Archive for August, 2009

Good Books Come In Threes

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Over the last month or so, I’ve been juggling three really exceptional books — all non-fiction, all well-written, and all, even the “secular” one, giving rise to a host of theological perspective and Christian soul-searching.

I’ll comment from each of them over the next few months, I’m sure, but in the meantime, I urge you to check them out:

Abusing Scripture, Dr. Manfred Brauch

Christian Words, Un-Christian Actions, John Stoddard Klar

Terror Dreams, Susan Faludi

The first, “Abusing Scripture,” is by an evangelical seminarian who decries the hermeneutic so often used in the Christian Church, one that divorces the Word from context, history, literary characteristic, and harmony with the whole of the Bible. It’s an excellent resource for believers who worry about the “hard sayings” of Jesus, the teachings of Paul, and the disparate views on eschatology, for example, found in the Church. Brauch believes that bad theology comes from bad exegesis and leads to real, personal, and tragic consequences for believers and non-believers, rendering his conclusions about hermeneutics and scholastic responsibility far too important to simply be filed under “Bible study.” If every believer read this book and took it to heart, we’d have fewer self-styled teachers leading entire congregations astray by equating blind, wooden simplicity with “not being ashamed” of Scripture.

Klar’s book is a scathing denouncement of George W. Bush’s hypocrisy, war-mongering, and dishonesty during the eight-year reign of horror we’ve just ended. His writing is direct, the footnotes are almost overwhelming, and the conclusion is that, judged on the fruit of his conduct, George W. is deserving of immediate, public, and pointed rebuke by the Church — a Church that, Klar charges, is too lazy and too undiscerning to even bother trying to understand his thesis. For once, a Christian writer cuts through the crap and just says what needs to be said in opposition to hypocrisy, dishonesty, and avarice. This explains why Klar couldn’t find a major Christian publishing house; not once does he pander to Bush’s “base” in cloaking his critique in niceties. Would it be less than ladylike of me to say he kicks ass and clearly names names? It’s about time somebody did.

The socio-psychological aftermath of 9/11 and its similarity to female-subduing “captivity narratives” in American history is the subject of Faludi’s “Terror Dreams.” She dissects the jingoism and macho swell that rose from the ruins, and points out that the nation’s need for a compelling, male-assuring narrative after the terror attacks came with little regard for truth and great emphasis on casting women as victims. Her observation that protests over unfair treatment of women in the media and in government post-9/11 were swept aside because “we’re fighting a war, sweetheart” is dead-on, and her analysis of the capture and caricature of the events surrounding Jessica Lynch (of “I’m an American soldier, too!” fame) is worth the price of the book. Easily. In fact, the first person to contact me via “Comments” gets her/his own copy — one feminist writer sharing the work of another far greater, and on her own dime. Such a deal.

The Context Here Is "HATE"

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

I’ve held on to this for four days now.

Because of the infamous “Dontbia Nass,” I’ve had to have all reader comments appear in my email inbox so I can keep my blog from becoming a verbal vomitorium. Nass has gone underground, apparently resurfacing, although not in the light, as Chris Witmer, a Wilson accolyte living in Japan. Witmer is vile. He’s peppered Moscow’s community email forum, Vision 2020, with puerile and hateful stuff for years, and lurks not only on my blog but also on Wilson’s, Dale Courtney’s, and Spirit/Water/Blog. SWB is a Kinist site run by evilthinkers whose idea of Biblical Christian imperatives have to do with preserving “the white race” and demonstrating the most vicious kind of hate imaginable. I’m assuming SWB has a link to Prevailing Winds because . . . oh, I don’t know . . . they might find me to be the most despicable of sodomite-loving feminist race traitors.

Thank you, and do I get a T-shirt for that?

Anyway, every comment that ends up on the blog has been OK’d by me; I no longer have the luxury of assuming that the staunch male Covenenters who read won’t write like staunch male Fascists in a lockerroom. The gem below arrived after my posts on the death of Sen. Kennedy. I care very little what Chris Witmer thinks about yogurt, plaid, Danish modern furniture, elk, or much of anything else. I detest his views on public service, immigration, and Kennedy’s nearly half-century of work for civil rights, legal protection for the disabled, the poor, women, and everyone else in society who needed a voice when their own wasn’t heard, and I lament Kennedy’s support for abortion rights as much as I lament Witmer’s contention that nothing else matters.

