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Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Well folks, I've gone and done it. On a whim, I've left Blogger for TypePad. Starting today, my new entries will be posted at my new site: http://hugoboy.typepad.com/. It's going to take me a while to get up and running and learn my way around things, but I think I am going to be MUCH happier. Come on over!
My commenting system is still down, and the explanation from "blogspeak" is here. Again, I appeal for suggestions.

Monday, January 12, 2004

One more on a busy posting day:

My girlfriend and I saw "Monster" last night. Very powerful and beautifully acted, though my gal was less impressed with Christina Ricci's supporting performance than I was. A bravura piece of work by Charlize Theron certainly, and worth seeing -- but it is graphically violent and unsettling.
One more long Scripture-oriented entry:

Doug Bandow has more on the Democrats and God in today's National Review Online. Here is a bit with which I quibble:

Another recurring theme is reflected in Kind David's observation: "The Lord is righteous, he loves justice" (Psalm 11:11). Thus, government is to be a neutral arbiter that protects all men in their enjoyment of God's blessings. It certainly is not to become a tool to rob and oppress, a constant risk in every political system, including American democracy.

In its focus on process, Godly justice and righteousness are very different from the modern notion of "social justice," which demands equal economic and cultural outcomes. However appealing may be some proposals advanced under the rubric of "social justice," they are not matters of Biblical justice, which guarantees a fair civil government nestled within a larger culture in which the wealthy and powerful recognize their obligation — to God — to help those in need.
(Emphasis is mine).

Talk about your straw men! This is one of the old lines of the right, that we on the left want a guarantee of "equal economic and cultural outcomes". Who on the Left is calling for that? The right loves to say "we want equality of opportunity, the left wants equality of outcome", but I have never, ever heard anyone on the democratic Christian left demand equality of outcome, or even use that phrase.

And the fact is, Scripture does not just condemn misused wealth, but wealth itself. One of my favorite passages is this, from Luke 6:24-25


"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.


I know, proof-texting is a dangerous business. But this passage does not say the "idle rich" or the "unjust rich" or the "cruel rich" -- merely the "rich". The mere fact of wealth itself is enough. The most telling example of this is Luke 16:19-31, the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man:


19"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell,[1] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'


Does Abraham say that the Rich Man misused his wealth, and deserves hell for that misuse? No. Is there anything virtuous about Lazarus that earns him heaven, other than his poverty? No.

These passages always trouble me. But they also remind me that wealth and sin are so often inextricably linked in the New Testament...
My comments are down again. If I were to leave blogspot for someone else, for whom should I leave? I am willing to spend a small amount of money, but I need a VERY user-friendly format, as I essentially HTML-illiterate. Typepad? Movable Type? Someone else? Suggestions, via comments (if they return) or e-mail are most welcome.
Happy Monday to my slowly growing readership. I am now (proud to say) up to about fifty original hits per day, with about eight to ten new readers each 24-hour period. Thanks, folks.

I was not attacked by a mountain lion on my weekend trail run. I did see lots of nervous mountain bikers, but as some of you may know, my kind (trail runners) tend to hold their kind (bicyclists) in a certain amount of contempt. They need expensive two-wheeled help in order to access and enjoy God's country. We don't.

According to this morning's Times, Matt McLaughlin, an Orange County attorney, is "pushing for a state ballot measure to put the Scriptures in the hands of public school students as a literary text."

"Even if you don't believe its teachings, you'll agree that it includes rich usage of the English language," he said.

"That's what makes it good literature."

But critics worry that separating the literary and doctrinal aspects will prove problematic.


Joyce Greenspan, director of the Orange County chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said the initiative also makes her nervous. .

"(McLaughlin says) that it's OK to use the Bible as a textbook. It should only be used as a source," said Greenspan.


It's a good debate, and I especially appreciate that McLaughlin only wants the King James Version authorized. Given the enormous influence of the KJV on modern English, his desire strikes me as reasonable, and Ms. Greenspan's nervousness seems unfounded. McLaughlin's site (to which the Times does not link) is here. Here's a bit of the language I liked, although the syntax is perhaps deliberately antiquated and difficult:

Whereas the Authorized or King James Bible of 1611, was one of the supreme achievements of the English Renaissance, and is rightly regarded as one of the most influential books in the history of English civilization, which has served as a model of writing for generations of English-speaking people, and is an acclaimed literary work of great historic importance, and whereas it is commendable in the study of such secular disciplines as history, literature, culture, poetry, law, language, ethics, science, and philosophy, such that familiarity with the work broadens the education of the mind, and can, and for this statute shall, be done without a devotional purpose nor any denominational instruction to accept or reject its religious components, for as the general education of the populace, and not the establishment of any sectarian religion nor doctrinal instruction, shall be the purpose or effect herein (and such avowed purposes are to be clearly announced), the People therefore direct that the King James Bible, without apocrypha, conformable in spelling, capitalization, and typeface to modern text, and including the translators' preface to King James, the translators' introductory remarks to the reader, a standard concordance, a glossary defining only archaic words and pronouns, and without commentary, footnotes, or margin notes, is to be provided henceforth as a textbook for grades one through twelve to be furnished without cost to each of those pupils whose parents do not opt-out by specific objection. The reading and study of the book shall be voluntary.

