Saturday, March 19, 2005

We're Proud

Our new Conference Minister was installed today. (Sorry we didn't go; we clean forgot and went to Central Market instead.)

But she did make us proud in her remarks:
"The 'God is Still Speaking' initiative is an identity campaign which is intended to affirm that God is not just a god of history. . . . Rather, God is still speaking through scripture, music, worship, service, fellowship, social issues and in many other ways. Our job is to listen. It is true that the commercial shows a wide acceptance of all people, but it isn’t about gays. It's about offering welcome to anyone who has been excluded from knowing God’s love. That includes not only same gender couples but people with handicaps, people of various races and abilities, young people and old and of every socio-economic status. It has reminded our congregations that it isn’t 'all about us.' It’s about God and sharing God’s love . . .

The campaign has been enormously successful. Our Still Speaking Web site, which previously had about 12,000 hits a month, had over 300,000 hits in December. More than 112,000 people (searched on the site) for a UCC church by ZIP code or city. . . .

The Penn Central conference was a test site for the commercial last spring. While I am sure that there are people who are not happy with its message, we have heard few complaints from our people. Churches were given the choice to 'opt-in' because we know that the campaign does not meet the needs or theology of all our local churches."

Coons-Torn said nearly 40 percent of Penn Central Conference members opted in to the campaign.


And:

"Three churches in the conference are Open and Affirming (officially welcoming gays into the full life of the church) — St. Paul's UCC in Mechanicsburg, and Grace UCC and the Disciples UCC in the Lancaster area.

About a dozen churches are studying the issue (and they will decide by vote). . . .

Churches that do not choose to be Open and Affirming or part of the Still Speaking initiative retain the right to be who they are. We believe all of our churches are faithful to God in their own understanding, and we encourage churches that cannot honestly be Open and Affirming to refer visitors who have that need to one of our churches that is."


Good work, Marja. And we promise: we'll turn up next time.


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This is Cool

A group of exiled Iraqi Christians in the United States have launched an online petition nominating Iraq's top Shiite Muslim cleric for the Nobel Peace Prize, drawing approximately 7,000 signatures from around the world.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani "gave Muslims all around the globe a good example how to follow peaceful ways to resolve complex social (and) political challenges that face them, condemning terror and emphasizing ... rule of law," the petition said.

Al-Sistani, 75, is Iraq's most revered Shiite cleric and also a symbol of Shiite political power. He has spoken out repeatedly since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, opposing anti-American violence and calling for an end to conflict.


This is an edited version of the story: the Christians here are Chaldeans from Los Angeles.


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Deficit Games

Forward notices some Republican sleight-of-hand:
Congress just started work on the 2006 federal budget, and the sound you hear coming from Washington is the other shoe dropping.

The first shoe was the large tax cuts Congress and President Bush enacted in 2001 and 2003, which helped push federal revenues down to their lowest level since the 1950s when measured as a share of the economy. The second shoe is the large cuts in domestic programs Congress is considering making this year — cuts potentially broad and deep enough to weaken public education, damage the environment, and cause hundreds of thousands of low-income Americans to lose much-needed help paying for necessities like housing and child care.

The link between the two? The tax cuts were a prime cause of the large budget deficits we face today, yet the Bush administration and congressional leaders are using those deficits to justify significant cuts in spending, even as they call for still more tax cuts. And because the tax cuts primarily benefit high-income households, while the proposed spending cuts would primarily harm low- and middle-income households, the net effect of using spending cuts to pay for the tax cuts would be to transfer substantial resources from the rest of the country to the people with the highest incomes.


E.J. Dionne sees the same dynamic:
Here's a little-known fact symptomatic of everything wrong with the way Congress has dealt with our nation's finances over the past four years. Writers of both the House and Senate budget resolutions were careful to make sure that Congress would not consider budget cuts and tax cuts at the same time.

The House budget resolution requires the Ways and Means Committee to report tax-cut legislation by June 24. But bills that will enforce cuts in entitlement programs aren't called for until Sept. 16. The Senate reverses the order: spending cuts by June 6, tax cuts on Sept. 7.

Why is this important? Because there are a couple of things our legislators and our president do not want citizens to do: (1) link the big deficits with the big tax cuts, (2) notice that if the tax cuts weren't so big, cuts in domestic spending wouldn't have to be so big. The nice separation of those dates is just the ticket for obscuring the obvious.


And just in case you think this doesn't make any difference, Forward calculates some of the human costs of the 2006 budget:
[W]e estimate that by 2010:

• 670,000 fewer low-income women, infants and young children will receive supplemental nutrition assistance;

• 370,000 fewer low-income families, elderly people and people with disabilities will receive vouchers that help them rent modest apartments;

• 360,000 fewer low-income families, elderly individuals and other low-income households will receive help paying their heating bills;

• 300,000 fewer children in low-income working families will receive child care assistance;

• 118,000 fewer low-income children will be served by the Head Start childhood development program;

• K-12 education funding will be cut by 12% below its current level adjusted for inflation;

• funding to support state and local efforts to ensure clean drinking water, reduce air pollution and upgrade sewage treatment facilities will be cut by more than a quarter;

• funding for community and economic development programs, primarily in distressed and disadvantaged communities, will be cut by more than a third.


They also explain how it is they come to be making such estimates, and what they didn't find in the numbers:
In a break with tradition, the Bush administration didn't show how its proposed cuts to the parts of the budget that include discretionary programs would affect individual programs after 2006. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated, on the basis of administration data and the administration's funding priorities for 2006, how much these programs would be cut. We then estimated how many people would be affected if the cuts were implemented by reducing the number of beneficiaries rather than the size of benefits.

...

What's missing from all three documents is the concept of shared sacrifice, which was the central ingredient of the successful deficit-reduction efforts of the early 1990s. Both in 1990 and in 1993, Congress adopted plans that reduced the deficit through a combination of higher revenues and lower spending.

That approach could work again this year. First, though, the Bush administration and congressional leaders will have to acknowledge that unaffordable tax cuts have helped create our budgetary mess, and that new revenues need to be part of the solution.


I'd like to believe they can't get away with this forever. Hope springs eternal.

On a semi-related note, religious progressives seem to be getting it:
"The religious left has tended to operate on an ad-hoc basis, depending on the hot issue of the day," said Green. "But during the 2004 election, there was clearly the sentiment that they get organized and do something on a permanent basis."

That was what Dr. Bob Edgar, secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, was alluding to last week in leading a rally on the west lawn of the Capitol protesting Bush's budget as "morally misguided" in its treatment of poor Americans.

At one point, Edgar had the several hundred protesters turn to face the Washington Monument off in the distance. In the future, he said, "I hope we can fill all that space."

Although there have long been liberal religious leaders in American politics, "they just forgot how to organize for politics," said Craig Crawford, a political analyst for MSNBC and CBS. "Religious liberals need to look back to their history . . . and relearn how to make Jesus a Democrat."


Now if we could only get that few hundred up to a few thousand or a few hundred thousand...


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Ashcroft's Revenge

Christianity Today:
The U.S. Supreme Court announced February 22 that it will decide whether the federal government may ban doctors from prescribing drugs to allow terminally ill patients to kill themselves. In 2001, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft declared, in Oregon v. Ashcroft, that the Controlled Substances Act blocks such action.

The court agreed to hear the federal government's appeal of a lower court ruling saying that states have sole authority to regulate the practice of medicine. That ruling prevents the Drug Enforcement Administration from punishing doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act.

The Bush administration argues that suicide is not a legitimate medical purpose.


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So Sad

Michael Marcavage [http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=43344 loses] his case against Temple University.


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Friday, March 18, 2005

What's in a name?

