Sunday, August 31, 2008

Travel Day

Today is a travel day. My time in DC has come to an end, and I am flying from Baltimore to Spokane. My next blog post will either be another DC church review or reflections on the Holocause Museum, but for now, here's some more from that awesome dude who beatboxes and plays the flute at the same time. Y'know, I can whistle and hum at the same time, a little trick my high school band director showed me - or, as my father puts it, "Is that what you call it???" Also, scroll down for an evacuation update on Hurricane Gustav from two Louisiana church rebuild groups, including TEC.

EDOLA and EFCA on Gustav

Here is another update from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana about Hurricane Gustav, as well as one from another organization I served with down that way, the Evangelical Free Church of America. I just don't know what to think about Gustav. It looks like it may well be worse than Katrina, and if NOLA takes another blast like that, maybe we should give up. I absolutely hate to say that, but I just don't know what to think. I'll tell you this, though, as much admiration as I may have for Governor Jindal, I am appalled at the state and local governments, especially Mayor Nagin, for offering no Shelter of Last Resort for those too disabled, too slow, too handicapped, or too out of touch to be aware of the official bus evacuation plans. It's inhumane. Nagin shouldn't have been reelected, and he should be kicked out of office.

My heart and my prayers go out to the Gulf Coast tonight.

Subject line: Safe in Baton Rouge

August 30, 2008
Hi all -

As you have probably heard, New Orleans is evacuating in preparation for Hurricane Gustav. We wanted to let you know that all of us in the rebuild program are safely in Baton Rouge. We have plenty of food, games, movies, and internet to occupy us, and building itself is bunker-like, so we should be fine through the storm.
We spent yesterday packing things up at the warehouse, checking with our homeowners to make sure they have a plan to get out of the city, and boarding up houses that we're in the middle of rebuilding. Several of our homeowners are relying on the city's buses and trains to evacuate and it sounds like that plan has been working well so far.

Of course, this is hard for our homeowners, for us, and no doubt for all of you who have helped New Orleans clean-up and rebuild. We know that there will be more work to do after this. We don't know what the city will look like when we get back. We're seeing exactly what you're seeing on TV, so we know about as much as you do. Hopefully, we will be able to go home soon.

We will keep you updated as best we can. You can check our website at to see how you can help. Right now, all we can do is hope and wait.

Sitting here, we've been thinking about how much we have done together over the last few years. We are lucky to have met and worked with all of you, to have built relationships with so many homeowners, and to have been part of the kindness that all of you have given to the city and its people. Whether we are able to go home next week or not, that kindness, and the knowledge that people from all over the country care for them, remains with our homeowners and with us. We'll keep hoping for the best, and please continue to keep New Orleans in your thoughts and prayers.

Katie, Pete, Amanda, Ross, Liz, and the rest of the rebuild team

We started early this morning with serious packing of our response trailers with chain saws, generators and everything you'd need for an evacuation and a hurricane aftermath. Our team met at 9am this morning for prayer and spent about an hour and a half finalizing our logistics. We are evacuating our staff of 18 adults and 12 kids. We expect to send an advance team to Grace Community Church in Pensacola later this afternoonthe remainder tomorrow morning.

We believe that there is a mission field that follows every crisis. Pray for the harvest. pray for workers. pray that we would be the eye of the storm, a place of calm and peace for those around us who are in turmoil.

Mark Lewis, Director

Friday, August 29, 2008

Initial Thoughts on the Sarah Palin Pick

Boy, was I wrong. For about a year now, I’ve been absolutely convinced that if McCain was the GOP nominee for president, Tim Pawlenty would be his running mate. That view formed into conventional wisdom over the last month or two. Um… oops.

I don’t know much about Sarah Palin. She is currently the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation, but it could well be unwarranted. The citizens of Alaska, who are about to throw out bums Ted Stevens and Don Young and already took care of Mike Gravel and Frank Murkowski, certainly like her, so that speaks well enough of her. Perhaps she's "one of the good ones," I don't know. But, aside from my excitement that no matter what, one of the top two spots in the land will belong to either a woman or a black man, my initial reaction is somewhat negative. Here are a few quick thoughts:

1. The right wing talking heads on CNN are trying to spin Palin as more experienced than Obama, but I don’t buy it. He’s been a US Senator twice as long as she’s been a Governor, and spent just as much time in a state legislature that set laws for the nation’s third largest city as she spent running a town of 6,000 people. Sure, her experience is executive rather than legislative, but then again, so was George W. Bush’s, and we all know that turned out. One could even joke that Joe Biden has more executive experience than Sarah Palin, because his committee staff is larger than the population of Alaska…

It will be very hypocritical of McCain if he keeps up the drumbeat that Obama is “not ready to lead.” If experience is so important, why would he choose to put a brand-new governor with such a short resume just one heartbeat – one very old cancer-surviving heartbeat – away from the presidency?

2. In her first speech as McCain’s VP pick, Palin said, “Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

Really, Sarah? Your run for the VICE Presidency will shatter the glass ceiling? I thought that the Oval Office itself was what women should be shooting for, but y’know, I’m just a guy, so what do I know. Maybe the #2 spot is as high as women can go, and earning it will mean the job is, as you say, “finished.”


3. Is this a little TOO ambitious for McCain? One is kind of forced to wonder, does he really think she’d make the best President in the unfortunate case of his demise, or is he saying, “Well, you’ve got a black guy, so I’ll take a woman!” I’m probably being overly cynical, she is a very popular Governor and from a state where Obama is trying to make inroads, so I won’t belabor this point.

4. My third and, for now, final thought on the Palin pick is not my own, but those of humorist Andy Borowitz:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz)used the announcement of his vice-presidential pick, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, to blast the experience of his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill), arguing that Sen. Obama has never been the mayor of a 5,000-person town.

"The Presidency of the United States of America is the toughest job on the planet," Sen. McCain said. "And my friends, the best testing ground for that job is being the mayor of a 5,000-person town in Alaska."

Sen. McCain unleashed a savage attack on Sen. Obama, claiming that his Democratic opponent would be "at a loss" when faced with the challenges of running a 5000-person municipality in Alaska.

"Let's say a constituent calls you and says that a caribou has wandered onto his front lawn," he said. "My friends, Barack Obama wouldn't know what to do."…

Mr. McCain said that an understanding of foreign affairs, Congress, and other issues that a president has to deal with is "overrated," adding, "That's what Presidency for Dummies' is for."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

History, Pride, and America

Barack Obama has just begun to speak to an audience of 75,000 Americans in Denver. Some spinners, sheisters, and hucksters like to claim that this is the coronation of the Messiah by his thousands of adoring worshipers. I beg to differ. Those people are nothing more than empty cynics. When Americans come together, when we coalesce, when we seek a better future, and when we respond to a politician who believes in those same ideals, we are not establishing a new religion; we are following in the footsteps of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay,and George Washington. We are looking to a better future, and we are coming together and, as one nation, indivisible, we are making it happen.

The facts are these. Fifty years ago, a black man in America could not eat in the same diners as a white man - he had to walk around back and pick up his dinner by the dumpster. He could not use the same clean restrooms and water fountains - he had to seek out the dirty, roach-infested stalls and broken plumbing. He could not send his daughter to the same public schools; he had to make her walk three miles across town to the shack with outdated text books and untrained teachers. He could not walk down the street and admire the clouds; he had to walk down the street and look behind every corner, afraid of a lynching. This was not the occasional inconvenience: It. Was. Life. Every moment, of every day.

As a white man in 2008, I cannot even begin to pretend that I am capable of imagining what that life is like. But I have seen what it’s like to rebuild your house and your life after nature rips it all away from you and the government turns its back. I have seen what it’s like to lose your home because of failed economic policies, and strike out everywhere you try to find a new loan. Close friends of mine have had to raise their own siblings in an environment of crippling poverty where, as Obama is now saying, the government tells them, “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don’t own boots. You are on your own.” I have lived through a government that has broken laws and shown no respect for its Constitution, and thus no respect for its citiztayens.

And I know exactly what it’s like to sit in a hospital ICU, watching helplessly as a loved one, the one you love more than anyone else, seemingly slips away. I know exactly what it’s like, as that person finally begins to heal and find renewal, to think, dear Lord, if you didn’t have health insurance, I wouldn’t have you. I know what it is like to cry, and to sob.

There is a better than even chance that America is about to elect another man President who understands these problems. And more importantly, there is a better than even chance that America is about to turn its back on its sordid past. Two years ago, I thought we were still at least twenty years away from electing a black man President – but now it would seem that that man may very well take the oath of office in less than five months. Five months, folks, five months.

