Monday, December 29, 2008

Episcopal College Gathering, Day Two

Today was day two of the national gathering of Episcopalian college students in Estes Park, Colorado, themed “S.E.E. the Light.” We heard two sermons, had a Spanish-language Eucharist, participated in two small discussion group sessions, and attended a workshop. I chose the workshop on prayer. (This picture from Estes Park comes from Wikimedia.)

My day started with breakfast, where I bumped into Mary, the grassroots coordinator for the Episcopal Public Policy Network and one of my supervisors from this past summer. It was really good to catch up. I learned a lot from her about both church and DC politics during the course of my internship.

After breakfast we had Morning Prayer, which was followed by a sermon from Terry Parsons, the Episcopal Church Center’s Program Officer of Diocesan Services. Later, after lunch, we had a Spanish Eucharist with a sermon (in English) from Fr. Michael Battle. Fr. Battle was ordained a priest by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and is currently the “provost and canon theologian for the Diocese of Los Angeles, and priest-in-charge of the Church of Our Savior, San Gabriel.” He is the author of “Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu” which has been on my Amazon.com wish list for quite some time now. (Full speaker bios are online here.)

The Eucharist had some great Prayers of the People, and I’ll try to post a copy here later. Ms. Parsons told a compelling personal story about finding her place in Christ’s light as a Baptist missionary in Kenya, and Fr. Battle outlined various aspects of grace and light. I’m not going to go into great detail about either sermon, as such summaries would only erase nuance. I will only pass along two little nuggets from Ms. Parsons. First, she said that sharing one’s background with others is important so that others can understand why one laughs at things generally considered ridiculous or morose. I like that. Second, in describing her Kentucky background, Ms. Parsons said her father called her family “hillwilliams” rather than “hillbillies” because they tended to finish school. I think that’s funny.

The day’s highlight, for me, was “The Prayer Workshop,” led by Pastor Joel Nau, the Lutheran/Episcopal campus minister at the University of Utah, and Tyler, a senior at Texas State. Joel and Tyler began with by saying the point of prayer is a focus on grace and on finding peace. The 25 or so people in the room all discussed our individual prayer lives, and then Joel and Tyler outlined some basic prayer techniques with continued group input. Several recurring themes during the discussion were TaizĂ© prayer, praying while driving, embodied prayer (the importance of good posture, using the body while walking, etc.), favorite prayer sites, Anglican prayer beads, and the importance of intentionally scheduling regular prayer time (something that, at the personal encouragement of Gene Robinson, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Bishop of Spokane, I have given up trying to do for now). Joel and Tyler discussed lectio divina, free prayer, centering prayer, Labyrinths, and icons.

Early on, Joel said, “I don’t want [this workshop] to be about technique, because it’s about grace.” Still, I would have to say the workshop was about technique. We only discussed the how of prayer, not touching on why we pray or what prayer does beyond the individual experience with grace. There was no discussion of intercessory prayer for others, and we only talked about individual rather than corporate prayer. Still, if I could only choose one thing to focus on, it would be technique, and as a workshop on technique, this was great.

We’ve all been assigned to community groups of about five people. Last night, before I arrived, the groups discussed “what is the light”. This morning, we talked about seeing the light, and tonight, we discussed encountering it. Tomorrow morning we’ll wrap up with embodying the light. I especially enjoyed the morning session. We discussed the questions, “How did you hear about the Episcopal Church?” “If you could be one character in the Bible, who would you be and why?” “What is your favorite story of the Bible and why?” and “What are your gifts?”, among others. The community groups are supposed to be confidential so I won’t describe my groupmates or their answers, but we had a great discussion of why we all enjoy The Episcopal Church. Basically – and this is an answer I hear all the time from Dartmouth Episcopalians – we appreciate that this is a warm church where one can feel comfortable and welcomed. It is not strident, and there is room to grow. That welcome and that room is what young adults need. As the Diocese of Spokane radio ad campaign says, we are “reconnecting the spirit without disconnecting the mind.”

Things wrapped up in free time with a couple rousing rounds of “Telephone Pictionary,” a game I learned just six days ago but is quite fun. Tomorrow’s schedule includes another sermon from Fr. Battle, a sermon from Pastor Joel, one small discussion group, and two more workshops. Right now, however, I’m going to listen to TaizĂ© prayer on my iPod and hit the hay.

Episcopal College Gathering, Day One

I arrived in Estes Park, Colorado last night for the quadrennial Episcopalian college student national gathering, themed “Seek, Encounter, and Embody (S.E.E.) the Light.” The retreat began with dinner, a Eucharist, and small discussion groups, all of which I missed because United Airlines is Satan’s preferred carrier. (A four-hour delay for a two-hour flight, only typical for United!)

I’d estimate that there are about 150 students and chaplains here at the YMCA of the Rockies (which is more like a tourist hotel than a Y). (For pictures, just visit their website, I don't have any yet and when I do they'll just be cell phone shots.) I rode the 1.5 hours from the Denver airport in a van with five students from West Virginia, and share a spacious six-person dorm room with two guys – a Harvard senior from Long Island and a Perdue junior from Puerto Rico by way of Boston. The Perdue student is a 37yo IT guru beginning the discernment process for the priesthood. I’ve really enjoyed talking with both of them about politics, international relations, movies, and discernment.

This is my first time in Colorado, and the mountains are beautiful. Wednesday is our free day, and I’ll either go into town or try some snowshoeing. I must admit, though, that things are a little less spectacular than I might have expected. I think this is for two reasons – one, Estes Park is in a valley surrounded on all sides by mountains, so the view of the Rockies is not a sweeping one, and two, semi-arid pine forests, mountains, and snow are what I know living in Coeur d’Alene, ID, albeit not nearly so grand. The elevation is tough, too – 8,000 feet. I think my previous high was Pinetop, AZ, which clocks in at a mere 6,800 feet. They tell us that caffeine has more of an effect on the body at these elevations, and that it’s easier to get dehydrated quickly. I haven’t noticed that about my coffee, but I’m certainly guzzling more water. I also lose my breath whenever I talk and walk on a slight incline at the same time – I’ve really got to lose some weight.

The weather is a tad freakish. We were told to expect highs around 40 and lows around 20 with wind chills of below zero. There’s a high wind warning for tonight with possible gusts of 80mph. So far, though, it’s been rather warm – up around 40 just as I’d grown used to Coeur d’Alene’s 10 – with large patches of snow but large patches of dirt, as well.

While my own day one was little more than a night-time drive in from Denver, day two was great, and I’ll hopefully have that post up soon.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Three Stars for “Valkyrie”

The new Tom Cruise World War II movie, “Valkyrie,” has gotten mixed reviews. Some critics say it’s a good film that overcomes its flaws, others that it’s a pointless movie with a flat performance from Cruise. To be sure, the trailer and poster are pretty awful. I braved it last night only because of its interesting premise, and was pleasantly surprised. While I wouldn’t say the film is Oscar-worthy, it’s certainly worth the student price of admission, and I give it three out of four stars.

Writer Christopher McQuarrie says he and director Bryan Singer aren’t gunning for an Oscar and just wanted to make a fun thriller. In that, they succeeded. Asks McQuarrie, "What more do you need than a bunch of Germans trying to kill Hitler?" Apparently not much. Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, who joins a group of high-ranking German officers in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler, subdue the SS, take over the German government, and negotiate a truce with the Allies. (Read about the true historical story at Wikipedia.) Cruise’s performance wasn’t great, but it was good. In the trailers his acting looks overly dramatic and his eye patch ridiculous, but he’s actually quite believable. No, he doesn’t get lost in his character and you never forget you’re watching an actor, but I’m not going to pan a film just because its cast isn't transcendent. Good isn’t bad just because it’s not great; it’s still good. I think the critics who have given Cruise's performance negative reviews either came in looking for a reason to pan him or just couldn't get the taste of the awful publicity campaign out of their mouths.