Obviously, I don't want to make light of elder abuse, but this article from the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News caught my eye:
Care home figure had criminal record
One of four people charged with neglecting and abusing patients at five personal-care nursing homes in Lebanon County served a four-year term for attempted homicide and aggravated assault in the late 1980s. Clifford E. Fake was in the Lebanon County Prison from 1986 to 1990, convicted of multiple charges. But his criminal background did not prevent the state Department of Welfare from issuing a license to his wife, Tina Fake, to operate a care home in Palmyra. The Department of Welfare requires criminal background checks of license applicants. Investigators in Lebanon County are trying to determine whether Mrs. Fake hid her husband's background from the state. The couple, along with a son, Kyle M. Leeper, and an employee, Patricia M Remlinger, have been charged by police.


And what gives with the crim check? I had to pass just to work in the front office of a foster-care agency. How in the world could the Department of Welfare miss this?


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Why Can't We Do This In Our Country, eh?

Harper ducks Christian controversy:
MONTREAL -- Conservative Leader Stephen Harper distanced himself yesterday from comments by one of his MPs who accused the Ontario and federal Liberal parties of being 'anti-Christian.' Harper refused yesterday to address questions over the comments made in a flyer that Renfrew-area MP Cheryl Gallant sent out to her thousands of constituents.

...

A leaflet to constituents reprinted remarks Gallant made in the Commons, as follows: "In response to church bombings in parts of the world, the Vatican is asking the United Nations to recognize Christianophobia as an evil equal to that of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia.

"The government has launched a campaign of intimidation to silence churches by dispatching tax collectors to threaten the charitable tax status of denominations who speak out against the Liberal government."

...

B.C. Tory MP James Moore completely distanced himself from Gallant's comments.

"I don't want to comment on it, but if she's making these assertions, she better have the evidence to back it up."


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Stolen from the Writer's Almanac

(Eve speaks to Adam) from Paradise Lost by John Milton. Reprinted with permission.

(Eve speaks to Adam)

With thee conversing I forget all time,
All seasons and their change, all please alike.
Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,
With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun
When first on this delightful land he spreads
His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,
Glistering with dew; fragrant the fertile earth
After soft showers; and sweet the coming on
Of grateful evening mild, then silent night
With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,
And these the gems of heav'n, her starry train:
But neither breath of morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,
Glistering with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful evening mild, nor silent night
With this her solemn bird, nor walk by moon,
Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet.


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Gays in the Holocaust

from grannyhelen - for links to all online resources, please click on the external link above.

Or why the religious right creeps me out.


"He lectured me on the role of homosexuality in history and politics. It had destroyed ancient Greece, he said. Once rife, it extended its contagious effects like an ineluctable law of nature to the best and most manly of characters, eliminating from the reproductive process those very men on whose offspring a nation depended. The immediate result of the vice was, however, that unnatural passion swiftly became dominant in public affairs if it were allowed to spread unchecked."


Rudolf Diels, first chief of the Gestapo, about Hitler in Frank Rector's "The Nazi Extermination of Homosexuals"



"The history of the gay and lesbian movement has been that its adherents quickly move the goal line as soon as the previous one has been breached, revealing even more shocking and outrageous objectives. In the present instance, homosexual activists, heady with power and exhilaration, feel the political climate is right to tell us what they have wanted all along. This is the real deal: Most gays and lesbians do not want to marry each other. That would entangle them in all sorts of legal constraints. Who needs a lifetime commitment to one person?"


-Dr. James Dobson, "Eleven Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage", May 2004


"If this country officially embraces same sex marriage, the future of our country is doomed. No civilization has officially embraced homosexuality, or same sex marriage, without self destructing. Granting a marriage license to those of the same sex is the country's stamp of approval on an aberrant, perverted, and broken sexual lifestyle. The future of our children is at stake."


-A Quote from Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal, April 1999


"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union...A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."


-Coretta Scott King, March, 2004


This is a hard diary for me to write. Hard but necessary. Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are using our religion to cover their prejudices with the patina of belief. They rejoice in their acceptance by society, and the stamp of approval they receive by being such good Christian that they could even love a gay person...if only they'd just stop being gay.


I can't tell you why they do this. I can only tell you it's wrong.


How do I know it's wrong? Because I'm a student of history, and specifically the history leading up to and during the Second World War in Germany.


It amazes me still that the same week of the 60th Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings called for PBS to ban showing an episode of a children's program that showed lesbian parents of a little girl, because "many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles". I remember calling Ms. Spellings up in Washington, D.C., and almost breaking into tears talking to the nice, young woman on the other end of the phone who was fielding calls for the secretary.


"Is Ms. Spellings aware of the fact that gays were also targeted by the Nazis and killed in concentration camps?" I asked. The sympathetic young woman said that she didn't know, but she would pass on my concerns to the Secretary.


Maybe she doesn't know. Maybe, like Minnesota state Rep. Arlon Linder, she just chooses not to believe it:


"It never happened," Lindner told the House.


"I was a child during World War II, and I've read a lot about World War II," he said. "It's just been recently that anyone's come out with this idea that homosexuals were persecuted to this extent. There's been a lot of rewriting of history."


Holocaust revisionism always makes me ill, because it usually hides the prejudices that the person doing the revisionism just doesn't want to deal with. The revisionism that states that gays were not targeted by the Nazis is especially dangerous, because in a way Rep. Linder is right: it has been relatively recent - starting mainly in the 1970's - that gay men who were targeted by the Nazis felt comfortable coming forward.


What Rep. Linder does not understand is that this is not "rewriting of history". As Warren Johansson and William A. Percy write in their scholarly paper, "Homosexuals in Nazi Germany":


The intolerance and criminalization that persisted after 1945, along with the shame and fear that the homosexual survivors and their families felt, prevented most homosexuals from testifying. In the immediate postwar period, many of those who wrote about the concentration camps, as well as the criminal courts and administrative tribunals that dealt with the crimes committed in the camps, treated homosexuals as common criminals, justly punished for violating the penal code of the Third Reich...


...A decision of 10 May 1957 of the West German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) in Karlsruhe injured the homosexual victims of the Nazis even more. It held that the altered version of Article 175 of the German Penal Code, as amended by the Nazi regime in 1935 to make the definition of male homosexual acts more comprehensive and the penalty more severe, was constitutional because it "did not interfere with the free development of the personality" and it "contained nothing specifically National Socialist." Further, it asserted the primary justification of the law to be that homosexual acts "unquestionably offended the moral feelings of the German people." The court even recommended that the maximum penalty for the offense without further qualification be doubled-from 5 to 10 years.3 This maximum was higher than the sentences actually served after the war by some concentration camp commanders and guards. No one protested the ruling, least of all the psychiatrists who then rarely missed an opportunity to assert that "homosexuality is a serious disease" and even implied from time to time that ostracism and punishment were not inappropriate forms of therapy.4


Examining the persecution of gays in the Holocaust is not "rewriting history". It is discovering it. And those who attempt to revise or ignore this history may want to do some soul searching and be brutally honest with themselves why the fact that the Nazis - the undisputed "evil doers" of all time - oppressed gays using the same rationale that is being used today to deny basic civil rights and the opportunity to marry to homosexuals.


What were these justifications for the imprisonment, forced castration and murder of gays in Nazi Germany? It seems to have been a combination of fear of homosexuality - specifically among men - as being a cancer to the nation, that left unfettered would expand and eventually decay the body politic from within, literally like a cancer. This fear of homosexuality was combined by the Nazi desire to increase Aryan birthrate, and they viewed gay men as specifically standing in the way of this goal:


If you further take into account the facts I have not yet mentioned, namely that with a static number of women, we have two million men too few on account of those who fell in the war [of 1914-18], then you can well imagine how this imbalance of two million homosexuals and two million war dead, or in other words a lack of about four million men capable of having sex, has upset the sexual balance sheet of Germany, and will result in a catastrophe.


