Archive for February, 2010

Stephen Baldwin And The Applauding Masses

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

A debate rumbled on Moscow’s Vision 2020 after this little gem was unearthed last week:

> “I am not happy about the way things are. I pray for President Obama every
> single day. But tell you what. Homey made this bed, now he has got to lay
> in it.”
>
> Stephen Baldwin at the CPAC Convention (February 19, 2010)

Prediction: Any conservative political action movement that relies on C-list movie actors to articulate its principles and encourage its foot soldiers is one sadly destined to succeed in a country as divided and dumbed-down as this one. No, I’m not in an optimistic mood.

You didn’t think I’d say “succeed,” did you? I believe there’s an enormous market for the kind of flip, vapid, ignorant comments we hear regularly from what used to be the Right’s fringe, and the disrespect and thinly-veiled racism of referring to the President of the United States as “homey” is just the beginning.

It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario under which a movement or organization would benefit from the identification of the “public” Stephen Baldwin as a foot soldier. But he and a lot of cool and famous dudes and dudettes are used to further agendas and positions more lasting than the venues from which they come. The political Right has no inherent obligation to be discerning. The Christian Right does. It’s called discernment, and discernment is supposed to be part of the arsenal of every Christ follower.

But, of course, the gullibility of the Christian Right is legendary and at times apparently limitless. The “celebrity” conversion — and I’m being generous here in attributing “celebrity” to the least articulate, least attractive, and least accomplished of the Four Baldwin Brothers — is seen as some sort of ticket to the arena of cultural legitimacy, kind of like a feather in our collective cap, a cap we gleefully acquire and hope the other kids will find cool on Monday morning. A predictable spiritual vacuum — and examples of gross analytical vapidity like Baldwin’s — results from an expression of faith that seeks cultural legitimacy from those it ought to instead lovingly deliver from a debauched culture.

When Christiandom exults in the endorsement of those who know little and practice less regarding the faith — when the culturally-compromised Church treats conversion as a stamp of approval from the converted instead of as an intimate, joyous, and comprehensive spiritual rebirth — it invites the kind of unabashed dumbness that makes “the President as homey” headlines. Being “on fire for the Lord,” especially as a celebrity, shouldn’t be synonymous with a scorched-earth, blistering, out-of-control approach to anything. But applause followed Baldwin’s demonstration of doofus-ness; why shouldn’t he continue?

Tragically, the Christian Right, in Hollywood or in the Beltway, stumbles all over itself to shove a microphone in the hands of celebs who say they’re joined with Jesus, and intelligent people on the Right and on the Left, as well as apolitical evangelicals concerned with the witness of the Gospel, scratch their heads and wonder what kind of political movement would be so devoid of thoughtfulness that it would turn to the mumbling, dense, running-on-intellectual-fumes bit-part actor Stephen Baldwin for analysis?

I’m afraid that Stephen Baldwin, since his conversion to Christianity, has not exemplified very well the mandate to love the Lord Jesus with all of his mind. He’s a couple of years past the “new believer” stage wherein such excesses are likely, and there’s no real reason, evidently, why he should grow up — as a man and as a Christian. Nothing in his acting career brings about the kudos and spotlight he enjoys now. If I were Stephen’s pastor, I would pull him off the public stage and spend a great deal of time purging him of right-wing cultural “christiandom” and building in him instead a deep, abiding, intelligent faith not easily tickled by shifting winds of political doctrines — particularly when the source of those doctrines come in from very nasty storm clouds gathered on the Right. But there appears to be no evidence of pastoring in Stephen’s faith walk.

The point here is not Stephen Baldwin, although its his comment especially and his prominence in Right-wing circles both secular and spiritual in general, that provokes my analysis. What Stephen Baldwin thinks about anything is about as important as what I think about anything — which is to say, not too terribly significant to the orderly running of the universe. But he’s an example of much of what’s very wrong with Christendom and politics, culture and civic duty, these days. Where he was crass, careless, and crude, though, others with much more power are, in the name of Christ and the doctrines that speak of him, vicious beyond measure. Next up, then — the foul musings of a Virginia legislator on the relation between abortion and disability, comments uglier, I guarantee, than anything you’ll hear in a very, very long time.

