Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

With apologies, I quit blogging to take a new job - and it happened so suddenly that I didn't have time for a farewell post. But I'm sure my new insect overlords won't mind if I take one quick moment to wish you all a merry Christmas! You can find my past reflection on the theology of power and oppression at Christmastime here.

Also - Google searches for both "Lo How An Onion E'er Blooming" & "Lo How An Onion E'er Bloomin'" each yield exactly zero results. This is the perfect idea for a parody - how has no one written or even thought of it yet?

Anyways, this'll be it for the foreseeable future. I'll jump start this blog again one day, but that may well not be until grad school, whenever the heck that happens. Thanks for everything, my wonderful friends and readers!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

On cap-and-trade

Just sent in this letter.

Dear Senator Nelson,

In response to your decision to harm Nebraska's agriculture and citizens by voting against the free market principles of cap-and-trade, all I can say is, enjoy your coming retirement. You have no base, so I hope you're not planning to run again.

Oh, and also this:


(Please picture me with my thumbs in my ears and fingers waggling in the air at your hatred for science and for Nebraska while my tongue makes that noise.)

Nathan Empsall

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Glenn Beck continues his attacks on people of faith

Cross-posted from MyDD.

Something I’ve noticed about Glenn Beck is that most of his attacks are motivated not by ideology or patriotism, but by revenge and personal petulance. First, it was Van Jones, President Obama’s green jobs czar. Beck began his successful smear campaign against Jones about the same time a group co-founded by Jones called for advertisers to boycott Beck for calling the President racist. Then in March, Beck began his screeds against the Bible’s call for social justice, comparing the Catholic Church and others who call for justice to Nazis and Communists. When evangelical leader Jim Wallis politely disagreed with Beck on his blog and called for a public debate between the two, Beck turned his ire on Wallis.

Beck’s latest target is another liberal faith-based group, Faithful America. They are an ecumenical progressive organization focused on such issues as violence in the public discourse, distortion of Scripture, torture, health care, and climate change. (I have often cited their Faith in Public Life news round-up here at MyDD.) However, Beck's anger seems to come not from his belief that only the right-wing is allowed to think about religion but from his recurring desire for revenge. The group recently launched a radio ad to counter Beck’s distortion of the Bible, quoting Scripture and encouraging “a spirit of love and truth” when disagreeing with one another. They also printed and offered free bumper stickers declaring “Driven by Faith, Not by Fear.” (Mine arrived last week.)

Beck, in typical fashion, was outraged that anyone would suggest the Bible is about love, and tore into Faithful America on his radio show last Friday. As usual, he tried to debunk the group mostly by mocking them, not by being serious. His only substantive critiques were that it partners with other people he dislikes, deletes vulgar comments from its webpage, and doesn’t include the word “Jesus” on its homepage and thus isn’t religious. Because of course, the only proof that someone is religious is their use of the word Jesus – we all know there’s not a single religious Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu in the entire world. But seriously, as the name suggests, Faithful America is ecumenical, not Christian. And while Beck is right about their homepage's use of the word “Jesus,” they do in fact have over two dozen mentions of the word “faith” (not even counting their name), as well as seven mentions of “Christian” and numerous links to explicitly Christian organizations (among others).

Faithful America’s response? The same as Wallis’s: they’re asking Beck to participate in an open public debate. They’re not stooping to his level of distortion and dishonesty, but if his reaction to Wallis is any indication, he won’t rise to their level of equality and civil discourse either.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Democrats won't win by running against Bush

Cross-posted from

Even though he wasn’t on the ballot, Democrats ran against George W. Bush in 2008 and won. This isn’t 2008, and that strategy won’t work again. It’s a historical lesson: we can’t fight the current war with the strategy and technology of the last one. I pound my head against the wall every time I see something like this:

Watching yesterday's forum on "Meet the Press" -- which featuring NRCC Chair Pete Sessions, NRSC Chair John Cornyn, DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen and DSCC Chair Bob Menendez -- it appeared to be a Bush vs. Obama debate by proxy… Van Hollen: "During the whole eight years of the Bush administration, we actually lost over 600,000 private sector jobs." And Menendez: "It's not just talking about President Bush; it's the policies that they espouse that are in essence Bush's policies. Those led us to a 72% percent increase in the debt from $5.7 trillion to $9.8 trillion when Bush left."

I’m reminded of a discussion between two pundits I heard on public radio last week, though unfortunately I don’t remember which show so there's no link or transcript. One pundit mentioned that Obama has been president for 2 ½ years. A couple minutes later, the other said basically "Wait a minute; you said two and a half when it’s actually one and a half. I don’t blame you for the slip because neither I nor the interviewer caught it, which speaks to the fact that Obama is now an entrenched reality in voters’ minds and that he owns all the problems he faces."

Politicians have to find a way to play to the voters’ mindset rather than patronizing them by trying to change it, and this year it is, “Talk to me about today’s problems, not yesterday’s. You’re in charge now so I will blame you.” It doesn’t matter if there are too many problems to solve in just two years, and it doesn’t matter when the problems started or why. Many voters feel too busy living their lives to educate themselves about the details, or feel that “common sense” means the problem is what it looks like at first blush and don’t tell me otherwise. Hence the new Pew poll that finds most voters think Obama started the bailouts, and hence Republican Senator Bob Bennett’s comment that voters “confused TARP and the stimulus plan. They confused TARP and the omnibus bill. They confused TARP and the president’s budget.”

Unfortunately, Democrats aren’t going to get the chance to correct voters about the Bush policies. A candidate gets just 30 seconds to be quoted in a news story and 30 seconds to shoot an ad, and just three points voters will remember from a fair booth or local speech. Don’t give them a ten minute economic lecture or timeline – find something concise that shares their focus on the now. They won’t even listen if you start with a focus on the yesterday. They’ll walk away muttering, “Typical politician, pointing fingers and making excuses.”

So unless your opponent was a prominent member of Bush’s economic team, a better campaign line than blaming Bush would be, “Thanks to Democratic policies, the private sector has created jobs for six straight months after losing them for every month since 2007. Tea party opponents, however, want to get rid of those policies, as well as Social Security and the Civil Rights Act.” You could add “We could have done even more if the Senate opposition was focused on policy rather than politics,” but that’s starting to get into the procedural weeds about which non-junkies don’t want to spend time learning. When it's time to talk about your opponent, talk about the current opponents - John Boehner's pro-BP and pro-Wall Street comments, the aforementioned Rand Paul and Sharron Angle - not about the past.

The moment you say the magic word Bush, voters will think you’re shirking responsibility and ducking blame. It doesn’t matter if it is indeed Bush’s fault and it doesn’t matter if you’re not to blame – we’re talking about perception and about November, not about policy or truth. So again, Democrats have to share the voters’ focus on today, not waste time trying to get them to think about yesterday. Don’t rerun the 2008 campaign when it’s not 2008.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ben Nelson and Judd Gregg ignore their constituents

Cross-posted from MyDD.

Ben Nelson doesn’t understand climate change, and is going to harm the very industries he seeks to protect. But at least he’s not Judd Gregg, who refuses to think for himself - and that should drive even tea partiers nuts. From Politico:

“A carbon tax or trade piece would significantly increase the utility rates in Nebraska for businesses, agriculture and individuals,” the Nebraska Democrat told POLITICO. “I don’t think that’s an appropriate way to go. And while I’d usually vote for a motion to proceed, this is so extraordinary, that I just can’t bring myself to do that.”

Either Nelson’s quote is bogus and he has nothing but contempt for Nebraska agriculture, or he doesn’t understand a thing about climate change. Yes, Nebraska does have incredibly cheap electricity from Wyoming coal and that will probably change at least somewhat under if carbon is priced, but if carbon isn’t priced, there won’t BE much Nebraska agriculture left to care!

