Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cobbling Scripture Together

Spring Break is over, my car gave up the ghost, and I have started a Congressional internship in Washington DC. Oddly enough, it has snowed almost a foot in both my homes this week, New Hampshire and Idaho, and yet I am in neither one. I hope to resume regular blogging soon, hopefully this week, but for now, here is a delightful little quote from a Garrison Keillor column on his own religious skepticisim.

A year or so ago, I sat down and read the four Gospels in one fell swoop and somehow the jaggedness of some of it shook my faith, which maybe was based more on visuals — Jesus tending His flock, and little children gathered at His knee, sunbeams bursting through storm clouds, and so forth — and then I read about how the early Church cobbled the Scriptures together, which has to raise doubts in anyone's mind. The Jews got stone tablets and the Mormons arranged for an angel to bring them their holy text, but ours was hammered out through a long contentious political process, sort of like the tax code, and that's something you don't care to know more about."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Fasting on Good Friday

I've never fasted before. It's not that easy for a food-loving tubbo like me. I've got a lemon pastry from the Dirt Cowboy Cafe sitting here on my desk, and I will eat it soon, but I'm pushing it off for as long as I can take.



Thursday, March 20, 2008

Maundy Thursday

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Last year during Holy Week, I posted the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the day each day. Though you’d never know it from my recent posts (or lack therefore of), Holy Week is my favorite time of the church calendar. No matter what one believes to be at the heart of Christianity – liberation, salvation, or something else – Christ’s Resurrection and the events leading up to it are the most meaningful events in all of Scripture. Christmas might be the most salient of Christian holidays, but Holy Week is the most sacred. Done right, Lent and Holy Week are times for reflection on many things – our personal lives, our personal faiths, temptation, the true meanings and applications of these powerful Bible stories, and more. I sadly admit that this year, I haven’t done Lent or Holy Week right. Finals, Spring Break, a very brief Epiphany season, and perhaps even a touch of apathy have held me back – but it certainly hasn’t held the Spirit back. Tonight’s Maundy Thursday service at St. Thomas Episcopal Church here in Hanover, New Hampshire was a surprisingly deep and reverent experience.

Maundy Thursday is, of course, the observation of the Last Supper: the foot washing service. Fr. Guy began his sermon by talking about nursing. Prior to Florence Nightingale, he said, nursing was seen as a dirty profession left only to the lowest of people (which did not exactly lead to state-of-the-art health care facilities). This was because of the notion that touch – human touch – was a revolting thing. As a result, Nightingale’s original assistants were all former prostitutes – the only women willing to touch other bodies, particularly men. We continue to hold loosely to this uptight Euro-American notion today. No wonder, then, that we’re so darn skittish about washing feet, or having our feet washed.

Fr. Guy did the feet washing a bit differently than most of us were used to. The four washers took a holistic approach, washing the whole foot with soap, toweling it off thoroughly, and kissing it, then repeating with the other foot. Though Fr. Guy’s method of washing feet does sound intimidating, it was actually very powerful. I can’t explain just why, but I felt moved as I sat there, watching and feeling him wash my feet and listening to the choir slowly sing “Just As I Am” (a favorite of mine).

As you probably guessed, fewer people had their feet washed even than normal, but I didn’t feel as if I had much of a choice. Though the washing of the feet isn’t technically a Sacrament, it sure seems like one. Though we may not observe it on a weekly basis, it was as central to the Last Supper story as the actual bread and wine. This symbolic act of servant leadership may not be listed in the catechism, but it certainly fits the definition of a Sacrament: an outward sign of God’s inward grace. I see it, then, as a vital extension of Communion, and to sit it out would be no different (for me) than sitting out baptism or confirmation.

I returned to my pew in the back, something stirring inside me, moved almost to tears. The service proceeded with the Eucharist (the last before the Easter Vigil), the stripping of the altar, the singing of Psalm 22, and the dimming of the lights. There was a lot going on, providing the opportunity for much reflection – on the Sacraments, the meaning of Communion, the abandonment of Christ, the power of the various Eucharistic Prayers, prayer, the power of personal relationships with God, deep abiding gratitude, servant leadership, servant friendship, prostitution, Native American spirituality, and more.

I saw one renowned retired professor in the congregation who stopped attending St. Thomas long ago. He had to leave for personal reasons, but misses St. Thomas and still considers it home. (Though the personal reasons are past, he now has a loyalty to the people at his new church.) I mention this because he wasn’t just in the congregation – he was the lone usher, walking the aisles at Communion, dimming the lights, and distributing leaflets. To come home after so long, if only for a spell, and be so instantly immersed seems like a very special thing. It must have been a blessed evening for him, too.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Clinton and Obama

I made a post on the frontpage of MyDD today about the Clinton-Obama stalemate, proposing that party elders coalesce around a nominee by offering Clinton the Senate Majority Leader position once all the states have voted. Yes, I am an Obama supporter, but I would happily flip this scenario around but for one reason: I think Clinton's skill set (attention to detail, strong relationships, ability to crack heads) is better fit for legislative leadership than Obama's, and Obama's vision and inspiration is better for national leadership than Clinton's. This idea comes not out of an idea to see Obama take the White House, but because I don't see any other way to break the stalemate before the Convention - the remaining states don't seem likely to do so. Harry Reid hasn't been very effective as SML, so this scenario-scenario is win-win for the party - and for Reid, as he could gain a reptuation as an elder party statesman if he gracefully stepped aside for the party's sake (and perhaps accepted a job in Obama's cabinet).

