Sunday, June 29, 2008

The church is a happening before it is an institution

Church, it has sometimes been said, is what happens when people are touched by Jesus, and I’ve always thought it is a happening before it is an institution." – Archbishop Rowan Williams

As my recent posts on GAFCON show - heck, as my recent posts on anything show - I can be strident and hard-changing, with a flame-thrower strapped to my back. Such tactics have their place, but they are undoubtedly the wrong approach for these probing spiritual issues that touch hearts in Rwanda as surely as they touch them here. There is something to be said for the Archbishop of Canterbury's calming, reassuring tone. This clip is admittedly four months old and unrelated to the Communion "crisis," but perhaps that makes it all the more important. Let us step back for a moment to breathe, and reflect on the deeper issues that bind us together in the first place.

I like the Archbishop’s reflection, although I have always been partial to the belief that the church is its members, doing what they do and going where they go. “We are the church,” so to speak. But that is, of course, the complexity of Christ and the beauty of the Anglican Communion: on an issue even as deep and touching as this, there is room for both of us to be right.

A hat tip to Father Warren of Breaking Fast on the Beach.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brian McLaren and a Zoein Aionian: Rethinking Christ’s Teachings on Salvation

Last weekend (June 13th – 15th), I had the privilege of taking part in Sojourners’ Pentecost 2008 conference. Much of the conference was centered on training church activists for the Vote Out Poverty campaign, which my schedule prevents me from taking part in, so I found the group discussions only somewhat relevant. The panel discussions, workshops, and worship services, however, were informative, enlightening, and uplifting. I attended a useful workshop on congregational organizing led by two Ohio pastors and heard some great speeches about poverty, youth, and activism from Jim Wallis and other leading Christian social justice lights*, but would like to focus this post on Brian McLaren’s workshop, "Scared to talk politics in church?" I almost chose another workshop, given that no, I am most certainly not scared to talk politics in church, but ultimately decided that I really couldn’t pass up a class from McLaren. I made the right decision.

Brian McLaren (pictured at left), as you may know, is a leader in the emerging church movement. Although he takes the most pride in his international work, he is best known for his books A Generous Orthodoxy and Everything Must Change. His talk glossed over the reasons Christians should be engaged in politics, hitting some of the highlights of Christ’s struggle against Rome, but in the interests of time he said he assumed the audience already knew that theology well. He focused on criticizing the modern church’s focus on the individual; redefining salvation; and giving advice on how to respond to people who resist the introductions of politics in church.

We are required to talk politics in church because Jesus engaged the political system, and many of the things He demands of us – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, being kind to immigrants, resisting unjust prison systems, in short, fighting injustice – are political in nature. Thankfully, we can be political without being partisan. I have written a little about this topic myself, but am not nearly as eloquent or elaborate as was McLaren.

McLaren began his criticism of salvation-focused churches by quoting Dallas Willard, who said that “the gospel of sin produces ‘vampire Christians’ who want Jesus for his blood and little else.” He had two very damning slides about the current state of the church. Here is, as best I can recreate it, the first:

*With an important footnote on the righteousness of gaining riches and prosperity while you are here.

*With a smaller footnote on spreading the Gospel and the Church to others.
*With an illegible postscript on the social welfare of the rest of God’s children.

And here is the second:
The current common evangelical setup:

And what it should be:

I have always been inclined to this way of thinking myself, as a church focused on how to get to Heaven is a church that encourages putting one’s own fortunes first, and that is not a message I have ever been able to locate in the Gospel. McLaren challenged this theology, suggesting that the Gospel is not about saving souls from hell, but about saving the earth, including souls, from human sin, and working to realize the kingdom of God here on earth. The focus on saving souls from hell, he said, comes from a misunderstanding of these words "kingdom of God," a misunderstanding that derives from the "Matthew problem" and the "John problem."

The "Matthew problem" is that Matthew uses the phrase "kingdom of Heaven," whereas Mark and Luke use the phrase "kingdom of God". Focusing on the word heaven instead of the word God makes it easy to put the focus on somewhere far away instead of on the here and now – and thus we forget that Christ did not teach us to pray, "the kingdom come, thy will be done, in heaven once we’re dead." No, Christ’s prayer was very much about realizing God’s will in this life and in this place: "on earth as it is in heaven." When we say "kingdom of God," it is easier to remember that the kingdom is not a place and a personal reward, but rather a vision and a commandment.

The "John problem" is the Gospel of John’s discussion of eternal life. When Christ lays out his vision of eternal life, he never says that it includes the destination of heaven, or that it begins with our earthly death. McLaren said that eternal life can include heaven, but it includes much more. Now, the 55 verses of John 6 are fodder enough for ten sermons and a lifetime’s worth of reflections, but a cursory reading shows McLaren is right – the afterlife never comes up, nor does sin. Jesus repeatedly tells us that He is the bread of life, sent from Heaven, and those who eat of His flesh will find eternal life and be raised up on the last day. There are many valid ways to interpret such a passage, and we should not stridently proclaim that it can only mean non-Christians go to hell. In fact, the phrase that stands out to me personally is not "eternal life" but "bread of life," putting the focus on Christ rather than the afterlife. At the end of the chapter, some of Christ’s followers reject the bread, saying his teachings are too hard to follow. This suggests, I think, that believing in Christ and eating of His flesh does not mean worshipping Him and thanking Him for saving your sorry butt from Hell, but rather following His teachings in our actions even before our prayers. His teachings, of course, put their primary focus not on personal behavior (although that certainly comes up) but on using non-violent resistance to an imperial government’s oppression and reaching out in love to all God’s children.

Returning to McLaren’s lecture, he further said the phrase “eternal life” is one of the greatest translation errors in Biblical history. The original Greek, “zoein aionian,” actually means “of the ages” rather than “eternal.” Christ is not talking about a life that lasts forever and ever, but a life of the ages – life the way it is supposed to be, transcending what we are stuck in now. A life lived in God’s kingdom.

Having redefined the understandings of Scripture’s message on salvation, McLaren gave advice on how to talk to evangelicals about these concepts. The slide that got the best audience reaction read, “We must stop answering questions that are framed badly.”

If someone asks you a loaded question, don’t answer it! When did you stop beating your wife? Does your mother know you’re a pedophile? There are no right answers to these questions, so why answer them? Instead, reject their basic premise. This is the perfect opportunity to rub that lucky What Would Jesus Do bracelet, for the Gospel is full of Christ doing exactly that. McLaren used Caesar’s coin as his primary example, though many others come to mind (John 6:25-27, to return to our earlier chapter of intrigue). Ultimately, just be smart about the questions you are asked, the questions you answer, the questions you ask, and the relationships between those questions.

One common challenge kingdom-based social justice workers will get from conservative fundamentalists is that old line, “But Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, why are you focused on the here and now?” The answer is very simple. While Jesus’ kingdom may not be of this world, it is certainly for this world!

On a related note, leading Episcopal blogger Father Jake wrote a book review about McLaren’s book “Everything Must Change” earlier this week, focusing on a passage about Christianity and war. It's worth a read.

