Friday, February 27, 2009

Rumors of my demise

Are greatly exaggerated, and all that.

So I so didn't intend to skip blogging this week... it just happened... hopefully I'll be back in the saddle again come Sunday afternoon or Tuesday morning, but for now, it's off to Cambridge for a computer-less weekend praying with monks! Yay! :)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Musical Mondays: Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband

This one is for Dad's birthday, which was last Wednesday.

One of my favorite childhood memories is drying off after bathtime when I was a really small child. I'd be all wrapped up in my towel and as he dried my hair, Dad would bounce me on his knee and sing songs - some original, like "Garbage Truck," his parody of Alley Oop (that one was always my favorite 'cause he mentioned me in it), and some not, like "Ragtime Cowboy Joe."

I mention this because I plan on making that an Empsall family tradition once I have kids, and I especially look forward to singing the selection for this week's Musical Monday, "Dream Big" from Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Brooks and Dionne on Niebuhr

I'm spending the weekend at the Provincial Gathering (ProvGat) for New England's many Episcopal campus ministries. I'm on the retreat's planning team and am looking forward to leading a workshop on faith and politics. I doubt I'll get much blogging done, but won't rule it out just yet. For now, I would point you to an interesting conversation between two of my favorite columnists, conservative David Brooks and liberal E.J. Dionne, about Reinhold Niebuhr, featured on last week's edition of American Public Media's "Speaking of Faith." Niebuhr is one of Barack Obama's favorite politicians. I would embed the conversation here, except the video is really large and doesn't fit the blog format well, covering up my sidebars. You can watch or listen to an edited version of the 53-minute show or watch the entire 80-minute conversation online. It's definitely worth a gander, even if just the first 15 minutes for you busy types.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Disparities: You can say you knew them when

My friend Oliver Lemke and his brothers Julian and Harrison are the three members of the indie pop band "The Disparities." I was a groomsman in Oliver's wedding and played with Oliver and Julian at a high school talent show back home in Idaho so maybe I'm a bit biased when I say this, but they're pretty good. Give 'em a listen, rate their music at ourstage.com, friend them on MySpace, and maybe buy the album.

Here they are with their smash* hit, "The Wreck."

www.ourstage.com


*Give it time.

Happy birthday, Dad!

I love you!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Justifying the Native American Studies Department

Last week, Dartmouth College announced the specifics of a plan to cut 10% of the College’s operating budget, including 60 lay-offs. Yesterday’s Daily Dartmouth student newspaper included a paragraph from each of the paper’s regular columnists on the question of whether or not academic departments should be shielded from the cuts. One freshman acquaintance of mine suggested eliminating the Native American Studies (NAS) and Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) departments. I am an NAS major, so I contacted him to explain the value of the department. I’d like to share my responses here. They weren’t written as a blog post and so focus more on the academic side of things than the actual substance of Native studies than I might like, but alas, I only have time to post the letters rather adapt them into an entirely new post. I have eliminated text specific only to Dartmouth or to Peter's e-mail.

Peter’s original suggestion:

I do think academic cuts are permissible, but only if they affect the right departments. The College can and should eliminate major departments that can be subsumed into other departments, like Native American Studies or Women’s and Gender Studies. One can study Native American culture in the history or anthropology departments, just as one can study the literature of feminism in the English department.

From my first response:

I'm an NAS (double) major, and I can promise you that there is absolutely no way NAS can be subsumed into history and anthropology… NAS expands far beyond anthropological cultural studies and a few history lectures. There is a great deal of literature, modern politics, and religion in these courses, and they are all interconnected. If one were to learn about Indians in an anthropology course, you'd never focus on those inter-disciplinary connections, or the link between the ongoing historical patterns and modern politics or realities of poverty. If you stuck with a history course, you'd never discuss how literature or oral traditions can cast judicial opinions in a new light. Tell me, if it's all an archaic cultural and historical relic, why do we have a Senate Indian Affairs Committee, a Bureau of Indian Affairs, or a treaty-obliged Indian Health Service? Do the millions of American Indians alive today realize they're just for anthropologic study? This is not historical stuff - it is a living, breathing part of your world... This is one of the finest NAS departments in the country, and a national badge of honor for Dartmouth. To cut it would be asinine.

Peter courteously and quickly replied. Excerpts adapted from my second e-mail:

You asked "Why, then, couldn't one take these courses in those departments?" and suggested students put together their own concentration. This merits several replies. First, NAS is not a subset of multiple fields, but its own field that includes other fields as its subsets. NAS courses have not, as you say, been taken out of their "parent departments." That is a "colonial mindset" – NAS *is* a parent department. One could ask, why have a History department when you could just learn about English history in the English department alongside read the various era's books, US history in Government classes, etc.? The answer is pretty clear: history, though included in and related to those things, is separate and much bigger, and includes its own methodologies. The same is true of NAS – it is not a part of history, environmental studies, etc, but, like most other majors, is its own field that includes aspects of all those things but is built on a separate foundation. The approach to law is different than it is in any of the other Government courses, so when you say you lose the context of political science, I disagree: The Government Dept (and I am a Govt double) loses the historical context of Native history and thought when it deals with federal Indian law in a vacuum. The same is true with, say, the English department: the context of western literary theories is not the most necessary context for studying non-western literature. (Remember also that French literature is in the French dept, Russian in the Russian, and so on – why should Native authors be treated differently and put in the English?)