Lord knows the airwaves have been full of commentary about Kennedy’s alcoholism, infidelities, and Chappaquiddick; that’s fair and expected. But I think you might be interested in the foaming-at-the-mouth rage Witmer wants to share with us, because the CREC/Kirk/Reconstructionist/Federal Visioners are a remarkably homogenized voice. He just adds his own unique blend of fanaticism that reveals an anti-government theology quite familiar to those of us in Moscow. His comments below are edited for space and clarity; the context is untouched, and that context is hate.

Here’s what popped up in my inbox:

Christopher Witmer has left a new comment on your post “Ted Kennedy — In My Jr. High Diary????”:

“Kennedy . . . has to answer for many tens of millions of murdered babies . . . that tax parasite never hesitated to take other people’s money at gunpoint for his pet projects. He was a notorious womanizer who drove his first wife to drink. He left Miss Kopechne to die, not reporting the accident for 10 hours . . . in other words, she might have been able to be saved if Kennedy had called for help right
away . . . and let us not forget his contributions to the Mexicanization of America . . . God has finally delivered America from the scourge of Ted Kennedy. One down, 543 to go! (99 more senators, 434 congresscritters [excluding Ron Paul, the one man of character], nine SCOTUS judges, and one president).”

(End of loving and humble Christian analysis of the death of Sen. Kennedy).

Witmer’s words speak for themselves, but I’ll add this:

I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. He is Lord over every single aspect of this world, public, private, “Christian,” and “secular.” I pledge allegiance only to him, not to a flag, a government, or a person. I appreciate that he has ordained government to establish order, and while I believe that not all public servants — politicians — are honorable, public service is.

Witmer and his cohorts, however, believe that government is more like an enemy occupier, dispatching its evil minions to do its evil bidding. I find his “one down, 543 to go!” more than a little chilling, especially given that even more mainstream “Christians” have been calling for God to “take out” various people in government for various sins real and imagined. And I don’t know what the “Mexicanization” of the U.S. means, but I suspect it’s nowhere near as icky as Witmer asserts. Mi pais esta’ cambiando, y a Dios sea la Gloria!

Finally, Witmer and the other proud Christian men who hated Kennedy seem unable to grasp a concept that’s central to the Gospel: Repentance and the restoration and redemption the Spirit brings through it. Time magazine this week reports that after his marriage to Victoria Reggie, Kennedy developed a deep and life-transforming commitment to his Catholic faith, and, pondering his terminal condition, he was quoted by a friend as saying “I believe in the Resurrection.”

We who love Jesus are supposed to rejoice at words like this, particularly when the late-in-life fruit is consistent with Christian conversion. Kennedy did enormous good for this country; he also did enormous harm to himself and others earlier in his life. But CREC’ers and Kirkers are Calvinists. It’s easy, I suppose, for those who are sure that God took pleasure in creating them for eternal life to decide, from that vantage point, who he created to dangle over the Pit in terror of the release of divine fingers that would send them into eternal, conscious torment. Country Club and Covenant membership both have their privileges.

Judging the soul of a man, however, is not one of them. Taking pleasure in the condemnation of any human being isn’t, either.

This isn’t Biblical Christianity. This is an ugly, vicious hybrid of bad theology and worse practice, and its continuation will bring some surprises in the Hereafter, when those who die recognize that dying in Christ and dying while screaming things in his name aren’t at all the same thing.

Answering Right-Mind.us: Why Palin’s "Death Panels" Charges Have Legs, But Nothing Solid On Which To Stand

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

From Right-Mind.us, Christ Church Elder Dale Courtney’s blog (which only rarely includes anything written by the Blogmeister himself), August 27, 2009. My comments are in parantheses –

Sarah Palin’s charge has legs

Scott Ott argues that Sarah Palin’s charges (about “death panels,” etc.) have legs because:

1.) The only way to save money in a government-run health system is to ration care.