I’ve never believed in Barack Obama the way I have in Joe Biden, Howard Dean, the Kennedys, or even Al Gore. But I’ll tell you this: none of those men made me believe in America the way Obama has done. What he is trying to do for us, and what we have done for him, was not possible even on the day that I, a lad of just 21, was born.

We have seen powerful speeches this week from Ted Kennedy, Michelle Obama, Beau Biden, and more. But it is tonight that I am moved, not by words, but by deeds, and by the weight of history. It is tonight that my tears are not those of the ICU, but those of pride. America, you’ve come further than I thought. And if you stay on the path that you have set yourself on over the past four days and the past few months, then you will go much farther much faster than I thought you had the will to do. Prove me wrong, America.

For never have I been prouder. This isn't about Barack Obama; it is about the values and the change - not the political change, but the seismic historical shift - that we have chosen him to represent. God love ya, America. God love ya.

Hurricane Gustav and the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana

Here's an e-mail update from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana rebuild team about Hurricane Gustav.

August 28, 2008
Hello everybody,

Many of you have seen the news about a hurricane that might be heading toward the gulf coast, and some folks have called or emailed to make sure we're okay.

Thanks so much for your concern. We're closing up our offices and the warehouse, evacuating to Baton Rouge this weekend and have talked to all of our homeowners to make sure they have evacuation plans. It seems like so far so good.

We'll be continuing to figure out how we can help as this all progresses. Please check the website at for more updates and to find out how you can help.

Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

-Katie, Pete, Amanda, Liz, Ross and the rebuild team
phone: 504.895.6634

Beau and Joe Biden Speak to the Convention

This first clip from the Convention last night has a good biopic of Joe Biden, but more importantly, the introduction from Biden's soldier son Beau, which starts about four minutes in. Beau is the Delaware Attorney General and a member of the DE National Guard, and will likely deploy to Iraq in October. He is frequently mentioned as a possible replacement for his father in the Senate. I've met him, and he is absolutely as gracious as can be. I've got to say, though, I never realized before last night just how much he looks like Mark Warner. Anyways, a farmer friend from Iowa who worked and caucused for John Edwards text messeged me after Beau's speech: "That speech was amazing. Not gonna lie, my eyes werent dry."

And the man of the hour, Vice Presidential nominee and all-around good guy Joe Biden:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Commuting to DC

Before you watch tonight's speech to the Democratic convention from Vice Presidential nominee Joe Biden, and certainly before you vote in November, please read this story in today's Washington Post about how Biden commutes home by train to Delaware every night. I think it speaks to just how much of a regular guy the Senate's poorest member is, and to how little Washington has changed him.

Joe came in here with a motorcade," says Daniel Thorpe, 44, a cab driver at the Amtrak station. A motorcade? For ol' Joe? Everybody here is used to seeing Joe Biden by himself, on his way to and from the train -- used to being able to go up and shake Joe's hand, talk about the grandkids.

Anyway, on Monday there he was. Big photo-op and a huge crush of press and Secret Service all around. Joe won't be taking the 7:35 a.m. Acela to Washington for a good long while, so he wanted to drop in and say goodbye...

"Some mornings he would ride down on the train and literally buy the entire car and conductors coffee," says Claire DeMatteis, who worked for Biden for 10 years and sometimes rode the train with him. He'd get up and say, " 'Anybody want coffee?' And anybody who wanted got coffee."

He talks to passengers. He talks to the folks who take his tickets. He talks policy and family and everything in between. If he's waiting for a train, he talks to the folks at the ticket counter and to the shoeshine guy and the redcap guy and to Johnson, the newsstand cashier -- which is why, when Johnson found out Joe was joining Obama's ticket, she called her mother to brag about "my friend."

He throws parties for retiring conductors, and once had a crewman serenaded by bagpipes. For Biden's first day back at work following two operations for brain aneurysms in 1988, he took the train, naturally. "The engineer saluted him with a longer-than-usual toot of the train's whistle," UPI reported at the time.

"He used to have a picnic at his house for the train crews," says Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), another frequent Amtraker.

I am leaving DC on Sunday, and while I am not a city person and am very much looking forward to getting out of Dodge, I will say that Amtrak is near the top of the short list of things I will miss. Its lack of funding and the fact that it has to share tracks with freight trains is a huge pain in the neck, but business class is cheaper and comfier than air travel and the staff is usually great, easy to banter with and almost as gracious as Biden himself.

Oh, and about Hillary's speech last night - First Read says,

As some Hillary watchers told us, it was her finest speech. It was an impressive balance of anti-McCain sound bites and the case for the Democratic way of governing. She really did strike a Goldilocks balance of preserving her own political future and being for Obama.

Told ya so.

That Was Then, This Is Now: The De-evolution of John McCain

A friend asked me the following question on Monday:
Me: A lot of Dems would have been proud to run with McCain, or have McCain run with them, before '06. A lot about him has changed in just the past few months, though, and I'm very saddened to see it.

Friend: What specifically has changed? I haven't noticed much of a difference ... but then again I've only been following McCain since January.

I’ve made several blog posts about what I don’t like about McCain’s 2008 campaign, but as I haven’t actually compared those negatives to the 2000 campaign, I’d like to answer my friend’s question with a blog post.

I’ve been following McCain since December ’99 (not long for a 60 year old junkie, but quite some time for a lad of just 21), supported him in ’00 (yes, over both Bradley and Gore), and donated to his primary campaign as recently as January of this year. Unfortunately I believe things began to change with him late last summer – perhaps not with his values and inner core, but he seems to have lost sight of those values and that inner core. I did not realize this until only a month or two ago, as my admiration for him put me in denial. Opening my eyes has been an almost heartbreaking process. I hate to watch people fall from grace, as I enjoy admiring good men, but much to my chagrin, that is exactly what I believe is happening to McCain. Here are just four of many examples.

One. In 2000 and years after, McCain was about the biggest political celebrity in decades, and embraced the media as his base – but this year, watching someone else eclipse his celebrity, he has attacked Obama’s fame as a primary reason the Democrat shouldn’t be President, and mocked the press for daring to give someone else positive coverage. Odd that he didn’t mock the press when it was HE who was the celebrity getting positive coverage. Do you really think that, if 250,000 people turned up to hear MCCAIN speech, he would turn them away? I find this criticism hypocritical, and it is probably based in jealousy.

Two. In 2000, when Bush and external Republicans groups attacked McCain’s character – bad for veterans, has a black lovechild, etc. – he was livid, furious that they would engage in slime like that. Today, however, he insists Obama doesn’t really believe the things he says about Iraq and that he only says them for political expediency, despite no actual evidence to suggest Obama believes otherwise. He’s been jumping on the littlest things, suggesting Obama is playing the race card in a heinous way for even mentioning race in passing. That’s abandoning his core principles of positive campaigns and basic civility and decency.

Three. The McCain of 2000 gave us straight talk – it wasn’t just a campaign slogan; it really was the real deal. Yet now we’re getting this baloney that “Drill now, drill here!” is the answer to our current gas price problems, even though the REPUBLICAN CONTROLLED Department of Energy says expanded offshore drilling won’t influence gas prices for another 22 years. It may or may not be a good long-term strategy, but it’s not the short-term solution McCain claims it is, and there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise, yet he persists.

Four. In 2000, McCain’s background as a POW was a well-known part of his biography, but he didn’t harp on it. He told us he was reluctant to talk about it, and we believed him, and admired him for it. Yet today, every time someone tries to criticize McCain for anything, it’s what his campaign responds with - he can’t remember how many houses he owns? POW. He wasn’t in a cone of silence at the Saddleback forum? POW. He (probably accidentally) suggested his wife compete in a topless beauty pageant? POW. It’s reaching Rudy 9/11-esque levels. A noun, a verb, and POW. I agree that the way he behaved in the Hanoi Hilton 40 years ago was exceptionally admirable, but it has nothing to do with his ability to make sound economic decisions or even direct battlefield strategy, and it certainly has nothing to do with the rules of the Saddleback forum. That’s just silly, and it offends me that he would use such a sacrosanct story in such a cavalier, political fashion.

McCain, at his core, is a great American, but he replaced his maverick Senate careers and his great 2000 campaign of honesty and bold ideas with the negative ads and unfounded character smears he used to decry, with misleading policy proposals where once a quest for truth stood, and with a striking attitude of anger and bitterness that just wasn’t present before. I denied these changes in tone for quite some time, and still don’t agree with every attack and piece of spin from the Obama camp or the DNC, but the fact is, some of those attacks and some of that spin is actually true. There’s been a sea change, and while I hate to admit it, I just can’t ignore it anymore. McCain is one of the best senators we have ever had, but he would be one of the worst presidents.

