Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent 1


What happened to marriage and family that it should have become a travail and a sadness?...God may be good, family and marriage and children and home may be good, grandma and grandpa may act wise, the Thanksgiving table may be groaning with God's goodness and bounty, all the folks healthy and happy, but something is missing...What is missing? Where did it go? I won't have it! I won't have it! Why this sadness here? Don't stand for it! Get up! Leave! Let the boat people sit down! Go live in a cave until you've found the thief who is robbing you. But at least protest! Stop, thief! What is missing? God? Find him!


--Walker Percy

First Sunday of Advent-2008


The readings:
Isaiah 64:1-9
64:1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--

64:2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

64:3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

64:4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

64:5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

64:6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

64:7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

64:8 Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

64:9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
80:1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

80:2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

80:3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:4 O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?

80:5 You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

80:6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

80:7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

80:17 But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

80:18 Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

80:19 Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Mark 13:24-37
13:24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
We don't like the ordinary, the everyday, the concrete. We understand it too well. Take the current financial crisis. Nobody really understands finance, except a few people who speak the language; and the rest of us secretly believe they are kidding themselves, because we don't know what they are talking about. So when the news starts throwing around adjectives like "exotic" and talking about "financial instruments" like "derivatives," we tune out, because we simply have no idea what they are talking about and the money, never discussed in amounts less than billions, is so large that it's abstract too, so we just let it all go by.

But let the automakers ask for help, and suddenly this we understand. Automobiles! Who doesn't understand automobiles! We know what those are! And we know they are made by labor! Labor! Now we understand! And we smell a cheat, a rat, a sweet deal for somebody else who isn't us! Now we prick up and say "Wait a minute! Why do they need any help?" Stocks and bonds we don't really get; but a paycheck for building something, that we understand.

Finances and Wall Street are abstract. Cars and labor are concrete. When problems are abstract they're safe, they're comfortable, we can let somebody deal with them for us. When problems are concrete, we understand them, or think we do, and then we get personally involved; or think we do.

Which is what makes Advent so wonderful and terrible all at once. It's abstract: we're waiting for something. It's concrete: we know exactly what we're waiting for, or at least we think we do. And we grow impatient, sometimes; we're like Isaiah, sometimes:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence--as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
And the terrible thing is: we know that isn't going to happen. We know, in fact, the just the opposite will happen. And even then, only Herod will tremble and cry; and when Herod cries, small children die in the streets.

But that's after Christmas; this is before, so let's get back to Isaiah. Is there anything more wonderful and terrible than what those words describe? Oh, God, that you would make your presence known so that no one would doubt you! This is an age of skepticism, we're told; an age of non-belief, unlike the simpler ages in the past, when everyone everywhere believed in gods. But if that were true, what are words like this doing in our Bible? If there was never any skepticism in human history until today, why does Isaiah sound so frustrated? And why does he connect God's awesome deeds to what Israel did not expect? It's like God is playing with us. It's like God is playing with our expectations. Could God be that cruel? Could this all be just play? Are we truly just the sport of gods, as flies to wanton boys?

But if it isn't play, why is a child involved? What else could it be when we know the command to "keep awake" will be answered at midnight by a baby's cry, by angels singing to shepherds, by strange outsiders coming from a long way off to tell us what we should know already? Isn't the whole Nativity story one big game of hide and seek?

Could it be that it's only when we don't expect God, that we get the awesome deeds of God?

No, that can't be right. It's a terrible thing to wait for God to appear, and it's a pleasure to play a game. Well, a pleasure as long as you know it's a game. When my daughter was a toddler she ran off in a department store to play a game. She hid herself among the winter coats, so we would come to find her. We did, but we weren't having any fun, because we only knew she was lost; we didn't know it was play. It makes all the difference, doesn't it? What you see is, sometimes, what you get.

But it's a terrible thing to wait for God to appear; and when will that be? And how will that be? And why must it be a little child, over and over and over again? People are dying. Jdimytai Damour, may his name be preserved by us all in blessed memory, was killed in a stampede of people trying to start the Christmas shopping season. What will Christmas be to his family from now on? People are being killed in Iraq, in India, perhaps in the house next to you, or a few streets over, right now. Anticipation this year is not only for Christmas presents, but for jobs in the present. People are losing houses, losing everything, the future is not hopeful, it's scary! Christmas is a time for children, and there's nothing in the world right now that's even remotely childlike. Play?! This is not play! This is serious!

So is the nativity; deadly serious. The best kind of play is the kind that really matters.

"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
Which is good, of course; what fun is the game if you already know the outcome? What fun is a game if it's ordinary and everyday? What fun is it if the game is like our real lives, if it's something we understand? Much better if it's something we don't really understand, right? Like children playing hide and seek, when they know they won't be lost; when lost is not something they really understand.

What fun is a game if you already know the outcome, but you have to play it again? That's what Advent is, isn't it? Playing the same game again, when we know it ends in Christmas? Isaiah didn't know that much, and he was going to be disappointed if he really expected God to come down like thunder and lightning and set fire to wet wood and present a sign so overwhelming and definite no one could doubt it. After all, what we are waiting for is not fire from heaven, but a baby; a baby in a manger, visited by shepherds, later visited by wise men who have to sneak away to save their lives and to save the live of the helpless infant. What sign is this? "From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him." But this is the sign we are waiting for! Is God playing with us?

Yes. God is playing hide and seek; and expecting us to join in the game; expecting us to take up the spirit of play, not the fear of being lost, or of losing God.

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people's prayers?

You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure.

You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.

Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved
Those are the words we need to hear right now. If play is pleasure, and pleasure is rejoicing, then play is rejoicing, too. If the present is dark, then we need to look forward playfully to the future. If life is difficult, we need to ease it with laughter. If life is a burden, we need to lighten it with play. Hope is a kind of play; it is the game of eternity.

Jesus came as a little child, and later will tell his disciples to let the little children come to him, because they are the kind found in the kingdom of God. What can the disciples make of this, except that Jesus is playing with them? What can Isaiah make of the nativity, except that once again God is playing with him? When are we going to realize this game of hide and seek is meant to be fun, is meant to be a game, and that the risk of our being lost, of our taken away, the risk of danger that terrifies parents when the child decides to play and they don't know that....is zero? When do we begin to see this game of hide and seek is part of the pleasure of the anticipation? "Grace to you and peace," says Paul, "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Those are not just polite words; they have real meaning. What can we do in the face of such reality except rejoice? How can we respond, except to join the game? After all, it's the game that blesses us. Just listen to Paul again:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is not abstract; this is very concrete. But we think it's abstract, because we don't understand it at all. But it's real; it's as concrete as the car you drive. Maybe we shouldn't think too much about it; maybe we should just rejoice in it. If we are enriched with every spiritual gift, if we lack nothing that we need as we wait for the revealing of our Lord, if Jesus will strengthen us to the end and God is faithful....well, what else can we do but play? If God is not coming in a thunderclap and a bolt of lightning, if God is coming as a little child, and because of that wants to play hide and seek with us, why should we refuse? And if God tells us we really, really, really should stay awake, why don't we make some coffee and have an all-night party?

