Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Seduced by a conversion to prosperity

We young pastors (and I use the term "young" to refer to church leadership experience as opposed to chronological age!)have a special term we use when we enter into service at a new church which has "Purpose Driven" itself into an identity crisis. We called it "getting Warrened," and see our most immediate and important task as one of reminding the congregation that they are Methodists.

Now, I don't particularly have a "theological hard-on" about Rick Warren and his Saddleback empire, and I can't speak particularly to the "Purpose Driven Church"'s relevancy to other Christian traditions. I do, however, find much of the theology within these books and programs to be somewhat antithetical to Wesleyan theology and practice. And, I have to admit, I was not surprised at any of this (Much of my current interest in Warren's empire was stimulated by this, which I will probably comment on at a later time when my post would be more coherent than the primal scream that wells up from my soul everytime I read this)

From Moriel Ministries:

Warren's book The Purpose Driven Church and the related publications of Saddleback's literature ministry have influenced tens of thousands more who have never attended any of his seminars. As Warren indicated in a closing prayer, the impact of the Saddleback experience is extensive, to say the least: "Thank you that there is a movement, a stealth movement, that's flying beneath the radar, that's changing literally hundreds, even thousands of churches around the world."

What is being changed? Well...

A spirit of compromise must prevail in the church that is to experience dynamic growth. The embrace of contemporary culture and style will most assuredly set the desired mood that totally opposes the Biblical mandate to earnestly contend for the faith and separate from error. What works, what is least offensive and what is positive and uplifting is what should define the ministry, according to Warren. The church leaders who are interested in dynamic growth must embrace the attitude that says, "Don't try to tell me the Bible requires holiness and a style for worship and ministry that is different from that of the world." This "grace-in-your-face" attitude is so prevalent today because of church elders who are not willing, or not aware of how, to instruct ones to behave in the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15).

It is interesting to note, if you haven't followed the link, that Moriel Ministries is an unappologetic "solid, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, separated and militantly fundamental church." In fact,

mainline denominational churches or middle-of-the-road evangelical churches...are already committed to a course of compromise. It is not surprising that the vast majority of liberal and New Evangelical churches today readily fall for the superchurch growth strategy, for they vehemently reject Bible separation and have long since adopted theologies and ministries that do not insist upon contending for the Faith or for the inerrancy of Scripture.

He has something of a point in his assertion that the "Purpose Driven Church" Saddleback strategy may appeal to some in denominations that look at their falling membership and seek a handy boxed solution. I see it in Methodist churches in my neck of the woods which utilize some of the materials for study groups and church "visioning" exercises. The reason this does not worry me too much is that once the studies and "visioning" are complete, it seldom goes any further. Some small groups are formed that may continue on, usually struggling when they have to cast around to find the real "purpose" of the group once the study is complete. Occasionally, the impetus continues in relatively healthy ways and community bonds are strengthened, but all those other "strategies" for church growth are never seen as very practical, or even as something most members would like to see happen in their church.

However, I have had an experience that concerns me very much. During my internship, that time when I was supopsed to study and experience all aspect of parish ministry, I confessed to my mentor pastor that I was very weak in Evangelism and scarcely knew how to define it in a manner that made it relevant for my understanding of being in ministry to others. Frankly, I hated the whole concept. She very helpfully shared her understanding of evangelism, which was "Sharing the gospel by living it in every circumstance and every opportunity." She also suggested that I make an appointment with the professor of Evangelism at my seminary. Dr. J. was very helpful in explaining various theories of evangelism and rather gracious about it, considering that I hadn't deigned to take his class. I appreciated the basics, but wanted to know more about practical evangelism. He immediately whipped out a book that went into raptures about Rick Warren and the Saddleback Community Church, particularly the assessment of "Saddleback Sam," the target of evangelism efforts. I was appalled, quite frankly. My response, something to effect that it seemed very condescending and anti-Wesleyan, pretty much shut down the conversation from that point on. His parting comment: "Our church is going to die if we do not become successful in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Dr. J. was recently ordained a bishop.

Does "success" mean butts in the pews at the expense of commitment to discipleship? I feel quite certain that Dr. J. would not agree with this sentiment. In addition to being a noted scholar in the field of evangelism, he is also a Wesleyan scholar. Nevertheless, he opined at that time that there was much fruit in Warren's tree. I did not agree then that Warren's model of church was at all Wesleyan and I agree even less now. It is about being seduced by a conversion to prosperity.

Perhaps, it is the sense that Methodism has lost its frontier urgency that drove it to such prominence in America during the 19th century that makes Warren's methods appealing to Dr. J. There is certainly a sense in the church now that the UMC is deeply in need of spiritual renewal. I do not disagree with this and think that this would likely apply across the board with mainline Protestant denominations. There is, without a doubt, a creeping sense of calcification in the church as a whole, and, more particularly, in the individual churches. I've often joked that every Methodist Church should have a banner hanging in the narthex proclaiming "We've always done it this way!" Far more that "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" THIS is the motto that resonates at the local church level.

There's nothing new here. We've been there before. When John Wesley was 83, he undertook his last, arduous circuit around all the Methodist societies and chapels in England, Ireland, and the Channel Isles. He discovered that the people had cooled off a bit. They had succumbed to what Max Weber refers to as a "routinization of the Spirit" and had lost that sense of being driven by grace and, indeed, were experiencing a crisis of grace. Why had this happened? That "grand poison of souls" had taken its toll-"the increase in goods," "the love of the world," "the taking pleasure in the praise of men," "laying up treasures on earth." (James C. Logan, "After Wesley: The Middle Period (1791-1849)." Grace Upon Grace: Essays in Honor of Thomas A. Langford.) As I referenced in my title: "seduced by a conversion to prosperity."

The more successful the people called Methodists were in their personal lives, the less successful was the church. How does "butts in the pews" address the issues facing all mainline Protestant denominations: Identity-Who are we called to be as church? Purpose-What are we called to do as church? Praxis-How do we do it? The Church in general, and the Methodist Church in particular for me, must struggle with these issues every generation. We are not called to preserve the Methodist Church, but "to produce people who live by grace and manifest such living as a life of love for God and neighbor." (Logan) How is this accomplished by:

A contemporary-styled "Seeker Service" aimed at drawing in the unsaved and the unchurched from the community must replace the traditional Sunday worship service. To do this successfully, the church service must be non-threatening, familiar and comfortable to the "seeker" (the unsaved visitor).
The dress must be casual. The typical "Saddleback Sam" (a researched composite of the unchurched yuppie commonly found in Saddleback Church's surrounding community) dresses up for work all week, and he wants to "dress down" on the weekends. (As we shall see throughout this article, Saddleback Sam's likes and dislikes are what determine the style of the church service.) Attendees and church staff alike shun any ties, suits and dresses. Warren, dressed in a casual shirt, khakis and loafers told his seminar audience, "Get comfortable. This is as dressed up as I get in this church. My idea of winter is I put on socks, and obviously I don't think it's winter yet."
The music must be contemporary. Not only must the lyrics of the music be more recent, but the style of music should be that which the unsaved hears on a daily basis. The entertainment composite of the Saddleback sound system, band, singers and presentation would rival that of any secular rock concert. Warren stated that one of the first things a church should do is "replace the organ with a band." But he went on to say that if a band was not feasible, then at least a church could purchase a keyboard that will incorporate midi disks in order to give the sound of a band. Furthermore, the purpose of the church choir should be "backing up the soloist. That's the 90's way to use a choir rather than just having them sing."
The message must be only positive. We consider this to be the most flagrant flaw. Yes, the saved and unsaved alike can feel better about themselves after a message that often mixes psychology and an uplifting Scripture text. Such topics as dealing with guilt, self-esteem, interpersonal relationships, mood enhancement or motivation for success will encourage the worldly, weary individual. But what is God's command to the faithful undershepherd of the flock? Far, far different.
The ministries of the church must be geared to meeting the needs and special interests of the thousands who attend. Support groups for depression, eating disorders, infertility, family and friends of homosexuals, post abortion, and separated men and women were abundant. Many ministries were intended to bring together ones with similar business or professional interests, common recreational interests and so on. We could not find one single ministry listed in Saddleback Community Church's bulletin that involved the taking the Gospel message out to the lost in the community. In fact, Warren scoffed at the idea of passing out tracts or going door-to-door since "Saddleback Sam" is offended by such old-fashion, out-moded forms of evangelism.
Doctrinal instruction is not given to the church as a whole on the Lord's Day. Despite the fact that the early church clearly sets forth the example that doctrine is to be taught on Sunday to all the church body, at Saddleback, doctrine is only taught to sub-groups of the congregation apart from the regular church services. Warren emphasized Saddleback's strategy of moving new members "around the bases" by having interested Christians take special classes to prepare them for service. Although Bible study groups also meet together, our question is this: Why is not the pulpit used to proclaim the "whole counsel of God" to the whole congregation assembled before it on the Lord's Day (Acts 20:20-31)? Why make serious, systematic Bible instruction an option, heard only by the relatively few in the crowd who desire to "round the next base"? The whole counsel of God is to be proclaimed, to all seated before the pulpit, all the time!

