Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Christian Thinker Critiques Obama and McCain on Foreign Policy vs. "American Exceptionalism"

(Is the poster at left a Republican or Democratic advertisement? It is... Republican, or at least from a Republican blog, but could just as well have been Democratic. The real question: is it deeply Christian, or Christian at all?)

have used Uncommon Sense, a book by Charles Strohmer and his co-author John Peck, in our Project 12 Discipleship School. Charles has a refreshingly third-way voice in many issues, and in a recent article "The Upstart or the Maverick: Who Will Make the Wiser Foreign Policy President" he offers some interesting reflections.

This fairly long swath is particularly to the point:

Although both candidates profess Christianity, the world is unlikely to see much from either candidate that resembles what, in Jesus and Politics, political theorist Alan Storkey in his Jesus and Politics calls the power of resurrection politics, with its shocking redemptivity. We might hope to feel confident that either president’s foreign policies will at least arise from wisdom-based norms – norms rooted not in political ideologies but in the common ground interests and values shared by the human family as a whole before any distinctions are made about religion or about who is religious and who is not. If there is anything like an ideal described in the Bible for the practice of international relations in this world, this would be the one. It is unlikely, however, that either a McCain or an Obama foreign policy will be organized around it.

The reason? Either man as president will be strongly “encouraged” at home to adhere to foreign policy choices rooted in American exceptionalism – the two-hundred-year-old belief of Americans that their country was specially founded by God to be a city on a hill, a light shining in the darkness. This ultimate religious belief has both religious and secular outlets. The former, in the perennial debate about whether America is a Christian nation, albeit with a mission to the world like that of ancient Israel. The latter, in what critics call civil religion, in which even people who don’t believe in God, or who don’t want a religious state, nevertheless have a “faith” for believing in, and for expressing the political interests of, American “exceptionalism.” There is much ongoing, often heated, public debate in these areas from both Christians and others.

But whatever the competing arguments, it will be geopolitically impossible for either president to ignore the interests of this demanding ideological orientation without committing political suicide at home. Of course, some of those interests are good for the world, and are so recognized and welcomed. A problem arises, however, when absolutized interests of American exceptionalism drive Washington’s foreign policy decision making. You will see this played out, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly, whenever America’s national interests become the alpha and omega of Washington’s engagement with any other capital.

So what does Strohmer think about each contender in light of both candidates' vulnerability to this thread of American exceptionalism (what I on this blog have referred to simply as Nationalism, American-style -- an idea rooted in the theology of "British Israelism" among other things)?

Strohmer's critique examines advisors to each candidate and notes that McCain's campaign is laced with the very neo-cons who've advised President Bush in his disastrous (my word, not Strohmer's) two terms. Obama fares better, as his advisors seem more open to truly new avenues of discourse. In addition, creating a "League of Democracies," which McCain mentioned again in the first Presidential Debate (well after Strohmer's article was published), is touched on at length by Strohmer:

Another revealing clue comes from McCain’s strong support for a League of Democracies. This proposed new international body, to be created and led by the United States, is the brainchild of leading Americans across the political spectrum who have learned many hard lessons about democracy promotion via Bush unilateralism and militarism, but who nevertheless believe that democracy promotion around the world by the United States must continue. The idea first received serious public airing in a May 2004 Washington Post op-ed piece by Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, who called it an Alliance of Democracies.

Strohmer goes on to note that this idea basically negates the participation of non-western, non-democratic nations and leaves America with itself as the center of the governmental universe. His language, of course, is far less loaded than mine. Yet he does note that even the most gentle voices in favor of the League of Democracies are laced with the same American exceptionalism (in BlueChristian speak, "Rabid American Nationalism") as those of a more militaristic nature. Perhaps unsuprisingly then, he notes that few allies of America -- even those most traditional -- are excited by the League concept. But John McCain remains so, provoking this from Strohmer:

Question. If the league is a non-starter for America’s biggest allies, why has McCain said that one of the first things he will do if elected is call for a summit of the world’s democracies to start the process of creating it? And what kind of message would “sorry, but you’re not included” send to countries such as Russia, China, and most of the Middle East, from whom America needs a huge amount of international cooperation?

