Sunday, March 25, 2007

Raw Journal from Project 12 Trip to New Orleans...

I really need to get this on the Project 12 site. But as I'm using a little Pentium laptop I purchased literally for one dollar, and which doesn't have my passwords on it, I'm posting to blue christian so at least it is accessible somewhere.

What follows are ALL my journal entries during the March 16 - March 25 trip of Project 12 which went from Indiana to Louisiana to Missouri. Forgive the unedited nature of these posts, wherein I at times did a number on the English language.


March 18 (visiting Hebron camp for men struggling with drug addiction, near Bloomington)

When facing people who are at war with addiction to drugs, the gospel seems much simpler. As the artwork of some of our P12 women on a mural we're leaving behind us illustrates, the addict is in a hole, or cave, or even a womb of evil. The men here understand the illustration immediately. A skeleton sits in the cave, snakes dangling from the roof over his head and more snakes (and perhaps fire?) around his feet. The snakes and cave and fire hold him enthralled in his addiction. He is cross-legged in the apathetic stupor of a living death.

The next figure, a skeletal one which is crawling down the cave -- which now appears a tunnel -- is all bone. And yet... is there half a face forming? The snakes hang down, but the figure seems determined to not stop moving.

Another figure, this one still crawling forward, is almost enclosed by the narrowness of the tunnel. His guts are scraping the tunnel's floor. Yet still he crawls, not giving up. And his body is enfleshed, he has a real face.

A final figure stands outside the tunnel... embraced. Who embraces him? Christ.

This is the gospel, if properly understood. No, the man did not save himself. Jesus was there all through the journey, and even at the start where the man seems lost in his drug-fogged universe of selfishness. As Alan, the man who runs this ministry and escaped a hell of living beneath bridges while he sold himself for drug money, told us, "Right before I tried to commmit suicide, I wrote in a journal I kept one sentence. 'I am the corruptor.' In other words, I knew that where some people are corrupted by others, I had become the person who did that corrupting. It didn't matter who the other person was."

And yet Alan was amazingly rescued from his drug-overdose attempt to kill himself. And slowly, painfully, he turned over his life to God. In turn, the narrow way of escape from corruption -- both his own and the addiction's -- was cleared by Jesus. Doubtless more than once, he was literally carried by Jesus, just as he was carried to a hospital for treatment after his suicide attempt.

Yet we all are in that tunnel. And that is the amazing thing I realized yesterday and today about the people -- addicts to a man -- we are staying with. They are the sane ones in an insane place, an addictive culture that sells addictions of one million kinds. These men do not complicate what is terribly, starkly, simple.

Jesus is Lord over addiction. Jesus is the closest friend they have. Jesus cannot be "shined on" with clever god-talk, or as one put it, "Don't move your lips until you move your hips."

The gospel is mysterious, yes. But rolling around in the mystery is only for those with the luxury to do so. For the addict, Jesus is "my all in all," everything. And only He can give meaning, and sanity, to a human life. Is life about drugs, sex, money, or (worst of all) "respectability"? All these are forms of addiction.

Christ is love, and liberates us so that we can serve others. As the men here say over and over -- and they move their hips to prove their lips mean it -- Christ has saved them from the pit, from that dark, terrible cave of addiction -- that they might also turn from self toward serving others out of their love for He Who Loved them first.




March 22 (New Orleans / Covington LA)

Thursday, March 22 2007 - P12 Journal

Today in Covington, the teams split up. Two small teams went to New Orleans to visit folks being helped through the Covington EFCA. The other team, which I was on, cleaned up a tornado-damaged area here in Covington. Tornado? I thought we were talking hurricane, as in Katrina, not tornado! Well, Katrina spun off some tornadoes, which happens in hurricanes sometimes. And this one hit a church member's very large forested yard and turned it into a tangled wreck of trees. The large pines, poplars, and (I think?) Eucalyptus trees had their tops torn off -- like an angry kid might do to a garden's blooms.

The twisting motion that must have torn these trees was evident in thier appearance. The trees that survived the onslaught were stripped of every limb except the top. The house, now sitting in what looks like a square of prarie in the midst of a forest, was designed with glass windows almost entirely making up its walls. We were told the house had been completely invisible from the road, encased in a beautiful thick woods. The glass thus made sense as a way to let alll that beauty come into the house, so to speak. But now ugly white curtains hang over the lower windows, due to way too much sunlight coming in during the day.

Anyway, I toted branches and lengths of log cut via chain saw. We piled these on a large "burn pile" (which, alas, wasn't burned while we were there). Having never run a chain saw before, I let the guys who had take that pleasure. But toward the end, I couldn't resist and took a whack (literally) myself. It was fun, but made me nervous due to the risk.

We are currently waiting for a meal, then later for Glenn to play his blues set for the church folks and those they serve meals.


Yesterday, I must tell of a woman I met. Her name was M---- , and her address (she showed it to me printed on a check) was --- -----.

How did I meet her. Hm.

You see, here I am in Covington. Now, as anyone who loves great books knows, this is the home of Walker Percy. And as anyone who especially loves great Christian writers knows, Walker Percy won the national book award back in the early 60s ('62 or '64 I think) and almost did it again except he got beat out by "To Kill a Mockingbird."

I didn't expect to be in Covington, or even that near it. We were supposed to be staying in New Orleans and with only two days of intense serving others going down, I was content just to be in the same state as Walker once lived in.