Second and more briefly, all the interconnections of NAS require an introductory course, and that's not something that would fit well into another department's rubric. Third, not every NAS course fits into another department so neatly – take Indian Country Today or the senior seminar. Fourth, Native students from around the country specifically choose Dartmouth for this program, and it sounds like they often discover a historical back-story and cultural affirmation they never learned or found at home. (Remember also our college's charter.) And perhaps most important to the nature of this discussion, fifth, there is almost no way a student will know all these interconnections without being taught or finding them accidentally, and so there is almost no way for an individual to put together their own focus. Unlike Government, I have gained so much from NAS advising, and I believe most other NAS majors would say the same thing. Sixth, it would be a bureaucratic nightmare – when applying the underlying theories and dynamics of NAS, you touch on history, government, sociology, geography, literature, ENVS, religion, and more. Few self-constructed programs cross that many lines.

On the subject of specialized departments in general, I would offer two quick observations to assure you that the process of creating these departments is not arbitrary. One, the circumstances of "every identifiable... group" are clearly different. Slavs and Hmong aren't as integral to US history or modern life. The settler-colonial process of Indian history is different, and perhaps more complex, than that of the slave trade. Second, even if the Gender Studies department was focused on women to the exclusion of all else (which it hardly is; many departments across the country have changed their name to reflect that fact), with the exception of men, all other sexual groups are less than 10% of the population and you can't compare that to 50%. On a related note, it is my understanding that WGS is not just about English literature, but rather philosophies of power and changing historical dynamics. Third, there has to be enough interest in a program to sustain it before they'll create one. NAS has that sustainable interest.

Again, under other circumstances I would choose to focus more on issues of sovereignty, cultural empowerment, land, poverty, or colonialism, but I hope this gives you at least a small glimpse at my major.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Musical Mondays: Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss

The tune "Simple Gifts" has been stuck in my head for several weeks now. Written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett in 1848, it is better known as the inspiration for Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," the tune for Sydney Carter's hymn "Lord of the Dance," and the stolen framework for Michael Flatley's dance show.

It is one of my favorite melodies, and has been since I was little. Here are two of the world's finest musicians, Yo-Yo Ma and Alison Krauss (one of my favorites), with their interpretation. It's a little slower than I might like, but absolutely beautiful. It’s one of those YouTube compilations where someone set the audio track to a bunch of random pictures, rather than an actual music video:

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Librarians might make good priests

I'd like to write up a nice review of a Bill McKibben lecture I attended Friday night, or perhaps post a recap of Dartmouth's legendary winter carnival, but alas I must dash off to a Willie Nelson concert momentarily, so this will be brief.

The sermon in church this morning was not bad, but I only caught about half of it. Our church here in New Hampshire unfortunately does not have a nursery during church services, and the babies and toddlers roam around in the back of the church with their toys behind the pews. I'm okay with that - it's sweet, and Jesus said the children shall be His heirs - but they were much noisier than normal today. One tot in particular was babbling the entire service through, non-stop. I usually don’t mind a few minutes of that or occasional outcries throughout the entire service, but today was just a bit much. I understand that sometimes it’s beyond the parent’s ability to shush the little person, but sometimes you reach a point where it’s time to put everyone else’s desire to hear the preacher ahead of your own desire to be present, and go to the Parish Hall for awhile.

Inexcusably making matters worse were two friends of mine in the pew behind me who were giggling and whispering to each other for most of the service as well – and in fact, just plain spoke rather than whispered during then the anthem. Yes, that’s the time your voices will be muffled, but it’s also the time I want to hear the most! Each friend has had experience on church staffs and should know better. Now, they’re usually not like this (and I think half of their chatter was oooing over the babies to begin with) so I won’t say anything to them and just vent here… but BLAH! ENOUGH! SHUSH!

The reason I decided to post this rant is because it gives me the chance to post an e-mail that’s been sitting in my inbox since June. Fr. Lane, who writes the Out of Nowhere column, had this to say about talking during the pre- and post-ludes. (For the record, Gerry’s postlude today was the Allegro from Handel’s Concerto in Bb, and it was heavenly!)

After years of hiding the fact that the love is gone and the last child moved out of the house, Mom and Dad announce they are getting a divorce. The kids are distraught and hire a marriage counselor as a last resort at keeping the parents together. The counselor works for hours, tries all of his methods, but the couple still won't even talk to each other. Finally, the counselor goes over to a closet, brings out a beautiful upright bass, and begins to play. After a few moments, the couple starts talking. They discover that they're not actually that far apart and decide to give their marriage another try.

The kids are amazed and ask the counselor how he managed to do it. He replies, "I've never seen anyone who wouldn't talk during a bass solo."

After some considerable years playing on dance bands and for other type musical performances, this story is painfully true to my experience, not only for bass solos, but for that matter, almost anything else.

OoN passes on this piece of hilarity because I've found the same to be true for the musician's postlude at the conclusion of a liturgy, especially on Sundays. A pianist, organist, or other instrumentalist can spend hours preparing for a service and start the postlude, only to find it to be a signal for a congregation suddenly to burst into an impossible din of vocal cacophony, hymnals thudding to the floor, shuffling chairs, opening and closing doors, interrupting other congregants who may be yet at prayer, and whatever.

What possesses us to do this is beyond me. It would be unthinkable to behave this way as we enter and prepare for a worship celebration. Why do so many take the unwarranted license to do so at the dismissal? If you just can't stand the postlude and show some appreciation and courtesy to your church musician, then exit yourself to the coffee minute where you usually have to shout to be heard.