I would like to develop a couple of ideas for you on the question of homosexuality. There are those homosexuals who take the view: what I do is my business, a purely private matter. However, all things which take place in the sexual sphere are not the private affair of the individual, but signify the life and death of the nation, signify world power or 'swissification.' The people which has many children has the candidature for world power and world domination. A people of good race which has too few children has a one-way ticket to the grave, for insignificance in fifty or a hundred years, for burial in two hundred and fifty years....


Therefore we must be absolutely clear that if we continue to have this burden in Germany, without being able to fight it, then that is the end of Germany, and the end of the Germanic world....


-Heinrich Himmler, on the "Question of Homosexuality", February 1937


It's also hard to calculate exactly how many gays perished under the revised Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, overseen by the Gestapo under the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion: Special Office (II S). The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gives the following statistics:


An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.


The number of 5,000-15,000 is only an approximate, as it takes into consideration only those camps on German soil. Johansson and Percy state:


This figure, which some have mistaken for the approximate total of homosexual victims, is conservative, as it excludes those facilities, such as the Moor camps, that did not fall under the jurisdiction of the concentration camp inspectorate, as well as the camps located outside the borders of the Reich.


Many scholars believe the death rate in the concentration camps for homosexuals was particularly high, estimated at 60%. Again, from Johansson and Percy:


Even within the concentration camps, other inmates shunned and ostracized the prisoners with the pink triangle, as Boisson poignantly relates.67 They had the shortest life expectancies and highest death rates, because they belonged to a "scapegoat group" and because as a heterogeneous social group they were unable to develop a strong support network. Further, the Communists, who formed the most cohesive political group among the prisoners and effectively organized resistance within the camps, followed Stalin's total repudiation of the sexual reform movement by ostracizing homosexuals. Lautmann contrasts homosexual prisoners with matching control groups: political prisoners and Jehovah's Witnesses, finding that the death rate for homosexual prisoners (60 percent) was half again as high as for political prisoners (41 percent) and Jehovah's Witnesses (35 percent).68


It is also important to note that these numbers do not include gay men who committed suicide rather than be imprisoned.


One of the most heartbreaking stories of gay oppression during the Holocaust comes from survivor, Friedrich-Paul von Groszheim. This is his testimony:


1933-39: In January 1937 the SS arrested 230 men in Luebeck under the Nazi-revised criminal code's paragraph 175, which outlawed homosexuality, and I was imprisoned for 10 months. The Nazis had been using paragraph 175 as grounds for making mass arrests of homosexuals. In 1938 I was re-arrested, humiliated, and tortured. The Nazis finally released me, but only on the condition that I agree to be castrated. I submitted to the operation.


1940-44: Because of the nature of my operation, I was rejected as "physically unfit" when I came up for military service in 1940. In 1943 I was arrested again, this time for being a monarchist, a supporter of the former Kaiser Wilhelm II. The Nazis imprisoned me as a political prisoner in an annex of the Neuengamme concentration camp at Lübeck.


This awful chapter of human history is too lengthy to record in one diary, and I suggest that folks check out all of the links I've provided above, in addition to this page: http://fcit.coedu.usf.edu/holocaust/people/VictHomo.htm, which links to more online material. The life of a homosexual in these camps included rape, molestation, brutal beatings and there is one testimony of death by a dog attack.


It is vitally important that this little-told history reaches the ears of as many people as possible, especially in these days of some forces in our government wishing to use homosexuals as scapegoats and political pawns.


Never again.


An upbeat epilogue to this diary: Arlon Linder is no longer a state representative in Minnesota.


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

You Mean Lisa?

You Mean Lisa?
In the Simpsons' episode "Viva Ned Flanders", Ned watches Homer cycle through one of his typically frontal-lobe challenged days, which leads to this exchange:


Ned: How do you do it, Homer? How do you silence that little voice that says "think"?

Homer: You mean Lisa?

Ned: No, I mean common sense!


It's instructive dialog for Democrats these days. There is a growing consensus that those on the Blue end of the spectrum have lost their groove, and the search for it is on: left, right, up, down. Take your pick.

Part of the consensus is that progressives need to reclaim a basic moral sense if they are to be heard in the public square. Americans may or may not be good people at heart, but they sure like to be seen as good people. For better or worse, talking the moral talk seems to be a basic tool in any pol's belt.


The pressure to find "values" is particularly acute for religious progressives, attacked as heretics by the Religious Right and sellouts by the secular left, and expected by all comers to articulate some kind of social principles. Perhaps the pressure is appropriate; because, for all that Homer and Ned's dialog identifies Lisa with common sense, as anyone who's watched the show knows, she's the center of the Simpson's moral universe.


Given the warped world her family lives in, she just might be the voice of common sense, too.


Partly, this is a theoretical debate; religious progressives are sick to death of hearing "religion" equated with "conservativism," and "morals" limited to "abortion and homosexuality." So there is a movement afoot to redefine values as including tolerance and concern for the poor. For example, peace activists in Ireland, or a group of Christian lawyers in Iowa attacking the grotesque bankruptcy reform bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley as "contrary to the forgiveness of debt and charity required by the Bible." More examples here, and there are many more floating around the internet.


But there are some very down-to-earth, practical numbers behind the movement, too (from the Des Moines Register article cited above):

[F]aith leaders have been empowered by a recent Zogby poll that found abortion and same-sex marriage weren't the most important faith-based issues in voters' minds in the last presidential election.


When asked to identify the most urgent moral problems facing the United States today, 64 percent of voters in the poll chose greed and materialism or poverty and economic justice. So it is timely for the rabbis and bishops to remind Congress and state legislatures to exercise a complete range of religious ethics and values in their budget priorities.



This matches recent data collected by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; it seems "progressive values" aren't all that far away from "mainstream values."


Nor is this simply agreement by the usual suspects. Albert Mohler's recent post on Marty Peretz's lament for liberalism sounds almost wistful for the good old days of dusting it up with progressives:


One of the greatest signs of sickness in our current political culture is that conservatives have virtually no one with whom to engage in a lively and substantial political conversation. The left has simply splintered into so many forms of ideological radicalism, that political discourse has become all but impossible.


We might take exception to Mohler's crack about "ideological radicalism" (hold the mirror up, buddy), but he's got a point: even from a conservative perspective, there needs to be some kind of counterweight in public discourse. A monologue is simply not healthy, for the faith or for the society.


From the other other end of the ideological spectrum, staunch secularists are challenging religious progressives such as myself to redefine the face of Christianity as it is shown on the talking-head circuit. I'm not a fan of this poster's aggressive way of articulating his point, but he does have one. If progressives cede the airwaves to monsters like Falwell and Robertson, who can we blame but ourselves for public perceptions of Christianity as harsh, legalistic and punitive?


So for "crunchy Christians," it's the age-old political conundrum: how do you maximize your presence while minimizing your opponents'?


Garret Keizer suggests in this long but excellent article in Mother Jones that progressives must reframe the "moral values" debate with an eye to American class differences.


For Keizer, this reframe is necessary for both liberals and conservatives to live up to their stated ideals. You talk the talk, you walk the walk. That means owning up to our participation in an economy based on some having more while others have less:


Of course, liberals are no worse than conservatives in skirting the politics of class. But conservatives have gained an edge on liberals in exploiting the surrogate politics of identity. In other words, they have succeeded in beating liberals at their own game. The winning strategy is based on two principles: First, the mastery of identity politics depends on gaining the allegiance of the largest possible minority (in the case of "born-again" Christians, about 42 percent of the country at last count). Second, the most committed minority is the one defined not by the "givens" of ethnicity or gender but by the "chosens" of common belief.


The left was once an identity of that sort, and its common belief was a classless society in which no identity trumped that of a human being. Its common belief was that a condition of equality and solidarity was the destiny of humankind. There is no language that the left needs to recover so badly as it needs to recover that faith. This does not mean that the left should not engage the racism, sexism, homophobia, and environmentally inept futurism to which the left itself has not always been immune. It does mean that a truly progressive agenda has to consist of something more radical than reminding the minimum-wage custodian to sort the recyclables when he takes out the trash or the Latina housemaid to dust Che's portrait when she does the den. It might mean that we have to relinquish more of our disposable income in order to reduce the numbers of disposable people. It might mean something as radical as saying so.