What impressed me most about the film was that it kept the viewer in suspense for the entire second half, which isn’t easy to do. The plot is a bit like “Titanic” – what’s the point of the movie when we already know the ending? The boat sinks! One could easily ask a similar question of “Valkyrie” – what’s the point of the movie when we already know how the assassination attempt ends? It fails and Hitler offs himself ten months later! Yet “Valkyrie” overcomes this trap and builds to not just a compelling climax but a suspenseful one. It also answers the similar question, why make a movie about a failed attempt? At one point, Cruise’s von Stauffenberg says something to the effect of wanting the rest of the world to know that not all Germans were like Hitler, that there were good people as well. The movie ends with a quote from a Berlin memorial to the would-be-assassins that says there story is worth telling – and it is.

This is not to say that the movie is perfect; I have at least three complaints. One, there wasn’t much in the way of character development – we got to know a little about Col. von Stauffenberg and Gen. Friedrich Fromm, but no one else. Two, the first half hour or so was very choppy. The story moved along very quickly without much real development; it felt like the viewer had been lassoed and was being dragged along over some very rough and bumpy spots. Fortunately, things got much better after that first half hour. Three, and this is a common complaint about the movie, there was no consistency to the accents. All the characters were German and the movie was shot in English, but some of the Germans spoke with a German accent, others British, and others American. I wouldn’t have minded the British or American accents if only they were consistent – speak whatever accent you want, just have everyone speak it. My friend Oliver observed that, for the most part, the bad Germans (Hitler’s inner circle and the like) had the German accents and the good Germans (the would-be-assassins) had the British and American accents. Propaganda, literary device, or coincidence? You decide.

Obviously, all three of these shortcomings are the fault of director Singer and writer McQuarrie, not of the more high-profile Cruise. Still, I applaud all three. It’s rare for a modern blockbuster to provoke stimulating intellectual discussions, but after the movie I went to Denny’s with my friends Josi and Oliver and we had a lengthy, stimulating conversation about the meaning of personal honor, as prompted by the one of the characters’ suicide. I thought we'd be more likely to discuss that great classic moral quandry, "If you time-traveled and had the chance, would you kill Hitler?" but all of us were fairly quick to similar answers.

I’m still hoping to see “Doubt,” “Frost/Nixon,” and maybe “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but of the three movies I have seen so far this holiday season – “Quantum of Solace” (James Bond), “Seven Pounds” (Will Smith), and “Valkyrie,” “Valkyrie” is the best. It was a nice surprise, and I recommend it. Three out of four stars.

500!

This is the 500th post at Wayward Episcopalian! Woohoo!

Oh, and merry fourth day of Christmas!

Off to Colorado

I'm heading to Estes Park, Colorado this afternoon for the quadrennial national gathering of Episcopal college students, officially titled "S.E.E. the Light - 2008 Gathering of Episcopal College and University Students".

My thanks to the Diocese of New Hampshire and Province One for their financial assistance, making this trip almost free of charge. I'm very excited - this will be my first time in Colorado, but if it's anything like I expect, then I know I'm going to love it and find it right up my alley. The conference itself is themed “Seek, Encounter, and Embody (S.E.E.) the Light” and will feature worship, workshops, and speakers on a wide variety of themes relevant to youth and faith. I’m hoping to attend the workshop on Christian sexual ethics and the panel on discernment, as well as whatever else the schedule permits. There should also be snowshoeing, fun fun.

I'm not sure what our Internet access will be like. If it's any good, I'll try to post daily updates about the conference. If it's not, you can expect a general report after I get back on Jan. 1. Also look for a review of the new WWII movie "Valkyrie" set to post this evening.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Brad Pitt wrecked my car

Ok, so maybe "wrecked" is too strong a word. But I do jokingly blame him, and more specifically, his new movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," for my only fender-bender to date.

Long time readers of this blog will know that for its first year, I focused almost exclusively on Katrina recovery. The blog started as a personal journal of my three month stint in fall 2006 as an intern with the Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response. I lived at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church on Carrollton Avenue and drove a car loaned to me by my deacon boss. All was well, at least until November when Brad Pitt came to town.

What brings this to mind now, over two years later, is yesterday's release of the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." This movie, starring Pitt, was filmed in my part of town. It was pretty cool to see dozens of vintage 1930s cars parked along St. Charles Avenue each night, but the traffic snarls the film created just weren’t worth it, especially once filming moved to Carrolton Avenue, right in front of St. Andrew's. Carrollton is a major road, and all its traffic was moved to side-streets which were way too small and bumpy to handle that many cars – many of them still pockmarked with hurricane potholes. While I was driving home on one of these roads, Short Street, a large van failed to give me my right of way and I had to pull over to avoid him – right into a parked car. (I readily admit that my defensive skills were not at their finest that day, and I should have stopped a few seconds earlier. That having been said, he was the only one who actually broke the law.)

Fortunately, Deacon Quin's car just lost some rearview mirror glass and passenger door paint, but the scrape did in one of the parked car's panels. The owner turned out to be a Loyola University law student who was very grateful that I had told him what happened rather than just driven off, so we had iced tea and cookies on his steps as we waited for the police – who never actually came. We wound up flagging down an office on routine patrol four hours after I called 911, and he gave me a ticket despite the fact that the cop guarding Benjamin Button said there probably wouldn't be one. (That opened up a whole ‘nother can of worms with the post-storm New Orleans justice system, but that’s another story.) To avoid an insurance mess, I paid for the damage to the guy's car out of pocket, which was harder than it should have been since the mechanic we got was a little shady (but I prevailed, yay bartering!).

Should I blame myself? Perhaps. Should I blame the guy in the van who didn't give me my right-of-way? Most definitely. But do I? No. I blame Brad Pitt. He’s done miracles for New Orleans and the Lower Ninth Ward, so God love ‘im and all he does, but if not for that movie I never would have been on Short Street in the first place.

To see or not to see? That is the question.

(Picture Credit. For more information about Pitt's work on Katrina recovery, visit makeitrightnola.org.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

From Day One: Christmas Redemption in Scripture

I posted these thoughts last year at Christmas, but thought I might repost them again this year with some slight edits.

May I write in the name of God, who is Creator, Liberator, and Sanctifier.

Throughout his life, Christ stood up to oppressive rulers and brought people from all walks of life together as equals. By forgiving our sins in the streets and fields, Christ brought down the corrupted Pharisees who told us we had to go to the Temple and submit to its powerful priests for confession and redemption. He treated women with respect, whether at the home of Mary and Martha or at the well with the Canaanite woman. Walter Wink tells us that part of the Sermon on the Mount taught people how to stand up to their Roman oppressors. There is, of course, more to Christ’s mission than just this - there is grace, salvation, love - but all too often, Christian communities forget their duty to stand up to abuses of money and power and to put God's children, every last one, first. And it turns out that that’s part of the Christmas story, too. This first occurred to me last December as I read the Rev. John Jennings' reflections on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas cautions:

We are also told that there were witnesses from the fields, shepherds taken by surprise by the news from the angels, rushing down from the hillsides, wondering in awe and then going back to their sheep, transformed by the coming of the baby.

The Wise Men were witnesses of the opposite kind. They were careful, calculating, educated men who think that they begin to discern God’s imminent arrival and who blunder their way across the region until they find what they think they’ve been seeking. They, too, go back transformed.

These are the really important bits of the story.

Though it is the transformation that is Rev. Jennings’ focus, what jumped out at me was his use of the word “educated.” The Wise Men may not actually have been kings, but they were educated and well-respected. As astrologers, they may have belonged to some king’s court. Regardless of how you spin it, they certainly seem to have been respectable members of the upper class, something poor shepherds sleeping in a remote field most certainly were not.

