glass ornament.

I remember in my own childhood, back before my family had our now customary drawing to allocate receivers and givers, desperately trying to buy small Christmas presents for my mother, father, brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I think the low point was 1977, when I gave my cousin Scott a Spanish dictionary, his brother Dean a German dictionary, and their sister Meg a French dictionary. (They were available for 79 cents each if purchased as a set). I was ten, after all, but the memory does make me wince. What I remember most vividly as the result of this miserliness on my part was that I had money left over to buy a week's worth of Three Musketeers bars for myself. 'Twas a low moment.
According to CNN today, Ralph Nader will not run in 2004 for president -- at least, he won't run as a Green. That is terrific news. Even if he does run as an independent next year, his legitimacy is wearing thin. (Not for everyone; check out the "Draft Nader" site here).

Ralph Nader is the only man for whom I have twice voted for president. Yes, I was one of the relatively few Americans who voted for him in 1996 -- I was already, as a liberal, utterly disenchanted with Clinton after he signed the Welfare Reform bill. I voted for him in 2000, knowing that Gore would easily carry California. Had I lived in Florida, or any other close state, I would not have done so.

But even as an independent, Nader could pose a threat. The eventual Democratic nominee will need the unified support of the entire left. Howard Dean's credentials with the Democratic left are far better than either Clinton's or Gore's ever were, and I suspect he -- and he alone of the major prospective candidates -- will be able to corrall upwards of 90% of the Nader voters from 2000. (Kucinich, of course, is virtually indistinguishable from a Green on matters of policy, but our elfen friend from Cleveland has no chance of the nomination).

But if the eventual nominee is Clark, Lieberman, Kerry, Gephardt, or Edwards -- then we on the left have problems again. Having participated in anti-war demonstrations during the 1999 bombing of Serbia (yes, we did have those), I doubt I could cast my vote for the general who directed our operations in that war. Lieberman is to the right of half of the moderate Republicans I know, which doesn't say much about either of them. Kerry and Edwards seem far too moderate. Gephardt gets the union boy in me fired up, but his support for the war makes him a non-starter.

Monday, December 22, 2003

I had a nice holiday in Carmel, and drove home today on Highway 101 -- and never noticed the earthquake. The damage in Paso Robles was not visible from the freeway, although I did notice heavier traffic in San Luis Obispo County this afternoon as the locals frantically drove home to check on kids and pets and the like. I normally stop in Paso Robles on my drives between Pasadena and Carmel, but thought that today was not the day to drop in. My prayers are with all of those who are coping with loss tonight.

I have also arrived home with a miserable cold.

At last night's family party, my cousin Dean (a firm Republican) was cornered by several of his relatives (myself included) who lovingly but passionately engaged him on the subjects of Iraq, the economy, the prospects of Howard Dean, the California recall, and so forth. I note that we had our best successes when we asked him about two subjects in particular:

1. the Medicare plan, and how a new entitlement program fits with conservative values;
2. the mysterious missing Weapons of Mass Destruction.

My cousin changed the subject each time we brought those topics up.

Oh, and one piece of encouraging news, thanks to Kendall Harmon -- the Episcopal diocese of North Dakota has decided NOT to ask candidates to be their next bishop about their views on homosexuality. Though some in North Dakota are quoted as being "flabbergasted", I think the search committee's decision is brilliant. Now, if only this practice of "not asking" would catch on! Who knows, maybe we could get on with the far more important (if less titillating) work of the church this Christmastide.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Well, faithful readers, I am off to my beloved hometown for a weekend of Christmas parties and time with the family (and, of course, a Saturday matinee of the Return of the King!) I won't be blogging for a while as a result. But I did get another email from the dear Dennis Kucinich this morning, and though I can't find a link for it, I repeat it verbatim:

We are fast approaching many celebrations of the return of the light. Many religions commemorate this time with histories, rituals and stories that remind us of the seasonal shift at the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the longest night, but it marks the beginning of the incremental expansion of light throughout the winter months. Many of us have experienced the darkness of winter in our political world with such things as fear, war, and broken promises. Yet a great light is on the horizon. We have the most phenomenal candidate imaginable running for the highest office in the land. Dennis Kucinich brings light to issues that other politicians avoid. He shines light on the lies and misrepresentations of the current administration. And he is a light -- a man full of integrity who represents all the people. We, who have donated our time and resources over the past year have added our light to his to create a grassroots movement for peace, jobs, justice, and health care for all.

Well, Dennis really is very, very close to wrapping up the Wiccan vote. And with drivel like this, close to losing mine.

Happy weekend, all.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Jennifer Roback Morse is the latest conservative woman to weigh in on gay marriage with a poignant two-part series in the National Review Online. The first part is here, the second here. Today's article begins with the lessons taught by Morse's own struggle with infertility. She has some insightful things to say:

As we went through the infertility process, my husband and I saw other couples struggling with the same issues. Watching them made it clearer how tight a rein I had been holding on my life. I saw women obsessed with pregnancy, and who in the process, became obsessed with themselves. Instead of being drawn out of themselves into concern for a new baby, their thwarted desire sucked them into themselves. They had to have their own way.

I became dimly aware of how my "self-actualization," and "self-esteem" was really just garden-variety selfishness. My self-esteem depended on getting my own way, to a far greater extent than I had ever realized. I wasn't much fun for my husband to be around. Every disagreement took on life and death dimensions, because my self-worth was always on the line.

Some of our friends finally made peace with infertility, came to accept it and moved on with their lives. Some never found peace. Some divorced. One of our dearest friends ultimately committed suicide.

The key to whether they found peace was not whether they eventually had children. The key wasn't whether their children came through assisted reproductive technology, or by adoption. The crucial issue was whether they let go of controlling all outcomes. The need to "have it your way," so deeply imbued in our consumer culture, is positively destructive to married life.

(Emphasis is Hugo's).