Keizer writes for a secular audience, but as a former Episcopal priest, he surely knows what this means for religious types: a back-to-basics re-engagement with scripture. We need to recapture a sense of God's priorities, rather than those foisted on us by religious-flavored ideologues. The Bible, for example, mentions the poor or poverty 3,000 times; homosexuality four to six times by the broadest definitions. Christians believe that God is firmly on the side of the poor, and they have a responsibility to say so, over against those who would convince otherwise, over and against our own temptations.


Since this is about living up to ideals, Keizer isn't much for realpolitik. He sees "political expedience" as just another cop-out. And in any case, he believes that reclaiming a principled defense of the poor isn't the political suicide most pols make it out to be. After all, Pres. Bush has powered his reign of error largely on the perception that he is a man of principle. That perception is a sword that cuts both ways, Keizer notes:


Conventional wisdom will claim that what I'm talking about is hopelessly outdated, regressive rather than progressive, as if the historical dreams of humanity were so many software programs that cease to function whenever some Newsweek pundit declares them obsolete. Conventional wisdom will also claim that a recovery of the original vision of the left is politically unrealistic. That is bunk, and for two reasons.


The first is that it relegates the left to its assigned role in the morality play of the right. If the prevailing left-liberal response to the 2004 election is yet another change of position, another revisionist move toward centrist policies, we will have done nothing more than to demonstrate that our theocratic adversaries on the right are right: namely, that the secularist tradition of democratic liberalism lacks a moral core. Democrats seem prepared to subordinate every value to that of winning, failing to realize that they can never win -- especially in a time of international terror and domestic disarray -- until they subordinate winning to conviction. This is where jabs at George W. Bush's intellect prove to be every bit as lame as their target. Nobody thinks Bush has a brain. They think he has a backbone.


The second problem with the case for "political realism" is that it's often advanced by people with a very limited experience of reality. I don't live in a pollster's PowerBook; I live on a road. One defining feature of a road is its unexpected turns. When I was serving as a small-town priest, I had supper one evening with four of my parishioners. These were conservative people by any liberal's estimate: Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Eastern Star, color guard on Memorial Day, deer camp come November. The conversation began to take a political turn, at which point the young padre felt some obligation to interject a meek word or two on behalf of peace and justice. But before I could finish my thought, a woman declared that there was a wonderful politician who was going to hold the federal government to account and speak for the people. Then, in a tone of voice women her age usually reserve for sons who dote on their mothers, she invoked his name (to the obvious approval of everyone at the table): Bernie Sanders.


I have this bad habit of tilting back in my chair, and it could have proved disastrous right then. These days I take it in stride when Congressman Sanders gets the overwhelming mandate that Bush thinks he got last November. This is in a state where a Republican governor has just begun serving his second term.


The people sitting at that kitchen table may not have known for sure what a socialist is, but they knew for sure that Bernie Sanders is a socialist. More to the point, Bernie Sanders knows for sure that he is a socialist. But that isn't the main point either. The main point, which is always the main point, is this: What do you know for sure?



What do you know for sure? It's a question all progressives need to ask themselves. Not in a scientific sense, but in a moral one. What are our values? How do we live by them? Are we willing to fight for them? Are we willing to live by them while allowing others to live their own visions?


Where the right is wrong is in trying to impose a single set of cultural values on a pluralistic society. Where the right is also wrong is in failing to keep faith with its own professed values. If the right truly believed in the primacy of family, it would rejoice at the number of gay and lesbian couples who wish to form stable, monogamous unions and provide homes for unwanted children. For that matter, if the right truly believed in "Judeo-Christian" values, it would oppose the idolatry of "market forces." At the very least, it would oppose relativistic arguments in defense of torture.


But an alternative set of values cannot be forged in a seminar or welded together from various cross-cultural scrap like a work of found art. Values are a codification of the experience of shared struggle -- be it in the Sinai Desert or the coalfields of Appalachia. If I am in danger of forgetting that, I need look no farther than the snow that begins to fall as we drive home from the bleeping movie. Around here it falls for a good six months. I don't know if a drunk driver is going to kill us on the road, but I do know that if we go off the road for any reason, someone will stop to help. It is one of the ways we have learned to survive as a community. It is one of the values that have come of our shared struggle against the formidable powers of cold and ice. It is one of the things we know for sure.


So what am I saying? I am saying the best way for the left to discover the values suitable to a pluralistic society is in a committed struggle with those forces that are hell-bent on reshaping America as a sentimental Victorian empire where Mammon is Lord and compassion is king and all the luck that any poor person needs is for a rich man to be visited by four ghosts on Christmas Eve. This is a struggle that promises to be hard and protracted. It promises that we will live through a formative time, a potentially glorious time -- but only if we can accept what Martin Luther King Jr. told us, that a person who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for. If we on the left can conceive of no value worthy of sacrifice, then we live for no worthier purpose than to grouse and grow old. I am finished with the politics of incest and retreat, with wayward glances at Canada and nostalgic mooning over the '60s and the cyberspace Rapture of the virtual Elect. I am done with equivocal thanksgiving. This is a good moment in which to be alive, or as a Lakota warrior is supposed to have said before riding out to meet a man named George at a river named the Little Bighorn, "It is a good day to die."



Political expedience be damned: it's time for game on, as they say in the hockey world. Not all fights lead to separation; sometimes a good dust-up can bring people closer, once they begin to understand that they struggle against a common foe.


And yet there is a place for good old-fashioned politics. Our leaders need to be made personally and morally responsible for the consequences of their policies. No one likes to be judgmental, but there comes a time when pols need to be held accountable. There is no finer example of this than that hardest of hearts, George W. Bush, as Amy Sullivan points out in Salon:

On Tuesday, I attended a press conference held by five denominational leaders to oppose the President's budget, which was a great first step...but the religious leaders refused to direct any fire at Bush, dodging questions about whether the budget failed to reflect "compassionate conservative" principles, and insisting that they were there to critique a document, not cast judgment on the administration.


Again, this is as much a challenge for progressives as it is for conservatives. If Bush is to be held accountable for his cynical use of...of...well, really, of almost too many egregious, amoral wrongs to name--torture, vast indifference to the poor and vulnerable, lying, cronyism, and on and on--then someone needs to call him to account. If pastors, priests and rabbis, to whom religious progressives traditionally look for moral leadership, fail to call Bush out, then we need to call them to account for their failings. Sullivan puts this in the context of a generation-long collapse of political engagement by the mainline denominations, which I have some quibbles with. But essentially, she has it right: religious progressives only have the right to expect as much leadership as they demand. The battle for moral redefinition must begin from within our own institutions.


Growing out of that insight, religious progressives need to make their conservative co-religionists feel the heat. When Jerry Falwell or Albert Mohler go on "Nightline" to pontificate about family values, the producers of the show need to be flooded with letters and e-mails demanding to know why peace and poverty weren't addressed. This isn't about replacing one talking head with another, more acceptable one. Jim Wallis isn't going to win the battle for the public square, and neither will a thousand Nightline guest lists. What will is changing the terms of the debate itself. Hit the companies with the same message over and over, and eventually they'll get the message: viewers want to hear from people who want to talk about peace and poverty, not the evils of animated sponges.


Because, really, where is the struggle in America? Is Sponge Bob really the greatest threat to our families? Of course not. But how will anyone ever know if the only moral spokesmen they hear from are James Dobson and Pat Robertson?


Well, time for the bottom line. What is just plain common sense for religious progressives?


  1. We need to focus on true Biblical priorities: God's preference for the poor and for peace. That means pushing our communities to get back to basics. That means pushing ourselves to practice what we preach.