(Which means “Don’t automatically call for an MRI if an X-ray is sufficient for diagnosis,” for example. “Rationing” doesn’t mean “herd up the old, sick, and disabled and kill ‘em now,” a point Courtney surely must know and one that can be demonstrated by pointing out the evolution of advanced diagnostics and treatment offered to the elderly through Medicare. Even when my father, for example, was slipping away, he had a CT scan to see if there was a neurological reason for his illucidity. Right ’til the end, the ICU doctors were focused on trying to figure out why he wasn’t getting better, bringing in an infectious disease specialist, a nephrologist, a cardiologist, and a vascular surgeon. “Rationing” means that Trig Palin, my father, and my mother-in-law, who has a persistent, as yet-undiagnosed foot injury, get the care they need, and not the care they don’t).

2.) The majority of health care expenditures for most people come near the end of life, and thus the elderly present the greatest opportunity for cost savings.

(Again, the billions spent annually for seniors on Medicare, and the incredible advances in life-extending care they enjoy, are a testimony not only to the medical profession’s successes in helping people manage chronic illness; acute, life-threatening catastrophic illness; and simple aging that even five years ago would have resulted in death, but also to this nation’s commitment to enabling access to that care through Medicare. Unfortunately, too many people — the poor and otherwise disenfranchised — don’t make it to 65 because they lack access to anything but too-little, too-late emergency care. The biggest cost to this country’s medical system is the astonishing frequency of largely preventable chronic diseases like diabetes, COPD, heart disease, obesity, and hypertension — conditions that can be managed, even reversed, with early and consistent medical care. Which, of course, usually isn’t available to the people who need it most — poor people, for example, whose diet of cheap starches and fats contributes to obesity. Lacking political power, they lack proper medical care. Sick people seen late get sicker, cost more, and die earlier. It’s an effective argument for universal healthcare, but because so many of those voices come from the political, religious, economic and social “other,” they’re easy to drown out — even, ironically, in discussions about “the sanctity of life”).

3.) Special-needs people, like Palin’s son Trig, who has Down’s Syndrome, also require spending — another opportunity for economizing.

(Forgetting for a moment the gross cynicism of Palin’s use of her son to lie about healthcare policy, it’s a fact that this country spends more money, with better results, than ever before in the treatment of those born disabled. But the steadily-advancing life expectancy, independence, and comprehensive care Americans with Down’s Syndrome, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and other congenital disabilities could hypothetically benefit from is doled out on the basis of health insurance and access. While Trig Palin may ultimately suffer from the indignity of being used as a prop and a pony by his mother, her prominence and wealth, however unfortunate, will guarantee him the kind of care that every child deserves — but that few will get. Society and science rejoice that Trig’s life expectancy is higher now than it would have been even 20 years ago, but most people would find it a tragedy that Trig and others born to privilege will benefit while others won’t, because their mothers aren’t rich, powerful women like Sarah Palin).

4.) The government, and too many in our society, believe …

a) infants in the womb to be less worthy of protection than Michael Vick’s dogs,

b) Trig Palin’s life to be Sarah’s foolish choice, and

c) the elderly to be a burden on society.

(Yes, abortion is a tragedy, and yes, too many people believe the elderly to be a burden on society and on their own families. And yet if the entire State of Alaska and every member of Congress went on record condemning Palin’s choice to continue her pregnancy after Trig’s Down’s Syndrome was diagnosed, it wouldn’t matter one whit. No adult can EVER be forced to undergo ANY surgical treatment, including abortion, and, to what must be the great relief of Sarah Palin, no jurisdiction is ever likely to press charges against a 43-year-old woman with four previous births who flies from Dallas to Juneau to Wasilla, Alaska, after her amniotic sac ruptures. Every mother I know would’ve been horrified to hear that she put her baby at risk that way, but we’re all glad that the legal system doesn’t typically get involved even when pregnant women behave stupidly — most of us revere the private relationship we have with our doctors, and nothing about Obama’s healthcare plan would interfere with it. No government auditor in the room during your Pap smear, no doctors phoning legislators to see if Mr. Smith can have a knee replacement, and no patient assigned treatment on the basis of political affiliation — Palin’s lies, and her prodigious anger and imagination, can’t make it happen).

5.) Other governments which run health care operations have a track record of delaying and denying coverage based on the limited supply of medical professionals and equipment, as well as cost-containment considerations.