On second thought, anybody having marital problems could be invited to stay until the postlude finishes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Praising the Son with the sun

I've been saving this in my inbox to pass along for quite some now - since November 14, actually. But, it's still worth posting. A note from the Episcopal Ecological Network directed me to the Diocese of Vermont's newsletter. A parish there is using solar power to help run the church. I find this noteworthy not just because that's a good thing to do, but also because the parish is St. Barnabas in Norwich. Norwich is right across the Connecticut River from Hanover, and I know the priest there - a wonderful woman who has given me great pastoral advice on multiple occasions. So, be sure to click through on the links below - even if solar power is beyond your congregation's reach, it's still heartening to see what the church is doing for creation.

Friends-

Fred Chase (Diocese of Vermont and Diocese of Chicago) sent a link to "Mountain Echo", the newspaper of the Diocese of Vermont. The lead article in the November 2008 issue is about a Solar Power array installed at St. Barnabas in Norwich, VT. The article is available online as a PDF.

If you have difficulty with the above link, go to http://www.dioceseofvermont.org and scroll down to the link for the [November] issue of "Mountain Echo".

Maybe this article will give other congregations and vestries ideas on living into environmental stewardship.

Peace,
Chuck

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The difference between knowledge and belief

(I've changed the time stamp on this post to keep at the top of the blog for a bit more.)

I came across this quote from Bishop N.T. Wright in a book I'm currently reading, and it tickled me just right so I thought I would pass it along. Though +Wright is ostensibly outlining the difference between knowledge and belief, I think he also cuts right to the definition of faith itself and helps explain, at least in part, the difference in atheist and Christian worldviews.

But after the waiting, again and again, comes fresh “knowledge”; granted the way the English language works, one call not call it anything else. It is not just “belief.” It is natural to say “I believe it’s raining” when indoors with the curtains shut, but it would be odd to say it, except in irony, standing on a hillside in a downpour. For many Christians much of the time, knowing Jesus is more like the latter: being drenched in his love and the challenge of his call, not merely imagining we hear him like raindrops on a distant windowpane. (For many, of course, the latter is the norm; hinting, promising, inviting.)

"Drenched in his love and the challenge of his call." Beautiful description of the man we know and the relationship we have with Him, is it not?

How will his withdrawal from Commerce affect cowardly quitter Gregg back home? (updated)

Ok, now I'm doubly ticked at Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) for depriving me, and every other New Hampshire voter, of our full voice on the stimulus bill.

Senator Gregg's office has released a statement announcing his withdrawal as President Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary. Gregg, following Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM)'s lead, is the second Commerce nominee to withdraw. The position is fast turning into Obama's version of Clinton's Justice Department. Gregg's statement reads in part,

I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce... I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle. However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

This can't be good for Gregg's image here in New Hampshire. Jonathan Singer writes at MyDD, "It's hard to believe that the Republican Gregg, who has been in public office for three decades and who is the son of a Governor, didn't know what he was getting himself into by accepting a position in the cabinet of an administration of a Democrat." Not only did Gregg flake out of his attempt to be bipartisan, he also deprived us of half our voice on the most important bill of the Congress. Maybe some in Gregg's camp will hope that by skipping the stimulus vote he avoided ticking off either side, but the way I see it, not voting and then abandoning your reasons for not voting is a very cowardly thing to do.

My Congressman, Rep. Paul Hodes (D), announced his candidacy for Gregg's open Senate seat almost immediately after Gregg's selection for Commerce was announced. I don't know if he'll stay in the race, but I hope so. Running against Gregg isn't as good as running for an open seat would have been, but this development may make it easier than it was just a few months ago. Hodes is probably our strongest candidate, electorally speaking, and his House seat shouldn't be too tough to defend. Go, Paul, go!

Update, 5:07pm: Well, the news is just coming fast and furious now. Time Magazine's Mark Halperin says that Gregg has said he's not running for re-election. So Hodes' run won't be affected after all - yippee.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gregg skips vote on economic recovery plan

(I hate to make three posts in one day, but this is a big news day. I'll take tomorrow off to make up for it.)

The Senate passed its version of the stimulus plan earlier today, 61-37. Three Republicans – Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter - joined all 58 Democrats, including the moderate-to-conservative ones like Landrieu and the Nelsons, in supporting the bill. What I'd like to know is, why didn't Judd Gregg vote?

New Hampshire's senior senator and the President's choice for Commerce Secretary was the only sitting senator to miss the vote. (Minnesota still has one vacancy.) According to last Friday's Boston Globe,

Senator Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican nominated to be commerce secretary, once was seen as a key ally in President Obama's effort to win bipartisan support for his economic stimulus bill. But Gregg's spokeswoman said yesterday that the senator would recuse himself from voting on the bill, and would not even participate in debate on it...

Gregg's spokeswoman, Laena Fallon, would not speak about the senator's decision other than to say, "He thinks this is the most appropriate thing to do right now." A White House spokesman declined comment, deferring to Gregg's office.

I wish Fallon had explained WHY the senator feels this is "the most appropriate thing to do," because I sure can’t see it. One assumes, given his remarks at the Commerce announcement, that he supports the plan, and if he doesn't, you have to wonder why the President would invite him onto the national economic team. Dissensions in the inner chamber are great, but on the most basic outline of something this big and this central? That's like putting a foe of universal health care in at HHS. Furthermore, Governor Lynch’s pick to replace Gregg, J. Bonnie Newman, is said to be just as moderate as Snowe and Collins, so it's not hard to envision her voting for the bill.