  2. We need to create the expectation that our leaders will share these preferences, and lead us to responsible social practices in their light.


  3. In turn, our religious leaders need to help us to keep our political leaders accountable. That means naming names. Torture is not acceptable, now or ever. We need to say so, clearly, and not be afraid to announce God's judgment of those who would sneak it in through the back door. We must, in short, reclaim the prophetic voice.


  4. We need to throw a sharp elbow every once in a while to reclaim appropriate space in the public square. How can we claim to love and serve the God of peace and justice if we allow the public face of Christianity to be narrow-minded bigotry and jingoism? To do so is not to impose our faith on others, but to fill the hole blown in the public conversation by our silence.


Even shorter: we need to figure out what we believe is right and what is wrong, learn to live by it, and not be shy about yelling when those beliefs are violated.


Hmm.


Lisa just might be the right voice for common sense after all.


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Take Action


Building Peace Through Prayer


Saturday marks the second anniversary of the unleashing of "Shock and Awe" - the start of the Iraq War. In just two years more than 1,500 American soldiers have been killed, thousands upon thousands of Iraqi dead, including countless women and children, and no end in sight. The cost to our nation's economy and influence abroad is enormous.FaithfulAmericans across the country will remember this event in many ways, but we are all committed to a reign of peace.Our friends at Sojourners are organizing nationwide prayer vigils to remember the dead and to call for peace. If you want to be part of a time of prayer and remembrance on this second anniversary of the Iraq war, all you need to do is click on the URL below and type in your zip code to find a vigil in your neighborhood. When you do, you can download a vigil toolkit to help you make the most of this important experience. After checking your zip code please sign up so the event organizer can contact you with any changes or further details.We encourage you to join with others at this special time, especially if, like so many, you value the strength and depth of experience that comes from sharing with like-minded people of compassion. You will find kindred spirits, and they will in turn be blessed by your presence.


Visit the following links online:
Sign up for a Prayer Vigil in your neighborhood


Who you can contact:
Katherine Paarlberg/Matt Ching
Organizer
http://netmail2.verizon.net/agent/MobNewMsg?to=organize@sojo.net
202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474


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Religious Subsidy Watch

Michigan has opened a "faith-based programs" office:
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm told a meeting of 700 religious leaders that social-services agencies and religious groups share common values and "sing out of the same hymnal" in their mission to help the poor and vulnerable. "The government isn't separate from you, it is you," she said.

...

Granholm made no new funding promises to church leaders, although the office will help religious groups access federal funding. The governor also said churches cannot discriminate based on religion, and Wendy Waggenheim, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, echoed that message. "No one can be required to pray before they get soup at a soup kitchen,"she said.


Minnesota is considering the same thing, but the proposal is being met with skepticism. Among other things, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is threatening a lawsuit.


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They serve beer, too

Md. Church Rethinks Liquor License:
The elders of Evangel Cathedral in Upper Marlboro have withdrawn an application to serve alcohol at their new banquet hall after a state lawmaker raised questions about the propriety of a church holding a liquor license.

The application to the Prince George's County Liquor Control Board was submitted in January by caterer Frederick Johnson, who was hired by Evangel to operate "Camelot of Upper Marlboro" in a newly renovated building that once served as the church's Family Life Center. The church's address, 13901 Central Ave., is listed on the application.



On Tuesday, Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George's), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the county liquor board, said the application raised a "red flag."

"We now have a church in Prince George's County doing something that goes completely against the grain of our ministers and our churches," Benson said. "It is one thing to have a banquet hall. It is another thing to have another outlet for alcohol."

It is indeed, but perhaps not for the reason the Delegate states. Listen to a description of the program:

"Johnson, president of Effie's Catering, said he understood the church's request. "We are on holy ground and we are going to be obedient to overseers of the house," he said. He said he still planned to run a 'premier facility.'

A brochure included with Evangel's application said the banquet hall would rival Martin's Crosswinds and La Fountain Bleu, two of the county's top venues for large events.

Evangel's application came at a time of growing concern among county leaders about the proliferation of so-called mega-churches and their impact on neighborhoods and the county's tax base. Evangel moved to Prince George's from the District in 1991 and opened a $22 million, 2,350-seat sanctuary in Upper Marlboro 10 years later."

This is more than a fellowship hall writ large. More likely, it's an economic development program; it may generate revenues for the church, and perhaps provide a place for unemployed members to work. In other words, it's perilously close to a straight-up business, minus the tax burden.

If I were an elected official, I'd be concerned about that too.


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Shudder

Anyone else feel a cold, clammy hand on their shoulder?
From the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader:
One month after leaving office, former U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft has a new job: He'll be a part-time professor at a Christian university run by television evangelist Pat Robertson.
Ashcroft, 62, will begin teaching a one-week course on "leadership in times of crisis" on April 4 at Regent University in Virginia Beach.

Jay Sekulow, a Regent University trustee, said the former attorney general will teach a two-week version of the same course during the college's summer, fall and spring semesters beginning this year.

Ashcroft also will lecture on national security law and meet informally with students, Sekulow said.

Ashcroft will be a "distinguished fellow" of the new Law and Justice Institute, which plans to do research to support lawsuits aimed at upholding Christian values.

"This is a great benefit (for) the school," Sekulow said. "What better way to teach national security law than to have the man who handled 9/11?"


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From Lou Sheldon

Activist "Republican" Judge Says CA Marriage Law Unconstitutional:
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, described in the press as a Catholic and Republican, ruled on March 14 that California's Proposition 22 is unconstitutional and violates the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

Proposition 22 was passed in 2000 by 61.4% of the voters. It requires the government to define marriage as a one-man, one-woman union under California law.


Because Catholics and Republicans couldn't disagree on this, could they?

Right?

As for the "61.4%," this is a game both liberals and conservatives play. What's right is right, regardless of the percentages. Law in the United States has always been used to protect the minority from the majority; it's part of the great American tradition of representative democracy. But I suppose whining about the results of an unpopular decision is also a great American tradition.


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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

NC religious leaders oppose constitutional amendment

From Pam.

Here's the first report on today's rally in Raleigh, from the (News & Observer):
Some 100 clergy and people of faith lobbied state legislators Tuesday to oppose a bill that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman...The rally was the second for the N.C. Religious Coalition for Marriage Equality, which seeks to counter the perception that all clergy oppose same-sex marriage.

"Not all people of faith are of one mind on this issue," said the Rev. Jack McKinney, the pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh and co-chair of the coalition. Few lawmakers were on hand to hear the speeches. The group spoke mainly to the press.

A bill sponsored by Sen. James Forrester, a Republican from Gaston County, calls for an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But that bill is tied up in a legislative committee, and Forrester doesn't hold much hope that Democrats who control the House and Senate want to grapple with it.

"It doesn't look optimistic unless I get a groundswell of support from people back home," Forrester said..."The silent majority hasn't spoken."



North Carolina is one of 39 states that recognizes only heterosexual marriages as valid. But Forrester says North Carolinians need an added level of protection that a constitutional amendment affords. As proof, he cited the ruling by a California judge Monday who found that the California's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The Rev. Mary Grigolia, the associate minister at the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Durham, spoke about her own struggles as a lesbian to get life and health insurance benefits for her partner, who she identified as "Cindy."

A hospital stay last year convinced the couple just how vulnerable they were without any of the benefits married people automatically get benefits as simple as allowing a family member into a hospital Intensive Care Unit. "Cindy and I do not threaten the institution of marriage," Grigolia said. "It's cruel and unnecessary hardship to exclude anyone's partner from a hospital room."


Love the Disiciples of Christ sign in the background.


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A Treasure Trove

From Moveable Theoblogical:
  • Stanley Hauerwas on the Bible as a stumbling block.


  • Creepy ideas about biblical authority and history.