I'm not going to send Matt any money; this doesn't make my top ten list of causes. But I'll happily vote for it.

Saturday, January 10, 2004

Rudy Carrasco was interviewed by a writer from the Dallas Morning News this week, asking him how the "moderate to liberal evangelicals" will vote. Rudy wrote:

He asked how I thought these mod-2-lib evangelicals would vote. I posited a Bush v. Dean race. I said many of "these evangelicals" have great reservations about how Bush exercised power in choosing to invade Iraq, and are actually very concerned. They will say so in exit polls, that they were torn about who to vote for, but behind the curtain they will "pull the lever" (dangle the chad) for Bush, especially given the fact that Dean is a former Planned Parenthood board member.

I am a big fan of Rudy's (we share the same zip code), but I disagree with him if he is speaking of the genuinely progressive/liberal evangelicals represented by Sojourners magazine, Tony Campolo's ministry, and Ron Sider's Evangelicals for Social Action. Though some of Dean's recent comments about his faith have been deeply disheartening (and embarrassing), AND though I honor our president's own vigorous faith, the fact that the latter is an anti-abortion evangelical is hardly enough to outweigh his disastrous social, economic, and foreign policy decisions.

I don't think the evangelical left (and the links above are a good start for a primer on what that means, at least as far as I can tell) is monolithic. On homosexuality, in particular, it is divided. (Tony Campolo and his wife are very publicly and lovingly split on that very issue!) But opposition to the Iraq war comes as close to a sine qua non of the evangelical left as anything.

I am pro-life. But I cannot call this president pro-life as well. He is anti-abortion, sure, as am I -- but given Bush's record on war (not to mention the death penalty), to call him pro-life would be to demean the real sense of the term, at least as I understand it.

Look, my ideal candidate would be the pre-2003 Dennis Kucinich (when he was vigorously pro-life on EVERY imaginable issue). Howard Dean's superficial remarks about faith bother me, as does his position on abortion. But if I have to apply consistent-life ethic values in a forced choice between Dean and Bush, I am going to push the button for Dean in a heartbeat. And from conversations with my fellow Mennonites here in Pasadena (most of whom are affiliated with Fuller Seminary) they shall vote the same way, for similar reasons.


Friday, January 09, 2004

A tiring week comes to an end. Here are a few random thoughts:

1. I am the only member of my running group who has never, ever seen a mountain lion up in the Angeles Forest. I have seen bobcats and rabbits, coyotes and rattlesnakes, hawks and deer, but I have never, ever seen a bear or mountain lion (though I have encountered plenty of scat). So I have been gripped by this story, as have most of my trail-running friends.

2. It looks as if the long and bitter supermarket strike is taking an ever heavier toll on the strikers here in Southern California; according to today's Times, the strike funds are running dry and stipends for picketers have been cut back dramatically. One encouraging bit of news from the same article is that Kaiser, Blue Cross, and PacificCare are continuing to honor their coverage for union employees, even as the union has been unable to maintain a regular payment schedule for their medical premiums. One rarely wants to cheer for medical plans, but this bit of decency on their part deserves at least one "hurrah".

3. And from the "I can't believe I agree with this man" file, here is Deroy Murdock on Britney Spears and gay marriage in today's National Review Online. Here is the first part of the piece:

Social conservatives are working overtime to argue that gay marriage would imperil straight matrimony. They say that if Jack and Joe were united, till death do them part, they would jeopardize husbands and wives, from sea to shining sea.

"We will lose marriage in this nation," without constitutionally limiting it to heterosexuals, warns Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. The Traditional Values Coalition, meanwhile, sees "same-sex marriage as a way of destroying the concept of marriage altogether."

It would be far easier to take these claims seriously if gay-marriage critics spent as much energy denouncing irresponsible heterosexuals whose behavior undermines traditional marriage. Among prominent Americans, such misdeeds are increasingly ubiquitous.

Exhibit A is musical product Britney Spears's micromarriage...


I have never agreed with Deroy before, and probably won't again, but the man is right on on this Friday...