A panel of ecologists, biologists and professors told an audience of 50 on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's East Campus that as the world grows warmer in the next 50 years, so will Nebraska.

It wasn't a comforting message.

Declines in Rocky Mountain snowpack could devastate flows in the Platte River.

More precipitation could fall, but the chances of catastrophic flooding will increase.

Nebraska will get a longer growing season, but it also will get weeds and insect pests that have never been able to survive the region's harsh winters.

Add to that a Nature Conservancy report that shows Nebraska will see one of the two or three sharpest increases in temperature of any state under any scenario.

New Hampshire’s Judd Gregg is even worse. The same Politico article quotes him saying, “I’ll wait to see what the leadership position is before I make a decision on what I’d do” regarding a possible filibuster.

What’s that, Judd? Can’t think for yourself about these things? Listen, you weren’t elected to represent the citizens of leadership’s Arizona and Kentucky, you were elected to represent the citizens of New Hampshire – and a new UNH poll out just this week shows that they understand that climate change is real and that it is caused by humans. So do the right thing, not the Mitch McConnell puppet thing.

Gregg's retiring this year. Let's replace him with someone who will actually try, and help Paul Hodes get to the Senate.

For the record, both men voted for cloture on the Lieberman-Warner climate bill. So Nelson's just plain flip-flopping, and Gregg doesn't want us to know yet if he's a decent guy or not.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Idaho Republicans hate the word “fiesta,” demand repeal of the 17th Amendment, and require loyalty oath

Cross-posted from MyDD.

Even when ID-01 is in Democratic hands, Repubs still know how to steal the show. Two inane stories the past couple weeks. First, at their state convention, the party voted to enshrine repealing the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators) into their party platform, as well as demand that all Repub candidates sign a party loyalty oath. Second, the Bonner County Republican Party is outraged, OUTRAGED! that their county’s fair has chosen “Fiesta” as this year’s theme. This is America and we speak American, gulldarnit!

Let’s think about that party platform for a second: signing a loyalty oath to support repeal of the 17th Amendment. That means that if you’re pro-life, think Obama is a socialist, want to get rid of social security and the income tax, and can’t wait to drill baby drill but also think that people should have their right to elect their own representatives, then you are not right-wing enough for the Idaho Repub Party. By the way, that 17th Amendment? It was originally co-sponsored and introduced by an Idaho Republican in 1911, Senator William Borah.

From the Idaho Democratic Party:

It is now clear that the "new" Idaho Republican Party is interested not in governing but in ruling our state and its people...

Some of these extremist proposals included disbanding all Idaho public schools, creating a state militia, forbidding closure of poorly run publicly-funded charter schools that are drowning in red ink, and rejecting school-based vaccination clinics (vaccinations were called "unnecessary drugging of our children").

"The Idaho Democratic Party welcomes all well-intentioned voters to join us in finding solutions to the problems this state now faces. We embrace a wide range of views and voters. At the same time, the Idaho Republican Party is quickly moving to the extreme right, far away from its traditional, moderate center," stated [Democratic Chairman Keith] Roark.

To Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID)’s credit, he refuses to sign the loyalty oath.

But that’s not even half as crazy as one of the county parties. Just north of my home in Kootenai County, Repubs are furious that a Spanish word - "fiesta" - was chosen (way back in January) as the theme for this year’s Bonner County Fair. In protest, they have declared that the theme of their booth will be "celebrate," and they have written to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to ask if she has any Arizona license plates she could spare for them to decorate their booth.

The Twin Falls Times-News titled their responding editorial, “A bigot is a bigot, in any language” and said that Repubs should “avoid insulting 10 percent of your political constituency.” But my favorite line from this whole affair comes from Fair Board Chairman Tim Cary, who asked of the food court, "Are we supposed to change the name of a burrito to something in English?"

Small wonder that CQ just upgraded ID-01, once the national Repubs’ top target, from "toss-up" to 'leans Dem."

Per Boise Weekly, the Bonner County Democrats have responded to the fiesta flap. Chairwoman Laura Bry says they will have donkey piñatas at their booth.

I should also point out that Sarah Palin was born in Bonner County.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Angle joins long list of BP-defending Republicans

Cross-posted from MyDD.

Nevada Repub Senate nominee Sharron Angle agreed with Joe Barton on a call-in radio show yesterday, echoing his claim that its escrow fund for spill victims is a government “slush fund.”

A caller said that Obama had "basically extorted $20 billion from a private company," and asked Angle what she thought of "the $20 billion slush fund."

"Government shouldn't be doing that to a private company," Angle replied. "And I think you named it clearly: It's a slush fund… They're actually using this crisis if you will, because they never waste one -- Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals -- they are using this crisis now to get in cap and trade, and every crime and penalty, and slush fund.”

Angle tried to clarify herself today, claiming that her actual position on the issue is the complete opposite of yesterday’s remarks. She’s been doing a lot of that lately. She just doesn’t get that voters can sense authenticity. A candidate who makes a gaffe can pull a 30 or even a 45, but they can’t pull a 180. This flap isn’t going to end well for Angle.

And yet boy does she ever have friends. Let’s review which Republicans have claimed either that BP shouldn’t have to set up a fund for its victims or shouldn’t pay for the Gulf clean-up:

Yup. This is definitely turning into a party philosophy and mindset.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

And Also With You

Got this joke in my inbox today, from my daily joke service:

In our Anglican church, each service begins with a greeting. The officiating clergyman says, "The Lord be with you." The congregation used to respond by saying, "And with thy spirit."

But, with the modernizing of the liturgy, the minister now says, "The Lord be with you," and everyone responds with, "And also with you."

One Sunday a visiting bishop went to a church where the sound system was known to be old and unreliable. As he approached the microphone, he tapped it several times and
finally said, "There's something wrong with this!"

Without hesitation, the whole congregation answered faithfully, "And also with you."

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Churches and Flags

Thought I'd share this timely piece with you for the Fourth from Fr. Lane Denson III in Tennessee, about the proper Biblical relationship between the church and the state. As my own rector reminded us this morning here in Idaho, the liberty of our politics and Founding Fathers is a great one, and the liberty of Christ is a great one, but don't ever confuse or combine the two.
Any flag is a symbol, and symbols communicate.

When a flag flies at full staff the announcement is peace, victory, rule or whatever adjective you might speak in the situation at that time.

When a flag flies upside down, the message is distress.

When a flag flies at half mast, the message is sorrow or death

When a flag is placed on the right hand side of a seat of responsibility, as at the President's desk in the oval office, the message is allegiance.

When a flag is torn, stepped on or burned, the message is
rejection or rebellion, as at the Boston Tea Party.

Both Hebrew and Christian scriptures record two problems as always having plagued the People of God. (1) Syncretism, becoming conformed to the cultural ways instead of bringing the culture into the ways of God. (2) Nationalism, allowing the rule of God to be replaced by the rule of the State or King.

The first Commandment says no other God, and that includes kings, states, and constitutions. The prophetic movement came to the fore in earnest when David decided he was above the law of God. Nathan spoke with clarity. Henry II tried to make Thomas à Becket bow to the will of the throne, and blood was shed in Canterbury Cathedral. And on, and on, over and over, the conflict between Church and State.

In the early 1900s a subtle thing occurred in this country. The Stars and Stripes were placed on the right hand side of the altar in the churches. The message, perhaps unintended, was that the Church owes allegiance to the State. To place the Nation's flag in such a position is like placing the Church's flag to the right of the President's desk in the Oval Office. Such a message proclaimed in the church is contrary to the covenants. It is also an act of idolatry.

Yet, flags do have a place in the Church -- the Alms Bason. On National Days, such as the 4th of July, to place a properly folded National Flag in the Alms Bason is to offer to God what we have done as his stewards of the land and society of a country. The People of God are inhabitants of every nation on this earth, but we owe primary obedience to none of them.