We all know that Jesus came for everyone, that Galatians says in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, no male or female, no slave or free. We should pause more often, I think, to reflect upon the meaning of those words. Christ views all as equal, and He came for all. The divisions that we put up, divisions of race, income, class, education, and more, are false and to reinforce them is to mock all that Christianity stands for. To be truly Christian, we must stand up to these divisions and do whatever we can to break them down - culturally, socially, and even politically. We see this from day one of Christ’s time on earth: both the rich wise men and the poor shepherds came to see the Christ-child and stand before Him as equals. They were all filled with the same wonder and joy, no distinction was made between them.

From day one. This means that the Nativity is not just a story in and of itself, but that it also sets the tone for everything that is to come. One reason so many Jews rejected Christ as a Messiah, as a Savior, is His humble beginning. We expect our king to be born a king and behave like a king, not to roll around in smelly hay with peasant parents. But for me, this makes Him all the holier. What kind of a Messiah can truly save a people without uniting them? How can He appeal to the poor if they cannot identify with Him first? As the Archbishop said, we may not know the precise circumstances of Jesus’ birth. There might not have three wise men and they probably weren’t kings, the birth likely happened in the spring rather than in December, and the words “inn” and “virgin” may well be mistranslations. Some call this blasphemous historical revisionism, but I say, who cares? What matters is not that we have a pretty image for our Hallmark cards, but that Christ had humble beginnings, setting the tone for His entire mission.

In her song of praise, the Magnificat, Mary says of God, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” This is not an attack on or indictment of the rich or powerful, but it is an indication that the strong should not prey on the weak, and that God sees no difference from one person to the next. The former rector at Dartmouth’s St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Fr. Henry Atkins, says if we are to try to be Christlike, shouldn’t we do what we can to identify those mighty and lift up those lowly in a modern context, to level the playing field? From the very beginning, Christ came to smash oppression and reconcile us in love and equality.

In fact, not only did Christ identify with the poor and bring them together with the educated on day one, He started fulfilling Mary’s prophesy and standing up to the mighty before even uttering His first words. King Herod wanted to kill the little guy, but Mary and Joseph did not submit to their ruler’s authority. They heeded Gabriel’s warning and fled to Egypt. Thus, the conflict between the new king of grace and the oppressive kings of old was set from day one. For the first and last time, here was a king worth submitting to, a king actually worth the surrender of our free will! From day one!

Yes, the spirit of Christmas is found in the angel’s message to the shepherds, in Mary pondering those shepherd’s words in her heart, and in the praise and worship the astrologists gave to Jesus. It is found in the cattle's lowing and in the baby’s coo. But lest we forget, it is also found in the Magnificat, in the flight to Egypt, and above all, in the coming together of Luke’s shepherds and Matthew’s wise men.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Policy papers on the Indian Health Service and affordable housing now available from EPPN

At long last, the website of the Episcopal Public Policy Network (EPPN) includes some papers I wrote while interning there this past summer. Among EPPN's many other wonderful resources are informative background papers on policy issues that the group has worked on. Although all papers are attributed to the Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations, I wrote the new papers about affordable housing and the Indian Health Service (IHS). Here is an excerpt from the latter:

For over two centuries, large discrepancies in health have existed between American Indians and the rest of the nation. Mortality rates for diabetes, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, pneumonia, influenza, SIDS, and alcoholism are all significantly higher among Indians than the general population. Because of the federal government’s special trust relationship with Indian tribes, the United States has an obligation to provide for Indian health. Since its creation in 1954, the Indian Health Service (IHS) has successfully raised Indian life expectancy by 8 years and significantly reduced the rate of many diseases. Unfortunately, if current health conditions are to be improved, IHS will need both large funding increases and a serious administrative overhaul....

In order to erase the discrepancy between Indian health and that of the rest of the country, the Episcopal Church supports dramatic increases in IHS funding, expanding IHS services, and extending IHS authorizations. Legislation accomplishing most of these goals has been introduced in Congress every year since 2001 but none has passed. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008), that legislation is the Indian Health Care Improvement Act Amendments of 2008. Although it is unlikely that Congress will vote on this bill in 2008, it has come closer to passage than any similar legislation since 2000. It is hoped that similar legislation will pass the 111th Congress (2009-2010).

The full paper includes detailed numbers about specific diseases and their historical causes, more information about how IHS works, and what specficially the proposed legislation would do.

Right on, Zak

My old friend Zak includes the following in a list of things he finds distasteful, over at Dartblog:

Statements like: “that Bio exam raped me” or “I got raped by my Gov’t paper.” To readers outside the Dartmouth campus it may certainly be shocking and unbelievable that students would say something like this. While I have only ever heard girls use this language, I would not be surprised if guys also, equally inappropriately, used the phrase. Especially over the past few terms I have been at school such casual use of ‘rape’ has become much more common. I certainly don’t think it does justice to the gravity of this terrible crime to toss the term about so glibly, comparing it to school a school paper or test, however difficult.

All too often people fail to understand the power of words, and so disrespect that power, and that's a cryin' shame.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It’s the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and Mary said yes

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B:
Old Testament: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm: Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
New Testament: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38

May I write in the name of God, who is Creator, Liberator, and Sanctifier.

Here in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, we saw 28 inches of snow in 24 hours on Wednesday and Thursday, with more yesterday and today and even more still to come. It’s no surprise, then, that I got my family’s ’93 Honda Accord stuck on an unplowed side street Friday while picking up a friend for lunch – even though I had gone to my friend’s house straight from having studded tires put on the car. Fortunately, the couple whose house we were stuck in front of said yes when I asked if I could borrow their shovel, and even helped push the car as my friend floored the gas. As we drove off, we came across another stranded driver whose phone was broken, so of course I stopped and lent him mine. How could I say no to him after someone else had said yes to me?

Today’s Gospel is that familiar passage from Luke where the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her of her coming child. She is perplexed and afraid, but like my friend’s neighbors, said yes and accepted the challenge: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Mary said yes, and how tough that must have been! Can you imagine being in her shoes? We’ve got to remember, Mary is no 25-year-old homemaker eager for childbirth and motherhood. She was more than likely a rebellious older teenager, barely out of childhood herself, no life’s experience whatsoever, betrothed to an old man who was probably not of her own choosing. All of a sudden, this angel shows up, an ANGEL, a messenger OF GOD HIMSELF fuhcryinoutloud, and tasks her not with raising a child or correcting her local rabbi on some minor theological point, but of raising the ULTIMATE child, God’s only Son, the biggest rabbi of all, the Messiah Himself! You think you felt pressure raising your kids, worrying about every little germ, life’s lesson, or development issue? Just think about how that would have felt if you knew the kid were the world’s only Messiah! What enormous responsibility not to screw it up!

But Mary did not weep, nor did she buckle under pressure. She didn’t pull a Moses and point to her sibling, saying “Make her do it instead!” She didn’t even say, “Thy will be done, but please let my will be thy will.” No, she simply said yes.

Great things happen when we learn to say yes, but saying yes is a lot tougher than saying no. “No, I don’t want to go out today” lets us stay in our recliners at home, watching the Dallas Cowboys whup-up on the New York Giants (heck yeah they did!). It’s saying “yes” that pushes us out of our comfort zones. Last weekend’s News From Lake Wobegon was about just that – when you are young, you are obligated to attend awful plays and concerts at your nephew’s elementary school or to shop at stifling church bazaars. This changes as you age, for you are able to use excuses like bad knees or small patches of ice that don’t really hinder you, but you can convincingly pretend that they do and stay home, where you want to be, out of the cold, without offending anyone.

But I have to add to GK’s monologue, what if the year you claimed to fear the ice was the one year your knobby-kneed awkward little niece finally found her voice, and nailed “O Holy Night” more beautifully than even Pavarotti? Or what if someone had donated a record to the bazaar, maybe something from Dean Martin, and it was exactly like a copy your late older sister had given you that you had lost long ago, and now miss terribly as it would be something to remember her by? Great things can happen when we say yes – we catch that rare performance, and find that it’s worth all the garbage we had to wade through for it; we find that record, and the tears warm our cheeks from the cold.