Four Republicans would have been a much better headline than three. I wish the President had told Gregg that if he wanted the Commerce job, he would either have to vote for the economic recovery plan or immediately resign from the Senate to clear the way for Newman. As a New Hampshire resident and voter, I feel deprived of a voice on the most important bill of the year. You also have to question Obama's decision not to push harder for that fourth Republican vote, especially when it would have been so easily obtainable. Maybe on the final conference bill?

Update: NH State Rep. Marjorie Smith has an Op-Ed in the Concord Monitor saying the same thing.

(Photo Credit: The New York Times.)

The worst bill I'll ever support

I'll have two posts on the stimulus today. This is part one.

The Senate is likely to pass its version of the President’s economic recovery plan today, and we will probably see a House-Senate conference version pass later this week. It’s been quite the circus: not a single Republican vote in the House, Obama’s first primetime press conference, and El Rushbo deciding he doesn’t love America after all. Here’s my two cents: First of all, love it or hate it – and I hate it – a spending-heavy recovery plan is probably necessary. Secondly, I’m a big fan of bipartisanship, and the President has done just about all you can ask of him in that regard. Congressional Republicans need to realize: they lost. This is a bipartisan bill, and they’d better take it if they want to keep their current seat at the table.

So first things first, the bill itself. I don’t think we should try to save the Titanic with this thing; there aren’t any boats large enough to tow her safely in. No, I just want to get all the passengers off before she goes under. The fact is, our economy is artificially big. It didn’t get to where it is through natural growth but by Wall Street smoke and mirrors, a disgusting pay gap that made the stock market seem more important it was, two expensive wars, much too much consumer spending (Americans save an average of less than one percent!), and a federal government spending several hundred billion more than it has. How can you sustain that kind of an economy? No, this particular economic structure is not salvageable. We can only hope to let it down gently rather than catastrophically, then build it back in a safer, more sustainable way. We need a slight recession to get us back on track, but there’s no need for massive job loss or rapid –flation, be it de- or in-. Now, as a member of the generation that’s going to have to pay back the Reagan-Bush debt, I’m a real deficit hawk. Unfortunately, while I am wary of the stimulus package’s cost, economists do seem to deem it necessary. Some don’t even think the $830 billion price tag is enough: Nobel laureate Paul Krugman says the problem is more along the lines of $3 trillion. I think I’ll stick with the $800 billion, thankyouverymuch, and if our country will collapse without a second round, we can come back to it.

But what should that $800 billion look like? We’ll have to spend, hopefully on green jobs and infrastructure needs. Those are two of my own pet causes so I readily admit there are probably many other job-creating areas that will do an equally effective job of stimulating the economy. Unemployment benefits and state budget assistance are obviously musts. Maybe we could work on solving the nursing shortage and repairing dilapidated rural and inner city school facilities.

But that is the way to go: massive job creation and limited capital infusion. Tax cuts are silly, for three reasons. One, the deficit. Two, we’ve already had plenty. If you look at 20th century history, you’ll see that taxes are comparatively pretty low right now. Any more cuts and we’ll never be able to pay for our corporate needs. And perhaps most importantly, three, there are better ways to stimulate the economy. According to the noted Jeffrey Sachs,
Comparing the House and Senate versions, the Senate version is clearly worse: more tax cuts, less infrastructure, and less in transfers to state and local governments… Immediate and sizable spending increases in the stimulus package should be directed to a few areas: significant support for our crisis-ridden state and local governments [just what got cut in the Senate], especially for health (Medicaid), education, and other urgent public services; income support (unemployment, anti-poverty including food stamps and child nutrition); health care coverage for the uninsured (as well as adequate Medicaid funding mentioned earlier); and a significant multi-year rollout of infrastructure of all sorts (roads, rail, other mass transit, ports, water, energy, broadband, etc.)

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agrees. According to the CBO, “A one-time increase in federal purchases of goods and services of $1.00 in the second quarter of this year would raise GDP by [a low estimate of] $1.00 to [a high estimate of] $2.50 in total over several quarters.” The numbers on state assistance are identical. Middle and lower class tax-cuts, on the other hand, have a benefit of only $0.50 to $1.70, and tax cuts for the rich (every conservative Congressman’s favorite) are even worse at $0.10 to $0.50. Tax cuts may been an effective way to help the economy when the top tax bracket was above 50%, but anyone who thinks there’s no economic difference between a 50% rate and a 36% rate is just being foolish.

(If you've already read this post - I deleted the last three paragraphs, the ones railing against House Democrats, to make it shorter.)

Applauding Obama's bipartisan efforts

I'll have two posts on the stimulus today. This is part two.

Even if every single House Republican refuses once again to vote for the bill when it reports out of Conference, I will still consider it a bipartisan piece of legislation. Republican leaders said they were originally promised 40% of the bill would be (those damn fool) tax cuts and complained when the number was 33%; well, now it’s 45%. This bill contains many of the provisions the Republican asked for, whether they’re actually willing to vote for it or not.

