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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

a lot to be thankful for

Looking back at the past year, I can see I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head. I have a full time job that provides me with decent wages and a good health insurance plan, including dental insurance. My family has food on our table. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I've never lived under an oppressive government where I could be beaten or sent to prison simply for speaking my mind or for practicing my religion. I've never been the victim of a hate crime as a result of my skin color, religious beliefs, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I haven't been driven from my home due to war or natural disaster. I've never been conscripted into the military or forced to work in a sweatshop. I've never had a family member disappeared. Yes indeed, I have a lot to be thankful for.

On this Thanksgiving day, please join me in offering a prayer for all the ones who don't have so much to be thankful for.

For the poor and the oppressed, for the unemployed and the destitute, for prisoners and captives, and for all who remember and care for them, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from the Book of Common Prayer

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Monday, November 24, 2008

monday music: until the end of the world

This song, from U2's Achtung Baby album, tells the story of Jesus' last days from Judas' perspective. The dark lyrics end with a message of hope, imagining Judas asking for forgiveness as his life ebbs away, and finding that Jesus' grace really is big enough for everybody.


Monday, November 17, 2008

monday music: study war no more

The great Mahalia Jackson sings words of hope from the prophet Amos.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Barack Obama talks about his faith

John Meunier points to a transcript of an interview Barack Obama gave with Cathleen Falsani of the Chicaco Sun-Times in March of 2004, when he was an Illinois State Senator. The full transcript has been published for the first time at Beliefnet.

Several things he said resonated with me:

I retain from my childhood and my experiences growing up a suspicion of dogma. And I'm not somebody who is always comfortable with language that implies I've got a monopoly on the truth, or that my faith is automatically transferable to others.

As I said before, in my own public policy, I'm very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.

Now, that's different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it's perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values that inform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.

I find it interesting how Obama elaborates on that last point:

A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign is that my politics are informed by a belief that we're all connected. That if there's a child on the South Side of Chicago that can't read, that makes a difference in my life even if it's not my own child. If there's a senior citizen in downstate Illinois that's struggling to pay for their medicine and having to chose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it's not my grandparent. And if there's an Arab American family that's being rounded up by John Ashcroft without the benefit of due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same.

In a few short sentences he explains something I agree with but have long struggled to express.

On the other hand, I think his view of sin is a little too subjective. When asked, "What is sin?" he replied:

Being out of alignment with my values.

But part of the Christian journey, as I understand it, is to realign our values.

All in all, it's a great interview. Read the whole thing.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the religious left agenda

It's starting already: Rabbi Michael Lerner is expressing displeasure with Barack Obama's selection of Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff.

Lerner is concerned first of all that the selection of Emanuel is a signal that Obama is dropping his commitment to end the Iraq war. That's one possibility; another is that Obama sees Representative Emanuel as a possible obstruction to a peace agenda, and the appointment is Obama's way of removing him from Congress. Or maybe the selection is a pragmatic recognition that Emanuel's skills are a good fit for the position. In any case, the Chief of Staff is usually expected to support the President's agenda, not the other way around.

Lerner goes on to add:

It’s not just the pro-peace and reconciliation forces that are unlikely to be given a serious hearing in a White House in which Rahm Emanuel controls who gets to talk to the President. Emanuel will almost certainly be protecting Obama from all of us spiritual progressives and those of us who describe ourselves as the Religious Left—so that our commitment to single-payer universal health care, carbon taxes for environmental protection, a Homeland Security strategy based on generosity and implemented through a Global Marshall Plan, will be unlikely to get a serious hearing in the White House.

All I can respond is, I sincerely hope so. I don't see anything in Lerner's "religious left" agenda that is the least bit religious. Certainly we a religious duty to take care of sick people, but we can do that without a single-payer health care system. Environmental stewardship is also a religious duty, I believe, but I don't think carbon taxes are the way to do it. And I just can't find the entry for "Global Marshall Plan" in my Bible concordance.

The Religious Right has poisoned the U.S. political system and U.S. churches for three decades, but we are finally starting to purge that toxin from our system. Now is not the time to swallow the drug called "Religious Left". It's likely to have very unpleasant side effects.

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Monday, November 10, 2008

monday music: the magdalene laundries

My two favorite kinds of music are Celtic and Folk. This ballad, a collaboration between folk legend Joni Mitchell and Celtic legends the Chieftains, is a cautionary tale about a charity gone wrong in 19th and 20th century Ireland.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

ten worst presidents

Keith McIlWain offers a list of the Top Ten U.S. Presidents. I thought I'd offer my views on the ten worst U.S. Presidents. Nine of my ten appear on most "worst presidents" lists; I'm perplexed why the other one doesn't.

10. William Henry Harrison: This former war hero demonstrated an astonishing lack of judgment by insisting on holding his inauguration outside on a cold, rainy day. He gave a two-hour speech, then rode his horse through the streets for the inaugural parade. And he refused to wear a coat. It was all downhill from there; less than a month later he was dead from pneumonia.

9. Richard Nixon: His coverup of the Watergate breakin, and his subsequent resignation two years later, produced the politics of secrecy and suspicion that now hangs over Washington D.C. and hinders leaders of bother parties from accomplishing much of significance

8. Herbert Hoover: Had no solution to the financial crisis which struck 6 months into his presidency. Spent the rest of his term advocating volunteer efforts to combat the effects of the Great Depression. Also signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, a tax on foreign-made goods, which spurred retaliatory taxes by other nations and further depressed the global economy.