After all, what child ever wants to go to sleep, especially as Christmas approaches?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008


PRAISE AND HARVEST

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.
AMEN.


THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and they tender mercies which have ever been od old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we life,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel oj those who are wiser and better than ourselves,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the face of Christ to men,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are ained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God all all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee with also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

AMEN.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

In Advance of Advent

I'm going to throw this out here because of the way my day is shaping up; I'll come back and finish my thinking (and add a picture!) when I get the chance.

It seems there is a marvelously creative discussion going on about the liturgical calendar and Advent. I, of course, want to play.

The argument has a radical element, which is to reclaim Advent by moving it away from the post-Thanksgiving "'X'-number of shopping days 'til" American season, or just further back from Christmas to get a running start at the whole idea if it isn't post-Thanksgiving shopping that is ruining your year. I have no complaint with either option, but I have some questions about the efficacy of either approach.

First, we are strictly talking about a liturgical calendar here, a calendar with a diminishing impact on society's schedule, and even a diminishing importance within the church. Not saying it should be that way, but it is. The liturgical calendar is probably far more important to a monastic community than to a parish, even a Roman Catholic one. Advent may begin in America after Thanksgiving, but that's the telling point: the season (on the American calendar anyway) is Christmas, from the first Sunday after Thanksgiving (usually) to December 25th (traditionally NOT a day to attend church services). Then again, even ministers steeped in the traditions of the Reformed church (if it even sounds RC, abhor it!), have discovered the virtues of Advent; more or less. But still, let's be clear: the liturgical calendar is more honored in the breach than in the keeping, and more honored still by pastors and priests than by the laity, who don't use it to keep time for any purpose much, anymore.

I will offer the caveat that this may be slightly different in England, where at least for a time the colleges and universties had things like "Michealmas term," and where Candlemas may still have a meaning outside the rarified atmosphere of the rectory. America has never been a country culturally dominated by the Roman Catholic calendar, so it may be the liturgical calendar has slightly more meaning for England and it's eponymous church than it does in America, which has no eponymous church at all. But still, even in the days when Charles Dickens put pen to paper to call forth Ebenezer Scrooge and thereby "saved Christmas," Christmas was not only not a day set apart from the normal run, but it wasn't even a day when most attended services. The problem is: if we are going to revise the liturgical calendar so that it has more meaning for our lives, can we say the liturgical calendar has any meaning for our lives now?

I come as a convert to this discussion, not a natural born citizen. I adopted the liturgical calendar as my own, but I soon found my congregations did not share my enthusiasm. Advent, for them, already went on too long if it didn't mean the immediate singing of Christmas carols on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, and continuous singing of same until Christmas Eve, at which point all Christmas greens should be removed from the sanctuary, all Christmas trappings stored away so they wouldn't be left around for New Year's, and all Christmas hymns packed away in the hymnal because we'd sung them for 4 weeks straight and we were sick of them!

I found that's an awfully hard "tradition" to turn around. Especially since the "world" starts playing Christmas music before the Halloween candy is completely devoured. But then again, I'm coming at this from a non-liturgical, or rather no longer liturgical, tradition. Perhaps when you let these things go, it's very difficult, indeed, to get them back. This was much less an issue in the years during which I attended an Episcopal church, so there is that. But still, at least in America, it isn't that: "Christmas has tended to overtake Advent not only in the world of consumer affairs but even in the readings we set aside for that season." It's that Christmas has devoured Advent, and heaved it over a cliff. Can we get it back by making it even longer? Or should we first try to observe it at all?

My understanding of the origins of Advent (admittedly fuzzy ones) are that it arose as a "little Lent," a period of preparation for the Adventus of the Christchild. It is still a period of preparation, but now it's the preparation of the Christmas tree for the burgeoning pile of presents it should start receiving beginning on Black Friday. When it started, it meant something to people. Can we recover that by tinkering with the system? Or do we need to tinker with the people?

My bold suggestion would be, not to alter Advent, but alter our perceptions of Advent. Chris has some interesting ideas about altering the liturgical calendar the better to prepare for Advent itself (prepare for a preparation; how liturgical is that?). I think, however, it's the right approach. Pentecost drags on so long that by October we are jonesing for something to break the monotony, and some of us take it in Reformation Sunday followed shortly by All Saints', and then we need a Stewardship Sunday (why our fiscal calendar is tied to the secular calendar, when our liturgical calendar starts in November, is another issue) and a Christ the King Sunday, which leaves Advent coming along not as the start of a new church year, but as that period after Thanksgiving when we...start singing Christmas carols!

There is clearly a problem here.

Maybe it's a lectionary issue:

We need a range of readings that look to the Nativity and to the End of Days. While all around us we're already being told to buy, buy, buy for ourselves, ourselves, ourselves, what if a richer and fuller season of fasting were marked off by service and gift-giving, waiting and preparation?
I would certainly favor a bit more astringency in the church services for Advent, as a preparation for the glories of Christmas Eve/Morning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Last Sunday of Pentecost 2008

Traditionally observed as the Tötenfest in the German E&R church:

Almighty and everlasting God, before whom stand the spirits of the living and the dead; Light of lights, Fountain of wisdom and goodness, who livest in all pure and humble and gracious souls.

For all who have witnessed a good confession; for thy glory and the welfare of the world; for patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; for the wise of every land and nation, and all teachers of mankind,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the martyrs of our holy faith, the fainful witnesses to Christ of whom the world was not worthy, and for all who have resisted falsehood and wrong unto suffering or death,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have labored and suffered for freedom, good government, just laws, and the sanctity of the home; and for all who have given their lives for their country,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have sought to bless men by their service and life, and to lighten the dark places of the earth,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For those who have been tender and true and brave in all times and places, and for all who have been one with thee in the communion of Christ's spirit and in the strength of his love,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the dear friends and kindred, ministering in the spiritual world, whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship thee in heaven,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the grace which was given to all these, and for the trust and hope in which they lived and died,
WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

And that we may hold them in continual remembrance, that the sanctity of their wisdom and goodness may rest upon our earthly days, and that we may prepare ourselves to follow them in their upward way,
WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may ever think of them as with thee, and be sure that where they are, there we may be also,
WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may have a hope beyond this world for all thy children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from thy kingdom and household,
WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

In the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the faithful and the saints in heaven, with the redeemed in all ages, with our beloved who dwell in thy presence and peace, we, who still serve and suffer on earth, unite in ascribing,
THANKSGIVING, GLORY, HONOR, AND POWER UNTO THEE, O LORD OUR GOD.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE, WORLD WITHOUT END. AMEN.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Xmas time is here



My brother sends me word of this. This really brings Xmas close to a person. The sadder thing is, it's plastic.

