Friday, September 26, 2008

What a mess! What is McCain thinking? Oh yea! The election. Maybe Sara could pray for us and have Bishop Thomas Muthee pray for us too? Actually, I really believe we should be praying, but with humility and a feeling for justice. Sort of like the Magnificat.

On October 17, 2005 in his blog James Howard Kunstler wrote this:

“Meanwhile, the mortgage industry, a mutant monster organism of lapsed lending standards and arrant grift on the grand scale, is going to implode like a death star under the weight of these non-performing loans and drag every tradable instrument known to man into the quantum vacuum of finance that it creates.”

Prophetic? Maybe a little. I feel uncomfortable, like maybe it is unjust, giving relief to the wealthy, while those “minorities and risky folks” Fox News’ Neil Cavuto refers to get screwed.

Who said racism and class distinctions don’t exist in the United States. How about this comment by a supposed educated, smart newscaster? Fox News' Neil Cavuto said that “Fannie and Freddie are a disaster. Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster.” Is someone going to call him to task for this?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This is from catholicanarchy:

Sarah Palin: “Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America — [Obama’s] worried that someone won’t read them their rights?”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “No human being should be treated as lacking human rights, and we have no business dividing humanity into those who are valuable enough to warrant protection and those who are not. Even this is not solely a Catholic teaching, but a principle of natural law accessible to all people of good will.”

How ironic that my last post before leaving on vacation was about racism. Take a look at this from the Oregonian – Effigy of Obama alarms George Fox campus

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How much opposition to Obama is really rooted in racism? One has to ask how someone who is “thinking” about the issues can go from supporting Hillary Clinton to supporting John McCain?

"One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)"

Friday, September 12, 2008

“Truth is not inner peace. Truth is a traumatic, painful encounter.” — Slavoj Žižek

Slavoj Žižek is an interesting Slovenian philosopher who wants to enlist Christians to work against the enticement of pop culture and consumerism fueled by global capitalism. Very popular in Europe, he may be a passing fad or an enduring critic.

Ironically, he is the perfect thinker for global capitalism. He incorporates everything into his philosophy, from Oprah Winfrey to Stephen King. Like a multinational corporation, he will not be satisfied until he penetrates every market.”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'm afraid she is not off to a great start for her first time on her own.
Great name sake.

Since we (the United States of America) are neither an oligarchy nor a monarchy, nor are we a dictatorship or ruled by our military what are we then? As a democratic republic we governed by a constitution and the various laws established by our legislature. The President is charged with upholding and executing these laws. Following are a couple recent articles related by a broad stroke to this portrait of our Nation’s governance.

First from the Boston Review: Presidential Crimes: Moving on is not an option by Elaine Scarry

“We have at the present time two government leaders, a president and a vice president, who, according to all available evidence, have carried out grave crimes.”

Next from The New Yorker: The Florentine: The man who taught rulers how to rule, by Claudia Roth Pierpont

Odd, that an expert at winning should have lost so much, and then lost it all again. In however perverse a way, Machiavelli was no less a martyr to his convictions than Thomas More, who was beheaded—and eventually canonized—for his refusal to condone the royal power grab that Henry VIII purportedly learned from “The Prince.” Of course, More had the courage to stand in opposition to the moral direction of his times. Machiavelli was his times: he gave permanent form and force to its political habits and unspoken principles. Although it is often said that modern politics begins with Machiavelli, most politicians still run and hide at the mention of his name. In 1972, Henry Kissinger, the most arguably “Machiavellian” counsellor of princes this country has ever seen, recoiled at the insinuation that he had learned anything from the Florentine Secretary, stating, “There is very little of Machiavelli’s one can use in the contemporary world.” (Kissinger’s only competitor in this area, Karl Rove, is the subject of a new biography titled “Machiavelli’s Shadow.”) Yet we continue to flounder in the break between politics and ethics that Machiavelli made impossible to ignore: private life and public life; personal morality and Realpolitik. We insist that our leaders convince us that they are exemplary and (increasingly) God-fearing human beings, who are nevertheless able to protect us from enemies not so constrained. How is this to be done? Do we really want to know?

Most important, as we emerge from the century that gave Utopia a bad name—in which Hitler and Stalin and other genocidal princes believed they were building superior worlds, in which the means was annihilation and the end an illusion—we are still arguing bitterly over the question of whether the end justifies the means. Are there any acts that one’s sense of honor (or conscience, or ability to sleep at night) forbid one to commit—as an individual, as a nation—no matter what the promised end? Machiavelli did not question the use of torture for political purposes, even after he had been its victim. “When the very safety of the country depends upon the resolution to be taken,” he wrote in the “Discourses,” “no considerations of justice or injustice, humanity or cruelty, not of glory or of infamy, should be allowed to prevail.” This has doubtless been the tacit position of many governments throughout history; it is openly the position of a large segment of our government now, with Vice-President Cheney warning of the need for going to “the dark side” in dealing with terrorist suspects, and Attorney General Mukasey undecided about which methods of “enhanced” interrogation constitute torture. There is no question, however, about the method used on Machiavelli, the strappado—also known today as “Palestinian hanging”—which was responsible for the death of an Iraqi detainee in C.I.A. custody at Abu Ghraib in 2003: the prisoner was suspended by his arms, which had been shackled behind his back, and died of asphyxiation. Private morality may be presumed to prevail again when the country is strong and secure, although Machiavelli, unlike those who offer such consolation, admitted that the nature of mankind makes it unlikely that there ever will be such a time. “I love my country more than my own soul,” Machiavelli wrote, yet a full assessment of his work makes that decision far from clear. Then, as now, it is a terrible choice.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Here are the last words of Pulling the Curtain, (note the reference to the Wizard of Oz you nonKansans) E. J. Dionne's column, published in today’s Washington Post. Note that the McCain campaign trashed the NYT reporter for reporting the truth – instead of owning up to it.

An aside: I just recently watched the A Man for All Seasons, the 1966 Oscar winner for best picture, about Saint (Sir) Thomas More. I think Karl Rove would make a good cynical Cromwellian character in a contemporary political play about our current administration. Rove is the ultimate postmodern Machiavelli. I like this quote by More’s character when asked to give a little: “And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”

But anyway, the Republican fear seems to be that Vice Presidential candidate Sara Palin can’t handle a few tough questions from the press. If that is the case, well ...?

It is hugely unfortunate that the first big story about Palin -- other than questions raised about whether she fired the head of the Alaska state police for refusing to dismiss her former brother-in-law -- concerned her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy. It's not just that Bristol Palin should be left alone, but also that the intense interest in this story gave McCain's bullies an excuse to push aside legitimate questions about Palin's record and knowledge.

Of course, Palin's handlers are being hypocritical: They want to focus on her family life and her identity as a hockey mom when doing so helps them and to push aside any story that mars this perfect picture. Conservatives are always against identity politics until they are for it.