Okay, I like that. But then Roback Morse makes the by now familiar but utterly unsupportable leap from this lesson in selflessness and surrender to an assault on gay marriage:

The question isn't whether the law can create life-giving, self-giving love, because of course, it can't. The question is whether it will point us in the right direction. Redefining marriage to include homosexual unions will actively lead us astray.

It's a flabbergasting non-sequitur.

I've watched a number of gay and lesbian couples struggle with similar issues of adoption (the choice that Roback Morse and her husband made); I've watched them demonstrate selflessness and sacrifice and unconditional love in ways that have humbled me, a veteran of failed (heterosexual) marriages that fell far short of the standard set by some of my dearest gay and lesbian friends. The need to "have it your way" is indeed destructive -- not only to marriage but to civilized society. But I cannot agree that gay marriage is in any way, shape or form a manifestation of a desire to "have it your way." Indeed, Ms. Roback Morse, it is the contrary: the powerful desire of hundreds of thousands of people (perhaps millions) to make the same sacrifices, to cope with the same tedium, to enter into that same self-melting crucible of lifelong monogamous marriage as we, the fortunate majority who are called by nature to love those of the other sex.

Past all expectation, the supermarket strike in Southern California continues. I am pleased to note that the nation's largest public employee retirement system, CalPERS, is attempting to intervene on behalf of the striking workers:

Rob Feckner, investment committee chairman... chided the supermarkets for having a "blatant disregard for quality of life issues for your long-term employees," and said the stores' posture "is having a significant impact on our investment in your corporation."

This is an inspiring example of how a public agency can exert moral pressure on private companies; I honor Feckner's example. And though I am growing tired of paying Gelson's inflated prices, I am still willing to buy only from a union shop.
Here's a pic of my friend Sharon and me at the Cal International Marathon a couple of weeks ago. Note the astonishing position of my feet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

President Bush's remarks on marriage last night have infuriated some of his strongest supporters -- social conservatives. Check out this press release from the good folks at Concerned Women for America:

President Bush last night drove a wedge into the pro-family effort to preserve the institution of marriage by signaling that his administration supports the creation of homosexual civil unions or domestic partnerships at the state level.

Robert Knight, director of CWA’s Culture & Family Institute responded, “President Bush is rejecting Judeo-Christian moral teaching in order to please homosexual activists and some misguided advisors who think this will be politically advantageous. But this is not only immoral, it is bad politics. It will serve only to unite his enemies and demoralize his base.”

I do so fervently hope that the good Mr. Knight is right.

The ubiquitous Andrew Sullivan describes Bush's words nicely:

Those people who believe this president cannot speak in coherent sentences don't realize how clever his alleged incoherence is.

Love it.
I am very much looking forward to the Return of the King, and have been reading countless reviews on-line. As usual, one of the best (and surely the funniest) was Jonah Goldberg's in the National Review Online. Do go read the whole thing, but here is his summation:

Ultimately, these movies are a love letter to Tolkien. You can get into a huge argument about what's left out from the book — and why. But at the end of the day, it is inconceivable that any other movie of any commercially viable length would have elicited similar objections.

Two things are important from my perspective: Is it a good movie? You're damn right it is. And: Is it loyal to the most important and largest themes of the book? I think so. Friendship, loyalty, duty, honor, sacrifice, regret, change, memory, and remorseless Orc-smashing are all there. I still need time to digest the whole epic and see it a few more times. But, I think it's fair to say even now that this really is the greatest trilogy in the history of movie-making. And, much more impressive, it's one of the greatest movies in the history of movie-making, too.

So my local parish, All Saints Pasadena (where I was, not too long ago, briefly a vestryman), hosted a major video shoot last weekend for the "Via Media" project (see below).

Guided by producers more accustomed to working for CNN and national TV networks, the groups of five were led in rehearsals and then in filming of conversations on topics ranging from sin to scripture to the holy spirit.

Far from an inhouse discussion by experts, the participants constantly kept in mind the three prototypical “customers” of the project: the “church victims” looking for a more accepting place to worship than the rigid and harsh churches they remember from their childhood; the “void-fillers,” NPR listeners who’ve found something lacking in sitting around at a latte bar reading the New York Times on Sunday morning; and “laity with questions” who love the liturgy but don’t have a clear answer about what they believe and why, to tell their brother-in-law at Thanksgiving dinner.

So, the three "prototypical customers"of the 21st century Episcopal Church USA are those who identify as "victims of fundamentalism", "urban latte liberals", and "folks who like smells and bells but are a bit embarrassed about it".

The elitism is beyond breathtaking. I'm sorry, I thought the church's customers were the homeless, the addicted, the depressed, and the downtrodden. The sort whose Thanksgiving dinner does not involve brothers-in-law, but involves rescue missions. The sort whose coffee is not a steaming $4.00 latte, but is a basic cup of instant brew handed to them by a volunteer at the shelter.

I really wish this video shoot were some sort of a joke, a clever ploy to poke fun at the self-absorption of most Episcopalians, but it is not. I'm glad I bailed for the Mennonites.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

It is finals week, and I am grading. A few more plagiarists have been caught. A few merciful C's have been given; a few B's that were almost, almost A's; an even fewer number of actual A's have been justly bestowed.

Teaching is the only real job I've ever had; I marked ten years on the job here at PCC this year. And even though I love my work, I realize that with age my feelings about my job and my ability to impact the lives of others have become more complicated, more ambiguous, more uncertain. Since my mother (a recently-retired professor in her own right) gave me the poetry anthology, The Handbook of Heartbreak, I've returned again and again to this one piece, which I reread each finals week:


Pain is in this dark room like many speakers
of a costly set though mute
as here the needle and the turning

the night lengthens it is winter
a new year

what I live for I can seldom believe in
who I love I cannot go to
what I hope is always divided

but I say to myself you are not a child now
if the night is long remember your unimportance

then toward morning I dream of the first words
of books of voyages
sure tellings that did not start by justifying

yet at one time it seems
had taught me

-- W.S. Merwin

If I were to choose another title for this blog -- heck, for my life -- I would borrow from Merwin (our greatest living poet, IMHO, with Wendell Berry a close second), and I would call it
"What I Hope For Is Always Divided".