Let us consider well what our flags communicate. Maybe the time has come to remove all National Flags from the Nave. Let them be placed in the Alms Bason on National Days.

At Winston Churchill's funeral, the casket was placed before the High Altar with five pillows on the altar step. Each pillow bore a symbol of his life in the service of God. One pillow bore the Union Jack.

What better example might we have?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Musical Monday on a Thursday: The Firefly Song

One of my favorite Alan Jackson tunes. More bluegrassy than country - go figure; the wonderful Alison Krauss produced.

Rebutting Phyllis Schlafly on Elena Kagan

A friend posted this article from Phyllis Schlafly about Elena Kagan on my Facebook page. It's such an atrocious article that I didn't want my rebuttal to remain a Facebook comment, so here it is in blog form.

I do, as do all living retired Republican soliticors general.. Phyllis Schlafly is one of the nuttiest, most uncredible writers in the country. I'd like to see the transcript of that 2001 interview she quotes, to make sure she didn't distort it or take it out of context.

It's silly to attack Kagan for having the chief justice of Israel's Supreme ... See MoreCourt speak. Schlafly quotes that judge at length, but doesn't tell us what exactly Kagan said about him other than that she invited him. Don't quote the judge; quote Kagan! What's wrong with hearing diverse views, including ones we ourselves may not hold? And let's remember that Israel's is one of the closest judicial system in the world to our own, so it's judicial leaders are worth bringing to our own law schools, regardless of their views left or right. That's a silly point for Schlafly to spend the first half of her article on.

Also, Constitution Day isn't a big deal at academic institutions. Maybe it should be, but it isn't, so that's not much of an attack on Kagan either. And why does Schlafly call that transnationalist Kagan's "hero"? Just because he was one of dozens and dozens of speakers Kagan invited, he's automatically her hero? C'mon, what a cheap shot, what a partisan attack aimed not at the truth but at advancing an agenda.

It's also silly to call a lawyer an "extremist" because she opposed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. I do support that ban and would have voted for it if in Congress, but there are Constitutional questions surrounding it. Remember, a conservative Court struck it down once before it was rewritten and upheld.

And finally, I can cite three polls that have different results than Rasmussen. Rasmussen, as is often the case, is an outlier here.

This article makes some of the thinnest arguments I have ever seen. Even if I opposed Kagan, I'd be embarrassed to have this article on my side.

Monday, June 28, 2010

How Obama Could Lose Me

Cross-posted from

President Obama has had a jam-packed two years and done some great things: Saving the economy from collapse. Health care reform. Now financial reform. Two qualified Supreme Court nominees. A tobacco law we tried for over a decade to pass. Credit card reform. The Lily Ledbetter Pay Act. Support for high-speed rail, clean energy research, and other green initiatives. On the foreign side, we're getting out of Iraq, albeit slowly. And unlike many progressives, I supported the Afghanistan surge.

But I supported it because Obama included the beginning of a timetable. Yet yesterday, at the G-20 summit in the wake of Petraeus appointment, he seemed to be back away from that promise - and that's where he could lose me.

Progressives have been uncertain about Obama in the areas of foreign policy and executive power for quite some time. He has done very little to roll back George W. Bush's unconstitutional and dangerous expansion of executive power, and now he's implying that he'll pull another Bush and lead us down the same road of endless war. From yesterday's G-20 press conference (emphasis my own):

We intend to be a partner with Afghanistan over the long term. But that is different from us having troops on the ground...

What I expect is that by the end of this year, we will have seen progress on the strategy that was laid out. We will conduct a full review. Those things that are not working, we will fix. Those things that are working we will build on -- both on the civilian side, and on the military side, as well as on the diplomatic side...

I think that right now the debate surrounding Afghanistan is presented as either we get up and leave immediately because there’s no chance at a positive outcome, or we stay basically indefinitely and do “whatever it takes” for as long as it takes. And what I said last year I will repeat, which is we have a vital national interest in making sure that Afghanistan is not used as a base to launch terrorist attacks...

So, A, we’ve got a vital interest in the region. B, we do not expect because of our involvement in Afghanistan that the country is going to completely transform itself in a year or two years or five years. President Karzai does not expect that. The Afghan people don’t expect that. Afghanistan has its own culture. It is a very proud culture. It has a lot of work to do with respect to development and it’s going to have to find its own path....

Now, there has been a lot of obsession around this whole issue of when do we leave. My focus right now is how do we make sure that what we’re doing there is successful, given the incredible sacrifices that our young men and women are putting in. And we have set up a mechanism whereby we are going to do a review -- and I’ve signaled very clearly that we’re not going to just keep on doing things if they're not working -- and that by next year we will begin a process of transition.

That doesn’t mean we suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us.

I don't want to turn off the lights and close the door behind us next summer. I do, however, want to rapidly flick the light switch on and off for a minute as a heads up to the Afghani people, signaling last call. Ten years is one thing; ten years and counting is another.

It's tough to tell what, if anything, the President was signaling with these answers. He says we'll help Afghanistan for the long term, but not necessarily with troops. That sounds good. But then he says we'll build on our military success even after next summer, and the only instance where he talks time he says "five years," and that's troubling. Mr. President, you promised the beginning of a withdrawal next summer, not a build-up. But what's most troubling is the mocking tone he uses when talking about the war's opponents. I am not an opponent of this war - yet - but taking a different position than the or demanding answers from the White House does not qualify as "obsessing."

The President said his focus is not on how to withdraw, but on how to win. I want to win in Afghanistan too, but at some point it becomes a Pyrrhic victory, a victory that just isn't worth what it once was. If by next summer the end isn’t in sight, we’ll have to get out. Even if the end is in sight but would require years more of troops-on-the-ground, we’ll have to get out. As I said, a decade is one thing, but a decade and counting is another - especially since a responsible withdrawal would take another full year anyway.

I'm with the President now, especially but on the domestic side, and I'll answer OFA's calls to help with the energy bill and the midterm election. But next summer’s review will include the withdrawal of at least two brigades and the implementation of a timetable, or Obama will likely lose me.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Obama Doing All He Can For The Gulf, Despite Repub Criticisms

Cross-posted from

Conservatives continue to hound the President for his handling of the BP oil spill, but there continues to be no “there” there. The basic question one has to ask these critics is, what more would you have him do? What is he not doing that you think he should?

True, communication and transparency were lacking for weeks. But the only other substantive, policy-based answer critics tend to give is that the President should have waived the Jones Act and accepted the assistance of European ships, but didn’t because of his ties to labor unions. The truth, however, is that the federal government HAS accepted some foreign aid and it HAS given legitimate reasons why other aide was refused. The same cannot be said of the Gulf State governors who, despite their criticisms of the President, are not using all of the resources at their own disposal.

Prospective 2012 (though I’d wager 2016) presidential candidate Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said,  “It's clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here,” and Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) Tweeted, “State Department reports today 17 countries have offered 21 times to send aid, including skimmers. Why has the White House refused help?” I’ll get to the hypocrisy of Jindal’s criticisms, as well as those from other Gulf State governors, in a moment. First, however, here’s why Politifact rated LeMieux’s quote “barely true,” which seems to be a rather generous rating:

The State Department on June 14 released a list of [17 countries] that offered to help… The State Department also detailed what offers had been accepted.

From Mexico -- Two skimmers and 13,780 feet of boom (accepted in early May).

From Norway -- Eight skimming systems (accepted in early May).

From Netherlands -- Three sets of Koseq Rigid Sweeping Arms, which attach to the sides of ships and gather oil (accepted on May 23).

From Canada -- 9,843 feet of boom (accepted on June 4).