*But let’s at least give credit where credit is due. This entry focuses on Brian McLaren, but I also enjoyed hearing from:
  • Jim Wallis
  • The Rev. James Lawson
  • The Rev. Alexia Salvatierra
  • The Rev. Joseph W. Daniels, Jr.
  • Alexie Torres-Fleming
  • Pastor Troy Jackson
  • Derek Webb of Caedmon’s Call
    Many other accomplished figures gave talks and workshops that I was unable to attend, but these were the ones that I heard and enjoyed.
  • Thursday, June 26, 2008

    More News and Hypocrisy from GAFCON

    The same trends we’ve seen all week at GAFCON continued today: there will be no schism, and the archbishops of Nigeria and Uganda are on the outs while Archbishop Jensen of Sydney is on the ins. Here are some recommended links about the latest GAFCON developments, and my own deconstruction of the movement’s latest hypocrisy. (I should make it clear that despite my harsh rhetoric, I do not consider all GAFCON’s attendees or all Anglican conservatives to be hypocrites – just their outspoken leadership.)

    In place of schism, the conservatives are now demanding a new and separate structure within the Communion for “faithful” persons (because apparently I hate the Gospel, even though it never once mentions homosexuality). Elsewhere, conservative backlash against the violence of Archbishops Akinola and Orombi continues, thus naturally keeping the cooler head of Archbishop Jensen also in the news. Episcopal Café’s the Lead looks at some troubling questions about Jensen’s past, and an informative discussion about the evangelical makeup and structure of the Anglican Church in Australia is taking place in the comment section of Father Jake’s post, "The Schism Has Been Postponed." The most compelling story of the day, however, comes, astonishingly enough, from Time magazine. David Van Biema’s "Threat of Anglican Schism Fizzles" is perhaps the first truly decent article about the Anglican Communion I have seen from the mainstream press:

    The would-be Anglican rebels gathered with storm clouds brewing around them. But now, even though the conservative Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFcon) has not concluded its meeting in Jerusalem, the secession it threatened to bring to the 78 million-member Anglican Communion looks like a confused bust.

    This all comes as a bit of surprise to the press, which — with ample encouragement from the Church's right — had been framing GAFcon as a decisive step toward schism in the Anglican Communion, the third biggest global religious fellowship. GAFcon seems to be falling apart on several fronts. First came the venue problems: the conference ping-ponged embarrassingly at the last minute from Jerusalem to Jordan and back to Jerusalem.

    Then there was attendance. The clerics at GAFcon were really supposed to sit out the Communion's once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in July. But it turns out several key conservatives did not even show up at GAFcon (or simply made brief appearances) and will go on to the church-wide meeting in Canterbury in July. Meanwhile, conservative Southeast Asian bishops have fallen out with some GAFcon leaders.

    The article goes on chronicle Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola’s fall, and credits Episcopal Café’s Jim Naughton with having accurately predicted the fall and its many details. It’s a good read.

    Bringing up Akinola, of course, provides a good transition to a discussion of the latest GAFCON hypocrisies. Our first culprit is Bishop Wallace Benn of Lewes, in the Church of England. And what exactly is wrong with him? Oh, where to begin.

    Liberals within the Anglican church have "torn up the fabric of the communion" and should be barred from a debate over the church's future, an English bishop has warned.

    The Rt Rev Wallace Benn, the Bishop of Lewes, said he could not attend the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference with liberal Americans who went against Scripture by consecrating an openly gay bishop and who are trying to drive out conservatives…

    Bishop Benn added that the Gafcon conference in Jerusalem, where 303 Anglican bishops from around the world have gathered, would find a way out of the crisis by returning to the teachings of the Gospel….

    “How am I meant to set down at a table with people who are persecuting my friends?

    First of all, “the teachings of the Gospel” say absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Never comes up. Poverty, yes, dialogue, yes – but never mind heeding those passages attending a dialogue about poverty and Scripture, ‘tis more important to claim a single interpretation of Leviticus and the Epistles is the same thing as all that. Second, who is persecuting whom? Anglican liberals and moderates are not demanding that the conservatives elect gay bishops or bless gay unions in Africa and Australia, nor are they requesting those provinces leave. All we want is to go our own theological ways within the same Communion. It is the conservatives looking the other way when actual violence happens and demanding that we change our ways, and yet we are accused of persecuting them? As I wrote before, this reminds me of the American religious right. Unless they have complete control, they develop the world’s biggest victim complex and cry murder. Finally, Bishop Benn has a lot of nerve claiming that liberals should not be invited to the discussion. This arrogance suggests, flatly, that there should be no true Anglican discussion – only a sermon to the choir. And how can he suggest liberals have torn up the fabric when it is the conservatives ignoring jurisdictional boundaries and canons?

    Benn is, of course, not the only bishop refusing to talk to people who think differently than he; he is only one of the more arrogant. I have to ask, what’s the point in a discussion or a convention if the decisions have already been made? Although maybe they’re on to something… just think what this country would be like if we passed a Constitutional amendment banning conservatives from Congress… per Benn’s logic, I should be all for it. And yet, it strikes me as a terrible idea.

    The other ongoing GAFCON complaint is the decrying of colonialism. I agree that colonialism is a terrible, patronizing, insulting, immoral thing. I don’t agree, however, that it is colonial to consider Africa an equal rather than a superior. From the Guardian’s intrepid Riazat Butt:

    The Archbishop of Canterbury is stuck in a colonial mindset and does not trust the ability of churches from developing countries, a conservative Anglican leader said today. Canon Vinay Samuel, a member of the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon) leadership team, said Rowan Williams did not adequately appreciate the intellectual subtlety and depth of the developing world… "Rowan Williams is too much of a relic of the old left ideology which is not pragmatic enough. I think it's that rather than racism…

    Anglicanism, [the conservatives] said, had moved from being a loose assortment of colonial churches into a configuration of independent national churches with indigenous leaders wanting and needing to make their voices heard.

    "I would dismantle Canterbury and Lambeth, they have little influence and do not reflect the reality of the world," Samuel said.

    Look. Anglicanism is a religion of worship and liturgy. It has a set of very loose doctrines, and beyond that is about kneeling together before God and taking communion despite our differences. If you don’t like that, you don’t join it and then demand the religion changes; you find a different church. You don’t create a second, redundant Pentecostal structure and tell the original Anglicans they now have nowhere to go; you go join the actual Pentecostal church yourself. There is nothing colonial about saying, “This is the church of dialogue, and the Americans have chosen to make their part in this dialogue a discourse of inclusion. You can make your part in this dialogue a discourse of fundamentalism. That’s fine. The Lord be with you.” This should not be a power struggle – neither America nor Canterbury wish to impose their views on Africa. Why does Africa wish to impose its views on us? And how can we claim the ones trying to get along are the colonialists and the ones trying to dictate beliefs are the victims? If power is to be the issue, we have to wonder about the motives.

    Undistorting Faith

    The blogosphere is agog over the massive new U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public, which found that over 90% of Americans believe in God (including 20% of self-described athiests!) and over 70% believe that their religion is not the only path to God. You can read a good summary of the study's findings at Episcopal Cafe. Although I am looking forward to using the survey in my upcoming thesis on the religious right, I certainly wasn't planning to add my two cents here on Wayward, as I have nothing original to say about it. But then I saw this alert from Faithful Democracy, and my feelings changed:

    Early this week, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a groundbreaking survey of 35,000 Americans documenting the diversity and tolerance of people of faith and the growing consensus around issues like poverty and the environment.

    But what religion story dominated the cable networks yesterday? James Dobson attacking Sen. Barack Obama for a speach he gave two years ago on his faith. In fact, on Tuesday, June 24, Dr. Dobson was mentioned a total of 189 times on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. The landmark Pew survey? Just 8.

