Archive for November, 2011

The Table Is Cleared, The Leftovers Are Devoured, And All Visitors Have Departed

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

. . . So I guess I’m ready to get back to the business of Prevailing Winds. I hope all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, and because I care — I really do — I’m going to suggest that you buckle your seatbelts until Election Day 2012, because I think it’s going to be a VERY bumpy ride . . .

In an effort to maintain a sense of perspective during the presidential campaign, I’ve begun Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meacham’s “American Gospel: God, The Founding Fathers, And The Making Of A Nation,” an insightful look into the differences and confusion between the “public religion” of the United States, the Biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the starkly areligious, hyper-Enlightenment approach to civic engagement that denies the validity of the former and the veracity of the latter. I’ll periodically feature a point from the book. I mean, starting today.

But not before I add that I’m also re-reading Dr. Greg Boyd’s “The Myth Of A Christian Nation,” a book that both Doug Wilson and I read a couple of years ago with, not too surprisingly, entirely different reviews. He objected, in Blog and Mablog, to Boyd’s assertion that the United States hasn’t been, isn’t now, and never ought to be “a Christian nation,” and I applauded both Boyd’s perspective and his prescription for a more Biblical understanding of the reign of God in the affairs of humankind. I didn’t discuss it much in Prevailing Winds, but I imagine that “American Gospel” will prompt me to remember something in “The Myth . . . ” and vice-versa.

When the U.S. does something evil — like going to war with Iraq under the guise of a “War on Terror” in response to 9/11, blatantly ignoring the demonstrated, documented non-involvement of Iraq in the planning and execution of the attack — the profound dismay that Christians ought to feel is tempered, if only a little, by the realization that the nation of which we are citizens is not committing its evil as the corporate expression, the Body, of the One to whom we belong. The Religious Right’s insistence on inventing a historical, evangelical, Biblical and GOP prayer group-type convocation whence sprang the new Nation has brought untold shame on the Gospel, whose witness suffers enormously when it’s proffered as the calling card of a country that, at times, is a shameless aggressor acting in direct defiance of the Name proclaimed by the Gospel message.

As Meacham points out, people worship. Nations don’t. Further, a commonality of civic virtue is in no way a profound expression of individual devotion. The Founders’ 1979 declaration, in a treaty with the Muslim nation then known as Tripoli, is explicit: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . .” (“American Gospel, p. 19), and an accurate assessment of the religious beliefs of those Founders, to a man, would hardly lead today’s Religious Right evangelicals to embrace their doctrines as Biblical, or extend to them the right hand of fellowship.

And yet the Founders insisted on the importance of a unifying public religion, Christian-ish in its understanding of “Nature’s God” and the moral character its only quasi-personal deity expects from those who worship him and who do so, or not, without State coercion. As Meacham says, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics,” and the Founders “consciously allowed a form of what Benjamin Franklin called ‘public religion’ to take root and flower at the same time they were creating a republic that valued private religious liberty.” (Meacham, ibid.)

In short, and despite what more than two centuries of Christian fundamentalists have disseminated as unvarnished, even “Biblical,” truth, the United States is not a Christian nation. And to the extent that it is so considered, its “God talk” exists merely as a familiar starting point for a beneficient, and beneficial, common morality whose practitioners may or may not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is not to say that the Trinity of Lordship is not, in fact, Lord over our country. Indeed, Father, Son, and Spirit reign over all of creation; such has it been from the beginning, and so will it continue eternally.

Acknowledging Christ’s Lordship over the U.S.A. is a proclamation of truth, as is the assertion that many Americans worship him as Lord and Savior. Asserting, however, that the United States is an expression of either the Kingdom of God or of the Body of Christ — as the United States — is a proclamation that, while perhaps satisfying to the Enemy of our souls, nonetheless has blinded, offended, pacified, and confounded untold millions: Those who embrace “God” because they’re Americans and so why wouldn’t they, and those who reject Him because of those same Americans.

And, given what our “Christian nation” has often done, why wouldn’t they as well?

God forbid that any offense, any offense other than the Truth against a fallen world, be committed in the Name of the One who doesn’t just speak with veracity, but who embodies all that is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:26), and who lives in the hearts of women and men in every nation who worship him. No earthly government possesses the Kingdom, and no worldly institution or tradition can replace, diminish, or impede it.