7. Ulysses S. Grant: Appointed his friends to government posts, even when they lacked the skills and experience to do the job. Took no action against his appointees who embezzled millions of dollars of taxpayer money. Also made no attempt to stem the financial crisis of 1873 that led to the longest depression in U.S. history.

6. Andrew Johnson: After the Civil War, Johnson allowed Southern states to return to the Union even after most of them passed laws prohibiting the freed slaves from attaining full citizenship. Furthermore, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which gave Freedmen their citizenship despite state laws. (Congress overrode his veto.) He also vetoed the Tenure of Office act, which forbade the President from single-handedly removing a Presidential appointee from office. (Once again, Congress overrode his veto.) Despite the congressional override, Johnson tried to remove Secretary of War Edward Stanton from office, and as a result became the first President to be impeached.

5. Millard Fillmore: Fillmore assumed office in 1850 on the death of Zachary Taylor, and began reversing many of Taylor's policies. Some Southern states were beginning to talk about seceding from the Union due to increased Federal restrictions on slavery. Taylor, a former military leader, had pledged to lead the army himself against rebellious slave states. Fillmore preferred a policy of appeasement that gave us the Compromise of 1850: A set of laws that expanded protection for slavery in some areas as a balance against restrictions on slavery elsewhere.

Fillmore left office in 1852 having damaged not only his personal reputation, but also his party's. He was the last Whig ever to hold the office of President. He was succeeded in office by Franklin Pierce.

4. Franklin Pierce: A "doughface" (a Northerner who supported slavery), Pierce took Fillmore's appeasement one step further. He promoted and signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing the potential spread of slavery northward beyond the boundaries established three decades earlier by the Missouri Compromise. A group of diplomats appointed by Pierce wrote the Ostend Manifesto, which advocated that the U.S. acquire Cuba from Spain — either by purchase or by force — to add to the Union as another slave state.

Pierce was such a disaster that when he ran for re-election he failed to win his party's nomination; he was, however, succeeded in office by an even worse president, James Buchanan.

3. Warren G. Harding: Like Ulysses S. Grant before him, Harding did nothing as his staff members became involved in scandal after scandal. Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall was sent to prison for accepting bribes in exchange for leasing publicly-owned oil fields to his friends. Director of the Veterans' Bureau Charles R. Forbes was convicted of fraud and bribery after embezzling a quarter of a billion dollars from his agency. Harding's personal life was scandalous, too; he had an affair with his wife's friend Carrie Phillips. The Republican Party agreed to pay Phillips an annual stipend for the rest of her life to keep the affair secret.

2. James Buchanan: A "doughface" like Pierce, Buchanan lobbied the Supreme Court to issue a pro-slavery ruling in the Dred Scott case. He angered fellow Northerners by claiming that the only way to resolve the slavery issue was to enforce its legality. In a State of the Union speech, Buchanan referred to slave masters as philanthropists. Early in his presidency, Buchanan sent the United States Army to Utah after hearing rumors that Utah governor Brigham Young was planning a rebellion. However, after the election of 1860, lame duck President Buchanan sat idly while eleven Southern states seceded from the Union. He is the only president ever to fail to hold the United States intact during his term of office.

And the single worst President in U.S. history? You'll find out in the comments. And no, it's not George W. Bush.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

the beer, massage, chocolate and steak club

Joe the Peacock has an excellent post on how to actually talk to atheists. This is not the way:

Have you not heard about the beer, massage, chocolate and steak club? Well, let me tell you all about it - it doesn't matter if you don't like beer, or steak, or massages - whichever one you like, you get 24 hours a day for the rest of your life. And if you like all four or any combination of them, well... You're in luck! Because That's what the rest of your eternity will be - massages (happy ending or not, your choice), steak cooked just the way you want it, chocolate of any sort coated in any topping (or as a topping on anything you want), and any beer ever made or ever conceptualized, always on tap and never flat. And to get all of this, all you have to do is accept a unicorn into your life.

Threats don't work either:

Okay, fine, don't believe in them - you're going to end up in the Pushups For Eternity club. That's where you have to do knuckle pushups on mounds of broken glass with Rush Limbaugh sitting on your back for all eternity. All because you won't accept a unicorn into your life.

Hat tip to PamBG.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008

let america be america again

I thought this was appropriate for today...

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love

Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

Langston Hughes, 1938

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Monday, November 03, 2008

monday music: if everyone cared

Just a reminder on U.S. Election Eve that it's not always the political powers who change the world.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

encountering coyote

Christine of Abbey of the Arts has an encounter of mythic proportions in the early morning fog of a Seattle cemetery.

Early in my pilgrimage among the trees and gravestones, there coyote appeared to me. It stood looking at me for several seconds as I remained still, breathing in that moment. Then it slowly began to slink away and disappeared into the mist.

Read the whole story.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

memories, or not

Thanks to Steve Hayes for this meme...

If you read this, if your eyes are passing over this right now (even if we don't speak often or have never met), please post a comment with a completely made up, fictional memory of you and me.

It can be anything you want - good or bad - but it has to be fake.

When you're finished, post this little paragraph in your blog and see what your friends come up with...

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