However, here I was in his *home town*!

Except... every time I asked someone if they knew who Walker Percy, their most famous citizen, was, I got a blank stare or apologetic shake of the head.

Oh fine!

But then, during the wrap up of the dinner last night, I spotted a lady who breathed old south. She was two people away from me, and then the person between us left. I came to realize by listening to others that she was a victim of Katrina that the church here has taken on.

She pulled out what looked to be a shot glass, and did something with some sort of drug concoction (apologizing to my friend for doing this in a church, and saying this in such a soft, beautiful southern drawl I couldn't resist any longer.

"Ma'am," sez I. "Do you happen to know anything about Walker Percy?"

Her eyes snapped to attention on my face. "I certainly did!" she said, with just the proper touch of assertive fact and gentile unconcern. "I knew Walker Percy when he was just a child... and before he was famous. You know, the best thing about Walker Percy was how when he became famous he didn't change one bit."

Then she told me about him appearing at her house before she was ready to recieve visitors, and how she'd been so embarrassed to meet Walker Percy on her porch wearing pajamas. "I still feel embarrassed to think about that," and as she said it, she held a hand to her face proving she meant it.

She talked about his home, but when I pressed her, she couldn't remember. "Maple?" she wondered. "I know it was down by the river, probably in old Covington."

She reminded me of Walker Percy's bookstore in Covington, one that had two stories. The second story was important because it was there Walker wrote most of his novels. Ah, yes, I had forgotten that though it was discussed in a biography of Percy I'd read.

She reminisced a little about him and his wife, Bunt, and their daughter. And she told me of the daughter and perhaps another daughter born late in the game who was deaf, and a son of that daughter who was deaf, but got an operation.

Walker, though...

She returned to Walker, but again reminded me that Walker was a good man because he was just Walker. "I didn't get much out of his novels, though I know many people must have, because he certainly was famous with those awards and all. The novel I remember was by his uncle -- William Percy [?] -- and I read that years and years ago, maybe as a child. It was called..." she paused, "Lanterns on the Levee." I laughed for joy that she knew such things, and told her I knew indeed the title but had not, as she, read the book.

Soon after, she left. And I felt I'd been blessed with just a touch of history and a little present from the past.

Manette left me thoughtful, however. I wondered how Walker would feel abut a large church of Covington folks of whom maybe only one (me) knew about his works or his residence in Covington, or his allusions to it (as Lost Cove, Tennessee) in at least one of his novels.

Manette said suddenly, not long before she left, "You know, he did get some people's feathers ruffled when he said that 'Covington is not a place.' They said how could he say that when he is such a lover of Covington? But I don't think he meant it that way at all."

History comes, and an author comes and makes his mark and goes and a hurricane comes and smashes the town and northern good evangelical folk come south and help those hurt by the storm, but they will go, and the town will change again and again, and Project 12 will go certainly without leaving much more than a small ripple here. But in the end, every act of love done, whether by Walker's words or our tiny efforts, will count eternally. The rest? It is, in the end, the dust we walk on as we live, before we too become that dust.


Jon's Journal - March 24, 23 2007 - P12

I'm mixing the days together because of all that happened. It basically was one long day for me, as I sleep badly to not at all on the road while traveling.

We started by going to New Orleans to clean neighborhoods and bear witness to those we came into contact with. This bearing witness is not the traditional hard-core "are you saved?" approach to any and all. Rather, we tried to exhibit Christ in our deeds, and if the neighbors asked us why, or engaged us in conversation, we would slowly unpack our purpose to them.

New Orleans doesn't look like a town that has been bombed. And in fact, the French Quarter seems to be bustling. (We visited it via a quick drive-through as we left the city later.) But the areas we were in, and some others we saw that were even in worse shape, showed their damage first and foremost by the fact that many of the buildings were abandoned. The dirty thin line where the flood waters stopped on the buildings was visible in many areas.

We gathered with many other teams in front of a large church that looked as if it had until Katrina been a vibrant one (I have photos of this building and rally.) But the front of the building was cracked in numerous places, and later as I looked harder at it I suddenly noticed that the entire rear third of the roof had collapsed into the building itself. It is obviously a candidate for demotion, but two years later it still stands there forlorn.

We gathered the tools provided for us (not enough tools, it turned out, esp. when one of the brooms broke). And off we went down the streets assigned each team. Our team seemed quickly to get off on a street of our own, and the afore-mentioned tool problem slowed us considerably. The neighbors were friendly, even the guys who I suspect we interrupted in the midst of some sort of street business. The houses on the street we were on, it turned out, had been very little directly affected by the flood. But they were affected by the general break-down of services in New Orleans, their own inability to get around beyond their neighborhood, and the departure of so many as time went on.

After a time, Glenn, Curt, and I took off one one street while a bigger group of P12ers was "borrowed" for brick removal from a demo site. Our little group walked over to a main thoroughfare, Simon (or Simone?) Blvd. The buildings there gave way to a large FEMA trailer park, which we began cleaning before realizing that our one remaining garbage bag would be full within five minutes if we continued. It turned out we filled it quickly anyway, leaving it for city disposal crews.