What more could you want from the Senate and White House Democrats, short of becoming Republicans themselves? Bipartisanship doesn’t mean giving up on your goals and passing your opponent’s wish list; it means seeking out areas of compromise within that legislation. Example: “Look, the voters put me in charge, not you, so we’re going to pass health care reform. End of story. BUT, I will work with you on whether or not it’s wholesale or piecemeal, single or multiple-payer, mandatory or not, paper or electronic, etc.” That’s bipartisanship. Demanding the Democrats not fight for universal reform at all because Republicans don’t support it isn’t bipartisanship, it’s just partisanship in the other direction. So it is with the economic recovery plan. The Republicans have decided they’re not going to vote for a Democratic bill no matter what, but are going to scream bloody murder if they don’t get their provisions anyway: You give us what we want and we give you nothing! We’re still the bosses, never mind the losses!

No, I’m afraid the administration has done its part. Not only has the amount of foolish Republican tax cuts in the bill been jacked way up, but Congressional leaders of both parties have been invited to the White House, several Republican senators have had private Oval Office meetings, the President has hosted bipartisan social events like his Super Bowl party, and perhaps most impressively, he visited a meeting of the House Republican Caucus, something I can’t remember George W. Bush or Bill Clinton ever doing with their opponents. It’s also worth noting that many Republican Governors support this bill. Unlike their Congressional counterparts, they don’t pee in marble bathrooms (I mean that quite literally – ever visited a Senate office building?) and understand the situation on the ground. They’re also more representative of real America, as they don’t come from gerrymandered districts.

Finally, let’s remember that party-breakdown aside, 61 Senators voted for this. That’s a big number. The fact is, the American people didn’t elect very many Republicans this time around, but 61% of the people they did elect voted for the stimulus in the Senate and 56% in the House. The minority must be heard, but the smaller the minority, the smaller its designated megaphone.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Musical Mondays: Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

I was going to post one of my favorite musical pieces ever, Bela Fleck's "Big Country," but found this in the sidebar and couldn't resist: Aaron Copland's "Hoedown" getting the Flecktone treatment! Wow!!! The first 1:45 is interesting enough, but that's when it really picks up and becomes worthy of a Musical Monday. Banjomaestro, if you please:

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Bishop's Annual Visitation

Fellow Wayward soul Leonardo once commented that one reason he enjoys this blog is "the quality of your [my] life." He is right - I do lead a blessed and privileged life. Not only did I take in a Dartmouth Glee Club performance of the Pirates of the Penzance last night (three years after performing in Gleek myself), this morning I saw Bishop Gene Robinson for the sixth time in the past year (not counting his Inauguration prayer). Today was his routine annual visitation to St. Thomas Hanover; the previous five visits included the re-dedication of our campus ministry chapel in April, a September campus visit with the Presiding Bishop, a special stewardship sermon and a two-part personal interview in November, and our curate's ordination last month. Anyone who says the man's international fame has led him to neglect his diocesan duties is clearly not from around here.

With this post, I would like to offer a personal reflection, pass along remarks the bishop made today about his Inauguration prayer, and summarize his sermon.

Following today's service, the Bishop greeted everyone at coffee hour and shared a few remarks about his inauguration experiences, several of which you can read at his blog. There are, however, two things that bear repeating here. The first, which holds personal meaning for me, was that throughout the day of the concert, many celebrities kept coming to him with religious questions. Bono even asked him to lead U2 in prayer before their set. It was rare, the bishop said, that these performers had someone who would view them as a human beings rather than as their persona. This holds personal meaning for me because +Gene himself is helping me to change the way I view people. When I came to New Hampshire, I saw him as a curiosity rather than as my second diocesan bishop; he was a controversial international figure I looked forward to meeting and studying, much like the politicians who came through for our presidential primary. Thankfully, my view has changed. Spending time with +Gene in our parish hall, his office, and even an empty student cafe has allowed me to get to know him as a person. He is no longer a celebrity but is instead +Gene, a wise leader and an incredibly warm person. He is a teacher I am so thankful to have in my life, but just that: a personal teacher the likes of which most of us have. Yes, he is indeed one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity, but for me, he's just +Gene. And that's a good thing, because in the end, just as I am just Nathan and my friends are just Ellie and just Daniel, so is Bruce Springsteen just Bruce and George W. Bush just George. We are all children of God who were once babies, once toddlers, and once angst-filled teenagers. As +Gene said in my interview with him, “It is [difficult] to keep your balance when your enemies are trying to make you into the devil and your supporters are trying to make you into an angel, and you know that you’re neither." When this life fades away, we will all meld together in the same Heaven to praise the same God. It is important to remember this as we walk through the present world in order to treat everyone with justice and mercy, showing neither preference nor scorn. It is especially important that I remember this if I do indeed become a priest and chaplain. I am very grateful to +Gene for helping give me this knowledge.

The second remark to pass along is about the actual concert prayer. He offered it to "the God of our many understandings" rather than to Christ. To prepare for this prayer, he read all the inaugural prayers from the past 40 or so years, and was appalled at how "aggressively" Christian many of them were. He told us this was because even other religions aside, in just our little parish hall there were surely present as many different understandings of God as there were people. Though he has received quite a bit of hate mail over the fact that his prayer did not mention Christ, he has also received many tearful thanks from Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians who for the first time truly felt part of such a benediction. Talk about true evangelism!