A Parable

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

A woman died and went to the Pearly Gates, where she was greeted by St. Peter, who asked her to roll up her sleeves. Puzzled, the woman did so, and the Saint examined her smooth, bare arms. “What?”, he cried out in dismay, “No scars?” “No,” she said. “Certainly not! I have behaved. I have tried to live a quiet life.” With tears, St. Peter dropped her hands and said to her, “Was there nothing around you, dear woman, worth fighting for?” (Origin unknown)

“Fight to the death on behalf of truth, and the Lord God will fight for you.” Sirach 4:28

Sexual Harassment — Really, How Bad Can It Be?

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

OK, this is a long one, but it’s worth making your way through, I think. Because this is personal.

The issue of sexual harassment, from dirty jokes and inappropriate comments to groping and intimate contact in the workplace, has been front and center lately thanks to the seemingly endless stream of women coming forth to say that presidential candidate Herman Cain harassed them — sometimes “just” verbally, and at least once by pushing a woman’s face into his crotch while he reached up her dress. In every case, he was the woman’s superior, and therein lie significant components of the issue of harassment: power, economics, sexuality and sexism.

It’s something that should never have faded from the nation’s conscience, because it’s so widespread and so damaging, and so clearly a picture of the effects of patriarchy made robust by this culture. And while I acknowledge the wrongness of female superiors sexually harassing male subordinates, it’s absurd to suggest that this is not fundamentally a problem of male sexism — which has everything to do with sex, power, and the violence that comes with a thin veneer of sexual activity that makes it look like no more than the birds and the bees gone just a bit awry. As a woman who has experienced rape, I have no difficulty saying that sexual harassment is a lesser form of rape — crimes not of sex but of violence, power, and coercion expressed through sexual talk or activity.

A society as steeped in sexism as ours and which denies equal access, value, and status to women is a society that quickly condemns the man whose violence toward women doesn’t provoke sexual arousal and isn’t expressed through sexual contact, but dismisses the evil he engages in when it’s not bloody and not outwardly violent and directed toward a woman he’s been “friendly” with. Men who harass women sexually don’t do so because they’re sexually aroused; they’re sexually aroused because they’re in power over a vulnerable woman. Power that nurtures verbal or physical violence toward women may be expressed genitally, or may arouse the genitals of the harasser, but it’s not “sexual desire” that occasions rape or harassment. It’s power lorded over those believed to be vulnerable, compromised, or otherwise “less than.”

And yet, it’s more than that, as almost every woman who’s ever had a job knows.

The sexist male assertion that feminist women see sexism everywhere they look is borne out in the workplace; perhaps it has to do with the tendency of many men in power to see the women working with them as T and A, placed there for their sexual gratification. (That’s “tits and ass,” if you’ve been kept from cultural engagement during your lifetime). There is a world of difference between a male superior respectfully greeting a female co-worker or subordinate with a “Good morning, Ms. Smith. You look nice today,” and “Wow, Mary, that dress looks fantastic on you!” But I would acknowledge that the latter doesn’t constitute anything other than a cringeworthy lack of social skills.

That’s not harassment. Telling jokes about “pussy” is — I dealt with that when I worked at the University of Arizona, and it was more than a little uncomfortable. A male boss grilling a subordinate about any possible sexual experiences during a date is harassment; I experienced that in Texas. Certainly the awarding of a raise to a male subordinate while denying the same raise to his boss — because he’s a man with a family — is discrimination, and the patronizing “Now, you’re not going to cry about it, are you?”, is harassment, and I got it in a newspaper job when I was a newlywed. My experience is not unusual, and neither I nor any other woman I know who’s experienced sexual harassment in the workplace did anything at all, period, to encourage it — we just showed up to work. With breasts and other body parts that some men, weak and spiteful and perverse, simply cannot deal with.

I can imagine that some of my more conservative male readers, while assuring themselves that THEY wouldn’t act that way, are nonetheless reading the examples above and thinking that I shouldn’t be so “sensitive,” that I should toughen up. Let me assure them that they aren’t the only times I’ve felt the sting of sexual harassment. I “toughened up” early in my working career, believe me.

I worked, decades ago, for a daily newspaper in Tucson as a “stringer” — in this case, the person who phones in sports scores and stats and a few interesting features of a high school game. I had a male superior, a guy, a sportswriter in his late 20s who oversaw all of us eager, would-be newspaper reporters so grateful to be working for the Citizen, no matter how lowly our capacity. At the end of the season, every stringer got a tour of the Citizen’s plant, which was a real thrill for me, because my father had begun his newspaper career at the Citizen and was working, I’m pretty sure, at the rival newspaper, the Star, at the time — or soon would be.