(Yes, coverage in all of the other industrialized nations that have universal, single-payer healthcare — which, by the way, isn’t anywhere close to Obama’s plan — is sometimes delayed or denied because of physician availability and even cost containment. That’s a fact of life; there isn’t one doctor, one MRI machine, and one hospital dedicated solely to, say, me and my family — anywhere. But while knee replacements and hysterectomies may have to wait if doing so isn’t a threat to life, emergency and immediate surgical needs are regularly, promptly, and effectively offered to everyone — in Vancouver, B.C., at least, but not in Vancouver, Washington. In Canada, Aunt Betty’s problem is that she’ll often have to wait three months for her hip replacement, although Uncle Carl will get his diagnostic CT scan immediately if the doctors suspect a stroke, or cancer, or something else. In the U.S., if Betty isn’t insured and isn’t rich, she may never get her hip replaced, and Carl’s family will too often just watch him fade away while they try to find care they can afford — if it exists, and if they can find it in time. The conservatives’ deriding of Canadian healthcare has much more to do with their own positions of privilege and security than with the faults of “socialized” medicine. The fact that millions of Americans have little or no access to ANY medical, dental, or mental health care is of little consequence to them as they nestle in a cocoon of relative privilege that permits no empathy or kindness, just a safe place to comfort themselves with smug anecdotes and whimpers of injustice).

6.) The end-of-life counseling language appeared in a section of a bill on cost-containment.

(And it’s language approved by those wild-eyed crazy liberals in the Bush administration, for example, for use in VA hospitals. It’s the same evil language your lawyer discusses with you when you draw up your will, or that’s on the form the nurse hands you as you prepare for surgery. It’s the “language” that allows you to specify that you DO, for example, want doctors and nurses to go to the most heroic means possible to prolong your life — or to indicate that you don’t. It’s not alarming then, and it isn’t alarming now — unless you hear it from Palin, who, to be fair, hasn’t demonstrated much understanding of tiny print and big words, but who should accordingly pipe down ’til she does).

7.) The American people don’t trust politicians, and would rise up in unified opposition if the federal government had a plan to take over and run little league athletics, let alone health care, which does involve life and death decisions.

(Actually, most Americans DON’T see politicians — who wouldn’t, of course, be involved in their private health concerns under Obama’s plan anyway — as individual foot soldiers in the service of Evil. The federal government’s “taking over” of healthcare, it should be noted, is already a blessing enjoyed by millions on Medicare and Medicaid and has resulted further in such noxious horrors as the virtual eradication in this country of polio, smallpox, and dental decay. These examples of federal intervention in your healthcare and mine are seen by reasonable people as positives, but there are those who, it would seem, miss the good old days of iron lungs, the casual commonness of childhood death, and a near-inevitable mouthful of rotting bone and flesh by the age of 40. Perhaps they could move to the Sudan, where all of those things remain a scourge).

8.) Americans love freedom.

(Yes, we do. But Christians love justice even more, and God’s people are to be focused on what’s best for the other, especially the poor and oppressed “other,” not on what violates our idolatrous political views, reinforces unjust power structures, and maligns the Gospel witness of a “Christian” nation).

As others have argued: there won’t be any need for formal death panels. The rationing of healthcare will accoplish that goal just fine.

Ted Kennedy — In My Jr. High Diary????

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Huh. Already one off-line snark attack regarding my reminiscing below that I wrote about Senator Kennedy in my journal as an eighth grader. And I guess that is a little surprising. Or odd. I can go with “odd” here.

But the fact is that I was brought up in a very political family, a family whose Christmases in the early 1970s were usually spent picketing in front of the Air Force base and whose idea of a birthday blowout — my birthday is always right before or right after the November generals — was stuffing envelopes and making get-out-the-vote calls over chocolate cake and ice cream. I devoured newspapers, Newsweek, and news shows even in my early elementary years, and dinnertime conversation only rarely touched on neighborhood adventures or best-friend dramas.

While I doubt that Ted Kennedy got nearly the coverage in my eighth-grade diary that Augie Gonzalez did, it still would have been important to me to comment there on the political news that enlivened our dinnertime conversation. Probably not a real normal childhood, I’m guessing, but I’m grateful for the passion for social justice it instilled in me, even when adolescent crushes were a continual distraction.

