Thursday, May 29, 2008

I finally figured it out!

Here’s my confession: I never liked the WWJD craze; it made me want to throw up. This is not intended to offend you or insult you if you are one that found it meaningful. And intellectually, I had no objection to it. I simply reacted to it with such visceral opposition to bracelets, T-Shirts, bumper stickers that proclaimed neither the encouraged devotion or intent, but served more as an endorsement. They may just as easily put “Jesus is my preferred candidate” and a Jesus Fish on their chest, wrist, or bumper.


It’s even inherently exclusive. An acronym, even one so recognizable, is in its very nature exclusive. Our churches aren’t SDEC, expecting the world to simply “get” that it stands for St. David’s Episcopal Church. We just live with the proper name. So should the What Would Jesus Do? movement.

But something hit me the other day. WWJD is insidious—in a good way. It suggests something that the Fundamentalists and Conservatives that championed the concept wouldn’t support, or would seem to have trouble supporting in the theologies of leading scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. By asking what Jesus would do, we are showing a profound respect to both the actions of Jesus and our call to be his disciples. This shows a real interest in the humanity of Jesus—a short distance jump from the efforts of the historical Jesus scholars.

I know what you’re saying: “But Drew, just thinking about Jesus’s actions isn’t the inherent purview of liberal scholars, nor is this exclusive from evangelicalism.” If you are thinking this, then of course, you are right. But here is the rub: the theological focus of evangelicals is so primarily trained on evangelism, baptism, and church growth, that it serves the top 1-10 spots in their hierarchy: the human nature of Jesus is so far removed from the discussion, that using the WWJD reminder cue to think about Jesus’s actions is often counter to the evangelical devotion to that aforementioned singular focus.

Secondly, that focus is so primarily interested in the ‘saving power’ of Jesus and the interest in Jesus being the singular means of salvation. This demonstrates a Christological focus on the divine Jesus. Disinterested in what Jesus says to his disciples about poverty, politics, and civilization, the discussion of salvation is exclusively interested in the pre- and post-human Jesus: what the legal ramifications on humanity before Jesus ‘came down from heaven’ are and in Jesus’s position as grantor of salvation to those in the last 2,000 years that have become Christians.

Thirdly, this view of the divine Jesus as grantor of salvation or as gatekeeper on behalf of Christians to let them in and keep the riff raff out, simultaneously leads to an interesting Trinitarian response that Jesus is God (as opposed to God in/as Jesus, God and Jesus as coequals, or God as directing Jesus and the Holy Spirit, etc.) and is the center of our worship life. Making Jesus the center of our worship clearly leads to confusion over both the purpose of our religious tradition and of the persona of Jesus.

Fourthly, in focusing on the actions of Jesus, we then isolate those actions from the divine form of Jesus. One may infer from the reminder of Jesus that He is/was connected to God and demonstrates His inherent divine nature regardless of the context, but the reminder (WWJD) is of the human form with no mention or interest in divinity. Instead, our attention is directed on the human Jesus and what we as humans are doing in relation to Him.

Fifthly, our Catholic and Mainstream Protestant friends are further directed away from questions of legalism and hierarchy when the primary question that each member asks is “what would Jesus do?”. Jesus’s teachings and actions were clearly less interested in adherence to rules that direct us, but to the simple relationships between us and God and between an individual and his/her community.

So there you have it. What Would Jesus Do? is actually a pretty good slogan. I can’t say that I’ll wear one of those stupid bracelets any more than I’ll put a fish on my bumper, but I might suggest that this fad wasn’t that bad!

PS—yes, I know that WWJD is, like, ten years old or something, but you never know! Some of us are a little slow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

True Politicians

Yesterday I wrote about something revolutionary: politicians aren’t bad!

Oh, the horror!

The definition of politician I used was simply: “a person experienced in the art or science of government”; suggesting someone that is an experienced and knowledgeable person who knows a lot about government. That government is an “art” and a “science”. The suggestion is that government requires certain skills, knowledges, and experiences that are unique to itself.

These are the reasons we don’t hire Orkin men (like Tom Delay), but lawyers and teachers (the two most prominent professions for politicians). We hire smart people that know how to research and think about their actions. We look for people that respect the institution and view the politics of government to be a hallowed place.

Or at least we used to.

Our understanding of politician representing the second definition on the website:

2 a: a person engaged in party politics as a profession

b: a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons

seems much more recent. In a post-1994 world, we elect people that disrespect “the art or science of government”. We elect people that not only lack the skills and knowledges required for the job, we actively oppose those that do. We seem to want the least qualified and the most destructive people in office. This position was personified to an incredible degree with the coronation of George W. Bush, who served as a clown king of the Imperial States of America. The primary aptitude he possessed: more fun at a barbecue.