On June 15, Qatar, the 18th country, offered chains of containment boom and Sweden followed up on an earlier offer to provide skimmers. State Department officials also started making a distinction about the aid -- it wasn't coming for free…<

The Washington Post reported about the decision to accept or decline foreign aid in its June 15 edition, noting that the decision to accept foreign aid came after weeks of delay, and that foreign governments were unsure if they should contact the government or BP. In some cases, the Post reported, the administration rejected offers because they failed to meet U.S. specifications: For example, the private consortium that serves as Norway's spill-response team uses a chemical dispersant that the Environmental Protection Agency has not approved.

In other words, Jindal, LeMieux, and right-wing bloggers are claiming that Obama refused aide and won’t tell us why despite the facts that a) he was unable to accept many of those offers because they were made to BP, not to him; b) the Coast Guard and State Department have indeed accepted some aide and c) legitimate explanations were provided for the aide that was refused.

On a similar note, if right-wing blogs and Senators are going to criticize the President because the federal government hasn’t blindly accepted all that was offered to it, they should do the same for the four affected governors, all Republicans. With the feds it’s skimmers and booms to stop the leak; with the governors it’s National Guardsmen to clean up the spill. From CBS News on Thursday:

All along the Gulf coast, local officials have been demanding more help from the federal government to fight the spill, yet the Gulf states have deployed just a fraction of the National Guard troops the Pentagon has made available, CBS News Chief Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

That's a particular problem for the state of Louisiana, where the Republican governor has been the most vocal about using all resources.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's message has been loud and clear, using language such as "We will only be winning this war when we're actually deploying every resource," "They (the federal government) can provide more resources" and "It's clear the resources needed to protect our coast are still not here."…

But CBS News has learned that in addition to Louisiana's 1,053 troops of 6,000, Alabama has deployed 432 troops of 3,000 available. Even fewer have been deployed in Florida - 97 troops out of 2,500 - and Mississippi - 58 troops out of 6,000…

The Coast Guard says every request to use the National Guard has been approved, usually within a day. Now Jindal's office acknowledged to CBS News the governor has not specifically asked for more Guard troops to be deployed.

At the end of the day, it would seem that policy-wise Obama is doing just about all he can to stop the leak, and that he’s certainly no more behind the curve than are the local Republican officials. Yes, he could have demanded more transparency from BP earlier; yes, he could have better communicated what his Cabinet was doing earlier than he did; and yes, perhaps he could have subjected himself to more deficit criticisms by renting or purchasing more foreign aid. But none of that would have actually stopped the leak or even slowed its rate. Maybe his leadership style needs some tweaking, but from a policy perspective, he’s doing just about all he can.

Thankfully, voters seem to get it. Only one new poll – NBC/WSJ – shows the spill affecting his approval rating, while most others show him holding steady right around 48.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Craig's List Apartment Scam

Wow, I kind of let this blog die. That was an accident. I've been doing lots of political blogging at MyDD and personal rants at Facebook. But this blog has mattered to me for years so I'm sure I'll bring it back.

Anyway, I wanted to get this into Google search results: beware the West Africa rental scam while searching for apartments on Craig's List. This 2008 post from "Aspiring to Ordinary" has more info. This post on Craig's List, "$1100 / 3br - 1307 Emerald St Ne (Washington, DC)," is an example of the scam. He uses the e-mail

So, beware.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Mother's Day Sermon

Delivered this weekend at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Bellevue, NE. Relevant Scripture: John 5:1-9.

Who is, as one Texas priest puts it, “that one person who manages to make you feel [both] that you’re special and that you aren’t living up to your potential?”

I can think of at least two answers. There’s Jesus, who loves us enough to die for us, making us feel both loved and unworthy at the same time. And then of course – there’s mom.

Today’s Gospel, this healing miracle, is I think a very appropriate passage for Mother’s Day. Mothers do many amazing things, from throwing awesome birthday parties to working two jobs. Not least among these is their miraculous healing powers – or at least, their children think so.

From the child’s perspective, woe to that boy whose owie is bandaged before it can be kissed! A child can’t open a child-proof cap – allegedly – but mommy can. No little boy, upon falling down and breaking a bone or waking up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache, screams “MEDIC!” No, they cry Mama.

Personally, when I was about four, I was playing in the driveway one day when all of a sudden my mom came tearing out the front door holding my blood-soaked baby brother. He’d crashed into the coffee table and gashed his forehead, not too badly but badly enough for a few stitches, and it didn’t take Mom three minutes to have him in the car and ready to go.

But that’s all small potatoes. Mothers’ healing powers extend far beyond the physical, don’t they? At one point in fifth grade, I guess the bullies just finally got to be too much for me. I didn’t want to admit to myself that their words hurt, but I was talking to mom about school and somehow came ‘round to the bullies, and I guess I just started crying. There we sat on the floor in the doorway to my room, her holding me close and rocking me back and forth, me bawling my eyes out for the first time in years. I was 11, not 4, but mommy will always be mommy.

Even in the Bible, we watch mothers take the steps necessary to heal their children, physically and otherwise. Think about Jochebed, who put her son Moses in a basket and gave him up to the Egyptian rulers rather than keep him herself and risk his death. Jochebed was lucky enough that she was able to continue to raise Moses as his nurse, but the nameless woman in First Kings didn’t know she could also get that consolation. She was prepared to give her child up forever to a spiteful prostitute rather than let King Solomon cut it in half. Better to spend a lifetime painfully wondering about the child’s whereabouts and welfare than to let it be the one who suffers – and I think most mothers would agree.

But all this raises the question: If, like Jesus and the peasants, mothers heal their children, who heals the mothers? Because let’s face it, it ain’t the kids. I’m not going to stand here and preach about my own worst behavior – that would be an hour-long sermon - but I think it’s fair to say that my brother and I are the source of some of our mom’s deepest wounds. Mothers take more pride and more joy in their children’s successes than do the children, yes, but that also means they take more shame in the failures and more pain in the wounds, and find more harm than was intended in the neglect.

Children give mothers their highest highs, but also their lowest lows. We see this even in the Bible. How painful must it have been for Mary to stand there, wailing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die, powerless not only to keep him alive but even to comfort Him? Never mind that it was predicted from the start, that Gabriel had warned Mary “a sword will pierce your own soul too,” it had to be the worst pain imaginable. But, Jesus made up for it by giving her one of the greatest gifts imaginable, that highest high a mother looks for, when He made sure that she would be the one to discover His resurrection, letting her know that the pain she was forced to see in her baby boy’s eyes was not the end!

That is who ultimately heals the mothers. Jesus is there for them for He is there for all of us. He is there to say, just as this man who suffered for 38 years was healed when he least expected it, so will you suffer over that stovetop and suffer through those dirty diapers – and suffer through heartaches and betrayals – only to be rewarded in the end by the God who asked you to do this in the first place. Mankind would not continue without the healing touch of mothers, and it wouldn’t be worth continuing without the loving rewards of Jesus Christ.

There’s another link between the two, as well. Who is it that usually first teaches a child about Jesus Christ? The vast majority of people the world over worship the same way their parents did, and indeed, though I do disagree with my parents on any number of other issues, it was my mother who first taught me the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm.

The Bible is replete with stories of such mothers. Mary is the most famous, but we all know the stories of Eve, Salome, Hagar, and yes, if there’s anyone who plans to crack mother-in-law jokes all weekend, don’t forget Naomi and Ruth. And then of course are Sarah and Elizabeth, both old and barren but given children in their old age, each made to be a living symbol of God’s promise.

There’s a sitcom you may be familiar with, “Malcolm in the Middle.” In one episode, one of the teenagers learns a valuable lesson about sexism and his own misogyny, then says something to the effect of “Women are just like anybody else, they’re people too!” Setting aside the irony of his language, there is an important point there. Women, mothers, are just people, no better or worse in God’s eyes than fathers, child-less people, or children. And just as no person deserves to be down, neither does anyone deserve to be put on a pedestal. We are all broken sinners, in need of the healing love of Christ.