(I remember being devoted that entire year to studiously observing Augie between classes and in the cafeteria for the slightest hint that he liked me — or knew I existed at all — and as my 25th wedding anniversary to a man who does like me approaches, I’m secure enough to confirm that, ummmmm, no, he didn’t. Crushing, it was — and his loss, as I was willing at the time to be terribly un-liberal and devote my life to being Mrs. Augie Gonzalez, a title now held by the completely undeserving Sandra M., who picked her nose, cheated on her math tests, and wore blue eye shadow).

So, yes, I was “like this” even as a young girl — always writing, always learning, always preaching, and always concerned about politics and the world around me. Credit for that goes to my Dad, and because of him, in so very many ways, I mourn the loss of Senator Kennedy, a man born to tremendous wealth and privilege who, while deeply flawed, devoted himself to the tireless pursuit of a better life for those Christ called “the least of these.” And I don’t at all mind having my critics conclude that I was weird for writing about a Massachusetts senator as a girl in Arizona, because my particular kind of weirdness now has revealed to me just how the Lord has gifted me — including, perhaps even especially, his gift to me of a sharp mind, tender heart and thick skin.

Sen. Edward Kennedy

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 46-year-Massachusetts Senator and champion of the poor, died last night.

He was an icon in my uber-liberal home growing up, and at an early age I learned to be thankful for the man largely responsible for my being able to vote at 18, enjoy the benefits of sports equally because of Title IX, and see the kids around me who were not born to the privilege I was benefit from the civil rights bills whose relief from segregation only their parents could grasp. I remember writing — I’m not sure what — about Kennedy in my Jr. High diary, and I grew up secretly seeing my Dad as a man like Ted Kennedy. Both had that magnificent shock of dark, wavy hair and the wide-jawed smile, both were committed and intelligent liberals, and both were flawed — but were men of character and integrity at their core.

This country will miss his passionate commitment to justice, equality, and a social safety net woven from the fibre of our collective best natures. I’m sure some of our local Reconstructionists will sneer at our mourning, but God can deal with them today. I choose to remember a man who was deeply troubled by the plight of the many, a man who wanted to “break the gridlock” in our society that kept prosperity the right of a few. I lived with a man like that in my father, and I grew up admiring the far more powerful man he reminded me of.

In lieu of flowers, pass healthcare reform.

When An Innocent Man Is Sentenced To Die

Monday, August 24th, 2009

This week’s Time Magazine has a brief story about a Georgia man sentenced to death in 1991 for killing an off-duty police officer. The Supreme Court, for the first time in a half-century, has agreed to hear new evidence and the retracted testimonies of seven of nine witnesses against the man — witnesses who now say they were wrong in their testimony, testimony that ultimately brought about his conviction.

You would think that this would be hailed as good news — not just for the man, who has proclaimed his innocence from the start, but also for those who strive to proclaim and protect righteousness in our judicial system. But the most prominent member of the court, the uber-Catholic Antonin Scalia, has this to say about the State killing of people wrongly convicted of murder:

(From Time Magazine, August 31, 2009): “This Court has NEVER held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent.” Justice Antonin Scalia, re: The State of Georgia vs. Troy Davis

Well, the Constitution may not forbid it — a pretty dubious point in itself — but the Word of God does. Hundreds of innocent men have been executed in this and the last century, usually because of sloppy or incompetent work on the part of their public defenders. The rich have access to top-notch legal advocacy; the poor have to rely on overworked and underpaid public defenders unable to stanch the tide of bigotry, poverty, and systemic racism that permeates society and the legal system. All murder is equally wrong, but all justice isn’t equally just. Let us pray that Troy Davis’ day in court results in true justice, Scalia’s chilling nonchalance notwithstanding.

And I write this on the week that my childhood friend is to be released from prison after serving 15 years for a murder he did commit. That’s why Davis’ case really got to me — because if my friend (and now my brother in Christ) WERE innocent, he might well have been convicted anyway. That’s an injustice that hits close to home, and one that ought to cause outrage from Christians. Scalia’s words are appalling, but, sadly, they’ll never get the play that Sonia Sotomayor’s out-of-context “wise Latina” statements did.