  • Stone them!

  • Jim Wallis meets W. and Tony Blair.

  • And the best for last:
    From The Mouths of Babes

    My first grade daughter had an English assignment. Read the "telling" sentence and turn it into an "asking" sentence.

    Telling sentence: The President Lives in the White House.
    Kelli's asking sentence: Where does the president live?

    The President makes important decisions.
    Kelli: Who makes important decisions?

    George Bush is our president.
    Kelli: WHY is George Bush our president?


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God Politics

From Jesus Politics:

A quote from the study DOES GOD MATTER?:
In addition, God matters to politics. Images of God in the United States are highly predictive of political affiliations. In general, individuals with a more passive and inactive view of God will tend to be Democrats. Once again, this analysis controls for important demographic variables along with religious affiliation and church attendance. This means, for example, a Southern Baptist who believes in a more active and judgmental God is statistically more likely to be Republican than another Southern Baptist who views God in a more passive and inactive light, even when they share common demographic characteristics, including frequency of church attendance. In other words, an individual's belief about God tells us something more about her moral attitudes, behavior, and politics than we can find out through her church affiliation and religious behavior. In the end, image of God is a powerful variable. As social scientists, we interpret this to mean that God is a powerful influence on humans.


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FBI Investigates Queer Cartoons

Via Jesus' General:

Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo
Case opened: 1958; Case closed: 1994

The Hanna-Barbera company has been closely watched since the 1950s. HB, more than any other animation house, used the most characters with the vaguest sexual orientation. Lots of bottomless males, clothed only in bowties and neckties. Yogi shared a cave in Jellystone Park with his diminutive sidekick, Boo-Boo, and, as was the case across the country during that era, would chronically defy authority and/or "the establishment," in this case Ranger Smith. Was Yogi's knack for stealing pic-a-nic baskets an effort to sate his post-homosexual-sex appetite? The FBI never found out and closed the file on Yogi following his possible conversion to a more wholesome lifestyle in the early Nineties as depicted in "Yogi the Easter Bear."



More here.

(And a somewhat related post from Baptist Ethics Daily.)


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Blog Ad Reviews

Add this to the list of bad reviews of the God Is Still Speaking ads. Also heard someone carping about seeing it on Ann Coulter's blog.

Heh. It's like somebody placed these deliberately to stir conversation, isn't it?


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Atrios:

Yesterday, 50 senators put themselves on record voting for deep benefit cuts in social security and massive new debt. The ones who are up for re-election in '06 are:
Allen, George VA
Burns, Conrad MT
Chafee, Lincoln RI
Ensign, John NV
Hatch, Orrin UT
Hutchison, Kay Bailey TX
Kyl, Jon AZ
Lott, Trent MS
Lugar, Richard IN
Santorum, Rick PA
Talent, Jim MO
Thomas, Craig WY
...they all voted against the Nelson Amendment which stated:

It is the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any Social Security plan that requires deep benefit cuts or a massive increase in debt.

(I've taken the liberty of highlighting our local troglodyte. Er, scratch that: Santorum, of course, represents Northern Virginia.)


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Speaking Out

From Sojourners, via Chuck Currie:
Sojourners is offering another opportunity to you to make your voice heard on the budget debate on going on in Congress. Here is their message:

As Christians committed to social justice, we believe that budgets are moral documents. Apparently, Congress didn't get the memo.

The House and Senate Budget Committees approved budgets last week that make dramatic cuts to Medicaid, Food Stamps, and countless other low-income programs while extending tax cuts and (unbelievably) proposing new ones for the wealthiest Americans. This week, the budgets will be discussed and voted on by the full House and Senate, with all members of Congress being able to participate.

Your response to our "The Budget is a Moral Document" campaign has been overwhelming. Almost 20,000 of you have sent e-mails to Congress in the past month, and staff on Capitol Hill report they have never seen this much constituent response about the budget. As people of faith, we must now ramp up our efforts and send one clear message to Congress: Don't pass a morally bankrupt budget!

Here are the two most important things you can do.

Step 1

Call your senators and representative now! Sojourners and Call to Renewal have set up a toll-free phone number for you to reach Congress:

(800) 707-1009

This number will connect you to the Capitol switchboard. Ask for your senator or representative by name). Once you're connected, tell them to stand up for your values by:

Voting YES on amendments that restore funding for Medicaid, Food Stamps, Earned Income Tax Credits, Child Care, and other key work-supports for low-income families.

Voting YES on amendments that repeal tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Voting NO on any budget that goes against biblical and moral principles by fattening the rich at the expense of the poor.

Some tips about how to make a successful call!

Introduce yourself as a constituent and as a person of faith. Say what city or town you're from. Remember: They are your public servants.

Make your request. Remember that you are asking them do something specific (voting yes or no on various proposals), and try to keep calls under two or three minutes.

Make it personal. Explain quickly how this budget will affect you, your friends, or your city/state.

Be polite. Remember, the people answering the phone will get plenty of these calls today, and it's their job to report to their boss what you tell them. Make sure to say "thank you" at the end of the call.

Repeat two times. Please call both your senators and your representative(s). Don't disregard an elected official because you think s/he is too liberal or conservative. Everyone needs to hear this message.

Don't give up. Having trouble getting through? Call your senators and representatives' offices directly (Look up your senators here and your representatives here).

Don't be discouraged if you can't get through on the first try - busy signals mean others are being heard and you are making a difference!

Step 2

Send a letter to your member of Congress. Click here to do it.

Related Post: Would Jesus Pass Tax Cuts For The Rich And Leave The Least Of These Behind?


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A tale of two authors

Vampire author Anne Rice and Christian minister and writer Howard Storm have teamed up to promote Storm's book, My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life.
Rice says she, like Storm, was a "fashionable atheist" for many years. She re-embraced her Roman Catholic faith in 1998. Storm got religion after excruciating stomach pain landed him in a Paris hospital for emergency surgery in 1985.

While in the hospital, Storm says, he had a near-death experience that didn't fit the stereotypical version - the one in which people experience a bright light and the presence of love. Instead, Storm says he was viciously attacked by creatures he sensed were once human. During those attacks, he says, he heard a voice telling him to pray. Storm knew no prayers but began murmuring lines from the 23rd Psalm, the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star-Spangled Banner. Then, he says, he was in the presence of Jesus and angels.

Storm, through his ministry in Cincinnati, TV appearances and speaking engagements, shares his experience with skeptics and believers. He also wrote a book. A British publisher printed a limited number of My Descent Into Death, not readily available in the United States.

Rice read Descent, saw Storm on TV and, when he asked for help in finding an American publisher, she obliged - and even wrote the foreword for the new edition, now in bookstores.

Rice and Storm keep in touch by e-mail but have never spoken or met. But they will appear together on NBC's Today in New York on Tuesday.

"People say, 'What are you doing with Anne Rice? She's a vampire person, and you're a Jesus guy,' " Storm says.

"I tell them Anne and I are on the same wavelength."


A Southern Baptist minister I know played the lead in a college stage production of Dracula. He loved the play and performing as the Count, but he also got to witness to people he would not have otherwise have met. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

Carnacki


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Two very different moral witnesses

from Beliefnet:


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Why We Like the Guardian

Among other things, it has some of the best and most compassionate reporting on mental health issues--and the faces behind the issues.

See, for example, this article on a boy born with Down's Syndrome, and this one on addressing social exclusion by taking recovering addicts, some with MI problems to the Royal Opera House:
Sadly, after the interval Kearns' and Tracey's seats are empty. "Not everyone is going to enjoy it," Baden says.

Later on, Kearns says he had a migraine. "Where I come from, there was no such thing as compassion," he says. "If I'd stayed in there I'd have started crying (with emotion) and they'd have had to carry me out."