Here are four relevant links:

Two columns from Maureen Dowd, who I usually find to be sour, empty, and spiteful but actually nailed it in her column on McCain’s envy and on how his overuse of the POW story cheapens his true heroism.

Two past blog posts of mine: “I Miss John McCain” and “The Economic Hubris of John McCain”.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton will do just fine (even if she is no Ted Kennedy)

I have never been a supporter of Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. I used to think she was doing a good job for New Yorkers as their US Senator, but always felt she was just too divisive for the national stage, that she could get to 51% in a general election, but not 60% in an approval rating to build a solid consensus for governing. She proved me right with her presidential campaign – though there is much to admire about her, her negative tactics and refusal to answer policy questions was despicable.

Still, I had to roll my eyes when I read this little bit from NBC’s First Read this morning about this week’s Democratic National Convention:

The Washington Post's Cocco may have nailed tonight better than anyone today: Hillary can't win. She may not be able to find her Goldilocks moment and strike a "just right" balance tonight of both advancing her own political future and proving that she really does want Obama to win... The good news for her, the expectations are very low in this sense. No one expects her to be able to pull this off convincingly.

Oh, malarkey! Senator Clinton may well be bitter and disappointed at having lost our party’s nomination for President, but she is not one of her vocal fringe followers, screaming for revenge, holding out hope that she’ll pull off a coup. She gave a convincing speech in early June when she conceded and she made a convincing appearance with Obama in Unity, NH shortly thereafter, and if she could do it then, she can do it now. I believe Senator Clinton will give an excellent speech tonight, and that Keynoter Mark Warner (whom I have met twice and have much respect for) will also do a whiz-bang job. I do, admittedly, have my doubts about how President Clinton will perform tomorrow night, but anyone who doesn’t “expect her to be able to pull this off convincingly” has their head in a paper bag.

The Clintons aside, the Convention sure is off to a great start. I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Joe Biden, but there is another Democratic star whom I love just about as much, and that is Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who made a dynamite appearance last night. It is generally agreed that Ted Kennedy, brother to my hero Robert and the nation’s hero John, is one of the most effective legislators in the entire history of the U.S. Senate. It is he we have to thank for minimum wage laws, pay discrimination laws, labor law enforcement, and the ongoing fight for universal health care. I was interning for Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) on the day Kennedy’s brain cancer was announced, and it cast an enormous pall over Capitol Hill. That was the worst day I have had during my five months here in Washington, DC. I hope Kennedy manages to finish his current Senate term, and Obama’s first term as President. I hope he lives to see his work come to fruition, that he sees his protégé secure health care as a basic fundamental right and end the war in Iraq. Kennedy deserves that as much as we deserve him. I wasn’t alive in the ‘60s to see the work his brothers did, but I am alive today to see the results. We may have a long way to go yet, but the three of them have moved this country forward, and the work the youngest has done over the last 40 years deserves every bit as much praise as we give to the other brothers for the ten before that.

Chappaquiddick, the right-wing kooks say? Well, yes, that was an emabarassing chapter, but even if it were a crime, it would be manslaughter, not murder; it’s a tough road to drive on even in the daytime; there was nothing Kennedy could have done to save the girl once the car was under; there’s no proof he was drunk; and, I believe most importantly, the man offered to resign over it but the voters demanded that he stay. So quite frankly, if you believe the accidental death of one woman thirty-nine years ago is more important than the social and economic justice that has come to millions in the decades since, well, I have to believe you’ve got your head in the same bag as the Hillary haters.

I am a Democrat in part because of Ted Kennedy and his brothers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The economic hubris of John McCain

Earlier this month, I wrote a post called, “I Miss John McCain,” lamenting McCain’s departure from his maverick, bipartisan, honest, straight talking self. I listed five reasons I’ve gone from being pro-Obama to anti-McCain: McCain’s racial accusations, smearing of Obama’s character, distortions of energy policy, hypocritical complaints about the press, and jealous whining about Obama’s crowds. The last two weeks have added much more substantive items to that list, showing us that McCain isn’t just a good soul adrift, but an out-of-touch elitist who doesn’t recognize his own privilege and would do nothing to help the little guy. Electing this man President would be antithetical to everything the Social Gospel proclaims. He may think of himself as an underdog, but he’s one that doesn’t care for the rest of his breed.

I speak, of course, about McCain’s suggestion to Pastor Rick Warren that folks who make $4 million a year aren’t rich, and his inability to tell a reporter just how many houses he owns. A friend e-mailed me the following earlier today:
wow… per Politico:

"The McCains increased their budget for household employees from $184,000 in 2006 to $273,000 in 2007, according to John McCain's tax returns."

not sure how legit it is to criticize someone for being wealthy... I worked for [John Edwards] Mr. $400-haircuts... still, tho... for someone who wants to paint obama as elitest and out-of-touch...

I replied to my friend: It's legit if he refuses to admit that he's wealthy and doesn't realize how privileged he is. It's legit if he's trying to paint the ticket of one guy who grew up partially on food stamps and only just paid off his student loans and another guy who grew up broke and still has a negative net worth as the rich, arrogant one in the race. From a Biblical perspective, it's legit if his wealth was ill-gotten (although I don't have reason to believe it was) or if he doesn't use it to benefit others (I don't know if he does or not).

John McCain is no longer a candidate those who advocate social and economic justice can support. I’m not a fan of negative campaigning, but when it’s honest (unlike the Swift Boat attacks) and over a substantive issue (unlike McCain’s Paris Hilton hit job), then there’s nothing wrong with it, and I’m thrilled to see the following ads from Barack Obama and the Florida Democratic Party. EJ Dionne's most recent Washington Post column said many rural voters want more Bill Clinton-style empathy and understanding from Obama. These new ads should be run in every swing market and run often, and aired alongside another ad I would suggest that highlights Obama's recent student loans, his mother's food stamps, and his inner city work. Do that and BOOM, you've got your empathy, and you've got your White House.

There are many Republicans I respect. I hope Obama asks Chuck Hagel to be his Secretary of State, and keeps Robert Gates around as Secretary of Defense for a few months. McCain used to be one of those Republicans, but he has lost his way and doesn’t look to likely to find it again. America deserves better.

It's Monday Morning

(Friday's Speed Bump)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Morning at St. Mary’s, Foggy Bottom

For the latest installment of my series on Episcopal churches in Washington, DC, I attended St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in DC’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood last week (only two blocks from the Metro!). The only service offered was at 10am. I am told this is a student church with George Washington University as a prime focus, and if that is true, then this week’s service will be profoundly different than the next nine months to come, as we wrap up the summer. It’s a lovely little church that I know ministers to the needs of many people – but if this week is representative, I’m just not one of them, and that's ok.

It was a small congregation, with around three dozen people there. To my pleasant surprise, it was, unlike most churches, quite integrated and racially diverse – a majority of the congregants were black, but there was a large number of white folks and even a few Asians. That was encouraging. (Update: I have since been told by two different people that the church was founded as an African American church.) Unfortunately, the music program was very lacking – in fact, it was non-existent. The guest “organ/choirmaster” was talented, but he had to play on an electric organ rather than a nice pipe organ like I’ve grown accustomed to finding in these parts, and there was no choir – that may well be an August thing, but I couldn’t see where a choir would even sit. The congregants, though, didn’t put much of their own energy into the hymns, so the music was lacking. Most strikingly, I didn’t like the sanctuary. The red and tan bricks made it feel like it was built in the sixties – too modern, as opposed to classic or postmodern. The church is, of course, much older than that; the church dates back to the 1880s. The pew boxes, though – yes, boxes – were rather uncomfortable, and the room was much too dark, although that was probably a byproduct of the construction going on around the window behind the altar.

All that negativity aside, there are many good things to say about the parish. I’ve seen few congregations so welcoming. The guest celebrant and preacher was a former rector of the parish, and made a very elaborate point of inviting guests to coffee hour and telling us how wonderful and expansive it was. The peace was not a shake hands with everyone around you peace, or even a chat up your neighbor peace, but an everyone moves around and greets everyone else in the entire room peace, and in such a fashion that it seemed like they’d all known each other for years. With a gathering that small, maybe they had! It certainly felt homey.

The sanctuary not withstanding, the outside of the building was also beautiful, as you can see from the pictures posted here. The high quality photos are from the street and the inside and are from St. Mary’s webpage. The grainier shots are from my cell phone, and show the entrance to the chapel and a little courtyard.