Those of you who have taught know the little heartbreaks and the little compromises and the growing doubts that seem pervasive among the best of us; and yet, and yet, for me, the rewards still outweigh everything else.

Monday, December 15, 2003

J. Collins Fisher has a new blog I like, and she has a great entry today, confessing her own sinful reaction to the capture of Saddam Hussein:

I confess having a gut-instinct of schadenfreude (joy at my enemy's suffering) that colors much of my initial reactions to the daily news. American helicopter shot down? {thrill!} Saddam captured? {dammit!}

I'm not proud of the above: at the very least, it betrays my remoteness from all involved. I don't know anyone in Iraq (American or Iraqi), and don't feel a sense of personal stakes. Ergo, my impulse at American deaths is not an immediate "Not my friend/sibling/spouse/parent!" My reaction to Saddam's capture is not a personal "Good, they got the b*stard who killed/tortured my friend/sibling/spouse/parent!"

Worse, the schadenfreude response signals how little my Christian ethics have touched my "Inner Sinner." Unlike the Lord I follow/worship, I do not look with compassion on all members of humanity. I mean, I say I do. I want to. But I don't, not really.

And I'm afraid it's not just the gut-level response. Rather, I fear that my sinful schadenfreude bleeds seamlessly into my politics (including my religious politics, vis-a-vis my opponents in church). If an event or idea mystifies or confuses me, I'm likely to regain my bearings by checking to see if my enemies are delighted or p*ssed off (and I often do this even before searching out how my trustworthy allies feel about it).
(The emphasis is Hugo's).

Ouch. I am so relieved to know that I am not alone.
I have stated before that I am of little brain, so can someone tell me whether former Bush speechwriter David Frum is being serious or not when he writes this:

For now, let’s say that while the President’s opponents have made much sport of the idea that God called George Bush to the presidency, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to doubt that God wants President Bush re-elected.

Here is what the Socialist Equality Party (home of John C. Burton, the boy I supported in the October recall election) has to say about the capture of Saddam (warning, the page loads slowly):

Whatever is done with Hussein will be a case of victors’ justice. The Iraqi Governing Council and the new tribunal are both creations of Washington and have no legitimacy. The US occupation authority has no basis under international law to carry out any trial of former Iraqi officials.

In any case, if war crimes charges are to be brought in relation to Iraq, the most serious one of all would be leveled against the Bush administration itself for plotting and prosecuting an unprovoked war of aggression.

There are good reasons for Washington to want to avoid any public prosecution of Hussein. Occupation officials described him as “cooperative” upon his capture Saturday. This adjective could equally be used to describe his relations with US administrations over a whole number of years.

That last line has the bittersweet zing of truth to it.
Somehow I missed this completely: nearby Fuller Seminary, flagship school of American progressive evangelicalism, "has launched a federally funded project for making peace with Muslims, featuring a proposed code of ethics that rejects offensive statements about each other's faiths, affirms a mutual belief in one God and pledges not to proselytize."

The Christian right is displeased:

"For Fuller to declare that Christians and Muslims worship the same God would be a radical departure, not only from the evangelical tradition but also the tenets of orthodox Christianity," said John Revell, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' executive committee. He also questioned whether evangelical Christians who signed the proposed code against offensive statements and proselytizing would compromise their religious obligation to "speak truth in love" and "spread the good news of Jesus Christ."

The controversy over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God recently flared anew when President Bush affirmed a shared belief with Muslims at a London news conference last month — a view that was immediately disavowed by conservative evangelicals.

Fuller's similar assertion is tragic and lamentable, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He said the Koran explicitly rejects Christianity's central beliefs in the divinity of Jesus and a triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

"The more we know about Christianity and Islam, the more we see there is a basic incompatibility," he said. "The essential ground of conflict and controversy cannot be removed."

I am terribly proud of Fuller; the ability to be both fully evangelical and to affirm a mutual faith in the same one God with our Muslim neighbors is indeed the kind of progress serious Christians need to be making.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Perhaps the single most conservative diocese in the Episcopal Church USA is that of Fort Worth, headed by a fiesty traditionalist, Jack Iker. After Gene Robinson's consecration, Bishop Iker said:

Those who have participated in this consecration are in open rebellion against the Anglican Communion and have declared their independence from the stated boundaries of Anglicanism. As a result, I will not recognize the ministry of Gene Robinson, nor will I permit any bishop who consented to his election or participated in his consecration to exercise any ministry within this diocese.

Strong stuff, though I don't know many liberal bishops around the country who were devastated at the thought of being unable to minister to the good folks of Fort Worth. But Iker went beyond verbal blasts at the American episcopate; he proposed something both radical and practical:

For now, we will make common cause with others to establish what is being called "A Network of Confessing Dioceses and Parishes." We ask that congregations and dioceses redirect their financial support away from the General Convention Budget and Program toward orthodox ministries and agencies, beyond our own needs internally.

Iker was the first bishop to make clear that he would redirect his diocese's money away from the national church. And I note that it seems at first glance as if some of his own traditionalists within Fort Worth are unhappy with his actions. They have formed "Fort Worth Via Media" (via media is the Latin phrase for the classic Anglican doctrine of the "middle way").

The Via Media website states:

We are deeply concerned about steps taken by Fort Worth Bishop Jack Leo Iker and other diocesan leaders that appear to be leading toward schism.

Fort Worth Via Media understands and accepts that some among us are deeply troubled and grieved by the actions of the 2003 General Convention in consenting to the consecration of an honestly gay man as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and acknowledging that blessing of same gender unions is happening in some parts of the church.

We understand and accept that some among us celebrate these actions.