But if there’s anyone on earth who can at least stand as a symbol of that healing love, it’s a mother.

My brother’s forehead was broken, but Mom picked him up and things were okay. We are all broken, but just as He did the man on the mat, Jesus will pick us up and it will be okay. So on this Mother’s Day, let both this Gospel story and the promises exemplified by Sarah and Elizabeth remind you not just of your own mother but of Christ’s healing love.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

BCP Typo?

Is it just me, or is this a grammatical error? From page 336 in TEC's Book of Common Prayer 1979, in the Rite I Eucharistic Prayer I:

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord;

I really don't think that sentence needs both the "although" and the "yet."

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

On Unity, Community, and God

Saw this great quote on the Sojourners blog today:

By the honest recognition and confession of our human sameness we can participate in the care of God who came, not to the powerful but powerless, not to be different but the same, not to take our pain away but to share it. Through this participation we can open our hearts to each other and form a new community.

- Henri Nouwen, "Out of Solitude"

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Maundy Thursday Sermon: Community, Service, and Prayer

Delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit; Bellevue, NE; 03-07-10. Maundy Thursday: Exodus 12:1-14 • Psalm 116:1, 10-17 • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 • John 13:1-17, 31b-35.

The three holiest days of the church calendar are Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Today is not one of those three days, but, as important as Easter may be, the positive can’t happen without the negative. The joy and power of Easter Sunday are impossible without the pain of Good Friday, and the pain of Good Friday cannot be endured without the tools Christ gives us on Maundy Thursday: community, service, and prayer.

I hope that everyone here tonight will come back for one of tomorrow’s services. Like the rest of Holy Week, Good Friday can completely transform the depth of one’s Easter. It’s easy to just gloss over the bunny’s holiday, but on deeper reflection, what Jesus went through that week, the fact that because of it He understands even the deepest pains of our own lives, should not be trivialized. It should cause us deep discomfort, and even pain. We can get over it at the Saturday vigil, but the Easter services are completely worthless if they follow just another Thursday and Friday at home.

My freshman year of college is when I first truly appreciated Easter. It was also when I first saw Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.” I’d avoided it because I’d heard that it wasn’t completely historically accurate and that it had a number of non-Biblical scenes. There’s nothing wrong with that – the Gospel alone would last maybe 30 minutes, hardly a movie – but Gibson told ABC News that, “Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with… this film. They have a problem with the four Gospels.” And claiming that a 2004 movie showing Satan talking to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane was analogous with the four Gospels really bothered me. But, I always feel it’s important to at least see culturally significant films, so on Good Friday 2006 I took a copy into the basement of the Episcopal campus ministry.

And for all my distaste, for all my frustration with Gibson’s arrogance, I couldn’t help but break down. Seeing Jesus go through even half the violence in that movie, and seeing Him go through it for me, all thoughts of Gibson were washed away and the Gospel really did step forward.

It doesn’t matter what your theology is, you cannot truly experience Easter without experiencing Good Friday – and you can’t get through Good Friday without Maundy Thursday. Christ’s goal at that night’s Last Supper wasn’t just to enjoy one final evening with His friends; it was also to prepare them for what only He realized was to come. He prepared them by giving them three tools, tools He also gives us: community, service, and prayer.

The gift of community is seen primarily in the night’s fellowship. Jesus was there to break bread with his friends and encourage them to keep breaking bread after He was gone. We memorialize this scene as the central act of worship in the Episcopal Church: "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me… This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

And what do we call that act of worship? Communion, very similar to community. Because for all our squabbles, we are still Christians in the same Body of Christ, and at the end of the day, not matter what happened, we worship together before the same God and the same altar.

Those feelings of unity and peace rarely come alone. They are feelings that come when we’re in the company of God’s other children, of our brothers and sisters. Christ brought the disciples together that night to make sure their community would remain bonded together through Him and in Him even after He could no longer sit at the table. But he didn’t just do this with words – He did it with action. He washed His disciples’ feet.

You might not be comfortable with tonight’s optional foot washing. That’s okay – a lot of people aren’t. Our society is not a particularly intimate one, and there are few things more intimate than the foot, what with that many nerve endings all bundled up in one place. So when Christ touched the feet of his disciples, they experienced not just community, but a powerfully intimate one.

The foot washing, of course, wasn’t just a tool of community. It was first and foremost an act of service. Folks in Christ’s day didn’t have cars or bikes. Their prime means of transportation was walking. But not only did they lack cars, they also lacked tennis shoes. They had to stick with sandals and thongs, kicking up dust everywhere they went. Footwashing isn’t a part of today’s culture – you wear your shoes, you take your shower – but in Christ’s time, it was something you had to be intentional about every single time you walked through a door lest you tracked dust everywhere you went. So servants, if you could afford them, would do this gross but necessary task for you several times a day. Christ took the role of a servant, and instructed us to do the same.

Foot washing is no longer necessary, and thus it’s not really service anymore. But it is a powerful annual symbol that reminds us to look for its more modern equivalents: spending not just money but time on food pantries and soup kitchens, voting with more than just self-interest in mind, helping a friend move. These are the modern foot basins where we can wash each others’ feet.

The third tool Christ gave us was prayer. Elsewhere in the Maundy Thursday Scriptures, He prays at great length not for His own path but for His disciples right there at the table. And then, He led them to the Garden of Gethsemane so that He, in the darkest, most terrifying hour of His life, could pray. His last moment of freedom, and He chose to spend talking to His father. Those are powerful examples, and as I discussed, one way we try to follow them is by turning His words into the Eucharistic prayer.

These three things – community, service, and prayer – are helpful, powerful, and dare I say necessary tools for enduring anguish. If they weren’t, Christ would not have used them to prepare His disciples. But as simple actions, they mean nothing. They must be rooted in something even deeper, something even more powerful – love.

Tonight, Christ is handed over to death. And greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Love is not just a schmaltzy Hallmark card. It is what compelled the Messiah to beg God to take the pain from His heart, and then to go through with it anyway. And even though it seems impossible, we are called to try and follow that example: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There’s a country song that says “love isn’t some place that we fall, it’s something that we do.” Community, service, and prayer are all certainly things that we do, and yet, those lyrics have never sat quite right with me. I prefer the way novelist Christopher Moore defines it, in his book “Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal.” The book is fiction, as you can no doubt tell from the title, but I think Moore hits the nail on the head when his young Jesus says that we must love “constantly, instantly, spontaneously, without thought or words… Love is not something you think about, it is a state in which you dwell.”

Moore’s book may be fiction, but the real Jesus dwelled in that state. He loved us enough to die for us, and also to prepare us. So for the pain that comes tomorrow, and for all the pains in life, from hospitals to heartbreaks, we have community, service, and prayer. But above all, we have His love. May that sustain us through tonight’s chapel vigil, tomorrow’s crucifixion, and beyond.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My First 2010 Fantasy Draft

For your consideration, my first team of the 2010 Fantasy Baseball season. It's a 5x5 roto YaHell public league. I went in a little unprepared, but had the first pick for the first time in a decade so actually got to have Pujols for once. That was nice. I finally got past drafting pitchers too early and focused on offense, but I'm still struggling to get better at trade offers. I'm always reluctant to give away much, and I need to get over that. At the moment, I'm trying to deal from saves and steals and get a more powerful bat at SS or 3B. I may also drop Posey for Mike Cameron.

C: Russell Martin
1B: Albert Pujols
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Jorge Cantu
SS: Yunel Escobar
OF: Jacoby Ellsbury
OF: Jason Bay
OF: Josh Hamilton
Util: Derrek Lee
Util: Michael Bourn
Bench: Todd Helton
Bench: Stephen Drew
Bench: Buster Posey

SP: Josh Beckett
SP: Wandy Rodriguez
SP: Randy Wolf
SP: Mark Buehrle
SP: Erik Bedard
RP: Heath Bell
RP: Huston Street
RP: Frank Francisco
RP: Michael Wuertz
P: Joba Chamberlain

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Asking the Right Questions, Cohen Brothers Style

Here is my column from the March edition of The Flame, the monthly newsletter for the Nebraska church where I work. It's based around the new Cohen Brothers movie, "A Serious Man." Also, here's a Catholic priest reviewing that movie.

