Tuesday, May 30, 2006

It's not (just) laziness, honest!

I know I've been light on posting recently. Don't expect much change any time soon! I'm in Denison, and not only is internet access skechy and slow, in that it's dialup, but my brother is often playing his online video game, taking up the line. I had to do some hard bargaining to get this time. Yes, here at my house it is the Wild West of internet access, a throwback to the mid-to-late 90s. DSL and Cable won't deliver service out here, we live so far out.

But, anyway, thanks to all of you for the encouraging emails and prayers and whatnot. They really do help.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

We swam today and we will swim tomorrow.

And I will get a tan. Or (more likely) I will burn.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

radical faith

Kent responded to my earlier post, and I thought I'd give him a reply here. It's really a reply plus some random rambling and a statement of how I believe.

I’ve grown tired of having to defend my faith from those who either disagree with the idea of religious faith or from those who insist that mine is wrong. But I think there is value in such a defense, so I’ll do it again. But, right now, I’m surrendering my internal fight against the Christian Right. I’m still fascinated by them. And I am professionally interested in them. But no longer is it a personal mission to prove them wrong or "expose" them. Perhaps living my life as an example (or struggling to attain that) can be all the exposure that is necessary.

Because for me, I think, the fight against the CR was less about truth and more about being “right.” It was a pride thing, an insecurity thing. I wanted to show that I, unlike them, really understood faith. I wanted to reassure myself that I was right, more than anything. After a good deal of prayer and thought, I realize that focusing on negating the CR takes away from my focus and my witness. If I can live faithfully and act peacefully, confronting distortions when they occur, but not going out of my way to find a fight, perhaps that act in itself is an antidote to a culture that too readily wants to draw lines, be confrontational and paint the world in black and white.

While I try to live my life according to God’s will, I will have to deal with some confrontations. But I also will have to recognize, as my commenter below does not, that there is room for many ideas in a single faith tradition. There’s lots of room, even room for disagreement. Hopefully there’s also room for some civil debate and discourse.

Now to address the commenter’s comment substantively: I assume what he primarily objects to is historicizing Christianity and the church. I, on the other hand, think it is vital. I agree that one need not have a Ph.D in religious history (or even to have studied it) to be a Christian, but I do believe that it can help faith and help us to understand it. Even if it makes us question our foundations. That is a good thing!

He also says that if I were to just read the Bible, I would know “what a Christian should believe” about things such as gay rights and abortion rights. I don’t think there’s one “Christian” position. I think that my faith leads me to certain positions on those issues. But, as I said, the Christian tradition has room for differing ideas.

That may be the difference between Kent’s faith and mine. I accept those differences and don’t judge him as suddenly unchristian because he has ideas with which I don’t agree. I believe he has different interpretations of scripture than I do. One of the wonderful things about the Baptist tradition is its stance on the personal interpretation of scripture by the individual believer. This is something that, obviously, the larger Baptist institutions (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention) have gotten away from (enforcing certain interpretations as “right”), but I don’t think the idea is gone at all.

I believe that faith and politics are firmly linked. Kent probably agrees with me :-). I know people in conservative religious traditions who feel politically bound because of their religion. They don’t necessarily agree with, say, the Republican party, yet they feel that they must support them because it is the “Christian” way of voting. This is where I think living my faith proudly can be helpful. Yes, I am a Christian. No, I am certainly not a Republican. It is possible to be both. And it doesn’t mean “separating” your faith from your politics! It means embracing your politics in your faith. For some people, that leads them to vote Republican. But not me.

For me, recognizing that my sense of social justice and resistance to oppression grew out of my basis in faith was like coming out of Plato’s cave and suddenly seeing things for what they are. Seeing the history of the church and the power struggles not only legitimates my doubt about some things but strengthens my faith about others. I came out of the cave and am in a constant struggle to see more clearly.

The ideas of Jesus were radical. One of the most compelling parts of his ministry was his compassion and fellowship with the disenfranchised and marginalized in his society. What was the primary condemnation of him by contemporary religious leaders? That he hung out with “sinners” too much. Sound oddly familiar, no?

I believe that I am in the radical tradition of Jesus. While Jesus may have been lost, while he’s always kind of up for interpretation by prevailing political and religious winds, and while I have no monopoly on the “truth” of Jesus, I can be guided by faith. I can be guided by the words and actions of Jesus. His teachings cut through the oppression of his day. He called out to the poorest, the most reviled, teaching a radical egalitarianism. Jesus and the church he created are not just made for Sunday preaching. They are made for changing the world! What I seek to regain is the sense of Christianity as a social movement, as a movement for peace and justice and equality.