The even sadder thing? I really want one.

Too bad I already have the book, or I could get a boxed set: tree and printed version of the story.



I know how Charlie Brown feels now, always trying to kick that football.

Lights, please.

No, I mean turn 'em out. I can't stand it. I just can't stand it.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bon anniversaire!


It is Voltaire's birthday. I have it on good authority that he was known to consume 50-75 cups of coffee per day. A man after my own heart.

We must tend our own gardens, but Juan Valdez must tend a really big one for the addicts among us.

Bonne fête!

We Say "Merry Christmas!"


Maybe I'm being to hard on Daniel Henninger. After all, it's not like there isn't a tradition of using Christmas to keep the workers in line.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Out upon 'Merry Christmas!' "


It all went wrong when we went to War on Christmas:

Notwithstanding the cardboard Santas who seem to have arrived in stores this year near Halloween, the holiday season starts in seven days with Thanksgiving. And so it will come to pass once again that many people will spend four weeks biting on tongues lest they say "Merry Christmas" and perchance, give offense. Christmas, the holiday that dare not speak its name.

This year we celebrate the desacralized "holidays" amid what is for many unprecedented economic ruin -- fortunes halved, jobs lost, homes foreclosed. People wonder, What happened? One man's theory: A nation whose people can't say "Merry Christmas" is a nation capable of ruining its own economy.

One had better explain that.
Yes, one better had.

The fault, you see, lies not in greedy Wall Street traders, or investors who had more and more cash to invest and went looking for what finally became NINA (No Income, No Asset) loans, but in...well, let Mr. Henninger tell you:

The path to 50% wealth reductions and the death of Wall Street was paved with good intentions, notably the notion that all should own a house, even if that required giving away the house to untutored borrowers with low-to-no-interest loans.
Yes, those borrowers never should have accepted the ridiculous loans the lenders made. It's their fault the lenders failed, and now it's their fault anyone who goes about with "Merry Christmas!" on his lips will be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart!

The problem, of course, is people; people keep mucking up The Big Idea!:

Little or nothing that has occurred through this crisis discredits the system of free-market capitalism. Across several centuries of rising world incomes and social gains, the system has proved its worth. In this instance, the system has been badly used -- by mere people. Nonetheless, the dimensions of the fall and devastation that originated in subprime mortgages are breathtaking.
Damn those people! If it weren't for them, everything would have been perfect! And now they won't even let us say "Merry Christmas!" What? You fail to see the connection?

What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of "Merry Christmas."
Actually, it's the fault of William O. Douglas (let the reader be aware!):

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines.
Yes, the world was a better place before we started saying "Happy Holidays." Personally, I blame Bing Crosby.

So Christmas is not coming, despite what the stores and the calendar may tell you! It's ruined, I say, ruined! The holiday was never a "holy day" anyway, and it was only and always all about buying and getting and taking, and now we can't afford to do that, thanks to illiterate borrowers who took advantage of honest lenders who only wanted to make NINA loans so they could bundle them into securities that would be safe as houses, and now they can't even do that! O, the perfidy! O, the humanities!

Bah, humbug, indeed!

Feel free: Banish Merry Christmas. Get ready for Mad Max.
What he said.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Once again


As the Bush Administration winds down, there is conviction in the air, based on nothing more than conjecture, that Bush will pardon all those who committed crimes like torture and kidnapping (a/k/a "extraordinary rendition") before he leaves office, an unprecedented "blanket pardon."

Let me just say: "I doubt it."

Jonathan Turley says a blanket pardon would:

...raise serious constitutional and criminal questions, though there is some precedent in the Kennedy and Carter administrations. A traditional pardon is a public document naming individuals who are pardoned for specific crimes. One possibility being discussed is the use of a blanket pardon that would not individually name people but cover anyone associated with the unlawful programs. It would be a terrible precedent, if upheld. A president could pardon the world at the end of an Administration — gutting any accountability for criminal acts.
I think he's right, which is why I don't think such a pardon would get very far in the courts (where it would have to be upheld on a case by case basis, as individuals stepped forward to claim its protection. This, of course, is the primary problem: how do we determine the pardon was meant to cover the person in the dock? Or do we just, as Turley said to Rachel, allow the President to pardon the world?) The precedent, as I mention below, is for persons convicted of crimes, not for persons unknown who may or may not be guilty of unspecified criminal offenses. The presidential pardon is not a "Get out of Jail Free" card for any activity any unnamed person may have committed. As I have pointed out before, a presidential pardon is a public, not a private, act. To be effective, the person pardoned must accept the gift, which in this case means they must first accept their guilt. Pardons for persons unnamed for crimes not admitted are a nullity. True, George H.W. pardoned the "Iran-Contra" conspirators, but they were already charged with crimes, and the problem of accepting their guilt in exchange for a dismissed prosecution was a small one. Jimmy Carter pardoned the "draft dodgers," but again it was not a blanket pardon to anyone who ever tried to avoid the Vietnam draft or who was hiding out in Canada unknown to the world. The pardon was only for "civilians convicted of '[violating] the Military Selective Service Act by draft-evasion acts or omissions committed between August 4, 1964 and March 28, 1973'". Indeed, the history of pardons compiled by the State Department for a press release (not an ideal source, I admit) indicates that all Presidential pardons have been for convictions or to end prosecutions (the example of GHW Bush). If there are Presidential pardons issued to persons unknown for crimes unspecified, I don't know of them.

The pardons Bush is supposed to issue in order to save his own hide would have to be made to persons unknown for crimes unacknowledged as criminal. Bush has relied on questionable legal opinions to justify his most egregious policies: to issue a pardon would be to admit all of those opinions were wrong, all of those policies illegal. He would also have to issue a pardon to unnamed persons, those who conducted the torture, the kidnapping, etc., or he would have to identify them by name and by alleged crime. Those persons would then have to accept that their actions were indeed criminal, rather than legal, and publicly accept the pardons. Given the present situation, where all such persons are unknown to the public, and no prosecutions for any such crimes are pending, who would seek or accept such a pardon?