It’s hard to tell how many ministries and programs St. Mary’s offers, but then again, that might be a symptom of the August doldrums. The bulletin mentioned only the ECW, an upcoming block party, and a Newsletter Committee, although the website also lists a campus ministry (dormant during the summer, for obvious reasons). I certainly hope there’s more, but that may well be it right now. The parish does have an impressive and lengthy history, and according to the webpage,
St. Mary's has many notable accomplishments to her credit. One of the first Boys Clubs in Washington was organized here. A mission to the whole neighborhood, regardless of creed, it was founded with the help of the beloved Deaconess, Mary Amanda Betchler. And out of this grew a special mission in Snow's Court, then the most disreputable and dangerous section in the city. One of the first baby clinics, one of the first vacation bible schools, a sewing school and cooking school were established at St. Mary's. The church also provided facilities for mentally retarded children.

A more recent example of this divine service was the creation of St. Mary's Court, located adjacent to the church affordable housing for seniors, was the brainchild of parishioners and became a diocesan project. St. Mary's has awarded more than 125 Martin Luther King Scholarships to students of all faiths and abilities since the fund was established in 1970.

I enjoyed the sermon. The rector was away, and in his place was Father Joseph Clark, a former rector. I kid you not, his voice sounded almost EXACTLY like NBC News anchor Brian Williams’, only with a little more gravel. It was a pretty good sermon about the Gospel, Matthew 15: 10-28, in which a Canaanite woman asks Jesus for help and he first tries to turn her away because she is not an Israelite and even compares her to a dog, but then acquiesces in the face of her faith. Father Joseph said this Gospel is one of the two or three most important verses, and is part of Matthew’s Jesus story calling us to live our life today, to be more than we already are, to be challenged, and to listen to the people callusing us. This woman was an uppity outsider who, like Christ, crossed boundaries, saw the unknown, and took risks. When gay people “come out,” they are claiming their identity, and when she shouted out to Christ, she claimed her own identity and broke the patriarchy that said women cannot speak to mean in such a fashion. The male apostles were not amused.

Why did Jesus greet her with silence? We don’t know. Some say He was testing her, others that He didn’t hear, and still others that her foreign plea could not be understood. All that aside, all she heard was the disciples sending her away. Finally Christ replied, Israel only – for this is what He knew as His identity.

When He called her a dog, maybe He did it with a twinkle in His eye, but, Father Joseph said, imagine what it would be like to be her hearing those words from the Messiah – absolutely devastating. And yet, she was undaunted, and by twisting it around with her remark about table scraps, showed Him how awful His words sounded. This was a call, Father Joseph says, for Jesus to hear and embrace who He is, pulling him out of a theology of a narrow God. He changes His mind to embrace the view of a bigger God. So look for modern connections and relevancies, the priest said. Have you had your convictions challenged? Rethink your identity. Is there an inner voice calling you to reconsider and be more? Barack Obama is challenging our country to be more and to rethink its identity, and let us do that on an individual level.

Father Joseph’s sermon was good, but I heard another, even better and very moving sermon about this same Gospel later in the day at St. Paul’s, and will lay it out in detail when I review that parish.

I will admit, I didn’t stay for the whole service, and left after the Offertory hymn. I wanted to catch the 11:15 service at the Anglo-Catholic St. Paul’s four blocks away, and needed to grab a cup of coffee in between. All in all, St. Mary’s is not a bad church, I just didn’t enjoy it. I wouldn’t go back myself, but if a friend moved to DC and was seeking out a multicultural, student friendly, or small town parish in the heart of DC, I would certainly suggest they swing by Foggy Bottom and give it a look.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Obama Picks Biden: YABBA DABBA DOOOO!!!!

Most folks at Dartmouth recognize me, if not by name, at least by face. I am typically known one of two ways: one, as that dude with the cowboy hat, or two, as the Biden guy. I was a member of the New Hampshire for Biden Steering Committee during the 2008 primary, founded and ran Dartmouth for Biden, blogged for him on the frontpage of, and made sure he was a visible figure around the Upper Valley. Before the campaign shifted its focus to Iowa and ran even shorter on money than we anticipated, the plan was for me work me as a field organizer for the Upper Valley region and colleges across the state.

So, in an answer to the dozens of e-mails, texts, and Facebook messages I have gotten so far today, yes, I am extremely happy. You can read my thoughts on MyDD here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My horoscope says Obama will pick Biden tonight

(Update 08-23-08 2:47pm: Apparently, a lot of people are finding this post by Googling Joe Biden astrology or some such phrase. I have two things to say to those people - one, try looking up his birthday on Wikipedia or his website, or something like that. Two - it's not a real science, and most of us normal people think you are, to put it generously, a wee bit behind the times. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go attend my alchemy class now. End Update.)

From today's Washington Post, it can only mean one thing!

ARIES (March 21-April 19). The ones you love the most know exactly how to push your buttons. You're a passionate person, so you wouldn't want it any other way. Much of your evening is spent in a heightened emotional state.

Boomlets and the Democratic Veepstakes

Earlier this month, I wrote that my prediction for Barack Obama’s Vice Presidential nominee was a toss-up between VA Governor Tim Kaine and DE Senator Joe Biden. Biden was my real prediction, but then this little media boomlet popped up around Kaine, and I didn’t know what to think anymore, so I split my prediction between them both. Little did I know that boomlets for both Biden and IN Senator Evan Bayh were to come, and even a mini-boomlet for MA Senator John Kerry.

Obama and his VP pick will campaign together tomorrow, which means we’ll know the person’s name within 30 hours. Amidst rampant speculation, the Biden boomlet continues to be the conventional wisdom, Kaine is signaling it’s not him, and there never was a boomlet for KS Governor Kathleen Sibelius. All that aside, though, the only thing we really KNOW is that Obama confidant and former GA Senator Sam Nunn will be out of the country. I’m really, really hoping for Joe Biden, and I’m going to go ahead and predict it’s him, although a surprise pick of former SD Senator Tom Daschle or RI Senator Jack Reed wouldn’t surprise me. My own second choice is MT Governor Brian Schweitzer, and while he’s not completely out of the question, I would be shocked (and delighted).

I’m pulling for Biden, and I’m predicting Biden, but I could be wrong; it could still be Bayh or a dark horse. With any luck, we’ll know by tonight, and certainly by tomorrow morning.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How to tell when a man doesn't know he's privileged

I was sick the last couple days, but hope to do some actual blogging later today. In the meantime, here's another greatest headline ever, from Politico:

McCain Unsure How Many Houses He Owns

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in an interview Wednesday that he was uncertain how many houses he and his wife, Cindy, own.

"I think — I'll have my staff get to you," McCain told Politico in Las Cruces, N.M. "It's condominiums where — I'll have them get to you."

The correct answer is at least four, located in Arizona, California and Virginia, according to his staff. Newsweek estimated this summer that the couple owns at least seven properties.

This from the guy who says people who make just $4 million a year aren't rich. Makes your stomach churn, doesn't it?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sesame Street Beatboxing

Too busy to blog today, but check this out, the dude is playing the flute and beatboxing at the same time:

You're never too old for Sesame Street!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Liveblogging Rick Warren's Forum

In the coming days, I'm still hoping to make that post about Jonathan Daniels, as well as post my Senate election predictions and continue my series of reviewing DC Episcopal churches. Today, however, my attention was at MyDD, which I've sadly neglected the last couple months.

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church just wrapped up interviews with Barack Obama and John McCain at the California megachurch. I liveblogged the forum at MyDD, where you can read my minute-to-minute updates and thoughts:

Saddleback Concluding Thoughts
Liveblogging Warren and McCain
Liveblogging Warren and Obama

Friday, August 15, 2008

We still can have singing tomorrow

Here's a January 2008 video from PBS of Pete Seeger singing his song, "Quite Early Morning." I prefer The Mammals' cover, a band that includes Pete's grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger's, but alas, that's not on YouTube. You can listen to it on Tao's MySpace page, though. It's my current profile song.

I love this song.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Remembering Jonathan Daniels

Today is the feast day for New Hampshire seminarian and civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels, one of only two American martyrs honored with a day on the Episcopal calendar (the other is Martin Luther King, Jr).