Which brings Barack Obama into the mix. While giving what I at least sense is a more positive review of Obama's advisors, positions, and attitude toward multinational communication and respect -- positions which I, perhaps surpisingly to some, have chosen for the most part not to include here (go read his article!) -- Strohmer doesn't let Obama completely off the hook, as we saw in his longer quote above. He suspects, and I would reluctantly agree, the limitations of being an American President itself on the candidate may cause Obama to behave within the American exceptionalism framework, at least to some degree. (After all -- I ask this sadly -- who could be elected without holding such a position?) But there's hope:

The heated public quarrel between McCain and Obama on Iran may provide the best forensics about their divergent approaches. Obama has taken to heart Moshe Dayan’s advice: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to you friends. You talk to your enemies.” If McCain could get this piece of wisdom worked into his bloodstream, he could find any number of seasoned, high-level advisors to assist him in articulating and developing a foreign policy sans neoconservatism. If he remains a fan of the League of Democracies, however, don’t bet on it.

Obama, at least to the time of this writing, has been curiously silent about the league; but Anthony Lake [an Obama advisor] was honorary co-chair of the Ikenberry and Slaughter report and co-author of its Foreword. If Obama eventually signs off on the league, then his administration, like McCain’s and perhaps many administrations to come, would by default largely run its foreign policy agenda through that paradigm. This would be the start of an international polarization between “democracies” and “the rest.” It would have potential to make the bipolar Cold War era seem sane by comparison. It would, I believe, inflame, rather than wisely seek to undo, conditions for what international relations theorist Samuel Huntington has provocatively called a looming “clash of civilizations.”

Even if Obama rejects creation of the league, a negative choice has no power to prevent his White House from making foolish decisions about U.S. international relations, and the fact remains, as it does for any U.S. president, that he will be forced time and again to conform his overseas policies to the absolutized ideological interests of American exceptionalism. How either man as president will control, or be controlled by, this controlling principle will help determine how wise or foolish his international agenda will be.

There's far more to this article than what is discussed here. But for me, seeing my own main worry about the candidate I support so wholeheartedly touched on so adeptly by Charles Strohmer requires me noting his words, and my general agreement with them.

So while I support Barack Obama, I will remain an annoyance even when he is elected President. American nationalism is a virus within Evangelical Christianity, quite likely feeding off Christianity as a parasite does its host. In turn, Evangelical leaders are content to allow their access to the halls of power blunt what should be their repudiation of American exceptionalism. One can love her nation without hating or disdaining other nations, or failing to take into account the reality that our way of seeing and thinking is merely one way of doing it, and possibly not even the best way.

Monday, September 29, 2008

House Fails to Pass $700 Billion Bail-Out, and Republicans Blame... Nanci Pelosi?!

Classic. The Dow Jones drops 777 points -- a single day worst ever -- after the U. S. Congress fails to pass the $700 Billion economic bail-out package. And who gets blamed by the Republicans, despite the fact that 2/3 of their House members (and 40% of the Democrats) voted against the bill? Nanci Pelosi, Democrat and Speaker of the House. Republican leaders say that her harsh words (as in truth hurts, baby!) caused a dozen or more Republicans who were going to vote "yes" on the bill to change their minds. (If you believe that, I'll sell you Lake Michigan.)

But hey, what did Pelosi actually say? Here's a sample:

"[W]hen was the last time someone asked you for $700bn? It is a number that is staggering, but tells us only the costs of the Bush administration's failed economic policies — policies built on budgetary recklessness, on an anything-goes mentality, with no regulation, no supervision, and no discipline in the system."

"Democrats believe in the free market, which can and does create jobs, wealth, and capital, but left to its own devices it has created chaos."

"Democrats insisted that legislation responding to this crisis must protect the American people and Main Street from the meltdown on Wall Street. The American people did not decide to dangerously weaken our regulatory and oversight policies. They did not make unwise and risky financial deals. They did not jeopardise the economic security of the nation. And they must not pay the cost of this emergency recovery and stabilisation bill."

"Today we will act to avert this crisis, but informed by our experience of the past eight years with the failed economic leadership … We choose a different path. In the new year, with a new Congress and a new president, we will break free with a failed past and take America in a new direction to a better future." [from The Guardian]

There's the truth. Handle it.

[Corrected earlier incomplete number of points the market fell to the final 777 point number.]

Daily Kos: Calling Gothard Cultic is not only foolish, but dangerous

Before I get to the Daily Kos, and my beef with them, let me offer a preamble re Bill Gothard.