At that point, we needed to get back to our gathering point. We saw many buildings with the tell-tale water mark (about three or four feet off the ground) and the buckling walls gave evidence of its effects on them. I stuck my head into one building where clothing littered its stairway and entrance, where two large French-style doors opened onto the street as if begging someone to help. (photo)

I took a few shots, then we moved on just in time. About a third of a block later, we turned to see two men leaving the building in haste. It appeared someone had found use for the abandoned building after all.

Christians have done well with Katrina. In fact, I suspect my friend Joe Paskewich is right in noting that Christians have sucked up a ton of the slack FEMA, other government agencies, and the insurance companies left behind. My own cynical side wonders if those entities are actually counting on a continued Christian response to help them cover over their errors / apathy.

But the Church looks good on this one. The Southern Baptists have done very well. The AG has done well. The Ev. Free Church of America (who we worked with) has done very well. And so have many others.

I had (and probably always will have) my doubts and reservations about just how the American Church does its charity works. But sometimes, the issue is not as much about them as it is about me... and this is likely one of those times.


After New Orleans, we got home way later than we'd hoped. In short, we were fried, and I think I was esp. so (I just can't sleep!). But I did (self-congratulatory bragging, I might as well admit to it) drive a fair amount of the way here. Oh, and where is here? Well, we're in Missouri, near Doniphan in the building hand-built by JPUSAs at a farm we once owned -- a Christian couple now owns it. I'll post pictures at some point.


Today, March 25, I asked most of the P12ers what element (or set of elements) in nature speaks to them most personally about God, and/or which God speaks most clearly to each of them. Here were their short responses:

Damian: stars in the sky
Marcos: people, esp. the ones who good things for no apparent reason.
Clove: nature's smells and light.
Jon: insects & mountains.
Tyler: skyscrapers - man's use of God's materials.
Rebecca: off the top of my head... rain.
Glenn: the sky.
Aernie: I went from complete and utter unbelief and atheism to absolute belief in God by looking at grass and trees.
Brian: The air -- encompassing every physical thing.
Curt: the sky.
Bethany: even a weed has life, takes root in things, something so apparently meaningless really does have meaning and purpose.
Gordon: The vastness of nature - stars, sky, ocean. Kitten in my lap is like the tenderness of God.
Lyle: Canoe trips where I encounter wild rivers, others bodies of water, where few people are.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rejected! James Dobson pressure to force NAE veep's resignation over global warming is ignored

In what possibly may be a sign that the Christian Right's grip on evangelicalism is weakening, National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Vice President of governmental affairs Richard Cizik survived an attempt by James Dobson and two dozen other CR leaders to have him ousted from his position. The issue at hand? Cizik's public support for "creation care" as part of being an evangelical Christian, coupled with his insistence that global warming is fact, not fiction. This storm has been brewing since at least early January, as the NAE's activism re global warming went public.

On March 1, 2007, James Dobson (possibly the most powerful leader in the Christian Right, and head of Focus on the Family), released a letter urging the NAE to either silence Cizik on global warming or cause his resignation. Instead, it appears Mr. Dobson has gone too far this time. After the March 8 NAE board meeting following the letter's release, NAE President Leith Anderson reaffirmed Cizik's work and environmental emphasis as being part of the NAE's ongoing mission.

Dobson's letter claimed that Cizik is not speaking for evangelicals on global warming, and has no expertise (and by extension, said Dobson, neither does the NAE). That argument seems a bit disingenuous to this camper, esp. as Dobson and his friends aren't afraid to dismiss human-caused global warming.

Ciziks' response, according to the Washington Post, is simple: "I speak with a voice that is authentically evangelical on all the issues, from religious freedom around the world to compassion for the poor [to] ending oppression in Darfur -- and yes, creation care is one of those issues."

A particularly low blow in Dobson's letter came with this paragraph:

Mr. Cizik not only believes that global warming is an indisputable fact, but he also holds related views that he has not been willing to reveal to the membership at large. In an alarming speech he delivered to the World Bank in May of 2006, he said: “I’d like to take on the population issue, but in my community global warming is the third rail issue. I’ve touched the third rail but still have a job. And I’ll still have a job after my talk here today. But population is a much more dangerous issue to touch. We need to confront population control and we can -- we’re not Roman Catholics, after all, but it’s too hot to handle now.” We ask, how is population control going to be achieved if not by promoting abortion, the distribution of condoms to the young, and, even by infanticide in China and elsewhere? Is this where Richard Cizik would lead us?
Conspiracy theory mongering aside (ooooo! the World Bank!).... uh, no.

Years ago, I read James Dobson's newsletter diatribe about a secret homosexual agenda to "change" or kill straight males (quoting from a loony gay publication that could hardly be said to represent mainstream gay culture). While I maintain the consistent historical and theological view on homosexuality, I immediately knew that bit was nonsense and designed to make Dobson's base get frantic. I suspect it worked. Likewise, the above paragraph is a series of misleading misinformative sentences with practically no logic whatever.

Since when did population control equate with abortion and infanticide? Are we saying now that any pro-life Christian (or non-Christian) must as a matter of principle accept the idea that the exponential increase of humankind on this planet is God's will, and a good thing? I think that idea is ludicrous enough. But worse, Dobson and company seem to make the unwarranted and mischievous claim that any attempt at addressing population control -- to teach other human beings about planning pregnancies, taking precautions against sexually transmitted diseases, and understanding the global impact of population growth -- will to lead to the murder of the unborn. That, folks, is a non-sequitor. It does not follow that abortion is the only way, or even one way, to control population growth. Yes, China has used abortion that way. But to make the charge that Richard Cizik's concern over population growth will lead to the NAE's thirty million members supporting abortion is unprincipled, unethical, and unscriptural.