I'll close this post with a summary of +Gene's sermon, the fourth and I'm afraid weakest I have heard him give. When I say "weakest," though, I don't mean it as an insult – an off-sermon for +Gene is no worse than an average sermon for most priests, perhaps even a good one. My only real problem with the sermon was that it was more of a feel-good homily than it was a challenge. While there was a charge to go out and spread the Good News, and while I did feel spiritually nourished, he didn't exactly light a fire under my butt and launch me out of the pew like he usually does.

The sermon was on today's Gospel reading, Mark 1: 29-39. He began by joking that Mark is the Cliff's Notes of the Gospels - John dives into theology, Matthew into a Jewish perspective, and Luke into a Gentile perspective, but Mark just gives us the bare-bones story. In today's passage, Jesus does two things: he heals and he prays. In regards to healing, +Gene lamented that as soon as Christ healed Simon's mother, she went straight back to the kitchen. In reference to the healing itself, he asked us, why help just a few when thousands are sick? Do you really think you can make a difference? The answer lies in the story of the boy who throws the starfish back, which if you haven't heard before you can find online here. As for prayer, the next time you set aside twenty minutes but hear the phone ring or feel a three-year-old's tug just ten minutes in, remember that even Christ couldn't pray interrupted: "And Simon and his companions hunted for him." After making those two points, the bishop arrived at the crux of his sermon. For us Episcopalians, "evangelism" is a four-letter word. Our method of evangelizing can be compared to the fisherman who goes out to the middle of the lake and then waits for the biggest fish to jump into his boat. This is not the way we should be. +Gene said that the reason he grants interview requests, goes on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and talks to decidedly non-Christian audience is to reach those who would never think of entering a parish, be it because they have never heard of God’s love or because they were mistreated by the church earlier in life. We are all searching for Christ, he said, even if we do not realize He is the answer to what we are missing. When he does these interviews or gives these sermons, he reaches a very large non-Christian answer, and even ventured the guess that he talks to more unchurched people than any other bishop in the church. “That’s why I do these shows, and that’s why I’m going to keep doing them!” He challenged us to similarly reach out with invitations, healing, and love.

So, dear reader and fellow Wayward soul, keep throwing those starfish back, and be sure to tell others why you do!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

In which I attempt to write a poem

On Brown, Green, and White

there is a book called
snow falling on cedars
i do not know the book’s whole story because
much to my old english teacher’s chagrin
i never finished it

but, while i do not know the story of snow falling on cedars
i do know what it is like to see

snow

falling

on

cedars

and also white pine
and fir
and spruce
and aspen

i may not know the story of the pages
but i do know the story of creation
i know what it is like to listen to the silence
and to feel
as much as see

the calm

pristine

still

beauty

snow is like a prickly rose
containing all at once
so much beauty
and so much painful ugliness

piles of oily sludge on the side of the road
treacherous driving canceling concerts and meals
snow down my boots
kids tracking in wet mud

and also the death of a man
beneath an overpass
with no blanket
and no soup

but through all those things
the snow remains on the cedars and the pine and the birch
still and majestic, a blanket painting everything the same
no more ugly trees, no more sore spots
bigger than us, wiser than us
older than us, younger than us
far from what we have wrought
all white and all right
an equalizer
a beauty for all, inaccessible to none

a beauty we had perhaps forgotten about in the summer
and one we may not remember in the spring
but one we are glad to be given now

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Just Wondering

The president's new pick for Commerce Secretary (and my senior senator), Judd Gregg, is a former lottery winner - do you think he paid his taxes on those winnings? ;)

Also, it looks like my Congressman, Paul Hodes, will be running for Gregg's open Senate seat in 2010. I presume he'll be the nominee, and that's not a bad thing.

Embracing the light through prayer

One of the things I mentioned in my previous posts about NatGat, the quadrennial national gathering of Episcopal college students in Colorado in December, was the breadth of our worship. I absolutely loved some of the prayers we used and want to pass them along here. This will likely be my last substantive post about Gather.

Italics mean the congregation responds. My favorite is the Franciscan benediction at the end. These prayers are not original to Gather, and if anyone knows the source of the other two, please let me know so that I may give proper credit.

A Call to Worship

Gather us in, Lord: the lost and the lonely, the broken and breaking, the tired and the aching who long for the nourishment of your feast.

Gather us in: the done and the doubting, the wishing and wondering, the puzzled and pondering who long for the company found at your feast.

Gather us in: the proud and pretentious, the sure and superior, the never inferior who long for the leveling found at your feast.

Gather us in: the bright and the bustling, the stirrers and shakers, the kind laughter-makers who long for the company found at your feast.

From corner or limelight, from mansion or camp site,
From fears and obsession, from tears and depression,
From untold excesses, from treasured successes,
To meet, to eat, to be given a seat,
Be joined to the vine, be offered new wine
Become like the least, be found at the feast:

Gather us in.

Prayers of the People from the Mass of the Immigrant

Let us pray for those who hunger in this land: whose only kitchen is a soup kitchen; whose only food is what others don’t want; whose diet depends on luck, not on planning. Lord, feed your people using our skills and conscience, and eradicate from our politics and private lives the apathy to hunger which comes from over-indulgence.

Let us pray for the hungry to be fed.
Oyenos Mi Dios.

Let us pray for the hungry in other lands, where economies burdened by debt cannot respond to human need, or where fields are farmed for our benefit by low-waged workers courted by starvation. Lord, feed your people, even if rulers must cancel debt, shareholders lose profit, or diners restrict their choice in order that all may be nourished.

Let us pray for the hungry to be fed.
Oyenos Mi Dios.

