Thursday, March 31, 2005

"Culture of Life" My... uh, Eye

Commenting earlier today on the death of Terri Schiavo, President Bush said:
"The essence of civilization is that the strong have a duty to protect the weak. In cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life".
This is absolutely unbelievable. Does the man really believe we are that stupid? His economic policies are designed around the idea that the weak are best helped by empowering the strong, but I guess one could try to argue that this really is the best way to help the poor. It's nonsense, but one could make the argument. But a "presumption in favor of life" when there are "doubts and questions"?

When our President was governor of Texas he was profoundly uninterested in the very real "doubts and questions" about many of the people his state executed. He even actively opposed an attempt to make Texas' clemency and review process more transparent and effective.

Mr. President, there was really no doubt that the upper part of Terri Schiavo's brain is gone, while there were profound doubts about the guilt of some of the men whose execution you authorized. Mr. President, does your cynicism know no bounds?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Weekly Diary

We euthanized our elderly and ill rabbit, Murray, this week. It was a hard choice. Actually, like most important things in life, it wasn't hard, at least in the way a calculus problem or climbing Mt. Whitney are hard. It was just hard to do, and sadly, we waited too long, prolonging his suffering to spare our feelings.

My former neighbor and award winning blogger Susan Kitchens gives us "Yet Another Reason to Hate SUV's", (not that I needed any help with this) at her blog 2020 Hindsight.

I'm on a week long fast from Mexican food to prepare myself for the US v. Mexico soccer match tomorrow. I am very wound up about this match. One of the best moments of my life was when the US defeated Mexico 2-0 during the World Cup in 2002. If we win tomorrow, this will be the first time the US have ever defeated Mexico in Mexico. May it be the first of many.

We attended a very creative Good Friday Service last night at Glendora Friends Church. The service combined ambient music, projected images, and Scripture reading. While I think the idea for the service was stronger than its execution, I was moved by the Bible reading - the Bible is always a good bet. It's a mystery to me that Christian worship does not make greater use of the brilliant, moving, and you know, divinely inspired words of the Bible, at least in comparison to the often pedestrian words of preachers and (especially) worship songs.

I am troubled almost beyond words about the Terri Schiavo situation, but as is increasingly the case, I am more troubled by the response of my fellow Christians and my national leaders. I'm not sure about the ethics of withdrawing hydration and nutrition, but I am certain that commitment to a cause does not give one the privilege of making up facts to support one's perspective. There are a gazillion links to this on the web, but this one from UCLA professor Mark Kleiman, and this one from Slate's Will Saletan have me most outraged.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Weekly Diary

Wonderful start. Just after church on Sunday, Wendy and I drove to Santa Barbara for the day. Like any trip to SB should, we began with lunch at La Super Rica, perhaps the greatest restaurant in the world. I don't know if it actually is the greatest but we think so, and so it works that way for us, something like that copper bracelet I wore when my wrist was hurting. Afterwards, we went to an outlet store and Wendy was able to find an amazing leather jacket for only $80! A little context is in order here. My wife rarely wants things - in fact, it's hard to get her to buy things when she shops. She is the opposite of what they call "high maintenance". Nevertheless, she has wanted a leather jacket for quite some time, but the $300/$400 price for a nice one always seemed too much. But here was a $400 jacket on sale for $80 and it was in perfect condition and just the right cut and style! I am so pleased for her.

Bloggies - This week was the fifth annual Weblog Awards. Now that I am a blogger, I felt compelled professionally (or to be more accurate, amateurishly) to see what else is out there. My favorite find - go read this now - is Overheard in New York. This blog is just what the title says it is: a listing of conversations and comments overheard by people in New York City. For instance:

Girl #1: It was me, her, and Kim Fines.
Girl #2: I thought Kim Fines was dead?
Girl #1: Yeah, she is.
Girl #2: She must be like 47 by now!