This is why the Christian Right is losing steam. And though the NAE still, for instance, supports "the war on terror" (whatever the heck "the war on terror" means this week), its movement away from the Christian Right on some issues is a positive and welcome sign.

Finally, I would end by quoting Dobson again in what to me was the strangest paragraph in his long letter. In short, he seems to completely miss the point of the article he in turn quotes:

Finally, Cizik’s disturbing views seem to be contributing to growing confusion about the very term, “evangelical.” As a recent USA Today article notes: “Evangelical was the label of choice of Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality. Now the word may be losing its moorings, sliding toward the same linguistic demise that “fundamentalist” met decades ago because it has been misunderstood, misappropriated and maligned.” We believe some of that misunderstanding about evangelicalism and its “conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality” can be laid at Richard Cizik’s door.

Might I suggest it isn't Cizik's viewpoint that is causing confusion. It is yours, Mr. Dobson. The article you quote makes a wild assertion without basis. Namely, that evangelicalism has always been linked with conservative politics. It has not been so linked, as evangelicals such as Stan Grenz, Mark Hatfield, Jimmy Carter, Clarence Jordan, Jim Wallis, Phil Yancy, Ron Sider, and organizations such as Evangelicals for Social Action, Christians for Biblical Equality, and even my home church, Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church, show.

Further, the word "evangelical" has become a cultural and political word almost emptied of its theological meaning. The reason for this, first and foremost, is the confusion of faith in Jesus Christ with that nationalism which lies at the root of the Christian Right's worldview. This cannot be over-emphasized. The word evangelical not only may be replaced -- it certainly will be by an increasing majority of believers, just as "fundamentalism" was replaced by Carl Henry, Harold Okenga, and others many years ago. Again, the main reason for this is the word's devaluation and overidentification with and by the Christian Right.

I wish it wasn't so. I'm one of those who love the word for what it used to mean, much like the word "gay" used to have a specific meaning now lost yet not reproduced by any replacement word. But alas... the die is cast, I'm afraid. And this mess is prime evidence of why the word "evangelical" is doomed.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ann Coulter at "Reclaiming America for Christ" Conference

Ann Coulter, whose "fags" comments re John Edwards drew my attention some days ago, turns out to not only be a darling of the Right, but also of the Christian Right. For instance, Coulter addressed Christian Right leader D. James Kennedy's "Reclaiming America for Christ Conference" one day after that infamous comment. Her topic? "The World According to Ann Coulter." She has spoken at other Kennedy-sponsored conferences as well.

I'd really like to know what she said at this conference? Was there more gay-hating rhetoric presented in the alleged form of humor? And at what other Christian Right functions has Ann Coulter appeared? Well, on James Dobson's radio program. And her comments there, according to Christian blogger Bruce Gourley, confirm what we all knew (well, Gourley's tongue in cheek summation, anyway): "Jesus is really nothing more than a godless liberal."

She's also been featured at functions by pastor Rod Parsley.

Well, I must do some writing / research not connected with this blog. At least, not connected yet. Who knows? Meanwhile, maybe readers can help me build a list of more CR leaders' linkages with Ann Coulter.

Henri Nouwen's Reminder to We Who are Easily Depressed

Our Unique Call
by Henri Nouwen

So many terrible things happen every day that we start wondering whether the few things we do ourselves make any sense. When people are starving only a few thousand miles away, when wars are raging close to our borders, when countless people in our own cities have no homes to live in, our own activities look futile. Such considerations, however, can paralyse us and depress us.

Here the word call becomes important. We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Wendi Kaiser on my Wife Carol Trott's 30 x 2 Birthday

I am singularly blessed to be married to Carol Elaine Durkin Trott. Everything is political, as someone once said, and my marriage is incredibly so for me. That is, being married to someone such as Carol has helped shape my ideas on mutuality in marriage, feminism, and love itself (which I believe radically informs -- or should inform -- any Jesus-centered political ideas). It isn't that Carol herself "preaches" Jesus feminism, egalitarianism, or politics. Her preaching is done via her actions and ultimately her very person. She embodies humanity and empowered love to me. That syrup aside (tasty!), we had a big surprise party for Carol's, uh, thirty times two birthday a few days ago. All sorts of friends and family pitched in to make it something she later said made it her best birthday ever. Below is our friend-down-the-hall Wendi Kaiser's offering for the party, which she read aloud. I've inserted a few pictures of Carol just for fun.

It Takes a Life, to Get a Life
by Wendi Kaiser for Carol Trott's Birthday

Carol has been my friend since September, 1971 when I moved into the Jesus People Prospect House in Milwaukee. We were madcap Jesus Girls together in our long skirts shouldering Bible bags, passing out Street Level newspapers on the main streets of Milwaukee or hanging out at the Jesus Christ Powerhouse for classes and coffeehouse nights. Carol practically glowed she was so spiritually bright in those days. We had to hold her strings or she would have floated away! Carol was a real inspiration to this struggling camper.

Carol street-witnessing to a skeptical Finn in the early '70s.

Carol went with the European traveling team in 1972 and became a part of the Lonesome Stone Musical outreach and was a member of the founding group for the Greenbelt Festival. She married. I married. We lost sight of each other and then through Cornerstone Festival our paths intersected again.