While this faith may sound simple (and it is), it isn’t easy. Sometimes it is easier to have someone else tell us what to believe and how to live. Sometimes it’s easier to see the world in black and white than to recognize the immense complexities presented in the world. Sometimes it’s easier to follow the political and religious winds than to challenge them. But, we need to ask ourselves the deceptively simple question: “What would Jesus do?”

The Da Vinci Code

I haven't read the book. I'm working on it. But, I have seen the movie. Here are some thoughts:

Undoubtedly, it is fiction. It twists history to make a point. Mostly Brown is trying for good fiction, but I think he's scoring some political points in there as well. I don't think that's much different than the authors of Left Behind or other evangelical, apocalyptic fiction, though. They twist scripture to fit their ideological and political points of view.

I think one of the best things that could come from this book/movie is a resurgent interest in church history. Most Christians I know don't really have a solid understanding of church history. And that makes sense--it can often be a big shock, to see the power struggles, the politics, the way that things we take for granted today were socially constructed. But I think challenging and learning is part of faith. All education, good education at least, gets at the root of how and why we "know" what we "know." It always involves a good bit of shock. All good education challenges our preconceived notions, questions received wisdom. We can't sit in a bubble and have people tell us what we want to hear. How does that grow faith? How does that grow a person?

While much of Brown's "history" is not history at all (it's fiction, people!!), my hope is that it will cause interest in church history, the formation of doctrine and the canon, etc. Maybe it will cause us to reexamine our notions of "Jesus" and how he has been constructed historically. Brown's version may not be accurate, but neither is the Jesus that is dominant in today's culture. We have the filter of churches, authors, commentators, and culture telling us what Jesus should be like. Who needs the bible at all, really?

My fear is that those who might most benefit from the questioning/thinking process that could be started from this book/movie are the very ones who won't go to see it. But that's always how it is, isn't it?

Friday, May 19, 2006

judging people

Dear guy in UPS truck outside UT-Southwestern today,

I am sorry that I made a weirded-out face when I walked by you and your parked brown truck. I heard the voice of Rush Limbaugh emanating from your radio, and thought bad things about you. Through my stare and facial expressions, I didn't mean to imply that you were stupid or a mindless "ditto-head" [term for a Limbaugh admirer]. In fact, I have no clue why you were listening. Perhaps you, like I do, find right wing talk radio (well, political talk radio in general) to be interesting, fascinating, and silly. I had no right to assme that you were a conservative. People assume I'm a conservative all the time too. I often wonder what people think whenever they get an earful of Sean Hannity in my radio. I hope they give me the benefit of the doubt, as I failed to do for you today.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Quote book

Once, a long time ago, I had a quote book, where I wrote down randomly bizarre things that I or my friends said. I lost the quote book, and rather than starting up a new one, whenever I heard a funny quote, I would write it down on whatever was handy. This was a good two or three years ago. Now that I am packing up my closet, I found a whole folder of random napkins, bits of paper, church bulletins, and class handouts with quotes that are sometimes funny, sometimes funny if you know the person saying them, and sometimes probably only funny in context. And context is long gone by now. I'll post them anyway.

"It looks like a highlighter but you drink it." --Dylan on Mountain Dew
"No, more like pee." --Luke
"Dude, what does your pee look like?" --Dylan

"Bird poop isn't the same as gravy." --Travis

"I weave a mean blanket." --Jason

"The hottie, the hottie, mmm, I love the hottie." --Sarah, to the tune of "The Bunny Song."

"Eat the chicken." --Sarah

"She wants to shrink-wrap the world, but she'll go the jail first." --Lauren, on Martha Stewart

"Now our only hope is that this church bus has a head-on collision." --Sarah

"They wanna get it on." --Sarah
"Get what on?" --M., Jason's little sister

"So, going to the bathroom together is off limits?" --Sarah to Jason
"Mmmhmm. And sleeping in the same bed, as well!" --Jason

"Give it to God." --Jason

"Where do the students park??" --Jason, looking at the B. McDaniel middle school parking lot

"She made the Colt face! I heard it!" --Jason

"I so want to like your ear." [a few seconds later] "Oh, I have earwax on my tongue now." --Sarah (to Jason, presumably)

"Jason, you can bite my tongue." --Sarah

"Forget poking a dead body with a stick, I want to lick people." --Sarah

"Jason, do you want to have my babies?" --Sarah

"It feels like dog poop between my toes." --Sarah

"Clinton in the oral--I mean oval--office." --Ema

I think many of these quotes (especially the Sarah and Jason ones) were from really one night where I insisted on being annoying and writing down everything they said. Oh well.

I have gotten nothing done today.

I am amazingly lazy.

Why isn't he funny?

