Saturday, December 29, 2007

Prospero Año Nuevo

I'm posting this early, but I'm not sure if I'll log back in between now and Tuesday. My New Year's plans are pretty dull; I'm working on New Year's Eve night, and I'm been working a pretty tough stretch since the day after Xmas, so I may welcome the new year by sleeping in. Basic family traditions apply: clean house and noodle dinner, greeting the new year at sunrise ... well, I can do that from bed this year, I'm just too pooped.

I found this song, "My Dear Acquaintance (Happy New Year)" by Regina Spektor on iTunes today and decided to share it. It's a lovely sentiment coupled with some interesting sound. It's a free download on iTunes, so try it and enjoy it for your New Year's fest.

My dear acquaintance, it's so good to know you
For strength of your hand
That is loving and giving
And a happy new year
With love overflowing
With joy in our hearts
For the blessed new year

Raise your glass and we'll have a cheer
For us all who are gathered here
And a happy new year to all that is living
To all that is gentle, kind, and forgiving
Raise your glass and we'll have a cheer
My dear acquaintance, a happy new year

All of those who are hither and yonder
With love in our hearts
We grow fonder and fonder
Hail to those who we hold so dear
And hail to those who are gathered here
And a happy new year to all that is living
To all that is gentle, young, and forgiving
Raise your glass and we'll have a cheer
My dear acquaintance, a happy new year
Happy new year

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Blog alert

Movement Vision Lab's blog focus for the week is Faith and Spirituality. Go check it out.

The definition of "Christian"

One of the sites I regularly check in on is, a thoughtful, ecumenical clearinghouse about world religion. The group that maintains the site is based in Canada, is made up of lay people of various faith traditions, and as inclusive as you could ever get. Although you can find whatever information you're seeking on religion, from abortion debates to Christmas wars, you'll also find a plethora of musings, ramblings and essays, mostly reader-donated, on almost every topic, on all sides of the political/religious spectrum.

I visited yesterday and an essay caught my eye: People who disagree with our definition of "Christian." An excerpt from the site:

Common negative comments we have received about our definition of Christian:

bulletYou have no academic qualifications to make definitions: Ours is a multi-faith group consisting of an Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Wiccan and Zen Buddhist. None have a theological degree or diploma from a Bible college. We consider this an asset, because such an education would bias us in favor of one wing of Christianity, and against other wings. We look upon ourselves as reporters, not theologians. We feel that we have done a competent job in collecting a broad range of definitions created by others.
bulletWhy not use the Bible's definition of "Christian?" The Bible is not clear on what a Christian is. Its text is ambiguous. If it were clear, then there would be a single, universally accepted definition in use among all Christian denominations. We have collected over 40 conflicting definitions.
bulletWhy not use God's definition of "Christian?" We could have the theists in our group attempt to pray to God to determine his definition. But we conducted a pilot study on assessing the will of God through prayer and found that it seems to be hopeless. Again, if people could assess the will of God through prayer, then there would be a single universally accepted definition of "Christian" among all Christian denominations. If prayer worked in this way, there would have been no schisms in Christendom over theology.
bulletYour definition is wrong because it includes denomination XXXXX which is not Christian: This is one of the most common types of Emails that we receive, where "XXXXX" is most commonly Roman Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, United Church, and Progressive Christianity. The problem here is that if you went to a member of one of these groups, you would probably find that they regard themselves as Christians -- perhaps the only true Christians. They might well regard the letter writer as a non-Christian, sub-Christian. or quasi-Christian.
bulletIf you are getting lots of Emails about your definition of "Christian" perhaps you are wrong: As we indicated above, we have over 40 definitions of "Christian" in this section. They are all different. There is no right definition. So one can expect that no matter what definition we choose, most of our site visitors will disagree with it.
bullet"Christian" means something; your definition doesn't mean anything: The term means a lot of different things to different people. There is no universally accepted definition. There is probably no definition that the majority of people who consider themselves to be Christians would accept.
bulletYou are arrogant to suggest that your definition is authoritative: We do not consider that our definition is authoritative. We merely consider it to be one of many available definitions -- the one that we chose for our web site.