After the tour, my boss and I got into his car so he could take me back to school, and as I’m buckling my seatbelt and rambling on about print journalism, he grabbed me, forcing his tongue into my mouth and not letting me go, no matter how much I struggled to get free, for almost five minutes. I was scared to death and couldn’t wait to get away, although I didn’t feel safe going back to school, back home, or anywhere else. Sadly, I couldn’t imagine ever telling anyone what he did, and I spent a lot of time trying to gauge just how bad I was that something like this would happen to me.

It was my first kiss. I was 15 years old.

I’m Crushed.

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

Back in the 1970s, when I was between nine and 19, I had several romantic crushes.

Some were on real guys — boys I went to school or church with — and some, alas, were celebrities. My heart was broken by Jimmy, Agustin (the Mexican spelling), David, Miguel and a few other “real” boys who likely were unaware that I existed for any reason other than to help them proofread book reports. I knew I was unlikely to find lasting, 1970s love among the neighborhood kids, but somehow I thought I had a shot with Franco Harris, David Cassidy, and Bucky Dent, whose images plastered my bedroom walls.

One of the David Cassidy posters was especially, ummmm, meaningful. It was the one where he was bare-chested, wearing a vest, and had . . . hair. Below his belly button. My interest in studying that poster resulted in far more fervent pursuit of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (this was post-Vatican, “new” Catholicism, so we didn’t call it “confession”) than otherwise would have been required, I believe.

But my little heart was also much inclined toward athletes, especially Pittsburgh Steelers running back and former Penn State star Franco Harris and Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent. Remember that we were a VERY sports-oriented family. The death of Roberto Clemente was cause for mourning in our house, and arguments with my brother usually had to do with his insistence that Vida Blue was more valuable than, say, Jim “Catfish” Hunter. So it wasn’t surprised that I dreamed of life with Bucky or Franco. They were cute; I was smitten.

So I’m disgusted that Harris has vehemently supported Joe Paterno’s relative inaction regarding the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal at Penn State. Harris insists that Paterno fulfilled his “legal” obligation, noting in one interview that the reporting of sexual abuse to the police is a “legal, not a moral” issue that his hero handled well.

Defending Paterno, McQueary — the former grad assistant and current coach who saw Sandusky anally raping a little boy and ran home and told his daddy — and any other Penn State official who knew of Sandusky’s evil and didn’t intervene is simply wrong. The defense of evil not only tastes of evil, but allows it to flourish among otherwise “good, decent” people. Harris got sacked by the casino he was a spokesman for, and he deserved it. Shame on him.

Gloria Borger On The Unbearable Lightness Of Cain

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

CNN analyst Gloria Borger on the damage Herman Cain is doing to the GOP — Nail, hit squarely on the head:

http://www.cnn.com/2011/11/17/opinion/borger-herman-cain-gop-brand/

It’s perhaps a bit surprising that the former president of a second-tier pizza chain thinks he ought to run for the Presidency of the United States, but it’s absolutely shocking that anyone other than his wife and kids would take that candidacy seriously.

Now, however, we know that Herman Cain is undisciplined, underinformed, and utterly unqualified to hold office beyond the Wasilla City Council-level. Further, he appears to have a problem with his sexual inclinations and female co-workers. He knows zip about foreign policy, he’s a one-note (or nine-note) Sally on the economy, and he has a marked inability to state a coherent position on any position that would face anyone on the national stage.

He’s a joke and a caricature. No wonder the tea Party loves him.

Note To Herman Cain

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Just a friendly, but not too-friendly, tip for the Most Staggeringly Unqualified Member Of A Group Of Thoroughly Silly Candidates For The Presidency:

You look even less adept than usual when you insist that your current difficulties are the result of conspiracies by both your GOP opponent Rick Perry AND the liberal media. Kind of in the same way that someone who shows up sweaty, frightened, and out-of-breath to meet a friend looks when he says he’s being chased by a rampaging Triceratops … oh, yeah, AND space aliens.

In other words, pal, you lose some credibility when you cast such a wide net in identifying your “enemies.” Not that you had a lot of credibility to begin with. Still, I suspect your biggest enemy might be a little closer than you think, perhaps even in your lap.

Gabrielle Giffords Special On ABC Tonight

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Again, from Facebook:

I can’t wait to watch the Gabby Giffords special tonight. She was a close friend of my father’s, who acted as sort of a media advisor to her and made sure I got her Congressional office emails regularly. She couldn’t attend his Feb. 2009 funeral (God, it’s still hard to write that) because the President was in Phoenix; Dad might well have been at the grocery store with her last January. My mother’s friend, the judge, was killed that day.