Yes, we are losing members. We are also gaining members through baptism, confirmation, transfer from other Methodist churches, transfer from other denominations, and by profession of faith. We are gaining members who are moved by grace to be there, to participate in the means of grace with this family of God, to grow in grace and faith in discipleship with us.

It's too bad we're not successful. That's what happens when you avoid being seduced by a conversion to prosperity. I think I'd rather stick to a conversion "by grace and grace alone."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day-Remember the Soldiers

The horrors of war are catching up with us:

A May 10 article in The Washington Post, for example, discovered that "nearly four in five service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who were found to be at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were never referred by government clinicians for further help."

Meanwhile, The San Diego Union-Tribune disclosed in March that mentally ill servicemen were being returned to combat, often with little more treatment than prescriptions for anti-depressants and anxiety medications. The Union-Tribune also reported in April that despite increased need for treatment due to the war in Iraq, the Veteran's Administration mental-health budget has barely increased from $2.2 billion in 2005 to $2.3 billion this year.
I used to think PTSD had something to do with the culture; with how we have sanitized death, and removed it from our lives except as a source of cartoonish entertainment with live 'action heroes.' Jessica Mitford recounts that, at one time in America, a family member sat with the undertaker as the dearly departed was embalmed. It was an act of witness, a way of honoring the beloved, of not leaving them alone with strangers for a final violation. Our first thought now is how repulsive and disgusting that would be. But to a people used to farm life, who knew where the beef and chicken and pork sausage came from, because they made it themselves, it was nothing of the kind. And so I thought we were just squeamish, having sanitized death until it was simply a waxy body in a casket, or a row of numbers on TV.

But consider modern warfare, and re-read the Iliad; or even Beowulf. Warfare, for centuries, was personal. It became more and more impersonal early on. By the time of the Napoleonic Wars, it was a nightmare of error and cannonade and mistaken charges. Read Hugo's account of a charge at Waterloo, where calvary raced over a hill, only to find a ditch just beyond the rise their horses stumbled on. There was no way to stop the charge, no way to prevent fresh horses from piling up, rider and all, on the first wave, lying in the ditch. It was a slaughter of almost modern proportions, and all without a shot being fired, but then the shooting began in furious fusillade. And still, it wasn't like warfare today.

Today, your enemy can kill you and you cannot hope to protect yourself. A scene from Jarhead sticks in my memory. Finally called up to do his job as a sniper, the protagonist gets an Iraqi soldier in his sights, a man about to die at the hands of another man he doesn't even know exists. But an airstrike is called in, and the entire area bombed into rubble. Death from the skies, in an instant, without warning, without hope of escape or protection. What training can protect you from that? Today, it is IED's in Baghdad. What training, what armor, what planning, can protect you from an enemy who could be in the crowd watching you bleed to death? There, may lie the roots of Haditha.

In Homer's day, death was personal. The soldiers on either side of the line at Troy knew each other, were relatives, even. They fought for hours. Their training, their courage, their bravery, their stamina, their skill, all carried the day, or made every effort for them. Today the best trained soldier can die in death rained from the sky, in a thousand anonymous ways. No wonder PTSD is so prevalent. No wonder so many of them, are so broken.

Pray for them today. Remember the soldiers, and offer up your prayers on their behalf. Pray for a world that thinks war and violence offer solutions, offer more than more war and more violence. Pray for peace, both in the world, and in your soul; and in the souls of the soldiers.

God's peace be with them. God's peace with you all.

Memorial Day

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace. Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my god while I have my being.

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hopes is in the Lord their God;

Who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them,
who keeps his promise for ever;

Who gives justice to those who are oppressed,
and food to those who hunger.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

The Lord loves the righteous;
the Lord cares for the stranger;
he sustains the orphan and widow,
but frustrates the way of the wicked.

The Lord shall reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.

Eternal Lord god, you hold all souls in life: Give to your whole Church in paradise and on earth your light and your peace; and grant that we, following the good examples of those who have served you here and are now at rest, may at the last enter with them into your unending joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

What Boreas said

deserves not to be left in the Comments:

"Since many of you are immersed in the joys of the Memorial Day Weekend, and posting throughout the blogosphere is correspondingly low, I’d like to tie up a couple of loose ends, unrelated to the matter at hand (although I remain a great fan of the Daily Office):

"First, a belated thank you to all of you for your concerns - and your prayers - surrounding my recent enforced hiatus from these environs. The proximate cause of the incident was an unanticipated reaction to an experimental medication in whose clinical trial I'm participating. Your several reactions afforded me great comfort in the affirmation that, as always, we're all in this together.

"Secondly, I'd like to discuss last Tuesday's posting, "Wisdom of the Desert," in a sort of ad hominem way, by placing it in the context of Merton's life, not only when he wrote these words, but how (and perhaps why) his thinking evolved in the eight years left to him after their publication.

"Almost from the time of his entry in 1941 into the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (the Trappists) at the Monastery of Gethsemani, in Kentucky, Merton was obsessed with retreat from "the World," and from about 1952 onward he pressed for permission, heretofore unknown in the Order, to become a hermit with only limited contact with the monastic community; instead, in 1955 he was appointed Master of Novices, a position he held for the next nine years.

"Merton, who has been described as "never having a thought he didn't write down," tended during this time to use the texts of his regular sessions within the novitiate as the basis for his later literary output, and it’s important to note that the temper of both his Introduction to as well as his selection from the writings of the Desert Fathers very probably had their basis in his sessions with his novices.

"Wisdom of the Desert was published in 1960; in December of that year he was finally granted limited permission to reside in a small building on the monastery grounds, but was still required to sleep in the monastery and to participate in the activities of the community, including remaining Master of Novices. It wasn’t until 1964, just four years before his untimely death, that he was relieved of his position as novice master and permitted to remain exclusively in his hermitage.

"From the fall of 1966 until early 1968, he had a remarkable exchange of correspondence (At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Rosemary Radford Reuther, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y. 1995). Reuther is a Catholic feminist theologian, then with a freshly minted Ph.D. In this exchange he attempted (in my view, ultimately unsuccessfully) to defend monastic solitude – the retreat from “the World” - as a necessary and viable alternative to active response to the challenges of contemporary secular society.

"In her Introduction, written almost 30 years after the letters, Reuther says,
What I was looking for in initiating this conversation was neither a confessor, nor to be his confessor, but a genuine Catholic intellectual peer, one who would treat me as a peer, and with whom I could be ruthlessly honest about my own questions of intellectual and existential integrity. I was trying to test in this correspondence what was the crucial issue, for me, at that time: whether it was, in fact, actually possible to be a Roman Catholic and a person of integrity…. Could Catholics speak the truth and be Catholics? That Christians err, and even create monstrous idolatries, was in itself not scandalous to me. That would be only human. What was scandalous and insupportable was to be unable to admit error, to be incapable of repentance because you cannot entertain the possibility that you might be wrong. Worse still, to make such incapacity for self-questioning a dogma! That for me was the crux of the Catholic dilemma. [pp. xvi ff.]
Merton’s early response was to say,
“I do wonder at times if the Church is real at all. I believe it, you know. But I wonder if I am nuts to do so. Am I part of a great big hoax? I don’t explain myself as well as I would like to: there is a real sense of and confidence in an underlying reality, the presence of Christ in the world which I don’t doubt for an instant. But is that presence where we are all saying it is? We are all pointing (in various directions), and my dreadful feeling is that we are all pointing wrong. Could you point someplace for me, maybe? Thanks, and I am sorry to bother you. I have to write a book on monasticism, and I wonder if I can make it relevant – or may any sense with it at all. (I have no problem with my vocation.)[pp.17-18
]Never one to shirk a challenge, Reuther replied,
You say you have no trouble with your vocation, but, if that is really true, maybe you should be having some trouble with your vocation. I love the monastic life dearly (I am a Third Order Benedictine) but today it is no longer the eschatological sign and witness in the church. For those who wish to be at the “kingdom” frontier of history, it is the steaming ghetto of the big city, not the countryside that is the place of the radical overcoming of this world, the place where one renews creation, disposes of oneself and does hand to hand combat with the demons. I don’t see how anyone who is tuck in the old moribund (once eschatological) structures and is at the same time alive to the times cannot be having some trouble with his vocation. But perhaps for you more important: more reading and thinking about Word and Church will not help. I think you will have to find some new way of having Word and Church happening for you….” [p.20]
Merton spends the rest of his time in this correspondence trying to explain his attitude toward his own solitude, and Reuther keeps shooting down his arguments. Finally, as the conversation begins to wind down, he writes,
I don’t think I am rationalizing or evading when I say I think I owe it to you to pursue my own way and stand on my own in this sort of marginal and lost position I have. I am sometimes terribly hit by its meaning which is something I just cannot explain, because it is something you are not supposed to explain and must get along without explaining.” [p.62]
A rapprochement of sorts is reached in a concluding exchange. In December, 1967 Reuther writes,
Dear Brother: You are really a shocking and dissolute fellow. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the one thing a good son of the church never, never does, especially in ecclesiastical assemblies, is to state the bald and unregenerate truth? Surely someone must must have pointed this elementary fact out to you sometime during your novitiate.
She then quotes a fragment of a friend’s poem, applicable, she says, to Merton:

I suppose that with such views I shall be
left quite alone
To mumble plain truths like a dog
mumbling a bone… [pp.94-95]
Merton responds, 'Dear Rosemary: Ah, yes, I have become very wicked. This is due in great part to my hanging around with these women theologians. What a downfall. Let others be warned in time. Young priests can never be too careful. Tsk. Tsk.' [p. 96]

"On December 10, 1968, at a conference of Asian monastic orders in Bombay, Merton finished his morning presentation with these words:

'I will conclude on that note. I believe the plan is to have all the questions for this morning’s lectures this evening at the panel. So I will disappear.'