Let us pray for the hungry for justice, who document inequalities, demonstrate against tyranny, distinguish between need and greed, and are sometimes misrepresented or persecuted in the process. May their labour not be in vain and may we be counted in their number.

Let us pray for the hungry to be fed.
Oyenos Mi Dios.

Let us pray for the hungry in Spirit, who have so much noise in their lives they cannot hear the thundering of God’s Love whispering in their ears. Lord, open our ears to that your voice may be heard and understood.

Let us pray for the hungry and the fed.
Oyenos Mi Dios.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart. Amen.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people. Amen.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy. Amen.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim. Amen.

And the blessing of God the Supreme Majesty and our Creator, Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word who is our brother and Savior, and the Holy Spirit, our Advocate and Guide be with you and remain with you this day and forevermore.

To save space, I will set aside a cool version of the Lord's Prayer and hold off until Advent on posting a Christmas Prayer's of the People.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Musical Mondays: Pittsburgh and the Boss at the Half

My friends said it was almost as fun to watch me watch Bruce Springsteen during last night's Super Bowl half time show as it was to just watch Springsteen himself. Said one, "Dude you're so much like a little kid it's not even funny!" To which another replied, "No, we just spend 45 seconds solid laughing at him, so... yeah, actually, it is pretty funny." But OMG that performance was so amazing!! I am so shelling out the cash that I don't have to see the E Street Band live in Boston (or Hartford!) come April.

"I want you to put the chicken fingers down and turn your [computer speakers] all the way up!!!"



BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Politico: Baucus Slowing Daschle

Indeed indeed, as I predicted yesterday but hadn't yet seen suggested elsewhere, the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is hardly inclined to do the embattled HHS Secretary-designate any favors. Politico reports:

It’s not clear how [Daschle's] explanation will play with Republicans, who spent Sunday raising questions about the Obama’s administration’s vetting process — or with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who’s been in a long-running feud with Daschle.

Daschle’s nomination as secretary of health and human services was expected to sail through the Senate, where he served for 18 years. But Democratic aides complain that Baucus has slow-rolled the nomination, and on Friday it hit a significant roadblock when it was revealed that Daschle had failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes on the use of a car and driver provided to him by Leo Hindery, a major Democratic donor and longtime friend.

Baucus — who quickly came to the defense of then-treasury nominee Timothy Geithner when he had tax problems — has said nothing in public about Daschle’s issues.

“The silence has been deafening,” said a Democratic staffer...

The exact origins of the feud between Baucus and Daschle are unclear, but the existence of it is so well known within Democratic circles that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) referred to it in his book, “The Good Fight,” released last year.

“Baucus was the only Westerner to vote against Daschle in his race for Democratic leader in 1994, which Daschle had only won by a single vote, and they had been driven farther apart on the issue of taxes,” Reid wrote. “By the end, they really couldn’t stand each other and had had several extremely testy exchanges on the [Senate] floor and in private as a result.”

Baucus and Daschle have clashed over taxes, trade and former President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program, which Baucus supported. Daschle kept Baucus off a House-Senate conference on the 2002 farm bill, which infuriated Baucus.

Baucus privately accused Daschle of trying to overrule committee chairmen and being a weak leader, while Daschle and other top Democrats believed that Baucus was willing to sell out the party to advance his own agenda. Senior Democratic aides said Baucus “was ecstatic” when Reid took over as Democratic leader following Daschle’s defeat in 2004 by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

“It’s never gotten any better from Baucus’ side,” said a Democratic insider who knows both men well. “Daschle thought Baucus was untrustworthy, while Baucus thought Daschle was indecisive. They really hate each other.”

I interned for Baucus, and he's a good guy. He advances Montana's agenda first and values his citizens over his party, true, but he doesn't "sell out anyone." However, I've also long supported Daschle, and I'm not going to take sides here. What's surpising about this spat is that Baucus' old Chief of Staff, Jim Messina, is now a White House Deputy Chief of Staff. You'd think the hope for a successful Obama administration might override old Senate friction, but if it's a legit feud, perhaps not. :ike Politico says, no one really knows what's at the root of the feud.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Tax cheats or honest brokers? On Daschle, Geithner, and Rangel

The past few weeks have come close to being a real fiscal setback for the Obama administration. It turns out that four major Democrats, including two Cabinet appointees (Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle) and a major House player (Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel), owe or have recently owed back taxes.

My feelings on these mini-scandals vary; I take it case by case: Tom Daschle = easy mistake fuhgetaboutit; Tim Geithner = clueless and avoidable lack of oversight but nothing corrupt; Rangel = why is that arrogant twit still in Congress?

Daschle first. His issue is that he was given a car and driver as a gift at his last job and failed to pay the relevant taxes. I pretty much give him a pass here, for two reasons. One, as Senate Minority and Majority Leader for many years, he was provided a government car and driver. For Daschle, and call it spoiled if you will, having a car and driver you don’t have to think twice about is a natural part of life, just as it is for the President or his Chief of Staff. He’s used to not having to report that part of his life on his taxes, so it would be an easy change in one’s life to not catch. Two, the driver he had at the private equity firm was neither an official part of his compensation package nor a personal employee, so fell into a nebulous category easily forgotten about.