The chapel at Dartmouth's Edgerton Episcopal Campus Ministry is the country's only chapel dedicated to Daniels. I will write a more fitting and appropriate post about Daniels, the woman he saved, and our chapel tomorrow when I have access to my notes about the dedication service, but I wanted to be sure to recognize him on his actual feast day. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail our new campus minister sent out about this week's Wednesday night dinner:

Jonathan Daniels, a native of Keene, New Hampshire, began studying at the Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts in 1963. In 1965, he heard the call of God and Martin Luther King to come to Selma, Alabama to join in a Civil Rights march. While he had only planned to spend the weekend in Alabama, he was so moved by the experience that he decided to commit himself fully to the Civil Rights Movement. Daniels returned to school proposing to stay in Selma for the remainder of the semester and promising to learn the course material on his own and come back for exams. Back in Selma, Daniels worked to integrate the Episcopal church, taking young African-Americans with him to the all-white church. That summer Daniels tutored children, helped those in need to find assistance, and promoted voter registration. In August Daniels joined other picketers in protesting businesses' refusal to serve blacks in Fort Deposit, and they were arrested and jailed. After being released, Daniels and three others tried to enter a local shop but were confronted by Tom Coleman, a deputy sheriff, who aimed his shotgun at Ruby Sales, a young black woman. Daniels pushed her out of the way, took the blast of the gun himself and was killed. The Episcopal Church celebrates Jonathan Daniels' life and work annually on August 14th and he is recognized in the Chapel of Modern Day Saints in Canterbury Cathedral.

Rev. Michael Dresbach has a far more touching and detailed account of Daniels' actions over at Padre Mickey's Dance Party. Do read.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What St. Luke's Coeur d'Alene is all about

The Christian faith and the Gospel texts are not about publicly condemning gays, narrowly focusing only on abortion, or encouraging greed in the name of prosperity. They are about love, the love God has for all His children and our responsibility to reflect that love in our own relationships. This means we should worship God and revel in the joy and grace he gives us, and it also means we should reach out to one another. Sometimes that reaching out means taking a stand against oppressive governments and sometimes it means giving money or relief to victims of disease or hunger. But other times, it just means being a good neighbor, which is why I am very proud of my home church, St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. One of our more active members, Robert P., sent out the following message and pictures last night to an Outreach e-mail list:

It was a time that everything worked out right. When you think of Jubilee Ministry at St. Luke’s you would expect to find a helping hand at work. But sometimes results are not so evident even when hands stay busy. However, on Monday, August 11, a complex task was begun and completed the same day that kept a family together.

On Sunday, a young woman left Sandpoint desperate to find her family a place to live elsewhere. Her family would be without a place to live come Monday. Driving around Coeur d’Alene she spotted people coming and going at St. Luke’s when neighboring churches were idle. She was fortunate that our annual meeting kept us after the service or we too would have had no one around. Suzie found her way to Fr David who listened to how a new landlord had evicted her family because of HUD support for their rent. An extended fight to stay in the apartment failed and the family of 4 would be out the next day. Suzie told of efforts to locate a place to live that came up empty. She was quickly eliminating alternatives and needed immediate help. Suzie worked and attends North Idaho College. Her husband, 25, is in treatment for cancer of the liver.

Early Monday morning Bob R. and Robert P. drove to Sandpoint to bring household belongings to Coeur d’Alene. We found about 25 stuffed garbage bags on the sidewalk between a row of apartments. The family was standing near by. Their entire belongings easily fit into the pickup truck. Ready to leave, I asked Suzie where we were headed. She said that she did not know, but that she hoped her family could find somewhere to stay in Coeur d’Alene. While I drove Bob Runkle made phone calls. I could see the family following us in their beat up 4 door car on the scenic drive back. It was still only 10:00 AM. The sense of urgency was real that morning.

Through St. Luke’s continuing relationship with St Vincent De Paul the family was able to stay a few nights in one of the transitional housing units with a promise of a double unit later in the week that they could stay in for at least a year. An impromptu meeting was held outside that afternoon with the just-assigned case manager to get the critical paper work under way. Household items were stored at my shop.

Several powerful forces came together that day:
Suzie’s ability to quietly ask for help with carefully defined family needs.
St Luke’s being in position to help.
St Vincent De Paul’s vacancy and will to act to address an immediate need.

It was a good day,

A follow-up e-mail from the aforementioned Bob R. says that Suzie already has a good lead on a job at the local mall, and if the church could help provide some basic items like linens, that would be wonderful. Many thanks for her determination and prayers for her success!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Update on Katrina Recovery

I'd like pass along several stories about Katrina recovery, the original subject of this blog, that have come out this week.

A new survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that most New Orleanians are depressed about the state and pace of recovery and angry at Congress and the national media, but optimistic about the future. That doesn't surprise me; reconstruction has been abysmally slow and marred by scandal, but that is one upbeat town. The Washington Post reports on the poll,

Overall, nearly three-quarters of residents feel hopeful about the future of the greater New Orleans area. This comes despite broad pessimism about their economic prospects -- nearly two-thirds said good jobs are rare -- and low ratings for the multibillion-dollar recovery effort...

More than half of New Orleans residents, 52 percent, are "dissatisfied" or outright "angry" about the amount of progress that has been made. Twenty-three percent say that their lives are "largely back to normal" since the storm hit in August 2005, and nearly a quarter are seriously considering leaving the area.

Few residents think there has been significant progress in dealing with key issues such as crime, access to health care and the public school system. More than seven in 10 are dissatisfied with efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing. Overall, few are very satisfied with their own lives, and nearly six in 10 said it is a bad time for children to be growing up in the city.

Today's New York Times has an editorial about the poll called "Three Years After Katrina," calling on the next President and Congress to speed up the pace of recovery.

One reason recovery has been so slow is the corruption that has long plagued Louisiana politics. Most recently, it turns out that the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership Corporation (NOAH), a "city-chartered nonprofit agency" in charge of coordinating home gutting and construction, was paying contractors for both untouched homes and homes gutted and rebuilt by volunteers, including volunteers from the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. One of the contractors recieiving NOAH money for unverified work was Mayor Ray Nagin's brother-in-law. The feds raided NOAH's office and siezed records and computers yesterday. Grandmère Mimi comments here, here, and here.

Man, it will be so nice come January when George W. Bush and maybe even Senate Oversight Chair Joe Lieberman are no longer in charge of Katrina oversight.

But things aren't all bad. One bright note is an Episcopal Life Online story from the Diocese of Louisiana about local service efforts. "Day of Service to mark Katrina anniversary" reports on the dioceses' new "EDOLA Saturdays" program that will bring out local volunteers to help with building projects.

(Pictures from July 2008, courtesy CNET.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Stopping Rape in Indian Country

I hope you'll read an important OpEd in today's New York Times about a little known and gravely overlooked subject. One of my favorite Dartmouth professors, Bruce Duthu, has an article today about the astronomical rate of rape in Indian country, and proposes some solid solutions. I am planning on doing an independent study with Prof. Duthu next year about this very topic, and his Native Americans and the Law class is one of the best courses I've had yet. Here is an excerpt from his OpEd:

One in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice show. But the odds of the crimes against them ever being prosecuted are low, largely because of the complex jurisdictional rules that operate on Indian lands. Approximately 275 Indian tribes have their own court systems, but federal law forbids them to prosecute non-Indians. Cases involving non-Indian offenders must be referred to federal or state prosecutors, who often lack the time and resources to pursue them.

The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show.

But Prof. Duthu isn't one to just list problems and spread doom and gloom. Read the whole thing for solutions.

Sunday Morning at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Northwest DC

Yesterday morning I attended the 10:30 summer version of Rite II at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in northwest Washington, DC. This was part of my attempt to attend and write about a different DC Episcopal Church each week, but alas, St. Columba’s is only my sixth church and third write-up in over four months. A few weeks spent in ID, NH, and VA, as well as a great love of sleeping in, has prevented me from making broader rounds. Still, St. Columba’s was a good experience, and I feel fairly confident in saying that it would still be a highlight even if I were up to 12 churches by now.

There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable about yesterday’s service. I just got the vibe, from the various brochures and webpages (see below for a summary), that this is a remarkable parish. It is summer, so things were a bit stripped down. Instead of their pipe organ and full or audition-only choir, there was a piano and a come-one-come-all choir, but they were certainly not untalented. (Update: One Bill Grote writes in a comment below, "It's only the smaller, 22-member Ensemble that is audition-only. It should be noted that the approsimately 80-member full choir and 22-member Ensemble are all volunteers and that they often sing works like Faure and other Requiems as service music, not concerts." See the comments for more wonderful information about St. Columba's from Mr. Grote, including that the Sunday School has over 900 children and teens: 900!!!!)