"So he went to his room, and while taking a shower, was accidentally electrocuted."


V.: May God's help remain with us always.

R.: And with our brothers who are away.

(concluding versicle and response from the Trappist Compline)

Thank you for your patience...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Morning Praise

from Work of God, Benedictine Prayer

O God, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise. 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.

The Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory.


Have mercy, tender God, forget that I defied you.

Wash away my sin, cleanse me from my guilt.

I know my evil well, it stares me in the face, evil done to you alone before your very eyes.

How right your condemnation! Your verdict clearly just.

You see me for what I am, a sinner before my birth.

You love those centered in truth; teach me your hidden wisdom.

Wash me with fresh water, wash me bright as snow.

Fill me with happy songs, let the bones you bruised now dance.

Shut your eyes to my sin, make my guilt disappear.

Creator, reshape my heart, God, steady my spirit.

Do not cast me aside stripped of your holy spirit.

Save me, bring back my joy, support me, strengthen my will.

Then I will teach your way and sinners will turn to you.

Help me, stop my tears, and I will sing your goodness.

Lord, give me words and I will shout your praise.

When I offer a holocaust, the gift does not please you.

So I offer my shattered spirit; a changed heart you welcome.

In your love make Zion lovely, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Then sacrifice will please you, young bulls upon your altar.


God, you are known throughout Judah, Israel glories in your name.

Your tent is pitched in Salem, your command post on Zion.

There you break flaming arrows, shield and sword and war itself!

Majestic and circled with light, you seize your prey; stouthearted soldiers
are stripped of their plunder.

Dazed, they cannot lift a hand.

At your battle cry, God of Jacob, horse and rider are stunned.

You, the one who strikes fear who can stand up to your anger!

Your verdict sounds from heaven; earth reels, then is still, when you stand as judge
to defend the oppressed.

When you are robed in fury, even the warlike give you praise.

Now, all you worshipers, keep your promise to God, bring gifts to the Holy One who terrifies princes and stuns the rulers of earth.

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.

The Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory.


[Ezek 36:22-28]

Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned mlong the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

I will praise God at all times, praise always on my lips.

Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who shepherds the people and sets them free.

God raises from David's house a child with power to save.

Through the holy prophets God promised in ages past to save us from enemy hands, from the grip of all who hate us.

The Lord favored our ancestors recalling the sacred covenant, the pledge to our ancestor Abraham, to free us from our enemies, so we might worship without fear and be holy and just all our days.

And you, child, will be called Prophet of the Most High, for you will come to prepare
a pathway for the Lord by teaching the people salvation through forgiveness of their sin.

Out of God's deepest mercy a dawn will come from on high, light for those shadowed by death, a guide for our feet on the way to peace.

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.

I will praise God at all times, praise always on my lips.


Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as is it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

Source of Mercy, the life and death of your son are our hope of salvation. Pour the refreshing waters of your love over us. Cleanse our hearts, forgive our failings, and renew our zeal for you as we continue in our conversion throughout our lives. We ask this through Christ our Savior and your Holy Spirit. Amen.

May God bless us and keep us. May God smile upon us and be gracious to us. May God look upon us kindly, and give us peace. Amen.

Let us bless God and give thanks.

Enough of Something

Hobson's choice is a false dichotomy, because it implies there are only two alternatives, both of them bad. It may be true in some situation somewhere, but not in the situation I posited. Although, in another sense, it is exactly true in the situation I posited.

Pastor Dan touches on this point, and recognizes the solution is the people united (can never be defeated!). Pardon me, however, if I lived through the '60's and saw the "people united" turn into yuppies who fueled the first "high tech boom" which became the "internet bubble" which finally became the economy of the Clinton era, and now has become the people united in seeing to it that their children get into the right kindergarten, in order to ensure them entry into the right college, and so secure the proper income level in life. My daughter has just finished 8 years in a private school among such children. My cynicism is well earned.

But not the defining characteristic I sometimes make it out to be; or at least, it it needn't be (yes, I do have my mini-crises in public, and no, it's not just performance art. I am no hunger artist. But I am, or try to be, intellectually and spiritually honest; which is its own kind of vulnerability). The issue is, still, one of power: an issue touched on by the responses, but not quite grasped (is it a rose? or a thorn bush? or just the third rail?). Politics, it would be foolish to deny, is about power. Power wielded rather ruthlessly, in point of fact. Don't be fooled by Dwight Eisenhower's grandfatherly demeanor; the man was a barracuda. Jack Kennedy was no slouch, either. His brother Bobby was well known as a knife fighter in government battles, which is why Jack kept him close by. LBJ knew where the bodies were buried, and buried some himself. Nixon's reputation is known, but it is with Reagan that things really change.

Reagan's minions taught the Bush White House, and they taught them that substance means nothing, and style means everything. Reagan put the mentally ill on the streets, swelling the homeless population of this country to record numbers. What has happened to correct that? Nothing, that I know of. EVery year since, as a political body we have repudiated a little more some program, doctrine, or ideal, of the very meager efforts of LBJ to redress the grotesgue social injustices that this country doesn't even blink at anymore. Reagan retrenched and divided and carved up and basically wielded power like the ideologue he was, and the ideologues he surrounded himself with. Carter didn't do that. Carter relied on goodwill and reason and cooperation. Reagan handed him his head and proceeded to revamp the Presidency. Clinton defeated Bush, and proceeded again to administer through cooperation and coalition, and compromise.

Bush II changes course only when it's clear he's headed for the rocks and the consequences will be immediate and dire. Otherwise, he's done more damage to the government than Reagan or Nixon ever dreamt of doing. His administration is driven solely by ideology. For this Administration, politics is power purely for the sake of power. Looking back, it's almost as if LBJ and Carter and Clinton, never held office. As I said before, will anyone really come along behind Bush II and do any more than stop doing what Bush did? It took a Civil War to repudiate the power grab of the states over the authority of the federal government. No state since, even at the height of the civil rights struggle and school desegregation, dared again wholly defy the power of the federal government. What will it take to retrench and redraw the boundaries of the power of the Presidency? More than just a goodwill Democrat who isn't as interested in wielding power as the last four Republican Presidents have shown themselves to be.

It is about power, then. The raw, untrammeled, unrestrained exercise of as much authority as the Executive can get away with. Nixon's was called the "Imperial Presidency," as much because he wanted the Marines around the White House to wear re-designed uniforms, as because he investigated his enemies and recorded conversations in his own office. Bush II is truly the "Imperial Presidency." Greg Palast says Bush is using the NSA, not to catch terrorists, but to build voting lists to repudiate ballots in 2008. Why not? He did it in 2000; he did it in 2004. As Palast says, he got away with it twice; why not 3 times? Will that be dismantled, forcibly? Repudiated, stricken down, blotted from the history books, burned to the ground and the ground sown with salt and the ashes scattered to the four winds? Will we one day see plaques in buildings such as I have seen in the Texas Capitol, claiming the Civil War was not about slavery, because the shame of slavery is so great in our culture? Will the establishment of monarchical privilege by the Bush Administration be one day just as shameful? And can anyone tell me seriously that is not what is needed?

Because if you can: now who's being cynical?

But where will that come from? More importantly, why do we need it? Because our salvation is in politics? Because what happens in Washington really is that important to us? Because we must have an enemy, even if it is George W. Bush, who doesn't know who we are?

You see, that pessimism was not idle despair, though it was the product of feeding on too much tainted meat. I admit my hopelessness, I repent of the sin of despair, I turn my countenance toward the sole hope of all of creation.

And it ain't a political party. Something I had forgotten. Something I needed to relearn. Something I needed to turn away from the world, to find.

So what is the answer? The answer is not more politics, or better politics; because that is merely "My power, which I will wield wisely." That is what I finally remembered. Not only does power not bring about the kingdom of God; power has no place in the kingdom of God. And ultimately, one cannot serve two masters. It is not a matter of choosing Matthias (that would be confusing the world with the ekklesia); it is a matter of getting ready for the parousia. And that preparation is made, among other ways, by learning to love your enemy. Something the world definitely does not teach us to do.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Too much of nothin'

Reviewing things like this, I decided to look backward, and see if the past would provide any enlightenment. And there I found this, and this, and this; and I found this and this and this; and even this., and this, and this, and this. And all in one month; and all, mostly, on one topic.

And I realized how far I had come, and how much had changed, and how far astray I've let myself wander. How much I have lost. How much I have yet to gain.

"In the desert of the heart,
Let the healing fountain start."

Time to begin again.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A small drop of water

A small drop of water
To thy forehead, beloved,
Meet for Father, Son and Spirit,
The Triune of power.