Coupled with the fact that I just read a chapter in one of my theology books for the upcoming semester (Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes by Serena Jones and Paul Lakeland, editors) about Church, this essay made me ponder how "church" and "Christian" are defined, and whether we can actually have a unifying definition. Certainly, in the denomination to which I currently belong, there is no hard and fast definition for either, no dogma, no doctrine. Our pastor, during the last collection drive, gave a rather stirring sermon about how he considered our church to be a "Micah 6" church, i.e. 6:8 -- "He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." Like a mobius strip, the action informs the faith that informs the action that informs the faith and so on. It's all very blurry and unformed, but then it's better that way, lest we forget any part of that prophetic trifecta. In any case, there are people in the congregation who believe in the classical themes of salvation and individual grace, and there are heathens like me who are there for the wine shots. No, seriously, there are heathens like me who would prefer to put the classical theologies on hold for the time being until all the harm they've created are righted. So what unites us as church? What makes us Christian? defines Christian thusly:
We define "Christian" as including any individual or group who devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian.

and I would have to say, I can go along with that. As a hapa (and if you don't know what that term means, go here. See, you learned something!) I'm all about self-identification, especially when other people are trying to decide your identity for you. Even though I often teeter on the brink of declaring that Jesus was a nice mythic figure, someone akin to "that guy," you know, the one that everyone seems to know but no one has ever met (Jesus as Ferris Bueller? "My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Jesus cast out demons at 31 Flavors last night.") In the end, historical Jesus studies and what they can and can't prove (which is a lot) aside, what makes me a Christian isn't my belief in Jesus or Christ or Jesus Christ, but my trust and faith in both the gospel that he preached and the legacy of that gospel that was left behind after his death. That essentially boils down to love of God and love of neighbor. So yea, I guess I would devoutly, thoughtfully, seriously and prayerfully consider myself a Christian. Your defintion may differ, and that's perfectly OK. Just try to use your own words when you come up with your definition.

As for what makes up Church, I'll leave you with the definition I came up with for my theological reflection from my BorderLinks trip, when in October, me and eight other seminarians went to the Méxican-U.S. border to learn about immigration:
Everyone we met on the border, from migrants to those in solidarity with them, had compassion for someone else as they crossed boundaries. They suffer with one another and trust in that act to enact a vision of a new life, or a new “kin-dom.” And in their acts, Jesus is there.

These groups doing the work that is inspired by the message of, the blessing by and trust in Jesus are the church, regardless of denomination, creed or belief. The church cannot be limited by walls or denominational ties any more than God or Christ can be limited by labels. To be church is to be inspired by compassion and lovingkindness to move away from structures of power and privilege, and into the heart of those who cry for justice. Churches must humble themselves to cross boundaries, especially the ones separating them from other groups who work for the good of others. Above all, it must follow the message and example of both Jesus and the apostle Paul, who preached the good news of radical inclusiveness to all who had once been excluded or cast away. It must be guided by the love in which it may trust as it comes to new understandings of itself and the world around it.

The church is a powerful force in the world, and the only one, I believe, that is able to walk across borders in order to effect changes that will bring about peace for everyone. What denomination or shape that church takes is not nearly as important as the relationship between everyone within it, on all sides of the ever-changing, ever-crossed borders. The work we saw being done in Tucson and México was done between different peoples of varying faith traditions –– and no faith tradition at all. To follow the words of Jesus in Matt 25:40, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me,” does not require a structure or even a dogma, but only open hearts and willing hands. A church that is willing to sacrifice as much as women or men risking their lives in the desert or their dignities in cities where they are a stranger is one that can follow Jesus’ call.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Best Xmas gift ever ...

Jesus Deluxe Action Figure:
I can't display it though, I think the cat might have too much fun with the loaves and fishes ...

Monday, December 24, 2007

The quest for perfect holiday gravy

I am a vegetarian ... kind of. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I don't eat meat. No piggy, no cow, no sheep -- just no mammals in general. The only meat(s) that I eat is the occasional chicken nugget -- because by the time the chicken has been made into a nugget or strip it's practically not a chicken anymore (chik'n?) -- and fish, because fish is good for you. Mostly, I'm just too lazy to go entirely vegetarian. I live in a very meat-happy state, and if I didn't allow fish and a little chicken into my diet every now and then, I'd never get to eat out.

The holidays can be a bit tough for me because we spend it with family, who are all big meat eaters. Which is fine, of course. Even though someone shreds of meat get into almost everything, even the vegetables -- because that's the way we do things here round these parts -- I can eat around it. I make a really tasty vegetarian cornbread dressing and load up on the veggies.