In case you missed my last vent on the subject, I continue to track Republican VP Candidate Sarah Palin's connections with Bill Gothard, someone I've long criticized as being anti-womanist, a control freak (his teachings on obedience vs. "willfulness" have no biblical resonance as far as I can see, despite his proof-texting), and an enabler to some of the worst teachings in Evangelical/Christian fundamentalist circles. On top of that, his ideas on music are demonstrably uninformed (the augmented seventh a demonic chord? C'mon!) and his teachings on family structure plainly extra-biblical (that is, add-ons with no real biblical justification). None of this stops him from posturing as perhaps "the" authority on these matters. (You pay for the priveledge of being subjected to his teachings, by the way... maybe not quite as steep a surcharge as Scientology. Okay, so I'm venting...)

In short, Gothard freaks me out and always has.

[below: Edward Munch's "VampireII"]

One more story: A big reason I love my and my fellowship's denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has to do with former ECC President Paul Larsen. My appreciation for him was cemented after he told me of his one and only time attending a Bill Gothard "Institute on Basic Youth Conflicts" seminar. Gothard spoke of an allegedly bible-based pyramiding authority structure, in which women were demeaned and disempowered and told that males around them held authority from God to govern over them. Somewhere in the discourse, Paul began looking around at the pastors and leaders listening to Gothard's spiel. "I was shocked," he told me, "how no one was reacting, how many were even nodding in agreement." And soon after, Paul Larsen could take no more. He stood up and yelled at the audience, "Did you hear what he said?! Are you just going to sit there and listen and say nothing?!" This was particularly in reaction to Gothard's incredibly rigid ideas on women in leadership (the ECC holds that women are fully empowered biblically in ministry and in marriage, roles be, uh, darned). When no one reacted to him, he walked out on Gothard's nonsense. "I couldn't believe that biblically trained men would sit and listen to such ignorance," Larsen sighed.

Again, I really do not like Gothard's teachings. I am a Christian feminist (or pro-feminist, if you prefer), and with abortion being my one sticking point, feel far more kinship with feminists than with hierarchical Christians.

All that said, I stumbled across a post on the Daily Kos, which although it does a great job bringing out some of the weirdness re Gothard, also starts off by labeling him with the "c" word. We're talking "cult" here, as in the article's title: Former Cincinnati city commissioner outs Gothard cult. A few alleged "experts" on cults are listed -- experts that noted anthropologist and historian of religions Gordon Melton suggests are "experts in nothing" -- since "cults" as a category does not exist. Instead, one calls someone a "cultist" in an attempt to marginalize, demean, and disempower them. Sounds pretty Republican to me, and I'm sad indeed to see a liberal-leaning blog push that direction.

We who support "Change" in the most positive sense of that word should take a tip from Obama's responses to the dismissive, demeaning, and outright contemptuous treatment he received from John McCain in their debate a few days ago. Obama's refusal to take personal offense and keep things focused on issues of substance not only reflects biblical wisdom but also served him well in the polls--his post-debate national lead has increased over his rival for the Presidency.

At any rate, one should read the article from Daily Kos -- it has some very telling content apart from the name-calling. Too bad the "c" word was used, as it taints a post which would have stood on its own factual merits without either "cults" or "cult experts."

Hopeful lesson? Forego the usage of terms which, closely examined, are as vacuuous and vicious as the term "ni**er." Cult is one such word. We who claim the label "progressive" or / and "liberal" should watch our own language closely for signs that we are depersonalizing others in a potentially reactionary use of words. Yes, the left can lose its way in the heat of a moment. I'm sure a student of this blog might find places I myself have done so. All I can suggest is that we help one another by pointing out these cases of "demonization via language" and attempt to root them out. Tell the truth about our opponents, but -- repeating myself - take a page from Barack Obama. Senator Obama forcefully engages on matters of political doctrine and fact, but overall has more consistently refused to stoop to the level of personal contempt than any other Presidential candidate in my memory.

Let us follow his example.

Oh, and in the service of full self-disclosure, I should note that my own fellowship has been also targeted with the "cult" brush by some of the Kos-mentioned experts, who also call me a "cult apologist." Whatever. For more on my thoughts re the "c" word, see my old Cornerstone magazine article, "Reconceptualizing the word 'cults.'"

Hey, did I call Bill Gothard a "control freak"? Uh, yes. Guess others will have to figure out if that is fact-based or not... I think it is.

[Correction added: I'm an idiot. I said the painting was by Klimpt... it is a Munch. Duh.]

Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Inconvenient Theology: Sarah Palin's Church Has Ties to Latter Rain, William Branham

William Branham, with "cloud" over his head.