    This is exactly what I hate about the mainstream media, and the religious right. Over the last few years, we have seen the MSM give in to conservative Christianity's definitions of words like "evangelical," "faith-based," and even "Christian." Thanks to the media's distorted coverage of religion, many people now see Christianity as little more than a bunco of fringe lunatics foaming at the mouth about same-sex marriage, abortion, and hell, never mind The Episcopal Church's commitment to the MDGs or the impressive work of Lutheran Social Serivces. This is one of the main reasons I hope to take Holy Orders - to help change the public understanding of the Church's mission. Please, take a moment to sign Faithful Democracy's petition asking the media to cover the true facts of faith at least as much as they cover the rantings of one Colorado psychologist.

    On another note, I also found this Pew finding interesting, and encouraging. From Politico's Huddle newsletter:

    Writing for The WSJ, BeliefNet's Steven Waldman says: 'The God Gap is Gone.' Forty-three percent of those who attend church weekly or more say they're Republicans (40 percent call themselves Democrats), but 'by a variety of other measures,' the new Pew religion poll finds Democrats 'have pulled even or ahead among the religious.'

    Among those who pray at least daily, there are more Ds than Rs. Catholics who attend Mass weekly break for the Dems. And of the 10 religious groups checked in the poll, only two -- Mormons and evangelicals -- still have majorities 'who identify themselves as Republicans,' Waldman says.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Ralph Nader Has Lost His Marbles

    (Although this post originally focused on Nader's hypocrisy, an important update has been added to the end regarding racist comments he made about Barack Obama yesterday.)

    Once upon a time, Ralph Nader contributed greatly to this country's well-being, and God love him for it. I don't blame him for his 2000 presidential run, but he has obscured all the causes he stands for by running again in '04 and '08. I won't call him a meglomaniac; I just don't think he understands social dynamics anymore, and doesn't realize the damage he's doing to his causes. Today's Washington Post story about the man makes me wonder even more. First, there's this:

    His basic themes, even some catchphrases, echo those of his four previous campaigns: ...Democrats are as beholden to big business and their contributions as Republicans are. Washington is "corporate-occupied territory" administered by a "two-party elected dictatorship." Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama are but the major parties' latest "corporate candidates."

    Then, this:

    Even close associates were surprised in 2000 when Nader filed financial disclosure forms revealing that he conservatively estimated his net worth at $3.9 million, thanks primarily to savvy investments in tech stocks. He also disclosed that he had made $512,000 in speaking fees during the preceding 16 months.

    Which reminded me of this, from Time Magazine.

    Barack Obama is the child of a single mother raised in part by his grandparents who went to school on a scholarship and was a community organizer making $12,000 a year before becoming a law professor, lawyer and state senator. Five years ago he was still paying off student loans.

    Is it just me, or is there a touch of hypocrisy there? On the one hand, we have an author worth $4 million thanks to the tech industry. On the other hand, we have a guy who's just finished paying off his student loans. Tell me, which biography sounds like the real corporate candidate to you?

    I generally agree with what Nader has to say. Corporations are too powerful. The income gap is crippling our economy, and is the farthest possible thing from justice. Allowing the purchasing power of the minimum wage to weaken with time is immoral and counterproductive. But when it comes to this "the major parties are the same" crap, I have to think the man's become a bit of a broken record. The Republicans could nominate Rat and the Democrats could throw up Zippy the Pinhead, and Nader would still claim it's a corporate campaign desperate for his presence. Oye vey, just go away.

    Update: Minutes after finishing this post, I came across this from NBC's First Read (emphasis added):

    "Asked to clarify whether he thought Obama does try to 'talk white,' Nader said: 'Of course. ... I mean, first of all, the number one thing that a black American politician aspiring to the presidency should be is to candidly describe the plight of the poor, especially in the inner cities and the rural areas, and have a very detailed platform about how the poor is going to be defended by the law, is going to be protected by the law, and is going to be liberated by the law,' Nader said. 'Haven't heard a thing... He wants to appeal to white guilt.'" ...

    Oh my God.... I agree that there is a "white power structure" and that poverty is perhaps the most important issue facing this country today, but for the white Ralph Nader to presume it his place to tell black people what the color of their skin requires them to say and do? And to specifically tell it to a man who speaks of urban organizing, Katrina recovery, and black fatherhood? I can't believe he would say such a thing! The arrogance! The nerve! THE RACISM! I'll say what I've always refused to say before: Ralph Nader has lost every single one of his marbles and become a stain on progressive causes everywhere!

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    Part the first: A New Direction for GAFCON?

    (The first part of this post is a recap of the latest GAFCON events. The second part is my own analysis of some of the more outrageous statements to emerge from the conference. For instance, did you know that John Spong is a “typical” American? Yup. So, without further ado, part the first.)

    It’s not exactly what you would call official, but it does appear that the conservative Anglican movement meeting at GAFCON is changing its tone and, more importantly, its direction. It would seem that that Archbishops Akinola and Orombi have lost credibility in the eyes of their own movement, schism is more a non-starter than ever, and homosexuality may cease to be the conservatives’ top issue. After several incendiary comments from Akinola and his refusal, along with Orobmi’s, to condemn violence against gays, a split occurred between GAFCON’s hard-line rabble-rousers and its more Anglican-minded grumblers. The Guardian’s Riazat Butt, one of the leading reporters on these things, reports,

    On the second day of a conference which has laid bare the divisions in the Anglican communion over homosexuality, notes of discord could already be heard. Talk of betrayal, disappointment and disagreement threatens to sour the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon), which has cost £2.5m and drawn more than 1,200 delegates from Africa, Australia and the US.

    As far as schism goes, Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, who will draft the convention’s final statement, flatly declared: “There will be no split.” Instead, England’s Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, managed to shift the conservative conversation away from homosexuality and towards secular culture and militant atheism. The most significant news may well be that the Archbishop of Sydney (Australia), Peter Jensen, is replacing Akinola and Oromba as the movement’s leader. From the same Guardian article as above,

    Jensen is seen at the conference as the bridge between the hardline conservatives who want nothing to do with liberal churches in the US and Canada and those who wish to stay in the communion despite profound ideological differences over the ordination of gay clergy. It is agreed among the clutch of westerners at the conference that the real power will lie with the Australian delegates, not those from Africa.

    Part the second: The Blasphemy of GAFCON

    While it is good news that the conservative movement may be shifting its focus and thus averting any threat of a true Communion crisis, no Australian accent can erase the pain a number of inflammatory statements have caused. These statements have come from both Akinola and Orombi, as well as Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh.

    Duncan, whom I have heard numerous other bishops describe as power-hungry (which this should confirm), addressed GAFCON a few days ago, saying:

    "Re-defining the Lambeth Conference and not calling the Primates Meeting are exercises of colonial control. But the inexorable shift of power from Britain and the West to the Global South cannot be stopped, and some conciliar instrument reflective of the shift is bound to emerge as the Reformation Settlement gives way to a Global (post-colonial) Settlement."

    Wounded Bird’s reaction is priceless: "That statement led me, along with others, to ponder why a white man is moderator of the gathering." I find much similarity between Duncan’s description of the Archbishop of Canterbury as "colonial" and the religious right’s cries of persecution when a majority of the US Senate declines to amend the Constitution. Neither Canterbury nor The Episcopal Church seek to tell Africa how to run its church, but Africa does seek to dictate events here. When Africa is unable to gain that power, its allies cry "colonialism!" Certainly colonialism mars the western past and present, but to claim you are oppressed because you have been kept from oppressing others smells of Bovidae stool.