But I have to admit, I'm a fan of gravy. I looooove gravy. So I've been on the prowl for a perfect vegetarian gravy recipe. I've tried about five different recipes and I keep coming up with the same damn problem -- lumps. Little dots of flour all through the bowl. Ugh. I usually use this great finely sifted flour called Wondra, which is nigh impossible to get lumps with, but I can't seem to find it anymore. So I've been using regular flour and I get lumps. Argh.

Finally, after finding a very tasty but very lump-inducing recipe, wondering what the hell I was doing wrong, I sat down and hunted down cooking tips on ye olde Internet to find out how to make lumpless gravy.

The secret -- roux. You mix the flour with the grease/oil first, before you add the liquid. And I knew that, because that's the way I always made gravy before I went vegetarian. All the vegetarian recipes add the flour last, which results in lumps. Silly vegetarians.

Merry Xmas again!

Christmas virgins

I finally saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin last night, on the USA Network's director's cut version, which features the most intelligent use of censoring I've ever seen. Anyway, this movie was WONDERFUL! I didn't see it initially because the ads kind of turned me off. I figured it would be full of poopy humor and sex jokes and mean silliness like when Steve Carrell gets his chest waxed. OK, so it had a lot of sex jokes, but it was hiLARious, especially the scene where Steve Carrell gets his chest waxed. We couldn't stop laughing. So, great movie. We also saw Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story this weekend, and it was awful, I loved it. There's a scene with the Beatles in India that was worth the 5 bucks we paid at the early cinema. Again, hilarious.

I'm finally comfortable with wishing people a Merry Christmas, something I've been holding off on until about two or three days ago. I just can't say "Merry Christmas" on the day after Thanksgiving. You know why -- it ain't Christmas! I'll start saying "Have a happy holiday" around the middle of December, especially if I don't know if I'll see someone by Christmas. Happy Holidays or Season's Greetings covers everything, not just Christmas, and since there are lots of holidays and holy days in December, I'm happy about saying it. But "Merry Christmas" -- it's not Christmas until it's Christmas. That's just me. So, Merry Christmas! I'm gonna go cook now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Theology in the news

A few items of theological interest in las noticias caught my eye in the past few days. The theology in some cases is very bad; one is very good.

Huckabee's Christmas ad: Yes, Mike, we get it. You're a Christian, and, just like Mitt Romney, you want Christians to vote for you. You're a warrior in the *cough* War on Christmas (Ain't it nice that when there's a real war(s) going on that you'd pick the one that doesn't have any risk or casualties?). And while it seems like a nice message and all ("Let's forget about politics and just have a MerryChristmas with your loved ones"), it'd be nicer if you weren't pimping Baby Jesus for campaign purposes. But hey, you must know what you're doing, you've got a theology degree ... oh wait, you don't! Yes, I know, you've got a B.A. in biblical studies; I've got a B.A. in religious studies, myself, but I wouldn't call that a theology degree. But I got my sheepskin at a secular university and you got yours at a Baptist university, so I'll grant that maybe you're closer to it that I am. We didn't get to study much theology at CrimsonU (well, I did, but it was independent work). But surely as an ordained Baptist minister you've got a seminary degree ... oh wait, you were only in seminary 1 year? Well, seminary's tough. I've just finished my first year, and it's kicking my butt on a daily basis.

More Christmas warriors: So the OKC city manager sent out a memo reminding city workers not to publicly display religious decor during the holidays, to ensure that there would be no church-state crossover problems. And wouldn't you know it, two workers decided that their First Amendment right to religious expression was being oppressed, and they're suing the city. Yet another case of people confusing public square with government, and confusing a privilege with a right. Let's clear it up: you can do whatever you want in non-government public space, especially if you own it. You can decorate the snot out of your office, if you own your office. You can put a big-ass lighted cross on the side of your skyscraper that can be seen for miles and miles, if you own the skyscraper. You can even wish your customers "Merry Christmas" if it's your store. But if you work for someone else, your office is not your office; thus you can't surf for porn on your work computer, and you really shouldn't send e-mails to your co-workers about how bad your boss' B.O. is. There are lots of things that you can't do at work that you can do at home, in your car and put on your person if it meets your dress code. The government has these rules even moreso, because it's not just guarding the integrity of the office space, but the whole damn country. And it has these rules to protect your religious rights (and anyone who's ever looked at the reason why we have an establishment code would understand this: Aren't we all glad that we don't have to be Anglicans? Aren't we all glad that no one forces us to go to a specific, government-approved church? Don't you want it to stay that way? Then stop being a dick.). A loss of the privilege of getting to put your Baby Jesus creche on your computer monitor is not the same thing as having your rights trampled on. The reason why we work so well is that we give a little to get a little. So give a little.