The crowd was surprisingly large. August doldrums or not, there were a good 150-200 folks there, this in addition to three other Eucharists. Because the AC is apparently on the fritz, the service was held in the Great (parish) Hall rather than the nave. It wasn’t a great place for a mass, but it sure wasn’t bad, either; I felt like I was at a church summer camp service. I did stick my head in the nave as I left, and it was nice. Very traditional – a narrow room, small sanctuary at the front, formal walls, stained glass windows, a very large choir area, etc. The outside of the building was somewhat pretty, but a bit hidden by trees. Alas, I took no pictures and can't find any online, but the building dates back to 1926 and the parish itself to 1874. The congregation was mostly white and appeared to be relatively affluent, but there were a few minorities there, including an African American associate rector.

Thanks to subway troubles, I arrived 15-20 minutes late. (I left my apartment 50 minutes before the service, and it took me 70 minutes to get there – stupid Red Line track work.) This means I missed the processional hymn and the readings, but caught most of the sermon. Associate Rector Rob Boulter preached on the Gospel reading, Matthew 12:22-33, Jesus walking on water and calling Peter to Him. Boulter was an impressive and dynamic preacher. He tied his own life’s story to the Gospel, describing the discernment process through which he gave up his career as a traveling stage actor to become a priest. He said Peter got out of the boat, leaving his uncomfortable-but-familiar seat for the scary-and-unknown waters to which Christ was calling him. Basically, leaving his acting career was a scary move for Boulter and it took him awhile to accept that he was called to the priesthood, but ultimately it was best for him and his family, and he answered the nagging feelings he had that he says were God’s pull. He got out of his boat, just like Peter, and said he prays that we will all get out of the boat and get our feet wet.

This was an interesting sermon for me, as two weeks ago at Christ’s Church on Capitol Hill, I heard another priest speak about discernment from a verse where I never would have expected it (Jacob’s ladder). As I think about my own possible call to the priesthood, I might do well to remember these sermons about unusual discernment coming from unexpected places.

St. Columba’s bills itself as a “large Episcopal parish” that does “what churches do everywhere — worship God with all the energy and joy we can muster, seek deeper faith in Jesus Christ, try to serve Christ in others, welcome those who come through our doors.”

It’s hard to tell from their website and the various brochures just what the parish’s focus is, but it doesn’t really matter – they’ve got it all. Music is certainly a hallmark. The nave has a “fine tracker pipe organ,” and apparently there is a “well-equipped modern rehearsal facility” in the church. There are five choirs for children and youth and two adult choirs, including an audition-only chamber group. The church has three, count ‘em three handbell choirs, as well as a chamber orchestra and a recorder consort. Amazing! Outreach ministries include (not a complete list!) a “transitional residence and counseling program for [homeless] women” on the church grounds, prison mentoring, various programs for the hungry, and something called the Water Ministry: four days a week for two hours a day, volunteers offer shower and laundry facilities to the poor. There are mission groups for Kenya, Honduras, and South Africa, and a continuing Katrina Relief Task Force. Justice outreach includes an Environment Committee and a Peace Fellowship, and the bulletin asked parishioners to sign a petition asking City Council candidates to support investments in education and affordable housing. In terms of pastoral care, there are seven, count ‘em seven, priests – the rector, a senior associate rector, and five associate rectors. From a crowd like that, I’m guessing there’s someone to suit most pastoral needs. Fellowship groups include an LGBT scene, a singles group, a group for widows and widowers, and more. And although I didn’t grab a youth ministries brochure, programs for kids and teens were listed on the music and outreach bulletins (including national and international mission trips), and there were quite a few children at the service. One assumes there is a large and active youth group, and the bulletin did mention a special pre-school Eucharist at 9:15. The only downside is that the education and prayer groups don’t seem to include Education for Ministry (EfM). But aside from EfM, St. Columba’s seems to have it all. (Update: commenter Julia Bailey says they do actually have EfM, I guess it just isn't well-advertised! So, they do quite literally have it all.)

The one thing lacking at St. Columba’s was that no one reached out to li’l ol' visitor me. To some extent, it makes sense. I came in late and just stood in the back, so there was no way most folks would notice me or invite me to coffee hour. Still, this was the first service I have ever attended where no one offered me the peace, not even one of the ushers standing next to me. Given the circumstances, it wasn’t disheartening, but I was a little disappointed.

I don’t like attending coffee hour when I don’t know a single person there, so I rarely attend them here in DC. Today was no exception. Similarly, I rarely take the time to explore the building. What I saw of St. Columba’s was certainly impressive, though. It’s a very large building, and I’m assuming the downstairs had many classrooms. The upstairs had a large lobby – larger than some parish halls – between the Great Hall and the nave, so there was no way you didn’t at least walk through the coffee hour. And those donuts were tempting, but I was late for kayaking with a friend. Pictures of that to come.

There is something to be said for the community and warmth of a small, rural parish, but a large parish like this (yet still much smaller than an icky megachurch) is able to offer many more ministries and opportunities. All in all, it was a very positive experience. Regularly attending or becoming a member of a church in NW DC would be a stretch for someone in NE like me, but if I became a DC resident and were in NW or SW, I would certainly look more into St. Columba’s.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

How dare he not mention Steinbeck

Although he is most known for hosting a fabulous radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor always describes himself as a writer. When asked his profession, he's not a radio host or a stage performer, but always a writer, or unemployed. And indeed, his writing is fabulous. I've read two of his Lake Wobegon books this summer, and am contemplating buying an autographed version of the latest. Always free, however, are his two columns at the show's website. One, "The Old Scout," is a weekly musing, and the other, "Post to the Host," is a Q&A with fans of APHC. This Post to the Host from a couple weeks back made me laugh, and I thought I'd pass it along. If only we could all handle our critics with such grace and humility as this:

[Dear Mr. Keillor,] I was appalled and became disoriented upon hearing you say that Faulkner wrote The Great American Novel. Which would that be? Aside from the fact that we all know Fitzgerald wrote The Great American Novel, I'm not aware that any of Faulkner's dirges have ever even been nominated for the position. I could forgive your naming Twain, or even Toni Morrison, but Faulkner!

Not only might I not listen again to your show, I've begun to doubt now that I've actually ever enjoyed any of them previously. Where you really an English major?

My only hope is that the good people of St. Paul (home of Fitzgerald, of course) will pummel you with new and used copies of The Great Gatsby until you come to your senses.

Walter B.
Austin, TX

This is the finest angry letter I've read in months and it sets a high standard for us all. I've read it over and over with great pleasure. I especially like the "and became disoriented" and the "begun to
doubt....that I've ever enjoyed any of them previously" which are truly original and raise the thing from the usual carping criticism to something like epistolary art.

As for The Great Gatsby, it has its moments, especially in the narrative of Nick Carraway, but the main guy Gatsby is an empty suit and his play for Daisy is rather shallow and adolescent. Dreiser did it so much better in Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Gatsby is still popular in high schools, for good reason, but we did a marathon reading of it here for FSF's centenary and it was sort of embarrassing. Ulysses it ain't. We're proud of him here but we're not deluded. (Gatsby is a slim book and so being pummeld with copies of it is like being pelted with marshmallows.)

Faulkner is such a master and I'd have to think hard about which one is the GAN—maybe Absalom, Absalom—maybe As I Lay Dying. I will try to re-read them this year and report back. Meanwhile, thanks for the letter. It made my day and my day is not so easy to make.

This is taped to my desk at work

Pearls Before Swine; July 29, 2008

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lambeth: I don't know, man, I just don't know

Well, Lambeth is over, and the bishops are either coming home or taking off for some sort of quiet and well-deserved vacation. I don't blame them. Little old blogger me wasn't even there, and yet I too feel wiped out from it all. I also feel as if I also grew from all the dialogue, obviously not from attending Indaba groups and having discussions, but from reading the bishops' blogs and talking with other Episcopalians through their own blogs.

I'm going to refrain from commenting or analyzing the concluding document or the myraid of bishop blog posts, mainly because I don't have any original comments or analysis to provide. In fact, I'm not even sure I have UNoriginal comments or analysis to provide. Quite frankly, I just don't know what to think. I'm still fuming that one of my two bishops was excluded from the Conference, but someone from our office who spent a few days at the Conference told me that even though hundreds of bishops still boycotted, hundreds more would have stayed away had +Gene actually shown up and Lambeth would have been a non-event. He was there, and I guess he would know better than me. He also said that the pro-inclusion groups like Integrity were really in-your-face everywhere you went, and that the same couldn't be said of any other groups, including conservatives. I saw something similar on a bishop's blog somewhere, but can't find the link now. Yett on the other hand, how can you ask the queer community to bear the brunt of our sacrifice if you won't even let them in on the deciding discussion? Jesus was an outcast who suffered great pain for the sake of healing and reconciliation, but he was also present at his own trial, as much of a sham as it may have been. This Pastoral Council and moratoria stuff is also vexing. On the one hand, we can't expect the whole Communion to do a whole 180 on any touchy issue in just ten years, but on the other hand, how can we back away from our own principles? Isn't it fair to say if we're a communion, we must all sacrifice and we must stand for something deeper than just being friendly, but isn't it also important to bring all individuals into God's tent?