    Moving on, Nigeria’s Archbishop Akinola description of the western church as "apostate" has attracted the most attention, but what turned my head was this quote from a speech he gave:

    Paradoxically, that which was universally hailed as the triumph of biblical truth was, soon after the [1998] Lambeth Conference, lamented by a self-conceited typical American bishop, Jack Spong of Newark (now retired) as a disastrous condescension to stone-age logic. He actually said that the Africans were theologically "animistic and superstitious" and ignorant of scientific advancement.

    I had to re-read that twice before I could believe it. John Shelby Spong, *TYPICAL*???? HA! I read Spong not because I like what he has to say, but because he challenges me – FROM THE LEFT! The Church has no one closer to Unitarianism, and the Anglican left no one more controversial, than Jack Spong. No one calls him typical. Someone in my office said to me, “He wouldn’t even call himself that! In fact, he’d probably even be insulted [that Akinola did]!” And surely Akinola knows this, so dare I say this was an intentional misportrayal of the American church? A, how do you say, lie?

    But the most galling performance had to have been yesterday’s press conference. This was where Akinola and Orombi lost all credibility and Jensen stepped to the plate. Iain Baxter – "the only gay at GAFCON" – asked Akinola about bishops who tolerate the torture and persecution of homosexuals. Akinola said he was unaware of any. Given the specific example of a woman named Plessy, the archbishop replied, "OK. Every community, every society, has its own standards of life. In ancient African societies we had what are called 'taboos', things you should not do, and if you break the taboos there are consequences." Yes – because apparently good Christians know the consequences for disagreeing with the church are rape and torture. That’s what Jesus would have wanted.

    Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi added that it is not the place of the church to legislate, but to preach, and said that homosexuality is against God’s word. He did not directly address the question of torture or murder. When pressed by another reporter, he pointed out that “the gay” recently held this one rally and no one was hurt, then denied that there is any public knowledge in Uganda of such persecution. Bishop Jensen recognized what was going on and stepped in to condemn violence, but by then it was too little, too late.

    Any man who refuses to condemn the torture and rape of a harmless woman is not fit to be a cleric, let alone an archbishop. Shame on Akinola and Orombi for this blasphemy, and shame on the media for enabling them.

    Finally, I can’t help but muse – when the bishops of Uganda or Bishop Nazir-Ali of Rochester announce that they will boycott Lambeth, aren’t they behaving a bit like John McCain and George W. Bush when they decline to talk to Hamas or Iran? I suppose there is one key difference. The historical precedents that turn McCain and Bush’s stance on its head are Gorbachev and Kennedy meeting with the Soviets. Bishops who refuse to enter into the Lambeth dialogue don’t face Gorbachev and JFK so much as they face Jesus Christ, arguing with the Pharisees and refusing to turn Nicodemus away.

    GAFCON News

    For a nice round-up of GAFCON articles and blogs, read Dave Walker at the Church Times Blog.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Blogosphere Buzz: Told Ya So

    My second post of the afternoon. As you might imagine, the Episcopal/Anglican blogosphere is abuzz about GAFCON and Lambeth. Despite the myriad of links to the right, I have never been very good about keeping up with said blogosphere. I hope to change that this summer, and read at least the big dogs (Fr. Jake, Episcopal Cafe, etc.) on a regular basis. I did thumb through the blogroll today, and found a post from Jim Naughton at Episcopal Cafe's The Lead that confirms what I wrote earlier today: schism is not happening. As is obvious to the most casual observer, the numbers for it just aren't there, mainstream media bedamned.

    If Ruth Gledhill has it right today (in the final eight paragraphs of this story), the leaders of GAFCON now seem to have embraced a strategy aimed at creating "change from within." This is a significant, encouraging, and, for them, no doubt galling development because Peter Akinola, Martyn Minns and Co., had previously scorned such a strategy...

    GAFCON’s high profile leaders don’t have the strength to force the schism they yearn for. Too few provinces are on board, and not all of those provinces are united in their desire to leave the Communion.... So the leaders of GAFCON are attempting to dress up strategic failure as the dawning of a new phase of their march toward victory, hoping that the media will bite...

    Akinola and company are making a great deal of noise to distract us from the fact that little is happening.

    Naughton and I are not alone in this belief; The Anglican Scotist and In A Godward Direction (both of which have been on my blogroll for some time) have similar thoughts.

    The real buzz in the Anglican blogosphere, however, is not GAFCON's new strategy, but their divisive approach. The Episcopal Church may make welcoming its motto, but the same cannot be said of all our global Anglican brethern. GAFCON has officially banned eight persons from the premises. Father Jake asks, "I wonder who is functioning as their 'Bouncers for Jesus'?" If one of the eight shows up, delegates are supposed to warn one another by singing "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name. Because clearly, Jesus' frequent conversations with tax collectors, lepers, Roman soldiers, and Pharisees showed that he was all about ignoring the opposition and hoped his followers would hate their enemies. It is in this spirit that I have joined the Facebook group, "I want to be banned by GAFCON, too!"

    That's quite enough for today. Tomorrow, I shall call Peter Akinola a liar and compare some of the GAFCON bishops to George W. Bush.

    Schism? I think not.

    Most of the world's 900 or so Anglican bishops are preparing to gather for the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference at Lambeth Palace in England. This will be perhaps the most important Lambeth Conference in the history of the Anglican Communion, as it will be the one time all (or at least most) of the world's bishops gather to discuss the recent headline-grabbing developments regarding homosexuality and the church, as well as the church's efforts to combat poverty and disease. No official policies will be set - this year's conference is a time for discernment and discussion, not decrees.

    Unfortunately, despite extensive coverage of Lambeth and the recent Anglican squabbles over homosexuality and Scriptural interpretation, the mainstream media shows little regard for facts. The press obsesses over turmoil and the possibility of schism - a schism they have been calling imminent for at least five years. On Friday, The (RI) Providence Journal ran the headline "Episcopal Church Fighting to Survive". Time also had an article on Friday called "Are the Anglicans About to Split?"

    The raw numbers show the answer to Time's question is a resounding NO, as I will explore in a minute. Time also suggested that if conservative bishops walk out on Lambeth, "The entire process could well result in the diminution of the power of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the titular head of the Communion and the closest thing the denomination has to a Pontiff." BALDERDASH! The Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely nothing like a Pontiff. Within the Anglican Communion, power lies at the local level. Rowan Williams leads discussions and gives pastoral guidance, but has no true power: he does not decide doctrine and has no say over local ordinations. If Time can't get even this most basic of Anglican facts correct, how can we trust any of its religious reporting?

    As for schism, reports of the death of the church are highly exaggerated. Prior to Lambeth, 280 conservative bishops are meeting at GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) in Jerusalem. These bishops are led by the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. Despite the media's incessant bleating about schism, only 7 of the Communion's 38 primates (archbishops and presiding bishops) organized GAFCON, and the less than a third of the Communion's bishops are in attendance. These seven primates claim to represent 35 million Anglicans, mostly in Africa. That's not not even half of the world's 77 million Anglicans, and you know that many of these 35 million are more concerned with beating AIDS and finding water than they are with western sexuality. Even here in the United States, only one diocese out of 100 has actually tried to leave The Episcopal Church, with perhaps another half dozen considering it. These numbers tell us that at most, perhaps one third of the world's Anglicans are headed out the door. Where, then, is the evidence of this imminent schism the media keeps obsessing about?