A small drop of water
To encompass my beloved,
Meet for Father, Son and Spirit,
The Triune of power.

A small drop of water
To fill thee with each grace,
Meet for Father, Son and Spirit,
The Triune of power.

-from Carmina Gadelica

Let Us Now Praise Non-Famous Men


Hurricane Katrina took his house, his courtroom and, Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. says, his faith in the way his city treats poor people facing criminal charges.

Nine months after the storm, more than a thousand jailed defendants have had no access to lawyers, the judge says, because the public defender system is desperately short of money and staffing, without a computer system or files or even a list of clients.

And so Judge Hunter, 46, a former New Orleans police officer, is moving to let some of the defendants without lawyers out of jail. He has suspended prosecutions in most cases involving public defenders. And, alone among a dozen criminal court judges, he has granted a petition to free a prisoner facing serious charges without counsel, and is considering others.

It is, he said in an interview, his duty under the Constitution. "Something needs to be done, it's that simple," he said. "I'm the lightning rod, yes."
How bad is it?

Handcuffed, shackled and wearing jailhouse orange, Mr. Dunn told the court that as the water rose, he spent four frightening days without food in the House of Detention, and was then moved from prison to prison, losing touch with his family.

In the nine months since the hurricane, he said, he has never even spoken to a lawyer. "I don't have a lawyer," Mr. Dunn said. "I never been to court." Without a lawyer a defendant cannot even plead guilty.

Pamela R. Metzger, the director of the Criminal Court Clinic at Tulane Law School, has petitioned the court to release Mr. Dunn and more than a dozen other poor prisoners in similar circumstances. Releasing them would not hamper the prosecution, she argued, and would give them an opportunity to try to gather evidence in their own defense. And, she said later, "to be free from imprisonment and punishment without due process of law."

But David S. Pipes, an assistant district attorney, argued against releasing Mr. Dunn, whom he described as a five-time felon. (Court documents show that Mr. Dunn has been arrested 10 times since 1990 and has pleaded guilty to previous drug and theft charges.)

More broadly, Mr. Pipes said: "The proper solution for someone who does not have an attorney is to get them an attorney. Releasing them does not cure anything and does not protect their rights."
One has to wonder how a defendant's rights are protected when there is no possibility of appointing a lawyer, and when defendants can't even become defendants because there is no one to enter a plea for them. And what is being said about this courageous judge?

"I don't have any problem with what he's trying to do there," said Rafael C. Goyeneche III, president of the [independent Metropolitan Crime] commission. "He's demanding that it function properly."


"You have to have some guy out there rattling the saber, absolutely," Judge Johnson said. "I think the message was loud, clear and necessary."

"How Should We Then LIve?"

Well, the new hot topic in ecclesiology (at least on the web) is the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a Richard Mellon Scaife funded outfit:

...founded to address the greatest threats to religion and democracy. At the time, in 1981, communism was arguably great threat and sadly many churches sided with the communists. Today same-sex marriage, also supported by many churches, represents a profound threat to religion and democracy—specifically to religious freedom—in America for precisely the reason Maggie Gallagher states: the debate is framed as a civil rights issue. If same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, opposition to same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior will be viewed as a civil rights violation—even if that opposition is for religious reasons.
That's their statement, by the way. They also describe themselves as "Reforming the Church's Social and Political Witness." Which direction that reform should take is illustrated by stuff like this:

Che Guevara's bloodstained prisons still survive in Fidel Castro's Cuba, filled with yet another generation of dissidents and human rights activists. Not that you would learn this fact from reading the resolution on Cuba offered by the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns of the Episcopal Church Executive Council.
Now, my first reaction to this is to wonder why the good people at Street Prophets and State of Belief aren't simply quoting from the IRD's website, rather than trying to develop what honestly sound like conspiracy theories. Renee in Ohio actually does us all a service providing transcripts of the State of Belief show on this topic, but once again, it is all so exasperatingly general and trickle down in approach:

John Dorhauer: As a local church pastor for 16 years, I was aware of churches in the surrounding area who were experiencing extreme levels of conflict over what became known as the "wedge issues" of the day. Twenty years ago it was the ordaination of women, a few years after that it was abortion, and now it's homosexuality. And I discovered over time that churches within the United Church of Christ were willing to disaffiliate over these issues.

It took me a while to sort of lose that narrow perspective of experiencing that in the local church and realize the same thing was happening on a national basis, not just across the United Church of Christ, but across mainline Protestant Christianity. And it was, for me, the work of Andrew Weaver that first helped me to make those connections.

Gaddy: Dr. Weaver, how did you come to a conclusion about it?

Weaver: I began to do research after I read a book United Methodists at Risk, which was published by a prominent bishop in the United Methodist Church, Dale White, and others. Basically they were saying that outside money from Richard Mellon Scaife and political operatives like Adolf Coors were funneling money into an attack on churches. This has no precedent in American church history. At that time I had a research department with a couple of PhDs and research assistants, so I got all the material and read for six months, and became absolutely convinced that this was the case. And after that I felt called to speak out like Paul Revere, and ring the bell of alarm. There is no doubt whatsoever, Welton, that this is a systematic effort to undermine mainline churches, who still have transparent democratic processes in them that become an area for the culture wars.
The exasperating thing about this for me, as a pastor, is knowing that while there are certainly "outside forces" working on local churches, the truly more influential ones are corporate interests (expressed through advertising) and "successful preachers", i.e., the ones who preach the "gospel of wealth" (like, yes, Joel Osteen). A pastor's usual problems come, in other words, not from some evil cabal, but from the deviousness of the human heart. I don't mean that the good pastors who spoke on State of Belief were naive or credulous; but anytime we start attributing fundamental problems to "outside forces" rather than much more human causes, we are already blundering into "Da Vinci Code" and "Illuminati" territory (Dan Brown's protagonist, for those who don't know, in an earlier novel was caught in a struggle between the Catholic church and the Illuminati, something invented, actually, for the parody "Church of the Sub-Genius," but which has taken on a life of its own. Ironies abound).

As I say, it's hard to look at the IRD's website and not wonder: "what the...?" It seems to be a kind of Media Matters for the churches, but since when did the churches wield half the influence that the New York Times, or even Hannity and Colmes, does? And, of course, there's a noteable silence in the complaints of the IRD about the statements for Pat Robertson or James Dobson or Jerry Falwell. The slant, and the purpose, are obvious. That said, there is still the question: what do we do?

There is always a critical, as in essential, nature to Tolstoy's famous question, and it impacts us no more directly than it does when we are considering how to live within, or respond to, what seem to be major forces shaping our lives. "Think globally, act locally," is the accepted response. Except Wendell Berry shreds that one; we cannot serve two masters, is essentially his argument. We are incapable of thinking globally, he responds; it is simply too large a space, with too many unforeseen or foreseeable consequences, and we cannot imagine beyond the limits of our own knowledge. No, thinking globally, he argues, is a kind of lazy arrogance that allows us to uncritically do what we want to do, while imagining we are reaping cosmic benefits in the world. It puts us, in other words, at the center of the universe. Which, I would maintain, is precisely the error of the people who established and are running IRD; and that is also precisely the appeal IRD makes to church members.

Selfishness is the Original Sin. Understand that, and many other things begin to make sense. Selfishness, the inability and unwillingness to consider a world beyond the boundaries of your own self, a world that is not shaped by you and responds to your every psychic need and upholds and reaffirms your every psychic wish, is the sin upon which all other sin rests. I have seen churches founder too often because church members could not see the bigger picture, could not imagine beyond their own needs. But do you get them to see that larger picture by insisting on larger action, or general activity rather than a specific response? No. Almost never. You have to approach them individually. You have to take it person by person.

And you have to meet them as a person. Not as a representative of the enemy, a dupe of the IRD, a tool of the right-wing political machine. You have to take them as they are, and try to reshape them, if you can, if they are willing and if God is working through you. It is work of the utmost humility, and it cannot be done by calls to arms or rallying to plans of action or even by identifying a greater "outside" enemy. My arms, in the words of the great poem, may be too short to box with God; well, they are too short to box with Satan, either. I cannot fight the IRD, and I cannot fight it in the proxy of an angry church member. I have to identify people for who they are, not for what I think they believe, or how I think they are being used.

I once was touring a German pastor, a young woman of my generation, through my church. She was here for an exchange between our historically connected churches (part of the UCC is the old German Evangelical and Reformed Church). She noted the American flag in the sanctuary and admitted, given her nation's history, how troubling that was. I agreed with her, but her chaperone and driver for the trip, a man of my father's generation, vigorously defended that flag in that place. I would rather remove it, and never saluted it or acknowledged it in any way, especially as I refused to "pledge allegiance" to anything except God in a place dedicated to God's worship (the pledge was recited, as a matter of course, on Scout Sunday, when the flag was processed in, much as the priests process with the cross in the Episcopal church I now attend). Was he a dupe of the IRC? Would he have been, had I removed that flag, and insisted its use, especially in a procession before worship, was a clear sign of the secular religion of America? I suppose I could make that argument, but it's a bootless one.

