Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Got Rapture?

Very few people actually read my rants, just a few friends I notify now and then, so I guess I mainly write for me. Sometimes I write for people like me who were totally unaware of really big things, until the elephant comes into view. Then, wow, how come I didn't know before?

I was recently sent a link to an excellent speech by Bill Moyers, on receiving Harvard Med's Global Environment Citizen Award. It was an excellent speech, and I think most of you know Bill Moyers is truly one of the good guys in the world of TV journalism. His series with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, is one of the best things ever seen, and has a deep and lasting effect on me.

One of the most interesting observations Bill makes is that many of the people who don't care about the environment are quite aware they are harming it, but since they are going to be called soon to the Rapture, it doesn't really matter. I had never heard of the Rapture Index before, but yes, it's real. Actually, it seems like one of those fake news sites, where someone is pretending to be really serious about a topic, but the tongue is always firmly in cheek. Not so this time. There are some pretty funny pages about guessing who the antichrist is, but it's funny to me, not sure how funny it is to the 'true believers.' The New Covenant Christian Ministries has a page, full of flow charts and diagrams showing different scenarios about when the true believers will fly into the air, the unworthy going to hell, the length of the 'tribulation, ' and the final scene, the "New Heavens and New Earth."

Apparently, a huge number of Americans believe in some form of Rapture dogma, and this alone I found quite disconcerting. The worldwide scourge of fundamentalism is clearly not limited to Islam. In America, we have a large movement, some very close to the seat of power in the White House, who are looking forward to the end of the world.

Just the other day, at the Christmas Pageant at our church, someone read these lines from Isaiah:

"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."

Isaiah 40:4, 5

Now, I don't normally quote the Bible, I'm pretty Bible-illiterate, but the reason I bring this up relates to the concept of taking the Bible as literal truth. Does anyone really believe that the valleys and the mountains will end up at the same elevation? Is the earth destined to be smooth as a marble? Of course not. This is clearly allegorical prose. What a drab world we would live in, if there was no allegory, no allusions, only literal statements of verifiable fact. Then why do people try to force literal sense out of one of the most clearly hallucinatory (I don't mean that in a bad way!) books of the Bible, Revelations?

So, all I'm trying to say here is that there are lots of people walking around today who believe in the literal version of the Rapture, as told to them by others of course, and you might be surprised to find out who these people are. You might even be related to them.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Bah Humbug!

Jesus as Underdog?

Give Me a Break!
There is a phony movement going on, being played up at Fox News, which seems to be gaining traction, even among people who wouldn't ordinarily buy the swill they sell.

Stories are floating around about how people are saying "Happy Holidays" more now than "Merry Christmas." I'm hearing about a lack of Christmas music at shopping malls. It sounds eerily familiar, kind of like what I seem to hear every Halloween.

Every Halloween, I hear stories about poisoned candy, the apochryphal "razorblades in apples" and so on. The intent of all these stories is to paint a picture of the decay of modern civilization, and how unsafe things are compared to the "good old days." What a load. I have been hearing about how bad Halloween is since I was a little kid. I don't think things are any worse now than they were in the 1950's; they're probably safer. We're all just a lot more terrified, and scared to death these days. It helps keep us under control.

The Christian Right is emboldened by the fact that many of Bush's cronies are fundamentalists, and they have given themselves credit for winning an election that I'm not even sure was counted fairly. From what I hear, it seems like they are no more active than before, but they have an increasingly powerful propaganda machine with Fox News. Bill O'Reilly has been harping about how Christianity is under attack, giving it sort of an underdog status.

Jesus is no underdog in America. If anything, there have been more calls lately to turn away from a pluralistic society, where the minority is protected from the tyranny of the majority, and turn America into some sort of theocratic Christian state.

Just like Halloween, this is so bogus. I can't recall a time when "Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays" haven't been on many of the Christmas cards I've received. What the hell is wrong with not wanting to send a "Merry Christmas" card, especially one of those with heavily religious overtones and graphics, to a friend who you didn't know was Jewish? To tell you the truth, I think there's too much religion in Christmas these days!

One of the watershed moments I remember is when an old friend who had gone 'fundy' sent us a Christmas card, full of all sorts of religious stuff, and some text about stopping the murder of innocent fetuses by abortion. Just what I wanted to read during the holidays!

This season, a group of right wing Jesus freaks is trying to boycott Macy's over some rumor that employees there have been told to say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." In North Carolina, a church recently took out full-page newspaper advertisements urging the faithful to patronize shops that include Merry Christmas in ads and displays. That's right, the holier-than-thou crowd has officially linked shopping to Jesus. This is a proper and pious thing?


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Unmasking Rick Warren

Mellow, laid-back, and spreading hate

Rick Warren is the best-selling author of Purpose Driven Life and pastor of one of the largest protestant churches in the US, the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which has a weekly attendance of 16,000 people!
In an earlier post, I wondered about how the Christian vote was mobilized, since it surprised many of us. In a strange burst of synchronicity, I think I found myself staring at one of the answers last Sunday. As I have mentioned before, I usually attend an adult discussion class at my church on Sundays, and we have some good, often quite tangential discussions, ostensibly centered around some book. We were just wrapping up a good 5-week discussion of the Tao Te Ching, when I noticed a book across the table in front of the group leader. It was Rick Warren's 'The Purpose Driven Life.'