    Even if a split does happen, its effects would be minimal. The fringe bishops cannot touch the central theme of the Anglican Communion, common worship open to all. Our life together in the Book of Common Prayer would proceed as always, and the organs would play as beautifully as ever. We would find, as Scripture demands of us, a new way to reach out to the people of Africa, their self-important archbishops notwithstanding. Here at home, there are loyal via media groups established in every unstable diocese.

    Most importantly, God would still hear our prayers and dwell in our hearts. Peter Akinola has no effect on my personal relationship with God or on the tried and true method of intertwining Scripture, tradition, and reason. So let him bleat, and let the media drool over every word. My church will be just fine.

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Tipping My Cap to Tom Cole: Why Apologies Matter

    This from Politico's John Bresnahan:

    Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw Indian, is pushing for an apology from Congress to Native Americans on behalf of the United States for centuries of mistreatment.

    Cole offered his proposed apology as an amendment to H.R. 1328, the "Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2007." That multibillion-dollar proposal, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and 57 other members, has not been scheduled for a vote yet.

    I will reprint the entire amendment here because it's a fascinating, and noteworthy, proposal. I will point out that Cole specifically states that nothing in the amendment authorizes reparations to Native Americans from the U.S. government.

    The article continues with the full text of Cole's resolution.

    Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, is the only American Indian presently in Congress. I am currently working on a report about the Indian Health Service for my new job, and have been told that HR 1328 is not likely to come up for a vote this year. That's a shame, but perhaps when similar legislation passes next year, Cole's amendment will be a part of it.

    I used to oppose apologies such as this. I believed in the typical response - I, Nathan Empsall, never did anything to harm Native Americans, and the Native Americans alive today weren't around for the Trail of Tears or Wounded Knee, so what's the point? I don't owe anyone an apology, and none of today's Indians need one!

    But I was wrong. Something I have learned since becoming a Native American Studies major at Dartmouth is that, when it comes to apologies, I was wrong on every level. For one thing, the massacres, cultural attacks, slaughtered buffalo, and broken treaties of the 17, 18th, and 19th centuries were not the only horrors perpetuated upon the first nations of this continent. Abusive boarding schools, intentionally mismanaged financial trusts, land rape, adoption abuses, attacks on sovereignty, discrepancies in health and education funding, and shoddy law enforcement all continued well into the 20th century, and in some cases, straight into today.

    Furthermore, while it is true that no individuals alive today were a part of the Trail of Tears or the Treaty of Fort Laramie, the fact is that the tribes of today are the tribes of yesterday, and the US government of today is the US government of yesterday. The President may be a different President, but he speaks for the same office of the Presidency. The same logic applies to Congress. These men and women represent the same institutions as perpetuated these horrors. On a related note, let us not forget cultural differences. American culture may well center on the individual and the present and future, but it is arrogant to assume that all other cultures and persons do the same. Indians are much more about community, and are much better at remembering the past and at keeping it alive. White folks may look to the past and shrug their shoulders, but in some quarters, it still matters very much.

    Finally, the past does leave a legacy. The poverty of yesterday perpetuates the poverty of today, setting barriers those of us born into the middle class don't face. Yesterday's allotment mindset leads to today's slightly anti-sovereignty policies, and the convoluted policies that shackle some tribes' ability to get anything done. The past is hard to overcome, and that's hard to comprehend for those of us with pasts that don't need overcoming.

    Every article I've seen on the amendment quotes Cole stressing that reparations are not a part of the legislation. Fair enough. No reparations are owed in the sense of cash handouts to individual Indians, as is sometimes discussed in relation to slavery. Instead, the U.S. government should face its constitutional and treaty obligations - fully fund Indian health care and education per treaty obligations, give back at least part of the Black Hills per treaty obligations, allow Indians full criminal jurisdiction on their own lands to help reduce the rape rate, since the underlying legal principles made no sense. If we take these and other legally mandated steps, reparations won't be needed in the slightest.

    Cole's amendment offers only words, but to some people, these words will mean the world. Let us look at the outpouring of emotion in Australia following PM John Howard's apology to the aboriginal people, and not devalue the meaning of words or spirituality. If passed, Cole's words could be an important first step. Yes, this is the same man who leads the National Republican Congressional Committee and once said if John Kerry wins, Osama bin Laden wins, so needleess to say, Tom Cole is no favorite of mine. Nevertheless, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and right now it's the time of day that I tip my hat.

    Friday, June 20, 2008


    Oh my God, I love my Presiding Bishop. They say of us Episcopalians that wherever three or four are gathered, there will be a fifth... and my former campus minister used to brew his own beer in the ministry apartment... but to hear it from the PB herself? Simply amazing.

    "It’s a time of ferment, which can be enormously positively," Jefferts Schori said [of the Anglican Communion]. "You look at a vat of beer and sometimes it doesn’t smell very good – but there’s a lot of good work going on there, and the product smells better than the process. Something like that’s going on in the Anglican Communion."

    (This quote comes from an article about the PB's visit to South Dakota to meet with Native Americans, so I'll definently be blogging about that later. For now, I just had to share the beer quote.)

    (Note: One whom we shall called a "beloved and trusted advisor" who is always wiser than me would have me point out that the above picture is not a quote from the PB; it is an unofficial ad for the church featuring both a picture of the female leader as well as a funny-cause-its-true-if-admittedly-snotty motto. The beer quote, however, is very much real.)

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    Defending Two Good Men

    Honor and ethics are very important to me. As I wrote earlier this week, the Gospel shows us that few things are more immoral than the abuse of power. When corruption scandals beset DC, I am usually very swift to condemn the accused, even if they are members of my own party – case in point, while in New Orleans, I volunteered for Karen Carter’s 2006 midterm campaign to unseat Rep. William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson (D-Refrigerator).

    Sometimes, however, ethics scandals are just a bunch of trumped-up hooey designed to generate headlines no matter what the personal cost, and that’s exactly what we see unfolding today. The protestors, bloggers, and GOP aides trying to smear Senators Chris Dodd and Kent Conrad right now should be ashamed. Dodd and Conrad are two of the most honorable people in Washington, DC, and I do not for an instant believe either one knowingly or purposefully did anything wrong. This is especially true of Conrad, who has been a model of honesty in the way he has handled this scandal.

    The gist of the scandal boils down to this: Dodd and Conrad each received special treatment from Countrywide Financial when financing mortgages, but were not told about their discounts. The moment reported this scandal, some bloggers began calling for the two men to resign their Senate Chairmanships (Dodd=Banking, Conrad=Budget). This morning, a large group of activists were outside DC’s Union Station, passing out literature housing bailout literature. They were accompanied by someone in a bunny suit (a play on Dodd’s hare/hair campaign) holding a large sweepstakes-style check made out to Dodd for $75,000.

    My guess is that before this scandal leaked, many of these critics had never even heard of Dodd or Conrad. All they know is that the mortgage rates weren’t right, so investigations bedamned, let’s get ‘em!!! Such fools should be ashamed of jumping to conclusions, for they are unfairly tarring the reputations of good men.

    Dodd was my second choice for President during the early stages of the Democratic primary. I’ve met him a few times, and while he may have a bit of an ego, he also has a bit of a conscience. His mortgage scandal is that when he refinanced homes in Connecticut and DC, Countrywide gave him slightly discounted rates for a total of $75,000 in savings. The Hill newspaper reported today that Dodd was aware Countrywide had given him VIP status, quoting him and reporting,

    "'We knew at the time that we were being dealt with within a special section of the company. We really just assumed it was a courtesy, because we had an existing mortgage with them — two mortgages with them.'