So, I just don't know what to think. I'm definently in a liberal direction on this, I just don't know *how* I'm in the liberal direction. The road is chosen, but the car isn't, so to speak. I'll put it on the backburner, I think, until I'm able to talk to my other bishop next month and hear his reflections.

I'll probably take it easy with the blogging for the next few days and just throw up some cool links and pictures I've come across, maybe reflect on the Sunday propers. Hopefully I'll step it up a bit with my reviews of DC churches. At some point, I'll write up my predictions for this year's Senate races and review the new Batman movie, but there's no pressing timetable time horizon. Tomorrow, I'll throw up a Garrison Keillor column that made me smile.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Predicting the Republican Veepstakes: Tim Pawlenty

On Saturday, I wrote about the Democratic veepstakes, sort of predicting Joe Biden but hedging my bets given the recent buzz surrounding Tim Kaine. Today, I’ll tackle the Republicans. The McCain campaign has been even tighter about leaks than the Obama camp, so it’s hard to get a handle on them, but I’ll have some fun anyway. My prediction: John McCain will tap Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and even if he doesn’t, he will NOT, all horse hockey conventional wisdom aside, select former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

Over a year ago, I was telling politically-minded friends that if McCain got the GOP nod, it would be a McCain-Pawlenty ticket. I predicted as much in writing back in May. Then Pawlenty’s chances seemed to dwindle as Governors Mitt Romney (fmr MA), Crist (FL), and Jindal (LA) all rose in stock. But pendulums always swing back, and in the last couple weeks we’ve seen Minnesota polls tightening, Pawlenty change his awful haircut, and Jay Leno riff about the Pawlenty buzz.

If it’s not Pawlenty, my guess is Florida Governor Charlie Crist. At first, despite rampant speculation, I didn’t think it would be Crist, since he’s single and Florida just isn’t as much a swing state as the press likes to say it is. While I still think McCain will win it with minimal effort, it turns out three out of four polls there do mildly favor Obama, and more importantly, Crist flip-flopped on his opposition to offshore drilling immediately after McCain did the same. Hmm, I thought, given how unpopular drilling is in Florida, he sure is taking a risk – maybe he wants the nod more than I thought! Additionally, he recently announced his engagement, erasing his one real liability.

A distant third choice and dark horse, I think, is Dartmouth alum (woohoo!) Rob Portman. Portman has a Bush One-like resume: former Congressman, trade ambassador, and OMB head. He comes from a swing state, Ohio, and is a good fundraiser. Unfortunately for McCain, Portman also has strong Bush ties. Some pundits say Portman would give McCain the economic gravitas he lacks, but others point out that Portman signed off on every one of Bush’s economic policies, and look where that got us. My fourth choice is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. As I wrote about in May, I think McCain really wants to pick Jindal, but since I made that post he has probably been convinced that Jindal is so young that his age, rather than balancing out McCain’s seniority, would highlight it. McCain did visit Jindal a few days ago, but I’m guessing that was a courtesy call to say you’re out, I look forward to working with you as my Attorney General or whatever.

You may have noticed that none of Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, or Eric Cantor made my list. There was buzz about a fresh female Governor from a state like Alaska, but I think the recent Alaska GOP scandals, including one of her own, have probably pushed Palin out of the running. Cantor’s only claim to fame is that he’s a good fundraiser, and yet McCain is doing better on the money front than anyone initially expected, so it’ll probably take more than deep pockets to secure a spot on this ticket after all.

And Romney, oh Romney. Anyone who says McCain needs Romney to unify and excite the Republican base just doesn’t understand the electorate. I have to ask if they paid any attention whatsoever during the primaries. Economic conservatives and religious righties did not support Romney because they like him, but because they thought he was the lesser of ten evils. Let’s remember, this guy didn’t just change his positions on abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage, he changed them just as he was preparing to run for President. Adjusting to new facts is one thing, but to do so on so many issues at a politically opportune time is another. Romney only got the support that he did because people didn’t like Mike Huckabee’s economics or Fred Thompson’s work ethic. His support was part of a disenchanted, fractured base, and as an important piece in the conservative Washington Times noted this week, he does not, new positions aside, offer a path to conservatives’ hearts. What he does offer is an easy, if not entirely accurate, Democratic attack line: at a time when we need economic leadership more than ever, the Republicans have nominated a guy whose idea of a financial miracle is to get ride of jobs and fire people! If you want a good conservative, you go with Crist, Pawlenty, or Jindal. You don’t go with a gay-friendly Mormon (let’s face it, deserved it or not, that doesn’t help him). That leaves Romney with only his good looks and his money, but people see through hair gel, and as noted with Cantor, McCain doesn’t need that money anymore.

Yes, I know that Novak said it will be Romney, no ands ifs or buts. I don’t buy it. I’m sticking with Pawlenty. Anyone in DC, Idaho, or New Hampshire who cares to bet a beer or a lunch over it, just lemmee know.

On another note, it sure is a shame Mike Huckabee pushed himself out of the running embarrassing McCain in Texas and Virginia. I liked him.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

I Miss John McCain

My first real involvement with politics came in 2000 when I was just 12 years old, stuffing neighborhood mailboxes with flyers for John McCain. A year or two later I established my political identity as a Democrat, but continued to admire and support John McCain for many years. Flash forward to today's slightly more knowledgeable (if not more mature) 21-year-old me, and if we had to rerun that 2000 race, I might still support McCain. He was a great man – and I wish he had turned up for the 2008 race.

John McCain has long been known if not as a moderate, at least as a maverick – a man with a remarkable life’s story who stands against corruption and spin and bucks his party on campaign finance reform, torture, how to run the Iraq War, the religious right, tax cuts, the environment, immigration, and even the Swift Boat vets. I remember hearing Joe Biden on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross a few years back. When asked how he would feel about running against John McCain, he said that it would be a race America couldn’t lose. If the 2000 John McCain had shown up, Biden’s analysis would have been correct. I myself donated to McCain’s 2008 primary campaign, figuring that a McCain-Obama race would be one of the most positive, substantive general elections in history. Iraq had me planning on voting for Obama, but I was still looking forward to a campaign that would raise the level of discourse in this country.

Sadly, the John McCain of 1990 and 2000 and even 2004 is nowhere to be seen. Instead of the statesman, scrappy underdog, and happy warrior we had all come to know, we’ve been given an unrecognizable, bitter, jealous old man. A look at his recent behavior:

  • The McCain campaign says that Obama played the race card yesterday, but what Obama actually said was, “What they’re going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he’s not patriotic enough. He’s got a funny name. You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills, you know. He’s risky. That’s essentially the argument they’re making.” All this quote does is point out that race exists, and that there are folks out there who take that into account when they vote, two very true statements. A friend suggested to me that Obama was implying the GOP is the “they” advancing this attack line, but that’s not what McCain said, and even if it were, Obama’s been saying such things since the primary, when his opponents were Democrats. Senator McCain, are you suggesting that race is off limits as a topic, and that Obama isn’t allowed to mention that he’s black even in passing? What, then, would you call his March speech – blind hate?

  • McCain says that, “Sen. Obama has indicated that… he would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.” This implies, of course, that Obama doesn’t really believe what he says about Iraq and the surge – in other words, McCain isn’t just calling him wrong, he’s calling him a liar. That’s an awfully bold statement to make, and to say such things without any evidence to back it up is dishonest, disingenuous, and immoral. McCain, of course, doesn’t have anything to back them up, unless (as I have come to believe) he’s given up his statesman ways and become an ideologue so blinded by his own positions that he considers his views to be facts rather than positions, believing that anyone who disagrees with is either stupid or lying. Obama clearly isn’t stupid, which leaves McCain with only one option to believe. But if this sort of arrogant reflection really is where McCain stands, does he then also believe that the increasingly pro-surge yet still anti-war public is either stupid or lying about its position?