Let us also remember that Daschle has led a long career without giving off so much as a wiff of scandal or hubris. If these unpaid taxes were indeed the result of corruption, it would be a very strange and isolated occurrence. There’s really only thing about this whole thing that bothers me. According to the New York Times,
President Obama’s choice for health secretary, Tom Daschle, was aware as early as last June that he might have to pay back taxes for the use of a car and driver provided by a private equity firm, but did not inform the Obama transition team until weeks after Mr. Obama named him to the health secretary’s post, senior administration officials said Saturday.

Say what now? The transition team has been great about catching these problems before, and other nominees were forthcoming of their own problems. It was the transition that informed Geithner of his issues and former Commerce Secretary-designate Bill Richardson who informed the transition team of his. Why the breakdown with Daschle? I eagerly await the Secretary-designate’s answers to these questions.

(Here’s a separate-but-related side note to keep an eye on that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere. Daschle’s confirmation has to go through the Senate Finance Committee, and it’s well known around Washington – I believe Harry Reid even mentioned it in his book – that Daschle and the Chairman of the Finance Committee, a Montana Democrat whom I interned for last spring, do not get along well at all. There’s no way the Chairman, whose former Chief of Staff is now a White House Deputy Chief of Staff, would try to derail one of Obama’s Cabinet nominees, but I doubt he’s inclined to help make the process any easier for Daschle, either.)

Geithner’s tale is a little different. It sounds like his tax oversights were also honest mistakes, but ones that were made out of stupidity rather than naivety. His neglected total was "just" $42,700 spread out over several years. Now that may be a lot of money to you or me, but for a guy like Geithner, if you’re going to risk your reputation and purposefully cheat on your taxes, you’re going to go for a bigger haul than that. He had also paid $16,000 back before being tapped for Treasury – if he's so corrupt or arrogant, why would he self-identify the problem and pay back even a dime? It also sounds like the mistakes were small ones – he misidentified the type of child care that was deductible but was at least in the ballpark with the deduction, and his family’s nanny was legal at the time that he hired her.

I have other doubts about Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, even if we do share an alma mater. He was one of the three principal architects of the Bush TARP plan, which we now see lacked the necessary oversight and regulatory force to really change anything on Wall Street. And as for the taxes, this is not the kind of thing you like to see in your tax overlord. It may be a simple mistake that an average Steve shouldn’t get blamed for, but this isn’t the average Steve, it’s the head Steve. But while I have several concerns about Geithner and wonder if he should have been nominated in the first place, corruption is not one of those concerns.

Though I support Daschle and do not consider either him or Geithner true tax “cheats,” Rep. Charlie Rangel is a whole ‘nother story. Rangel, as the head of the House committee that oversees taxes, Medicare, Social Security, and some trade, is a very important figure, and I’ve never cared much for him. His tax and ethical problems are a little older – scandals from last year – but they are ongoing, and I’m inclined to believe that the allegations are true. Read about them here. I'm not prepared to say that Rangel’s behavior stems from personal corruption or moral bankruptcy, but perhaps it grows out of his American Idol–sized ego, and ego is often a source for corruption anyway so are the two really all that different?

I’ve never cared much for Rangel in the first place. Have you ever watched an interview with him on TV? The guy’s as obnoxious as they come. What a buffoon. My feelings about him were confirmed when I worked as a Senate intern and attended conference meetings for the Farm Bill. Since several tax issues were at stake, Rangel, as Chairman of Ways and Means, was a member of the Farm Bill conference committee. During committee meetings he would just rant on and on and say things that made absolutely no sense and belayed a complete lack of understanding of the issues in the bill. Never have I seen so many eyes roll or heard so many annoyed sighs as when I watched the Congressional staffers lining the walls of the room behind their bosses during Rangel’s rants. After the first such meeting, I asked an Agriculture staffer I knew what Rangel had been saying, and he told me, “I have no clue, I wasn’t listening. It’s Charlie Rangel, he doesn’t know anything. The guy's an idiot; I learned that right away.” As the conference proceeded, I learned that Rangel was pretty much Speaker Pelosi’s puppet in those meetings, and that her behavior behind the scenes was even worse. I was told that she didn’t care if a Farm Bill passed or not that year. She would have been just as happy with the Senate getting the blame for a failed process as she would have been passing the House version of the bill. Now mind you, this information is second hand and I’m not about to say which Members these staffers worked for, but it certainly doesn’t speak well of either Rangel or Pelosi. So, when I hear something obnoxious about the former, I’m not exactly disinclined to believe it.

For a take on Daschle and Geithner more similar to my opinion of Rangel, see regular WE commenter Dogwalk Musings.

Oh, and that fourth major Democrat I mentioned? According to President Obama at last night’s Alfalfa Dinner, “The labradoodle we picked has some problems with back taxes.” Some other Alfalfa nuggets, courtesy this morning’s Politico Playbook from Mike Allen:

Chief Justice Roberts absolved himself of the botched oath-giving by offering to swear in Alfalfa's new president, then doing so WITH GIANT CUE CARDS… The President's great unreleased lines:... [To Senator Lieberman] No hard feelings because of the election. My door is always open. Feel free to drop by ANY SATURDAY AFTERNOON. ... [To Gov. Palin] I never expected you to be PALLING AROUND with THIS crowd. I want to congratulate you on your Golden Globe for '30 Rock.' .... [To Vernon Jordan] Just because a guy can give great speeches doesn't mean he's going to be a great president. ... I see Chief Justice Roberts is here to administer my daily oath of office. ... [On the similarity between Cheney and Biden] Dick Cheney is a man of few words. Joe Biden is also vice president.