We seemed to think it was a legitimate option for Pres. Bush to appoint people to lead organizations that were actively working to either destroy the organization or disrupt its work: big polluter lobbyists to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, pharmaceutical CEOs to head the Food and Drug Administration, and John Bolton, UN-hater extraordinaire to be our rep to the United Nations. We didn’t object because we seem to regard this as business as usual!

Here’s a thought. Maybe we should elect people that respect the office to which we have elected them! Maybe experienced politicians can represent a knowledge and skill that is necessary from the profession! Maybe we can pull our heads out of our asses long enough to notice when a politician is doing a good job!

And this one goes to the Clintonistas: maybe change in Washington is not a question of experience but integrity! How novel!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Conventional Wisdom, or Permanent Trap?

Conventional wisdom says that conventional wisdom is smart. Conventional wisdom also says that unconventional wisdom is stupid.

If you have unconventional wisdom—regardless of its quality—but have not been a member of the establishment for very long, then you are naïve.

What about conventional wisdom that has always been bad? Or at least biased in a way that we no longer attribute to being normal? What if conventional wisdom has put us in perpetual jeopardy?

Barack Obama is still being criticized for his remarks last year for welcoming the suggestion of unilateral talks—that these are something that should be on the table. These statements were welcomed by the establishment as proof of his naïveté and inexperience. They are still being trotted out on a regular basis as proof of Obama’s unfitness. Since when has talking with one’s opponents been a sign of stupidity and ignorance? Isn’t it the height of ignorance to avoid diplomacy or worse: to rig your diplomacy so that it wouldn’t work? Under Bush, nobody in the world thought that he has ever used real diplomacy, especially with regards to Afghanistan and Iraq. Everyone could see through the ruse. This is worse than failed diplomacy: sabotaging one’s position only demonstrates an aggressive stance to one’s opponents. Faking diplomacy is tantamount to opening warfare.

Obama’s remarks, in this context, are not naïve, but expose the foolishness of our decades-long policies with regards to Cuba, Israel, and the Middle East. While things looked fine, nobody cared that our efforts were inefficient or counter-productive, because they seemed to be working. Bush, with his witless and baseless maintenance of old policy toward Cuba and Israel proves the weakness of that policy—which frightens the establishment more than anything. It is like proving the Clintons are wrong. It is like telling children that Santa is Mom and Dad. It is to be stopped at all costs—the truth must not be revealed!

The truth inherent to this debate is that Obama’s remarks are not coming from a place of inexperience, but of a place that uses a different political wisdom. Part of the “folly” of direct talks with Cuba is that it was not sanctioned by the Cuban immigrant communities in the U.S. and dissidents living in Cuba. That the wisdom of State-to-State communications seems to rest on conservative ex-pats and dissidents is pure folly: it is like setting our policy of communication with Germany based on German immigrants and any neo-nazi groups looking to implement “regime change” in their native country. We currently do not set our Middle East policy based on immigrants and dissidents (except for Iraq)—we actually set it in spite of these people. Hey, we even threw a tantrum and changed the name of French Fries because we didn’t like the way France reacted to our (then proposed) unilateral invasion of Iraq.

How else can we explain the response to merely suggesting that talking to Cuba might be a necessary break from existing policy? Is it really that dangerous? Cuba, the last remaining Soviet-style communist country remains the epitome of conservative fear and hatred of State influence. But is conventional wisdom on Cuba effective? Castro outlasted Kennedy, McCarthy, and all of those opponents. And yet, his island nation provides no political or military problems for the United States today. It does not represent a danger to the homefront or the beachhead some evil crusade to eliminate the U.S.A.; it is merely a poor, depressed country that has grown increasingly interested in Western values. Using the same policy toward Cuba in 2008 as was used forty years ago is both incredibly stupid and disgustingly cruel.

Obama’s policy position is quite nuanced now. He has been endorsed by the leaders of the Cuban American community and the dissidents in Cuba because he is looking to change our policy and open things up a smidge. And the conventional wisdom? Stay the course. The policy is now important than those groups you were using to prove your point. Circular logic for everyone!

Merriam-Webster defines a politician as “a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government”. When are our other leaders going to start acting like politicians instead of party hacks?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Must see TV

Let me preface this by saying I know its television.

I know that what I see in a TV show is not the real thing.

I know that Grey’s Anatomy is not a show about real doctors in a real world. I get it. I’m not an idiot.

But in the way that art imitates life; in the way that you can recognize love in the relationship between two characters on screen; in the way that tensions found between a character’s problems can feel like ours; in the way that you can understand the complexities of fictitious people with virtually no back story; we are able to see truths just about anywhere.

And it doesn’t take great art. It is most stunning in our masterpieces, of course, but what isn’t? We are able to see ourselves or the world in a Kelly Clarkson song as we do in Waiting for Godot.