I'm waiting for the Evangelical cult-busters to speak out on this one... but may have to keep waiting. Along with links to Bill Gothard (see my previous post), Sarah Palin also has ties theologically with the so-called "Latter Rain" / Dominionist movement. The movement was roundly rejected by the Assemblies of God years ago. Cornerstone, the magazine I wrote for (and edited before its demise in 2003), published a 1986 article on William Branham, who is widely viewed as the root and source of Latter Rain theology. Among other things, Branham was non-trinitarian and believed he healed people when his left hand changed color.

It should be noted that I do not know how much of Latter Rain / Dominion doctrine is subscribed to by Sarah Palin personally. But in light of her own reticence to speak out on these issues, and in light of the resounding rejection Evangelicals gave to Mitt Romney (largely due his Mormon theology), I think it important enough to raise as an issue.

Further, some complain that this has nothing to do with Sarah Palin the candidate. That is disengenous. Dominion theology is very political in nature. It teaches that Christians will take over government, and that even now a group of young people are being prepared for this task. For those of us who view any attempt at "theocracy" as the worst possible outcome, this should frighten us.

Again, I would be glad to hear Governor Palin denounce Latter Rain and Dominion theology as bogus. But in light of how Senator Obama was raked over the coals for his pastor's comments (comments which contextually were far from what the media portrayed them as), I think the fact that Sarah Palin's theology has been so shaped by Latter Rain / Dominion churches bears hard scrutiny... Especially by Evangelicals who see in that theology its dangers.

[Edited twice, first moments after seeing an error upon first posting, second to correct false impression inadvertently made that Bill Gothard was part of the Latter Rain movement... he was not. In fact, Gothard is anti-charismatic, a "cessationist" believing the gifts of the Spirit ceased once Scripture was complete. For the record, I am charismatic, as is Sarah Palin.]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sarah Palin Tied to Radical Anti-womanist Bill Gothard? There Went the Women's Vote!

Salon magazine today notes that Sarah Palin's mayorship of her home town reveals connections to an old name among Evangelical heavies. Before there was Family guru James Dobson, there was... Bill Gothard. While the article focuses on Palin's usage of a "secular" (though maybe not so secular) spin off from Gothard's organization, my own interest is in what depth of connection exists between Palin and Gothard... and / or his teachings on family and women.

Remember Bill Gothard and his Institute on Basic Youth Conflicts? Today, the organization is called Institute in Basic Life Principles, though the former name is still used as part of the "Basic" curriculum. The materials Gothard's group churned out in the 1960s and 1970s featured micro-management of every aspect of a Christian family's existence. I recall, and this may upset some folks, literally laughing until I cried over various illustrations regarding the exact way a woman's blouse should look, her hair should look, and her make-up (or lack thereof, actually) should look. I'd reproduce one of these drawings here, except that Gothard doesn't take kindly to folks reproducing any of his materials without paying for them.

I wouldn't laugh today as I did then, knowing more about what women have suffered at the hands of such male arrogance in the Church. In fact, I'd probably shred the pamphlet. That's me exercising my own Christian authority, Mr. Gothard. I authoritatively say that your treatment of women is not the work of Christ, nor in keeping with the heart of Christ, and that you have gravely injured not only women but the men who love them.

But I would laugh still over Gothard's music lessons, where he with all seriousness warns against rock music's evilness and then -- I kid you not -- suggests that certain chords on the scale are bad. Like, for instance, the augmented seventh! For real. Oh, and also any sort of syncopation is bad. Try this... tap out four beats on a table. Then tap them again, emphasizing the first and third. Then do it again emphasizing the second and forth. Well, the latter is really not good, according to Gothard. Why? 'Cuz that's syncopation, man! You might feel your body or something! WHOA!

What again isn't funny is how Gothard conceptualizes the Family. His ultra-militarist, top-down, male-centric model bears no discernable resemblance at all to the family I (and I pray most other!) Christians see in Scripture. Bill apparently channeled this stuff direct from the throne of God, because it has zero biblical or theological backing, despite his continual usage of verses with little to no application to the topic he's touting. For instance...