As many of you know, I love scary conservatives. Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafly amuse me more than offend me. (I know, I'm evil.) But, this guy, Michael Savage, I just can't laugh at. I don't know that his words are inherently more offensive or wrong. But I just can't laugh at him. Perhaps (and I'm just thinking out loud here--I don't know my subconscious near as well as I should) it's because Robertson and Schlafly appeal to religion. Savage doesn't. I guess I credit the former two with good, but misguided, intentions; but Savage just seems kind of evil and mean-spirited. He may be religious, I don't know, and he probably is (though not in any recognizable Christ-like way). But because he doesn't really make that the basis of his appeal, maybe that's why I just don't like him rather than finding him interesting and wrong.

Anyway, listen to this clip. He is seriously getting it all in: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. He's expertly playing on feelings of many working class white men that they are being marginalized. he uses the police department as an example, saying that because of affirmative action and subjective tests given by "lesbians and minorities" they are not getting the good jobs anymore and that unqualified "dummies" become "the white man's captain."

"Do you understand what I just said to you? You do if you're a white man."

This is "a low grade communist revolution" according to Savage.

Objectively, some of his claims are quite laughable, and, indeed, the sorts of things I generally laugh at. But something about hearing this man makes me literally nauseous. Perhaps a lot of it is that Robertson and Schlafly generally sound patently ridiculous. But Savage? I could see my dad listening to him and totally being sold on the idea that he is a victimized white male. I could see thousands of working class white men being fed the same lies.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


It's really fascinating to see the two sides of the Republican party so obviously exposed and President Bush so obviously caught between them. The two sides are, of course, the social conservatives, and the big-business conservatives.

Big business is clearly in favor of a guest worker program--it gives them access to cheap labor. Social conservatives are afraid of increased immigration for more cultural reasons. John Gibson (from FOX) the other night warned white couples that they need to have more babies because hispanics are starting to outnumber them. To them, the problem with hispanic immigration is more about race and culture.

Bush has sided with the big business conservatives. And the social conservatives are unhappy. I find it truly interesting and can't wait to see how it plays out.

Many of you have asked about my own feelings toward immigration. Here's what I think: in order to deal with this problem, we have to deal with both the push and the pull factors that lead people to come here seeking a better life. No one wants to have to come to the U.S. No one wants to leave their family behind. But the lack of economic opportunities in the sending countries and employers who are willing to hire undocumented workers in the U.S. cause a massive flow.

How do we fix it? Securing the borders is important, but unless you ameliorate the flow by stemming the sending and pulling factors, people will always find a way in. We need to really enforce laws that criminalize the employment of undocumented workers. We need to invest in the economic development of the countries that send workers here, creating jobs.

And making humanitarian workers criminals? That's just idiotic.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Worst thing about being graduated? No longer having access to library databases.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Of course

I get ready to leave and then people start saying that Texas might be up for presidential electoral grabs.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

church, state, and the public sphere

For the second time in recent days, I've found myself on the side of a debate that I'm very rarely on. I'm an Establishment Clause stickler. But I'm also a fan of freedom of religion. And while I'm opposed to excessive entanglement of religion and government, I think religion should be in our public sphere.

I have found myself busting out the argument that I generally hear coming out of the mouths of right-wingers. "The 'separation of church and state' isn't in the constitution anyway." And it's true.

Today I got into a discussion with several people about what churches should be allowed to do in the way of politics. I think churches should be able to do a lot: hold meetings, talk about political issues, drive people to the polls. Many of the people I talked to disagreed. They said that churches should be able to talk about "moral" issues that might be political issues as well, but that's about it.

First off, I think all moral issues are political issues. How can you separate them? Is it too political for a preacher to preach about racial equality? How about during desegregation? Was it too political then? Were black churches and clergy going over the line when they were organizing people and leaders during the Civil Rights Movement?

I do draw the line at endorsing candidates or telling people how they should vote on a particular issue on the ballot. But that's not a separation of church and state issue, that's a tax-exempt, non-profit issue. I don't think the United Way or the Girls' Club should be able to endorse candidates either. I don't think that, from a first amendment standpoint, there's any limit on the politicking that a church can be involved in. (Except, of course, the tax-exempt limit.)

I think that religion should absolutely be involved in the public square. I don't think it's a problem that churches drive people to the polls... I think it's important that they do. Churches (of all types) are an important part of American civil society. They are a basis for social organization and shared beliefs and values.

I realize that when I say this, I'm arguing for the active engagement of, many times, homophobic and intolerant groups. I sure am! I don't care that churches preach against gay marriage. Because there are just as many out there who are preaching for equality. I believe free speech is answerable by more free speech. I don't mind that those same anti-gay churches are busing their members to the polls to vote. Because I think greater civic engagement in general will lead to more justice in the end.