Last month, I posted a reflection from a family friend named Jamie, who along with her husband had sheltered a man who had no home after seeing his St. Bernard puppy walking along the road. A puppy like her own opened Jamie’s heart and allowed her to say yes to a child of God in need. This incident had a profound effect on Jamie, who has spent the last two weeks helping run the local warming center, for which St. Luke’s Episcopal Church serves as a backup. Temperatures here in Coeur d’Alene this month have rarely crawled above 15 degrees, and there are many in the region with no home or without reliable heating who need a place to warm up and grab some hot cocoa at 3am when the mercury drops to five below. Sitting with the unwashed homeless for hours on end with a nasty, snowy, 20-minute drive between you and home is enough to push just about anyone out of their comfort zone, but Jamie is still willing to say yes. As a result, God’s love has been shown to countless children of Coeur d’Alene this month.

There is movie currently in theaters, called “Yes Man” and starring Jim Carrey, about just this. The trailers don’t look particularly appetizing so I have no plans to see or recommend the movie, but its plot could not be more timely for Advent: a negative man who always says no, shooting down ideas in the workplace and refusing to try new things for himself, is put under a spell where he can only say “yes,” turning his whole life around.

My prayer for us as a society is that we learn to go beyond our personal comfort zones and say “yes” rather than “no.” We’ve got to donate amounts to charity that we don’t think we can afford; we’ve got to spend personal time with the invisible among us who feel forgotten. What would our world be like if Martin Luther King Jr. had told his fellow Alabama clergymen no, you may not use my church basement for your planning meetings, it’s too risky? What would our world be like if William Wilberforce had told Thomas Clarkson no, slavery may be wrong but my career is too important and I won’t join you in your abolitionist cause? What would it be like if St. Thomas had told Christ no, I don’t think your scars are real, and I will not spread your church to Asia?

And what would it be like if Mary had said no to Gabriel?

More North Idaho Winter Wonderland

These two goregous photographs, of Coeur d'Alene's Tubbs Hill and the famous Floating Green, come from Kerri Thoreson's OnLocation North Idaho. Beautiful, just beautiful. I am so blessed to live here and to be able to return throughout the year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Calling all college-aged New England Episcopalians

I e-mailed the following to the Dartmouth Episcopal campus ministry list a few days ago, but it's pertinent to all Episcopal college students (and friends!) from across the northeast:

Hey, everyone, Nathan '09 here. Hope your Advent break is a blessed one, and that you’re staying warm (or, if you’re a skier/snowboarder, cold). This is an early note to say: save the date! Provincial Gathering will be February 20-22, 2009.

ProvGat is the annual retreat for Episcopal college students, chaplains, and friends from across the church's Province One, ie, New England. As in years past, we will gather at the beautiful Barbara C. Harris Conference Center in southern New Hampshire for a wonderful weekend of wonder, worship, workshops, and snow (I couldn't think of a word for snow that starts with "w"). Our retreat leader will be Brother Timothy Solverson, SSJE, and one of the workshops will be led by yours truly. Liz and I are both on the planning committee, and we’d love to have a sizable Dartmouth contingent. If you think Edge retreats are fun, just wait until you try a ProvGat!

For further details, search Facebook for “ProvGat 2009” or visit http://www.ssje.org/ and http://www.bchcenter.org/. More information coming soon!

Wishing you a blessed Advent and (eventually) a merry Christmas,
Nathan Empsall ‘09

PS. On a separate but related note: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKk9rv2hUfA.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Some investments never go bad



H/T DFO@HBO

Please welcome to the blogroll...

(drumroll please)

...JBelle's (or jb3ll3) Notes from The 'Kan Ewa and Andrew Seal's Blographia Literaria! Or at least, welcome them to the frontpage of my blog... blogrolling.com is having some issues, but once they get things straightened out, you'll find JBelle on my Inland Northwest blogroll and Seal on my Dartmouth blogroll.

I've seen JBelle around the comment section of the North Idaho blog Huckleberries Online for quite some time, and feel quite neglectful that I am only now adding her to me own blogroll. Seal's Blographia Literaria has also been around for some time, since March 2007. He graduated from Dartmouth in June '07, where I knew him as Editor-in-Chief of the Dartmouth Free Press and blogmeister of the now-defunct Little Green Blog. His "new" blog is a well-written and thoughtful literature review, with a few odd comments about politics and culture. I must confess that I don't read it regularly, but that's only because high-brow literature is not really my thing - I stick to Sedaris-type humor and political stuff. If, however, you're an English major or just someone who likes the heavy literature, I can tell that Seal's is a blog for you. And he's just a smart guy in general, so his political musings are certainly worth a look-see as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Snow Storm 2008 Pictures

Although mine aren't nearly as interesting or action-oriented as the ones you'll find from the Spokesman Review, I've uploaded about 50 photos from my house of today's monstrous snowstorm to Flickr.com. The good news about the storm is that baby brother made it home safe driving through the snow from Boise, ID. Here are a few of the photos, as well as a couple cell phone videos (they can only be 14 seconds long) of my dog playing in the backyard. Oh, and the temperature when I took these? A balmy 15 degrees.



He's got a little captain in 'im! (This is under trees, btw, so the snow isn't as deep here.)






More at Flickr. Also, I'm not the only person uploading CDA snow pics at Flickr - here are some from of the downtown Christmas lights at the beginning of the storm last night.

Snow Day in North Idaho, and then some

There's been so much snow here in north Idaho and in nearby Spokane that it's a new 24-hour record: 28 inches, 12 more than the previous 1955 record. I'll have pictures of the area around my house up soon (Update: they're now posted and viewable, as well as video), but the Spokesman Review has a wonderful online gallery from across the region, where the three photos in this post came from. I don't believe my mother has ever had a snow day from work before, but there was at least a foot of unplowed snow on our (fairly major residential) street here in when she got up this morning, and it's still coming down at 4pm. I have to laugh every time the newspaper posts a new cancellation report, because just face it: EVERYTHING is canceled, and will be again tomorrow. City offices, schools, roads, two of Spokane's three malls, and on and on. The freeway is open, but only barely; policy are only responding to emergency calls and have asked everyone to stay home. The CDA deputy city administrator said the storm "is absolutely off the Richter scale." Follow breaking news at the Spokesman Review's new breaking news blog, which includes video.

It sounds like yesterday was actually worse for wrecks - makes sense, since more people were on the roads. I did some driving then and the slick conditions were the worst I've seen in a long time. Here's today's slightly calmer police scanner traffic report from Dave Oliveria. The one at 10:51am is my favorite:

2:39 p.m. Lights not recycling @ Sherman Avenue & Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive.

2:13 p.m. Woman at Lake Villa reports that her ex-boyfriend is sitting in his snow-covered Pontiac Grand Am at the entrance to the apartments, possibly drinking.

1:57 p.m. A semi truck has jackknifed on Lincoln Way, south of Ironwood Drive, and is blocking the southbound lanes. (Officer is seeking a tow truck than can handle a truck with a trailer load of 15,000 pounds.)...

1:18 p.m. Traffic lights aren’t recycling in two directions at the Pleasant View intersection.

10:51 a.m. Private Plower: “We finally got in there and plowed that area — dogs, cats, sprinkler heads and all. You can get about 3 or 4 cars in there now. We’ll assess the damage in the spring.”

10:41 a.m. Woman in a car with children is stuck in the middle of an I-90 on-ramp in Coeur d’Alene area, blocking traffic.

10:39 a.m. 2-car T-bone accident @ 95 & Hanley. Extrication not needed. But the locks in one car are jammed. So people are stuck inside.

8:39 a.m. White pickup w/studs traveling 55-60 miles an hour w/b on I-90 @ Huetter, causing hazard w/speed.