Another story, closer to the concerns of the IRD: the UCC ordains gays and lesbians as ministers, and has done so for years. Or rather, it permits their ordination, but under UCC polity, such persons cannot demand ordination (that is done by Associations, who are autonomous), nor can it force a church to accept such a person as their pastor (congregations are also autonomous). As a representative of the Association at one time, I worked with a church where some members were upset about this fact. The opponents were vociferous, bitter, angry, almost vile. They were also between pastors, so I had no idea how this would end, but I suspected the church might leave the denomination.

Today, with a new pastor and a few years later, that church is "Open and Affirming," a UCC designation which means they have voted, as a church, to publicly and affirmatively accept gays and lesbians as members of their worshipping body. Had that pastor not treated those people in his congregation as people, that never would have happened.

I've seen church officials treat pastors as groups ignorant of wider issues, rather than as colleagues with issues that deserve as much consideration and respect as the larger public issue which seems so simple when taken in the abstract, and becomes so "messy" when applied "on the ground," among the people. So much of ministry is simply "acompanamiento," as Oscar Romero said. The people in the pews are assailed by a multitude of small issues: rapid changes in society; in social mores; the disintegration of neighborhoods, of families, the scattering of children across the nation; the aging of society (most mainline churches are dominated by "old grey heads" in the pews, especially in the smaller churches, which are still the bulk of the membership of Protestant denominations); the spiritual assault on individuals of the demands of the market, the corporation, all the pleasures and terrors and destruction and promise of industrialization, played out in individual lives. These are just a few of the issues that impact people, and they impact congregations far more directly than the rantings of IRD.

Should church leaders be concerned about IRD? Yes, absolutely; we don't need one more fox in the henhouse. But should we imagine that our primary fight, and our primary purpose, is to defend ourselves against them? No more than George W. Bush should imagine that America exists only to be in a ceaseless global war with "terrorism."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wisdom of the Desert

"Society--which meant pagan society, limited by the horizons and prospects of life 'in this world'--was regarded by them as a shipwreck from which each single individual man [sic] had to swim for his life. We need not stop here to discuss the fairness of this view: what matters is to remember it as fact. These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. The fact that the Emperor was now Christian and that the 'world' was coming to know the Cross as a sign of temporal power only strengthened them in their resolve.

"It should seem to us stranger than it does, this paradoxical flight from the world that attained its greatest dimensions (I almost said frenzy) when the 'world' became officially Christian. These men seem to have thought, as a few rare modern thinkers like Berdyaev have thought, that there is really no such things as a 'Christian state.' They seem to have doubted that Christianity and politics could ever be mixed to such an extent as to produce a fully Christian society. In other words, for them the only Christian society was spiritual and extra-mundane: the Mystical Body of Christ. These were extreme views, and it is almost scandalous to recall them in a time like ours when Christianity is accused on all sides of preaching negativism and withdrawal--of having no effective way of meeting the problems of the age."

--Thomas Merton, "Wisdom of the Desert," The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers (New York: New Directions 1960), p. 3-4

"In India the poor are terrorists."--Arundhati Roy

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Jesus was poor. Jesus died as a political prisoner, a threat to the power of Rome, which reserved crucifixion for threats against the state, against the imperial theology of Augustus, who was divine, and Octavian, the son of the divine, the "son of god;" and "Divi Claudi," the divine Claudius, who ruled during Paul's peregrinations as a preacher of the Gospel of the Lord, Jesus Christ. We want to divide religion from politics today; but that was impossible in Paul's day, and even the proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God was not so much an irreligious statement, as it was an uncivil one:

That opening [of 1 Thessalonians] "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, to the church (ekklēsia) of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace," was much more subversive than we imagine. The standard Pauline term for a Christian community is ekklēsia, a Greek word today usually translated "church." But the word originally meant citizens of a free Greek city officially assembled for self-governmental decisions. Maybe that was perfectly innocent, but also maybe not. And anyone familiar with Judaism would have heard in his "peace" the content of the Jewish shalom of justice and not that of the Latin pax of victory.

Next, Paul belives absolutely that "Jesus" or the "Messiah/Christ" or the "Lord" all refer to the same person. Paul can spaek of the Lord Jesus Christ or of the Lord Jesus or, most simply, of the Lord. On the one hand, "lord" was a polite term usable by slave to master or disciple to teacher. On the other, "the Lord" meant the emperor himself. What we see here is what Gustav Adolf Deissmann described, almost a hundred years ago, as "the early establishment of a polemical parallelism between the cult of Christ and the cult of Caesar in the application of the term kyrios, 'lord.'" Or, if you prefer, polemical parallelism as high treason. (In Search of Paul, John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, (New York: HarperCollins 2004, p. 166.)
And then there is the issue of the gospel of Jesus, one gospel (euaggelion, although it is pronounced "euangelion") v. the plural gospels (euggelia), good news, of dynastic succession and imperial victories from Rome, good news which created one of the Golden Ages of Rome, of peace and stability and wealth, at least for as long as Rome ever knew.

You begin to see that in Paul, in the kergyma of the kingdom of God, the religious is always the political. But only in the imperial theology of Rome, where Augustus is divine, and his adopted son Octavian is filius divi (son of god), and where even Claudius claims the mantle of the divine through Augustus (after Caligula's four years of rule are ended by the military), the political is not properly religious. Consider Crossan and Reed's analysis of parousia:

In its ancient context parousia means the arrival at a city of a conquering general, an important official, an imperial emissary, or, above all, the emperor himself. Whether that advent was good or bad news for the citizens depended absolutely on their prior relationship with the arriving one. It is probably necessary in those cases to translate parousia not just as "visit," but as "visitation." (p. 167)
Paul, in I Thessalonians, writes of the parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is clear he is referring to the parousia of the emperor. Why, because he says "the dead in Christ will rise first." Which is who would greet the emperor first, entering a city as Paul knew it: the graveyards would be outside the city, on the main road, the finest crypts and sarcophagi of the most eminent persons seen first and nearest the road, "the imperial visitor meeing first the elite dead before any meeting with the elite living." And then the faithful, like the elite of the city, greet their lord "in the middle of the air," or outside the city, and welcome him in. Lead him in because:

...the parousia metaphor means that Christians do not ascend to stay with Christ in heaven, but to return with him to this transformed world. Paul says nothing about an eschatological world or utopian earth here below, but simply that all believers 'will be caught up in the clouds...to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever." The metaphor of parousia as state visit would presume that those going out to greet the approaching ruler would return with him for festive rejoicing within their city. So also with Christ....The parousia of the Lord was not about destruction of earth and relocation to heaven, but about a world in which violence and injustice are transformed into purity and holiness." (p. 170)
But the ruler coming to the city doesn't come to establish his rule; he comes to be received and to celebrate with his subjects. The parousia is not just about the kingdom to come; it is also about the kingdom that is already here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Hobson's Choice

I got involved enough in this discussion with Pastor Dan (here and then here) that I thought I should address it a bit more fully.

First, the great thing about blogs is the freedom of discussion. But the great problem of blogs is that all discussion soon becomes polarized. This seems to be a fundamental problem of American culture, where politics and religion are sources of personal identity, and so we are never to speak of either one in polite company. Not because they are impolite topics, but because we cannot seem to stay polite about them. If I link to a post, for example (and I've linked to both of the above before) it isn't to approve or to snarkily disapprove of their content; it's to indicate the breadth of the possible discussion. But links in blogs usually mean either (a) "great stuff over here!" or (b) "can you believe these idiots would form such opinions, much less publish them?" So again, I'm going for (c) "what other people have to say about this."

Part of my issue with politics and religion is not the Jeffersonian one of keeping the two separated, or even the William O. Douglas one of keeping a wall between civic responsibility and the religious sphere. I certainly disagree with the reductionist and dismissive "religion is personal." Well, so is the political; why is one permitted in the public square, and not the other? But that just goes 'round and 'round. My problem with politics and religion is a theological one: the paradox of the crucified God, or the power of powerlessness, which conversely exposes the powerlessness of power. It is, for me, the great lesson of the crucifixion (and the problem of the atonement theory, in part, is that it allows the crucifixion to be a purely personal matter, which gets us back to the dismissal of religion from the public sphere because it is "personal.").

That's one issue, but here's the other. Pastor Dan argues that what he first wants is the (legal, let us emphasize) removal of the gang of idiots currently administering the laws and foreign policy of this country (I think the term he uses is "corrupt bastards and their stupid, malignant ideology," which is a more forceful way of putting it.) Here's my problem with that line of argument, and admittedly it's a pessimistic one, but: and replace them with whom?

Name a Democrat who upheld the UN Report on Guantanamo Bay and decried the torture and violation of every fundamental law and legal standard of Western civilization it represents. Tak your time, I'll wait.

Name one platform of John Kerry's campaign which indicated the "GWOT" would not only not be fought, but would be condemned as the idiocy and insanity it is and should be declared, even by people who are not Christian pacifists.

Name one Democrat who has asked the President: what the hell? You go to New Orleans twice for photo ops, and neither time does it look any different than it did in September of '05? Mr. President, just how incompetent and corrupt and worthless is your Administration?

Name one Democrat who has stood up and said: wiretapping Americans is illegal, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and we've seen no evidence that it even works.