Evolutionary theology: I stumbled across this article on Salon and it just blew me away. And, of course, it's the comments from the so-called progressive atheists who really ended up pissing me off. Sam Harris' book The End of Faith was one of the factors that made me turn away from stepping over the line to become an atheist, simply because I didn't want to be that much of a smug jerk. Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens all take the worst, most hateful and most closed-minded theologies and hold them up as examples of the true faith, and they write off examples like Oscar Romero, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Mother Theresa (well, Hitchens wrote an article about her loss of faith with the glee of a bully pulling the wings off flies) and so many more. Theologian John Haught's new book, God and the New Atheism, takes on these guys and takes them to the mat. His basic theme: Theology is not static, and we cannot keep relying on 1,000-2,000-year-old ideas of how the world works to frame how we see our world. Theology is faith seeking understanding, and that understanding is grounded in the real world. As that understanding continues to change and, yes, evolve, so must our theology. And of course it does! Like I said when I was snarking on Huckabee, seminary is hard. It'd be a crapload easier without theology, without having to think about the things we think about, which because we're all crazy about religion tends to be about religion. But there's theologies upon theologies upon theologies, all crafted as people try to understand why the world is as it is. I'm hoping maybe to create one myself. Anyone who thinks that we all have one theology and it's all based on Aristotle hasn't been keeping up with the trends.

I'm not exactly sure that I agree with Haught's position that science will never achieve ultimate meaningful answers -- like Ghosthunters before they started believing their own press and started calling all the weird shit they encountered "ghosts" instead of "unexplained phenomenon," I honestly believe that the things we don't understand are not understood because we don't have the science yet, but someday we will -- but I do agree with him that a statement like this is a faith principle, not a scientific one. And, like the good nontheist, quasi-apatheist that I am, I'm good with waiting to see if I'm right or wrong. That's a faith statement, too, that someday I might get an answer. Anyway, I'm glad to see someone taking on the atheist blowhards, who are just as bad as the fundamentalists and, judging from the comments attached to the article, are all over the damn place.

(What I'm listening to as I blog: Aterciopelados' Oye

Monday, December 17, 2007

James Lipton tea bag

I used to be a big fan of Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio, until James Lipton interviewed Jennifer Lopez, and then I just lost all affection for that program (Is J.Lo talented? Yes. At what? I'm sure I have no idea). Actually, I used to be a big fan of Bravo until it became the Project Runway and Law and Order: CI channel. Anyway, I'm killing time until I can escape for home, so here's my attempt at the Bernard Pivot questionaire.

(Oh, and I ACED my First Testament class. Woo-hoo!)

What is your favorite word?
Currently, it's splagchnizomai, which is a Greek verb that means "I am moved in my guts, ie. I have compassion." Apparently the Greeks used to think that the bowels were the center of compassion. But isn't that a great word? It sounds exactly like what it is, like a bowl of cold spaghetti that you'd use in a Halloween horror house; it also sounds like what being moved to compassion is -- your guts are rearranged, and then so is your head.

I also like el amortiguidor, which is Spanish for "shock absorber." With the word amor in there you'd think it was something about love, but it's not. Still, isn't that what love is, a shock absorber?

What is your least favorite word?
Saved. Because as a word in this environment, it's pretty much lost all its soteriological currency. Am I saved? Are you saved? Are you saved right? I don't know, and I bet you really don't know either, that's why you're asking.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Flow, as is described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, that feeling of being completely in the zone, on the ball, totally present in the moment, all of which lead to utter excellence. I love the rare occasions when I'm there, and I love even more witnessing other people who are in flow. I don't even have to like what you're doing or creating or saying, but when you're flowing, you're perfect and I love being near you.

What turns you off?
Perceived victimhood. I guess that's Mitt Romney, at the moment.

What is your favorite curse word?
There's so many to choose from, and I choose from them all the time. I can't say that I really have a favorite, although I do seem to be quite partial to fuckinggoddammit. I'd really like to learn how to curse in Chinese, just because I think it would sound so cool.