Each year, I make a point of watching all of the films nominated for Best Picture Academy Awards. They are not always the best movies out there, but it is as good a viewing guide as any.

One of this year’s nominees is the latest from the Cohen Brothers, “A Serious Man.” The movie is about a physics professor whose wife asks him for a divorce, and the struggles they face in their Jewish community. Critics argue about the film’s message. Is it about the way God works in our daily lives? Our struggles to understand God? A modern retelling of the Book of Job?

Given where I am in life right now, what I got out of the film was probably not what the Cohen Brothers actually intended, but I’m going to run with it anyway: It is not always the answers to our questions that matter, but our struggles with the questions themselves.

At one point, the professor’s rabbi answers three questions from another man, a dentist, who is also struggling trying to figure out what God (or Hashem) is telling him. The rabbi’s answers are at first frustrating but perhaps go deeper than would appear: “The teeth? We don't know. A sign from Hashem? Don't know. Helping others? Couldn't hurt.”

The professor and the dentist are both frustrated by their questions, but ultimately events conspire to render the answers they seek meaningless anyway. It was the process of asking that mattered most, for through their struggles they grew closer to God.

This lesson is one many of you already know quite well. I, however, encountered it for the first time just last year in one of my Native American studies courses at college. From discussions with Father Tom to spiritual direction at Resurrection House, it is a lesson that has followed me to Nebraska.

My six months here have forced me to ask many new questions about life and about myself. One simple example comes from a book I recently read by author Shane Claiborne, who writes, “If you ask most people what Christians believe, they can tell you… But if you ask the average person how Christians live, they are struck silent. We have not shown the world another way of doing life. Christians pretty much live like everybody else; they just sprinkle a little Jesus in along the way.” Prompted by this quote, I have begun to ask not just, “What am I called to do?” but also “Who am I called to be?”

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, but I continue to ask. Perhaps that’s all God wants me to do right now. Perhaps it is when we struggle with asking that we grow, even more so than when we finally live into the answers.

Why does God teach us the way God does? Don’t know. Why is it so hard to live on God’s time? Don’t know. Should we do more to help others? Couldn’t hurt.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

This Is Your Pop Culture

I love these two videos, one parodying a generic movie and one parodying a generic newscast. There's got to be a name for this type of comedic parody, where the participants just list the contents rather than actually providing them but do so in a humorous way.

First, a trailer for a "Generic Movie Based on the Movie They've Been
Releasing Every Single Week Since the 1980s." H/T Roger Ebert.

Next, a generic newscast. H/T half my Facebook friends.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The D Smears Trustee Candidate

Okay, "smear" might be too strong a word for my headline. But turnabout's fair play, right?

A headline in Dartmouth's daily campus paper, The Dartmouth, yesterday read, "Asch '79 withheld business past." That's a misleading headline, and it's unfair to Asch. It implies that the paper just discovered that Asch has been hiding something, when in fact there's no new revelation at all. The D's story is basically, "Asch didn't answer all of our questions in the past, which you already knew, but we figured out the answers anyway, and here they are."

"Withholding" implies that the man had something he was supposed to give up but didn't, like withholding evidence from a defense attorney. No, he just didn't answer a college kid's questions. It might have been fair to run a headline a few weeks ago saying, "Asch Declines To Comment On Business Past," but it's pretty bogus to use the past tense "withheld" as if something ethically shady is just now coming to light. This is what we call trashy tabloid journalism, but I've come to expect little better from The D.

Asch is no angel in this story. He did indeed decline to tell The D that he ran a medical needle manufacturing company, which in and of itself would be fine, there's nothing wrong with not telling a student reporter everything about your private life, except he's tried to make his opponent for trustee's past a major issue in the race. Even though I'm supporting Asch, I have to be candid, it's a little hypocritical to harp about your opponent's past while refusing to discuss your own. Still, though it's not great, it's also not the scandal reflected in The D's headline.

I haven't mentioned the reporter's name in this post because usually reporters don't write their own headlines. I certainly never did at the Spokane Spokesman Review, and rarely did at the Dartmouth Free Press. Whoever it was, though, certainly screwed up. I support Joe Asch for Trustee, and The D owes him an apology.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Civility and Social Justice

You've probably heard by now about Glenn Beck's outrageous attacks on Christianity. I've written two posts on the subject at MyDD: "Glenn Beck Attacks Pastors, Doesn't Understand What Church Is" on Friday and "Glenn Beck Godwins Jesus, Part 2" this morning.

My favorite quote on the matter comes from Br. James Patrick Hall on Facebook: "I am concerned that too many Christians get most of their understanding of how to treat others from Rush, Glenn, Sean and Bill, rather than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels or the Hebrew Prophets, even the Law, shows God's immense care and concern for the poor and how we as people of faith [are to] treat them!!"

Jim Kim Dances To "Thriller"

Greatest. University. President. Ever.

In this clip, the case of "Dartmouth Idol" performs a tribute to Michael Jackson, and are joined not by Vincent Price but by... a dancing College President Jim Kim. YES. AWESOME.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I AM: Learning to Trust God in God's Time (Sermon)

Delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit; Bellevue, NE; 03-07-10. Year C, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 3:1-15 • Psalm 63:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 • Luke 13:1-9.

My dad has had lousy health pretty much since I was born. He’s fine now, and in fact, thanks to a kidney transplant he got about two years ago, he’s actually in the best health of my life. But it was an extremely rough 20 years getting there.

It started when I was about nine months old and Dad was diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of vasculitis. His lungs were virtually destroyed, his kidneys were kaput, and he was put on dialysis, oxygen, feeding tubes – you get the picture.

I was just nine years old – I couldn’t have cared less. But as you may imagine, this was all very rough on my mom. She’s a very strong woman, but she was absolutely terrified about losing Dad and facing life, and motherhood, alone. The day the weekend doctor quite impatiently told her that Dad wouldn’t make it through the night was one of the hardest days of her life.

And then, just as she had no idea what to do next, she heard a voice. There was no one else in the room, but the voice was very real, and it said,

“It will be okay.”

No details, no instructions – just, “It will be okay.” Things didn’t get any easier, but my Mom now knew that God hadn’t gone anywhere and that whatever happened, it would be okay. And indeed, it was, and still is, okay.

When we trust God to do what needs to be done and to do it in God’s time, things always wind up okay. But, when we trust ourselves even just to know, much less to do, what needs to be done, it’s usually a different story. This message, trust in God alone, may be clichéd, but it runs deeper than any inspirational Hallmark card, and it starts with today’s Old Testament lesson.

This story, of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt, is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith as well as the heart of liberation theology, the 1960s Latin American movement. Liberation theologians teach that Christ came to liberate the poor from unjust political and economic circumstances. They come to this faith from Scripture, pointing not only to the Exodus but also to Christ’s rebukes of Rome and to passages like the Magnificat, where Mary says that God casts down the mighty and lifts up the poor.

This theology has its critics, some of whom claim that yes, God does liberate us, but not from El Salvadorian death squads or other political injustices. No no, God liberates us from sin, and from ourselves!

Eh – I would certainly agree that God liberates us from sin and that most liberation theologians have too narrow a view of Scripture, but, the burning bush itself said that God will take on unjust governments, and who am I to argue with a burning bush?