If I am not attacked by a mountain lion whilst running up Mt. Zion this weekend, I shall be back to blogging on Monday.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The lamentable Ann Coulter made this fascinating pronouncement today:

The only Democrats who go to church regularly are the ones who plan to run for president someday and are preparing in advance to fake a belief in God.

Really, gentle readers, it has been a lot of work on my part. Every Sunday, I head off to Pasadena Mennonite Church (where I now have been placed on the Leadership Team); every Wednesday, I work with my high school youth group; the first of the month, I write checks reflecting a healthy percentage of my income -- and I do all of this as part of a very elaborate plot to "fake" a belief in God. I'm not planning to announce my candidacy until at least 2012, or maybe 2016, so you can see I am preparing well in advance. No one understands how exhausting it is to be a left-wing Democrat and go through the obviously fabricated motions of reading the Bible every morning, serving on church committees, going on retreats with hormone-ravaged teenagers, and raising my hands above my head in apparent ecstatic worship on Sundays.

I am indeed exposed as a complete and utter fraud! Ann Coulter, eminent conservative theologian that she is, has made it clear that I cannot sincerely regard Jesus as the central love of my life while also fiercely believing in the economic, environmental, and social values best represented by the relatively far left of the political spectrum. Clever girl, she's on to me.

Why is this creature even published?

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson, who has written in the past for Boundless and for First Things, has a great little article this week on Christianity Today, entitled "The Heresy Itch".

It's an excellent reflection on the ancient (and current) obsession that so many folks have with "secret knowledge" and "hidden secrets" of faith. (The unfortunate popularity of books like the Da Vinci Code doesn't help).

Here are a couple of things from Wilson's article I really liked:

Why do some people chase after heresy, seek out cults, accept bizarre religious dogmas, experiment with wacky rituals? Nine times out of ten it isn't because of a profound and intellectual departure from the traditional doctrine of the church. It's because the heretical thing fills some need, and the orthodox thing touches some weakness or pain.

But the Christian faith does not deal in secrets. All nations are to be baptized and made into disciples, not a privileged few. The faith is not the purview of sages and mages alone. If anything, it's quite the opposite: Jesus said to his Father, "You have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants" (Matt. 11:25, NASB). The tomb is empty and the Scripture is in print: all are welcome to behold and adore.


Good on you, Sarah.

Mother Jones, the fine left-wing monthly, has a nice online piece this morning on the president's immigration proposal. It links to this story in the Guardian (UK), which quotes Cecilia Munoz, of the National Council of La Raza, as being decidedly unimpressed by W's actions:

"The Latino community knows the difference between political posturing and a real policy debate."

The Angry Clam, in his irascible and unique style, has a message for the president.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

I am amused and pleased by the anguished conservative reaction to President Bush's call today for a "humane and rational" overhaul of our immigration laws. Whatever his motives, I am reasonably happy with the plan.

But check out what the far right has to say, by clicking here, here, here, and here-- they all seem to feel betrayed.

What we need now is a likeable, articulate, isolationist conservative (in the Pat Buchanan mold) to mount a credible third party campaign for those real Republicans who feel betrayed by the president. The campaign should focus on Republican isolationists in states like Arizona, New Mexico, and Florida -- this could (deo volente) be an issue that splits the right... Any volunteers?

For a Mennonite perspective and coverage of the immigration question, check out Mennonite Central Committee's page on the matter. Also, I tend to find the non-partisan work of the good folks at the Center for Immigration Studies to be helpful for background information.
Thanks to an ongoing dialogue by my friend Pen at the Gutless Pacifist (a daily read of the Hugoboy) here is a link to a nice commentary by Richard at The Connection on the subject of God's purposes. I liked this bit:

I do not believe that God made 9-11 happen, anymore than I believe that God gives AIDS to homosexuals or CJD to meateaters. Bad stuff happens. Sometimes by accident, sometimes by evil design but never (NEVER!) because God has a purpose. Did those thousands die in New York to teach the USA a lesson, or were the tens of thousands in Bam merely God's instruments to show Iran the superiority of Western democracy? No they were not - and it would be perverse to claim otherwise.

Which is not to say that lessons cannot be learned and purpose found in and through suffering. It is our response to tragedy and suffering by which we learn and through which God's will is obeyed. "Why did God allow this?" is a natural, but misleading question. "Where is God in this?" is better because its answer is always the same - right there in the chaos, hurt and mess of our world.


Very well done.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

One of the reasons I left the Democratic Party for the Greens a few years back was because of the influence of the Democratic Leadership Council, a center-right outfit determined to pull the party to a more conservative line. Now, the DLC is attacking Howard Dean for being too far to the Left. Harley Sorensen had this fine response in defense of Dean over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Willie Nelson did a benefit concert for good old Dennis Kucinich this past Saturday. Here are the lyrics to Nelson's new song, "What ever happened to peace on earth?"