Nonetheless, what matters is not Palin's personal life but whether she is prepared to assume the presidency if called upon. The actions of McCain's lieutenants suggest that they know the answer. And they are doing everything they can to keep the media from finding it.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Several articles on the Boston Globe’s website brought on by the impending publication of a new book by a member of one of our royal families.

In this brief quote from an interview with Kerry Kennedy she talks about a man, Kofi Woods, who she met in Liberia. Incredible!

[T]he Catholic church there also started their peace and justice program on the Catholic radio station, (which) was really the only voice of opposition throughout the Taylor regime, and the fellow who ran it was a guy called Kofi Woods, he was, because of his work, on those issues, with the Catholic church. He was picked up by the minister of justice and his three thugs during the Doe regime and tortured and left to rot in a prison cell, and then when the Taylor regime came into power...that minister of justice and those three thugs were picked up by Taylor, and thrown into the same prison cell he had been in. And he (Woods) had been freed, and he was a lawyer, and went to visit them, and he said, 'I've come to see if you've been mistreated,' and he said, 'I will take your case for free,' because there is no lawyer in the country who would defend them. So he went to defend his own torturers, and that was his sense of faith.

When will they get it? Justice Anne M. Burke talks of her frustrations with the Catholic Bishops for the little regard many have with the sex abuse problems in the Church.

Burke, who was interim chair of the National Review Board for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for two years, details the scope of her concern about the American bishops in an interview with [Kerry] Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, in her book ["Being Catholic Now," which is being released tomorrow].

She says the board "started having problems with individual cardinals and bishops who thought we were too aggressive," and that "bishops got away with concealing crime," and "just when you think these bishops are getting it, they turn around and do something that in any other enterprise would result in their own dismissal."

She also alleges that, after Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, was forced to resign as board chairman because he compared the bishops to the Mafia, the bishops declined to make her the permanent chairwoman because "there was no way they were going to appoint a woman to the position of chair."

HYANNIS PORT - Catholicism ran deep at the home of Bobby and Ethel Kennedy.

Prayers before and after every meal, when a family trip was beginning, when something got lost. Bible readings after dinner. St. Christopher medals around the neck. St. Francis pictures on the wall. Virgin Mary statues in the corner. Mass schedules by the bedsides. And Mass every Sunday, until Bobby was killed in 1968; then it was daily.

So begins a review – of sorts – of Kerry Kennedy’s new book, Being Catholic Now. Looks like an important book.

An important editorial from the National Catholic Reporter

Ways past the culture wars

The choice of Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware as the Democratic vice presidential candidate brought an immediate and predictable reaction from those intent on using this election cycle to revive the Catholic culture wars.

Suddenly pundits knew “what kind of Catholic” Biden is and they were eager to frame his deepest motivations on the basis of a vote here and there on “life issues,” which in the world of the culture warrior translates as only one issue -- abortion. And they picked up immediate encouragement from on high when Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput issued the pastoral wisdom that Biden should refrain from receiving Communion.

To take that last matter first, Chaput’s pronouncement momentarily grabbed a portion of the national news cycle, but Catholics shouldn’t overreact. They would do better to read his book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, a far more nuanced and challenging presentation of his view of Catholic responsibilities.

They’d do better, too, by reading the U.S. bishops’ valuable and thorough reflection on political responsibility, “Faithful Citizenship,” which, while placing the protection of innocent life as the central consideration in pursuing the common good, also acknowledges the complexities of political life and the ambiguities that can sometimes confound even the most purposeful legislator.

Mr. Biden is, we suspect, closer to the people most priests face in the pews every week than the culture warriors would have us believe: devout, faithful, prayerful and questioning. The problem for him, of course, is that he plays out his life in public. Most Catholics don’t have to contend with a chorus demanding absolutes where sometimes only compromise and negotiation can serve the common good.

According to a recent Associated Press story, Biden has said in the past that he is “prepared to accept” church teaching on when life begins, but at the same time he believes that Roe v. Wade “is as close as we’re going to be able to get as a society” to a consensus among differing religious and other views on the subject. We suspect that view is held by a lot of ordinary Catholics and more than a few bishops, albeit privately. So the dispute becomes more over political strategy than church teaching. How to attack the abortion problem from the political stump in the political arena -- where compromise is the coin of the realm -- is far different from pronouncing from the pulpit.

The reality, as shown in poll after poll, is that Catholics, like most others in the culture, are looking for a politics on the abortion issue that is far removed from either extreme, a politics that can begin to effectively reduce the number of abortions. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good released a study Aug. 27 that shows a strikingly direct correlation between the availability of social services and a drop in the number of abortions. (See story on Page 7.)

There is more involved in creating a culture of life than simply seeking the elusive ban on abortion. The culture wars have cost the church dearly in terms of political capital and credibility, and in the election of legislators who promise lots on abortion, deliver little and frequently ignore most of the rest of the bishops’ social agenda. No political party holds the complete Catholic vision of society.

Seeking a significant reduction in abortion will require more from us than protest and vilifying politicians. It will require an approach to the common good that places high value on programs supporting women and children, on assuring access to jobs and education and on dealing with the causes and effects of poverty.

National Catholic Reporter September 5, 2008

Biden’s interview with Brokaw is all over the place now. Let me say I am a Catholic who finds Biden’s view defensible.

Following Chaput into the political fray is the headline of this brief interview. I am looking forward to reading his book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, if my local library decides to buy one on my recommendation.

He is easy on McCain. I sense a double standard here.

Good comments by Frank Church in the New York Times. Here is an excerpt:

As The New York Times reported last Tuesday, Palin was sloppily vetted, at best. McCain operatives and some of their press surrogates responded to this revelation by trying to discredit The Times article. After all, The Washington Post had cited McCain aides (including his campaign manager, Rick Davis) last weekend to assure us that Palin had a “full vetting process.” She had been subjected to “an F.B.I. background check,” we were told, and “the McCain camp had reviewed everything it could find on her.”

The Times had it right. The McCain campaign’s claims of a “full vetting process” for Palin were as much a lie as the biographical details they’ve invented for her. There was no F.B.I. background check. The Times found no evidence that a McCain representative spoke to anyone in the State Legislature or business community. Nor did anyone talk to the fired state public safety commissioner at the center of the Palin ethics investigation. No McCain researcher even bothered to consult the relevant back issues of the Wasilla paper. Apparently when McCain said in June that his vice presidential vetting process was basically “a Google,” he wasn’t joking.

This is a roll of the dice beyond even Bill Clinton’s imagination. “Often my haste is a mistake,” McCain conceded in his 2002 memoir, “but I live with the consequences without complaint.” Well, maybe it’s fine if he wants to live with the consequences, but what about his country?

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Check out this two-part article in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Here is a funny Political cartoon from the Washington Post

One goggle and I chose this site simply because it was the first one to pop-up. Kids, all I am saying is, be smart.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Troopergate gets more interesting and the possibility of new revelations about Palin
Interesting situation. Lets see how it turns out.