And why would Bush issue them?

A Presidential self-pardon is likewise highly unlikely, first because it would require Bush acknowledge he needs such a pardon (i.e., he has committed one or more crimes) and secondly, because it is of very dubious legality. My personal opinion is that, as a practical matter, the courts would simply decline to recognize its validity. Of course, that validity would only be tested if a criminal prosecution were brought against a former President for actions taken while he was in office, and I think snow in Houston in July is more likely than that.

Friday, November 14, 2008

At Play in the Fields of the Lord



Homo Ludens, Harvey Cox named us (or was that an old ad campaign for cough drops? I need to look that up when I get the chance!). He meant what made us similar, what bound us together, was our sense of play, and our need for play. It's almost the start of a theology of play, but he never went very far with it. I'm thinking maybe I should

A theology of play is neither a playful theology nor a religious justification for games. It is a theology in which the nature of God and humanity, and their relationship to one another, is examined and perhaps, explained. In other words, what any sound theology is. And it is playful in the sense that "Waiting for Godot" is comic. So it is not play as frivolity, any more than "Godot" is tragedy as the inexorable fate of misery. Or at least, it shouldn't be.

For example, a theology of play might start with the witticisms of our Lord ("A man lay in a ditch, the victim of robbers; and along came a priest and a rabbi...."), but it would have to encompass Abraham on Moriah (which can be seen through the lens of "game," as any game involves and instructs us in the nature of "trust," of following the rules of the game even if we don't understand them or like them), but you would have to be careful to distinguish that scene from "play." Unless you were willing to understand a whole new meaning to "play...."

And Job; you would have to take in Job as well, along with Jonah, along with Paul and Peter and Elijah and Isaiah and....well, you see, it could get interesting.


And the point of a theology of play? To make life more bearable, else what's the point? "How should we then live?," or "What, then, must we do?", as Billy Kwan framed the question. That is the only question worth asking.

A theology of play might make the answer worth living.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Compassion, Ltd.


Bob Herbert:

And let’s get some help, quickly, to the families who are suffering most from the housing crisis — the ones trembling and heartbroken in the dark shadow of foreclosure.

The naysayers will claim that all of this is too expensive, that we can’t afford it. Where were they when we invaded Iraq? And how do they feel about the staggering amounts being funneled, with nothing like the proper oversight, to the banks and Wall Street?

Let’s try investing in America and its people for a change, rather than just hurling our billions into the abyss.
NPR:

"This whole notion that everybody's entitled to own a house — that's a bunch of crap," says Michael Bednark, who lives in Tigard, Ore., and works in sales of heavy truck equipment. He says he's upset about efforts to cut more deals for people who can't pay their loans, especially where taxpayer money is involved.

"People who bought more home than they are entitled to own are getting bailed out on my back," Bednark says.

Many people say they don't like the idea of bailing out a lot of homeowners. Bednark says he has compassion for, say, elderly people who were taken advantage of. But he says he and his family always lived within their means. They bought a modest house. All around him, though, he saw people borrowing money recklessly, taking cash out of their houses to buy ski boats, motorcycles.

"It's insane, what they were doing. So where is the personal responsibility?" he says.
It's all a matter of framing, isn't it? Responsibility depends on how you understand the situation. Are the Big Three in Detroit irresponsible because they sold big cars to people anxious to buy them, or because they had unionized factories and "legacy costs" for pensions and healthcare, costs borne either by the governments of Japan and Germany, or not even incurred in the foreign car factories in the American South (there's a reason the German and Japanese car factories are mostly in the South; the "right to work/open shop" tradition goes back practically to Reconstruction, if not to the days of slavery outright).

Of course, to Mr. Bednark's point, I should sympathize with him. After all, I'm the guy who thinks Texas should still have a solid homestead exemption, the one that allowed a lien on the homestead only for the mortgage and home improvements. No home equity loans in Texas until George W. was governor and got the law changed. But then Texas began as a debtors' paradise, and one thing debtors understand is that a home is a necessity, not an investment. If you're going to lose your home, it shouldn't be because you used it to go still deeper into debt for something else.

On the other hand: Was the Sabbath made for humankind, or humankind for the Sabbath? Is the system supposed to provide for us? Or are we supposed to provide for each other? And if God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike, who are we to judge?

You know, the problem with being a Christian is that it's so dad-gummed hard!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

11/11/2008


O God the Lord of might and love, control the nations of mankind by thy gracious power, and make them to long for the reign of good will in the earth.

HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Guide the hearts and minds of all who govern, that they may seek first thy kingdom, and bring forth justice for all nations, whether small or great.

HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

May the children of our own and every land grow up in hatred of war and in love of peace; and, renouncing all self-seeking, may they devote their lives to the service of Christ in the upbuilding of a righteous and peaceful world.

HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Save us from the spirit which leads to strife, from the temper which refuses to forgive, from the ill will that has no wish to forget, and from lack of faith in they power to change the hearts of men.

HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER.

Grant thy Holy Spirit to who who bear on their hearts the burden of they world's sin and pain; prosper their work for the welfare of human life, and inspire them with wise judgments, that they may build a brotherhood of nations in the fatherhood of God.

HEAR US, HEAVENLY FATHER, AND GRANT US THY PEACE. AMEN.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Wish I'd Said That Dept.


James Carroll:

World War I ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, yet an irresistible current of nihilism had been set loose. Fought in the name of democracy, that war was in fact a triumph of militarism and imperialism - on all sides. It led to the punitive imposition of artificial borders in Europe, which were the immediate cause of World War II; in the Middle East, the remote cause of today's most dangerous conflicts; and in Africa, where consequent genocide has found its niche. Perhaps most damaging was the 1914 legitimizing of mass violence, with the trenches anticipating both gas chambers and the unleashed atom. Hitler and Stalin were empowered by the so-called Great War, which is why both World War II and the Cold War should always be considered in its context. To regard all three conflicts as a single War of the 20th Century obliterates any notion that categories of "just war" apply.

What are we to make of these three anniversaries? First, while honoring the memory of veterans tomorrow, we should also acknowledge that the Great War was a mistake. America should never have joined. Second, in properly recalling the demonic Hitler's antisemitism, we can also reckon with the complicity of a larger culture. What crimes make us bystanders today? And third, trumping the horrors of the 20th century, its most important event was the nonviolent resolution of the nuclear-armed Cold War. "Power to the people" proved true, and what they used their power for was peace. Three anniversaries, with emphasis given to hope.