8: 34 a.m. Patrol officer and another car was almost hit head on by two trucks traveling in excessive speed on Highway 41.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

ACOE Denies Responsibility in New Orleans

This was originally posted at 7:02pm, but it's Thursday morning and I'm bumping it up since it only got 25 minutes at the top of the page yesterday.

At least two Army Corps of Engineers employees have been harrassing NOLA blogger Sandy Rosenthal, founder of levees.org, for suggesting the Corps built faulty levees in New Orleans. Never mind the scientific evidence, these employees have left comments on Rosenthal's page calling her and other Louisiana residents "stupid," accusing them, without any supporting evidence, of blocking the Corps' work.



While the Corps originally seemed like it would be the one and only government agency to step up and take responsibility, it has since backed away from its original admissions of fault. As you saw in this video, the Corps' response to Rosenthal's accusations - claiming just one employee is at fault (despite Rosenthal's evidence to the contrary) and refusing to take action to stop such abuse of government computers - is just more of the same, part of a long pattern of denying responsiblity and ducking accountablity. It would not be hard for the Corps to stop their employees from harassing Rosenthal; the House of Representatives bars House employees from editing Wikipedia, and I can only think of one or two violations, so such internal fed policing has been done before.

Obama promises to restore First Nation treaty rights

From President-elect Obama's press conference today announcing Colorado's Senator Ken Salazar as his pick for Secretary of the Interior comes this nugget:

Among the many responsibilities Ken will bear as our next secretary of the Interior is helping ensure that we finally live up to the treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans. We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship. And Ken and I will work together to make sure that tribal nations have a voice in this administration... And one of the qualities that I so admire in Ken is his ability to listen and to bring all parties together. When I was campaigning out west, one of the things you heard again and again was state/local officials, farmers, ranchers feeling that the Washington bureaucracy didn't hear what was taking place. Native American tribes felt that they had no access. And to have somebody like Ken in this position who is going to be able to, I think, communicate the concern of... our administration to people who are seeing what's happening on the ground, that'll make an extraordinary difference.

The best part of this is that it was part of Obama's prepared text, given as his own unprompted message rather than merely in response to a related question. I would rather see the Bureau of Indian Affairs turned into its own Cabinet department rather than being shoved in with the larger land management bureaucracy, as NM Governor and Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson had promised to do during his own presidential campaign, but this high-profile recognition of tribes as nations is still a very positive sign and a step in the right direction. I'm also thrilled that at least three mountain west states - New Mexico, Arizona, and now Colorado - will be represented in Obama's cabinet.

For more information about Salazar and a video of the press conference, which also included the announcement that former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack will be Secretary of Agriculture, see this article from the New York Times.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Message from the Diocese of Louisiana

Here's the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster's December newsletter. It contains a message from the Bishop of Louisiana and some helpful links; you can join the list for yourself here.

Dear Friends,

Greetings to you this Advent season from the Diocese of Louisiana's Office of Disaster Response. As you know, for the past three and a half years, we have been called into uncharted territory after Hurricane Katrina turned our lives upside down.

Episcopal Relief & Development gave us grants to set up ODR after Katrina, and since then, the Episcopal Church has become a leader and a trusted voice in the recovery.

But our ministry will cease if we are unable to raise sufficient funds to support this holy work. We must raise $500,000 by the end of the year, and we are almost halfway there. We ask that you consider helping us to continue our vital ministries in south Louisiana.

You may have heard that last week I announced my intention to retire as the Bishop of Louisiana effective December 31, 2009. But, I want to assure you of my continued commitment to our beloved diocese and to ODR's work beyond that date. There is much work to be done.

I discern God's call to continuing concern for and involvement with the social apostolate of the Church across Louisiana. In such ministries I find energy, excitement and satisfaction. I pray that God will enable me to continue to give myself to the work of a newly constituted Episcopal Community Services in Louisiana.

Please join me in working to support the work that we have done so far. So much remains to be done, and we cannot get there alone.

May God's richest blessings be upon you this holy season.

+Charles E. Jenkins

*Hurricane Season 2008 Update
*In the News
*A Thank You to Our Volunteers
*Bundles of Hope
*Ministry by the Numbers

Thank you so much for your support this Advent season. Have a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year! To learn how you can help, please visit www.odr.edola.org.

Sincerely,
Carrie Crockett
Office of Disaster Response
Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana

Monday, December 15, 2008

Musical Chairs at MSNBC

Last Sunday, NBC News officially announced that chief White House correspondent and host of MSNBC’s "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue" David Gregory would take over “Meet the Press” from temporary host Tom Brokaw, who’s been filling in for the late Tim Russert. Yesterday, it was announced that David Shuster will take over 1600. I’m unenthusiastically neutral about the former choice, but downright disappointed in the latter.

The new star at NBC News is political director Chuck Todd. I respect Todd, who first came to my attention in 2006 when he was editor of the National Journal’s Hotline. A number of my political junkie friends were hoping he would take over Meet, but I didn’t think that would ever happen. True, Todd is clearly the only talking head out there who comes close to possessing Russert’s vast array of political knowledge and understanding. He doesn’t lose his head in bouts of dreamy fantasy like Chris Matthews, he’s not a pundit like Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow, and he’s not a make-your-point-by-screaming-louder cable hack like Shuster, or again, Matthews. The problem is, he’s an analyst, not an interviewer. Meet the Press is basically an interview show and Todd has no interview experience, so hoping he’d be the host was unrealistic. As such, I was hoping that NBC would tap chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell to run the program. She’s sub-hosted it before, is a decent reporter with a lot of insider knowledge, and has a lot of gravitas. Plus, she’d be the first woman to host a Sunday morning talk show. I was originally pulling for PBS’ Gwen Ifill, but she bombed as moderator of the VP-debate. The problem with Gregory is that, while he was better than anyone else in the White House press room at grilling press secretaries Scott McLellan and Tony Snow, his questions as a prime-time host were lukewarm at best, and he often seems a little self-absorbed.

While I was at first disappointed in the Gregory pick, I realized that the new prime-time opening might clear the way for Todd to take over and get some real interview experience, allowing him to be the NEXT next host of MTP. Alas, the Shuster announcement squashed that hope.

There are other people I wouldn’t mind seeing in primetime. CNN’s David Gergen has served multiple presidents in both parties and is generally above the cable news fray, so would be good at hosting a prime-time show on the presidency. Or again, Mitchell has gravitas. But Shuster? Really? Talk about your typical cable hack.

As television news goes – and that’s quite the low standard – I like NBC. They’ve got Todd, Brian Williams, the Russert legacy, Morning Joe, and Keith Olbermann (who manages to stay more grounded in facts than the Michael Moores and Sean Hannities of the world). Shuster, however, is no crowning jewel. Like Matthews and Pat Buchanan, he’s the muck you’ve got to wade through to enjoy the rest. Not only did he call Hillary Clinton a “pimp” for letting her adult daughter campaign for her, he’s just plain smug, no better in approach or style than the superficial screamers, as you can see from this clip (stop interrupting the Congresswoman already!), this clip (calm down and interview people who matter!), or this clip (stop shouting!). The guy’s a lousy pundit, not a good journalist. MSNBC has talent, but as long as it thinks it needs to be a liberal Fox News, not just in content but also in style, it will never live up to that promise.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Books and toys for Christmas

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: books for your immediate family and toys for God's extended family.

Roy Blount, Jr., who many of us know primarily for his appearances on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," has some great ideas for gifts this holiday season. H/T James Fallows:

I've been talking to booksellers lately who report that times are hard. And local booksellers aren't known for vast reserves of capital, so a serious dip in sales can be devastating. Booksellers don't lose enough money, however, to receive congressional attention. A government bailout isn't in the cards.