We believe that such diversity in opinion and belief expresses the range of faithful responses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that all Fort Worth Episcopalians bring unique gifts to the ministry of the church and that all have a place at Christ’s table. We strive to hold each other in love and respect, remaining together as sisters and brothers in Christ within the Episcopal Church USA. We know this is possible because we have been doing it since this diocese was founded in 1983. We have remained together despite deep differences over the “new” Prayer Book and the ordination of women.

Good stuff. A pity though, that the "Via Media" crowd isn't really in the "media"; their links page connects visitors to left-leaning organizations in the national church (such as the Every Voice Network) and not to their right-leaning counterparts (e.g. The American Anglican Council). They claim that some among them are troubled by Gene's consecration, but fail to link to a single site run by those who are in fact so troubled! That's just misrepresentation on FWVM's part, and it is a bit disappointing.

So, folks, where are the authentic centrists, the sort who are willing to link to everyone and everybody with a stake in the debate?

Hugo is busy with shopping and tree decorating this weekend. I do rejoice in Saddam's capture; regardless of my visceral opposition to this war, I regard Saddam as a wretch who deserves to be publicly tried and punished by the Iraqis.

Earlier this month, conservative Christian commentator Doug LeBlanc posed a series of questions for the liberal Episcopalian organization, Claiming the Blessing (an outfit based right here in Pasadena). A number of LeBlanc's questions were blunt, but they were nonetheless valid. Here is an example:

Do the leaders of Claiming the Blessing actually believe that Anglicanism, in all of history, knows nothing of a plain truth of Scripture?

CTB has replied:

Do we, as Anglicans, know nothing of the ‘plain truth’ of Scripture? What a delightfully provocative question! What is ‘plain truth’? Pilate asked a similar question of Jesus (John 18:38) and then Pilate washed his hands. We believe that “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation.” (BCP 526) Is this what you mean?

And the reply concludes:

Finally, we recognize that in opening wide the doors of the Church we risk losing those who will not enter because of those who claim equal occupancy in the ‘big tent’ of Anglicanism. We understand the dynamic. It is an ancient one: A little impurity makes the whole impure. David Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council (AAC) was recently asked by news commentator Bob Press, “Don’t you think . . . that this is a way to open up the church to bring in more people? To which Anderson replied, “I don’t think so. If you keep lowering the standards to a certain point, you can, I guess, get everyone in, but scripture talks about the way to salvation being narrow, not broad and wide.“ This seem to us a reflection of the exhortations of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah to build a wall, divorce Gentiles from pure Jews, and shun the half-breed children (Ezra 9, Nehemiah13). A little impurity makes the whole impure.

And yet, in the Gospel of Luke which we hear in Advent, John the Baptist says, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Luke 3:6).” God came in the flesh and lived and took that prophetic teaching and turned it up-side-down and right-side-up. Jesus taught that a little purity might just make the whole pure. Isaiah suggested the radical idea. John the Baptizer prepared our hearts to accept it. And Jesus lived it. He was resurrected for it. In Christ all flesh shall see the salvation of God. What can be more inclusive than that - if we choose it?

Well, at least the dialogue continues. Even if both sides are obviously speaking two entirely different languages.

Friday, December 12, 2003

After extended negotiations, we Californians are to have a new budget proposal on the March ballot, and it is, under the circumstances, not bad at all from a progressive perspective. Arnold caved into the Democrats, and the Hugoboy rejoices. Here is what Dan Walters wrote in the Bee:

In the jargon of political insiders, Schwarzenegger "rolled," and his retreat put his fellow Republicans on the spot, squeezed between their desire for a hard spending cap as a constitutional bulwark against deficit spending or new taxes, and their distaste for bucking a governor whom many had welcomed as a savior of the party's fortunes. Ultimately, the latter won out, and Republican legislative leaders applied as much gloss as they could to what was actually a major political setback.

This is what the "Tomikazes" (like the Angry Clam and the Flying Monkey) ccurately predicted would happen when their lad, Tom McClintock, was abandoned by most Republicans for the more moderate Schwarzenegger. But this blogger rejoices!!!

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Blogging is going to be light for a while; we are approaching finals and Christmas, and the crunch is indeed on!
From the "they just don't get it" file comes this opinion piece by Arlene Stein, sociology professor at Rutgers. Prof. Stein is unhappy that a new left-leaning Christian organization, the Clergy Leadership Network, is not going to toe the contemporary Democratic party-line on issues like abortion and gay marriage. Though initially pleased that the CLN had been formed, Stein writes that

...my excitement was tempered when I read the fine print and learned that this new clergy advocacy group will steer away from discussing a range of social issues - so-called hot-button topics including abortion and gay marriage. "Our key issues," a spokesman said, "are people without jobs, people who are hungry, people burying children killed in Iraq. These are real issues that override flashy talk about sexual orientation."

Instead of a hearty amen, the indignant Prof. Stein heads off on a remarkably typical, bourgeois secular rant:

I wonder: Does "flashy talk" apply to discussions of sex education at a time when right-wing activists for abstinence are placing teenagers at risk by not giving them information about safer sex? And what about "flashy talk" about women's rights, just as the Bush administration's ban on so-called partial-birth abortions begins to whittle away at the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? "Flashy talk" indeed.

As the Christian right assumes the high ground, the Christian left - if there is such a thing any more - has turned its back on these and other social issues. What they don't seem to realize is that Americans do care about these issues, and many if not most of them support women's right to choose, lesbian and gay civil rights, and comprehensive sex education. They care about these issues passionately, alongside bread-and-butter concerns.
(Emphasis is Hugo's).

This woman, who probably has no close evangelical friends (who probably would shudder in horror if she learned that she did) has apparently never heard of Richard Mouw, of Carl Henry, of Ron Sider, of Jim Wallis and the Sojourners community, of the Mennonite Church USA, of Tony Campolo, or of Pax Christi. What these Christians have in common is a commitment to defending all life -- from conception to natural death -- as well as a commitment to the poor, to the environment, and (above all else) to peace.