Friday, November 07, 2008

On the road to Nowhere

The Chicago Way:

The SUV cut the car off immediately, and the security team aimed their weapons at the car. The driver and passenger in the sedan stopped, and looked stunned -- until the male driver appeared to understand what was happening (your pool reporter could see him mouth "Obama"). The motorcade continued on. The sedan remained stopped, near the side of the road. [...] Some of the drivers here in Chicago do not seem to understand that a) the Chicago police car at the end of the president-elect's motorcade is serious about having traffic pull over when the officers flash their lights and hit their sirens, and b) it's not a great idea to jump ahead of traffic by trying to cut around the black SUV filled with five heavily-armed secret service CAT members.


Purely personal reason for posting this. I lived in the Chicago suburbs for a year. Once, on a one lane cloverleaf ramp, going from one freeway to the other (the two ran perpendicular to each other, if you don't know what I mean by "cloverleaf"), a car passed me.

Yes, nearly forcing me off the road, where there was no "off the road" to go to. And why I say the worst drivers I've ever seen, and the scariest, most dangerous traffic I've ever been in, were both in Chicago.

So this little incident doesn't surprise me a bit.

On the Road to Somewhere



In line with what I've been saying, Andrew Bacevich:

Grandiose undertakings produce monstrous byproducts. In the eyes of critics, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo show that all of Bush's freedom talk is simply a lie. Viewed from a Niebuhrean perspective, they become the predictable if illegitimate offspring of Bush's convictions. Better to forget utopia, leaving it to God to determine history's trajectory.
This is Niebuhr in a nutshell, but it's quite a nutshell: the conviction that history is in the hands of the Creator, and our task is to manage as best we can with the tools we have, rather than to take charge and play Lord Protector. Wounded Bird links to a surprising example of Obama recognizing this, but even more interesting is the subject of the conversation between the first gay Episcopal Bishop and the soon to be first African American US President:

They did not discuss Anglican issues in great depth. 'He certainly indicated his broad and deep support for the full civil rights for gay and lesbian people but frankly we talked more about - I pressed him on the Millennium Development Goals. I wanted to know whether he thought more about them than just they were a good idea but whether he had any intention of pushing for their full funding and so on.'
Anyone who wants to recall Elijah and the widow, or any other story of plenty in a world of scarcity, is free to do so. I would add that Paul Krugman this morning is defying the prophets of doom even in the face of the economic handouts promised to Wall Street. If you don't have faith in the God of Israel, perhaps you can rely on a Nobel prize winning economist.

Bacevich casts this in distinctly Christian terms not because he is a theologue, but because Bush is; or at least claimed to be. Obama is not a theologue either,but we could do worse than have a President who is aware of the insights of Reinhold Niebuhr. Not that I think Niebuhr is all that and a bag of chips, but this is a point of view given short shrift in theological circles, or even evangelical ones:

At the root of Niebuhr's thinking lies an appreciation of original sin, which he views as indelible and omnipresent. In a fallen world, power is necessary, otherwise we lie open to the assaults of the predatory. Yet since we too number among the fallen, our own professions of innocence and altruism are necessarily suspect. Power, wrote Niebuhr, "cannot be wielded without guilt, since it is never transcendent over interest." Therefore, any nation wielding great power but lacking self-awareness - never an American strong suit - poses an imminent risk not only to others but to itself.

Here lies the statesman's dilemma: You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. To refrain from resisting evil for fear of violating God's laws is irresponsible. Yet for the powerful to pretend to interpret God's will qualifies as presumptuous. To avert evil, action is imperative; so too is self-restraint. Even worthy causes pursued blindly yield morally problematic results.
Some (Joel Osteen, hem hem) have abandoned original sin altogether. More commonly, it is used as a club to condemn "sinners" who are NOK. When probably understood, we all stand under judgment, and while that's a problematic issue when tied to salvation, it is certainly a beneficial issue when a strong dose of humility and limitation of one's reach are in order.

And that limitation is almost always in order.

Can Barack Obama bring America to a stronger sense of self awareness? Are we more mature than Gail Collins presumes?

About the inevitable disasters: I am sorry to tell you, excited youth of America, that Barack Obama is going to make mistakes. And the country’s broke. Perhaps we should have mentioned this before.
I'll go out on a limb here and assert that the "excited youth of America" are neither so naive nor so feckless as that. I think they understand what's coming, and that getting there will not be a matter of blind ideology. They have their cherished beliefs, but then, so do Republicans. Karl Rove, after all, is now claiming that Barack Obama won because he disguised himself as a conservative. Right now, I'd point those fingers at the adults on the GOP side of the aisle, who are busy tearing each other apart. Compared to them, the "excited youth of America" are models of statesmanship. Nobody booed when Obama told the crowd gathered to hear his acceptance speech that hard work lies ahead, and sacrifices will have to be made. That should tell us something.

Alice Walker, via the indispensable Wounded Bird, illuminates another spiritual issue in this:

A good model of how to 'work with the enemy' internally is presented by the Dalai Lama, in his endless caretaking of his soul as he confronts the Chinese government that invaded Tibet. Because, finally, it is the soul that must be preserved, if one is to remain a credible leader.
I think there are many ways of "preserving the soul," and not all of them have to do with intense self-care. Neither Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, nor even Jesus or Paul, after all, are portrayed as intensely self-conscious and self-caring persons, not, at least, in the sense with the most currency in modern American culture. But it is ironic that George Will, decades gone now, wrote a book Statecraft as Soulcraft. I'm still not sure where that takes us, but it seems we are going somewhere new and interesting.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Holes



House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement after the announcement that Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) would be President-Elect Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff:

“This is an ironic choice for a President-elect who has promised to change Washington, make politics more civil, and govern from the center.”
I'm taking up a collection to buy the GOP some more shovels. Who's in?

Everything Old is New Again


So it begins:

Texas:

Baylor University officials said they are investigating "deeply disturbing" incidents the day Barack Obama was elected the nation's first black president, including an apparent noose hanging from a tree.

"These events are deeply disturbing to us and are antithetical to the mission of Baylor University," interim president David E. Garland said in a statement Wednesday. "We categorically denounce and will not tolerate racist acts of any kind on our campus."

On Tuesday afternoon at the world's largest Baptist university, some students notified officials that a rope resembling a noose was in a campus tree, Garland said. Campus police took the rope and are investigating.

On Tuesday night, Baylor police broke up a shouting match between groups of white and black students arguing about the election, but no one got physical or was injured, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said.