But Grey’s Anatomy has things to say about doctors. In tonight’s season finale, we learn that George gets to take the test again. The test he failed in last season’s finale. The one he took after his Dad died.

It isn’t that I expect others to cut him some slack (though I do [this is a show about extraordinarily compassionate doctors, after all]) as much as it is about decency, fairness, and true scientific reasoning. If the profession wanted the most passionate, driven, dependable, talented, and skilled doctors they could find, they wouldn’t be afraid of seeing themselves as susceptible to the weaknesses of the human condition. Because that is the doctor’s blind spot, isn’t it? That notion that he or she is deserving of the same respect they give out (or lack there of).

We strive to push our doctors to the verge of the breaking point and pretend that we are making the ones that don’t collapse stronger and the ones that do, well…they must be the runts of the litter anyway. It is the same idea as keeping a prisoner awake for 30-40 hours, torturing them half of that time, and expecting the words to come out of them to be useful. It is the same idea as making standardized testing so important that kids are willing to plagiarize and cheat without conscience to get the scores that will get them into Mommy and Daddy’s favorite college. Could it be that the medical system has an incredible flaw in its fundamental logic?

Yes, it is just TV, but sometimes I wonder.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Secret Laws

We have all heard about Executive Orders, Signing Statements, and other pieces of law-crafting that have come out of the Executive Branch in a way of
  1. circumventing the law,
  2. avoiding/rejecting Congress,
  3. and blatantly disregarding the spirit of the Constitution.
To most of us, none of this is new. However, the fundamental arguments the Bush administration has used are unconstitutional.

Bush's White House are responsible for a great number of secret laws that are described here. They are passed without Congressional approval (first area that is at best an incomprehensible stretching and bending of the Constitution and at worst a total violation of it). They are also kept secret from:
  1. The Congress,
  2. The Judiciary,
  3. The Press,
  4. The People
all of which have Constitutional right to know.

But we all know that Bush & Co. have no interest in following the law, that the Judicial Branch is now so heavily weighted with conservatives that they would refuse to serve as a check to a Republican president, and that Congress has shown no fortitude to take on the president on this issue. So let's just cut to the most disgusting part of it all:

Secret Laws are the least democratic acts a president can do.

Let me repeat this idea: secret laws are undemocratic. Secret laws are the work of fascists and dictators. Preventing the public from knowing with what it is charged in a court of law, preventing the public from recognizing what the future of the country holds, preventing the public from being a part of the law-making process is the work of petty thugs and monarchs. It is the truest means of expressing outright contempt for the fundamental principles of democracy.

I understand that the way our Constitution was written was to serve with checks and balances. I understand that, in some ways, it is the president's job to push against Congress and the Judiciary. I understand that he would be remiss if he didn't try to do what he thought was right. I understand that the United States of America is a republic founded on democratic principles: not a true democracy [I've preached that sermon to anybody that would listen]; but...

The fundamental democratic principles inherent in the Constitution suggest that freedom of access to our government, to our officials, and most importantly to our laws are the very hallmarks of our government. Secrecy is antithetical to our entire government.

I know, I know "what about terrorists?" you cry. "What about our military? Our CIA and FBI? Secrecy is fundamental to these agencies!" you retort. Well, isn't the answer self-explanatory? The very nature of the intelligence community (especially in order from least offensive to most: FBI, CIA, and NSA) is antithetical to democracy. The very presence of these agencies in our government is a concession with which the people are willing to live, but is not the starting point, but the middle; the hazy gray area of public opinion.

Shifting the goal posts to total secrecy and dependence on the "unitary executive" is the same as living in a fascist state.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Peak Oil?

Oooh! A new theory! I love new theories that simultaneously take in half of the information and use middle-of-the-road thinking to come up with half-solutions!

So here’s the new one, that seems to, in a nutshell, suggest that current oil prices ($129 US per barrel as of Monday) are related to a theory that we are currently at a peak output of the world’s supply. This is actually sort of correct, but in a round-about sort of way. It is like calling a baseball player a bad hitter because he struck out 150 times: ignoring other things, such as batting average, pitch selection, and common sense.

In truth, we are in the peak era. Production of oil could easily be increased, but there is only so much down there. Currently, Saudi Arabia is the only Middle Eastern country NOT operating at its peak capacity. Prudence would suggest either increasing capacity (not necessarily output) or reducing output in most of these countries to prevent a catastrophic event from derailing consumption needs.

So, peak oil is interesting as an idea, and really seems to be about as true as the question of the degree of effect relative to the weakness of the US dollar. Neither seems to answer the core question: why has the price of a barrel of oil gone up over 400% in fewer than 8 years ($27 in 2001)? Most of the speculation has been based around the last three years, when oil doubled—not the previous four years when it doubled then as well.