Unequal justice, unequal outrage toward the Justices. May God have mercy on this court, a court publicly represented by a devout Catholic who nonetheless thinks that putting an innocent man to death is, according to the Constitution, not such a big deal.

Furry, Odd-looking Genetic Wonders And The Joy They Bring

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

It’s been a year since I informed Jeff that yes, thanks, I really DID need a puppy.

And after wondering aloud if maybe we could just go out to dinner instead, he relented, asking only that we name him (or her) “Perry” after a beloved dog from our early years as a couple. I agreed. I would have named the thing “Carburetor” if that’s what it took.

So I went to where I knew there was a litter of Chihuahua-Poodles and Poodle-Chihuahuas, an important distinction, I learned, in the grossly inflated “designer dog” community, wherein three-quarters Chihuahua merits a “Chi-Poo,” but the more pedestrian half-and-half mix is a “Poo-Chi.” This is a point the woman made several times as I demonstrated both my inability to do fractions and (politely, I hope) my Chihuahua-sized interest in the distinction. I was captivated by the only Poo-Chi (get it?) left, a 10-week-old white, bowlegged, shy little guy whose coat could only generously be called scraggly. I’m not much for Poodles, and I still think of “Chihuahua” as the Mexican State my friend is from, but while the other wheaten-coated puppies were adorable, I kept coming back to the one I knew was “Perry” to his very core.

He weighed two pounds, but God blessed him with a bladder the size of a softball, and he slept pretty much through the night after only a few days. He was appropriately feisty AND submissive to our 2-year-old Lab/Pointer Mix, Georgia, whose gentleness is of Mother Theresa-like proportions, and bonded easily with Jeff, my son, me, and an orange-and-purple stuffed giraffe. Best of all, he cuddled. I like that in a dog.

Little did I know then that 2009 would bring the sudden heartbreak of my dad’s death. A sadness I could not have imagined — and still haven’t really begun to feel fully — marked the first six months of the year and persists in barging in at times, lingering too long, unbidden and unwilling to slip away when I try to. Grief is a persistent visitor indeed.

But the desire of my heart this time last year didn’t, I see now, have its origin in my lifelong love of dogs and in the novelty of having a tiny one. A loving God planted it in me, knowing, as the Divine would, that I would suffer a loss unexpected, the kind of loss that’s never “cured,” that never expires, but that responds remarkably well to the Heaven-sent ministrations of a wonder of canine genetics, eight pounds of pure love, mischief, and the breath of a thousand rawhide chewies.

I am grateful.

Harvest Time

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Jeff and I were driving yesterday to Uniontown, in the wheatfields about 30 minutes southwest of Moscow, which is also in the wheatfields but which isn’t where this particular client lives and which doesn’t (and this is a pity) have Eleanor’s Corner Tavern for a mid-day Mac and Jack’s with lunch.

Anyway . . . I’m getting as off track here as we were when he ended up at the intersection of P. Druffel Road and M. Druffel Road. But while Jeff pored over his maps, I took in the hum of machinery and the heady smell of farmland, washed in its late-summer color as wheat, peas, lentils, garbanzos and canola present to our farmers their God-nurtured best. I thank him for the crops and for the men and women who harvest them, and seven and a half years after moving here, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

(Confidential to QDCB — I hope your time on the farm this season was soul-soothing and a balm of encouragement to your heart, even without lechuga. Remember Hos. 10:12????)

Apologies and How Massacres Don’t Just "Happen"

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

I was pleased to read that Lt. William Calley, convicted of the My Lai massacre in the early ’70s, offered an apology this week for the murderous rampage he took part in and for which his name will forever be a source of anger and shame.

I’m not in a position to gauge the sincerity of Calley’s apology for “what happened in My Lai;” it’s not difficult to imagine that more than four decades later, he would be left with a lingering remorse for the mass killing of these Vietnamese women and children. What bothers me, and what bothers me more and more lately, is how his and other public apologies are worded.

My sons will go to their graves long after I’m gone with the words “‘Sorry’ isn’t an apology — ‘sorry’ is a word . . . ” In our home, offenders young and old believe that an apology is only an apology when it’s specific, personal, and represents true accountability for the offense. Even as pre-schoolers, my sons knew that “Sorry you’re mad for me taking your Legos,” or “Sorry if I hurt your feelings for laughing at your painting,” or even “Sorry the vase broke, Mom,” wouldn’t cut it. We don’t apologize for other people’s feelings; we apologize for having trampled on them — specifically, personally, and as soon as possible.