He fervently claims that a couple who marry without their parents' permission cannot be blessed by God. Note, this refers to a couple regardless of that couple's age, and also regardless of what the parents' set of beliefs is! I suppose a racist set of parents could, under Gothard's teaching, permanently prevent their Anglo daughter from marrying an African-American. Or, one might suggest, an Atheist parent with a mean streak could forbid her born-again daughter from marrying a fellow Christian. Did anyone ever, I wonder, mention to Bill that sometimes honoring someone requires disobeying them, not baaaing like a sheep and doing what one's told? Example: Suicidal parent telling the child to get the gun from the cupboard, the child obeying but of course hoping the parent doesn't decide to make suicide homocide as well... BANG!

The obtuseness of what "honoring" one's parents means vs. an adult obeying their parent's every whim should be obvious. Unfortunately for Gothard, it is not. Willful ignorance, it is called. And how does such a man get the authority he still, after all this time, wields? Ask the Republicans.

I hope and pray Evangelicals ponder deeply the parallels between Bill Gothard's blind self-referential teachings and the Republicans' blind self-referential approach to governance. For me, the parallels are screaming to be noticed.

Meanwhile, the question here is if Sarah Palin, being pitched to us as an empowered woman, believes the viciously anti-woman lies Gothard is spreading? Sigh...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Progressive at Home

Three Neighborhood Children (c) 2008, Durkin Family: Do not reproduce w/o permission

The Progressive at Home

(c) 2008, Jon Trott

The butterflies come at the mention of the poor
Makes you feel good to be so caring for
There’s nothing wrong with sending the cash
Man of big conscience see that gold heart flash!
So you aint’ no card member of the bigoted Right
That’s good but not enough to provide real light
Feels to me like its slippery… hypocrisy
Feels to me likes it slippery… hypocrisy

Your ideas of us come from the bottom of the deck
Your dreams of having sex with one of us – check.
Your ideas are still about a world that’s good
That’s why you try to clean us out of your neighborhood
Where poverty is, your sins are seen in the enemy
The stinking homeless, the ugly in humanity
(none are so blind as those who will not see)
Feels to me like its slippery… hypocrisy
Feels to me likes it slippery… hypocrisy

That’s my baby with her newborn that you mock
That’s my daughter that you slaughter with your blog talk
My wife is crying my anger is lying trying to say
That you’re less than human – but then I’d be you this day
You hate so well but what’s the wound inside?
You must have a million tears for that hate to hide

And I want to take the murderer in my own arms
And hold him tight ‘til he finally sees the ones he harms
And whisper the truth to him about him, about me
We’re all lost in our ego but saved in humility

On a cold winter night an old woman that I knew
That I’d helped along in ignorance of what she could do
I mourned the end of my marriage, she saw my pain
Shared her suffering with me and made me whole again
The November wind blew against her holy face
Through her tears for me I clearly saw Eternal Grace

Feels to me like words are cheap… but suffering…
Feels to me like words are cheap… but forgiveness
Is what will set us free.

I’m just a child, forgive me. Jesus forgive me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Short and Unsweet (or) Truth Hurts, Mr. McCain

Barack Obama pretty much quotes reactions from others regarding John McCain's smears and lies campaign:

Friday, September 12, 2008

Whoa! Carol, Me, and Wal-Mart: What We Didn't Know

My previous post, up just minutes ago, shouldn't be left an orphan. The Wall Street Journal underscored just how NON-neutral Wal-Mart is about this election in an August 2008 article, "Wal-Mart Warns of Democratic Win":

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is mobilizing its store managers and department supervisors around the country to warn that if Democrats win power in November, they'll likely change federal law to make it easier for workers to unionize companies -- including Wal-Mart.

Ah. So this book thing my Dearling and I noticed may not be mere paranoia on our part? No sirree!

In recent weeks, thousands of Wal-Mart store managers and department heads have been summoned to mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside for workers if stores were to be unionized.

According to about a dozen Wal-Mart employees who attended such meetings in seven states, Wal-Mart executives claim that employees at unionized stores would have to pay hefty union dues while getting nothing in return, and may have to go on strike without compensation. Also, unionization could mean fewer jobs as labor costs rise.

One Wally World employee told WSJ:

"The meeting leader said, 'I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won't have a vote on whether you want a union,'" said a Wal-Mart customer-service supervisor from Missouri. "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote," she said.

Yep. Just like they are apparently telling their customers how to vote.