I have this theory, it’s merely a theory, that I have more in common with my brothers and sisters in Christ at church whom I my disagree with profoundly about some issue than I do with a nonbeliever whom I agree with. I am reminded of something C. S. Lewis wrote – this is a paraphrase from memory which is very unreliable – about how Christians who reside at the heart of their chosen separated sects have more in common with each other than with nominal believers of one’s own sect.

There is an illuminating article in the New Yorker. I too wince a little at this comment.

The Saddleback event illuminated Obama’s greatest liability for faith-based voters: his resolute support for abortion rights. Many, including Doug Kmiec, winced when Obama said, at a town-hall meeting last spring, that he supported sex education because he didn’t want his daughters “punished with a baby.”

An example of “principle” over science. The last 8 years has seen continual politicalization, corruption and manipulation of science unprecedented in American history. The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin's Persecution of One of the Great Scientists of the Twentieth Century by Peter Pringle tells the story of an extreme example of the subordination of science (thankfully we haven’t gone this far) to political goals. Following are a couple quotes from a review of the book.

Stalin hated genetics — and chromosomes in particular, not least because the idea of genes as physical structures passed down through the generations suggested that nature wasn't changeable.

The internationally acclaimed Vavilov was outmaneuvered by the "barefoot scientist" Lysenko, an uneducated peasant whom Stalin no doubt preferred to the unreliably bourgeois professor. Lysenko promised the Soviet leader that he would turn the Russian wasteland into a grain-laden Garden of Eden, using the bogus science of "vernalization" to eliminate the normal two-year growth cycle of winter wheat.

I don’t quite get this “lay off Palin for God’s sake” rhetoric. Even as conservative commentator as George Will is unhappy with the choice.

So, Sarah Palin. The man who would be the oldest to embark on a first presidential term has chosen as his possible successor a person of negligible experience.

Any cook can run the state, said Lenin, who was wrong about that, too. America’s gentle populists and other sentimental egalitarians postulate that wisdom is easily acquired and hence broadly diffused, therefore anyone with a good heart can deliver good government, which is whatever the public desires. “The people of Nebraska,” said the archetypal populist William Jennings Bryan, “are for free silver and I am for free silver. I will look up the arguments later.”

I don’t understand it. Can someone help me?

Something all opponents to abortion should pay attention to. Here is a link to the study. I challenge us all - pro-choice and pro-life to take this study to heart and face the real life difficulties of this world.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Governor Sara Palin did a super job with her speech last night. She is young and energetic, a good orator, and the crowd was well primed and coached, as was Gov. Palin, both ready for her national debut.

But I wonder:

Why does she denigrate the thousands of people out there who work day in, day out through church and civic organizations to help people and to make this world a better place? She could have been referring to Mother Theresa in this quote: “I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities”

Now I agree that Sara Palin does more than talk the talk, she walks the walk too. I admire her for this. I know many folks in similar circumstances who walk the walk. We don’t give them enough support. But what concerns me is her profound disregard for science and common sense. Evolutionarily speaking women did not have babies at 44 years old very often. This profoundly biological process is likely affected by the degradation of both the male and female reproductive ability with age.

To the best of our ability we need to make good choices, and I am not referring to abortion. Palin has a pregnant 17-year-old daughter and a Downs Syndrome baby. This is not just because she opposes abortion. She shows a blithe disregard for science and common sense. Sexual reproduction is not a magical event. Now, of course, I regard my four children and four grandchildren as magic, but lets get real.

Palin opposes sex education programs that include any information other than teach abstinence. This view is contrary to all evidence and common sense as to what works to reduce the occurrence of teenaged pregnancy and, just as important, the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Abstinence is only part of a good program. Common sense and science clearly point to the necessity of good information about the biology of sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception.

I suppose the next thing in Palin’s way of thinking is to dump biology class, replace it with creationism, and burn all the books we don’t like. Then we will produce a generation of illiterates. Sound a little 1984ish? Or maybe 1560ish? Maybe 1938ish? Barack Obama may not have extensive experience but he is less of an ideologue and more of a pragmatist and he has demonstrated prudence in selecting Joe Biden. Even if you don’t like Biden you have to concede that there is wisdom in the choice. We now have an idea of how John McCain would go about making important decisions. On a whim.

I see I am not the only one to recognize Palin's disparagement of community organizing. Check out this NCR article.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008, a little later.

Here is Sam Harris in the LA times. I disagree with ole Sam on a number of things. But I think he is on to something here.

Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. President Bush kept his edge on the "Who would you like to have a beer with?" poll question in 2004, and won reelection.

This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get. You deserve to be poor, to see the environment despoiled, to watch your children receive a fourth-rate education and to suffer as this country wages -- and loses -- both necessary and unnecessary wars.
McCain has so little respect for the presidency of the United States that he is willing to put the girl next door (soon, too, to be a grandma) into office beside him. He has so little respect for the average American voter that he thinks this reckless and cynical ploy will work.

And it might.

“John McCain's campaign on Wednesday angrily called for an end to questions about Sarah Palin's background...”

Are we not to fully explore the person who is a “heart beat” (LITERALLY!) away from leading the United States of America? Come on, John. Get real.

Former Kansas Congressman Bill Roy’s take on the lawlessness of the Bush administration.

The Bush administration not only has weakened our nation economically and militarily, but has endangered our basic freedoms by willfully ignoring or denouncing national and international law.

"We have at the present time two government leaders, a president and a vice president, who, according to all available evidence, have carried out grave crimes" writes Elaine Scarry in the Boston Review.

One thing that should distinguish the Government of the United States is respect for our Constitution and the rule of law. Ideology should always have its limits. This administration has little respect for this fundamental aspect of our union.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008, the third day of the Republican Convention and I am flabbergasted at the anti-intellectualism and selfishness that I see.

McCain – His wife is rolling in dough and won’t even acknowledge that she has two sisters. What sort of Christian behavior is this? Does McCain have any real values?

Palin – Book burner, creationist, Christian crusader (as in a messianic view of the war in Iraq – kill those infidels), vindictive, and laughs at someone suffering from cancer. These are Christ’s values?

I admit I am biased but come on, this is bad, especially the anti-intellectualism and ideolotry (the idolatry of ideology). This sort of thinking is dangerous for our nation. The world is complex and doesn’t bend to one’s ideology. This thinking threatens our freedoms of speech, religion, and association. And its just not nice.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008, the day after labor day, Gustav, and new revelations about Sara Palin.

Here is a long quote is from an article about Catholic voters showing-up in the September 8th, issue of the New Yorker. Senator’s Obama’s view on abortion expressed in this article is almost precisely my view. Like Ms. Palin, I had a pregnant 17 year-old daughter. My first grandchild is now a wonderful 16-year old young woman. I would never have counseled my daughter to have an abortion and I resent those who would use this situation as an argument for an abortion or not.