The thing is, though, that God does it God’s way, and in God’s time. The real problem with liberation theology’s narrow view of Jesus is that mortals can also be social revolutionaries. Christ was a reformer, yes, but unlike a Thomas Paine or a Martin Luther King, He was and is one who brings us into a deeper intimacy with our Creator and who reforms on God’s time, not our time.

The thing to remember about that is that we can’t hurry up God’s time, as painful as it may sometimes be.

And it is painful. There’s a reason they say recovery from divorce takes a year for every year of marriage. And there’s a reason that even after coming home, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer PTSD. Liberation, whether from personal pain or public oppression, is painful, and it takes time.

Getting through that pain is where trusting God comes in. All too often we don’t understand why time has to be liberation’s most important ingredient, but that’s because we run on our time. And when we do so, when we give up on God’s time and decide that we just can’t wait for Him anymore, that’s when we fall in even lonelier ways.

Look at today’s Epistle. The Christian leaders at Cornith were strong, but their strength turned into arrogance and led them to trust in themselves too much. So Paul warns them, stop putting Christ to the test. “If you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” He reminds them: the Israelites didn’t lead themselves out of the desert.

We can’t do this alone. When we trust God’s time, we find Cana. When we trust our time, then like the 23,000 felled in a single day, we get in some pretty big trouble.

This is also what Jesus was warning about. We can’t do things our way. Even when Pilate slaughters friends from Galilee in that holiest of places, the Temple, or the sanctuary at the Church of the Holy Spirit, we cannot take up our own arms in our own time and think ourselves capable of wiping out the threat. Bishop Tom Wright, the same one we’re watching in our Sunday evening Lenten series, explains this Gospel passage:

“In line with the warnings he has issued several times already... Jesus is making it clearer that those who refuse his summons to change direction, to abandon the crazy flight into national rebellion against Rome, will suffer the consequences. Luke’s arrangement of the material... leaves us in no doubt as to how he saw the matter: when Jerusalem fell in AD 70, it was as a direct result of refusing to follow the way of peace which Jesus had urged throughout his ministry.”

When we don’t follow Christ’s urgings, when we think we don’t have time to wait for God, bad things happen. How bad? Will 23,000 people – half of Bellevue – be felled in one day?

I don’t know. I doubt it.

I believe God is a God of pure love who, as Fr. Tom said last week, gives the gift of grace even to those who don’t know it. But at the same time, Christ said that if we don’t repent, then we will suffer the same fate as the Temple’s Galileans, and Christ didn’t say things He didn’t mean.

We can’t ignore Scripture’s warnings, but we needn’t dwell on them, either. We should be motivated not by fear but by reverence for God’s glory and by gratitude for the liberation that has come and is to come – even if it doesn’t come on our timetable.

And for all the pain of following the holy timetable, for all the frustration of screaming at God but getting no explanation back, it’s still worth it. Jesus knew that pain too – just look at the Garden of Gethsemane – but He also knew something else. He knew God’s name: I AM.

Those two words represent far more than a simple proper noun. If God wanted to reveal just a name, He would have stuck with Yahweh or Jehovah. But instead, he tells Moses not just a name, but an identity.

I AM not male, I AM not female.
I AM not white, I AM not Arabic.
I AM not rural, I AM not urban.

This is a name that transcends every boundary we know and every label in our language, a name that pulls us from our time into God’s time.

I exist.
I AM here.
I AM present.
I AM for you.

So when Jesus tells me to wait, that it’s not God’s time yet, I’m not going to say no, Rome is at my door NOW, I must ACT! I’m going to say, ok. You’re Jesus and I’m not.

And when God tells me “It will be okay,” I’m not going to say, this is the second time Dad’s been in the ICU in a year and I’m just 19, I can’t handle this! Whaddaya mean, it will be okay? I’m going to say, ok. You’re God, and I’m not.

Maybe your ears will never hear a voice say, “I AM,” nor even, “It will be okay.” But that voice is still for you, and it will never stop whispering,

“I love you.

“Trust me.”

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Idaho Debates Justice in “Lawless” Indian Country

Cross-posted from MyDD.

1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their lifetime, twice the national average. In Idaho, if state lawmakers don't pass a bill before them now, the problem will get worse before it gets better.

In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe that sovereign Indian nations do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives traveling or even living in Indian Country. For a variety of nonsensical and unprecedented legal reasons, Tribal police and courts only have authority over other Indians. This is akin to telling the Montana State Police that the law doesn’t apply to Minnesota residents passing through on I-90.

Except for a few “Public Law 280” states, state and local authorities also lack jurisdiction on Indian reservations, per the Constitution’s commerce clause and a number of Court precedents. That means jurisdiction falls to the feds, who don’t do their job. As Chickasaw Tribal Police Chief Jason O’Neal told NPR in 2007, “’Many of the criminals know Indian lands are almost a lawless community, where they can do whatever they want.’…  A 2003 report from the Justice Department found that U.S. attorneys take fewer cases from the BIA than from almost any other federal-law enforcement agency.”

The real world result? 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped at some point in their life, compared to 1 in 6 women nationally. 41% of those women report being raped by a stranger rather than an acquaintance, compared to 16.7% nationally. As Chief O’Neal points out, these strangers are not from within the Indian communities, so we can’t point to reservation issues as the problem - 80% of attacks against Indians are from non-Natives. Overall, the violent crime rate in Indian country is twice the national average. (All numbers are from various Justice Department reports.)

Last month, it looked like things were going to get worse for American Indians in northern Idaho before they got better, but thankfully the state is taking the right steps. To make up for the lack of federal activity, tribes can make deals with local or state law enforcement agencies to cross-deputize tribal  officers and give them the necessary jurisdiction. Last month, however, Benewah County Sheriff Bob Kirts, whose county includes the southern half of the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Reservation, refused to re-instate a cross-deputization agreement with tribal police. If that wasn’t bad enough, he also said he would no longer respond to tribal calls for help, leaving the southern half of the Reservation completely lawless. Of the 10,000 people on the reservation, over 8,000 are non-Natives now free to break the law.

According to the Spokane Spokesman Review, a newspaper I used to report for:

Christie Wood, a Coeur d’Alene Police sergeant and first vice president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, wrote in the open letter, “The failure of Sheriff Kirts to work with the tribal police has left citizens in bedlam. Perpetrators have been set free that have committed serious criminal offenses against citizens living in Benewah County. The Tribal Police have documented cases of domestic violence, driving under the influence incidents, criminal assaults, and other criminal offenses that have occurred with no arrests or prosecution.”

Kirts said, “My only comment is she’s ill-informed or she’s just plain lying or stupid.” ...

Wood’s letter backs legislation that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is proposing — which hasn’t yet been introduced — to address situations where a local sheriff refuses to cooperate with local tribal police. As currently drafted, the bill would give tribes a six-month window to give a county notice that they want to enter into a cooperative law enforcement agreement. If an agreement isn’t reached within six months, tribal police could begin enforcing state law against non-tribal members on the reservation, as long as they’re certified by Idaho’s state police academy, the tribe carries insurance, and the tribe waives sovereign immunity to lawsuits over officer wrongdoing.

(Disclaimer: This is my part of Idaho. Though I’ve not personally met her offline, my family has had positive interactions with Sgt. Wood, and I do know many of the members of the Task Force. My ties to this issue run far deeper than a degree in Native American studies.)

The bill supported by Sgt. Woods and the Task Force, the wonderful local organization that defeated the Aryan Nations in 2000, was declared constitutional by the state Attorney General earlier this week. This bill is a good patch for the situation in Benewah County, and if Idaho wants to recover from the racially tarnished image given to it by the Aryan Nations, than the legislature must pass this bill. A number of county commissioners have come out in opposition to the bill, and I will be calling and writing both them and state legislators over the next few days to lobby them in support of this bill.