We don't want bookstores to die. Authors need them, and so do neighborhoods. So let's mount a book-buying splurge. Get your friends together, go to your local bookstore and have a book-buying party. Buy the rest of your Christmas presents, but that's just for starters. Clear out the mysteries, wrap up the histories, beam up the science fiction! Round up the westerns, go crazy for self-help, say yes to the university press books! Get a load of those coffee-table books, fatten up on slim volumes of verse, and take a chance on romance!

I would also draw your attention to this post from James at The Three Legged Stool, who writes about one of my favorite charities, Toys for Tots:

I grew up in a family that was, to be honest, economically less than blessed. As children and teenagers, we really didn't know we were on the poor side of life. The "poor" were those we took meals to, or went over and helped in other ways. Mom and dad always found a way to see we had something to make our eyes light up Christmas morning. I don't know how they did it, to be honest. Our gifts were never extravagant, but no one we knew ever got anything extravagant. There were always the dreaded socks, too, to our regret.

I just saw that the USMC's Toy's for Tots is about 25,000 toys short of their typical stockpile at this time of year. The toy bank in my local community has received requests form 700 additional families than it normally receives... Ask your coworkers to help. Skip lunch today or tomorrow and give that money to make a child's eyes light up on Christmas morning. A child you will never know, a young person who will never be able to thank you. Trust me, you won't miss the few dollars.

Adults understand, but children and teenagers do not understand why there is nothing under the tree.

For more information, run a Google news search for "Toys for Tots shortage." I couldn't find anything on a national shortage, but there were articles from around the country - the Boston suburbs; northern CA; Honoloulu; Lehigh, PA - about local shortage after local shortage.

James is right. Times are tough for everyone, but they're tougher on some than others. Toys for Tots were set up at the front of my local grocery store on Friday, so having just read James' post, I bought a $9 stuffed monkey along with my beer and vegetables. $9 - that's half a CD, two lattes, or one dollar less on gifts for nine other people - to put a smile on a little boy or girl, maybe six years old, who maybe hasn't smiled in quite some time. No matter how tough times may be, any middle class family can find an extra $10 to help your younger brother or sister in Christ. There is no reason charities should suffer from an economic downturn when they are needed more than ever. And if you really can't find the $10, that's ok; maybe you can find the time to be one of those folks at the front of the store collecting the toys.

What kind of neighbors are we if we don't?

SNL's "It's a Wonderful Life" Lost Ending

NBC aired "It's a Wonderful Life" last night, which brought to mind this old chestnut from Saturday Night Live, in which Mr. Potter gets his. If you despised Mr. Potter's cold black heart, then you'll love this, but I must warn you, it contains violence. William Shatner opens the sketch, and Dana Carvey does a spot-on James Stewart.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Meet Jenn Bandy

Jennifer Bandy is a nationally-ranked shooter, an honors Government student, and president of the Dartmouth College Republicans. She is also my oldest friend at Dartmouth. We met at a Georgetown University summer program for high school kids when we were rising high school seniors. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned her on this blog.

Last month’s edition of Dartmouth’s Untamed newspaper, the campus feminist publication, contained a nice write-up about Jenn. Unfortunately, Untamed does not publish an online edition, which means the article doesn’t show up when folks Google Jenn. What they find instead are her work on Dartblog.com and several unfair post-election articles from the main campus paper, articles I won’t dignify by linking to here. In the days running up to the election, a feud developed between Jenn and some of the College Democrats, and Jenn got the short end of the stick in the paper’s coverage. I won’t take sides in the election feud, but I will say that the coverage did not paint an accurate picture of Jenn. I don’t agree with her much when it comes to politics, but she will go and deserves to go far. At the very least, she deserves to have more positive and accurate articles show up on the first page of her Google hits. I am grateful to Untamed writer Laura Romain for allowing me to excerpt her article here.

Meet Jennifer Bandy: She’s blonde, bubbly, and one of the most controversial figures on campus

At first glance, Jennifer Bandy seems to be an unlikely target for hate mail. A 20-year-old Dartmouth senior with a giddy, unstoppable way of speaking, she tells me that her favorite things include chocolate, her teddy bear, and country music. At just five-foot-one, she seems tiny, and she wears heavy designer glasses that set off her narrow, expressive face. Her long, perfectly-layered hair is light brown by my standards, but according to Bandy—and her State of California driver’s license—she’s a blonde.

“I just love it when someone thinks I’m blonde,” she says with her trademark Southern Californian charm…

As for the campus’s reaction to the article in The Dartmouth, Bandy tells me, “I received a lot of Facebook messages and e-mail messages, just…” Her voice trails off. She pauses to inhale deeply before continuing. “A lot of people make up their minds about someone based on something they’ve read, with that person sort of dehumanized in their minds. I would never consider sending something mean to someone I didn’t know, because we’re all humans, and that’s hurtful.”…

According to Bandy, the responses that she received as a young woman campaigning for John McCain were largely negative. “Being a female conservative sometimes confuses people,” she explains. “I had a lot of people approach me and say that I should be ashamed of holding a Sarah Palin sign, or that if I voted for John McCain I wouldn’t be able to get an abortion.”

She shrugs her shoulders. “And my response is, well, I don’t want an abortion, but for you to look down on me for my political choice shows a lack of respect for me as a woman who is able to make my own choice. You know, women have been voting in this country for”—she hardly has to pause—“eighty-eight years nationally. There’s no reason for people to think that I am incapable, especially as a Dartmouth student, of making up my mind using facts.”

Wait a second: A female conservative with shiny hair, fancy glasses, and controversy to spare—does anyone else detect a resemblance to Sarah Palin?

Evidently. According to Bandy, “All these people e-mailed me after Palin was chosen, saying that I reminded them of her or she reminded them of me.” She laughs. “Honestly I think it’s just the gun thing.” Bandy is the lady representative to California’s all-state NSCA team…

"I guess,” Bandy says, “there aren’t that many women out there who seem pretty girly when you get them into the idea of fashion and enjoying a pair of heels and, you know, designer glasses, but who can also get into that masculine world and work within it. Shooting is male-dominated; government is male-dominated… That kind of person is unique.”

Bandy is refreshingly different from Palin in that she is unashamed of her own ambition and success. While Palin famously downplayed her political ambitions by emphasizing her start as a “hockey mom” and PTA member, Bandy is more than happy to tell me about her impressive qualifications: her work with six political campaigns, her internship at a congressman’s office, her accomplishments as an intern for the Department of State, her government thesis on US senior military advising in crisis situations, and, of course, her position as president of the College Republicans. “I ran in a tightly-contested election,” she says with a smile. “And I won.”

So what does the future hold for Jennifer Bandy? She hopes to start law school next year; after that, she says, “I could practice law; I could go into government as a bureaucrat. Or”—her tone remains casual—“I could go into government in politics.”

I ask whether politics is the siren song she’s hearing right now. “I don’t know. It’s kind of a dirty game, to be honest,” she replies. “And I think, to enter politics, you have to have a huge ego, which I’m not really sure I’m cut out for, and a tough skin. And it does bother me when people say nasty things about me; it does bother me when people say I’m a psychopath or something of that nature. You know, I’m just a person.”

What does Bandy think of the recent election cycle, which was a particularly eventful one for women in politics? Unsurprisingly, she isn’t a Hillary fan. But Bandy is eager to see a woman as President, provided that she’s the right woman for the job: “The first woman who holds that position is going to be setting the standard, answering once and for all the question that sometimes floats out there: Are women equally capable as men of being President?”