What sound or noise do you love?
Any Latin rhythm. Salsa, reggae, afro-carribean, vallenato, bachata, rock en espanol, you name it, I love it.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Jennifer Lopez saying, "You know what I mean?" which she did about 8,000 times on the Inside the Actors Studio that broke my fandom's back. No, seriously, the sound I hate the most is self-righteous smugness. You know how Bush does when he leans on the podium and tries to put the smack down on a reporter asking a good question? That.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Dream job would be rock star, but seeing as that I'm a terrible singer and can't read music (too much math) and am terribly shy in front of audiences, that'll probably never happen. But profession that I would like to attempt and am attempting to get there is religion scholar.

What profession would you not like to do?
Paris Hilton's press agent. Coyote. Drug dealer. Politician. Copy chief.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Take another crack at it. Try to remember what you learned the last time.

The angel was cleaning out his closets when the call came

So begins Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore, one of my absolute favorite books in el mundo entero. I'm a reader, I love stories, and since setting off on this religious studies journey I've come to really love religious stories, especially Jesus ones. In my opinion, four gospels just aren't enough. Ireneaus was simply wrong when he said we only needed four, because that was the right number (ah, four, one of the magic numbers (almost every number is magic, if you're into numerology) which stands for completion and structure: four cardinal directions, four walls to make a house, four seasons, etc.). We need more gospels, more more more. I like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, where the child Jesus makes little birds out of clay, gets in trouble for working on the Sabbath, then turns them alive so they fly away and hide the evidence. Of course, he also curses a playmate and strikes that kid's parents blind. Oh, those wacky sons of God.

We need more gospels because the more alternatives we have to the story of Christianity, the more we might be able to see that it didn't just fall out of the sky in a singular interpretation that was just waiting for Martin Luther to articulate. Christianity had a messy, fractured beginning, with tons of different views of who Jesus was and what his message and life and identity were. We have a tendency to forget that, because we've got the one book that we call the Second Testament (because really, what's new about it? Let superscessionism be damned!) and we read all the works in it together and try to fit them into one seamless work where everything agrees.
Sorry, but it doesn't. Markan priority aside, these gospels are four distinct visions of who Jesus was to each particular group that lived in different times and places. Same overall idea, of course: son of God (whatever that might mean, because THAT has different definitions depending on who/where/when you are), salvation/justification/rectification/redemption of sins, raised from the corpses (literally, that's what is says in the Greek, "raised from the dead ones," to really punch home the visual image of Jesus hanging out in a cemetary and then he wasn't! how cool!) But some very different details, and no, that's not where the devil is but where you really get into the fun stuff. Pieces of the story get rearranged, shuffled about, reinterpreted, restated, remade; new things are added, other things are deleted, and yet we still end up with four very distinct but very complementary stories (and that's what they are, stories. Does that mean they're not true? Anyone who would ask that question obviously isn't a real reader and has never read a true story, which often don't contain an iota of fact). What you get down to is, the idea of Jesus is too big to fit into one box ... I mean gospel. So he's definately too big to fit into four.

So, why am I getting into this today? Well, it being Advent and all, we were talking about Jesus' baptism. (What? Really? Why? Wouldn't that make more sense at Easter? Yes, I know, I don't make the lectionary.) And the pastor gave this lovely sermon about John and brought up the question of why John had to baptize Jesus. After all, Jesus is God and doesn't have any sins from which to be redeemed, so why the baptism?

As a sporadic writer of fan fiction, I began to have this lovely imagining of a Jesus who was struggling with something (with what? with the whole being the redeemer/son of God thing? with something more mundane and earthly, like the loss of a spouse or child? with chronic halitosis? who knows?) and showed up at the river looking for something else (like what? guidance? a change in his life? a new message? confirmation that this knowledge he has that he's someone more special than anything is true?). He gets immersed in chaos (that's the water), suspends his life (holds his breath, this is what this is), and comes out into the world, takes a big deep breath of life and gets that something. Depending on which gospel you read, he heard God speak or everyone heard God speak. Christopher Moore has everyone except Jesus hearing it, because he was under water, you see, and you really can't hear things when your ears are stopped with water. And, depending on which gospel you read, John did or didn't baptise Jesus (they've got to show it, because it probably happened, but Luke's gospel is parTICularly vague).