After years of trying valiantly to keep her troubled marriage together in Detroit, she moved into JPUSA as a single mom with her twin sons. What a blessing! Carol was everywhere with her laugh and energy. This did not go unnoticed by another lonely soul who was feeling the sorrow of his own recent divorce. Over the months, Jon and Carol became a couple and our friendship was moved to the next level as Glenn and I became their engagement mentors.

Two too many mullets; Carol and Jon on Chicago lake front in 1989,
Carol and Jon's wedding invitation photo (c) Terry Wheeler

We had many adventures together supporting Jon and Carol as they blended their families, going on vacations together, planning a wedding, etc. Carol always had the energy of at least 2 people! Just days before the wedding we faced her wedding dress disaster. Have you ever watched Sleeping Beauty where the Fairy Godmothers’ try to make a birthday dress for Beauty without using magic? I remade her wedding dress suit! I did have to talk her out of wearing 2 girdles at her wedding, though! Hmm? I threatened to tell all at the reception. I guess I have tonight!

Carol pitched right into family life and was a wonderful addition to the extended Trott family out West and East. I prayed with her through many a late night Cornerstone magazine deadline we called “the burn”. The years seemed like a whirl and before we knew it our children were graduating.

Carol protesting evictions and price-outs of our neighborhood's poor by gentrifiers.
Her then-future husband (me) made the sign.

Ah, the golden years of retirement, no?! God calls Carol to work fulltime at CCO’s Leland House Project with troubled families. She’s right there in the thick of drug addicts, needy children and struggling families. Annually, she has become the Christmas Elf Herself for the Leland House families. She tirelessly scolds, prayers with and encourages her clients.

Then we walked through the shadow of the Valley of Death as Carol faced not one but two life threatening cancers in 1 year! She showed us how to survive surgery, chemo and cancer with style and humor! Her Christmas photos with Jon sharing their baldness and wigs will go down in Swedish Covenant Hospital history. Ask her about it! I do hope she has saved the photos as they are truly a family heirloom! [Yes, we did... here are the three photos in question! - JT]

Carol wearing wig after chemo for cancer, 2000.

Carol and Jon show off their bald heads.

Jon tries it on for size.

Carol was an inspiration to her son, Chris during his long treatment for Hepatitis C. She beamed during Trevor and Hannah’s engagement and wedding. She has made every family occasion and holiday special for her daughters, Tamzen and Tabitha and her sons, Chris and Trevor. She always remembers everyone’s birthdays and she is the 2nd floor card dealer! She also keeps a handy complement of kitchen and cooking supplies. If you need it, Carol has it! Of course, she is the undisputed Apple Pie Queen.

Now, she is turning 60 and still has more energy than most 30 year olds! Whether it is sewing a quilt for Christmas, making Christmas happen for 14 + needy families, baking apple pies for the masses, doing weekly water aerobics at Arai or taming a garden at C-stone Farm. She’s ready and willing! Whew!

She has been my friend throughout the years and I am a much better person for having her in my life. Here’s looking at you, Carol!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

So what candidate will the Christian Right back?

Sure, like I care, right?

Well, actually I do a little. I want to see, for one thing, how hypocritical this can get. As a number of people have pointed out re the 2008 presidential hopefuls, for instance, this bit of math seems startling:

Hillary Clinton - married once.
Barach Obama - married once.
John Edwards - married once.
And just for fun...
Al Gore - married once (but not running... so far).

Then we have:
Rudolph Giuliani - married three times.
John McCain - married two times.
Mitt Romney - married once (his Mormonism won't play well with the CR, though).
Newt Gingrich - married three times. (Nonetheless, he's apparently throwing his hat into the presidential ring.)

So... counting Al Gore who probably isn't running (but maybe should?) and Newt who probably is running (but maybe shouldn't?), the totals look like this:

Democrats = 4 candidates = 4 marriages.
Republicans = 4 candidates = 9 marriages (and in Gingrich's confession to evangelical guru James Dobson, he also confessed to an affair during the Bill Clinton scandal!)

A subtext in this is, of course, who is backing who. McCain is disgusted with Dobson, and Dobson has said basically he won't vote for McCain. So one is left wondering if Dobson is attempting to "rehabilitate" Gingrich as his own choice for the Republican nomination. Don't know... but it is nifty to note that though Giuliani (as Land claims) is not only of dubious character and pro-gun control, Gingrich will likely join McCain as pro-NRA. Guns are a Freudian representation of what? Oh... morality! I forgot.

But will other Christian Right spokesmen split their voting block up between Newt Gingrich and, as the Southern Baptists' Richard Land seems to have done, McCain? What would be truly fascinating is if Giuliani holds onto his current lead in early polls, and the Christian Right has to decide between him and whoever the Democrats nominate. Because here's the thing... not to back someone means the Christian Right is no longer a major player in the power wars. And after Dubya's success, largely because of them, I suspect the CR just won't be able to take the road of non-involvement.

This could be a season where all sorts of things, morally and otherwise, become clear.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

"Fag" Comment by Ann Coulter: Gee, We Hope this is Goodbye... But Don't Count on It

Ann Coulter's perky version of fascism again walked the GOP runway in "fag" comments made about, of all people, John Edwards.