Sexual issues are "flashy", luxury issues, Prof. Stein. Once we have fed all the hungry, clothed all the naked, saved all the endangered species, spread the gospel to every nation, beat every sword into a ploughshare, visited all the sick, comforted all the mourners, and given every living human being a life of dignity -- then and only then should we make our sex lives of paramount concern. I am more concerned with the politics of the pocketbook and the politics of peace than with the politics of the pelvis; Arlene Stein needs to realize that there are many in the Democratic party who may feel the same way.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I caught two more students plagiarizing today; both were Asian women enrolled in my Men and Masculinity class. Again, all I had to do to catch them was type a single sentence from their papers into Google... in neither case was any attempt made to disguise the cheating. I do note that most of my students who do plagiarize are either Asian or Armenian (the latter is a major component of our campus demographic); I don't want to step into dangerous waters, but there do seem to be some ethnic patterns to academic dishonesty.

Both students will fail; their names will be stricken from the book of life and they will be cast into a lake of sulpherous fire.
Since we are on the subject of Christmas and money, let me admit that I don't tithe a full 10% of my gross income to the church. I'm honestly closer to about 5.5% of gross this year, I think, with that money split between my old Episcopal church (All Saints Pasadena) and my new spiritual home, Pasadena Mennonite (About 3/4ths goes to the Mennonites, but I can't quite fully leave the Anglicans -- especially not when they are about to take such a huge financial hit in the aftermath of the Gene Robinson consecration).

I do give to other charities throughout the year, but that will (for 2003 at least) bring me only to about -- at best -- 7 or 8% of gross income. I do feel stuck on that 10% number! I remember that a couple of years ago, I went through a brief period -- six months -- where I did give 10% every month, and it would be exactly 10%, right down to the pennies (no rounding off for me). But I have allowed my own fears of financial insecurity to dictate my decisions, and have cut back on my giving, comforting myself that I still give far more, percentage-wise, than the average American. But I don't think that's my best.

Here are some of the other charities I did give to this year, should anyone be interested in doing the same:

Christian Peacemaker Teams
(My single favorite charity)
Union Station Pasadena (Great local homeless agency)
American Red Cross (Especially after the fires and the Virginia hurricane)
Dennis Kucinich for President (I know, not really a charity, but maybe...)
Episcopal Relief and Development (Great international relief)
Feminists for Life (Another one of my favorites)
Mennonite Mission Network (I am committed to regularly supporting a young couple from my church who are preparing to go to China)
DELTA Animal Rescue (Largest no-kill animal shelter in the world)
Harambee Pasadena (I just gave for the first time today! It's Rudy Carrasco's outfit)

I have not given the same amount each time; to some organizations, I give more, to others, much less. I believe passionately in the work of each, and find I have a hard time prioritizing. The thing I wonder about is whether I am giving wisely -- should I give twice as much to half as many? Half as much to twice more? Any suggestions?

Oh yes, and I do understand the biblical mandate to give in secret and without boasting, and I am not trying to show off. I just wish more people shared openly about their giving, so that we would be able to get some understanding of how other folks do it...

Pen at the Gutless Pacifist has some goodness this morning on the origins of Christmas and its "real meaning". On the subject of the holiday frenzy, he writes:

So, gift giving is very biblical and very appropriate if we give our gifts to Jesus. But giving gifts to each other (especially superfluous, indulgent, useless gifts) could be conceived as going against the biblical mandate to care for your neighbor, share all that you have with your church family, and to only take what you need. Gift giving has become a buying frenzy in America. When shopping for gifts we are not shopping so as to honor the Messiah -- rather we are shopping to meet obligations, impress others, and get another 'to-do' item crossed off our list. So, I'd say -- we would be better off not exchanging gifts.

I agree in part, and disagree as well. We do, I think, have obligations to honor Christ not only by loving our neighbor, but also by expressing love in a tangible way to those to whom we are connected by bonds of blood or of affection. Obviously, the gift-giving is usually done in a spirit of haste, but the fact is we do have a responsibility to remind those whom we love that they are not forgotten at this time.

Christmas gifts often say to me: "In the midst of all of this insanity and hoopla, I remembered you. You mean something to me." Our gifts could be smaller, they could be more meaningful, but as we give back to God I think it is still okay to exchange small, physical manifestations of our love with one another

Read what Leighton at The Heresy has to say on the subject.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

BBC News Online reports that Britain is considering an amnesty program for folks with child porn on their computers:

The scheme, which would operate in a similar way to a gun amnesty, would aim to prevent child abuse by getting people who have images of children to volunteer for counselling.

People concerned about images they have accessed on the internet would be able to hand in their computer hard drives to police, to be destroyed or wiped clean.

They would then be assessed by a psychiatrist and if, after appropriate treatment, were judged to be no risk to children, would be given a caution.

The men would still be placed on the sex offenders register, but would be spared the humiliation of a court appearance and a formal prosecution.

Excellent. I thought this was also spot on:

The man behind the idea, Donald Findlater, deputy director of child protection charity the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, believes it could help nip child abuse in the bud for many offenders.

It is in the nature of human sexuality to indulge in increasingly risky behaviour and "push at boundaries", he argues. For paedophiles, this means seeking out ever more extreme material and, eventually, turning their sexual fantasies into reality.

Mr Findlater wants to stop men before they reach that stage - and make them acknowledge that they have a problem.

But under the current approach, they face prosecution and demonisation by the media, if they break cover. As a result, Mr Findlater believes, paedophilia and child abuse will never be eradicated by law enforcement alone.

"I don't believe that criminal law is the best way of resolving these major social problems. Three quarters of child sex abuse is never reported anyway," says Mr Findlater.

We need to be honest about the extent of this epidemic, and we need to be rational and loving, as well as firm, in our solutions. Here's hoping this gets adopted in the States as well.