Preachers used to preach in support of segregation. They eventually lost the battle of ideas. They used to preach against racial intermarriage. They used to preach against gay marriage. Good ideas will always prevail. I believe that religion should be an active participant in that national dialogue. Yes, even in our political dialogue.

I think part of the problem of politics today is that we've associated religion with "moral" issues and separated those completely from "political" issues. Thus, we see reports that the "values voters" carried George W. Bush to victory. I did not vote for Bush. Did I not vote my values? Is justice not a value? Equality? To hear these people talk, abortion and gay marriage are the only positions on which one can take a "moral" position.

I always dismissed the claim made by many on the right that people on the left are too secular and combative towards religion. But, it really does seem that there may be some truth in that. I'm not saying that people on the left need to find religion, but I do think they need to open their minds to the progressive possibilities inherent in religion. Religion has always guided us on to the greater good when it has been a part of our national conversation. When we allow the right to have a monopoly on "values" and "morals," we undercut the importance and power of our moral and value judgments.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Once and for all

Let it be known: Percy Weasley* is fundamentally, way down deep, a good guy, and will come around in the end. This statement is the end of my public discussion on the topic.

Also, wearing my "Severus Snape is innocent" shirt in public is probably not something I'll do again anytime soon. Too many random people coming up to me and arguing at me.

*I do not mean my computer here. I have given up on him.

Peace takes courage

Ava Lowry, a 15 year old girl from Alabama, has produced a series of powerful animations. One of them, WWJD?, is disturbing, but in a way that we need to face. Essentially, it has pictures of war, war on children, pictures that our mainstream media carefully shields us from, juxtaposed against children singing "Jesus Loves Me." This animation is chilling. It's chilling in the same way Stephen Colbert's routine made everyone uncomfortable. It exposes the contradictions, it unsettles our taken for granted notions of how things are, it questions our very sources of information and truth.

Here's the link to her animations. I particularly recommend the WWJD? one and the one called The 32%, which just lists some of the comments she's gotten from conservatives who don't like her movies. Warning: the first one has graphic images and the second has graphic words (the kind you expect from the same folks who send death threats to Cindy Sheehan and the Dixie Chicks; they're probably the same set who professes to be pro-life and then murders doctors).

Asking conservatives what Jesus would do is always important. No matter what you believe about the divinity of Jesus, I think we can all agree that he had some pretty powerful and important ideas. Unfortunately, mainstream Christianity, particularly conservative Christianity, has gotten away from his quite radical message. Reminding people of Jesus the man, his teachings, and the Bible itself is an important act. We must do it kindly, not straight up telling people "you are being so unChristian!" But we must challenge people to rise to their better natures, to think critically, to pay attention, to link their faith with their actions in the world, including their politics.

It's funny, because Jesus came with this radical message that upset the current, conservative religious order. His followers have today become the conservative religious order. Who will follow in Jesus' footsteps to question and challenge them?

National security?

So, turns out, Valerie Plame was working on tracking the nuclear capabilities of Iran. When her cover was blown (and that of the fake company she was working for, putting who knows how many others' lives in danger... we'll never know the true human toll of this outing), our intelligence abilities were damaged.

So, if we're really all that concerned about Iran, why was the leaking of Plame's identity authorized from high levels? Clearly, playing politics was a bit more important than, you know, national security. Lovely.

"reality has a well-known liberal bias."

That is one of the best quotes from Stephen Colbert's speech at the White House Correspondent's Dinner this weekend. I just watched the video on youtube.com, and wow. What was more fascinating than the biting and stingingly true barbs he tossed out was the total lack of reaction/hostility he faced from the crowd--the press corps and the president. Of course, he was exposing them. But wow. There was palpable discomfort.

So, it's not surprising that the mainstream media is not covering this.

Mash at dKos says, "Standing at the podium only a few feet from President Bush, Colbert launched an all out assault on the policies of this Administration. It was remarkable, though painful at times, to watch. It may also have been the first time that anyone has been this blunt with this President. By the end of Colbert's routine, Bush was visibly uncomfortable. Colbert ended with a video featuring Helen Thomas repeatedly asking why we invaded Iraq. That is a question President Bush has yet to answer to the American public. I am not sure what kind of review Stephen Colbert's performance will get in the press. One thing is however certain - his performance was important and will reverberate."

I really think Stephen Colbert is brilliant. His use of parody to expose corruption in politics and the media is, I believe, quite effective. But, of course, it matters for nothing if no one hears about it.

Head over to www.thankyoustephencolbert.org for links to the videos.