I could go on, and on, and on. The Democratic response would be a variation on the Clintonian one: it isn't politically expedient; it would be political suicide to speak up against the GWOT; or national security; nobody really cares about New Orleans anyway; etc., etc., etc. And all of this would be excused as simply a "failure of leadership" in the Democratic party which could be corrected, if a "leader" could just be found, would just step forward.

But it isn't a failure of leadership, and it isn't a lack of vision. It's the status quo, and if the two parties represent anything, it's the status quo. There is no serious question but that the Republicans and the Democratcs represent two sides of the same coin, and it's naive to think one will correct what the other has destroyed. What did Jimmy Carter do to restore the shattered office of President after Richard Nixon? He was hounded and berated at every turn and replaced with Ronald Reagan, who was more congenial than Nixon but who presided over a White House just as determined to use Presidential power despite the law or the consequences. Was he punished for that? Did America disapprove? Who cried for Oscar Romero, for Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, or "all the martyrs of...Salvador?" Have we ever learned to restrict US military power? If so, when?

What will a Democratically controlled Congress do about Iraq? New Orleans? The NSA? Medicare? Health insurance? What would President Kerry, President Gore, President Feingold, do in 2008? Anything? Really change anything? Issue executive orders shutting down Gitmo? Repeal all the EO's Bush has signed, repudiate his "signing statements," order troops home from Iraq, seek rapprochemant with the UN? Really?

Because I see no evidence of it. I see no indication any candidate for President on a Democratic ticket, or even in a Democratic primary, would announce those steps. And why don't I? Because it is what is needed; not just less venial neo-conservatives in the Adminsistration, but a true repudiation of what Bush/Cheney has wrought. But it won't happen, because power doesn't work that way. A Democratic President might not exert as much power as George W. Bush has, but they won't work to retract those extensions of Presidential authority, either. They won't dismantle the NSA, destroy all the illegally obtained records, make heads roll, clean the corruption out of the Pentagon (NPR had a story this morning making it clear the torture practices were not "bad apples" at the prison level) , tear up all the contracts Bush has issued for "border security," start an investigation of Halliburton, and begin giving as much power and money as possible to Louisiana so they can rebuild the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

It. Just. Isn't. Gonna. Happen.

Politically, and strictly politically, those are our choices: Tweedledee, or Tweedledum.

So now what?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Knowing the truth, being set free

Start here (and you'll have to wade an advertisement, a la Salon, to see it; apologies). The TIME cover labels them "Radical Chicks." Really? Complaining about the President in public is radical, now? But the story is interesting, and the best part may be right here, in the reminder that these are Texas women:

Natalie Maines is one of those people born middle finger first. As a high school senior in Lubbock, Texas, she'd skip a class a day in an attempt to prove that because she never got caught and some Mexican students did, the system was racist. After Maines joined the Dixie Chicks, and the Dixie Chicks became the biggest-selling female group in music history—with suspiciously little cash to show for it—she and her bandmates told their record label, Sony, they were declaring themselves free agents. (In the high school that is Nashville, this is way worse than skipping class.) Now that she's truly notorious, having told a London audience in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas," Maines has one regret: the apology she offered George W. Bush at the onset of her infamy. "I apologized for disrespecting the office of the President," says Maines. "But I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed any respect whatsoever."


Whether the Dixie Chicks recover their sales luster or not, the choice of single has turned their album release into a referendum. Taking the Long Way's existence is designed to thumb its nose at country's intolerance for ideological hell raising, and buying it or cursing it reveals something about you and your politics—or at least your ability to put a grudge above your listening pleasure. And however you vote, it's tough to deny that by gambling their careers, three Texas women have the biggest balls in American music.
The story in Texas is that the Southern Baptist Convention, many years ago, decided to impose on all its churches the requirement that women be subservient to their husbands, as dicatated by the pseudo-Pauline passage in Colossians (we can discuss why that is pseudo-Pauline later). But the SBC has most of its churches in Texas, and although Texans are good Baptists, Texas women did not take kindly to being told to be quite that submissive.

And so a number of Texas churches left the convention. That's why I refer to the Dixie Chicks as Texas women. Now, compare that to this editorial by Richard Viguerie (yes, that Richard Viguerie):

As a candidate in 2000, George W. Bush was a Rorschach test. Country Club Republicans saw him as another George H.W. Bush; some conservatives, thinking wishfully, saw him as another Ronald Reagan. He called himself a "compassionate conservative," which meant whatever one wanted it to mean. Experts from across the party's spectrum were flown to Austin to brief Bush and reported back: "He's one of us."

Republicans were desperate to retake the White House, conservatives were desperate to get the Clinton liberals out and there was no direct heir to Reagan running for president. So most conservatives supported Bush as the strongest candidate -- some enthusiastically and some, like me, reluctantly. After the disastrous presidency of his father, our support for the son was a triumph of hope over experience.
Once he took office, conservatives were willing to grant this Bush a honeymoon. We were happy when he proposed tax cuts (small, but tax cuts nonetheless) and when he pushed for a missile defense system. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and conservatives came to see support for the president as an act of patriotism.
Which is precisely the problem: when did support for the President become an act of patriotism? During the Great Depression? The New Deal? After Pearl Harbor? Vietnam? No. After 9/11. And now even Mr. Viguerie is disappointed:

In 2004, Republican leaders pleaded with conservatives -- particularly religious conservatives -- to register people to vote and help them turn out on Election Day. Those efforts strengthened Republicans in Congress and probably saved the Bush presidency. We were told: Just wait till the second term. Then, the president, freed of concern over reelection and backed by a Republican Congress, would take off the gloves and fight for the conservative agenda. Just wait.

We're still waiting.
Part of the disappointment, I would aver, is due to bad political philosophy. As Studs Terkel told Jon Stewart, this is America; we can tell the President to bugger off!

Viguerie is shaken, but not yet stirred. You can't expect him to have become a progressive, after all, although he almost sounds like one:

But conservatives don't blame the current mess just on Bush. They recognize the problem today is also at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

For years, congressional Republicans have sold themselves to conservatives as the continuation of the Reagan revolution. We were told that they would take on the Washington special interests -- that they would, in essence, tear down K Street and sow the earth with salt to make sure nothing ever grew there again.

But over time, most of them turned into the sort of unprincipled power brokers they had ousted in 1994. They lost interest in furthering conservative ideas, and they turned their attention to getting their share of the pork. Conservatives did not spend decades going door to door, staffing phone banks and compiling lists of like-minded voters so Republican congressmen could have highways named after them and so there could be an affirmative-action program for Republican lobbyists.
His conclusion is that the GOP is only interested in power, not in ideological (read "social") issues like abortion and gay marriage. Ironically, the angrier he gets, the more he sounds like a progressive; just one with a different agenda, but concerned about the same thing: "getting these corrupt bastards and their stupid, malignant ideology out of power, for good."

But complacency is bad, too. As Natalie Maines says:

Now when they talk about "the Incident," as they unfailingly call it, the Dixie Chicks try to write it off as an absurdity. Maines has powerful gusts of indignation and real disdain for a few right-wing websites and talk-show hosts, but what seems to linger most is disappointment in her pre-controversy self. "I think I'd gotten too comfortable living my life," she says. "I didn't know people thought about us a certain way—that we were Republican and pro-war."
And there's also an issue of control. Are musicians supposed to be popular? Or be good musicians?

"I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people who get it," says Maguire, "who will grow with us as we grow and are fans for life, than people that have us in their five-disc changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do."
And that's back to the issue of power. Popular equals powerful, we all say; that is, until the popular celebrity disabuses us of the notion they share our values, our politics. And good artists always have small followings, even if they are Picasso or Stravinsky. The rest of us know we are supposed to appreciate it, but somehow we never quite do; and while "A Soldier's Tale" or "Guernica" might teach us a great deal if we chose to study them, somehow we just don't. Which is fine; but those who do study it, can't expect the rest of us to be as interested as they are. And the recording artist has to decide whether to sell records, or to make music. As Maines says:

"It was awesome to feel those feelings again that I felt in high school: to be angry, to be sure that you're right and that the things you do matter. You don't realize that you're not feeling those feelings until you do. And then you realize how much more interesting life is."
So maybe it's not about being effective; maybe it is about "authentic being."

Apres nous le deluge

The NYT starts to tell the story of how we got where we are today in Iraq:
"More attention should have been paid to the police after the fall of Baghdad," said Mr. Miller, one of the officials who objected to the original proposal to deploy thousands of advisers. "That is obvious. Iraq needed law and order established."
The question persists: how are "law and order" established? Force of arms? Or agreement of the governed? One would think this would be obvious to as Hobbesian a foreign policy Administration as the current one is. But no; they aren't, of course, Hobbesian at all. They are clueless, and rather than accept that the monarchy must be responsible to the governed, they blame the governed for not supporting the monarch (Hobbes, IOW, would have this group for lunch):

Administration officials say that the insurgency, more than any other factor, has slowed their progress. While field training has been limited, they point out that most of the 152,000 police officers have attended nine new training academies, some for as long as 10 weeks.
Destroy all the institutions of a culture that give organization of the society both meaning and function, and what result do you expect? Hobbes could tell you. But that, obviously, is a question this Administration never considered:

Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner sent to Iraq in 2003 to lead the police mission, said Pentagon officials gave him just 10 days notice and little guidance.