Campus authorities also responded to a barbecue pit fire where several Obama campaign signs were allegedly burned, Garland said.

"We believe that the incidents on our campus yesterday were irresponsible acts committed by a few individuals," Garland said. "As a community we condemn these terribly unfortunate events that do not represent the values we share as members of the Baylor family."
Massachusetts:

A predominantly black church under construction in Springfield was destroyed by fire early yesterday, just hours after Barack Obama's landmark victory, triggering concerns that the building was purposely set ablaze in a possible hate crime.

The blaze started at Macedonia Church of God in Christ at 3:10 and caused an estimated $2 million in damage.

Church officials pledged to rebuild, but the concerns that their building was targeted dampened a mood that had been so uplifted in the night of Obama's historic win to become the nation's first black president-elect.

"This was a special time in our nation's history, but I also know not everybody was happy and celebrating," said Bishop Bryant J. Robinson Jr., head of the church. "After 71 years of being an African-American, you know these things happen."
I guess they didn't get the memo from the WSJ yet:

One promise of his victory is that perhaps we can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country. Mr. Obama has a special obligation to help do so.
Racism in America is so pre-11/4.

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?



Listening to NPR this morning, the arguments for Proposition 8 in California were presented by the pastor of a "mega-church." He asserted that the Bible is a book of rules, the source of laws, and it tells Christians (at least) that marriage is between a man and a woman. And it left me wondering about the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees. When they rebuke the disciples for picking food out of the fields on the Sabbath, Jesus pins them down with the question they can't answer: "Was humankind made for the Sabbath, or the Sabbath for humankind?"

It's a particularly telling retort, because the Sabbath predates the law, according to Genesis. The directive in Mosaic law to remember the sabbath and keep it holy traces back to the first chapter of Genesis, the first book of Moses. There the Sabbath is when God rests and enjoys the fruits of God's labors, the fruits of Creation itself. Humankind, says the first book of Moses, was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for humankind, so humanity could, like God, in the image of God, enjoy all this goodness that God had created.

It's also a telling retort because it skewers the self-assurance of the Pharisees, it pulls their certainty out from under them. If the law cannot be relied on to pronounce judgment, if the law cannot be used to classify and divide, if the law cannot be used to define "good" and "bad" behavior, how should we then live? What, then, must we do? Is the law made for humankind, or is humankind made for the law?

If it is the latter, of course, then same-sex marriage can, and even arguably should, be banned. Humankind is made for the law, and the letter of the law is inviolable. Although I'm left wondering how many members of that pastor's church eat cheeseburgers or drink milkshakes with their hamburgers, let's not be Pecksniffian about this issue. The question is not which rules we choose to follow, the question is: why do we choose to follow rules at all? Were the rules made for us, or were we made for the rules?

It's not as clear a distinction as it seems, because one the one hand, if the rules were made for us, there are no rules, since we can change them to suit us willy-nilly. I mean, if the rules are for our benefit and we stop seeing a benefit from them, away with them, n'est pas? Isn't that the central argument of the Declaration of Independence, that when the rules established to guarantee life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness get in the way of those things, the rules must fall away? Yes, yes, Jefferson applies that argument to "government," not "rules," but what is government except the provider and enforcer of the rules? Without rules, government has no purpose and no ability to function, so it's a fair question: isn't this "rules were made for us, not us for the rules" argument, a peculiarly American one, and one meant to guarantee liberty for all?

What, then, of the prophets, of even the letter of Paul to the Galatians? For Christians, at least, that's the question: if the rules were made for us, then of what use are rules, and yet, without rules, how do we obey God? How do we even do justice and love mercy? How do we define ourselves as Christian, if we define "Christian" as being free to follow no rules at all? I can already hear Paul readying to call us all "stupid Galatians!"

But if humankind was made for the rules, what prison are we entombed in for all eternity? Even the harshest Pharisee was never so harsh, except in the caricatures presented in the gospels. It's worth noting that in that passage the Pharisees are traveling with Jesus. They are followers, not yet enemies; they are seeking to learn from the rabbi, they seem him as a fellow traveler on their path. It may be they even took a lesson from this teaching, rather than withdrew (as the gospels are wont to portray them doing closer to Passion Week) and plotted how to destroy a teacher of such heresies. If they took a lesson, as it is likely they did, they took a lesson of wisdom from a rabbi, not a new rule of order from a lawyer or a bureaucrat.

And the lesson of wisdom is this: look to the creation, and consider who and whose you are. What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God? Is it justice to impose a narrow view of marriage on a society that may not share your religious convictions? Is it justice to decree that God does not allow certain legal arrangements, and you are the Lord Protector who will see to it that such arrangements are never legally allowed? Is it justice to condemn the disciples for picking the ears of wheat and eating them on the Sabbath? Was the Sabbath made for humankind, or humankind for the Sabbath?

If you say the latter, then humankind is the most damned of all Creation, and free will is a curse and the Sabbath a miserable burden. If you say the former, then you must ask why this tradition is honored, and how it should be honored. Is it because the observance of the Sabbath is a time to rest and enjoy creation, a one day a week vacation from the busy-ness of securing one's life, of gaining one's daily bread? Or is the Sabbath there because God wants another excuse to smite us? The same question applies to marriage: is it there to make us pleasing in the sight of a jealous and small-minded god? Or is it there to benefit us? Were we made for marriage, or was marriage made for us? And if it's the latter, then why isn't marriage made for us whoever, as adults, we are?

What's so difficult about peace, love, and understanding? Why are we so determined to be in charge, rather than to enjoy the Creation? Why are we so determined to be so busy with the lives of others that we can't even enjoy the Sabbath when it was made for us?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

'nuff said



And at this point, subject (of course) to change, Houston is going for Obama. As are Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and the Valley.

The kids are alright, too. My daughter's comment upo hearing the news: "Really! Now I don't have to flee America!!!!"



One last thing:

When Cormac McCarthy writes: "There is no prophet in the earth’s long chronicle who is not honored here today," he is addressing an imagined apocalypse; and the sentiment speaks for many who think they know the words of the prophets. But apocalypse means revealing, not disaster; and the revelation of the prophets is streams in the desert; is the jar of grain and pitcher of oil that are never exhausted in the famine; are the valleys raised up and the mountains made low and a highway run straight through the wilderness so every eye can see the glory of God. It is justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

That didn't happen tonight. But there was no prophet in the earth's long chronicle who was not honored here today; and that's a good thing.

Why We Vote



I'd like to have more personal anecdotes to pass along, but I've done that. The only notable quotes I can find this morning are from the Dallas Morning News, but they'll do:

Ms. Dean, who has been an election official for 35 years, said it will probably get busier by noon and at the end of the work day. She has noticed, too, that more people who have never voted before want to vote now.

