Wednesday, December 27, 2006

and merry christmas

Greetings, all. And Merry Christmas. I thought I'd share the prayer offered by my 3year old son Asher on Christmas Eve:

Dear Jesus, Thank you for God. And we're so glad you were born.

I'm not one to pray to Jesus, usually. I generally pray to God and, on my good days, I follow Jesus. But I was blessed more than I can say to hear these words from my little boy. And I am thankful for Jesus, who came, and who comes, and who has shown that God is among us.

Thank you Jesus, for God. Amen.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Santa and War

The world being what it is, what will we tell our children?

My oldest son is three, and unsurprisingly has a sort of ravenous curiosity. He's been asking very in-depth and pointed questions about Santa lately, because of all the Santa imagery he sees everywhere we go. And thus, the other day, my wife and I found ourselves presenting a full, extensive account of the entire Santa storyline - sleigh and reindeer, residence at north pole, chimney preferences, the whole bit - for the first time in our parenting careers.

Neither of us had been preparing for this conversation with our kids (big mistake), and at some point mid-way we had to pause and give each other that look - that "can you believe we're actually pitching this stuff" look. Because, overwhelming cultural obsession with cheery mythologies notwithstanding, it is still incumbant upon us to decide what we ourselves will say to our children about Christmas.

Our children consume a thousand bits of data a minute, they do their best to organize it. They look to us for help, because they know we know everything. What will we say to them?

A few days ago, my three-year-old came up to me holding a copy of Time magazine, which I had left sitting open on a chair (another big mistake). The page he was looking at contained an Op-Ed regarding something about Iraq, and it contained a picture of a soldier holding an automatic rifle, grimacing as he turned toward the camera, away from a huge firey explosion which filled the background of the photo.

"Dad," my son said, "Is this guy a firefighter?"

I've never felt more inept at responding to a question than I felt at that moment. My son does not know what soldiers and guns are. He doesn't know that people set themselves toward destroying other people. He doesn't know that some three-year-olds get their dads and moms blown up.

I told him Yes, the guy was a firefighter. I don't know what I should have said.

We are faced with the great responsibility of choosing what to say to our children. Which untruths will we tell for their betterment, to help them celebrate a sense of mystery, magic and possibility in life? Which untruths will be for their protection, that they will learn about brutality only gradually, as they're "ready"? And which things that we say will be only and always lies?

We're not only giving our children a world ravaged by war, impoverishment and environmental catastrophe, we're giving them tips on how to think about it all. Oh God, please help us know what to say.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Steinem and Slavery

Listen to this amazing interview with John Ashbrook and Gloria Steinem.

Steinem is promoting the new book, Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery, which she wrote the forward for.

Steinem, deserved icon of the Feminist movement, does a superb job of emphasizing how the agenda of Feminism is to see all persons and communities treated equitably and humanely. So she's all over the modern-day slavery conversation like white on rice.

Tons of great stuff in this interview, but one of the most compelling points Steinem makes is about how the focus in lurid industries is always taken off of the demand side.

We demonize prostitutes, porn stars, etc., and we recoil at the thought of men kidnapping, manipulating and exploiting women and children into slavery and sex trades, but we don't think about the demand in these equations.

Steinem points out statistics that show that business in human trafficking is more lucrative for the criminal agents than drug smuggling/dealing or illegal arms dealing. Without the market of people paying money for the chance to dominate a human body, the trade would not exist.

Great quote (paraphrase): "We need to eroticize cooperation and mutuality" (as opposed to the eroticization of violence and domination in the sex industry).

I'm gonna read this book.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How Likely Is Change?

Read the Iraq Study Group report, here.

The report gives a blunt characterization of the dire circumstances in Iraq, calling the situation "grave and deteriorating".

Whoah. That should give us pause. How do you go down from grave?