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Isaiah 2:3-11

Thus says the Lord: Come, let us go up to
the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the
God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths. For out
of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word
of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge
between the nations, and shall decide for
many peoples; and they shall beat their
swords into plowshares, and their spears into
pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war
any more.

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the
light of the Lord.

For thou hast rejected thy people, the house
of Jacob, because they are full of diviners
from the east and of soothsayers like the
Philistines, and they strike hands with
foreigners. Their land is filled with silver
and gold, and there is no end to their
treasures; their land is filled with horses,
and there is no end to their chariots. Their
land is filled with idols; they bow down to
the work of their hands, to what their own
fingers have made. So man is humbled, and men
are brought low -- forgive them not! Enter
into the rock, and hide in the dust from
before the terror of the Lord, and from the
glory of his majesty. The haughty looks of
man shall be brought low, and the pride of
men shall be humbled; and the Lord alone will
be exalted in that day.


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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A personal note

I apologize in advance for the personal nature of this post. There might be my family surfing over to visit. I haven't been exactly on the best of terms with my sisters since the 2004 election. Thankfully I made a breakthrough with one of them tonight.

Hope you enjoy the site.

Carnacki


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The mind reels

or shudders. Whatever:

UCC's 'Waiting for Godot' production tackles challenge


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DNC Chair Answers Democrats

From TalkingDonkeys:
DNC Chairmain Dean directly answered questions to democrats, here was his answer to mine:

"You mentioned -- and I applaud -- the importance of religious outreach by the Democratic party. My question: how you plan to do this outreach, and how can this outreach extend to a distributed grassroots of religious people?
Tim C. Culver City, CA

Yes, we plan to reach out to religious groups -- first by acknowledging their relevance and importance. And, second of all -- pointing out the hypocrisy of Republicans when they talk about moral values.

We should learn how to talk about moral values. After all, If this election had been decided on moral values, Democrats would have won. It is a moral value to provide health care. It is a moral value to educate our young people. The sense of community that comes from full participation in our democracy is a moral value. It is a moral value to make sure that we do not leave our own debts to be paid by the next generation. Honesty is a moral value."

We do notice that Dean doesn't actually answer the question--how can this be a grassroots project--but perhaps it's unreasonable to ask that he be conversant with, and willing to divulge, all manner of strategy.

And perhaps this needs to be the grassroot's project anyway.


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Stay tuned to faithforward...

For all your cartoon news needs.

From-- Beliefnet:
New York, March 10 - A children's music video that conservatives charge is part of an effort to encourage acceptance of homosexuality is being distributed to more than 60,000 schools nationwide, producers said Thursday.

The video features about 100 children's TV characters including SpongeBob SquarePants, Miss Piggy and Oscar the Grouch singing the 1979 disco hit "We Are Family." It will be accompanied by a teaching guide that promotes tolerance of diversity.


And a smaller distribution effort from Daily Kos' Renee in Ohio:
Remember that PBS "Postcards from Buster" episode that Bush's new Secretary of Education deemed inappropriate for public television because it included a family with two moms? There's an article in today's Washington Post about families getting together at Church of the Pilgrims Presbyterian in D.C. to view the episode.


In response, the American Family Association and Focus on the Family considered a joint release of a Pres. Bush animated series, but had to scrap those plans upon realizing that Bush is already a cartoon character.*

*This is of course a lie.


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Monday, March 14, 2005

Hallelujah!

The AP:
A judge ruled Monday that California's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, saying the state could no longer justify limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

In the eagerly awaited opinion likely to be appealed to the state's highest court, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer said that withholding marriage licenses from gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.

"It appears that no rational purpose exists for limiting marriage in this state to opposite-sex partners," Kramer wrote.

Can't quite believe this is the end of the story. But hey, take what you can get...


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The "Faith Agenda,"

Indiana-style:
One state lawmaker who says he promotes Christianity whenever he gets the chance wants to bring elective Bible courses into the public schools.

Another seeks special prison dorms that immerse inmates in Bible study and Christian counseling.

And a third says an "In God We Trust" license plate would serve as a good reminder of "what separates us from the animals."

Important stuff, all.


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3 on Moral Values

Three articles worth reading:
  • The International Herald-Tribune on the ouster of Boeing CEO Harry Stonecipher after an affair with a staffer:
    For investors the issue is whether moral values necessarily translate into shareholder value. Are boards correct to evaluate a chief executive's sex life and other personal behavior when judging leadership and performance?

    The answer, academic experts say, is yes. "It is a complicated issue in respect to shareholders," said Rakesh Khurana, assistant professor at Harvard Business School. "But ultimately the value of a company depends on how much faith people have in the organization they work for and the amount of effort they are willing to put in."

    That faith is fostered by an ineffable and scarce element that Khurana calls legitimacy.

    "Legitimacy gives you the benefit of the doubt," Khurana said. "It means you can take action with less scrutiny and fewer objections than a company without it. Legitimacy is ultimately the source of all power and authority. When a leader is no longer seen as legitimate, the title doesn't mean anything."


  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Sylvester Brown, Jr. reflects on some recent front-page articles in his own paper:
    It was a short blurb and photo on the American's front page that really brought Christ home, however. A photo showed the Rev. Laurel Hickman preaching at West Side MB Church. Hickman was one of many ministers involved in last week's annual "Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS."

    The goal of the national effort is to form a coalition of black Christians, Muslims and other denominations to offer consistent educational services and prayer to heal the global scourge of AIDS.

    Whoa, wait a minute. I can see Jesus defending the poor, fighting for the sick and mentally challenged, and maybe exploring stem cell research. But AIDS? How would Christ view a disease that's stigmatized by homosexuality, sexual promiscuity and illegal drug use?

    "He'd reach out to people afflicted with AIDS the same way he reached out to lepers," answered the Rev. Lloyd Edwards, a pastor with Progressive Baptist Church in St. Louis. "AIDS is the leprosy of the 21st century, and Jesus wasn't afraid to help lepers. He healed them."

    Interesting to read that from one black man to another, especially against the "Bigots" post below.

  • I'll have more to say about this last topic presently:
    A movement is growing to redefine religion in public life and to broaden the focus on "values" and "morality."

    • In Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church held a press conference and issued a joint statement on President Bush's 2006 budget - finding it "unjust."

    • In Utah, faith leaders have formed the "Utah Poverty Partnership," informing the Legislature that its budget will be judged by whether it enhances or undermines the lives and dignity of those most in need.

    • In Minnesota last month, leaders of the Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish and Islamic faiths called for income-tax increases and fewer spending cuts.

    • In Oregon, an interfaith delegation wearing clerical garments delivered a letter to the House speaker and Senate president asking them to recognize poverty as a moral imperative, and the budget "determines who gets educated, fed, sheltered, clothed, protected from crime and emergencies, and treated for illness."

    The faith leaders have been empowered by a recent Zogby poll that found abortion and same-sex marriage weren't the most important faith-based issues in voters' minds in the last presidential election.

    When asked to identify the most urgent moral problems facing the United States today, 64 percent of voters in the poll chose greed and materialism or poverty and economic justice. So it is timely for the rabbis and bishops to remind Congress and state legislatures to exercise a complete range of religious ethics and values in their budget priorities.


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Bigots

Protestors rally outside church holding AIDS seminar in Owensboro, Kentucky:
About a dozen people gathered outside the Cedar Street Missionary Baptist Church in Owensboro on Sunday, where The Annual Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS took place. They carried signs that read "No mercy in hell," and "No civil rights for sodomites."
The worship service offered HIV testing at the end of the program. Cedar Street Missionary Baptist Church did not sponsor the event but offered the use of its building.
"You cannot help (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS) with medicine," argued the Rev. Jack Oliver, who led the protest outside. "You must stop sodomy."

Correct us if we're wrong, but aren't the primary sources of AIDS transmission these days IV drug use and heterosexual intercourse?