(Related BlueChristian link: Wal-Mart Promotes Anti-Obama Books)

Wal-Mart Promotes Anti-Obama Books

Some weeks ago, my wife and I visited a Wal-Mart (itself a politically incorrect act). Playing the sociological role of typical male, I got impatient with Carol's shopping and wandered to the Wal-Mart book aisle. On top of that shelf were two books on Barack Obama: The Obama Nation by Jerome Corsi and David Fredosso's The Case Against Barack Obama. Both are predictable Right Wing shrieks, filled with fear-gas and the usual maiming of truth such pundits produce like diarrea. But that wasn't the point to Carol and I.

We went to the counter of the Wal-Mart, located in Macomb, Illinois, and asked them if Wal-Mart was backing John McCain. This provoked a startled response from a teller, who sent us to a manager, who in turn suggested we call Wal-Mart's national headquarters (1-800 Walmart for those interested). She gave us the number, and a few weeks passed before Carol called. The spokesperson told Carol that "We're not making a statement for or against John McCain or Obama." Carol remonstrated with her that indeed Wal-Mart was making a statement by nationally carrying books slanted against one political candidate and only those books. Again, Carol was told that it was not up to Wal-Mart but rather to the book company supplying Wal-Mart. "And we have the freedom to carry anything we please," she told my wife.

To review: In short, we were told what the local manager had told us to start with. Wal-Mart was "not in control" of what books they carried, as a third-party distributor[*] was responsible for supplying Wal-Mart's book shelves. When we challenged this assumption on grounds that Wal-Mart was not powerless, but of course could tell a distributor what books it wanted and did not want, they responded by not responding (going in a logical circle). Of course they are free to carry whatever they want in their store, including copies of Mein Kampf if they'd like, but dimes to dollars says they would never do so (a lot of people still remember the results of that book).

But Wal-Mart also added one other issue to the pile. And that is that both of these books are currently best-sellers. This lets them completely off the hook, doesn't it? Well... not really. You see, Wal-Mart (like Oprah) can create best-sellers. Let's not kid ourselves here. Ideological books sold by Wal-Mart and without any balancing voice from the opposition are probably going to be read by a lot of people. And so, Wal-Mart sells ideology and not just product.

Things online are a little better, if not much. As of today, Wal-Mart's online bookstore, Walmart.com/books, is featuring Obama Nation at the top center of the page. If one does try to find a "good" Obama book, using Obama as a search term, out of the books listed under Obama, even there the top three are Rightist diatribes. But at least Obama's own books are represented down the page.

I'm not sure what we should all do about this. Call Wal-Mart in swarms complaining about these books? Sit at home, bemused and wondering about just where "political neutrality" ends and a superstore's choice of shelf placement reflects its' owner's political slant? Maybe we could ask they carry Barack's two books on their store shelves to counter-balance these Rightist flame-outs. Yes, they have the freedom to sell whatever they want to... but we have the freedom to make our intense displeasure at the sale of such things known. One way or another.

We'll keep tracking this one.

* Still trying to find out who the third-party book distributor is. If it is any company owned by Rupert Murdoch of FOX and News Corps fame, I'm going to start laughing and biting my laptop simulateously.

Stressed by Politics? Here's an Idea for Married Couples: 365 Days of Sex!

Sure, this is the OTHER meaning of "blue" Christian coming to the foreplay, er, fore. Oh, stop. But seriously, Christian marrieds might take a cue from a rather extreme but overall beneficial experiment chronicled by two married couples: sex every day for one year.

"If you decided to have sex every day, would your relationship benefit? Two long-married couples decided to find out. When lovemaking fell off their respective "to-do" lists, they ditched the sweats, bought sex toys and books, stepped up exercise, lit candles, and took trips. Then they chronicled their "sexperiment" in two recently released books, Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!) by Doug Brown and 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy by Charla Muller with Betsy Thorpe.

But will daily sex really help a relationship that's hit a rough patch? Some experts say yes; others aren't so sure. As for the two couples who tried it, the Browns and the Mullers, both say the experiment strengthened their marriages in -- and out -- of the bedroom. "

For more on this unique idea, which certainly sounds like a great way to reconnect in ways both sexual and surprisingly non-sexual (as in kindness levels, being relationally sensitive, learning to be "other centered"), I suggest the books mentioned and at least a peruse of the CBS article. Beats watching Sarah Palin own the media.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

BECAUSE WE LOVED OUR COUNTRY: Food for thought this political season

"Above all, there was fear. Fear of today. Fear of tomorrow. Fear of our neighbors. And fear of ourselves."

"It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb."

"What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies, were worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country. What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few different racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later..."

"The country is in danger! We will march out of the shadows! We will go forward! Forward is the password. And history tells how successful we were, your honor...