Lots of speculation now, ALL OVER THE PLACE about whether Bush has it in him to change direction (in some real, not rhetorical way) with the war policy. People are bringing up the President's major life turnaround, at age 40, when he quit drinking. That was an About-Face. Might another one be in the cards?

Michael Duffy reflects on this (he's not the only one) in his piece in this week's edition of Time Magazine.

The ability or inability of people to change is central to any definition of what it means to be human. Different perspectives come at the issue in various ways. Bush tends to presume in his "you can't reason with terrorists because they're just evil" paradigm, that people simply are the way they are. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad (he's also gracious enough to assure us that the good guys are us.).

Have we any real reason to think the course will change under his leadership?

Then again, as much as I like to caricature Bush's presentation, I know that most of us operate day-to-day under the same sorts of notions. We don't treat people as if they might change. It's way harder to write people off, to claim our own superiority, etc. if we do that.

What would it look like to approach life and all people as if we're truly in the process of transformation, as if we are not bound to that which we have heretofore been known to be?

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Guess We're Not Funny

On Point is a superb call-in radio talk show out of Boston, hosted by John Ashbrook. He brings on experts in all kinds of stuff, from politics, business, economics, and all sorts of cultural fun stuff, too. Listeners get to chime in throughout, with observations and questions. Very cool show.

Today, they gave an hour to talking about political humor, how it takes shape, and how it functions in America these days. Very compelling conversation, and lots of funny jokes to laugh at.

Listen to the show online, here.

I was blown away by how the guests and callers emphasized that huge numbers of people turn to humorists like Jon Stewart to get a more 'real' or 'honest' presentation of news. I love The Daily Show, but I was still really compelled to think about the kind of devotion people were indicating to shows like this.

This one caller confessed that when he started watching The Daily Show, it was "like the scales falling away from my eyes."

Okay, for those who don't know, that's a scriptural reference to events surrounding the conversion of the Apostle Paul, who was struck blind in an encounter with Christ, and was miraculously re-sighted by a faithful Christian, which inspired him to become baptized and begin proclaiming the Gospel.

Read the story in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 9.

Later in the radio show, callers and guests repeatedly shared that they watched shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report "religiously," because that's the only medium in which presenters are unafraid to speak truth to power. Wow.

How come nobody uses words like "religiously" to describe the actual practice of religion? Why am I not hearing radio shows about preachers being the ones brave enough to speak the truth about the Iraq War, disastrous US education and economic policies, the collective turning away of US society from the poor, or from the incarcerated?

Again, I love a good comic, and some of these folks are VERY intelligent with very poignant observations about the news. I'm not criticizing The Daily Show. But why is it up to The Daily Show to defy the American government with its perspective on the state of the world?

Why are American churches, who claim to be followers of a man executed for sedition (that would be Jesus) not carrying more of this load?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Giving Kind of Thanks

Greetings Friends,

This past Sunday I preached at the Congregational Church of Iowa City, on a Thanksgiving theme.

Listen to the sermon, entitled, A Giving Kind of Thanks.

Have a blessed, peaceful holiday.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Execution of Saddam

So, Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death.

Read a compelling op-ed by a friend of mine, LeAnne Clausen, questioning the wisdom of executing the man, vicious as he is.

Something she, as do most people, acknowledge is that Hussein "deserves to die". I doubt many people dispute this. But that's only one factor in a society or global community's decision to exercise a policy of capital punishment.

LeAnne talks about the fact there are lots of bad folks doing terrible things, and our own government is implicated in many of the atrocities for which Hussein is responsible. But we aren't going around killing everybody who has a hand in catastrophe.

In a future column, she might delve further into other arguments against capital punishment, such as the fact that most societies (especially ours) have proven to be utterly inept at administering the death penalty fairly across the population, with huge biases leveled against marginalized communities.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. gives a thorough and exquisite treatment of this phenomena in his book, Legal Lynching: The Death Penalty and America's Future.

Thanks, LeAnne, for your article.