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Britain...

dips a toe into American-style faith-based politics:
Tony Blair is to woo evangelical Christians ahead of the general election as rival faith groups play an increasingly significant part in campaigning strategy.
The prime minister will address 200 members of the Christian Faithworks group next week in a lecture on how the church can create "a more trusting society".

The move towards targeting individual faiths as part of the run-up to the likely May polling day comes after Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, made abortion an election issue for the first time in British politics at the weekend, when he stated that he favoured reducing the time limit for terminations to 20 weeks. Today a Roman Catholic archbishop endorsed Mr Howard's stance.


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Vatican lets excommunication order stand

The Montana Standard :
The Vatican has let stand a 1996 order from Lincoln Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz that his parishioners must sever ties with 12 groups or face possible excommunication, the Lincoln Diocese said.

Among the groups are the lay reform organization Call to Action, abortion-rights advocates Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice, and several Masonic organizations. Bruskewitz said the groups contradict Roman Catholic teaching."


It's the bishop's right, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. Nor does it mean that we have to think it's appropriate theology. Communion draws the body together; it should not be used to split it.


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When is a church not a church?

The Guardian reviews an interfaith chapel at Derby University:



We're fond of the last paragraphs of the story:
This is not a dedicated place of worship, although it might be used for services and, as its director, Eileen Fry, suggests, for weddings of couples of different religions. "We see the centre as a place for breaking down barriers between people of different faiths," says Fry. "We're helped by having a new building because it has no associations members of one faith might find negative. We have men and women sitting together in meetings and debates - people who might otherwise be segregated in public.

"There's a new spirit at work here; it's one helped by the design of the building. I suppose we could have gone for a simple box. It would have been cheaper - we're still looking for someone to help us with the last £50,000 - but it is working. And the idea is spreading."


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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

Let us pray for the community and for the world.


Grant, Source of All That Is, that all who walk in the way love may be united in truth, live together in love, and reveal the glory of your care in the world.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve one another, and love one another as we have been loved.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit; especially the mother of Wes F., suffering from acute diverticulitis, and for her husband, struggling to care for her; for Lonnie, dying from lung cancer; for the family of Charles L. and Deb B., as they face their particular difficulties; for Meredith Y., at the death of her ex-boyfriend by drug overdose; and for all in need; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them joy.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


We commend to your mercy all who have died, espicaly Brian, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with them eternal life and peace.


In your mercy:

Hear our prayer.


We give you thanks for new ventures, for new friends, and for kindnesses shared, both big and small.


Source of Love and Mercy, accept these thoughts and prayers, for the sake of who have embodied your care in the world.


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Oh, no...

Gunman Kills 8 At Church Service

And it just goes on:


Update: speculation on what sent the shooter over the edge:

Member Chandra Frazier told "Good Morning America" that he had walked out of a recent sermon "sort of in a huff." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday the Feb. 26 sermon that upset Ratzmann had made the point that people's problems are of their own making.


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More headlines we couldn't resist

Bishop O'Reilly holds off Faith Christian

Some tough Bishop, that one.


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Oh, for crying in the night...

Joe Lieberman is hanging out with Sam Brownback and the Richard Scaife sockpuppet Institute on Religion and Democracy. As if that weren't bad enough, the Reuters article is basically a hack reworking of the IRD press release:

Evangelical Christians, known for opposition to abortion rights and same-sex marriage, flexed their political muscle on Thursday and one said Democrats suffer from a "religion gap" at the polls.

"The religious left is political smoke and mirrors," Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said in a statement read at a gathering of the National Association of Evangelicals. "It simply doesn't have a significant voting base."

Citing polls showing strong evangelical support for Republican President Bush (news - web sites) in the 2004 election, Knippers, who couldn't attend the meeting, said in her statement: "The Democratic Party needs to begin to close its religion gap. Its leaders would do well to seek out advice from religious leaders who have a genuine constituency."


Does Lieberman even pretend to be a Democrat anymore?
Lieberman talked about his commitment to stemming global warming, and the place of religious faith in the U.S. government.

"I think your presence, your advocacy on a whole host of issues is not only welcome but necessary and classically American," Lieberman said. "America itself is a faith-based initiative."


For more on the IRD, see here.


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Mississippi Prophets

Fellow dKosmonkey Mitch Cohen publishes this editorial in NE Mississippi:
This past week, leaders of five mainstream Protestant denominations came together to speak in one voice. Standing shoulder to shoulder, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church together condemned the 2006 Federal budget proposed by President Bush as unjust by biblical standards. They couldn't be more correct.

"The 2006 Federal Budget that President Bush has sent to Capitol Hill is unjust," they said. "It has much for the rich man and little for Lazarus," harkening to Jesus' parable of the beggar Lazarus at the gate of an anonymous rich man. Lazarus, you'll recall, finds his reward at the side of Abraham in heaven when he dies, while the rich man burns in hell.

It's a grand and ancient tradition. The biblical prophets would be on the White House lawn, the steps of the Capitol, in the chambers of Congress, the Law in one hand, a fistful of indignation in the other, condemning the outright aggression of this administration against the poor.

Mississippi: too liberal for mainstream America.

(Congrats, Mitch)


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The Word For the Week

John 11:1-45

We dodged a bullet yesterday, albeit a minor one. It was supposed to snow 1-2", perhaps more. We were worried our new buds would freeze.

But at the last minute, the storm veered off. We had a snow shower, some sprinkles. By late afternoon, patches of blue were breaking through the top of the sky. Today was mild; we spent an hour pruning a tree and clearing leaves from last year's bulbs, which did indeed survive the winter.

Spring puts us in mind of the resurrection; there's a reason Easter is celebrated early in the year. It's good to be reminded that after death, there comes new life, especially after a hard season.

We're not out of the woods yet, of course. Even in South Central Pennsylvania, the middle of March is a contested month. One stray blast from Canada and we could be back in the deep freeze.

Which in turn puts us in mind of the story of Lazarus, who dodges a bullet of his own, sort of. He falls ill and dies while Martha and Mary await the arrival of Jesus. By the time he gets there, Lazarus has been gone four days. He's literally started to stink up the joint. Nevertheless, at his sisters' imploring, Jesus calls him out of his tomb and into the world of the living—only for the reader to hear in the very next chapter that the authorities are plotting his murder.

The contest continues. Eventually, Lazarus dies again.

So his rising isn't a resurrection. That term is reserved for Christ's triumph and his transformation into a new way of being after Easter. But it's obvious that John thought something had happened. Jesus displays a command of death and life that goes far beyond the powers of a mere healer.

I've been fumbling for this story in this bloody week bookended by bombings in Iraq and assaults on judges and their families at home. I did some Googling before writing today: there were 119,000 news stories this week about someone being killed. 63,700 stories mentioned someone dying; 14,100 mentioned a burial.

But to invert Stalin, "a million deaths is a statistic; one death is a tragedy." What's gotten under my skin this week, as we've awaited proper Easter weather, has been one death in particular.

He was a young man, a little out of college. We'd heard of, but only met, him once, a couple of weeks ago at the going-away party of one my wife's staff. He was her ex-boyfriend, someone she'd known all her life and dated off and on since she was 15.

A week after she moved to Baltimore, he overdosed on drugs at his mother's home and died on a Sunday morning.

It's strange to drink with a person one night, then hear a week later that he's dead, senselessly. It got to me for other reasons, too: the girlfriend he left behind is young and pretty and full of life and I have to admit I'm a bit protective of her. It saddens me to think about the pain she's had in the past week.

Which in a way puts us back where we began. All week, without knowing it, I have been running through this story in the back of my head, saying—asking, really, begging—Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Wondering, were you disturbed? Were you greatly moved? Are you the resurrection and the life?

Because I believe, Lord, I believe. But in a contested month in a contested life, I can't help keeping one eye on the clouds and one hand free to pull my jacket tight as an icy breeze blows across my shoulders and down my collar, wondering how long it's going to take you to show up this time.


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