    He noted that he and his wife, Jackie Clegg, were pre-existing customers with excellent credit. Clegg assumed that they were merely going to receive more attentive customer service, Dodd said."

    Why do I find this so believable? Because named *me* a "VIP" for flying through them so often, and as a result I receive more attentive customer service! (This was before I jumped ship to Southwest, of course.) What Clegg and Dodd assumed is exactly what I would have assumed in their shoes. In fact, I considered titling this post "Because I'm a VIP, too." Furthermore, how were they supposed to know they were getting good rates? There is no record they were ever informed of their $58,000 and $17,000 discounts, and as those numbers are only fractions of their overall 4.25 and 4.5% rates, they can’t be expected to figure it out for themselves.

    Conrad’s loan scandal is slightly different. Countrywide waived approximately $10,500 in fees when he refinanced a $1.07 million loan on his vacation home, and gave him a mortgage on an eight-unit apartment building. Countrywide, as a matter of policy, does not give such loans to buildings of over four units. Like Dodd, there is no way Conrad should know of company fees that weren’t charged to him or of company policies he wasn’t told about. Remember, these are Countrywide policies, not federal or state regulations. Conrad says he did not know he received special treatment until the story broke publicly last week. He is quoted in Roll Call today, “I did not ask for it, I didn’t expect it and I didn’t think I was getting anything special… All of this came as a big shock to me.”

    Conrad should be commended for the way he has handled this issue. Not only did he pay off the apartment loan, he has donated the $10,500 to Habitat for Humanity and been in contact with the Senate Ethics Committee, something Dodd has yet to do (but promises cooperation if they contact him). Conrad says of the Ethics process that he “welcomes it very much,” and told that he supports changing Senate rules that do not require mortgage disclosure. I’d call that awfully strange behavior for a man who purposefully did something unethical.

    I have followed Conrad’s career for the past few years. While interning for Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) this spring, I worked with one of Conrad’s staffers and saw him in the halls and Farm Bill Conference Committee meetings on numerous occasions. The Farm Bill would not have passed if not for his behind-the-scenes leadership in bipartisan negotiation. Just when the bill looked dead, Conrad stepped in and made things happen. He is a quiet man but a hard-working orphan from rural America. A relative of mine said Conrad seems like a real intellectual, and he certainly seems to carry himself that way. Had his deadlines been more flexible, I would have applied for an internship in his office, too.

    While I don’t believe Dodd did anything wrong, I do think he should take a lesson from Conrad. Conrad is being much more transparent and genuine, and while it is natural to act defensively when falsely accused, it would nonetheless behoove Dodd, who is in charge of Senate mortgage legislation, to show as much goodwill as possible right now and avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    The real culprit in this case seems to be Countrywide, for trying to curry favors with Senators through special treatment and not telling them as much. If further evidence emerges that either Dodd or Conrad had prior knowledge of their treatment, I will be very disappointed, eat crow, and admit that I am wrong. I highly doubt that that will happen. These are good men who had a run of bad luck, and the fingers pointing at them should turn the other way around.

    Monday, June 16, 2008

    A New Paradigm of Power: Redefining the concepts of dominions, kingdoms, and lords

    Yesterday’s New York Times homepage was a terrible thing, covered with stories of power. We saw the violent power of governments – “Karzai Threatens to Send Soldiers Into Pakistan” sat immediately above “Iraqi Forces Mass Outside Southern City of Amara”. The power of nature rested below that – “Iowa Continues to Cope With Floods.” On the Opinion page, Nicholas Kristof spoke to psychological and sexual power, or rather, abuse of power, in a powerful column called “The Weapon of Rape.” When we think of power, this is what comes to mind – war, sex, abuse, negligence, destruction. I remember a class discussion at Dartmouth where a classmate attacked Genesis merely for its single use of the word dominion; in a later discussion with the professor, I spoke about trying to use gender-neutral terms like "Lord" instead of "Him" or "He," and she pointed out that "Lord" is still a violent word bringing to mind warlords and fiefdoms.

    I wonder how she would have reacted had I said that power is actually a beautiful thing, that dominions are places of rest, kingdoms places of glory, and lords figures to be praised? The negative connotations we have attached to these words and the way we exercise these concepts are not accurate reflections or definitions, but corruptions and distortions wrought by evil men, corruptions that can be fixed and distortions that can be straightened if we look to the true Biblical text.

    There is an element of randomness in our planet, but it is only an element, not a spectrum. Even after catastrophic events of natural power occur, we can usually use hindsight to figure out the science behind them. Hindsight isn’t even always necessary – although our most informed scientists cannot tell, at the beginning of a hurricane season, precisely how many storms the year will see, they can look at air currents and make a pretty good guess. Hurricane Katrina was not God’s wrath on our society for tolerating homosexuality or civil libertarians; it was the inevitable result of warm Gulf waters and shoddy infrastructure.

    What is impressive is that Katrina could just as easily have been God’s wrath, but wasn’t. An omnipotent and omnipresent creator God can do whatever he or she pleases. As I write this in a little coffee shop on 2nd and F in northeast Washington DC, I look at blue skies and white fluffy clouds. It could begin raining at any moment, but the weather forecasters tell me the storms will not come until tomorrow afternoon. They certainly will not be accompanied by earthquakes. (Editor's note: this was written Sunday, edited/posted Monday, whilst the storms were pouring, right on time - and without earthquakes.)

    If God wanted to ignore our weather satellites and swirl in some hail and lightning at this very moment and open up the ground beneath this coffeehouse, nothing could stand in the way. If God wanted to make us robots, to demand complete submission and leave no room for freedom, we would have no choice but to be spiritual slaves. Yet this is not the God we know. God shows us the proper way to use power – give the weak their liberation, the freedom of choice, and even power of their own. We should marvel at the power God has, and at the ways in which that power is used. We would do wise to learn from this example. God could use omnipotent power to destroy us, but instead uses it to create beauty, the beauty in trees and in children, and to share that beauty with us.

    If we play by and respect the laws of nature, gravity, and physics, we are far less likely to encounter harm. It is not that hard, given the marvels of modern construction and transportation, to avoid nature’s wrath, instead accessing only its beauty – the tall forests of the Rocky Mountains, trails through Appalachia, a fresh fallen crisp stunning, quiet, white snow on the previously gray trees of New Hampshire, the breathtaking fingerprints of creation the Basin and Range, the calm scenic lakes of North Idaho, the grandeur of canyons from Arizona to Idaho. This is as true of our communities as it is the world at large – if we behave ourselves, we are less likely to be mugged and more likely to receive a smile, to touch someone’s day and have them touch ours, to notice the glee of a small child riding an escalator for the first time.

    The snows, lakes, and toddlers are but the tip of the iceberg. God’s power was only indirectly behind Katrina, but its presence was incredibly direct in the resolve of the people who picked through the rubble, cried over their fallen sisters and brothers, and began to clean up with a song (a jazzy song, no doubt). God’s power created the minds that disastrously swept through Europe in the late 1930s, yes, but it also created Oskar Schindler’s heart, and whispered in his ear, inspiring him to save thousands. Man corrupting God’s creation created the Indian caste system and political repression in China, but God’s power and the Holy Spirit’s strength flow through the hearts of Mother Theresa and Nicholas Kristof.