--Lincoln Center parking garage
Feeling Stressed? It seems we all are, or at least talk about ourselves this way. According to one study, 26% of Americans feel so stressed that it hampers their creativity. This is more than twice the rate of stress reported in Belgium, which sort of makes sense, but we also lead Columbia and Lebanon, where, you know, they have real reasons for stress.

Big Day - On Thursday, my son Chris competed in his first track meet, and loved it! Now if he would just grow his hair long and start a garage band, all my immediate wishes for him would be fulfilled!

Talk About "Powerful" Best Sellers - Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life has been a phenomenon. They sell them by the case at Costco, churches give 'em away, it's been on the NY Times Bestseller list for years. Any critiques of the book are brushed aside - read here (especially Gregg Koskela's excellent review) for one example. But by now I'm sure your aware that the book has the power (when served with pancakes) to make criminals repent and turn themselves in. Now that's a "powerful" book.

Mark of the Beast? - The government announced this week that the US annual trade deficit reached 666 billion dollars for 2004. Six-Sixty-Six! I don't know what to make of this. I know that Christians were supposed to believe that trade (and budget) deficits were bad when the Democrats controlled the Congress and White House, but they seem to be OK now, so I guess I can relax. But Six-Sixty-Six! How can that be a mere coincidence? What is God telling us?

Curious - The spellchecker for Blogger does not recognize "blog" and "blogger" as correctly spelled words. Hmm.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Just Getting Started

If you somehow stumbled onto this site from a trackback, or from me telling you about it, or from the Blogger system, hang on. There is more to come. My plan is to go public with this later this week, when I'll include a number of other posts.

Please check then and keep coming back.

Weekly Diary

My son Chris got off to a good start in his Pony League baseball season on Sunday, going 1-3 (including a beautiful bunt single) while reaching base in 4 of 5 plate appearances with no strike outs...

You think you know things, and then you discover again that what you don't know is a lot. Witness Laura Rozen's account on her blog War and Piece of a trip to the central Chinese city of Wuhan. She begins, "Until recently, I had never heard of this city, (me neither, ed) the capital of Hubei Province on the Yangtze River. But it has 7.9 million people, dwarfing even Manhattan in population."...

The Los Angeles Galaxy have finally been given an attractive shirt by Nike. Of course, it is the second shirt, which they will hardly ever wear, but you take what you can get...

James Wolcott has a hilarious take, "Gubernator Turns a Paler Shade of Chicken", on the reception Gov. Schwarzenegger has received on his fundraising trip from those flaming radicals... nurses. He called them out recently, and they have answered...

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings. Connected to the date is the news (via Obsidian Wings) that an Islamic organization in Spain has issued a fatwa against Osama bin Landin, declaring him an apostate. I think this is a hopeful sign...

The whole family attended the United States' 3-0 victory over Columbia in a friendly match at Cal State Fullerton. It was a beautiful night for the beautiful game, marred only by poor preparation by the stadium staff before the match and a lack of bacon wrapped hotdogs after...

Orange County pastor and keeper of the blog Tabletalk, Craig Williams, has a very thoughtful post on prayer, "justing" and "candle snuffing". Take a look...

And even though I mentioned it below, make sure you take a look at both posts (here and here - with a third coming) of Fred Clark's series on the sin of usury at Slacktivist. This is the kind of thoughtful Christian engagement on policy issues which we need much, much more of...

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

God Doesn't Care About Your Money, Just Your...