Some Republicans are worried. In today's Weekly Standard, neo-conservative crown prince Bill Kristol warns conservatives that Howard Dean can win the presidency next year. I liked this bit:

... on domestic policy, Dean will characterize Bush as the deficit-expanding, Social Security-threatening, Constitution-amending (on marriage) radical, while positioning himself as a hard-headed, budget-balancing, federalism-respecting compassionate moderate. And on foreign and defense policy, look for Dean to say that he was and remains anti-Iraq war (as, he will point out, were lots of traditional centrist foreign policy types). But Dean will emphasize that he has never ruled out the use of force (including unilaterally). Indeed, he will say, he believes in military strength so strongly that he thinks we should increase the size of the Army by a division or two. It's Bush, Dean will point out, who's trying to deal with the new, post-September 11 world with a pre-September 11 military.

Having read Kristol's piece, I am a bit more hopeful as a result.
Carl Henry, one of the spiritual fathers of American intellectual evangelicalism, has died at age 90. Story here in Christianity Today, a magazine of which he was the first editor:

No discouragement ever dimmed Henry's love for his Lord and joy in his faith. Above all else, he viewed salvation as the only hope for human fulfillment, and evangelical theism as its most coherent and truthful expression. He entertained panoramic visions of evangelical cooperation and co-belligerency on behalf of preserving and articulating biblical values; and he insistently called for evangelical repentance and renewal to precede forays into politics, social action, media, and higher education.

Henry's 1947 work The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism is considered a precursor to the contemporary work of men like Ron Sider, Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo -- the contemporary trinity of the American evangelical left. A good summary of the history of progressive evangelicalism, and its debt to Carl Henry, can be found in this Sojourners article from back in 1995.

Monday, December 08, 2003

As a divorced man, I don't have much right to speak out on marriage one way or t'other, but I did like this piece by Maggie Gallagher (who is writing for everyone these days) in the American Standard. Though I strongly support gay marriage, I liked this section quite a bit, and thus quote at length:

The cause of the marriage crisis we now face is not merely a shift of values. Nor is it simply the work of '60s radicals. It is a broad, structural crisis visibly affecting every single developed nation in the world. As Allan Carlson has pointed out, the key to understanding this crisis is to recognize how many of the critical social functions marriage once performed have been taken over by government and the market.

For most of human history, the kin group was the primary unit of government, the locus of production and exchange, of care for the sick, the old, and the young. Marriage, as the key to kin-making, occupied a place of dominant importance. The family was for most people the primary work group, with husband, wife, and kids making much of what they needed on small farms. Disrupting a marriage meant endangering the livelihood of the entire family. To abandon the family was not only despicable, it was suicidal. If family bonds did not hold, who would care for you when you were sick, old, or otherwise unemployable?

In America and other developed countries, government now provides social insurance for the unemployed, the destitute,
the elderly, the sick. Meanwhile each of us depends far more on the market than on family members to provide what we need in material terms, not only the goods we consume, but also the workers we need to produce goods.

These changes are broad, deep, and permanent. We have no desire to abandon the miracles of market capitalism to go back to churning butter and weaving cloth on our family farms, even if it were economically possible. The local WalMart will do just fine, thank you. As for government--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, child care subsidies, public education, and some form of welfare for poor kids (and their single moms) all are here to stay.

THESE ECONOMIC and political changes did not necessarily make sexual revolution a good idea, but, along with contraception and abortion, they made it possible. Before all these changes, it was unthinkable for large numbers of ordinary people to imagine that what they did with their bodies was nobody's business but their own.
(emphasis Hugo's)

Her history is good. Didn't think much of the pitch for Wal-mart, though. And then this:

Getting men and women to channel erotic energy into the narrow but immensely fruitful union we call marriage is not easy. The things adults have to do consistently in order to give their children a stable, married mother-father home are hard. The public celebration and legal validation of marriage are intended to help define the importance of this task. That is the only real justification government has for interfering in peoples' personal lives.

"Narrow but immensely fruitful union". I like that a lot. If I were a conservative, which I am not, I would agree wholeheartedly with Maggie Gallagher. As a liberal, I have to ask why I find her argument (with which I disagree, largely on emotional grounds) to be so compelling?
The Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles held its convention this past weekend. Jon Bruno, our bishop and a kind, good man whom I know well, spoke to his delegates Saturday; the story is in yesterday's Times:

Acknowledging the tensions that are pulling at the church over homosexuality, he called for dialogue and listening, an appeal echoed by delegates.

"Our roots in the Church of England have always made Anglicanism a church in which all were invited to participate — a big tent, a roomy house," Bruno said.

In his speech, Bruno confronted Scriptural injunctions against homosexuality and said neither Hebrew Scripture, sometimes called the "Old Testament," nor Christian Scriptures took modern understandings of human sexuality and relationships into account. While Bruno's view is challenged by some conservative theologians, no one addressed the convention on Saturday with an opposing view

"Our written Scriptures have limitations. They cannot be equivalent to the incarnate word of God in Jesus," Bruno said. "They convey God's word in a particular cultural and historical context. And these Scriptures are the word of God in the words of human beings."

The author of the Times piece, Larry Stammer, writes:

It was unclear how convincing Bruno was in laying a Biblical and theological framework for monogamous, committed same-sex relationships. His arguments have been voiced before by liberal theologians. Conservative theologians challenge such views. While Bruno's position has been known, his speech Saturday marked the first time that he has stated it with such force and before so large an audience.

As we used to say with great enthusiasm and bad accents in Berkeley, la lucha continua.
Sacramento was glorious yesterday; sunny and cool. The marathon was well run (in both senses of the phrase), and we returned home to Burbank Airport last night happy and tired.

Here are some links to start the day: a seasonal poem by the mother of a soldier serving in Iraq can be found here, thanks to the Gutless Pacifist

Daniel Weintraub in his California Insider column proposes what seems to me to be a reasonable version of a state spending cap, and asks both Democrats and Republicans to consider it. It works for me.