"Looking back, I really don't know what their plan was," Mr. Kerik said. With no experience in Iraq, and little time to get ready, he said he prepared for his job in part by watching A&E Network documentaries on Saddam Hussein.
So let's go with excuses:

In interviews, White House and Pentagon officials defended their decisions, saying that it would have been impossible to find thousands of qualified trainers willing to go to Iraq and that deploying large numbers of foreign officers would have angered Iraqis and bred passivity.

"Where it was possible to have a light footprint, that was preferable to a heavy-handed approach," the National Security Council said in a written response to questions. "The strategy was to support the Iraqis in every way possible and to enable them to do their jobs, not to take over their jobs."
An argument which simply makes no sense at all, unless you consider the avoidance of responsibility which is the hallmark of this Administration and, not coincidentally, the pattern and defining characteristic of the President's life.

Atrios is right: read the whole article. But it isn't a question of how any of those responsible sleep at night; clearly they sleep very well. They don't consider themselves responsible, and no amount of dunning, berating, blogging, or even good reporting, is likely to make them change their minds. Consider, for example, just how much depends on a red wheelbarrow; or on the health of one person:

On May 18, Mr. Kerik arrived in Baghdad and found "nothing, absolutely nothing" in place. "Twelve guys on the ground plus me," he recalled. "That was the new Ministry of Interior."

Mr. Mayer, the author of General Garner's police training plan who worked in the Department of Justice, had fallen ill in the United States, and the Justice Department team was apparently unaware of his prewar plan. Working from scratch, the team pulled together a new plan to train 50,000 to 80,000 members of an Iraqi police force.

"If you took all of the postconflicts from the 1990's and combined them together, it would not equal what you're up against in Iraq," recalled R. Carr Trevillian IV, the senior Justice Department official on the team. "Even if it were a benign environment."

At first, members suggested that Iraqi police recruits receive six months of academy training, the amount trainers settled on in Kosovo. Mr. Kerik said he "started laughing," and calculated that it would take nine years to train the force.

The team reduced academy training to 16 weeks, and eventually 8 weeks. Later, a 2005 State Department audit found that translating classes from English to Arabic ate up 50 percent of training time. With translation, Iraqi recruits received the equivalent of four weeks of training.

To make up for the shortened classes, the Justice Department team proposed a sweeping field training program similar to Mr. Mayer's. The team calculated that more than 20,000 advisers would be needed to create the same ratio of police trainers to recruits in Iraq as existed in Kosovo.

Deeming that figure unrealistic, they recommended placing 6,600 American and foreign trainers in police stations across the country to train Iraqis and, if necessary, enforce the law.
Entire academic seminars could be conducted pulling that story apart. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. Complete ignorance as to the obstacles being faced (the "hope is not a plan" proposal of 6 months training, v. the reality of 9 years to develop a police force); the decision, obviously made for bureaucratic reasons, to reduce the training to 16 weeks, and then to 8; the simple clerical issue ("all for want of a nail") of translating training documents from English to Arabic (everyone doesn't speak English? What are they, foreigners?); and then, when you can't possibly place enough people to do the job, place as many as you can and call it sufficient. The entire war effort in a nutshell. Need one point out we are no longer even hearing that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein? Or that we are spreading democracy in the Middle East?

But all of that is nothing more than chasing the dog's tail, and finding out, when you are exhausted, that not only have you still not caught it, but you are still the dog. The question is really more fundamental. It's a philosophical one, a theological one. What is the nature of government? And what is human nature? Does law always produce order, or does law flow from order? It isn't a question of planning, but of what did we think we were doing? It's a question of what we think the nature of liberty is. Learned Hand, the great American judge, pointed out that: "Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it." Liberty, in other words, is neither imposed, nor granted, it cannot even be preserved in law. It exists in a society, or it doesn't. Unleashing chaos does not unleash liberty; it destroys it. Freedom is not free? Liberty is not liberation. That should be the first lesson.

The only conclusion we can reach now about Iraq is: this Administration had absolutely no idea what it was doing. But clearly, we never should have thought it did.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The guiding light of eternity

O God, who broughtst me from the rest of last night
Unto the joyous light of this day,
Be Thou bringing me from the new light of this day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.
Oh! from the new light of this day
Unto the guiding light of eternity.

--from Carmina Gadelica

Friday, May 19, 2006

"Cry 'Havoc' and let slip..."

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A decorated Marine colonel turned anti-war congressman has said Marines killed at least 30 innocent Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" in Haditha in November, suggesting the death toll may be twice as high as originally reported.
"Give war a chance."--Thomas Friedman

Well, this is what it is. Slaughter. Massacre. Death. Ain't pretty. Ain't nice. Ain't neat and clean, with dead bad guys and grateful "innocents" lookin' on, all doe-eyed and ready now to become good Americanesque citizens of the world because violence has shown them the way to civilization.

Rome was civilized. And they slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Jerusalem for a petty disturbance. That wasn't the first slaughter, nor the last. But still, we all aspire to be Rome: to build our stability and our peace and our comfort on violence.

Well, this is what violence is. Power for the sake of power. And the one expression of absolute power available to humans, is to kill. We've gotten very good at it. We're just not very discriminating. "Support our troops," my ass. War itself sickens me. Can there even be a "just war"? In theory, perhaps; neve in reality. And reality is where we all end up living.

Anyone who thought for one minute that war was a justified response to anything that's happened to this country this century, this one's yours. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A wandering Aramean was my ancestor

A nomad; a person with no fixed place; like the Son of Man (Luke 9:58).

Ironic, isn't it?

When an alien resides with you in your land, you must not oppress him. He is to be treated as a native born among you. Love him as yourself, because you were aliens from Egypt. I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:33 (REB) (with thanks to jane for the reference).

Israel was a land of immigrants, and their law told them to remember, always, that they were immigrants. As they are now, the aliens among you, you were then. So even those Israel displaced or put under new rule, were to be treated like the people of Israel. "Love him as you love yourself, because you were aliens in Egypt."

And in the Southwest, at one time. Stephen F. Austin assured the government of Mexico that his colonists would not seek independence. To this day, modern Texas culture owes so much to Mexico and Spain, it wouldn't be "Texas" culture without it: food; cowboys; rodeos; lariats. The only thing not distinctly Mexican or Spanish about Texas culture, is oil. "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." As true in Texas as it is in New Mexico, or Arizona, or California.

After you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you to occupy as your holding and settle in it, you are to take some of the firstfruits of all the produce of the soil, which you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, and, having put them in a basket, go to the place which the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. When you come to the priest, whoever he is at the time, say to him, "I acknowledge this day to the Lord your God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us." The priest will receive the basket from your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. Then you must solemnly recite before the Lord your God: "My father was a homeless Aramean who went down to Egypt and lived there with a small band of people, but there it became a great, powerful and large nation...."

Deuteronomy 26:1-5a (REB)

After the Exile, the idea of homelessness and immigrancy and being established in God, became a part of the liturgy, the ritual, of the people of Israel. They were to always remember that they were homeless and that they were once strangers in the land where they lived.

As our ancestors were. But we have no ritual for remembering; no law that reminds us to love the alien among us, as we love ourselves. All we have is a choice: to follow, to listen, to act.

Or to be a part of the world which is "America." So, who was your ancestor?

The reason the legal standard for crimes is "Innocent until proven guilty"

Under this Administration, we are all suspects until proven innocent.

After all, until the government analyzes the patterns of your phone records, we don't know if you're a terrorist or not, do we? And after we finish analyzing your records, you might start talking to terrorists, mightn't you? So we can never stop analyzing your records.

And we can never stop suspecting you of being guilty. Because as soon as we do that, you might actually be guilty. So you can never be innocent.

It's just too risky assume otherwise.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Alright, now he's scaring me

Representative John Culberson issued the following statement regarding President Bush's address to the nation last night:

"I believe that President Bush and his advisers recognize the severity of the problem along our border and the level of alarm it raises with the American people. The President also understands that securing our borders is the necessary first step towards any meaningful immigration reform. Although his decision to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the border is not likely to have any immediate impact on the situation since they will be unarmed and play only supporting roles, I am encouraged that President Bush embraced the idea of using local and state law enforcement to bolster the Border Patrol. The House bill includes a provision I authored to give $100 million to our southern border county sheriffs so they can hire, train, equip and deploy additional deputies within weeks.

"I am deeply concerned that the President is still advocating a guest worker program that puts millions of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship and does not require workers to return to their home countries before applying for a temporary visa. The House is unwavering in its position that we cannot even discuss a guest worker program until we have secured our borders."
Just what kind of "impact" was he hoping to have? One that comes from a bullet? Is illegal immigration a capital crime? Are we to consider these people invaders?

As I said: the king must be secure in his subjects. And we gotta keep the brown people from crossing our borders, even if we have to shoot 'em (apparently our undefended border with Canada is less of a concern). No word yet on whether Rep. Culberson considers enrollment in the armed services a "guest worker" program or not.

And if a U.S. citizen gets shot, well, I guess that's the price we have to pay for our security, huh?

Prayer at Rising

Thou King of moon and sun,
Thou King of stars beloved,
Thou Thyself knowest our need,
O Thou merciful God of life.