Kmiec eventually got an opportunity to air his doubts to Obama himself, at a Chicago meeting with a select group of religious figures. (Among them was the evangelist Franklin Graham, who asked Obama, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the way to God, or merely a way?” Obama responded, “Jesus is the only way for me,” and Graham left the meeting impressed.) “I even raised the objection to just talking about abortion as a vehicle for gender equality,” Kmiec recalls. “I said, ‘You know, this is not language that a Catholic will accept, and I don’t accept it. You don’t need to use it, if I understand your position correctly. So tell me your position.’ And out of that I got an answer that said, ‘I would never counsel my daughters to have an abortion. I view it as a profoundly moral decision. It is my purpose to discourage the practice. But it is also my belief that there’s no other actor on earth than the mother who can address this question. And to be pro-choice means that you contemplate that the choice can be the choice in favor of life.’ That suggests to me that he’s got the mental disposition to understand, at least from the Catholic perspective, how abortion is more a tragedy than a method of equality.”

What does the Palin imbroglio tell us? I like this quote from Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post -

We learned last week that John McCain is not who he is -- not, at least, who he claims to be. The steady, straight-talking, country-first statesman his campaign has been selling is a fictional character. The real McCain is either alarmingly cynical or dangerously reckless.

Here is the concluding prayer from today’s divine office

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the true light that lights all people’s paths to salvation.
Give us the power, we pray you, to prepare for you the ways of peace and justice. Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It seems to me that in the biological process of human gestation where more than 25% of all conceptions end in spontaneous abortions that to insist that a fertilized egg has the same standing as a newborn infant and that the termination of any pregnancy in the first trimester is tantamount to murder is anti-intellectual and possibly disingenuous.

I also regret that the Church and Christians insist on claiming to know the mind of Christ in partisan political debate – i.e. Catholics for McCain or Catholics for Obama or Catholics against Joe Biden.

At the end of the day I think we need a little more humility and a lot more listening in this debate over abortion

Some thoughts, questions...
There is no doubt that the church has implicitly and explicitly made serious errors in the past and has stood courageously as well. But “the church” in this statement remains an abstract concept. Usually it is as individuals – often nurtured by communities – who made courageous stands, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Franz Jägerstätter.

How about freedom of conscience?

Where is the OUTRAGE that nearly 9 MILLION! children in these United States of America go without healthcare? And what of the over 40 million adults – most of whom have jobs, by the way – who go without health care?

And how about the rest of the world?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

August 21, 2008

I am blogging from a new, undisclosed location
as of today. Very interesting and significant.

I just finished a book by an author new to me: Being Consumed by William T. Cavanaugh. I am waiting for inter-library loan to secure me two of his other books- Torture and Eucharist and Theopolitical Imagination.

To get the most critical comment out of the way – I wonder if the book is cobbled together from previously written unconnected pieces? It has that feel. That being said this book is an important contribution to the theological critique of capitalism or, as I prefer to call it, neoliberalism.

Maybe there are some Western Christians who think our modern economy is independent of theology, ideology, or history. Either it is ahistorical or is a natural organism evolving according to natural law. Neoliberal-capitalism, the free market, the ability to purchase anything you can afford - but preferably cheap stuff - that you can tire of and discard, then go out and purchase more of it is the natural way of the world; how God intended it. Can’t everybody do this? Doesn’t everybody want to do this? Isn’t this the very definition of human freedom? Cavanaugh doesn’t think so.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday July 8th, 2008

Sir John M. Templeton, the “spiritual realities” philanthropist, died today in Nassau, the Bahamas. He was an important promoter of religious understanding, particularly to the illumination of the intersection of science and religion.

Jesse Helms died last Friday. Of course I don’t rejoice in his death but I do think he was a noxious political character encouraging and using race baiting as a political tool. As late as 1990 during a close campaign against a black opponent he used a blatantly racial campaign advertisement where a white job-seeker lost his job to an unqualified minority. Senator Helms won the election. It makes me think of Slobodan Milosevic. I am disappointed in the adulation he is likely to get. He should be a pariah, or at least understood as a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, last gasp of the past.

While I was at the obituary page in the New York Times I discovered an interesting photo feature of “notable” deaths so far in 2008.

In going through the photos I discovered that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi died February 4th, 2008, the passing of a man who helped define an era. I missed this. He was as controversial as Jesse Helms but he didn’t try to divide people and promote hatred. One interesting detail noted in the obituary – at least for a native Kansan - was the observation by the Maharishi that the White House should moved. According to the principles of “Vedic architecture in harmony with Natural Law” a more appropriate location was the town of Smith Center, Kan.

A few folks who were personally significant - George Carlin, Dith Pran, Sir Edmund Hillary, and Suzanne Pleshette, who I had a crush on as Emily Hartley on the Bob Newhart Show. She was so sexy under the camouflage of her character.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

I want to figure out how to be this way in the hurly-burly of my days:

St. Romuald's Brief Rule For Camaldolese Monks

Sit in your cell as in paradise.
Put the whole world behind you and forget it.
Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish,
The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery,
and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want,
take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart
and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up;
hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence,
and stand there with the attitude of one who stands
before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting,
content with the grace of God,
like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing
but what his mother brings him.

Father John’s homily today was about not being governed by social rules but the yoke of Christ – humble, loving, and restful. Not a heavy burden but a yoke of love. Jesus bids us to lay our burdens down and take his yoke, allow him to guide us, even carry us if need be. Jesus’ yoke is the direction of love.

I was thinking at Mass this morning about how I am a follower of Christ, he is my King. Whether I believe in his resurrection or even really believe in God—of course I pray all the time and I identify myself as Catholic—I am, by choice, a follower of Jesus Christ: Blessed are the peacemakers, the humble, those who long for justice, etc. The kind of love that Jesus exemplified, practiced, and called his followers to emulate is my standard.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday, June 16th, 2008

Yea! I’m doing cartwheels in my heart and actually dancing around my office. My girlfriend returns from Mexico today.

I just learned of the recent death of a powerful activist for women and babies. I honor her and her co-activists this day after Father’s day. Here is the Chicago Tribune’s obituary for Edwina Froehlich a co-founder of La Leche League in 1956. "We all felt a mother should listen to her body, her nature" said Ms. Froehlich.

“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski,” writes Nicolas Carr in the article, Is Goggle making Us Stupid? appearing in the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly. That is certainly what this blog is! It is kind of fun, but?

In this quote one gets an inkling what the article is about: ““We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.” I wonder if it also means we are losing our ability for “deep thinking,” contemplation.

One thing fascinating to me in this article are the connections drawn between Friedrich Nietzsche and his new typewriter, Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of “scientific management,” and the Internet. I am familiar with Taylor from my years as a production manager in industry. We are in the age of efficiency; I feel it everyday, every time I engage in a conversation I think I must exchange only the necessary information and get on to the next thing. I experience this mainly at work where half of my job is talking with people. But people are not really considered important, efficiency and production rules so the company gets the most out of my time. It is all about the money.