Here's the video:

John Edwards, who ran as Veep candidate with John Kerry, may not be an exciting candidate. He's almost too sincere. But his personal world makes him one of the more family-friendly candidates in either party. He, like Al Gore, is a man with a solid marriage and family, and more than his share of sorrows (his 16 year old son in 1996 died in a car crash). Coulter's rant -- and the applause for it -- tell us not about Edwards, but the speaker and her faithful audience. After all, she's done this before earlier similar comments made about Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton (a closet lesbian, according to Coulter).

I demand that every Christian Right spokesperson reject Coulter's comments on Edwards -- as well as the Clintons and Gore -- and also demand she never be asked back to any GOP or CPAC function. But I'm not holding my breath. She was condemned before for such comments, then invited back next time as though nothing happened. Why? Well, I have my opinion.

Coulter's words betray the absolute viciousness of her rhetoric. The right wing is currently as mean (and lying) as the Snake, and they feed on this rhetoric. Show me progressive pundits (other than bloggers, who don't -- wink, wink, nudge, nudge -- count) who say anything remotely as disgusting as this! These comments drew applause from her audience because there is a vocabulary of hate and derision shaping their common worldview.

In this case, it is rooted in their not viewing homosexuals as human beings. In great contrast, a child of Jesus is to view her or his homosexual neighbor as a fellow traveler in need (as is the believer!) of the Lord's compassion, and whose sins (such as they be) do not usually begin or end with homosexuality.

But at bottom this isn't even about homosexuality. It is about xenophobia, exploiting the irrational fear of the other to create political power and consensus. It is fascism. It is anti-christ.

-=-=-=- + -=-=-=-

And an afterthought:

I recommend three movies in that regard for those who might want to see if I'm "over the top" on seeing links between the Right's rhetoric and fascist rhetoric: The Architecture of Doom traces connections between Fascist art and architecture and fascist philosophy, and its low-key tone makes links between Nazi ideas of beauty and their violent way of enforcing that beauty all the more shocking. Language Does Not Lie uses the real-life diary of Victor Klemperer, who wrote down Nazi words and phrases as they appeared on billboards, posters, newspapers, and documents. This took place while Klemperer lived in fear of his life in Dresden during the war (he escaped death only because of allied firebombing of that city the day before he was to go to the gas chambers). Finally, there are a few good movies on Hitler, but The Empty Mirror's surreal premise somehow works: (Hitler survives WWII and spends the entire movie walking around in what appears to be an underground bunker, talking alternately to himself and to other characters from Goering to Sigmund Freud). The theme of the movie is simple: Hitler is continually viewing film (and sometimes photos) of his time in power. His own unspoken question -- "Who was I / am I?" -- becomes intertwined with the film images with disturbing results.

So, am I Coulterizing Coulter by calling her rhetoric fascist? I'd like to hear your opinions.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Richard Land and the Christian Right (Good Luck with that, GOP)

I really do not enjoy seeing (or hearing) the name Richard Land. Nothing against the man himself, mind you. But whenever he opens his mouth, something painful for the rest of us -- Christian or not -- seems to emerge.

This time around, it is his comments on Rudi Giuliani's two divorces that caught my eye.

First, let me say I have no pony in the Republican race. I make this clear to show I don't care who the winner in that race is, as long as they don't end up in the White House.

Second, let me say I suspect Giuliani -- despite his moral shading -- is actually the Republicans' best hope. So I should probably just keep quiet and laugh to myself over the Repubs being saddled with the Christian Right. (Good luck with that in 2008!)

Third, I'm confident that nothing I say will affect any election anywhere. So here we go...

Richard Land dissed Giuliani on "character issues" in an interview with the Associated Press (CNN). His comments addressed Giuliani's messy second divorce in 2000 and resultant familial difficulties, some of which are playing out more publicly as the presidential primary campaign heats up.

"I mean, this is divorce on steroids. To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That's rough. I think that's going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren't pro-choice and pro-gun control."

I love the last bit, where in what is a non-sequitor, Land switches from divorce to abortion to that most hideous of all moral sins, being pro-gun control! I don't know exactly how Land sorts that out -- I don't recall guns in the Bible but maybe it is in the original Greek or something. What I also thought nice frosting was Land's comments about John McCain, who he apparently is backing. Unfortunately, McCain also has a divorce in his background. But --

"When you're a war hero [like McCain], you have less to prove on the character front."

Does that mean the Christian Right is going to back McCain after all, despite James Dobson (of Focus on the Family) dissing McCain in no uncertain terms? "I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," said Dobson in January of this year.

Dang! Someone from the NRA needs to give Jim a call!

ABC Nightline's Report on Rick Warren:

Rick Warren is one of those Church Growth guys. But ABC's Nightline tonight did a lame job of covering Warren, who is in my book probably the most interesting leader among 'megachurch' types. Warren, after all, has gotten involved in the African AIDS crisis. He's also taken a lot of the money from his book and done cool things for someone other than Rick Warren. (I wasn't bowled over by the book myself, but we did use it here at JPUSA and it was a good conversation starter.)

ABC, however, found a discussion on music styles (new vs. old) the centerpiece for their coverage. Sigh. Really would have enjoyed hearing Warren speak on anything from AIDS to Bush to Ted Haggard's fall (and what it means to, for, and about evangelicals). Instead, we endured a shallow discussion about music and Warren's alleged theological similarities with Joel Olsteen. Uh, no.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Carol on Being a Breast Cancer Survivor

(Above: Carol some years back visiting my hometown of Fort Benton, Montana.)