"What was going to be a passing phase became a way of life...

"Once more, it is being done for love of country."

- from the movie Trial at Nuremburg (1961).

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bleeding and Angry

No comment needed for this lyric, finished today.

Bleeding and Angry

(c) 2008, Jon Trott

Oh Jesus when I loved you as a young man
I didn’t know how many blood red nights would pass
I thought my life would fill with joy and light
But that cross you promised cuts my heart like glass
This country that I love like sky and rain and hope
Has used your name and gone insane
Fake wars that are too real, Abu Ghraib electric rope
Every bomb, kill and maim, takes Your name in vain
And the people you call yours are bastards, I am one
Who kiss the butt of power, who think right’s a loaded gun

I shouldn’t say these things
I’m not feeling full of faith
I’m filled with tears and indignation
Until we stop this I don’t feel safe
I’m… bleeding and angry
I’m… bleeding and angry

"This is God’s will," they say, "this is love this is right."
The ticking clock reads just ‘round midnight
"We’re good you’re bad you’re false we’re true"
Little palin’ cheerleader spreads their hate of you
Doing the McRovian hula and you’re the hoop
A flag wrapped Jesus, Abu Ghraib, devil’s in the coop
Country First, which means Us First and We Rule
While Jesus is dyin’ on a New Orleans stoop
And the people you call yours are the bastards -- I am one!
Who kiss their own constructions as God’s True Son

God you don't have to hear my scream
But god-talk will not make Pilate's bloody hands clean
Nothing I’ve known is half as good as you, but –
Jesus, wake your Church from this myopic dream
I’m… bleeding and angry
I’m… bleeding and angry

The politics of change crushed by politics of fear
and I cry in my sleep at night afraid Hope's no longer here.
Wickedness seems so universal, good so small.
I know I verge on blasphemy, in the suffering of it all.
Give me your eyes, heal my self-inflicted wounds.
Help me to keep carrying my tiny cross of dooms.
Intelligence and wisdom often walk so far apart
Humility is what I need, a human bleeding heart
I know these truths, adhere to You, Word of God
But Jesus I'm angry, Jesus I'm bleeding, how do I start?

Save my neighbor, Love of my Life.
Save my friends and children and wife.
But dear Lord Jesus, Save my enemy
And if I still seem worth it, rescue me...
I'm bleeding and angry.
I'm bleeding and angry.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Just Wondering: Why Do Evangelicals Embrace the Republican Party's Demonization of Others?

My life, unremarkable as it is, has since 1973 been dedicated to trying to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe the gospels are historically accurate as well as revelatory gifts from God. I'm an old-school Jesus Freak -- even live in a "commune" started by Jesus People and called Jesus People USA. We're in many ways vanilla-flavored Evangelical Christians -- looking to the Old and New Testament Scriptures as our primary guide in all matters of faith and practice. (In 1989, we joined an egalitarian, woman-positive denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church.) We also share the American experience and many American distinctives culturally, and realize how intertwined (for good and for evil) America's history and Evangelical history have become.

I have a novel idea for Evangelicals. Let's look at evil as conceptualized by the Republicans of 2000-2008. Evil is postulated as a "them" problem. Remember George W. Bush's comment that we were going to eradicate Evil in the world? This view puts evil out there, as a "them" problem. But biblically speaking Evil is an "us" problem. WE -- individually and corporately in our various communities of faith, social networking, and national identity -- are the place where Evil exists. Further, more often than not, Scripture specifically speaks to "us" and "I" rather than "them" and "he" or "she." The Bible is a relentlessly personal book addressed to us / me.

Here' s another novel idea, building on the above. Let's look at history as evidence. That is, history will reveal to us our own complicity in the Evil of our world. Consider, for instance, racism. Evangelicals show a remarkable and commendable eagerness to dismantle any remnants of racism. Yet, I gently suggest we often do so while far under-estimating the breadth and depth of racism's legacy in these United States. I am old enough to have personally watched a bigot dancing -- literally -- on his lawn, celebrating one warm April morning the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. "They shot him -- they shot that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"

And who created the historic context and social rationalization for slavery in the United States? Christians. No, there's no dodging it. Just as South Africa built a sophisticated God-frame around apartheid, their torturous system of color and class, America did so. And Christians rationalized with proof-texted Scripture (as they do now in regards to oppressing women in churches and in marriage). Christians bought slaves, whipped slaves, destroyed black families by selling parents from children and wives/husbands away from one another. Christians raped slaves, using the Old Testament stories in an a-historical manner to justify these "relationships." Our Constitution, for a convoluted set of reasons, defines a black slave as "three-fifths of a person." The largest Evangelical denomination of today, the Southern Baptists, came into existence as the result of a church split with northern Baptists over slavery.