Spend much time here, and you'll see me rant about the way many Christians willfully ignore biblical teaching on money and poverty, especially as it applies to government policy. The revisions to bankruptcy regulations currently under review in Congress are a case in point. The bills for revision, which is very bad for debtors and very good for credit card companies (and wealthy debtors), are being carried by a number of Senators who are publicly identified as Christians, including the legislation's primary sponsor, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Grassley has been challenged by a group of believers who wrote in a recent open letter...
"As Christian attorneys, we strongly believe that it was never God's intention to create a society where indebtedness was a crime or a badge of dishonor..."
The Senator doesn't dispute these attorneys'' biblical analysis. Instead, he says the Bible doesn't apply here:
"I can't listen to Christian lawyers because I would be imposing the Bible on a diverse population..."
So we can't "impose the Bible" on our country's "diverse population"? When did this start? I'm sure that Grassley will remember this the next time abortion comes up, or when legislation to regulate "public decency" on the airwaves is introduced, or when the teaching of evolution in the schools is discussed. Yeah right. To show you where his heart really is, Grassley has even supported legislation which would allow churches to maintain tax exempt status while openly campaigning for candidates and issues!

Narrowly, I agree with Senator Grassley. Christians shouldn't try to "impose" the Bible on our fellow citizens. I believe we should use persuasion and self-evident arguments to influence national policy, not coercion and threats. But I also believe we should stop selectively reading the Bible.

The biblical worldview is not a buffet cart from which one may chose as one likes. If you want to use the Bible's model for sexual behavior, then you're stuck with what the Bible has to say about money and poverty. If you want to follow the Bible and reject Darwinian biology, then you should also reject social Darwinism. If think the Bible calls us to be pro-life, make sure your concern extends beyond abortion, because the Bible's sure does.

So what's it going to be Senator? Bible or no? Are you in or are you out?

Update: Fred Clark at The Slacktivist has an excellent discussion of usury. The upshot? It's a sin. Go read it.

(Hat Tip to The Revealer)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Richard's Mouw's "Modest Proposal"

Richard Mouw, the President of Fuller Theological Seminary (Hey! I went there), recently weighed in on the issue of posting the Ten Commnadments in public places. Writing at Beliefnet, Mouw echoed novelist Kurt Vonnegut's idea that what we really ought to be doing is posting the Beatitudes - not the Ten Commandments, around the country. That's right, the Beatitudes - Jesus' series of "blessings" recorded in Matthew 5.

I like Dr. Mouw's take on this:

On a more positive note, it might be better for Christians—especially those of us who talk a lot about "moral values"—to let our fellow citizens know that we do care a lot about the "blessed" traits that Jesus sets forth in the Beatitudes: meekness, peaceableness, empathy with the poor and the grieving, a spirit of mercy—things of that sort. To be sure, we will be criticized for this, too, by the folks who don’t want us to inject any of our religious views into the public square. But if we are going to be scolded by those who resist religious teachings, let’s at least be scolded for promoting something that comes straight from Jesus.

As a Christian Old Testament/Hebrew teacher and scholar, I've wondered at conservative Christians' passion for the Ten Commandments, given their frequent disdain for the Old Testament. (Yeah, I know. The "Ten Commandments" have become a symbol in the culture wars - it's really not about the content). But I like the way that Mouw and Vonnegut take this impulse seriously. If we're going to insist that some sort of biblical text be posted in public places, let's get something from Jesus.

(Hat tip to Rob Asghar at Dime Store Guru).

Friday, March 04, 2005

This Week's Reading

I started this week with a simultaneously grouchy and buoyant interview with Eugene Peterson in the March issue of Christianity Today. I've admired Peterson's work since college, first through his A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, a book of reflections on the Psalms of Ascent which I plan to reread soon. It was rather refreshing to hear Peterson not even bother to give an once of credit to today’s consumer driven churches. He’s known as a writer on "spirituality", but he hates the term, saying:

"That it's a kind of specialized form of being a Christian, that you have to have some kind of in. It's elitist. Many people are attracted to it for the wrong reasons. Others are put off by it: 'I'm not spiritual. I like to go to football games or parties or pursue my career'. In fact, I try to avoid the word."