In a recent film, The Visitor, we see this dynamic in a round-about way in a comment of Zainab, the Senegalese girlfriend of Tarek, an Arab musician and illegal immigrant from Syria when—as Tarek heads out with Walter, the sad and lonely college professor, to play drums in a drumming circle in the park—she demands that Tarek return home on time; “no Arab time” she says (see the movie for more). In this mood Carr quotes Lewis Mumford from Technics and Civilization, a book I read many years ago. “Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.” Maybe we should think of the clock as an evil invention like the atom bomb?

Carr begins his article by recalling that HAL, the malfunctioning computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, is sending astronaut Dave Bowman to his death in deep space. He concludes with the suggestion that when, like Bowman in Kubrick's dark prophecy, “we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Go out and get it! Carrie Newcomer’s, The Gathering of Spirits. The opening song is now one of my all time favorites: Holy as a Day is Spent.

I’m still praying. I had a couple answered prayers this past weekend, but they were high-percentage ones, likely to have happened without my praying. I’m still thankful though. They were important to my mental health, so to speak, and made my day when they occurred. So I said, “Thank you Lord, for hearing my prayer.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

A good Sunday. Morning Mass was very good – it always is good even when it isn’t, but it was really good today. How’s that for nonsense? I really love Sundays. It is my first day off work—the beginning of my weekend: I attend Mass, I go to Unity with my girlfriend; it’s just is an all-around fine day.

Today’s New York Times articleIn ’74 Thesis, the Seeds of McCain’s War Views—alerts us to the danger of mixing politics with the training of our soldiers. Foreign policy is always the sole prerogative of our civilian government and because of that it will always be contentious. Our soldiers should be trained to stay out of policy and politics, to be loyal to the Constitution above all. The article and Senator McCain’s experience vividly illustrate why torture is always inhuman and bad policy and why the United States must disavow all torture and expect that other nations do the same. Senator McCain is a genuine American hero but he is wrong on both of these issues.

Political Excommunication is the headline for an article in the current issue of America that considers the experience of Doug Kmiec and discusses a significant issue facing the Catholic Church this election cycle. How is the church to treat Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, the Catholics who support these politicians, and Catholics who support non-Catholic politicians who support abortion rights?

The treatment of Doug Kmiec is evidence of an ill wind blowing. A former appointee of the Reagan and Bush I administrations and currently a professor of law at Pepperdine University Kmiec is a longtime pro-life activist. He recently came out in support of Barack Obama for president. In response he was denied communion at a special Mass held to open a meeting in which he was scheduled to speak.

In a similar circumstance Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, my home diocese, has criticized Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas for her abortion position and requested that she not take communion. She is a prominent supporter of Obama. Also, in New York, Cardinal Edward Egan has requested that former mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani refrain from communion. And, as this article from the National Catholic Reporter—Church and Politics: The Return of the Communion Wars—indicates, these actions are anything but a smattering of isolated incidents. It has the feel of a concerted effort. The America article aptly suggests, “One must in all honesty ask whether a hard-line pro-life position within the church serves as a Trojan horse for other, more partisan political goals.” It certainly seems to.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It is now Saturday the 14th, 2008

Friday the 13th, June 2008

I am not superstitious but I do pray. Is that the same thing?

Anyway, I heartily agree with the headline in this NYT editorial: Justice 5, Brutality 4

Quote: “It is sobering to think that habeas hangs by a single vote in the Supreme Court of the United States — a reminder that the composition of the court could depend on the outcome of this year’s presidential election. The ruling is a major victory for civil liberties — but a timely reminder of how fragile they are.” Sobering indeed. We need to elect Obama and hope for something different.

In light of the editorial note how important the coming Presidential election is in the struggle for justice read this article from the New York Times also. McCain and Obama Split on Justices’ Guantánamo Ruling

For some thoughts today, Saturday the 14th:

When does obsession become unhealthy?
I have this situation I think about almost all the time. It is an important one to attend to but I need some faith in the situation as well. I will pray about it more.

Prayer: I have always prayed, even during my most agnostic phase—I am still very much an agnostic, so maybe I should say “my conscientiously agnostic phase”—so it seems to me to pray is a deep aspect of my being. It is part of my struggle to understand the mystery inherent in the paradox of the beauty and brutality of the world. It is my effort to hope for the best. Just yesterday I read this quote in Richard Sennett’s new book The Craftsman: “ seems more realistic to explore how concrete behavior might change or be regulated than to counsel a change of heart.” I agree. But I still pray.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Summer seems to be here. The weather has been warm and humid, and unusually wet. We have had numerous storms, some severe. Everything is so green and lush. This morning has been a relief so far: cool, cloudy, breezy. We are getting thunder, some lighting, and occasional light rain. A thunderstorm is approaching. It might get wild for a while then sunny and hot this afternoon. As I am typing this the wind is rising. We’ll see.

The following quote is from an article in the Guardian by Ian McEwan. Apocalyptic thinking distorts much of our politics and social behavior. We need to learn to learn to think for the long haul. As far as Christian apocalyptic thinking goes, we have been expecting the end of the world-as-we-know-it for a couple thousand years. It hasn’t happened yet. It is about time we learn to love this old world that is ever renewing itself and remains young.

But, as McEwan observes, apocalyptic thinking is immune to contrary data, such as two thousand years of life as usual. Catastrophe thinking is, indeed, prevalent in these United States of America. And its not just the weird fringe that believes it. We have a President who, apparently, is one, as is much of what we have taken to calling the religious right. Since this world is going to be destroyed by fire in the near future and a new heavens and new earth established I guess it is okay to destroy the one we have.

“Contemporary apocalyptic movements, Christian or Islamic, some violent, some not, all appear to share fantasies of a violent end, and they affect our politics profoundly. The apocalyptic mind can be demonising - that is to say, there are other groups, other faiths, that it despises for worshipping false gods, and these believers of course will not be saved from the fires of hell. And the apocalyptic mind tends to be totalitarian - which is to say that these are intact, all-encompassing ideas founded in longing and supernatural belief, immune to evidence or its lack, and well-protected against the implications of fresh data. Consequently, moments of unintentional pathos, even comedy, arise - and perhaps something in our nature is revealed - as the future is constantly having to be rewritten, new anti-Christs, new Beasts, new Babylons, new Whores located, and the old appointments with doom and redemption quickly replaced by the next.”

Friday the 6th of June

St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, had it absolutely right: it is in the practice of love in the small details that we really begin to redirect the world to God’s purposes.

“Jesus does not demand great actions from us by simply surrender and gratitude.”
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

From a blog on the on-line edition of America

“Last night was about more than politics. It was history. Clinton was not the only one to lose last night. Bigotry received a mortal blow. Last winter, many of my black friends cautioned that there was no way a black man could win, that anti-black bigotry was still too strong, too deep. That concern lies in rubble today.”

With Barack the nominee I feel like we, as a nation, have made a tremendous stride towards justice and the transformation of our national shame of slavery, prejudice, and segregation. It was a mere 44 years ago that we finally guaranteed the vote to black Americans and in 1965 we put an end to that odious recipe for oppression: separate but equal. This turn of events got me to thinking about Walt Whitman. Here is a bit from a poem he wrote around 1850, before our bloody Civil War that ended slavery. He was hopeful even then that something like Barack would eventually arrive.