And just as vases don’t “just break,” bloody massacres don’t “happen.” We’re all sorry for what happened at My Lai — but as the one accountable for it, Calley’s apology would be far more effective, far more meaningful, if he had used the first-person indicative: “I’m sorry for what I did in My Lai.” Better, the specificity: “I’m sorry I took part in razing a village, killing innocent people, and terrorizing the survivors.”

We see this in Michael Vick’s “regret” over brutalizing dozens of dogs in operating a dogfighting ring, in Mark Sanford’s lament that his heart took over his decency and common sense, in rock stars, athletes, televangelists and politicians whose remorse — whether for the offense itself or for simply having been caught — are couched in words that acknowledge that something bad happened, something that makes them feel bad — but something that evidently was the product of cosmic events quite out of the control of the one offering the apology. These are the public ones. Unheard are the millions of instances when wives “apologize” with a seemingly sincere “Sorry your Mom didn’t get a card from us for her birthday,” or a husband offers a contrite “Hey, sorry you’re mad that I got home late.” Whether the children they raise grow up to embrace the honor of full accountability, responsibility, and transparency or adorn their “Sorry”s with tears, a description of events, and an acknowledgment that it caused pain — with no “I did this” — isn’t too hard to guess.

I do a lot of stuff that’s wrong. But I’m determined to own up to my errors and sins in the way I hope I’ve demonstrated on Prevailing Winds — publicly for public errors, in person for personal ones, and always specific, prompt, and with that pesky “I” word that really constitutes an apology. We confess our sins to our Savior only when we take full ownership of our failings; that he is omniscient and already knows doesn’t excuse us from glossing over our specific errors when we offer to the not-omniscient our mea culpas.

I’ll end this with the Roman Catholic Act of Contrition I learned as a kid. I’m no longer Catholic, but it’s a wonderful model for what really, truly constitutes regret and accountability:

Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee,
and I detest all of my sins because of Thy just punishments.
But most of all, because they offend Thee my God,
Who art all good and deserving of all my love, I firmly resolve,
with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid
the near occasion of sin. Amen.

The Shadowy "Other"

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

When I was an arrogant smart kid in college, I thought that I had developed a fascinating and insightful theory of “the Other” — the person, group, or culture not mine, not of the majority, and thus disenfranchised by those in power. Imagine my chagrin at understanding later that the sociological theory of “the other” was well-developed decades before I took my Sociology 201 class.

But the concept remains valid and is especially applicable to the hate, suspicion, innuendo and lying that surrounds the person, politics, and presidency of Barack Obama. The political Right is guilty of the maelstrom of conspiracy theories and hysteria-based rants that have escalated as Obama’s healthcare reform policies are debated, and the Religious Right especially so — especially so because, presumably, the good Christian men and women in that camp know that they are to respect and demonstrate truth and fidelity to Scripture. It really ought not be news that God still prohibits lying, gossip, bearing false witness, stirring up trouble, and fomenting disrespect of anyone, including the President of the United States. And since that’s not a news flash, not some weird liberal theology of mine, they are guilty of sin and responsible for the outcome of their Christ-defaming hatred of the man. It’s indefensible according to the Word by which we Christians live our lives.

The media notes that the level of hatred, tumult, and vehement anger surrounding the healthcare debate is, if not unprecedented, at the very least representative of a sociopolitical divide neither seen nor expected over a domestic policy issue. The spray-painting of a swastika, for example, on the sign at a Congress member’s office, the Astro-turfing (in other words, not truly “grassroots”) disruption of town hall meetings, and the sinister and utterly false warnings of “death panels,” even by Christians like Sarah Palin, bespeaks a swell of contempt and suspicion that has taken legitimate political debate to a point lower and more ugly than I can remember.