But then there's the question: John, who's been imprisoned, sends out a message to ask Jesus, "Are you the one, the messiah, or should we look for another guy?" This was the focus of the pastor's sermon, and quite honestly more important theologically than the why of Jesus' baptism. What this question means, for John and Jesus and for us particularly, is that we doubt. Wow, human beings doubt! Stop the presses! No, seriously, that's the thing. We who doubt must live with that tension of whether or not what we trust might turn out to fail us in the end. That the star we've hitched our wagon to will fall and leave a dinosaur-killing crater under the Yucatan penninsula. We doubt and are not sure that the cat Schroedinger may or may not be killing right now is or isn't alive or dead. Are you the one, or shall we look for another? Well, Jesus says, does it matter? Look around, there's things going on that are good. Blind are seeing, lame are walking. Relax, man, and roll with it, you'll be happier. He never says, "Yep, here's my card, 'Jesus the Christ, son of God, messiah.'" He says, essentially, "Them that tell don't know, and them that know don't tell."
But that's just Matthew's story. There are three others in the book, and lots others. Go read them. Live with that tension, and make your bet with those Aces and Eights. And go read Lamb.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy.

So I missed the Mitt Romney "Ich bin ein Mormon" speech this morning in favor of going to the local caffeine dispensary to get an americano and a cookie, and to study for my First Testament final. I've been hearing a lot about Romney and his religion, but really not so much that I want to really go out and research it to find out what I really think about it. I'm already doing that with Christianity, thank you very much, and I'm still years and years away from being able to tell you what I really think about it.

The thing I've been hearing most about Romney is comparisons to John F. Kennedy, who was, for those who are counting, the U.S's first (and so far only) Catholic president. I took a religion & politics class last summer where we examined the role of religion in the public square and how it's evolved over time (Want a fun read? Pick up a copy of Law and Theology: Cases and Readings by Martin H. Belsky and Joseph Bessler-Northcutt, which was one of the most expensive books I've bought yet for seminary and completely worth it. Everything you ever wanted to know about civil religion is right there in one handy-dandy, faux-leather-bound volume), and we read Kennedy's speech. You can read the speech here, but here's a excerpt:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote -- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference -- and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish -- where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

... If this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser, in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.
I've very tempted at this point to fall back on the old Lloyd Bentsen chestnut of "You are no Jack Kennedy," but I'll try not to. Because, clearly, Romney really ISN'T having a Kennedy moment, because this isn't Jack Kennedy's world. What Kennedy was fighting 40 years ago was an entrenched anti-Catholic bigotry, and in his speech he sought to overcome that bias by appealing to Americans' loftier values, hooking into the "civil religion" of American values which hold dear on our best days: fair and honest dealings with one another, and love and regard of one another as Americans.

Yes, Romney is fighting a bias against his religion, (and Walter Shapiro on Salon nails it when he muses that it would be ironic that in a campaign featuring a woman, a Latino and an African American that it's a straight white male who's getting discriminated against over religion), but this speech (find it here) is not Kennedy's speech. Kennedy was addressing the American public. His speech was an assurance that his religion (or anyone else's for that matter) as a corporate power would not overtake the highest office of the land. He was, he assured his listeners, not a Catholic candidate, but a candidate to happened to be Catholic. Note that this is not a question of Kennedy's personal faith, morals or how well he understands the theology he professes.

Romney, however, is only answering the question about his personal faith, and it's keyed to one specific group, conservative evangelicals, and only them. He certainly wasn't talking to me, because I noticed that mainline social-justice seeking freethinker was absent from his list of religious attributes that he loves. He is not addressing what influence the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will have over his office, but what his personal faith, morals and beliefs are. This speech is nothing more than an assurance to a small but influential segment of the voting public that his personal religion is no threat to them, that the wall of church and state has been tampered with in order to keep them out, and he would restore their place in the order. Rather than appealing to our better natures as Americans as family, Romney is appealing to our worst natures as competitive, suspicious perceived-victimized groups who want our own ways. This speech, laden with the kind of vocabulary that you'll understand if you go to the right kind of churches, is supposed to let the right kind of voter know that ol' Mitt is on his side against the evil secularists and the Islamisists.