“It’s like they belong. They seem to have the same mindset that something wonderful is going to happen. It’s like a realness, like ‘I really understand why they were after me to vote.’”

Election Day brought out first-time voters, including 27-year-old Lisa Hardaway who voted for Barack Obama at the Denton Civic Center.

“I never really cared to vote before because I didn’t feel like it really made a difference,” she said. “This is an important election that’s really opened up my eyes.”
I still think it was the sight of a US city drowning that made people realize government is the solution, not the problem. Whatever it was, I'm glad they're turning out.

I should also note that the Dallas/Fort Worth environs are hardly considered a hotbed of "liberalism", yet most of the quotes in that story favor Obama and the Democrats. The results tonight might be real interestin'.

Official projections for Texas are 68% voter turnout, but I'm still holding out hope for 73%, or better. We'll see.

And just to give the "old" reputation of Dallas it's due:



Good thing the times are a-changin', huh?

And long as you're here...

I'd like to associate myself with the comments of Mr. Jensen. Hear, hear!

On the Road to Scarcity


"Whole sight; or all the rest is desolation." --John Fowles

The title tells me all I need to know: "A Date With Scarcity." The examples chosen tell the tale:

When historians look back at the era that is now closing, they will see a time of private achievement and public disappointment. In the past two decades, the United States has become a much more interesting place. Companies like Starbucks, Apple, Crate & Barrel, Microsoft and many others enlivened daily life. Private citizens, especially young people, repaired the social fabric, dedicated themselves to community service and lowered drug addiction and teenage pregnancy.
Interestingly, that is not apparently connected to this:

In the next few years, the nation’s wealth will either stagnate or shrink. The fiscal squeeze will grow severe. There will be fiercer struggles over scarce resources, starker divisions along factional lines.
As I overheard one man say this past weekend, discussing the Presidential choices (and his was decidedly GOP): "If I was running for President, I'd vote for the other guy," because, he explained, the nation faces so many problems.

But do we? Is Cormac McCarthy the prophet of our future? Are we facing pure misery which will only be bearable if we can describe it with stunning beauty? Is aesthetics our only hope? According to David Brooks, it's actually worse than that:

Raised in prosperity, favored by genetics, these young meritocrats will have to govern in a period when the demands on the nation’s wealth outstrip the supply. They will grapple with the growing burdens of an aging society, rising health care costs and high energy prices. They will have to make up for the trillion-plus dollars the government will spend to avoid a deep recession. They will have to struggle to keep their promises to cut taxes, create an energy revolution, pass an expensive health care plan and all the rest.
The concrete reality of a blasted world that leaves survival in a stark outline actually reduces the choices to a binary live/die. The real choices of how to allocate resources, of how we determine whether or not resources are scarce, is much more difficult. In that same conversation I overheard during the weekend, the other participant averred that she was not rich, so she was worried about Barack Obama raising taxes. Of course, she was driving an expensive car, had been to the GOP National Convention, and lived in a good neighborhood in a major American city. By international standards, she was "rich" already, although she might not have made it to the same list as Bill Gates. Wealth and abundance are relative terms. It's all in how you look at it.
And now we're supposed to look at the glass and find it is suddenly half-full, and deal with it. As Bob Herbert says on the same op-ed page:

The U.S. cannot thrive with its fabulous wealth concentrated at the top and the middle class on its knees. (No one even bothers to talk about the poor anymore.) How to correct this imbalance is one of the biggest questions facing the country.
But the most likely conversation will be over abundance, will be discussed in the terms of "Joe the Plumber." We won't talk about abundance, but about why we are "punishing success." We won't be concerned about the poor, we'll be complaining about how they want to drink our milkshake.

One can never have too much milkshake.

McCarthy prefers that vision of apocalypse that Brooks invokes. According to the NYT review, one character says of the environment of the story: “There is no prophet in the earth’s long chronicle who is not honored here today.” And that's the popular vision of apocalypse: not revelation (which is what the word means) but disaster. Maybe it's because the Exile was such a nightmare for Israel:

When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.

Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.

Is there no balm in Gil'ead? is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
But even Jeremiah couched the disaster in terms of justice and of revelation. McCarthy, like Brooks, posits no moral order for his apocalypse. If there is any at all, by Brooks' reckoning, it is merely the comeuppance of the "meritocrats" who have run out the string, who have reached the inevitable end that the politics, and theology, of scarcity always presume. Like all pessimists, they are never disappointed.

What, then, do we do with Elijah, or Moses? Moses promised the Israelites a land flowing with milk and honey. Elijah told the widow in the midst of famine to only feed him, and all would be well for her. Good thing, it turns out, that she listened. Even Ezekiel, who sits by the river in Babylon and hangs up his lyre and laments that he must sing the Lord's song in a foreign land, has a vision of recovery from disaster:

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he led me out in the spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the plain, which was now filled with bones.
He made me walk among them in every direction so that I saw how many they were on the surface of the plain. How dry they were!
He asked me: Son of man, can these bones come to life? "Lord GOD," I answered, "you alone know that."
Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: See! I will bring spirit into you, that you may come to life.
I will put sinews upon you, make flesh grow over you, cover you with skin, and put spirit in you so that you may come to life and know that I am the LORD.
I prophesied as I had been told, and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise; it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
Then he said to me: Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit: Thus says the Lord GOD: From the four winds come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.
I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them; they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They have been saying, "Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off."
Therefore, prophesy and say to them: Thus says the Lord GOD: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people!
I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon your land; thus you shall know that I am the LORD. I have promised, and I will do it, says the LORD.
There isn't a more powerful image of resurrection in all of Scripture. And yet even this doesn't get to the word of abundance that comes to Isaiah, a word to post-exilic people:

"Come for water, all who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come, buy grain and eat;
come, buy wine and milk, not for money, not for a price.
Why spend your money for what is not food
your earnings on what fails to satisfy?
Listen to me and you will fare well,
you will enjoy the fat of the land. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
I've said all this more than once, but let me simply say it again:

Jump ahead about 400 years, to the impending Babylonian Exile. Now comes Jeremiah, descended from a long line of priests, from that very village where Solomon exiled the priest who had supported his brother. And now Jeremiah tells the reigning king:

Let not the wise boast of their wisdom,
nor the valiant of their valour;
let not the wealthy boast of their wealth;
but if anyone must boast, let him boast of this:
that he understands and acknowledges me.
For I am the LORD, I show unfailing love,
I do justice and right on the earth;
for in these I take pleasure.
This is the word of the LORD.