Swerving Away From A Collision

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

So many people have asked me if I’ve seen “Collision,” the filmed debate between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson on the existence of God, and I suppose that question — of whether or not I’ve seen it, not whether or not God exists — deserves an answer.

No, I haven’t. (And yes, God exists).

I haven’t seen “Collision” and don’t intend to, although if at some point it seems important, I will. But I have not, to be frank, found Wilson to be a terribly formidable debate opponent. I spent two and a half hours with him on Moscow’s KRFP a couple of summers ago and thoroughly enjoyed the time — I’d do it again in a moment, and if you Google my full name, the entirety of the debate is available at various sites online. But I have been underwhelmed, if not disturbed, by my private and public interactions with him, as well as by the nature and quality of his apologetic engagement with others. (“Apologetic” here means “defense” or “argument for,” not “seeking forgiveness”). I don’t know that “Collision” will represent the invigorated, insightful defense of God’s existence that I’d like to expect from Wilson or from any evangelical debater, and I think I’d prefer to just leave it with his and my common belief that the God of the Bible does exist.

Regardless of the myriad differences in our theologies and the multitudinous disappointments I’ve had with Wilson, I have to appeal to our common belief in the Lordship of Christ in rooting for him to best Hitchens in debate. I just don’t have to watch it, and I don’t have to join with much of Christiandom in applauding Wilson’s elevation from small-town pastor to evangelical statesman. The outcome of the debate is too important to be trusted so readily, and with such enthusiastic marketing, to a man who in my view is more puckish and pugnacious than wise and winsome.

Who Advocates For The Mentally Ill?

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Jeff and I got back the other day from a trip to Tri-Cities, and during our road trip we talked a lot about the disastrous results of inadequate funding for social services — the safety net that guarantees support for those who simply cannot make their way through life, for the working poor, and for those who find themselves, through no fault of their own, in crisis. (Worry not — on road trips, we also talk about our favorite episodes of “Quincy.” We’re really much more romantic than it seems).

As a culture, and as Christians living in and against it, we tend to not give a whole lot of thought to the strength and flexibility of this safety net, because we don’t think we’ll ever need it and we don’t, frankly, go out of our way to seek common cause, much less relationship, with those who do. Meanwhile, the poor continue to suffer, and those who never thought they’d be “poor” find themselves nonetheless in really tough circumstances for which their tax dollars prove insufficient to remedy. Here’s another way to say it: They’ve worked hard and paid their dues — taxes — and yet have no help available for them when things go sour. The resentment and disenfranchisement is the least dangerous result to our communities.

The two people I write about below are composites, designed and described to protect their privacy, but the story of the ER visit is entirely true.

This was especially brought to my mind the other day when my friend Barb in Lewiston called me after the kind of ER visit that leaves your heart pounding and your body chilled to the bone. Her uncle, who through one of those late-in-life births is only a couple of years older than she is, has been recovering from surgery and, for the first time in his life — his hard-working, tax-paying, and community-involved life — finds himself profoundly depressed. Neil has become increasingly despondent and increasingly concerned that he’s despondent, at least when he’s not looking longingly at a bottle of pills that he knows would end his physical and mental pain. So he went to the ER in Lewiston and was told by a very compassionate and very frustrated ER doctor that unless he, Neil, was in imminent danger of killing himself, with method, plan, and follow-through all nearly executed, he couldn’t be admitted, treated, and helped — unless Neil announced or demonstrated specific intent to kill or harm someone else. Even then, Barb understood that the hold was only for 72 hours with little or no guarantee of follow-up.

It would have been better for Neil — more satisfying, more helpful, more comprehensive in treatment — if his arm were dangling from his body due to a farming accident. Blood and guts, blocked arteries and dying hearts guarantee immediate treatment. But even though depression, acute or chronic, is a real condition, its inability to be spotted by MRI, and the continuing ignorance and fear of mental illness that pervades our culture — and is exploited by insurers — means that these life-threatening conditions remain at the very bottom of the “list” of funding priorities. This is true, I think, even during healthy economic times and in states more . . . ummmm . . . progressive . . . than Idaho; it’s particularly true when states are looking to trim and tighten already torn safety nets.