Read it here. The post has already attracted 330 comments.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I've lost respect for David Obey

A quick return to Louisiana news. Rep. David Obey (D-WI) is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. I just got this e-mail alert from The Hill:

House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-Wis.) said Friday he canceled meetings with a New Orleans delegation because a Louisiana lawmaker had defied party leadership on a procedural vote the night before...

"When people are consistently hitting the red button on procedural votes, that gets to me," Obey said in an interview.

"I announced yesterday in caucus that anybody who wants to routinely vote against the leadership on procedural grounds, don’t ask me to see their visiting firemen when they’re in town."...

Since winning back the House, Democrats have struggled with how to enforce party discipline on procedural votes. Republicans have flummoxed them with tactics called "motions to recommit" that kill or amend priority Democratic bills. Usually, such tactics force Democrats from conservative districts to take tough votes on issues like gun rights or national security...

What happened was, Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) voted against a procedural motion from Speaker Pelosi to vote on an ethics bill. Obey says members can vote however they want on the actual bills, but on procedural matters they must blindly play follow the leader. "There are minimal dues we pay in this place. You get your seat from your district. You get your committee assignment from your party."

While I understand Obey's frustration with the bottlenecked system, this form of retaliation is embarrassing, short-sighted, and harmful. First of all, striking back at Melancon by turning away a New Orleans delegation doesn’t even make sense: Melancon doesn't represent New Orleans. His district was hard hit by Katrina – it includes Chalmette and the coastal counties – but it does not include the actual city of New Orleans. Second of all, even if Melancon did represent New Orleans, it’s absurd to shut out the voice of hundreds of thousands of distressed Americans because you feel personally insulted by one man. I find that egomaniacal, undemocratic, uncompassionate, and downright immoral. Finally, I'm appalled to see Obey's statement about district vs. party. I've always been a fan of that Chuck Hagel quote, "I took an oath of office to the Constitution, I didn't take an oath of office to my party or my president." Obey’s leadership role gives him a job, not an elite status. Blinded by power or not, he’s still one man better than no one else, his ego’s arguments to the contrary notwithstanding.

Shame on you, David Obey. You've done good work in the past, but not today.

You do have a beard, though. That's pretty cool.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ha Ha

I just an on-duty police officer pull up to a drive-up ATM in his cruiser and make a withdrawal. For some reason I find this amusing.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


I've got some major paper writing for the next few days. I'll see you when the papers are done.

Also, after Easter I'm headed to DC for spring and summer internships.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Faith and Politics

The intersection of faith and politics is not just an important issue for the 2008 US presidential election; it has been of vital concern to both the church and the state for thousands of years. It's certainly a common theme in current headlines - on the right, we have the religious right's hold on the Republican Party and the evangelical shift in focus as embodied by Mike Huckabee and Rick Warren. On the left, there's the Daily Kos spinoff Street Prophets and the success of Sojourners Magazine and Jim Wallis' books. In the middle stand John Danforth and E. J. Dionne. Recent history gives Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter. I won't even touch discussions of Middle East politics, Islam, or Barack Obama's true identity (he's UCC, dammit), and so on.

The issue is a complex one that shouldn't be overly simplified. Talking to some friends just now about faith and politics in general, I thought of a myraid of ways to break the issue down. Here, then, is a brief list of questions raised by the phrase "faith and politics":

1) What issues are people of faith called to address? Abortion? Poverty/economics? Homosexuality? Environmental stewardship?
2) Is the calling Scriptural, logical, traditional, all of the above?
3) Do we need to act on our faith as Christians or just out of faith as people who care? (Sort of what my Rollins sermon addressed.)
4) What is more important, the issues we address or the way that we address them? (Also my sermon.)
5) What is the importance of the separation of church and state, not just to the state but to the church?
6) Is this more important than a personal relationship with God, less important, or equal to?
7) To what extent was Jesus a political revolutionary? (I love this one.)
8) Are there specific candidates and/or parties that Christians should (or should not) support?
9) Should we (or our liturgical cousins) deny communion to politicians who we feel violate tenants of our faith with their positions?
10) Is this Christian-specific or is it true of all faiths?

And so on.

Monday, March 03, 2008

My Down Ballot Race for 2008

Lt. Col. Rick Noriega (D-TX) for U.S. Senate!!