    There are people today who look at the world, and when they think of “power”, they think of what Robert Mugabe does with his power in Zimbabwe, of the powerful Sudanese government bankrolling mass murder and rape, of companies polluting rivers and the government refusing to stop them, or of George W. Bush seizing unconstitutional executive authority, invading foreign countries, and denying fair trials to men the Red Cross says are likely innocent of the terror they are accused of spreading. When they hear the word “lord,” they think of Somali warlords, or the medieval feudal system with its oppressive landowning lords and the poor peasants who worked their fields with no way to improve their lot in life or find better health care. Words like power, lord, and strength convey only images of oppression, injustice, and stripped dignity. When they hear Christians using similar words about their own Lord, their minds turn to the Inquisition and the Crusades, and they think, how dare these religious hypocrites worship lords and dominions!

    I can’t blame them. That image of power dominates the world we live in today; it has controlled the world humans have lived in for thousands of years, since time immemorial. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The power of God is not the same as the power of a corrupted dictator, of broken man-made institutions and structures. God could oppress us the same way, but does not, showing us instead a different way, a new paradigm of power. God creates love, and sends Jesus Christ to show us nonviolence, to stand with the poor and correct the powerful, to call out the systems that created the poor, and to demand a radical love, a love that forgives enemies and debts and reaches as much to the poor as it does to the privileged. This is what power can do; this is what a dominion can be. This is what the word “lord” should mean, and when our modern lords, be they CEOs, clerics, or Presidents, do not live up to that standard, it is they who have failed, not Christ. If our self-created powers behaved the way they should, then words like power, dominion, and lord would be beautiful concepts, not destructive forces.

    Let the Bible define power, not the dictators the Bible condemens. When we think of Christ the Lord, we should not compare him to the lords of war. We should reverse this thinking – we should compare the lords of war to the one true Lord they have failed to follow. God could use omnipotent power to destroy us the way John Hagee and Tim LaHaye envision; God could control our minds the way Southern plantation owners controlled black bodies once upon a time and evil hearts control young women worldwide today. Yet instead, we are given love, liberation, sustenance, and opportunity. Let us realize not what power is, but what it could be, and demand more from our leaders and our brothers. Christ pulls this world up; not the other way around. The kingdom of God is the only kingdom, and the dominion of love the largest dominion. All others are but corruptions, and we are foolish when we consider them the standard. Christ’s teachings, actions, and love are the standard.

    If a leader asks you to surrender your free will to him, you know he is a false leader, a viper following in the footsteps of Rome and Herod. It is precisely because Christ does not ask for that surrender that I know He is divine, and that I give my will to Him. That's one regime I can get behind. In the name of God who is Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer, Amen.

    Saturday, June 14, 2008

    I will miss Tim Russert a great deal (updated)

    [With Updates]

    I am utterly shocked and deeply saddened by the death of NBC News's Washington Bureau Chief, Tim Russert. Only 58, Russert was more a fixture in this town than the Washington Monument. In a campaign season - a campaign season he loved and reveled in - of twists, turns, and surprises, this is the biggest surprise of all. No headline could have shocked me more.

    I admired Russert as a journalist - here was a man who cared not just about politics, but also the values behind it: democracy, trust, and the common good. The most well-known, well-respected, and revered journalist in Washington, he asked tough questions - and followed them up - but largely stuck to the truth, or at worst, the conventional wisdom. He was not one to be aggressive with his guests just for the sake of being aggressive - he was only aggressive when there was something there, but otherwise allowed public servants to be public servants. Perhaps he didn't always ask the hardest hitting questions, but through his genial approach and follow-ups, he was able to put figures like Dick Cheney on the historical record when no one else could. And of course, if you didn't like the questions he asked, there was still room to admire him - as head of the bureau, he was behind all of NBC and MSNBC's political coverage, choosing who to hire and how to cover major stories.

    His analysis on MSNBC on election nights has become a staple for me. It was obvious that no one knew more about politics, or took more joy from it. His appearances on cable news were as if he was parachuting in from a higher discussion to visit for a few minutes, and share his wealth with the lesser analysts. I can't envision a Sunday morning or a Tuesday night without him. I would often replay the first few minutes of an MTP podcast just to enjoy that pounding John Williams theme, which you knew even if you'd never heard it before meant serious business was to come. In high school, I wanted to host Meet the Press and set the week's political agenda; I wanted to be Tim Russert. In fact, even until recently, host of Meet the Press was something I listed in the "dream jobs" section of my Facebook extended profile. When the strains of Bruce Springsteen came on Morning Joe as I prepared for work, I would take my clothes or razor or whatever I was using at the time into the living room and get ready there, in order not to miss a word of the congenial and solid analysis you knew was to come. For a time, my Facebook profile was "married" to a Meet the Press profile I had set up. Though I never met him, it's fair to say that over the last year and a half, Tim Russert had become a part of my life.

    His colleagues at NBC, to a person, have discussed his love of family in their on-air eulogies of him, saying he forced them to go home to take time off with their families, was always the first to call and express concern when a relative was sick, and loved his father more than any other son could. (I don't quite know about that last one, but it does say something about the man's ethic and values.) He was apparently a devout Catholic, and so many folks talk not just about his love of his father and his son but also the glee he took in hometown Buffalo, sports, and Bruce Springsteen. Here was a hometown boy done good, a boy who never grew up, a bigshot who never forgot his values, a bluecollar man who wore a whitecollar shirt but never changed his collar bone.

    I am spending this weekend at a Sojourners Magazine conference on faith, poverty, and politics. This is fitting because the first time I became aware of Sojourners was in high school when its founder, author Jim Wallis, appeared on Russert's program, Meet the Press. At last night's worship service, Wallis spoke fondly of Russert. He said Russert was friendly to our cause, and had Wallis on the program several times. After each broadcast, food was brought out and Russert would break bread with his guests, sharing political gossip and insights. It was a respect, Wallis said, that very few journalists show anymore.

    I never did meet Russert, but I sure wanted to. When NBC News hosted a primary debate at Dartmouth, I spent the day looking for him with my eyes peeled. The political discourse in this country is at a near-all-time low right now, but if there's one man who kept it from hitting absolute rock bottom, it was Tim Russert.

    ADDED 06-17-08:
    The Meet the Press special that aired a day after I first published this post was very moving. Tom Brokaw led a discussion with several of Russert's close friends and MTP regulars (embedded below), but Brokaw did not sit in the moderator chair. It remained empty, as shown at the top of this post. After a jovial celebration of Russert's journalistic legacy and a number of clips of famous MTP moments, Brokaw choked up towards the end, and as he wrapped up the show, you could hear the other panelists breaking down off-camera. Here is a picture of son Luke Russert on the set of MTP, and a picture of James Carville and Mary Matalin after the broadcast. I have also added a touching rememberance from Chuck Todd at the end, and a passage from Luke Russert that captures his dad's everyman essence.

    From Chuck Todd and NBC's First Read:
    "***Remembering Tim: The three of us here -- like so many other folks at NBC and across Washington -- idolized Tim Russert. We have a recent memory of him that for us means the world: Tim had Wizards-Cavs playoff tickets, and he invited us to come to the game with him. We leapt at the opportunity. The three of us are avid sports fans, but it was also a chance to hang out with our friend, our leader, and our mentor. Watching a game with him was exciting -- everyone was shouting out at him, thanking him for his work with Meet the Press, asking him who was going to win the Clinton-Obama contest, you name it. Watching him watch the game was a blast, too. He was just so excited to see the Wizards but also to see LeBron. He was one of those good sports fans who appreciated great play. But the highlight of the night was heading to the bar with him. We got to do what everyone this weekend said made Tim seem so real to folks that didn't know him: We got to have a beer with him -- actually two. And we just BS’ed with the guy (mostly about hoops, not politics) as if we were buddies for a long time. It's what makes us feel so lucky that we had even a few private moments. The thing with Tim is that everyone in this bureau has similar memories of him.