I’m sorry that some friends found me a little “off” that day. I’m sorry that I collapsed into my younger son’s arms that day. I’m sorry that I felt guilty that I thanked the Lord Jesus that Dad wasn’t alive to know about all of this; I’m not sorry that I was glad he couldn’t have been there at that Safeway.

So yeah — it’s kind of personal, and Gabby’s one hell of a woman. I’ll be stocked up on Kleenex, and Jeff’s on stand-by …

Child Rape At Penn State

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

I posted this on my Facebook page; it bears repeating here:

RE: The Penn State child rape scandal: The Grand Jury indictment mentions six or seven victims, and casts doubt that those who were told of the rape, abuse, and (at best) improprieties were perfectly candid with the Jury. Clearly, many, many adults chose affection for Sandusky, business success, and vicarious athletic stardom through the Nittany Lions’ football program over the welfare of little boys. However, there’s another point here: How could any adult who saw this happening not rush in and physically defend the children? Dear God. If we define “heroism” as simply “telling the right people,” we’re in a great deal of trouble as a society.

And let’s nip this in the bud: based on the age of the majority of his victims, Jerry Sandusky is a PEDOPHILE, not a homosexual. There are two entirely different sexual preferences at play here. When a man prefers other men, he’s a homosexual. But when he prefers pre-pubescent CHILDREN, regardless of their sex, he’s a pedophile. The difference between the two is impossible only for local pastors and other bigots to grasp; I trust that the reasonable among us understand it.

What If We Viewed The Gospel Through The Lens Of Relationship?

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

“Relationships are all there is. Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else. Nothing exists in isolation. We have to stop pretending we are individuals that can go it alone.”

- Margaret J. Wheatley

We are relational beings, created in the image of the One who loves us and sought connnection — personal, intimate, familiar, and emotional connection — with us before we could ever even be aware of Divine love, much less accept and embrace it. That that makes masculinists and traditionalists squirm — all this “feminized sentimentality” about a God who desires “connection” hardly leaves room for a Victor intent on slaughtering the people who, coincidentally, they hate, too — is a tragic but true indictment of Western Christiandom.

Margaret J. Wheatley doesn’t have to be a disciple of Jesus to offer tremendous insight on who we are and what we need. If all truth is truly God’s truth, then she has a grasp on it that makes the conservative, patriarchal, brass-knuckled grasp of those who insist that primary importance be placed on “getting it right” pale — shiver, shudder, and shrink away — by comparison.

Why does the Church, the relational Body of the Lord Jesus who died to make a way for Love to come into our hearts, so disdain the idea of relationship and intimacy? I submit that it’s the pernicious effect of a masculinist, patriarchal, hierarchical and power-based wresting away of the Gospel from the living, loving example of its Author, the Creator and Lover Christ Jesus. And that can only flourish when the feminine and the female are disdained, separated from identification with the Yahweh whose image lives equally in both women and men.

The greatest expression of hatred of God begins with hatred of the feminine and perversion of the masculine, and the Church too often has provided succor to God’s enemies — those whose disdain for the feminine not only holds Eve to blame for Adam’s sin, but poisons God’s creation with an elevation of the masculine, a degradation of the feminine, and utter contempt for the God who identifies in both.

He Says Some Of The Oddest Things, Wilson Does

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Moscow’s Bishop of Bluster has been scurrying about addressing on Blog and Mablog everything recently from free light bulbs to hatred of the poor to playing prophet on the battleship while he was in the Navy.

You know, where you can sail the seven seas, as the Village People so helpfully point out, and where Wilson chose to both serve his country and assume the mantle of Old Testament prophet by railing against the sexual sins of his crewmates. He was always quick, pointed, and blissfully unrestricted, he says, in pointing out that their liaisons with prostitutes were sinful — and indeed they were. Now, he avers, a Godly young man can’t harangue and condemn his fellow soldiers because open “sodomites” — leave it to Wilson to use an ugly word when the more common, irenic one is out of reach of his level of civility — are in the Armed Forces. And, he argues, if they’re judged to be fit to serve, Christians repelled by their homosexuality won’t be permitted to, well, harangue and condemn them. This, he insists, will make for abysmal ship, bunker, and cockpit morale.