Each day that we move,
Each time that we awaken,
Causing vexation and gloom
To the King of hosts Who loved us.

Be with us through each day,
Be with us through each night;
Be with us each night and day,
Be with us each day and night.

-from Carmina Gadelica

Louder and funnier

I missed the President's speech last night, but reading through it this morning, I'm wondering: who's zoomin' who?

The steps I have outlined will improve our ability to catch people entering our country illegally. At the same time, we must ensure that every illegal immigrant we catch crossing our southern border is returned home. More than 85 percent of the illegal immigrants we catch crossing the southern border are Mexicans, and most are sent back home within 24 hours. But when we catch illegal immigrants from other countries, it is not as easy to send them back home. For many years, the government did not have enough space in our detention facilities to hold them while the legal process unfolded. So most were released back into our society and asked to return for a court date. When the date arrived, the vast majority did not show up. This practice, called “catch and release,” is unacceptable and we will end it.

We’re taking several important steps to meet this goal. We’ve have expanded the number of beds in our detention facilities, and we will continue to add more. We’ve have expedited the legal process to cut the average deportation time. And we are making it clear to foreign governments that they must accept back their citizens who violate our immigration laws. As a result of these actions, we’ve have ended “catch and release” for illegal immigrants from some countries. And I will ask Congress for additional funding and legal authority, so we can end “catch and release” at the southern border once and for all. When people know that they’ll will be caught and sent home if they enter our country illegally, they will be less likely to try to sneak in.
Okay, he was the governor of Texas, and he's this stupid? It is well known that Mexicans illegally cross the border and, if they are caught and returned to Mexico, simply re-cross the border again at the first opportunity. They keep doing this until they don't get caught, either at the border or by La Migra somewhere in this country. Does he truly believe he's stopped anything, or that he's going to stop anything?

And if I've got this right, this is straight out of Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers:

On a visit to Bethesda Naval Hospital, Laura and I met a wounded Marine named Guadalupe Denogean. Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery — Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him … and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honored to stand at his side.
So, apparently, illegal immigrants who can get into this country and then are willing to join our armed services should be allowed to be American citizens. Military service is a sponge that washes all illegality away.


Once again, the problem is people, and the solution is power. Specifically, military power. That's what Culberson was calling for; that's what Bush is calling for. Free flow of capital across borders, but not the free flow of people. Heinlein was onto the same idea 45 years ago with the path the citizenship lying only through military service. It is the divine right of kings to be secure in their subjects. Kings owe their fealty to money, but kings can only rule by demanding fealty from their subjects. If we cannot demand fealty from those within our borders, how can we trust them to be good members of our society? And if we cannot be sure they are validly citizens of our society, how can we be sure we have their fealty?

Which isn't the problem at all. As Rick said below: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us." This is an issue fomented in Colorado or Wisconsin, not in Texas or California. The proof that the Mexican border in Texas actually runs just below Houston west just south of Austin to El Paso is proven by Culberson's blinkered bigotry. No one in San Antonio, the third largest city in Texas, is advocating for stricter border control; and you'll find little support for it in Brownsville, or Eagle Pass, or Del Rio, or El Paso. You'll note all the border patrol stories on CNN come out of Arizona, not New Mexico, not California, not Texas.

But the real issue is fealty, and who is subject to the king's rule. If illegal immigrants can prove themselves as soldiers, if they can establish beyond a doubt their loyalty to the powers of the government, then they are worthy to hold citizenship. And good soldiers, of course, are always loyal to the king; who must, in turn, remain ever loyal to money.

Now do you see why the kingdom of heaven cannot be of this earth, and yet must be proclaimed as here, now, present among us? Because otherwise life is just a sad joke waiting for a better result on "the other side." And even medieval Europe didn't live under that bleak and pessimistic a weltanschaaung.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fear of a Brown Planet

My congressperson writes an e-mail:

Dear District Seven Neighbor:

Tonight at 7 p.m. CDT , President George W. Bush will speak to the nation and describe his latest proposals for immigration reform. No one wants the President to succeed more than I do, and I have done my very best to support him and advise him on the feelings of his core supporters in west Houston's Congressional District 7, which his father first represented and where his parents now live. In fact, Congressional Quarterly recently published an analysis ranking all House members by the percentage of times each member voted in support of the President, and I ranked second overall at 93.5%. However, for many years I have been a vocal critic of the Bush Administration's refusal to protect our borders and enforce our immigration laws. The problem has never been inadequate laws. Congress has already passed all the border security and immigration laws we need. Unfortunately, the problem is the White House. The Chief Executive Officer of the United States has consistently refused to enforce or execute our immigration and border security laws and prevent illegal aliens and dangerous criminals from walking across the border or entering the U.S. openly by using the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).

Tonight, I sincerely hope we will witness a dramatic change. I continue to hear and see strong signals that the President and his close knit group of core advisors finally understand how fed up the nation is with the Administration's continued refusal to protect our borders or enforce our immigration laws. I have been a vigorous advocate of deploying National Guard troops on the border and the House has repeatedly passed an amendment authored by Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia to deploy troops on the border. I believe the President will announce this deployment tonight. I hope he will also empower them to make arrests and build the tent cities or bed space we need to arrest and house the thousands of illegals pouring over our borders every day. I have also urged Governor Rick Perry to call for volunteers to serve as auxiliary National Guard or auxiliary Texas Rangers and deploy them on the border to arrest and deter illegal aliens from crossing the Rio Grande.
Oh, boy, oh boy. Where do I sign up? Volunteer time on the Border: it's my idea of heaven! However, according to NPR this evening, the Guard will only provide support: drive trucks, fly helicopters, that kind of thing. Drat! And the tent cities might actually be an improvement over the colonias, so I don't know how well that will go over. Perry, by the way, announced the Texas National Guard has already been on the border. An aide later amended that statement to conform with reality: two NG soldiers went to the border to provide helicopter flight training; for a little while.

Best rethink the whole mess, huh?

It is important to watch the President's speech tonight, because if he remains committed to granting amnesty to illegal aliens, then the U.S. House of Representatives is our only backstop to prevent his proposal from becoming law. The House majority understands that our nation and simple common sense demand that we first enforce our existing immigration laws and protect the borders fully and completely before we even begin to debate a "guest worker" program. It is obvious that when a dam or a levee bursts and the flood waters pour in, the first priority is to sandbag the levee. Only after the flooding has stopped, do you consider what to do with the flood water and how to prevent future floods.
It is, of course, the liberal media's fault:

Since the Houston Chronicle is so strongly biased in favor of legalizing illegals and is consistent in their refusal to report on the massive national security threat created by our open, undefended borders, I will do my best to forward newspaper articles to you from around the country that will give you a more complete and accurate account of the scale of the problem. Below is an article from today's Washington Times, as well as a few other important articles.

It is difficult and unpleasant for me to oppose our President, especially when he is a fellow Texan and I know first hand how decent, honorable and good the entire Bush family is, but I was sworn to represent District Seven, not the White House. For a long time I tried to ring the fire bell about our open borders in a way that would minimize open disagreement with the President. When his top two local immigration officials stood on stage in Houston in April, 2004, at a town hall meeting that was called for illegal aliens and one of them told the group that the Bush Administration was not going to enforce our immigration laws and would not round up illegals or disturb them in any way, I was outraged, but I kept my complaints quiet and in writing. Surely, I thought, the White House will be as upset as my constituents and I are about the open refusal of these law enforcement officials to enforce the law. Unfortunately, the White House ignored my complaints and has continued to ignore immigration law enforcement so blatantly that in the last few weeks we have witnessed what I would have thought impossible - thousands upon thousands of law breakers marching in the streets waving Mexican flags demanding that our laws not be enforced.
When Mexican flags are illegal, only illegals will have Mexican flags! No, wait a minute....let's have a history lesson, instead. Apparently, America is the New Rome. And we'd better get good at it!

The fall of the Roman Empire occurred swiftly after Emperor Valens opened their borders in 376 A.D. and allowed the entire Goth nation to cross the Danube River en masse. A nation that will not protect its borders, its language or its culture and will not enforce its laws is doomed to repeat what happened to the Roman Empire. The massive scale of the migration of the Mexican nation into the United States far exceeds the scale of the Goth migration into Rome or any other migration in history. It is essential for the long term survival of the American Republic that we protect our borders and enforce our laws, and that we encourage legal immigration of people who want to become Americans by learning our common language, English, and assimilating into the American culture that honors individual liberty, hard work and self reliance.
No national anthem in Spanish! Oh, wait a minute.... And self-reliance? Under the government of George "Did I mention my name was "Bush" W. Bush?

Now that I have achieved my first goal as your Congressman - speeding up the reconstruction of the Katy Freeway
And all the businesses going out of business during the construction, and the nightmarish traffic it's producing, are hallmarks of your career, Congressman. Career, as you know, means "veering wildly."

- I am devoting every ounce of energy that my staff and I can muster to protect our borders and enforce our immigration laws. I will do my best to keep these email updates coming to you on a regular basis, and I intend to start making podcasts available on our website.
I can hardly wait.

I am deeply grateful for the privilege of representing you in the United States Congress.

John Culberson

Member of Congress
Well, at least he's not wasting postage.