My favorite line came in response to a question about establishing “intimacy” with God. The use of this phrase bothered him too, since, you know, it’s not the one the Bible used, and so he got off this scorcher:

"All these words get so screwed up in our society. If intimacy means being open and honest and authentic, so I don't have veils, or I don't have to be defensive or in denial of who I am, that's wonderful. But in our culture, intimacy usually has sexual connotations, with some kind of completion. So I want intimacy because I want more out of life. Very seldom does it have the sense of sacrifice or giving or being vulnerable. Those are two different ways of being intimate. And in our American vocabulary intimacy usually has to do with getting something from the other. That just screws the whole thing up.

It's very dangerous to use the language of the culture to interpret the gospel. Our vocabulary has to be chastened and tested by revelation, by the Scriptures. We've got a pretty good vocabulary and syntax, and we'd better start paying attention to it because the way we grab words here and there to appeal to unbelievers is not very good."

As much as I appreciate this perspective, I do find it a bit ironic coming from the author/translator of the The Message, a wildly popular translation of the Bible which avoids using the, um, usual "vocabulary and syntax" we find in the Bible. Hmm.

Further on in the same issue of CT is a very hopeful and sometimes funny feature on the rise of evangelical Christianity in France by Agnieska Tennant. It is a truly amazing story – with the number of evangelical churches in France growing sevenfold since 1960. As in many other parts of the world, most of this growth has come through new charismatic churches. Interestingly, the Catholic churches, with their adoption of the evangelistic Alpha program, have moved forward, at least a little, while the traditional Reformed and Lutheran congregations stay stuck in reverse.

These new evangelical churches are often located in poor and lower-middle class neighborhoods, and often combine France’s multiple ethnicities in way rarely seen in French society outside of the national soccer team. The article points out that without intending to, these churches are providing an alternative and antidote to the Islamic fundamentalists who often control the poor ethnic neighborhoods of the big cities.

One barrier these churches currently face is the French people’s feelings toward our President. His public identification with his faith and his blurring of boundaries of matter of state and church horrify the traditionally secularist French. (Then again, I'm not secularist, and I'm horrified by some of the same things.) But even with their feelings about W aside, the French ideal of laicite makes for some humorous responses to conversion among younger people by their militantly secular parents. Tennant quotes the story of one father when he learned his daughter had gone on a church-sponsored weekend retreat: “Here I thought that she was just going off for a weekend with a new boyfriend! Then I find out it was to read the Bible!”

And amazingly, CT's book review section puts a bitch slap on Bruce Wilkinson's Beyond Jabez, a sequel to his last big hit. (Are we allowed to say that? No, not "bitch slap". Are we allowed to say that a popular Christian author has written a bad book? We'll see).

On Tuesday while eating nachos for lunch, I began wading through the 28 February New Yorker. (No links) The one big article I attempted was “"Nature’s Bioterrorist"” by Michael Spector. It's about the threat of new flu viruses from East Asia. This is scary stuff. The close proximity of ducks, geese, chickens, pigs and people in this part of the world is the perfect incubator for the next great pandemic of influenza. One of my earliest memories is going to see my father in an LA hospital when he almost died from the Hong Kong flu, the last pandemic in 1969. The new one could make that event, and even the great epidemic of 1918 look minor in comparison.

The piece moves between the two main groups of players in the situation: scientists and health workers and farmers. The scientists are very nervous, and the farmers are very sad. Most of these farmers have done their level best for both their animals and for health concerns, but now many have lost their entire flocks and with them, they have probably lost a way of life.

And in the lead Talk of the Town piece, Hendrick Hertzberg takes his shot at the “Jeff Gannon” scandal. “Gannon” (not his real name) is a Republican hack who was given frequent access to the White House Press room, and became notorious for asking softball questions to the President and his Press Secretary. Herztberg remembers the objectively more minor issues which became full-blown scandals during the Clinton administration, and counsels that we ought not to look for the same thing here. Without the opposition party holding at least one house of Congress, there is little chance of any Administration scandal getting traction. That is unless the Republicans, who like to brand themselves as the party of “integrity” decide to get some – but I’'m not holding my breath.