Now, I’ve never served in the military, and I am aware that every single study commissioned by a gay-fearing military since the 1950s shows that there is no reason to bar open homosexuals from serving, but it does seem to me that far more disruptive to the smooth operation of the mission, and much more threatening to soldiers’ morale, would be a young Christian soldier who believes his greatest service to the Kingdom, then and now, is to loudly and repeatedly condemn the sexual behaviors of his comrades. It’s a shame that the abolition of the absurd “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was necessary to rein in, we hope, these Thundering Onboard Prophets and instead allow the Spirit to help them live out their faith by praying for their comrades, walking in humility, and becoming grieved by the manifold sins around them that don’t, actually, have to do with other men’s penises.

In a long Blog and Mablog dissertation about Ron Paul and his “gee, he’s ALMOST got it” political righteousness, Wilson uses the example of the free light bulbs shipped to Palouse-area residents by Avista — under the same government energy-savings and environmental-safety program that resulted in most Americans receiving this summer a box of new lightbulbs. They may be free, Wilson thunders, but there’s no “freedom” about it — this was a socialistic governmental intrusion into how he and Nancy light their Sabbath dining rooms, by God, and it, like every other government program that seeks, however imperfectly, to do good for its citizenry and our world must be resisted. “Tyranny” is a word he uses often.

But while I wish the free, mandatory-usage bulbs were a soft pink, giving off a light citrus or sandalwood scent and projecting ponies on the wall, I suspect that with one out every nine Americans out of work and many millions more holding down to or three McJobs just to keep them in their homes — perhaps even with food on the table — the Great Injustice of the day probably isn’t going to be manifested in a box of free light bulbs sent by a well-intentioned government. He is indeed a lucky man if the only crisis, tragedy, or injustice that shows up on his doorstep — and I’m speaking metaphorically here — is a box of freebie light bulbs, because thousands of his neighbors on the Palouse wish that was all they had to face every morning when they open their doors.

Kind of puts it into perspective, although perspective is one quality Wilson has yet to master.

In another post about a debate between two Christians regarding the social justice mission of the Church — spoiler alert; he doesn’t believe there is one — Wilson takes into typically vicious account the ministry of pro-social justice debater Jim Wallis of Sojourners Community, a man who for four decades has fought passionately, fueled by his profound Biblical faith, for the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and the lost. Wilson, of course, hates that kind of thing, preferring to stick with the Reconstructionist belief that poverty is largely a spiritual problem and one almost entirely non-existent in the U.S.

Poverty is a sin, actually — but a grievous social sin far more often than it is evidence of an individual’s shortcomings. Wallis, who once dared to call Congressional budgets “moral documents,” which offends the man whose idea of a “moral document” is his promotion of the serrated blade of civil discourse with unbelievers, has been a tireless fighter for legislation and social policies to help poor people — or at least prevent their further exploitation. He boldly, Wallis does, proclaim that God is on the side of the poor, which even a cursory reading of the Old Testament prophets and Jesus’ New Testament teachings would support, and he stands in a long line of evangelical justice activists like William Stringfellow, Ron Sider, Stanley Hauerwas, Fredrich Beuchner, Dorothy Day, and Marian Wright Edelmen. Oh, and Jesus.

Wilson’s social ethic descends from the redoubtable Rev. Dabney, Charles Hodge, Rousas John Rushdooney, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and the late David Chilton. (Chilton was the guy who countered Sider’s prophetic “Rich Christians In An Age Of Hunger” with the snarky “Productive Christians In An Age Of Guilt Manipulators.” I’ve read both, and the fruit falling from Chilton’s tree was sour, rotten, and shriveled indeed). Wallis follows Paul’s pastoral admonition to “expose the deeds of darkness” with the justice and righteousness that should stream forth from the Gospel message. Wilson equates that with the sin of “hating the poor,” which seems to me to be quite a hefty stone to throw from the glass house of cultural insularity and privilege in which Wilson abides. It also sounds, ummmm, kind of nutty. But someday that tidy little separatist glass castle will shatter (again, I speak metaphorically), and I fear Wilson will have to contend with wounds far deeper than those wrought by what will, in Christ, be revealed as an impotent, silly, juvenile, and hateful serrated edge.

He who wields the sword of contempt, wrong judgment, and overweening pride ought to lay it down before, as Scripture says, that selfsame sword turns on him.

Wilson, you need a metanoia, and I pray you seek it.

(“Metanoia” is the Greek word for a deliberate, complete turning around from something; its New Testament usage describes repentance).