March is breast cancer awareness month. That isn't lost on my wife and I, as we encountered breast cancer. My wife has been in remission for six or seven years, but neither of us will forget that time... ever. Below is an interview I've just done with my Carol about her experience... which of course is really both of our experience.

Carol, what events led to you first suspecting you had breast cancer?

Come on honey.... I'm going to tell everyone on your blog that you found the lump??!! [Guess so, but we'll not go into detail! -- Jon] I did have also have a mamogram scheduled within a couple weeks, when the lump was found. It was seen on the mamogram too.

How did you find out your suspicion was true?

As I said, with the mammogram. This was in the year 2000.

What was the initial diagnosis?

I was in the 2nd stage w/ an aggressive sort of cancer.

If you felt afraid (which seems likely), how did you experience that fear?

I was more aggravated. I was also going through treatments for thyroid cancer, which I had surgery for a few months before my breast cancer. I thought like this: "Now, I have another cancer!" (There was no link between the two cancers that the doctors found.) I experienced some fear, but when I went through those times, I gave it back to God. I had to do that different times.

What treatments for the cancer did you undergo?

For my breast cancer I had a lumpectomy, months of 2 different kinds of chemo, and radiation treatments. To help prevent recurrence, I took Tamoxifin for 5 years.

Which treatment was the hardest?

One of my chemos brought my white blood count down too far, and I had to stop for a while. The next chemo caused some permanent damage to a couple of my fingers, because during the treatment I touched very hot clothes from dryers. I should have been much more careful. My radiation left a lot of scar tissue, which was often (and still is sometimes) painful.

Did some people give you bad advice? If so, what was it?

Some people told me to not do chemo, to take shark cartilage; to just eat health food; one person said that chemo was sin, that I should just trust God. I believe that chemo and treatments given us by science are also of and from God.

How did your family react?

My husband was scared. He pulled up all kinds of stuff off the internet, to understand what I was going through. My mother became a real prayer warrior. I don't think that my kids were overly worried, because I didn't act real sick, or like I was going to die. I knew that I had good possibilities to get through it.

Who helped you in dealing with your cancer?

My husband the most. [I paid her to say that! - Jon] Family and friends. My church and people prayed for me tons. I had great doctors at Swedish Covenant Hospital, I was blessed.

How did your faith aid you in coping with cancer?

Totally! I managed to put my life into God's hands and was able to trust Him with my life. It helped me to have a pretty positive attitude throughout my cancers. It makes all the difference in the world. If you know that this isn't the only life that matters, that we have an eternal life to look forward to, it helps. In other words, worse case scenario, you die and go to heaven, because of faith in Christ Jesus.

Had you taken precautions, such as breast self-checks and annual mammograms, before your cancer?

I have done yearly mammograms every year. Breast self-checks I was not ever real good at.

If you had good advice for other women, what would that advice be?

Have a mammogram every year. Check for lumps, and put your life into God's hands. He is real and we can trust in Him! Also, get a lot of people to pray for you. I am now 6 years in remission and cancer free.


National Breast Cancer Awareness Month home site.
Early Detection Signs and how to self check! from N'tl Breast Cancer Foundation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

JPUSA, Helen Shiller, and Uptown: One Historical Link

A few years back... like maybe ten or twelve?... I wrote a history of Jesus People USA. The whole thing is exciting only if you really want a multi-part, fairly extensive, and of course somewhat biased (heck, I *live* here!) take on JPUSA.

But in light of the just-passed election, and of some pretty badly done revisionist history done lately of Uptown and Helen Shiller and even JPUSA ... I offer part 7 (or "Action--Social and Political, part 1) and part 8 ("Action--Social and Politicial, part 2) of my history of our life together at JPUSA, "Life's Lessons."

I am a bit embarrassed by how earnest I sound in these recountings of our intentional community's rise toward greater social consciousness. But at the same time, it does offer some interesting side notes and maybe even a little illumination on how a bunch of mostly a-political Jesus freaks got pulled in -- mostly against their will! -- to the socio-political cauldron of Chicago's Uptown and 46th Ward.

The Cut: Female Genital Mutilation

International Women's Day is coming up this March 8, and after being invited to do so by a representative of the Population Council, I am reprinting a poem which may seem a tragic way to begin any celebration.

The poem "The Cut" comes from Population Council staff member and women's health activist Maryam Sheikh Abdi. She unflinchingly describes her own subjection to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). FGM/C, putting it starkly, is the slicing off and (only sometimes) sewing up of external female genitalia for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons. Putting it even more bluntly, FGM/C removes any or all of the clitoris, outer labia, and / or inner labia. Justifications for cutting include religious obligation, as many community members articulated the belief that Islam requires FGM/C (a "fact" contested by many if not most Islamic scholars). Christianity is also occasionally (and falsely) connected with these practices.

But here is Ms. Abdi's poem.

The Cut

I was only six years old
when they led me to the bush.
Too young to know what it all entailed,
I walked lazily towards the waiting women.

Deep within me was the desire to be cut,
as pain was my destiny:
it is the burden of femininity,
so I was told.
Still, I was scared to death . . .
but I was not to raise an alarm.

The women talked in low tones,
each trying to do her tasks the best.
There was the torso holder
she had to be strong to hold you down.
Legs and hands each had their woman,
who needed to know her task
lest you free yourself and flee for life.