In his day, Kennedy took Americans to task for seeking to exclude members of its own nation, much as Paul confronted Cephas when he led the Judeans to exclude the gentiles from the fellowship table in Antioch (Gal 2:11-14). Rather than emulating JFK and chastising the hard right-wing for their own biases that would judge a candidate on his religious doctrine rather the content of his religious character and praxis, rather than asking them to examine what is in them that seeks to exclude those they believe are Others, Romney chooses this moment in time to reassure Christians that his beliefs are no threat to them, and asks them to let him into their elite group so that he can exclude others right along with them.

I was expecting better. Granted, all I know about Mormonism I learned from South Park, but I hear through the scholarly grapevine that that one South Park episode summed up the history and beliefs of the LDS church better than almost anything else in pop culture. And, it really makes a point for real inclusivity and love of family, not just the one you're born into but the entire world.

Gary: Look, maybe us Mormons do believe in crazy stories that make absolutely no sense, and maybe Joseph Smith did make it all up, but I have a great life, and a great family, and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that. The truth is, I don't care if Joseph Smith made it all up, because what the church teaches now is loving your family, being nice and helping people. And even though people in this town might think that's stupid, I still choose to believe in it. All I ever did was try to be your friend, Stan, but you're so high and mighty you couldn't look past my religion and just be my friend back. You've got a lot of growing up to do, buddy. Suck my balls. [Turns around and walks off. All four boys just look at him in wonder, even Cartman.]

Cartman: Damn, that kid is cool, huh?

Monday, December 3, 2007

work musings

It's an odd thing, to be a part-time worker for the company whose coporate ladder you were so industrously working to climb for so many years. After half a decade realizing that I had no desire to move above the position I was at, I went back to school part time, got a degree, then entered seminary and cut back to part-time hours. Usually a minimum of 20 hours a week, maximum of 32, but still pretty exhausting when you're taking 13 hours.
The hard thing about working when it's not your main priority making it the priority when you're in the office. I spent a week researching and writing a paper in the library, and at the end of it I was exhausted and wishing I could find a way for someone to pay me to do that all the time.

Not for the first time I've been thinking that i need to find a new job, or to bite the financial aid bullet and get a loan to supplement a barrista income, which is the kind of job with the kind of hours I'd be looking at if I left this one. Note that I still have at least eight years of schooling left. Help, but I just don' t know what to do.

Anyway, after a long meeting about targeted marketing, I was wondering about the stark individualization of society, and how that might play a part in the fracturing of community. When we all read the same newspaper, watched the same TV news programs, were we a community? Or was it all part of that good-ol-days illusion, in which only some of us priviliged ones were community, and we blissfully ignored those who weren't? And can we create community when our personal needs are so catered to, when we ignore the call to show love by bending to the needs of those around us?

I think i'll go home and watch the evening news, instead of hunting and picking for news online, and see if it makes a difference.

Beware of Son of HB 1804

As most Oklahomans should be aware, the state Legislature last session passed House Bill 1804, a bill that created what are called the most restrictive laws against people who are undocumented in the country. This measure makes it illegal "transport, harbor and conceal" undocumented people from "detection" and denies driver's licenses and publid aid to anyone who isn't in Oklahoma legally.

The author of the bill, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, is planning "the son of HB 1804," in which U.S. citizenship is denied to children born in Oklahoma of undocumented parents getting rid of, "birthright citizenship" (then explain yours, Mr. Terrill, for did you not get your citizenship through your birth in the U.S.? Shall Oklahoma challenge the U.S. Constitution?). It also will deny taxpayer-funded prenatal care to pregnant women who are not documented, and creates "transparency in our public school systems."

Thankfully, HB 1804 is not receiving the support it once did, now that it's being fully enacted. Now that people are seeing its real human (and economic, sadly, this IS what gets people's attention) costs. And after all, now when you go to the DMV to renew your licence, you'll have to prove that you're a documented resident. People who never ever had to worry about having to prove their legal status are getting a little fed up with have to deal with a small slice of this bureaucratic and civil rights nightmare.

And some of the legislators who voted for HB 1804 are calling for more humanitarian, common-sensical changes. Folks, not only do we have to work to sweep out HB 1804, we also need to stop the Son of HB 1804 from getting its birthright citzenship in this state. Call, write, pester Rep. Terrill. Be courteous, but be firm.

Here's how to find him:
Capitol Address:
2300 Lincoln Blvd. Room 407
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 557-7346

District Address:
612 S. W. 12th Street
Moore, OK 73160

Find story on HB 1804 at NewsOK here.
Cross-posted at Border Reflections.