I liked this bit:

Now you probably won't hear this on your radio
Probably not on your local TV
But if there's a time, and if you're ever so inclined
You can always hear it from me
How much is one picker's word worth
And whatever happened to peace on earth

But don't confuse caring for weakness
You can't put that label on me

The truth is my weapon of mass protection
And I believe truth sets you free



The bold emphasis is mine. The militant pacifist within me likes that. A lot.


Monday, January 05, 2004

I have a number of dear relatives who live in the rolling countryside just outside of beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia. These kin are good Episcopalians, and they live in the diocese of Virginia, headed by Bishop Peter Lee. The diocese of Virginia is a battleground in the Episcopal Church's current fight over gay and lesbian issues, in that it is fairly evenly divided between those who opposed the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson and those who opposed it. Most dioceses in this country have clear conservative or liberal majorities (Fort Worth, Texas, is an example of the former; my own Los Angeles an example of the latter). Virginia is split, and thus Bishop Lee's vote in favor of Gene Robinson's consecration has caused a firestorm of controversy as nowhere else in Anglican America.

Yesterday's New York Times magazine has a great piece on Lee. His diocese is struggling to stay together, but one finishes the article with profound respect both for Lee and for the conservatives for whom he has great love and affection.

Here is how Lee described part of his process leading up to his vote to confirm Robinson:

Studying Scripture anew, he said, he had come away convinced ''that the Gospel is ever-increasing its power to erase the barriers that we human beings erect among ourselves.'' And, rereading Martin Luther King's ''Letter From a Birmingham Jail,'' he was reminded ''that significant change, especially change that involves new understanding of justice, often comes in a disruptive and disturbing manner.'' In the end, Lee told the audience, the vote on Gene Robinson's consecration presented ''a conflict between hope and fear. Hope for God's grace versus fear of change. I chose hope.''

But as he travels around his diocese, listening to the anguished and the disgruntled:

''I became aware at that first meeting that my statement was not going to change anybody's mind, and that my task was to receive the hostility of the people with as much grace as I could muster and not become hostile in return,'' Lee says.

Any bishop committed to those two statements which I have highlighted has got the role of "good shepherd" well in hand. (By the way, my Charlottesville cousins are split -- generationally -- on the subject of homosexuality. But the split is cordial and loving, as they always should be in families, and in church communities).



And our school's winter intersession begins this morning; I am teaching three classes and shall be quite busy!

Here are a few things I feel like blogging about:

George Will has long been one of America's most popular conservative columnists. I think he's a terrific writer, and agree with him roughly 10% of the time. But his ethics, apparently, fall well short of the mark. The details are here.

And a right-leaning columnist named Matt Grills has gone after Howard Dean's faith, in a blistering piece called "You've Got the Wrong Jesus, Howard". After Dean called himself a Christian, Grills went to town:

Howard Dean’s comments place him squarely in the “Jesus of convenience” camp. His wife and children are Jewish. Cool. But I have to wonder: if Howie’s faith in Jesus Christ is so important to him, why didn’t he marry someone with the same faith? Why didn’t he insist on raising his children in that faith? Say it with me, on three: because what faith Howard Dean has in Jesus isn’t central to his life.

It gets uglier:

Dean talks about Jesus as if he were one of the Democrats’ lawyers at the 2000 election fiasco in Florida. “Christ was someone who sought out people who were disenfranchised, people who were left behind,” he gushes.

Let’s clear this up: people sought Jesus more often than he sought them. And he didn’t just run with the poor. What about Matthew the tax collector? He wasn’t doing so bad before he decided to follow Jesus. And Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man who loved Jesus so much he had his body placed in his own tomb?

Not that Dean would know that. “My father used to tell us how much strength he got from religion, but we didn’t have Bible readings,” he told the Boston Globe. “There are traditions where people do that. We didn’t.”

Um, Howard, reading Scripture isn’t considered “tradition” for most Christians. It’s the best and only way to learn about God, about Jesus and about living a holy life. Even more important to Christians than baptism and communion are the Holy Scriptures. It’s the only written record we have of Jesus and his teachings. The first thing a new Christian is handed is a Bible. It is muy importante.


I'm sure a billion Roman Catholics are quite surprised to learn that communion is far less important than Scripture. "Sola Scriptura" is not a universally held Christian precept, Matt.

I believe George W. Bush to be a good Christian, even if I think his understanding of Christ's message falls well short of the mark. It is one thing to question a fellow believer's theology; another altogether to attack his faith itself. It is a subtle but crucial distinction, and Matt Grills -- and those who agree with him -- have failed to grasp it.

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