Not a grave of those slaughtered ones,
But is growing its seeds of freedom,
In its turn to bear seed,
Which the winds carry afar and resow,
And the rains nourish.

Barack is the nourished seed of these slaughtered ones bearing its fruit.

Indeed, it is unique and new.

I hope that Hillary is his VP choice. I think she will be. She has earned it if she wants it. And it will make the Democratic ticket even more historic.

From an article in the Times (not the New York version) titled Nassim Nicholas Taleb: the prophet of boom and doom

“The only way you can say ‘Fuck you’ to fate is by saying it’s not going to affect how I live. So if somebody puts you to death, make sure you shave.”

Taleb is a former “trader” and currently a best selling author with his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. I guess he predicted the current economic decline, was pooh-poohed for it, and is now commanding 60-grand from Wall Street, corporate types for his lectures. He has an MBA from Wharton, and a Ph.D. from the University of Paris.

Here is the best part of the article:

Taleb's top life tips

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.
2 Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.
4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behavior. You will always have the last word.
5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.
6 Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximize trial and error — by mastering the error part.
7 Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’). (I haven’t been real good with this lately, I used to always say – Never say never.)
8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants... or (again) parties.
9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.
10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

The evidence just grows and grows. From the New York Times: Bush Overstated Evidence on Iraq, Senators Report

Go Jayhawks ...err... I mean Celtics. Celtics 98, Lakers 88

Friday, May 30, 2008

Thursday, May 29th, 2008.

I came of age during the tumultuous 1960s. On one hand I was a typical suburban kid who loved fishing and camping and going through adolescence (girls, of course, being a chief preoccupation) but I was attracted to the views of those advocating for the transformation in our society and culture. So as a teenager I identified with the “radical left” agitating for change and looking for new ways of being during this period: hippies, long hair, rock music, drugs, and free love (though I saw some serious abuse that turned me off instead of on sometimes and all that free love seemed to never involve me), as well as the social and political issues like civil rights for blacks and women, opposition to the Vietnam War, draft resistance, the war on poverty (the War on Poverty was the name given by President Johnson to certain legislative goals introduced during his 1664 State of the Union address), the environmental movement, and free speech to name a few.

Don’t forget there was strong traditionalist opposition during this period as well. The conservative Senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, ran for President against L.B.J. in 1964. It is often argued that Goldwater’s loss in 1964 is what stimulated the conservative renewal that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and lives on in Bush II. Also, I remember the wild uproar and burning of Beatle albums following John Lennon’s March 4th, 1966 comment about the Beatles that “we're more popular than Jesus now.” Rock'in Roll was the Devil's music. It wouldn't take long though for Rock'in Roll to be sanctified by Christians and recruited to the cause of the Lord. Christians remembered what the reformer Martin Luther, being a musician himself, reportedly said, "Why should the devil have all the good music."

Being conservative is not a bad thing. There is much that needs to be conserved, nature for instance. Families are another for instance of something being crushed under the pressure of contemporary capitalist idolatry and the increasing commodification of our way of life. Reactionary forces, in order to mask the true nature of their programs, have stolen the word. When I think of affirmative conservatives I think of Wendell Berry or Jim Wallis, very different, but both conservative. I have always felt affection for the word, even calling myself one recognizing a strong conservative sentiment in me. Family is very important, preserving ways of life is important, taking care of our communities, defending the commons, preserving the environment, preserving our history—architectural and cultural--all invoke the concept of conserving. When I think of being conservative I think of love not capital.

INTERLUDE: I just recently watched the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon about John’s transformation from moptop to peacenik and the Nixon administration’s efforts beginning in 1972 to deport Lennon because of his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War. Highly recommended. The parallels between Nixon and Vietnam and Bush and Iraq are uncanny and kind of depressing. There is a significant reactionary undercurrent in the United States that continues to wreak havoc. In the latest good news on the frontlines of expanding justice and human rights against vehement reactionary opposition is the announcement that New York State Governor David A. Paterson has directed all state agencies to revise their policies and regulations to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, like Massachusetts, California and Canada. Praise the Lord!

In addition to growing-up Catholic I think this era is crucial to understanding my thinking and life. It was a radical period in the U.S. and around the world. I don’t remember much discussion of the events and movements of the 1960s with my parents. I don’t remember them being critical of the movements or particularly supportive either way. They were generally anti-war—they didn’t want their son to go of course—and supportive of civil rights—I remember my mother being appalled that a neighbor would buy a house so a black family wouldn’t move into the neighborhood and they certainly allowed (sent me?) me to go to an all black summer camp during the early sixties—and my Dad was certainly a conservationist being a hunter and fisherman. Though my mother would never let me buy Beatle Boots--remember those pointy-toed shoes--but my parents did finally let me let my hair grow long (This was an answer to nightly prayers. Really!) in 1967 during the summer before Ninth grade. It seem that silence is equivalent to agreement at the end of the day. Also, my folks were big on allowing me to make-up my own mind without pressure from them.

I have always believed that the pen was mightier than the sword and that the printing press is one of, if the most, significant invention of all time (splitting the atom might rival it and, of course, there is agriculture). I liked ideas and my ideas where taking shape from a broad range of people.

The fundamental idea I had was that the natural world is a place of pleasure and meaning. It is where humans came from and it is home. This idea has always clashed with the spiritual for me but more on that later. Enough for today.

I think this is my new motto: “Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008. Now it is Wednesday.

Time marches on inexorably. All we really have is now. It is now o’clock. The past is gone and the future may never come.

The story of my life in six words: Loved the world, grew up fast. Loved mom, left bereft, looking around. Life’s simple, complicate, make simple again. Love and disappoint, then accept limitations. Build it and they will come. (Obviously I stole this one.) Change, change again, change back, repeat.

My grandson Caleb and I went to the movies last night to see Prince Caspian and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. $15.50! And that was with two student discounts. I liked Indy better and I think Caleb did too.

I think C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series is more about his experience of WWI, WWII, the horrors of Nazism, and the deep human propensity to glorify and justify the sacrifices required during war as well as the need to honor those who make them than it is about the Gospel. I wonder if the argument can be made that Narnia is a fundamental distortion of the Gospel? Does the Narnia series imaginatively conflate the ancient cultural requirement of honor in war with the Gospel? This is something I will have to think about.

The following quote is from President Bush’s speech at Arlington Cemetery last Monday, Memorial Day 2008.

“I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish. It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead -- and to preserve America as the greatest nation on earth and the last best hope for mankind.”

I am humbled by the sacrifice many have made for our nation as well, and not just the sacrifices of our solders. But a little bit of nationalistic hyperbole here? That’s a rhetorical question. As a Christian I would have to call this nationalistic idolatry, not to mention an expression of linguistic patriarchy.

Back to my story...

What did I bring to this novel conversion and conversation with Jesus?