And here is a link to a brief but powerful critique of our president's religious language. It's written by a Costa Rican Protestant theologian, Juan Stam, and his conclusion includes this stinger:

It is remarkable how closely Bush's discourse coincides with that of the false prophets of the Old Testament. While the true prophets proclaimed the sovereignty of Yahweh, the God of justice and love who judges nations and persons, the false prophets served Baal, who could be manipulated by the powerful...

Friday, December 05, 2003

My gal and I are off to Sacramento tonight; I am running the first half of the California International Marathon on Sunday, pacing a good friend who is trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I had originally planned to run the entire race, but the complications from the parasites I contracted in Colombia in August wreaked havoc with my training season.

I don't know if we will see any politicos, but I suspect they will still be at it in the capitol by the time we arrive tonight at the Sheraton Grand hotel. Today is the deadline to get the governor's bond issue on the March ballot... plenty of coverage and links at Rough and Tumble.
Hugo notes, with an utter lack of modesty, that he was featured prominently in the main article in this week's Pasadena City College Courier. I've spent the last couple of years helping to develop a "consensual relationships" policy for our campus, and thanks to the efforts of lots of good folks, it looks like we are getting close to gaining widespread acceptance of our efforts. It's a reasonably fair article, but one is never, ever quoted as precisely as one would like to be! Still, if you read the article, you can find brilliant insights such as these from yours truly:

"...so far, it seems that almost everyone agrees that teachers should not date their current students."


Thursday, December 04, 2003

Crisis in my department here at Pasadena City College: We put up holiday decorations (including some with the words "Merry Christmas" upon them) on Monday. Today, a Jewish faculty member placed a menorah in the department office, on the assumption that if we are going to have Christmas symbols we ought also to have the menorah (A perfectly fair assumption in my eyes). Anonymous faculty (whose names ought to be stricken from the book of life) complained to the dean, the menorah was removed at lunchtime today, and now the Merry Christmas banner must come down as well.


This is why I curse the ACLU (even though I support them on most other issues) and why I, a good liberal, am such a strong supporter of organizations like the American Center for Law and Justice. Religious speech must be accorded the same freedoms that all speech is accorded; I want menorahs and crescents and crosses and trees and statues of Shiva all around me. I want a diverse, vibrant marketplace of faith on display in public schools and post offices and city halls across America, and I am heartsick that because folks in my department can't be grown-ups, we are to be left with a department office that will look as sterile as ever.

Frankly, I am enraged. And this dues-paying member of the California Teachers Association is more determined than ever that his kids are going to private schools.
Did you know that if you type "homosexuality bears football kucinich" into Google, this blog comes up first? More to the point, would you believe that someone in France yesterday (my third hit from France this week) typed exactly that into their search engine ? Oh, the glories of Google!
A bit late, I found this sermon online; it was preached at the Mennonite Church USA's biennial gathering in Atlanta this past July. The official position of my denomination on homosexuality is clear: that all sex outside of heterosexual marriage falls short of the ideal. But there remains a large and growing minority within MCUSA that seeks "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians into the common life of the largest Anabaptist community in North America.

The sermon is by Anne Breckbill, a Mennonite from Minnesota; I picked a few passages I thought were provocative and helpful this morning:

She said:

..."given the dire state of affairs in this world, the Mennonite Church has spent an obscenely inordinate amount of time in church basements and fellowship halls talking about sex"

Amen, sister. That goes for the Anglicans and the Methodists and the Presbyterians and half the Catholics I know too.

And then this, which reminds me of why I fell in love with Anabaptist history and theology:

The early Anabaptist experience was about freedom, empowerment, calling forth their passion. It was a social, religious and sexual liberation. These brothers and sisters moved from the celibacy and austerity of cloistered life into vibrancy, exuberance, hope, passion and spiritual connection with God. They explored the difference between a religion of power and greed and a religion of the Spirit. They lived their faith, they grappled together with their doubts and questions, they strove to live God's will as they understood it. They made mistakes, they lost their lives, but they lived their lives fully spiritually engaged. In fact, this vitality – the very essence of Anabaptism – is precisely what was threatening to the powers of church and state. If they were going to start thinking for themselves, having individual and communal relationships with God, what would happen to the established church? Who would be in control? Would everything have to be rethought? Would everything be changed?

Yes, folks, Anne goes a bit over the top there. Her words are anachronistic: I don't think any religious reformers in the 16th century thought of themselves as engaged in a holy, non-violent revolution merely to bring about "empowerment". But she's still got a nice point overall.

But here is where she wins me over completely:

We must embrace ambiguity as a virtue. God's world is complex. It is messy. It does not lend itself to neat categories of good and evil, right or wrong. If it were that simple, leading a Christian life would not involve faith at all. It would merely be following a recipe for doing all the right things at the right time and choosing good over evil. Instead, the Christian life is one of seeking to understand, learning to discern, grappling with one another in the search for truth and experiencing grace when we falter. Being able to be honest about the ambiguities and incongruities of our faith and life is an invitation of welcome to all who seek the Divine.

It is imperative that we be a body of dissent. I do not mean that we need to be open to having dissenting views, but that we must have dissenting views.
(All emphases are Hugo's).

Yup, Anne's one of the excellent reasons why I'm a Mennonite.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

And from the "further signs that the apocalypse is upon us" file, comes this: Protect Condoms is selling the world's first prophylactics to come with a "pre-sexual agreement", which states that "you and your partner have agreed to engage in consensual sex". On so many levels, this is unspeakably sad and depressing. I think I need to go and look at some more of the lovely holiday cards available on Dennis Kucinich's website. There. Feeling better already.
Here's a good way to help rebuild Iraq; send school kits via the Mennonite Central Committee; story in this week's Mennonite. Mennonite Central Committee will get a little somethin' extra from me this year.
My good friend the Angry Clam is convinced that my candidate for president, Dennis Kucinich, is stark raving nuts. Dennis has the support of a charming children's book illustrator, Barbara Berger, who created a character called Grandfather Twilight. "GT", as he is known, seems to have also rallied the support of a large number of mammals, some of whom are portrayed with saccharine cuteness on both the Clam's site and on Kucinich's. The full endorsement is here, though the irate mollusk neglects to note that at the bottom of the page, it does say: This is a freedom of speech individual citizen's endorsement. It does not reflect the opinions of any organization.