    *** WWRD: It doesn't feel right that we have to work today because, frankly, we worked for Tim. We wanted to impress him -- give him that nugget that would make say, "wow," and then immediately trigger an idea in his head for examining something in a way we hadn't thought of yet. So forgive us this week if we don't seem to have a lot to say. It's never going to be the same. One thing we do know is that What Would Russert Do will be guiding us, and many others as well.

    *** The long pause: It’s not surprising that everything here paused after Tim Russert’s sudden death. But it says something about the man that everything seemed to have paused even on the campaign trail. Sure, there was an occasional email here or there that hit McCain or Obama, but one could sense that there was passion lacking in those email blasts. And that's not such a bad thing."

    From Luke Russert:
    LAUER: You mentioned Springsteen a second ago, Luke. You remember you were here back in September...
    Mr. RUSSERT: Oh, yeah.
    LAUER: ...and we had the Boss out on the plaza doing a concert. Remember, we were standing around during rehearsals, it was dark out still and you and your dad I were standing out there and the Boss, in the middle of a song, said something. Do you remember?
    Mr. RUSSERT: I remember. He said, `There's things that are as American as how the ladies swoon for Matt Lauer and Tim Russert's haircut.'
    LAUER: Yeah. And your dad, do you remember his face when the Boss stopped in the middle of a song and said that? You dad just exploded.
    Mr. RUSSERT: Oh, absolutely. I think that was one of his happiest memories. He absolutely loved Bruce Springsteen. Not just the music, but the man and the musician and what he stood for and how he talked about small-town America and working-class roots. And I've never seen my father more happy than that day that he got a Springsteen mention. I think that kind of made his life.
    LAUER: Well, he got more than that over the weekend. Springsteen was giving a concert in Europe, Luke. I don't know if you know this now. But he went on before 'Thunder Road' and he talked about your dad and his--and his professional credentials. And then he went on to say, 'But beyond that he was a lovely presence. A good father, husband and a good guy. He was a regular at many E Street Band shows, and I'm going to miss looking down at and seeing that big smiling face in the crowd. So we send this out all the way back to the United States tonight for his son, Luke, his wife, Maureen, and his dad, Big Russ, and all the Russert family. Tim, God bless you. We will miss you.'

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    In memorium

    I read the news about NBC's Tim Russert's death a few moments ago. It doesn't seem real... I don't feel like I believe it... he's on Morning Joe all the time, on primary night returns, I was looking forward to watching the podcast of this weekend's interview with Joe Biden... he has his critics, but I'm generally a fan... Tim Russert was THE single most important Washington journalist. This is shocking, and very saddening for news junkies everywhere. :( My heart goes out to the Russert family and the NBC staff.

    This has been a primary season of surprises and unexpected twists. This is the largest, saddest, most shocking surprise yet.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    The British are coming! The British are coming!

    Lyndon LaRouche, that nut-job seven-time candidate for the Democratic nomination for President who believed the CIA and KGB jointly trained a Manchurian candidate to kill him in 1974, was nowhere to be seen during the 2008 primaries. I can’t recall his name coming up even once during my New Hampshire travels. Yet just when you thought it was safe to go in the water again…

    Attractive young members of the LaRouche movement were outside the Union Station Metro this morning, right alongside the man who insists Obama is a cannibal and the omni-present "Conservative?" fellow with the convention hat and Willy Wonka golden tickets. They were passing out some slick looking magazine to passing Senate staffers and lobbyists, and quite a number of folks took one. I didn’t know who these well-dressesd magazine peddlers were and might have taken a copy myself until I overheard someone behind me say to them, "Hey hey! Yeah! LaRouche! Go LaRouch! Haha!" The LaRouchie asked this guy which Senator he and his friends worked for, and they replied, “We’re all with Mikulski.”

    “Ah, Mikulski,” said the LaRouchie. “Which state is that now?”

    There’s tip number one – don’t try to talk to Senate staffers about politics if you live in Northern VA yet don’t know the who’s who of DC. The Mikulski staffers were bewildered to say the least, but told the LaRouchie they were from Maryland. He started going off about some alleged scandal in Maryland, but the walk signal mercilessly changed, allowing us to escape that one…

    …right into the clutches of three more across the street. They were the most aggressive yet. One stuck her magazine right in my face, and I couldn’t help it, I yelled in my best British accent, “GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!” and kept moving.

    Then, two blocks later, no joke, a bird flew into the back of my head.

    Summer Blogging

    I’m back in DC, after a two week soiree in New Hampshire and Idaho. My posting has certainly slacked of off late; this is because I have no Internet at my apartment, and believe it unprofessional to blog from work. However, I just discovered free wireless in Union Station, so all is right with the world and I hope to post twice a week for the summer.

    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    A Remarkable and Historical Night

    In her speech following tonight's primaries in Montana and South Dakota, Hillary Clinton said that her campaign has allowed mothers to hoist their little girls up on their shoulders and say, “See? Your really can do anything!” She spoke glowingly of the many 90-year old women who went to her campaign events, women born before they had the right to vote yet who were now thrilled to watch one of their daughters nearly win the U.S. Presidency. These are true and powerful statements, and Barack Obama can say very similar things.

    I am only 21. My earliest political memories are of Peter Jennings reporting from Iraq in 1991 and of asking my parents who they were going to vote for in 1992. I am, in no uncertain terms, a baby, and it gives me major pause to reflect on the realization that there are people alive today, both women and African Americans, who were born into an American society that did not welcome them. It’s easy for us young people to look at Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement as pages in a history book, but the fact is they aren’t so distant after all. Those movements are very much alive in far too many people’s memories.

    And that is why tonight matters. For the first time in history, a major political party has nominated a black man for the U.S. presidency. I have to wonder, in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ralph Abernathy at his side, did any of them think this moment was only 44 years away? Our two current longest serving Senators, Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy, were new legislators at that point – did they think they would live to see this day? Did such a day seem even remotely possible to African Americans reading about the new law at home, still fighting school segregation?

    I know that there are many angry Clinton supporters, bitter that their candidate had the nomination taken from her and that her historical moment was lost. People who have fought so hard for so long for women’s rights were so very close to finally coming full circle. My heart goes out to them, and I hope that the day we elect a qualified woman to the Presidency does indeed come soon. But the fact is, tonight is still just as historical, for just as women did not gain the right to vote until 1920, African Americans were not given the practical chance to vote in many states until 1964. In fact, at the time of Obama’s 1961 birth to an interracial couple, interracial marriages were illegal in 22 states.

    America has a long way to go. African Americans still face redlining and astronomical prison and dropout rates, women aren’t paid nearly as much as men for equal work, and Latino migrant workers are forced into slave-like conditions. But for all the problems of the present, there is no denying, we really have come a long way. Whether or not you agree with Obama’s policies, whether or not you plan on voting for him, surely we can all be happy that one of the two parties nominated him. Similarly, whether or not you admire Hillary Clinton, surely we can all be happy that a woman was able to be a serious contender for a party’s nomination. Against any other opponent, she probably would have won, and just as Al Smith cleared the way for John F. Kennedy, perhaps Senator Clinton has cleared the way for another of America's oustanding daughters. She and Senator Obama have each done us this nation a huge favor these past few months.

    Tonight is a golden moment in our country’s history. I am proud to be an American, and I am proud to be a Democrat.