There is a direct rebuke of the descendants of Solomon there. Solomon who purchased his wisdom and his palace and his power and even the Temple, with his central concern for Solomon, and what Solomon could obtain, and own, and control. Solomon who used his control of horses and chariots to exact tribute (read: taxes) from others; who used the location of Israel along the trade routes to exact a toll for what passed through the land, and made sure the money went to Solomon, not to the community. Solomon cared about Solomon, not about:

How good and pleasant it is to live together as brothers in unity!
It is like fragrant oil poured on the head
and falling over the beard,
Aaron's beard, when the oil runs down
over the collar of his vestments.
Is is as if the dew of Hermon were falling
on the mountains of Zion.
There the LORD bestows his blessing,
life for evermore (Psalm 133)

The LORD bestows the blessing freely. Solomon makes sure the blessing is recovered and rewarded to Solomon. Solomon, like the Pharoah, says there isn't enough to go around: not enough money, not enough power, not enough wisdom, and I, Solomon, must control it all, must deal in it, must buy and sell in all the marketplaces, of arms, of ideas, of palaces, even of religion. Because of this, says Jeremiah, comes the Exile. Because of this, Isaiah tells Israel, the people, not the kings:

"Come for water, all who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come, buy grain and eat;
come, buy wine and milk, not for money, not for a price.
Why spend your money for what is not food
your earnings on what fails to satisfy?
Listen to me and you will fare well,
you will enjoy the fat of the land. (Isaiah 55:1-2)

Listen, not to the king, but the LORD. Fare well not because the king is wise, or rich, or virtuous, but because of the goodness of the LORD. And buy without money, buy food without price, because economic transactions are not the basis of true life. There is no basis of exchange here: "Come to me and listen to my words, hear me and you will have life." (Isaiah 55:3). It is the call of the Creator, who gave life simply by speaking, in the beginning; and who gives life still, simply by speaking. And what is life if not a gift, something for which you can't give anything in exchange, which you can't even accept or acknowledge or receive, because you can never step away from it, apart from it, stand beside it and recognize it as something other to you, something which you could be given. What you is there to give to, if you don't already have life?

And because of the Exile comes Deuteronomy; the book of identity; and not identity for the king, but for the people. The people to whom God has given the one gift which can be given: life.

The consistent thread through the Hebrew scriptures into the proclamation of the basileia tou theou is that humans must eschew and avoid political power, because power draws its source from the fear of scarcity. As Brueggemann reads the Biblical narrative, Pharoah represents the people who live in fear and anxiety and anger. Such people have no energy left over for the neighborhood. In the story of Joseph and Pharoah, the guy with the most power and authority and wealth, dreams of scarcity. Which is not surprising; Pharoah's oikos is governed by the fear of running out. It is what keeps him in control, keeps him in power and why the people allow him to rule. This anxiety about scarcity is what drives the Hebrews into slavery and so, in brief, Genesis moves into Exodus.

Now Pharoah is so afraid of scarcity, so filled with anxiety for what might be taken from him, he begins to kill the babies of the Hebrews (and here the parallel to Herod in the New Testament, where he is clearly Pharoah to all the Gospel writers, becomes clearer. This is where Matthew draws his parallel with the Massacre of the Innocents). This is Pharoah's anxiety at work. As my notes indicate from the lecture: "The system that generates anxiety cannot relate to steadfast love." Which all by itself explains much about the reaction to Tom Fox, and even to the desire to go to war in the Middle East, a desire Wesley Clark says originally led to a plan to invade 7 countries in that region. But the story of the Exodus is that "Anxiety generated by ideology and social systems is not a part of the human condition." It is, in other words, our creation, and our creation, unlike God's, is grossly imperfect.

Enter Moses, a person with nothing who dreamed of freedom and departure from the "anxiety producing system." And then there is the miracle in the desert, the gift of God's abundance in the manna which comes to break the influence of the anxiety system (it comes as the people are complaining that they were better off in Egypt than in the desert). Our anxiety, Brueggemann notes, is a product of our lack of trust (faith) in God. God's offer of abundance, he says, calls into question the anxiety created by social systems, by human structures and strictures; and yet God never gives us more than "this day our daily bread."
The simple truth of the Scriptures, of the Gospels, of the Letters of Paul and Peter and James and all the others, even of the Revelation to John, is that the world you live in is quite literally the world you see. Change your sight, change your reality. There are streams in the desert, and they are part of the prophetic vision; but you have to look to see them. We could call it seeking our place of resurrection. It's a better concept than seeking our self-assured security.

Are we on the road to scarcity? Or do we live in a world of abundance, able to satisfy the needs of all?

You, as Jean-Paul Sartre would remind us, choose.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Somethin's happenin' here....



Interesting early voter turnout numbers.

Florida leads in terms of raw numbers of voters: 4,107,894, which is 52% of the total number of votes cast in Florida in 2004. That breaks down to 45.5% Democrats, v. 40.7% of Democrats in 2004.

California is second in terms of raw numbers, with 3,293,617, or 25.8% of the number of votes cast in 2004.

Texas is actually second in percentage of votes cast, but third in raw numbers: 3,117,005, which is 42.1% of the 2004 vote total. (Note, too, this is only for the 15 largest counties in Texas; but Texas has 254 counties, many of them rural and sparsely populated, so the vote totals wouldn't change significantly if all were tallied.)

Interesting, too: in 2004, the early vote turnout ended up being 36.1% of the vote total in Florida, 33.2% of the California total, and 51.1% of the Texas vote total. However, these numbers end as of October 30. Early voting in Texas ended on October 31, and 87,000+ votes were cast in Harris County (basically Houston) alone on that last day. Just to put the Harris County numbers in perspective:

The combined figure of 733,771 equals about 37 percent of the county's registered voters and for the first time may be higher than the number who vote on Election Day for the offices of president, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and several local positions.
And what does this mean for Tuesday? Well, if that historical 51.1% holds:

A combined total of about 730,000 for early voting and 700,000 more on Tuesday would put total county turnout above 1.4 million, or 73 percent of all registered voters.

Total turnout here was 59 percent in 2004, including about 405,000 early votes.
And, although Texas (like California) does not require party identification for voter registration, there may be a clue in the May primary:

More than 400,000 people voted in the presidential primary contest between Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, while fewer than 170,000 people voted in the relatively settled GOP primary.
Those, by the way, are the Harris County numbers. Overall, Democrats voted in the primary by a 2 to 1 margin over Republicans. If that trend continues, well....

The times, they are a-changin'....