Still, old Dennis put it on his site. And though I am not sure how the forest animals first came to know of Dennis, nor how they feel about his notorious change of heart on the life issues, I have learned -- over time -- to trust the communal wisdom of rats and bears. Some may mock this latest endorsement; I for one am comforted and am ever more resolute in my support for the peace-loving, animal-pandering, diminutive long-shot congressman from Ohio. If that renders me stark raving nuts, so be it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I can see why many of the hard-liners in the Republican party are appalled by Arnold. As a good progressive, I liked what our governor had to say in the Times today:

"I let them know what my definition of a spending limit is; maybe there's another definition that will make everyone feel more comfortable," Schwarzenegger said. "This is like a collaborative effort so we can accomplish the thing that this will never happen again, the overspending. And so how do we protect the people from that. And that's part of the promise I made to the people."

The fact that the gov is concerned with making "everyone feel more comfortable" tells me that he is definitely Hugo's kind of politician; I am confident that the California Teachers Association can help Arnold with all sorts of suggestions as to how he might make we "educators" (Lord, how I loathe that word) more "comfortable."

Monday, December 01, 2003

Many of my loved ones will get this e-card from me (and Dennis Kucinich) this Yuletide... I love the mouse!
So among other things, as I've mentioned, I teach a Humanities course entitled "Men, Masculinities, and the American Tradition". The course has led me to a great deal of work examining the contemporary "men's movement". (For those of you who know the definitions, I tend towards great sympathy for the "mythopoetic" side of the movement; if you don't know what that is, you may be better off). The problem with much of the movement is that it is wrapped up in a narcissistic cocoon of self-criticism and guilt; guilt that is rooted in a remarkable degree of shame in one's own maleness. Here is a typical excerpt from a typical thesis:

Any profeminist strategy finds itself in the paradoxical situation that, in the process of attempting to resist patriarchal power, it will unintentionally reinforce it in some ways. This thesis has been produced by a white, middle-class man, and will therefore be partially constituted by racial, class and patriarchal power.

Guilt alert. The klaxons are sounding.

The knowledge in this thesis will be both resisting these power relations as well as reinforcing them to different degrees, although the reinforcements may or may not be obvious to the reader at this point. They will probably become clearer if the strategy is practically implemented, because the concrete effects of the problematic aspects of the strategy will be felt by members of oppressed groups, and perhaps noticed by their allies. Therefore the symbiosis strategy should be a work in progress, constantly adapting to new understandings of its constitution by power relations.

I am a bear of very little brain, and that made my brain hurt.

In order to adapt to the concrete effects of itself, the symbiosis strategy needs to be accountable to the experiences and critiques of women and other oppressed groups, not just profeminist men. I think accountability is crucial for the profeminist men’s movement, as well as for anti-racist white people and other similar groups. But accountability is a process which is complicated, misunderstood and disputed by different groups. For example, if a facilitator is implementing the symbiosis strategy: which feminists should s/he be accountable to? How can the critique occur in practical terms? How can the interaction avoid oppressing feminist critics? What should happen when the facilitator disagrees with the critique? I think it is crucial to theorise responses to these sorts of questions about accountability, and researching them is a process that I recommend.

Oh good, more theorising. There hasn't been enough of that in gender studies lately.

In the process of researching the topic and theorising the relevant issues, my thinking has been profoundly reconstituted. My opinions about the ‘men’s liberation’ agenda and the emotional-causation strategy have changed radically, from wary endorsement to strong rejection. I have learned and adopted a great deal more profeminist knowledge than I had before, and this has enabled me to resist patriarchal power in my own life in new ways. Furthermore, a more sophisticated understanding of poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity now informs my sense of self. Most significantly, I have become passionately committed to the symbiosis strategy for eliminating men’s sexism. Now I am interested in theorising accountability and developing ways of practically implementing the symbiosis strategy, in ways that further resist patriarchy.

Well, gosh, now that he mentions it, I do feel as if my life would be infinitely richer if I did more theorizing about accountability, especially from the perspective of a sophisticated understanding of poststructuralist feminist theories of subjectivity.

But alas, much of the free time I might spend theorizing accountability is instead wasted with high school boys in my youth group, most of whom are already drowning in guilt and confusion. They need more healthy, strong, deeply masculine role models, not fewer. And they sure as hell don't need to apologize for their innate, God-given drives and desires that mark them as distinctly and marvelously male.
I love the very far-right Midwest Conservative Journal; this made me laugh and laugh.
One of the finest Catholic priests in the American peace movement is Father John Dear of New Mexico. Here is a link to his account of some of his recent troubles with the U.S. Army; it's a troubling story.

Here is Father Dear's definition of active Christian non-violence:

Nonviolence is much more than a tactic or a strategy; it is a way of life. It is not passivity but active love and truth that seeks justice and peace for the whole human race, and resists systemic evil, that persistently reconciles everyone, but always renounces violence and killing and war no matter what.

Nonviolence insists that there is no cause however noble for which we support the killing of any human being; and instead of killing others, we are willing to undergo being killed in the struggle for justice; instead of inflicting violence on others, we accept and undergo suffering without even the desire to retaliate, in the pursuit of justice and peace for all people.

The world says there are two options in the face of violence: you can fight back or run away. Jesus gives us a third option: creative, active nonviolent resistance to injustice. We stand up and resist war publicly, through creative nonviolent love, trusting in God, loving even our enemies.

Dear's second paragraph reminds me of my favorite American anthem, the stirring but theologically problematic "Battle Hymn of the Republic". The last stanza of the Julia Ward Howe song includes the lines: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free..." I've always liked that; it makes clear that the Christian call is often to die for justice, but never to kill for it. Relatively few folks view it as a pacifist song; but in my own subversive way, I find it to be just that.

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