Education, jobs, health care — these are the three things that most require the attention of the Legislature as it determines budget priorities, and Idaho has not proved, in good times or bad, to be a place where help is available to “the least of these” in God’s eyes and in our own — whether they occupy that unfortunate tier of negligible social value permanently or find themselves there by circumstance. I shudder at the wreckage left in the wake of this recession all across the country. I truly believe that when the economy recovers, as I hope it will, the damage done to people and communities through the disintegration of this tax-funded social safety net will be incalculable, far more expensive than initial funding to care for those in need would have been.

But it seems clear to me that those among us who deal with mental health issues will suffer particularly because of the invisibility of their illness and the shame that surrounds it. As someone who has, God be praised, been treated successfully for depression, I grieve for the loss of potential and production that others not treated suffer, and having lost to suicide a beautiful young man in my Spanish-speaking congregation, I know how very real the loss is when someone who feels they can’t hang on by themselves reaches out for help that simply isn’t going to be there.

There’s no doubt that the Church should do more to help people struggling with mental illness. Until it does, though, with equal parts compassion, funding commitment, and clinical understanding, the State will continue to be where those who cannot afford private treatment turn. The nation’s economic crisis, and the slashes in health care funding for the weak and sick that accompany it, is like a plane crash whose debris not only scatters far beyond the crash site, but continues to be uncovered years and years after the initial crash, with victims discovered all around us. Shame and ignorance are, indeed, a powerful combination. The State shouldn’t rest in it, and the Church cannot enable it. Economic justice requires a prophetic voice, and that voice must be raised in favor of those who suffer from conditions that might originate in the brain but are not “all in one’s head.”

One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

(One of these things just isn’t the same . . .)

I’m too old to really have benefited from Sesame Street, but I do remember the wacky wholesome goodness involved in the sing-song game from which the title of this post comes. Typically, there would be a duck, a parrot, and a tractor, and the kid would pick out the tractor — you know, because it’s not a birdie and all. For adults, a bottle of pinot noir, a bottle of cabernet-pinotage, and a bottle of viognier would work. Or, if you’re interested in civil rights and national security, you could go with these three:

“We shouldn’t focus on what a terrorist looks like, but on what a terrorist acts like.”

– Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, on racial and ethnic profiling of airline passengers.

“There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with the name Abdul, Ahmed, or Muhammed.”

– Radio Host Mike Gallagher, giving ample evidence that possessing a voice made for radio doesn’t necessarily correspond with enjoying a brain made for thinking.

“100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims, and that is our enemy today. So why should we not be profiling people because of their religion?”

– New York Representative Peter King, evidently relying on his razor-sharp insight that, indeed, Islamic terrorists are likely not Presbyterians.

(Is it possible that the Obama TSA’s list of 14 countries, 13 of which are Muslim, whose citizens must undergo body pat-downs or body scans when flying to or from the U.S. simply emboldens terrorists to recruit from other countries, including our own? Any thoughts on that one? Or should we just go with the geopolitical acumen of these two? All quotes taken from The Progressive, February 2010, Vol. 74, No. 2)

The Idaho Baptists And Good Intentions Paving The Road To Hell

Monday, February 8th, 2010

(From my post today on Moscow’s Vision 2020 community forum, responding to charges that the prosecution of the “Idaho 10″ in Haiti will discourage people from helping poor children internationally:)

No, “good people” who want to help homeless, poor, or any other kind of children won’t be dissuaded from performing good deeds if the Idaho Baptists are convicted. The ten being held in Haiti demonstrated something other than “goodness.” They evinced a tragically silly shallowness that is unbecoming of the Gospel, no matter how truly kind they are — and there is evidence that the group’s leader is at least as cunning as she is kind. If these brothers and sisters are convicted of the charges against them, it won’t have a chilling effect at all on “good” people who care about the poor abroad.

On the contrary, truly “good” people seek to understand and to work within the laws that exist; they don’t, in responding to disasters and crises, just “arrive ‘n dive” into situations unfamiliar to them. They don’t let their tenderheartedness run rampant over their common sense. And they don’t naively, or arrogantly, assume that they know more than others who have dealt with problems, often at great personal cost, for far longer than they themselves have.