The cutting began with the eldest girl
and on went the list.
Known to be timid, I was the last among the six.
I shivered and shook all over;
butterflies beat madly in my stomach.
I wanted to vomit, the waiting was long,
the expectation of pain too sharp,
but I had to wait my turn.
My heart pounded, my ears blocked;
the only sound I understood
was the wails from the girls,
for that was my destiny as well.

Finally it was my turn, and one of the women
winked at me:
Come here, girl, she said, smiling unkindly.
You won’t be the first nor the last,
but you have only this once to prove you are brave!

She stripped me naked. I got goose pimples.
A cold wind blew, and it sent warning signs
all over me. I choked, and my head
went round in circles as I was led.

Obediently, I sat between the legs of the woman
who would hold my upper abdomen,
and each of the other four women grasped my legs and hands.
I was stretched apart and each limb firmly held.
And under the shade of a tree . . .
The cutter begun her work . . .
the pain . . . is so vivid to this day,
decades after it was done.
God, it was awful!

I cried and wailed until I could cry no more.
My voice grew hoarse, the cries could not come out,
I wriggled as the excruciating pain ate into my tender flesh.
Hold her down! cried the cursed cutter,
and the biggest female jumbo sat on my chest.
I could not breathe, but there was nobody
to listen to me.
Then my cries died down, and everything was dark.
As I drifted, I could hear the women laughing,
joking at my cowardice.

It must have been hours later when I woke up
to the most horrendous reality.
The agonizing pain was unbearable!
It was eating into me, every inch of my girlish body was aching.
The women kept exchanging glances
and talked loudly of how I would go down in history,
to be such a coward, until I fainted in the process.
Allahu Akbar! they exclaimed as they criticized me.

I looked down at my self and got a slap across my face.
Don’t look, you coward, came the cutter’s words;
then she ordered the women to pour hot sand on my cut genitals.
My precious blood gushed out and foamed.
Open up, snarled the jumbo woman, as she poured the sand on me.
Nothing they did eased the pain.

Ha! How will you give birth? taunted the one with the smile.
I was shaking and biting my lower lip.
I kept moving front, back and sideways as I writhed in pain.
This one will just shame me! cried the cutter.
Look how far she has moved, how will she heal?
My sister was embarrassed, but I could see pain in her eyes . . .
maybe she was recalling her own ordeal.
She pulled me quickly back to the shed.

The blood oozed and flowed. Scavenger birds
were moving in circles and perching on nearby trees.
Ish ish, the women shooed the birds.
All this time the pain kept coming in waves,
each wave more pronounced than the one before it.

The women stood us up but warned us not to move our legs apart.
They scrubbed the bloody sand off our thighs and small buttocks,
then sat us back down.
A hole was dug,
malmal, the stick herb, was pounded;
The ropes for tying our legs were ready.
Charcoal was brought and put in the hole,
where there was dried donkey waste and many herbs—these were the cutter’s paraphernalia.

The herbs were placed on the charcoal and
we were ordered to sit on the hole.
As I sat with smoke rising around me,
I could hear the blood dropping on the charcoal,
and more smoke rose.
The pain was somehow dwindling but I felt weak
and nauseated.
Maybe she is losing blood? my sister asked worriedly.
No, no. It will stop once I place the herbs, cried the cutter impatiently.

The malmal was pasted where my severed vaginal lips had been,
and then I was tied from my thighs to my toes
with very strong ropes from camel hide.
A long stick was brought and the women took turns
showing us how to walk, sit and stand up.
They told us not to bend or move apart our legs—
This will make you heal faster, they said,
but it was meant to seal up that place.

The drop of the first urine,
more burning than the aftermath of the razor,
passed slowly, bit by bit,
one drop after another drop,
while I lay on my side.
There was no washing, no drying,
and the burning kept on for hours later.
But there was no stool . . .
at least, I don’t remember.

For the next month this was my routine.
There was no feeding on anything with oil,
or anything with vegetables or meat.
Only milk and ugali formed my daily ration.
I was given only sips of water:
This avoids "wetting" the wound and delaying healing, they said.

We would stay in the bush the whole day.
The journey from the bush back home began around four and ended sometimes at seven.
All this time we had to face the heat
and bare-footedly slide towards home . . .
with no water, of course.
We were not to bend if a thorn stuck us,
never to call for help loudly
as this would "open" us up and the cutter
would be called again.
Everything was about scary do’s and don’ts.

I stayed on with the other five
for the next four weeks. None of us bathed;
lice developed between the ropes and our skin,
biting and itching the whole day and night.
There was no way to remove them,
at least not until we healed.

The river was only a kilometer away.
Every morning the breeze carried the sweet scent of its waters to us,
making our thirst more real.

The day the cutter was called back
each of us shivered and prayed silently,
each hoping we had healed and there would be no cutting again.
Thank God we were all done
except one unlucky girl
who had to undergo it all again,
and took months to heal.

Our heads were shaved clean.
The ropes untied, lice dropped at last.
We were showered and oiled,
but most important was the drinking of water.
I drank until my stomach was full,
but the mouth and throat yearned for more.

It was over.
All over my thighs were marks from the ropes,
dotted with patches from the lice wounds.
Now I was to look after myself,
to ensure that everything remained intact
until the day I married

Maryam Sheikh Abdi