First was my Catholic upbringing, largely ignored by high school though, but only consciously, intellectually. My basic orientation to the world was a moral one formed by this experience. Simply put, we where to love, all else was sin. This love required action, one had to do what one believed. As President Kennedy said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what can you do for your country.” I don’t remember this comment myself; Kennedy made it in his inaugural address on January 20th, 1961, when I was 6-years old, turning 7 in 9 days. But it exemplifies the ethos I think I learned via my Catholic schooling. (I have to mention parenthetically that I think there is a sort of fascism-light in this statement, though I do believe public service and elective office can be a high calling.) Love is action and the world was in dire need of action: poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, segregation, freedom from oppression, justice was called for.

Childhood fishing and camping trips, experiences in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, summer camp at a nearly all black church camp are the early experiences that I remember as significant in my understanding of the world. My Boy Scout Handbook, the magazines Field and Stream, Sports Afield, National Geographic, and Boys Life, and the outdoor adventure novels My Side of the Mountain and The Pond where my earliest reading that informed me about the world. These created a fundamental idea of the natural world as a place of pleasure and meaning. It was home. It needed to be cared for

As I grew older I was becoming aware of the broader world. I came of age during the 1960s: the Civil Rights Movement, the War on Poverty, the Hippie era, the War in Vietnam, the Free Speech movement, Women’s Liberation, the Environmental Movement (i.e. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, which I never read, was published in 1962 launching the modern environmental movement), LSD, marijuana, the sexual revolution, the burning of bras, flags, and draft cards. This was the social milieu I was growing-up in and from which I drew my inspiration and ideas of the world as I came of age.

“Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine,” wrote Henry David Thoreau in his 1849 essay Resistance to Civil Government later published as Civil Disobedience, which I read in High School. The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was another book I read early in high school. I always believed that the pen was mightier than the sword. I liked ideas and my ideas where taking greater focus from a broader range of people.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

To pick-up my story...

So that night in Danny McDowell’s apartment I made a fateful decision, one that has influenced my life ever since. In traditional Christian language I choose to “take up my cross and follow Jesus.” “No one after putting his hand to the plow ever looks back.” “What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world but lost his soul?” Jesus would be my leader. I would follow him wherever he would lead me. I still feel that way today. But what a long, strange trip it has been.

Of course the way I understand this decision and these injunction has changed over the years but it still remains a governing principle in my life. In a way choosing to follow Jesus has been kind of like growing up Catholic. Even when in denial and fighting it every step of the way you can’t get away from it. It seems to always be there, impinging and influencing everything I think ether as reaction or submission.

So, I still follow Jesus today and I am a practicing Catholic too, albeit a skeptical follower and believer. Can’t quite imagine being anything else. It seems that I will be like this till I die, unless the Catholics kick me out first for views such as all abortions aren’t wrong, women should be priests, and homosexuals should be provided the grace of the sacrament of marriage. Then I might be an Anglo-catholic. But the discussion of this comes later. But that evening in Danny’s apartment I made a choice and I haven’t quite been able to turn back from it since.

When I made the decision to follow Jesus I was a typical early 70s post-hippie hippie and Jesus freak. Prior to giving my life to Christ I smoked pot and hashish, ate peyote, and drop acid. By the time I made my radical commitment to Christ I had already quit dropping acid because of an aversion to synthetic chemical highs under the influence of natural health concerns ala J. I. Rodale and Prevention Magazine. With the commitment to Jesus I gave up all altered states of mind. Not so much because they were sinful but they were a distraction. As John Denver would sing a few years later, “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” I wanted to look for those natural highs of love and joy in the moment through the giving of myself to God, loving others, and living wholesomely with the earth and her natural gifts.

I was a young, hopeful, idealistic, high school kid with little life experience but lots of ide3as how the world should be. I need to back a little farther and reimagine who I was and what I thought before this militant commitment to Jesus in 1971. What did I bring to this new conversion and conversation with Jesus? This is necessary in understanding where I took my new faith in Jesus. It will illuminate how I avoided some things, modified others, and eventually ended up where I am now.

The outdoors was my childhood element. Field and Stream, Sports Afield, National Geographic, and Boys Life magazines, the novels My Side of the Mountain by Jean George and The Pond by Robert Murphy, and, of course, my Boy Scout Handbook are the earliest reading that I remember. Later would be Walden by Thoreau, some Emerson, Bradford Angiers and the first Whole Earth Catalog in 1968. I was 14 when it came out. I discovered Wendell Berry and Manifesto: The Mad Farmers Liberation Front in the pages of The Whole Earth Catalog.

Through Junior High and High School I spent much of my time riding my bike with my buddies out to Three Ponds, our name for a series of three ponds about four or five miles from my suburban home in Southeast Wichita and other rural places to fish, camp, hunt, and just hang out. These places were far enough to be “out in the country” in the late 1960s and early 70s. And, of course, in High School we started driving and wandering further afield.

A couple books central to my early thinking that I am rereading: Pro-existence (1974) by Udo Middelmann and Idols of Our Time (1981) by Bob Goudzwaard.

Pro-existence by Middelmann was important in helping me think about material reality, creativity, and work in the world of spiritual thinking I inhabited. Some ripe quotes: “Only in creative activity do we externalize the identity we have as [humans] made in the image of God. This then is the true basis of work.” “[Humans] act rather than react, and [we] can be creative and act beyond the immediate reality.” “When the job is more important than the humanity of the worker, our society is sick.” “More people are looking for entertainment instead of creating entertainment for themselves. We should seek refreshment through playing, imagining, telling stories, digging in the garden, even cleaning [house].”

Idols of Our Time by Bob Goudzwaard was helpful to me in thinking about political and social questions and in helping to sever the presumed “natural” ties between current polities and the ideologies that support them and to envision other possibilities. Goudzwaard challenges the assumptions or, in his language, the ideologies created around concepts such as progress, revolution, nation, material prosperity, and guaranteed security. He argues that ideas can all to easily become idolatries in which we become like them and use them to justify corrupting habits of mind and practice where the end justifies the means and the “job becomes more important than the worker.”

A few quotes: “[M]any nations and groups of people today are possessed by the goal of guaranteed security. Their obsession gives them the impulse to use every means at their disposal and to create new strategies for reaching their all-encompassing end.” This was published in 1981 and likely written during the climate that resulted in the election of Ronald Reagan in the U.S. that year. Our experience during the reign of Bush II only emphasizes the prescient nature of this comment as well as the persistent and pernicious nature of this idolatry. And on the idolatry of progress: “The very progress which we first applauded has now become a problem. It seems that economic progress stimulates inflation, risky energy development, higher accumulation of toxic wastes, ... deforestation, and an unbelievable arms race.” “Yet in no way do the ominous signs of our situation necessitate fatalism or doomsday thinking. ... How can we take the first step? ... Our step will ... be characterized by the word enough, not the words more and more. The words of Isaiah [nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks] challenge us with a threefold appeal today. ... reduce defense spending, to channel the unclaimed monies into the poorest nations, and to build an economy of care, an economy of enough.”