The Idaho Christians awaiting trial may well be loving, sweet-natured people. I’m truly sorry they’re in the position they’re in, but let’s be clear: It’s not religious persecution that has them in jail right now, and it isn’t a cynical world’s inability to welcome the kindnesses of strangers, either. They’re in jail because in loving the Lord with all of their hearts, they made a concerted effort to not love him in this case with all of their minds — with tragic consequences across the board.

Shame, If Only They Were Capable Of Feeling Any

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

If I wore a hat, I’d be tipping it now — or tossing it joyfully into the air.

The Republican Party, circa 2010, has rallied around a common vision for the United States sure to ignite political and moral passion among a weary and worried electorate, unite a fractured and fearful nation, and at the same time incite rebellion against the corruption and greed, injustice and immorality, that has plagued the halls of power in the U.S. for the last century.

The example of the GOP — the commitment to righteousness and leadership currently ringing through the halls of Congress — is a profound testimony to the influence of Christian thought and practice on a secular political party whose base is largely evangelical, and through the efforts and platform of the GOP, the witness of the Gospel has been heightened even more than the nation has been bettered. Even Democrats have been encouraged by the respectful tone and commitment to integrity evinced by the Republicans, and the resulting bipartisanship is largely due to the steadfast efforts of GOP leadership and grassroots in their devotion to nothing more, but certainly nothing less, than the betterment of the people of the United States. Truly, my pride in the American political process has never been more profound.

And, oh, yeah — I’m tall, slim, and blonde. With a great tan and a six-minute mile.

I’m not any of those things, of course. And the reality is that the Republican Party has determined that it needs only one plank in its party platform, and that plank is simply “Hating Barack Obama.” This is the lens through which the GOP, the Faux News Faux Libertarians, the Tea Partyers and the Religious Right choose to govern, and it’s a testimony to the ignorance and immorality of the electorate, gorged into a stupor by media, that they’ve succeeded as much as they have. Below are two examples of GOP and conservative heroes who demonstrate as easily as they breathe air or tie their shoes their utter contempt for our nation’s President. I don’t know how else to introduce them, since I can’t provide vomit bags to each of my readers.

While it would be tempting to direct my disgust just toward Tom Tancredo or Glenn Beck, or even toward local pastors who spew bile in regard to Obama and his every plan with little or no evidence of analysis or understanding thereof, I’m afraid that the truth is that every religious conservative, Republican activist, Tea Party conventioneer and Opportunistic Libertarian who doesn’t directly, publicly, and specifically criticize these shatterers of whatever moral legitimacy the opposition party holds is absolutely guilty as well.

They are guilty not of disagreeing with the President — I disagree strongly with him in a lot of areas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re guilty of fouling, perhaps forever, the waters of dialogue and crippling the efforts of Congress to try to lift us out of a recession economy, fight a war against an amorphous but committed enemy, find some common ground in fixing a broken healthcare system, and steer this nation toward safe, productive harbors once again. They are enemies of everything good and decent and just and fair, no matter their empty talk about “decency” and “values” and “righteousness” and “patriotism.”

Believe me, people like Tancredo and Beck — and Palin and Boehner and Bush and Beck — have done more damage to the United States of America than any terrorist will ever be able to, and it sickens me, as a Christ-follower, to see that their crusade is largely supported by those who, like me, worship Christ as Savior. Perhaps, God willing, my words will jolt some into re-thinking their positions and re-examining issues that beg for a legitimately Christian approach to their resolution. Until then, and with enormous heaviness in my heart, I offer Tom Tancredo and Glenn Beck:

“People who could not spell the word vote or say it in English put a
committed socialist ideologue in the White House. The name is Barack
Hussein Obama.” — Former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo at the National Tea Party Convention (February 4, 2010)

“He chose to use his name, Barack, for a reason. To identify, not with
America — you don’t take the name Barack to identify with America. You
take the name Barack to identify with what? Your heritage? The heritage,
maybe, of your father in Kenya, who is a radical? Really? Searching for
something to give him any kind of meaning, just as he was searching later
in life for religion.” — Glenn Beck (February 4, 2010)