Those of us whose introduction to politics was the shameful criminality of Watergate and who protested the illegal and utterly immoral U.S. occupation of Iraq dealt in facts — there really was a President who ordered a break-in at the opposing party’s campaign offices; there really was a President who conspired to identify Iraq as an unprecedented threat that demanded its occupation by the U.S., regardless of the truth that Iraq had nothing to do with Bush’s avowed interest in “protecting” us from terrorists. Even those on the Right who spent $20 million to impeach a President who lied about his adulterous relationship with a woman did so based on the evidence of a sex act in the Oval Office. Their cause was malicious and disingenuous, but at least — I’m conceding much here — the guy really did lie about his sex life. I can’t excuse the Right’s obsession with taking Clinton down, but he did lie, and their absurd preoccupation at least was fueled by hatred conveniently adorned with a a stained blue dress.

But the current firestorm is no longer — and really hasn’t ever been — about healthcare. It’s about the concerted efforts of some on the Religious Right to paint Obama as the ultimate “other.” Some of us may laugh at the “birthers” and point out that it would be a phenomenally prescient and precocious three-day-old Obama to have arranged for a birth notice to be printed in his hometown Hawaiian newspaper. That’s a wry bit of commentary for the sane among us, but there are those wingnuts, many of whom claiming Christ as Savior, who absolutely believe that the newspaper’s birth announcement was the first step in a four-decade-long effort by shadowy, sinister and demonic Machiavellians grooming the man who is the Biblically prophesied Antichrist. Don’t believe me? Then check my file of somber, or hysterical, email pronouncements, employing a hermeneutic rivaled only by a third-grader’s game of Hangman, that identify him as the consummate Man of Evil.

Now, I believe there is an Antichrist, or will be. But it’s not Barack Obama. Promise.

Sadly, even those who have used their Christian faith and discernment to conclude that Barack Obama isn’t the Antichrist — sadly, they deserve the damnation of faint praise in this environment — are convinced that he’s some sort of Other, bent on doing wrong and able to succeed in doing it regardless of the best efforts of the Religious Right. And if he’s successfully painted as the Other, different from us, apart from us, not like us in the ways we’ve decided truly matter, then he can be taken out — taken out of the debate, taken out from under our prayer protection, and, perhaps, even just “taken out.”

The “birthers” are especially gifted, apt in their weird certainty and motivated by hate borne by fear, at painting him as a shadowy, sinister, socialist alien to all that’s good and right in life, and utterly alien to them. They see the President as a man of suspicious birth under race-mixing circumstances too many of them automatically see as sinful — an affront to some sort of “created social order” ordained by God as White Man in Chief. And pastors, Christian politicos, and leaders of the Religious Right have taken delight in the identification of Barack Obama as the ultimate — perhaps final? — Other of whom fear and suspicion is entirely appropriate. Their sudden prominence and prestige is tragic proof not only of the shallowness and gullibility of those they lead, but confirmation that their final reward will burn at Judgment like the wood, hay, and stubble it is.

Healthcare policy and the legitimate discussion surrounding it is of little concern to the screeching masses. Instead, Obama himself is the focus as the secretive manipulator of law and custom, a sinister and shadowy agent of evil. Who he is in their minds contaminates with a touch of evil anything he proposes; if the President decreed that puppy-kicking should be illegal, the tornado of lies and hate would spin dark, scary tales of his unGodly worship of animal life.

When “policy debates” are fueled by lies, hate, and the suspicion necessary to isolate and identify the President as the Other — the one “not like us” — they become arenas of sin, cesspools of malice, and Pit-worthy forums of hate that offend a Holy God. In crafting in their minds the very ontology of Barack Obama as foreigner, heretic, illegitimate and the dark One they’ve been told to hate, the opportunity to develop meaningful healthcare reform is discarded. That’s a tragedy. But the judgment of Christ, the Messiah and God of “the Other,” will fall, as He’s promised, on those who persist in his name in devoting their hearts, minds, and hands to destruction — not just destroying the opportunity for the poor to have access to healthcare, but destroying the witness of the Gospel of reconciliation, peace, and hope.

I don’t know if Barack Obama is truly my brother in Christ. The thing is, I’m beginning to wonder if those who hate him know the Christ whose name they defame with such energy and passion. I’d like to think they don’t; I want to believe that the enemies of the Gospel in this case — and they ARE enemies — aren’t the people whose destructive zeal is undertaken in the name of the true Other, the Holy God, purely truth and wholly love, eternal and omnipotent and entirely “not like us.”