  • McCain says, in a new TV ad, that gas prices are high because the freshman senator from Illinois doesn’t support offshore drilling. Yet according to the Department of Energy, new offshore drilling wouldn’t have a significant impact on gas prices for until the year 2030. You know, Senator McCain, your own party’s leader could open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and you yourself as the standard bearer could tamp down the rhetoric on Iran and join Senator John Warner (R-VA) in pushing for a lower speed limit

  • McCain says that the press is in love with Obama. His implication is that the press shouldn’t cover a historic candidate or newsworthy campaign more than it does an average campaign, and that positive coverage is a bad thing – yet he didn’t seem to have a problem with that kind of coverage back in 2000 when he called the press his base, or even earlier this year when he was raking in the press’ primary endorsements. Yes, this is a double standard, but I think there’s more to it than that. Do I sense… jealousy, perhaps?

  • McCain says that Obama’s crowds are too intense and too big, and that Obama doesn’t have substance to back up the rhetoric. How then, Senator McCain, do you explain the fact that Obama is a former Constitutional Law professor who has more policy papers than you? And would you be upset if that many voters were chanting YOUR name? I attended a New Hampshire primary rally of yours back in January, and I don’t remember you getting angry when your staff led the crowd in chants of “Mac is back.” So here we have another double standard, but could it also be more jealousy?

For the first weeks of the campaign, I felt bad supporting an opponent of the great John McCain. Sure, I was put off by a few of Mac’s statements, but that’s politics for you. As a voter, you just have to roll with it, and my admiration for the tough Navy flyer continued. But with this week’s flap over Obama “playing the race card,” I have finally come to realize, perhaps a bit late, that this isn’t just a campaign shell hiding the McCain we all know. It’s a new McCain, one growing increasingly distraught as he watches his presidential chances fading away into oblivion, one who responds bitterly rather than strongly. It may not be permanent, but it’s not going away until he puts presidential politics behind him once and for all. McCain realized his mistakes in the 2000 South Carolina primary, and I imagine that he will realize his mistakes here one day as well, but by then it will be too little, too late for the rest of us.

I wasn’t expecting this, and I am very disappointed. I miss the real John McCain, the man who wrote all those books about honor and courage, and reflected those values in his political life. I was already going to vote for Obama, but I wasn’t going to feel good about it. Yet just as Hillary Clinton’s campaign tactics moved me from her favorable to her unfavorable column, every day that passes by, my vote becomes a little bit more of a vote against John McCain, without becoming any less of a vote for Obama.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Predicting the Democratic Veepstakes: Tim Kaine vs. Joe Biden

Now here’s a post - predicting the Vice Presidential picks - that I’ve been intending to make for about two weeks now. I regret having not made it earlier, because as news and speculation about the issue heat up, some predictions become more obvious and less gutsy while others grow just plain obsolete. Still, it’s a fun parlor game I’ve been playing with friends in DC bars, and after so much blogging about the Anglican topics GAFCON and Lambeth, it’ll nice to return to my bread and butter with several posts in a row about politics. I’ll speculate about the Democrats today and be a bit gutsier with the Republicans on Monday. After that, I’ll take a break and post an easy vacation piece, then probably return to Anglican rants. Thank Heavens for the August recess and the Olympic Games; these dog days of summer should provide a nice break from keeping up with most things serious.

When I first began planning this post two weeks ago, my prediction for Obama’s VP was the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden (a prediction that, admittedly, could very well be clouded by my own holdover bias from primary season). But then came this week’s shenanigan’s with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine – Obama and Kaine in DC at the same time, a secretive Obama schedule, Kaine dropping seductively positive hints, etc. All of a sudden to suggest that anyone other than Kaine was the front-runner for the position was very foolish indeed, and yet to predict Kaine as a VP wouldn’t be much better than predicting a Bush victory on November 9, 2004. Then just as quickly, halfway through the week, the buzz around Kaine disappeared and he himself start making less suggestive comments. What to make of it all?

I’m going to return to Biden and guess that he and Kaine are probably even favorites. Both seem to be in the running – Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic says the short list being vetted is down to Kaine, Biden, and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius. Politico adds former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn to that last, and the Washington Post has Indiana Senate Evan Bayh rather than Sibelius or Nunn.

I certainly hope it’s Biden. Kaine might not be a negative, but aside from the fact that he’s a Governor, he doesn’t add anything to the ticket, either. His one term as VA Governor doesn’t do much to balance out Obama’s inexperience and certainly doesn’t bring any sort of national security credentials to the ticket. He’s done nothing to make me think he should be first in line to become the party’s standard bearer in four to eight years, and whenever I think of him, I just remember that stupid eyebrow during his 2006 State of the Union response. Furthermore, I was talking to a former DCCC staffer this week who observed that just as Obama failed to win very many of the biggest swing states during the primaries (not that I think that matters), Kaine only won the VA Governorship because of outgoing Governor Mark Warner’s tireless campaign on his behalf. More importantly, Senator Jim Webb and former Governor Mark Warner are much more popular than Kaine, whose support demographics are rather similar to Obama’s anyway. What can Kaine add to the campaign trail that Webb and Warner haven’t already brought?

Biden, on the other hand, would be a great VP and a great VP candidate. Bob Herbert had an excellent column to that effect back in May, and Marc Ambinder as well in July. You want to balance out Obama’s inexperience while still managing to avoid a Beltway mentality? Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years but never lived in DC; he takes the train home to Delaware every night. You want national security credentials? Here’s the Senate’s leading expert on all things Pakistan and the only prominent US politician to propose any kind of a political solution for Iraq. This is the guy who helped convince Bill Clinton to end genocide in the Balkans, and on the domestic side of things, wrote the Violence Against Women Act and the Clinton Crime Law, and also kept Robert Bork off the Supreme Court. You want a compelling life’s story? His first wife and infant daughter died in a car wreck the month after his first election, he himself almost died from two brain hemorrhages in 1988, and his oldest son may soon deploy to Iraq. No, he doesn’t bring along a swing state, but he is a devout Roman Catholic who could help with certain voting blocs. You want a tough campaigner? This is the guy who famously told a Dartmouth audience last fall, “Rudy Giuliani, probably the most under qualified person since George Bush to seek the presidency… I mean think about it, Rudy Giuliani, there's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” And, according to Ambinder, “He's delivered three major foreign policy speeches [this spring], including one… that helped to influence how the Obama campaign frames John McCain's national security judgment.” More recently, Ambinder has also said, “Biden is flashy and might upstage Obama, but he'd be the best sheer campaigner and his selection would bring a jolt of enthusiasm to the Democratic ticket (as if it needed more).

And he’s got buzz – in addition to being on the still-being-vetted-short-list, one of his closest advisors accompanied Obama to Iraq.

Before Alter and Todd reported that the vetting process has narrowed down, I thought that Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed might be a big dark horse candidate. He’s been in the Senate a bit longer than Obama and sits on the Armed Services Committee, so he certainly helps on the experience and national security fronts. “Obama-Reed” has a nice ring to it, and all of a sudden he comes out of nowhere to accompany Obama to Iraq. He’s completely unknown, even to much of the press, but that just gives Obama the chance to roll him out and introduce him however he likes. As soon as I had this thought, Gerald Sieb of the Wall Street Journal said the same thing. But, our dark horse speculation seems to have been all for naught.

That just leaves Sibelius, Bayh, and Nunn. I don’t know much about Sibelius, although “female Midwestern Governor” certainly is an attractive resume. Still, the knock on her is that selecting a woman who isn’t Hillary Clinton would only tick off Clinton’s female supporters, making them feel patronized rather than placated. I can’t say anything negative about Bayh or Nunn’s chances or what they would bring to the ticket, but other than that I hope they don’t get the job. Bayh, a Clinton supporter from a red state with a purple hue, might actually be a good candidate and would probably be the first VP since LBJ in 1960 to truly swing a state, but I met him back in 2005 and was completely unimpressed. He seemed slick, like he was making up his answer to my question about poverty as he went and telling me what he thought I wanted to hear. Nunn, a Southerner with strong national security credentials who left DC a long time ago, might also make for a good ticket, but he doesn’t have the buzz he once had and I’d rather see him as Secretary of Defense anyway.

And what about Hillary Clinton? Well, given how unpopular she can be among Independents and Republican activists who might otherwise stay home, I never thought it would be her. For all her strength in the Democratic primaries, let’s remember that this woman is the Republicans’ biggest fundraiser. And sure enough, now that we’re down to the wire, she’s no longer being vetted and the independent group pushing for her selection has closed its doors. I also never thought it would be the pro-life, anti-tax, anti-gay Chuck Hagel, but was foolish enough to think that Mike Bloomberg had a squeaker of a chance.

On Monday, the Republicans. I’ll be a bit gutsier there and reject the conventional wisdom.