Bandy nods her head emphatically. “And I want that woman to leave no doubt. I want her to be one of the most popular Presidents. The first female President will set the tone for women in politics, and I’m excited to see it.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

My Interview with Bishop Gene Robinson

Last month I had the chance to interview Bishop Gene Robinson for the Dartmouth Free Press, the campus biweekly liberal newspaper. +Gene was gracious enough to sit down with me twice, once at his office in Concord and once on campus after a special stewardship visit to St. Thomas Episcopal Church. You can read the whole interview at the DFP's website, although I have posted two excerpts below. Topics covered included social justice, athiesm, greed, faith and politics, Barack Obama, the Diocese of New Hampshire, the bishop's personal coming out story, homosexuality and the Bible, the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, and the anniversary of Matthew Shepherd's death.

I should note how remarkable it is to spend time with +Gene. Though he is a controversial international figure, you would never know it to be in his presence, be it one-on-one or in a parish setting. Following his stewardship sermon at a St. Thomas on Sunday morning, we all gathered in the Parish Hall to hear about his trips to Lambeth and Scotland. He began the discussion by taking off his shoes, climbing up on a chair, and showing off the rainbow socks our senior warden had made for him. He's just plain fun, an amazing speaker and a good leader. One-on-one, things are no different. His is a very warm and inviting personality, and you're just chilling with Gene the diocesan bishop. I think that's very special, and good. You have to very purposefully remind yourself of the momentous place he holds in Christian history. Here then are two excerpted questions to whet your appetite for the whole thing:

DFP: Many students at Dartmouth, including most Christians I have spoken with, struggle in a secular atmosphere where many student activities and even classroom experiences can be disrespectful of their faith. What words of encouragement would you give them?

GR: I am an advocate of the separation of church and state, and I believe that anyone’s faith ought to be able to withstand a critique from the culture or from academia or from wherever. I actually think there are many, many ways in which the culture should be critical of us because the history of the church is littered with awful distortions of the faith – the Crusades, the Inquisition, intolerance in general. I also believe that anyone espousing God’s values is going to be misunderstood and criticized by secular culture because from its inception, Christianity was a counter-cultural movement. Unfortunately, when Constantine was converted to Christianity, whether for religious or political reasons (we don’t know for sure), in a sense we crawled into bed with the power, or the powers, that we were meant to be critical of. So I don’t believe the church lives up to its counter-cultural nature or its counter-cultural mission as much as it should, but when it does it will undoubtedly be criticized.

I’ll give you an example. Shouldn’t the church be critiquing the recent economic meltdown in terms of the values that were bought into by most everyone around the world? Greed, get rich quick, make a lot of money no matter what, executive level compensation, etc etc. You know, the church has something to say about all those things, or should have something to say about all those things. It’s very easy to blame Wall Street for greed, but we were the ones who had our 401k money in the stock market, demanding a greater and greater profit or else we would move to a different mutual fund. So we’re all complicit. What I wonder is whether the church will have the courage to question the culture in that way.

DFP: How did you explain issues of sexuality to a four-year-old?

GR:(smiles) Well, I started with the eight-year old. I asked her if she knew what a gay or lesbian person was, and our housekeeper at the time was a lesbian, so she very quickly said, “Yes, most girls like boys, and most boys like girls, but some girls like girls and some boys like boys.” Which when you think about is about as good a definition as you can get! (laughs)

And so I said to her that I had discovered that I was one of those boys that liked boys, and that her mom and I would be getting divorced, etc. etc., and we read a children’s book which was published in Denmark. You couldn’t get anything like that published in the United States back then, which shows how much times have changed. Literally, I had to get this book from Denmark, and it was about two men and their happy life with their daughter, and the daughter’s mom. And we read that book together, and that night after we put Jamie to bed, she called from her room into mine, “Daddy I hope you find a Bill (or whatever the guy in the book’s name was) some day!” …

So then the 8 year-old and I told the 4 year-old. And it just didn’t seem all that weird to them. In some ways I think telling children at that age is easier than telling a teenager, who is not in anyway trying to stick out of the crowd or be strange, and so they never had a problem with it. Their mom got remarried very soon… I met [my partner] Mark soon after [my ex-wife] Boo was remarried, and we dated for about a year and a half before he moved up here, so they saw each of us with partners and… anything that made their mom or dad that happy, they were happy with.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Word About Political Corruption

David Gergen on Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich: "I have a hard time pronouncing his name. I just call him the idiot."

Over the past two months, we’ve seen both the best and worst in our politics. On the one hand, we’ve seen America smash racial barriers and prove global naysayers wrong, John McCain concede gracefully, and Barack Obama put together a flawless transition. On the other hand, we’ve had Senator Ted Stevens convicted of seven felonies, Governor Rod Blagojevich indicted on dozens of various nefarious schemes, various corruption charges made against powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel, and the long-awaited defeat of New Orleans Rep. William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson.

It’s sad, but over the last four years or so, corruption in our national politics has been almost routine. The difference between the current stretch and its long run-up? After years of Republican indictments and convictions, four of the five names listed above are Democrats.

I’ve had numerous Republican friends in both Idaho and New Hampshire insist to me that Democrats are more corrupt than Republicans, and that it only seems different because prosecutors and journalists are biased. And of course, we’ve all heard the Democratic Party’s official mantra that the Republican Party fosters a “culture of corruption.” Both arguments are horse hockey. I don’t believe for an instant that a person’s views on health care or climate change have anything to do with their personal ethics. Democrats say Republicans are corrupt because of their ties to business, but that affects both parties. Republicans say Democrats are corrupt because they don’t care for personal responsibility, but we do, we just think some social achievements are beyond the reach of the individual. The real reason for political corruption is nonpartisan: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Over the past several years, Republicans have controlled almost all levels of power, and so they have also controlled almost all levels of corruption. It’s a veritable laundry list: Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and Vito Fossella convicted, Tom DeLay indicted, Don Young and John Doolittle investigated, and Don Sherwood and Mark Foley dinking around – and that’s just the House of Representatives. The Senate featured Ted Stevens and Larry Craig convicted and David Vitter hanging out with prostitutes. In the Administration, Scooter Libby and David Safavian were convicted and Karl Rove, Alberto Gonzalez, and a host of Gonzalez’s Justice Dept. aides were investigated. Oh, and let’s not forget Governors George Ryan and Bob Taft. The Democrats’ reply? One Congressman indicted (Jefferson) and one more investigated (Alan Mollohan). When NBC’s Matt Lauer interviewed DeLay in 2006 and asked him about Republican corruption, DeLay tried to insist there were just as many bad Democrats as there were Republicans, but after naming Jefferson and Mollohan, he had to go back decades to come up with an equal amount of examples. He also neglected to point out that none of these Democrats were in leadership positions like his own, and that while Republicans instantly rallied around him during their investigations, Democrats were quick to turn against Jefferson (and now, in under a week, have literally all turned against Blagojevich.)

Yet there is some truth to DeLay’s point – not for 2006, but for history. It’s ridiculous to suggest that the weak Democrats of 2000-2006 were as corrupt as the powerful Republicans of that same era, but indeed, the powerful Democrats of the 1980s were as corrupt as the powerful Republicans of the 2000s. Gerry Studds’ page scandal, the Keating Five (John McCain and four Democrats), the Abscam sting, several Congressmen convicted of bribery and racketeering, and Speaker Jim Wright’s speaking fees all come to mind. Again: power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Now that Republicans have little legislative and no executive power at the national level, methinks we will see the number of opportunities for them to become corrupt dwindle while the number of Democrats giving into the suddenly-available sleaze skyrockets.

For six years, the Republicans in Congress refused to investigate themselves. Speaker Denny Hastert put a virtual moratorium on ethics investigations, and nothing was done until Democrats won and put Pat Leahy in charge of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Henry Waxman in charge of House Oversight. Bulldog Waxman’s now moving to Energy and Commerce, which is thrilling, but I do hope that his replacement, Edolphus Towns, is just as aggressive at investigating Democrats as Waxman was at Republicans. I doubt it, but we’ll need it.