Regarding history and Evil, human beings have a funny way of not seeing its most obvious lessons. For instance, as another Christian leftie co-worked said to me recently, "When we look at Nazis as inhuman monsters instead of human beings inspired by their own sense of right, we are on the verge of becoming Nazis." That is, he continued to explain, when we recognize Evil in others yet fail to understand the commonality of that Evil with all humans throughout history, we risk endlessly repeating history in a demonically naive manner. We "other" the other. This is true of all of us, this writer included. As much as I loathe George W. Bush's thinking, policies, and acts as President, believing he's the worst President this nation has ever suffered, I suspect he's quite a nice guy in person. That is, a lot like me.

That raises the possibility that I could, given the amount of power a President has, create and activate deeds of Evil as a Christian every bit as horrendous as those he's committed in Iraq. And maybe worse... who knows? Fortunately for all of us, I'll never hold such power.

But in light of the above, there's yet another issue we as Evangelicals have to confront. That issue is nationalism. The previously spoken, more often now unspoken, assumption regarding America is that it is God's chosen nation. There is no biblical basis for that idea. Only Israel -- not modern-day, but Old Testament Israel -- is called by Scripture "God's people." And, as any Jewish scholar will tell you, it appears that being God's people usually involves a lot of pain.

We Evangelicals assume a lot of things about our centrality in God's plan, our expectation of material blessings, our belief that militarism is not only a necessity but a positive good. And much more. But beneath all of that runs a river of arrogant pride. We often fall into the root error of believing in our own goodness, our "deserving" blessings both material and relational.

And here is where history and the present collide. The Republicans sell us two things successfully. Fear and Anger. What are we to be fearful of? The Evil in the Other, that evil that our President promised us we would defeat and destroy. What are we to be angry with? The resistance of the Other to our goodness and rightness.

Jesus was murdered by people who thought that way.

People like us.

And Jesus continues to be murdered. "As you have done to the least of one of these, you have done it to me." Those Iraqi mothers and children and fathers and sons who died via American bombs, missiles, and bullets died at the hands of America. And America is us.

Yes, I believe the gospels to be about Jesus in history and (as Kierkegaard warns) even more about the contemporaneity of Christ. Jesus is here now, calling us now, consistently reminding us of our absolute need of Him. He is Love, and His Way does not include pride but rather the crucifixion of pride. We are not a Christian nation and should not expect to be a Christian nation. We as Americans are a nation of individuals and groups of people with thousands of differing beliefs. As Christians we are citizens not primarily of this world but of a coming kingdom.

That kingdom is to be rooted in Jesus' command: "Love one another." This idea is not historical -- that is, it rarely appears as an actuality in history. It is a dark thought with which I end this rambling. But I think that true love can only be actualized by people who see their own Evil, and capacity for Evil, most or all of the time. This is not the way Republicans think these days. Evil is Other, Good is Us.

Fear sells in this setting because we are truly afraid, we have not yet laid our lives down in surrender to Christ the way we think we have. Anger excuses our fear, legitimates it. Anger is the illusion of being righteous, the emotional ace that overrides the suffering heart. To love is to suffer.

History's lesson is that especially in recent years since 9/11, the Republicans have taken this fear/anger paradigm to incredible lengths. Democrats in the past have done the same thing. But Democrats have not tried to sell Evangelicals a bastardized version of the Bible. Obama is a committed, regenerate Christian, yet more importantly than that his attempts to integrate faith and politics are impressive in their cautious humility.

I, as one Evangelical, cannot agree to uphold the Republican Party. The crimes of Iraq -- one million more times worthy of impeachment than a former president having his penis sucked by an intern and lying about it -- will never be punished on this earth. But I am damned if I will support a party, or a candidate, who uses the same language, the same cynical reliance upon god-fearing people, to garner power. Damned because how can I love my neighbor while caving in to the Christless hate and arrogance such language and actions reflect? For the past two elections, we Evangelicals have helped elect an administration rooted in the godless, ultra-elitist ideas of Leo Strauss.

Will we do it again? Will we?

History says we will. The gospels say history is important, but the present potentially even more so.