Albert Hofmann, the Father of LSD, Dies at 102 Reports the NYT. Albert Hofmann, the “mystic chemist,” synthesized the compound lysergic acid diethylamide in 1938 but didn’t discover its mind-altering properties until five years later, when he accidentally ingested the substance. One article I read suggested he inadvertently got the compound on his fingers. Hofmann remained a spiritual seeker all his life. Much later he ingested Ecstasy and reportedly said, “Ah, at last something I can take with my wife.”

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

MAY DAY, Thursday, May 1st, 2008. Well it’s not May Day but Tuesday, May 13th today.

Fecund, laborer; Two May Day words. It is the first day of May and spring is gathering steam. Like a thunderstorm building on the horizon, spring is mounting towards its guaranteed crescendo of renewal, fertility, hope, a natural Easter. And if you are a laborer—or a student—summer vacations!

Anyway, how about that story of my life I was telling?

I’ll pick-up where I left off:

BASIC: Brothers and Sisters in Christ, that famous happening. Well, maybe not famous, but it was a spring from which issued many significant streams of consequence. At least two churches are still functioning in Wichita that grew out of BASIC, a coffee house and music venue (now defunct as far as I know) operated for several years and was an alternative to the drug and music scene. During this era of the Jesus Movement in Wichita hundreds of young people were influenced at BASIC in positive ways that carried over into their lives. Many have continued to live in a manner that honors this brief period and their experience of BASIC. Hundreds of kids came out on Saturday nights to praise the Lord and sing, hear bible preaching, think about what love means, and to see and meet each other. (My little group always went to Big Boy on Kellogg afterwards for burgers and fries.) It was an exciting time.

I had been attending BASIC for several weeks and I was beginning to believe that these folks were on to something with all the Jesus talk. They were joyful, serious, young, pretty, and had long hair like me. I had begun reading the bible daily and I was predisposed to believe in Jesus anyway because of my Catholic upbringing. I liked the singing, I liked hanging out with my friends, and I was a serious kid too. I liked these people and I liked the emotions I experienced. There was a joy and certainty I felt when singing and hanging out at BASIC. It was believable that God was alive and changing lives.

You just had to look at these kids. Many gave-up drugs, unhealthy promiscuous sex, experienced forgiveness and a sense of radical acceptance, began to focus on loving people and themselves, took school more seriously, and generally got outside of themselves and their narrow egos to think about the larger world. The two churches are examples of institutional results. But there were countless ways individuals where changed and motivated to be different. In a way my entire life’s direction was set by my experience at BASIC, as was the direction and lives of many.

One example from my experience at that time illustrates how it affected many kids. My high school was riven with racial tensions. We had fights in the hallways almost daily and security guards roaming the halls. There were unwritten rules one had to learn in order to navigate this minefield. One rule being that white kids and black kids had to use specific restrooms. I discovered this on my first day at school when I went into a restroom and was slammed-up against the wall by a group of black kids who demanded to know what the fuck I was doing in their bathroom? This was 1969 and I was among the first group of white kids affected by desegregation efforts in Wichita. I had to attend the “inner city black high school” and I learned the restroom rules the hard way.

By the time I was a senior the racial climate had calmed but there was still significant tension. I thought I would try to do something about it. Following my “conversion” I decided to organize a club. I don’t remember the club name but the inspiration for it came from Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I wanted a place that modeled this passage. Where anyone could come and find “artificial” cultural barriers removed and made irrelevant. I don’t remember it as particularly successful. It didn’t attract hundreds of kids but who knows? It made a difference in my life I suppose and that counts for something.

When did I come to believe myself? It is hard to say. I always believed having been a cradle catholic. I never had a “conversion experience” but I did have a moment I radically committed my life to following Christ, literally. I used to tell the story of the night I was at Danny McDowell’s apartment during the fall or winter of 1971/1972. I had been going to BASIC since the summer and enjoying it. I had been doing some reading—the bible for sure—other specific books I don’t remember. At this time I don’t think other books were important to my commitment. (A few books I read early in my “new life” were C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth and Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer.) It was more the hymns and scriptures I was reading than books that “changed” me. But I absolutely approached this time all through all I had read and experienced prior to it. My experience of the world and my early reading shaped the way I believed and how lived it.

While the teaching at BASIC influenced me—much of which I was questioning and later would explicitly reject (more on this later)—the central thing was I knew I had to make a radical commitment. This is something I did that night at Danny’s apartment.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday morning, April 30th, 2008, and an easy morning so far

I feel like I am taking this uncouth, wild (red in tooth and claw) boy and training him in the basic requirements of living in civilized society.

I am thinking of a eulogy for a tree. This nice poem by Freada Dillon came up on a goggle.


The mulberry tree has grown crooked, seeking light
from under a canopy
of massive hardwoods and pine sentinels.
covered with leaves the size of dinner plates,
sway precariously over the roof.
All attempts to redirect its growth have failed.
sprung from berries broadcast
along with bird droppings,
flourish in better light. But I will not
see them reach full growth.
The chainsaw's grind and sputter
punctuate the air. In moments
the yard is adrift in deadfall.
With the last bite, the chain binds,
then releases.
The trunk falls almost gently,
settling into a bed of its own foliage.
Rising sap puddles on the raw stump,
warm to the touch,
bitter on my tongue.

“Falling in faith and falling in love can be understood the same way. People fall in love with no evidence of how a relationship will work out and no real knowledge of who their partner is, let alone who they will be.... We never have any real information about anything important. It takes a lifetime for the ramifications to be worked out. ...

The irony is that we all—secular or religious people alike—make our biggest decisions on faith.... You would have to live a lifetime to be qualified... And since we can’t do that we trust to luck, religion, and the kindness of strangers.”

From Frank Schaeffer’s book Crazy for God.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

another day

Monday, April 21st, 2008. The fifth week of Easter

Today is Monday beginning the third week of Caleb staying with me. I have my 14 year-old grandson staying with me for a while. And I have managed to make just about everyone mad at me. The Pope has been in the U.S. and I missed his visit entirely. Well, maybe not entirely, but I hardly knew it was happening. The last two weeks have been “weird” for sure. Oh well.

Monday was followed by Tuesday and everything changed. So today it is

Tuesday, April 29th, a week later and all is well.

I am thinking about this morning at the coffee shop. My dog Izzy has taken on iconic status at the local coffee shop. Doubtless she has stories told about her to friends and acquaintances. But I am not privy to those.

Here is the dialogue from today’s two-for-Tuesday mocha walk.


I feel so sorry for that dog.

Would it be better for her to sit at home for 2 hours or take a 3-mile walk?

Woman (with back turned, up-raised backhand gesture, derisive voice)
I wasn’t talking to you.


That did poor Izzy a lot of good.

Doesn’t it seem more helpful—and potentially more beneficial to the animal you are sympathizing with—if you talk to the human owner instead of self-righteously, dismissively responding to an attempt to communicate? I don’t get it. Like I said, it did Izzy a lot of good.