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, Col. Noriega coordinated relief efforts at the George Brown Convention Center. He would be the only recent war veteran in the Senate, and one of just four Hispanics. He's a local boy, having gone to the University of Houston, but also an Ivy Leaguer, having attended Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. And, even though he's a Democrat, his stance on immigration earned him the backing of Massey Villarreal, the former chairman of the board of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

Noriega's opponent, incumbent Republican John Cornyn, is certainly beatable - it's another anti-Republican year, he was elected with less than 55% of the vote in 2002 (a very Republican year), and currently has an approval rating of about 40%. He certainly deserves to be defeated: he received a 0 rating from the League of Conservation Voters (I guess he hates creation), voted against the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, voted against restoring $565 million for first responders, opposes comprehensive immigration reform, used to support the segregationist George Wallace, and, quite frankly, is just a plain old stumblebum with no place in government.

So donate to Rick Noriega - I did!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

If you're here from MyDD...

...I might ask that you take a look at my post "From Day One." As posts on faith and politics and oppression go, I'm rather proud of it, as it's one of the few attempts at pure individual thinking I've done.

Thanks for stopping by! :)

Dartmouth's Happiest Audience Ever

What a breathless week it’s been. I attended a Barbara Ehrenreich lecture on Monday, gave a sermon on Thursday, spent time dealing with local church politics, had way too much homework, and last night, went to a Bela Fleck/Chick Corea concert. Guess which one was the most fun?

Fleck is probably just about the greatest active banjo player out there, and Corea is one of the more impressive pianists. The Hop program notes said he started the 1970s fusion movement. These guys are both musical geniuses, virtuosos in the truest sense of the word, and Dartmouth knew it – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more appreciative audience. The show has been sold out since October (maybe even September?). The duo received two instant standing ovations, one for the concert and one for the encore. This was the first time I’d ever seen people standing outside the Dartmouth box office begging for tickets. A friend tells me he's seen that on two other occasions since 2000 - YoYo Ma and another Fleck concert. My friend in the box office tells me it’s been this way for weeks. The buzz in the line going into the theater was impressive, and the lobby chatter I overheard during intermission was thrilled. I myself have been looking forward to this concert for months, but this level of anticipation was still amazing.

The performers were a lot of fun, Corea in particular. He wore an untucked, open flannel shirt and a pair of spotted tennis shoes. The two played off one another and joked around as buddies quite a bit, although Fleck is quick to say Corea is his hero. I’ve been a big Fleck fan since high school, but Corea certainly won me over tonight. There’s not much I can say about the music itself – the pieces were generally slower, with lots of minor keys. It is impressive how well the banjo and piano go together, sometimes blending as one. It’s not a combination I would have anticipated, but Corea and Fleck knew how to turn the instruments into soul mates. During the stirring lullaby “Prelude et Berceuse” from French composer Henri Dutilleux, the two instruments seemed to have almost the same timbre in their upper registers, it was startling. Yet it’s also possible – something I did not know – for the banjo to become a Spanish guitar! What a versatile little box it is. My favorite pieces were the prelude and three pieces from the duo’s album “The Enchanted”: “Spectacle,” “Mountain,” and “Menagerie.” The encore was especially thrilling – first they played a medley that began with a variation on “Big Country,” my absolute favorite song in the whole wide world (a very popular tune in Dartmouth land), and then moved to some rousing bluegrass. The show lasted over two hours, but I’m sure the audience wouldn’t have minded a third tune tacked on to that encore. JamBase’s Matthew Jaworski wrote a pretty accurate review of an earlier date on the tour:

They began with Corea's "Senorita," an exotic piece that was, by turns, seductive, funky, and scorching. The song exemplified many of the characteristics that would resound during both sets, such as Corea's haunting yet playful lines, Fleck's searing runs up and down the banjo, and both musicians' superlative ability to work with one another.

The first set was full of memorable moments, but the second song, "Menagerie," was the high point. Expanding upon the album version, Corea began by playing a melancholy solo introduction. With one hand playing the keys, he reached into the top of the piano to pluck, tap and dampen the strings. Fleck quietly crept in and soon both musicians were locked-in, playing the song's main theme in unison. Then, while one would supply the lively rhythmic foundation, the other would vamp on the melody. The song progressively increased in ferocity, with both men blasting out a flurry of interlocking notes that stunned the audience. The song abruptly ended and the crowd roared with appreciation. [Note: The photo is also from JamBase.]

The joint tour is almost over – just one more concert to go – and I feel blessed to have been able to grab my piece of the magic. These two men are musical geniuses, and at the very least innovators, and they make for a very important pairing!

This was about the highest quality clip on YouTube, though not a song I recognize:

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Sermon on Faith and Politics

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of giving the sermon at the weekly Rollins Chapel ecumenical Christian worship service here on campus. The theme for the service this term has been "Faith and Citizenship," which is of course the intersection where I reside. My sermon addressed the WHY and HOW of Christianity and politics - why we are called to be involved with civics and how we can answer that call in an active Christian role without violating a separation of church and state. I more or less avoided the WHAT, as in, what issues we should choose to address, focusing on the more ecumenical HOW.

You can read my sermon online at the Dartmouth website. The chosen Scripture was Psalm 72: 1-4, 7 and Luke 1: 46, 52-53.

The sermon quotes Senator John Danforth, Jim Wallis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Father Henry Atkins, and Dartmouth Multi-Faith adviser Kurt Nelson.