Clearly the US economy doesn’t help this, which has been tanking for the entirety of Bush’s time in office, regardless of whether or not we are now capable of using the R-word (shhh: it’s recession! But don't say it out loud!). The economy was bad in 2002 and ’03, not just ’07 and ’08. There is also a secondary issue: the world is no longer centered on US policy. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, and India are no longer worried about pleasing the US and are out to serve their own interests. Russia, the biggest national exporter of oil and OPEC, the biggest oil collective, are neither frightened of the US nor willing to rise and fall with the US economy.

Perhaps that is the sad truth that oil speculation has revealed for us today: that not only is the US no longer a superpower of 1, but the rest of the world knows it.

Meanwhile, maybe if we actually spent as much time researching oil alternatives (not ethanol) as we do lobbying other countries and money as we do bribing them, we might be able to get out of this. Or not.

For more info on peak oil, check out this excellent article: "Have we really hit peak oil?"

Monday, May 19, 2008

What schism really looks like

So here it is. We are five years removed from General Convention 2003 and we’re still having our gay-rights squabbles. What I still can’t comprehend is the arguments coming from the schismatics.

Now, I’m not talking about the basic arguments: arguments based out of one interpretation of scripture, but more out of tradition. You know, the tradition that calls all homosexuals sinners of incredible magnitude. No, I’m not talking about those arguments. I’m talking about the arguments that revolve around what to do about this.

According to the schismatics, The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) has “left” the traditional church by acting in a hospitable way and practiced radical inclusiveness. They also argue that the Bible seems to say “God hates homosexuals and wants you to hate them to” somewhere. I think maybe in one of the Epistles. Then Jesus also threw in there “You may accept their money in the offering plate, but reject their humanity and dignity from the pulpit; and PS—don’t dare let them marry or ordain them bishops” in the gospels. They seem to think that it’s in there, but I can’t seem to find those direct quotes anywhere!

So here it is. The vast majority of us are infidels for thinking that the Bible isn’t as directive on this as they claim. Jesus’s teaching [in which same-sex sexuality is entirely absent] directs us to see the Great Commandment as directing our entire view process. Love God; love your neighbor.

But if you want to get into the nitty gritty, then we’ll have to use an analogy. And since the Right-wing loves to use hyperbole [such as the Rt. Rev. David Anderson’s claim that Bishop Lee (of Virginia) committed “ecclesial massacre” in deposing 21 clergy at once (Encompass, April 2008)], I think this is not nearly as out-of-line as he seems to be:

Let us say that we elect members of local government, state government, and federal government to office that not only do their jobs well, but seem eager to find the most honest and authentic legislations, budgets, and proposals that they can. The vast majority of their political opponents leave the United States completely, taking up residency in governments all over the world that are more appealing to their political beliefs. And yet, a small core group remain and form a militia, arguing that they are free to do so under the 2nd Amendment. This militia is in operation since the mid-1970s. Then in 2003, the state of New Hampshire elects a gay man as governor. The militia cries foul, but the rest of the states consent and the election stands.

Now, if you were in this militia, what would you do? Begin messing things up, of course! You convince sympathetic governments to declare existing states foreign protectorates (such as in parts of California and Texas). You argue to the United Nations that your money-laundering, illegal arms-trading, grand theft, and acts of violence are justified because your local government is “corrupt” and has “lost its way” [NOTE: these are examples of state and federal crimes; I am in no way suggesting that the schismatics have committed these precise crimes; merely that they, unlike ECUSA have actually committed crimes/breaches of canon].

And now, when that president moves to remove governors who have abandoned their positions in state governments to become governors of the protectorates of Fort Worth and San Joaquin under the government of the Southern Cone, they cry foul again, as if they are now canonical scholars.

So here it is. I don’t really care what a person believes about sexual orientation, but there is nothing virtuous, orthodox, Anglican, or Christian about the behavior of the schismatics. It is disgusting to believe that the laws don’t apply to you; that your narrow interpretation of scripture and tradition means that not only are you above the law, but that the laws must be rewritten to suit only yourselves while rejecting your opponents.

I have heard non-schismatic conservatives (a different kind of sympathizer) suggest that “both sides are wrong” or that ECUSA had it coming based on its behavior (shouldn’t have worn that dress—you know that men can’t control themselves). This is the most preposterous suggestion of all. At least schismatics are willing to acknowledge that they are breaking the law as reverse
Robin Hoods (stealing from the poor to re-establish the wealthy). These sympathizers want you to feel bad about yourself and convince you to become fundamentalist. Instead of leaving the church for more sympathetic waters, they want to sully the waters so that nobody wants to swim.

The truth as I see it is this: if this were the government, the schismatics would be in jail and Nigeria, Uganda, and the Southern Cone would be on trial in the international criminal court. But this is religion, where theological freedom is tolerated only if you are fundamentalist.

Post #100!

Who knew it would take so long for me to come up with 100 things to say?