But even if it passes, it won’t be enough. The tribe would have the power they need, but not necessarily the resources. At the national level, we need two things. First, Congress must allocate more resources for tribal law enforcement, something the retiring Senator Byron Dorgan tried to do in 2008. Second and more importantly, Congress must declare that tribes do have criminal jurisdiction on their lands the same as any state or town. Because the Oliphant decision was an interpretation of current law and not the Constitution itself, Congress can take such action, and if we’re to save our country’s youth from gangs and its women from rape, then there is no other option.

For more on the history and larger legal picture of criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country, please read this New York Times op-ed by Bruce Duthu, a professor of mine who is a lawyer and now Chairman of the NAS department at Dartmouth College.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A New Verse for "In Heaven There Is No Beer"

You may be familiar with the song, "In Heaven There Is No Beer," which also includes verses about wine, fear, drugs, and sex.

In Heaven there is no beer
That's why we drink it here
And when we're gone from here
Our friends will be drinking all the beer.

My friend Daniel and I just came up with a new verse, for single malt Scotch. Credit goes to Daniel for thinking of the word "fault" and reminding me who the patron saint of St. Andrew is.

In Heaven, there's no single malt
And that's St. Andrew's fault
So when this life does halt
Our friends will drink all the single malt

Friday, February 19, 2010

The PB's Lenten Reflection

In a discussion of fasting, prayer, and study, the Presiding Bishop encourages us to take on a new discipline rather than giving something up.

I'm giving up beer and reading at least two Epistles with my housemates. I may also add intentional silence; we'll see about that one.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Sermon: Balancing Community and the Individual Before God

Whereas my last sermon was somewhat political, this one is far more personal. I discuss balancing the need for community with our private individual relationships to God, and give a small look at how this balance is affecting my own life and struggles. Definently a sermon written for its current time and place, but as I believe it's one of my better ones, it's still worth sharing here. Remember, it's written to be heard, not written to be read.

Delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit; Bellevue, NE; 02-17-10. Ash Wednesday: Isaiah 58:1-12 • Psalm 103:8-14 • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 • Matthew 6:1-6,16-21.

Today’s Gospel tells us that our piety should be kept private – give alms in secret, shut your door and pray in secret, fast quietly because God sees in secret. And yet in a few minutes we will leave this church with ashes on our forehead, perhaps the most physically visible symbol of our faith seen all year. Could anything be less secret? How is this practice in line with the Gospel?

I do not believe that we are called to live in an individualistic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps culture or church. I also do not believe that are called strictly to a life of community. I believe that as Christians, we are called to balance the two: secrecy and warmth, self-worth and community, and that Lent, which begins today, can help us find that balance.

Protestant Christianity is all about the individual’s personal relationship with God. That’s one point of today’s Gospel: what others think of you should not matter. Only the Creator’s love is infinite, and only God sees in secret. This is why Christ tells us how to focus our actions on God and how to use them to deepen our personal connections with Him.

My favorite image of God is that of a loving parent, sometimes stern and disciplinary but always hurting when the child hurts, perhaps feeling an even deeper pain than the child feels, and always rejoicing at a happy smile, perhaps with a joy more meaningful than the child’s. The way Christ wants us to act – in secret, looking only for God’s approval – brings us closer to that parent, our Father who art in Heaven. It’s right there in today’s Psalm: “As a father cares for his children, so does the LORD.” By removing the ego of the hypocrites or the praise of the market-goers, Christ leaves nothing standing between God and His children but love.

This is a constant theme in Christ’s teachings. We are told that we should strive to be Christ-like, to ask ourselves What Would Jesus Do? I would rather ask, What DID Jesus Do? One-on-one time with His Father was an important thing for Jesus, who set the example by praying alone and in secret quite frequently, whether in the Garden of Gethsemane or, as in Lent, the Wilderness.

Take also the Lord’s Prayer. Before Christ, to be forgiven of their sins, Jewish peasants were told that they had to trek to the temple and make a sacrifice to receive the priest’s blessing. That’s a pretty raw deal for a poor farmer who can’t spend time away from his fields or doesn’t have the resources for a decent sacrifice, but a pretty sweet deal for the powerbrokers and priests! But then along came Jesus who said no, God is with you everywhere with no one standing in between. Whenever you pray, wherever you pray, you can say all on your own, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

God is with us, one-on-one, everywhere we go, and our actions should aim to cultivate that personal relationship. And yet, for all that individual behavior - fasting, giving alms, praying – community remains one of the most important things about Christianity, and about life.

We talk often about being a church family, and those words carry great significance. If God is our Father, and we are God’s children, than we are truly with family everywhere we go. And just as children need one-on-one individual time with their parents to learn and to feel loved, siblings also need community time with one another. Going to a baseball game with your dad is a special thing, but large family gatherings are just as important. Be it five people crammed in a car for a road-trip or dozens at the Christmas table, children need one-on-one time with their parents, but they also need the community of the family. One cannot flourish without the other. The same is as true of God’s family as it is of the Empsall family or the Culp family.

This topic – the importance of, the need for, community and family – is addressed in Scripture at least as much as is the secretive nature of faith. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Ah, Jesus – here’s a guy who always took a dozen friends with Him everywhere He went! (Poor Mary - imagine if you had to feed a dozen hungry grade schoolers every time your kid came home for dinner!)

Even today’s reading from Isaiah addresses the necessity of community. The actions Jesus tells us to take in secret – fasting, giving alms – do strengthen our individual relationships with God, but even more than that, they are meant to benefit our brothers and sisters: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?’

I have been learning this lesson, the importance of community, the hard way this year. It turns out that the typical Resurrection House experience has long accidentally included a lack of external community. Very few of the program’s participants, and certainly not myself, have ever found deep relationships or broad social circles in this, a new and temporary city. Friends, yes; close friends, companions, true connections, not really. Speaking for myself, I love working at Holy Spirit, but other parts my time here can be a real challenge. One of the goals of Resurrection House is to teach us the importance of community through its presence, but I am finding that the opposite is true: I am learning the importance of community through its absence.

This lesson was reinforced by my trip last week to my college in New Hampshire, a campus that for me is home. I saw many dear friends and met with faculty and staff whom I have long looked up to. But other people were missing – busy, sick, traveling, etc., so I had more down time than I expected. Even some of the wonderful relationships still there have grown complicated and stressful. I thought I was going on vacation, but God is using that trip to keep teaching me tough lessons, including the importance of intentionally balancing purpose, a sense of place, community, and love in one’s life. God’s lessons done God’s way, but it can still be very painful.

Clearly we are called to have individual relationships with Christ, and clearly we are to remain in intimate community with our brothers and sisters. The question we then face is, how do we strike the right balance between the two?

We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ if we do not recognize the image of God in everyone we meet. I have grown quite fond of the South Asian concept of “Namaste.” Literally translated, this Sanskrit word means “bow to God,” but it is not a bow I take to the altar. It is a bow I take to you. Other translations that capture the meaning rather than the literal translation of the word also capture the essence of Christ’s teachings: "I honor the Spirit in you which is also in me," or "That which is of God in me greets that which is of God in you.” Namaste: seeing the image of God in all of God’s children.

Lent begins today. By balancing the fellowship and education opportunities here at church with the traditional disciplines of giving something up or adding something new in our personal lives, Lent teaches us a very powerful message: that we are loved by God as individuals, but we feel that love when we are in close, even intimate, community. That we can only understand God if we recognize our individual limitations and learn from one another. That we can only endure the pain that is to come on Good Friday – and elsewhere in life – if we endure it together.

The glories of Easter – of knowing that we have a Savior who can overcome even death for us, of knowing that the love our Creator has for us goes beyond eternal – these glories are changed, they are deepened and heightened, if we experience Lent first and if we pay close attention to the Scriptures, services, and emotions of Holy Week. These Lenten changes are all about our personal relationship to God and so they happen at an individual level, but, like so much in life, they are far more powerful when shared with dear friends and with a church family – with community.