Not all powerful politicians are corrupt. Henry Kissinger once said that corrupt politicians give the other 10% a bad name. It’s funny, but having spent time in DC, I think it’s fair to say that while most big-name pols are out of touch, they’re also mostly good men and women. I trust Democrats like Joe Biden and Russ Feingold, and Republicans like Chuck Hagel and Arlen Specter. The new head honcho of them all, Barack Obama, hasn’t been around DC long enough to be tainted by power (although hey, Chicago is Chicago), and I think he’s the real deal. I even think George W. Bush is a good guy. He is an incompetent, arrogant buffoon who keeps his blinders on to be sure, but while many of the people who surround him are as corrupt as all get out, those blinders keep from seeing it, and what he can’t say can’t affect him.

That said, though, DC is a whole ‘nother universe. The marble urinal separators in the Senate bathrooms give one a skewed view of economics; the security barriers on every Hill street corner paint a different picture of terrorism than most Americans face; and the three Capitol Hill papers and Washington Post all cover different stories than do most small-town papers. It’s easy to lose your head where federal politics are concerned, as Blagojevich, Rangel, and Jefferson all show. Keeping that mind, I hope Democrats will police themselves in the future as well as they have policed Republicans in the past.

Quote of the Day

I rather like this "A Thought for Today" from yesterday's "A Word A Day" e-newsletter:

Religions are not revealed: they are evolved. If a religion were revealed by God, that religion would be perfect in whole and in part, and would be as perfect at the first moment of its revelation as after ten thousand years of practice. There has never been a religion that which fulfills those conditions. -Robert Blatchford, author (1851-1943)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Visit to Larry Craig's Bathroom Stall (with pictures!)

Yesterday morning, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID)’s request to have his guilty please for disorderly conduct thrown out was dismissed by a Minnesota appeals court. How fitting then that yesterday evening I just happened to be in the Minneapolis airport where all his troubles started. So of course, I had to hunt down the nation's most legendary bathroom stall. (Pictures at the end of this post.)

A quick recap: In summer 2007, Idaho's senior U.S. Senator (whom I have met but never supported) was arrested for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. It just so happened that the guy he solicited was an undercover police officer on a sting operation. The police report is a hilarious read, including details about how one solicits such sex with foot tapping and hand-waving under stall partitions. During the arrest, Craig showed his Senator business card and asked the officer, “What do you think about that?” Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August, and then tried to keep things quiet until Roll Call newspaper found a court record and publicized the story in December. Craig announced his resignation, took it back, declared he was not gay and that pleading guilty was his only mistake, and said he would try to have his guilty plea withdrawn and would fight a Senate ethics investigation. The Senate committee came down pretty hard on him for trying to use his position to get out of trouble and for embarrassing the Senate with his conduct following the public revelations. He lost his Veteran Affairs Committee seniority. A number of other people, some anonymous and some not, have crawled out of the woodwork to declare he had solicited sex from them in various bathrooms as well, including Washington, DC’s Union Station.

In the months following the story’s initial coverage, that bathroom became quite the tourist attraction, and I became such a tourist yesterday. How could I, a political junkie from Idaho, not? According to the police report, it is the “main men’s public restroom of the Northstar Crossing in the Lindbergh Terminal.” During my hour-long layover, I called a friend in Idaho to have him get online and help me find the place. It took me a minute to figure out what the Lindbergh Terminal was and to realize I had to walk through it to get to my gate. This was good news. My friend quickly found out that the bathroom was located near Royal Zeno’s Shoe Shine. While there are several restrooms near Royal Zeno’s, only one was right next to it, and the others would have better landmarks to describe their location. And according to various reports, Craig’s stall was either “second from the right” or “next-to-last.” Only one stall fit either description: I had found the mythical Larry Craig commode.

I’m hardly the first blogger or reporter to embark upon this hunt. Time and Fox News talk about the many tourists asking for directions (Royal Zeno, who has since passed on, was getting mighty sick of it); and a reporter for Variety stopped by at the same time as Jon Stewart. Drbilllong.com describes the restroom in pretty good detail, so I will only add four observations to his description: One, it’s a pretty standard restroom. The men’s room on C concourse is fancy, above women’s restroom but below executive washroom, but the main terminal is pretty standard. Two, it is in a very public place, perhaps the most highly trafficked part of the airport, and doing anything illegal there would be incredibly stupid. Three, and I just thought this was hilarious, there is a statute of Snoopy right outside the bathroom. And four, the stall itself is very dark. I mean, many bathroom stalls are poorly lighted because they depend on the light from the main restroom, but this one was especially dark. It was exactly the type of stall you would use in a movie if you wanted to depict someone doing something creepy in a bathroom. So, without further ado, pictures. (Oddly enough, no one was in the restroom when I visited, so I went ahead and whipped out my cell phone camera.)

From the terminal:


The stall (Craig's is second from the wall; I thought the policeman's was against the wall, but have since learned it's third from the right, so only barely visible in these photos):





That last shot, up against the the door lock, is where Craig would have placed his rolling carry-on luggage. As for this next and final shot, Craig's excuse for waving his hand underneath the stall partition was that he was picking up a piece of paper. Well how 'bout that! Though I've now learned it's the wrong side of the stall, there was indeed a piece of paper on the floor!


Perfect timing given the appellate court's decision, no? Unlike last fall (according to the news reports, anyway), no one else in the terminal seemed to recognize the bathroom's significance. But I have to ask - was this creepy? Was this going too far for even an obsessive political junkie like myself? So far, my Idaho friends and fellow NH junkies are about evenly divided.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politico.com mistake marginalizes Native Americans

As noted in the sidebar, I am a double Government and Native American Studies major. Just yesterday I took my final in a Gender Issues in Native Life course. I don't want to get into a lengthy discussion of it today, but I do want to say that Indigenous issues extend far, far beyond casinos (and 50% of casino profits go to just ten tribes) and affirmative action. 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 6 nation-wide (you can blame the Supreme Court for that); many remote homes on South Dakota and Arizona reservations lack electricity and running water; sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) occurs three to four times more often among Indian babies than white babies; and the tuberculosis mortality rate is 750% of the national rate. Throw in alcoholism, diabetes, and a poverty rate double the national average, and you've got yourself a real problem. Arm-chair pundits are often quick to blame genetics, tribal inaction, and perosnal irresponsibility, and I don't deny that these all play some role, but many of these issues are the result of past, and sometimes even current, colonial behaviors and institutions.

My goal to day is not to rant, explain the problems, or even propose solutions. I only want to make one point: We, as American citizens, are more interested in watching Dancing with the Stars or following Britney Spears' latest escapades than we are in paying attention to the problems of poverty and colonialism that exist in our own house, right under our own collective nose. Such issues are almost never discussed. These problems and the people they affect are invisible to us, and inexcusably so. Even when it's easy to give a quick media shout-out, and even when we can learn a little cultural or political fact without any extra effort whatsoever, we look the other way. What brought this to my mind today was the following story from Politico about Joseph Cao, the newly-elected House member from Louisiana's Second Congressional District (my enthusiastic congratulations to New Orleans for finally ousting Dollar Bill Jefferson):

The 41-year-old immigration attorney and community activist, the first Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress, will be the only Asian-American Republican in the 111th Congress and the only non-Hispanic minority in the House GOP.

Cao joins three Cuban-Americans — Florida Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — as the only GOP House members who are minorities. The only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, Mel Martinez of Florida, recently announced he will not seek a second term in 2010.

What's wrong with this story? Cao will NOT be the only non-Hispanic minority in the House GOP. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), pictured at left, is a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

I don't think the reporters of this story are racist, which is why I'm not including their names in this post. I do, however, think they are guilty of lazy reporting - they previously knew of the three GOP House Hispanics and no other minorities, and assumed that was all there was and ran with it without checking further. As a result, this story from two reputable reporters at a major political newspaper further marginalized Indian political clout, helping make the already-invisible just a little more so.

I have e-mailed both reporters a quick note politely highlighting the omission, and hope it will be corrected.