I had recognized his name from years earlier, when a previous pastor asked me to listen to a cassette tape Rick Warren made about church growth and management. What I remember most from that tape was hearing the phrase "It's easier to ask forgiveness than ask permission" numerous times. The idea was to just start doing new things at church, and not go through channels. I began to hear this phrase over and over again through the years, and it seems to be the new age Christian equivalent to Machievelli's 'might makes right' concept.

Rick has apparently bottled what modern Americans are looking for in a religion. The main theme in the opening chapters of his book (hey, the PDF's are free! I'm not going to buy the whole thing!) keep talking about how you have nothing to do with choosing your purpose in life, God has already done it for you. How convenient! No messy soul-searching required. God has it all covered.

Now, I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about his book. What's become obvious here is that Rick Warren has become one of the most influential people in America. Just do a Google search on 'Rick Warren politics' and you'll see how 'He has counseled Hollywood celebrities, Wall Street power brokers, and has been a guest in the George W. Bush White House.' You'll find a Christian investment in diamonds, inspired by Rick Warren. Rick is very casual, often preaches in a Hawaiian shirt, and is apparently quite a nice guy. It's not an exaggeration to say that when Rick Warren talks, people listen. Millions of Evangelicals are primed and ready to do whatever God tells them to do. Of course, they need someone to actually tell them what God is saying, and that's where Rick Warren comes in.

In a column written shortly before the election in the Baptist Press web site, Rick writes "As church leaders, we know our congregations are not allowed to endorse specific candidates," which simply means he doesn't want his mega-church to lose its tax-exempt status, but then he goes on to say this:

"But for those of us who accept the Bible as God's Word and know that God has a unique, sovereign purpose for every life, I believe there are five issues that are non-negotiable. To me, they’re not even debatable because God's Word is clear on these issues. In order to live a purpose-driven life -- to affirm what God has clearly stated about His purpose for every person He creates -- we must take a stand by finding out what the candidates believe about these five issues, and then vote accordingly.

Here are five questions to ask when considering who to vote for in this election:

1. What does each candidate believe about abortion and protecting the lives of unborn children?

2. What does each candidate believe about using unborn babies for stem cell harvesting?

3. What does each candidate believe about homosexual “marriage”?

4. What does each candidate believe about human cloning?

5. What does each candidate believe about euthanasia -- the killing of the elderly and the invalids?"

This has got to be right up there in the Transparently Disingenuous Hall of Fame. For someone that claims to not endorse a candidate, this guy (someone pastors look to for guidance) sent this letter to thousands of churches. There can be no doubt that God (as revealed to Rick Warren) wants George Bush to select the next few Supreme Court justices.

Clearly one of the most influential men in America wants to roll back a woman's right to choose, take rights away from tax-paying gay couples, and stand in the way of medical progress, and all this is directly, without debate, from the mouth of God. What is important here is that Rick Warren no longer be allowed to act invisible, more invisible than Karl Rove.

In closing, if you find this interesting, check out this sermon, from a UMC minister, in response to Rick Warren's letter. It's nice to know that not all Christians check their minds at the door, and it might be good to have some logical ammo, the next time an Evangelical tells you how thankful he is that George W. Bush is our president.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Evangelical Left

As you can see by my lack of writing activity since the election, I've been trying to make sense of what happened, and feel I will have something to write real soon. the meantime, I'd like for you to read this excellent article by Byron Williams.

We'll talk some more about this soon!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

F*** the South

I would like to call your attention to a wonderfully written, deliciously vicious and vulgar opinion piece about the red state/blue state dynamics. For the sake of our more tender readers, I caution you in advance. If you don't like seeing swear words in print, go no further!

Click here for the article


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Four More Years?

I started this blog talking about Bush and Kerry, I think I need to mark this point in time, to look back as we move forward.

So, how did this happen?

Karl Rove and the 'values' rope-a-dope
My first feeling upon hearing that lots of churches mobilized voters to come out and smite the homosexuals at the ballot box was pretty depressing. I mean, here we are, melting the glaciers at an alarming rate, pissing the large majority of the world off with our escapade in Iraq, and generally spending our grandchildren's inheritance on this wild orgy, and all people care about is trying to avoid the sight of two men kissing? Are people are so mean-spirited that they waited in the rain in Ohio to vote against gay marriage, and hey, while we're here, let's just give the W chimp another four years to play with? At the very least, you have to hand it to Karl Rove, the modern day Goebbels, who distracted Kerry with the Swift Boat liars, while all along they have been working to bring out the evangelical vote. I don't like it when my own church gets involved in a specific election issue, and here it seems it's been going on nationwide. Color me clueless I guess. I would like to find out more about this effort, and will share more later if I find anything useful.

Was the vote stolen?
Many people offhandedly dismiss this point of view as paranoid rantings from the tin foil hat set. I can be accused of being under the mind-control rays of radio flamethrowers like Randi Rhodes, but I have seen many interesting articles about the black box voting in the Diebold machines, and I would suggest anyone interested to spend a little time looking into this. is a major source of info, and is actually mounting a Freedom of Information campaign to uncover hard facts about the 2004 election. It is their position that fraud took place in 2004 via the voting machines. Another great resource is Common Dreams, a great nexus for well-written articles by established writers about progressive issues. I feel a little let down that the Democrats are not following through on the vote fraud issues; they pledged to make sure every vote would be counted. Even if Bush wins fair and square, let's make sure it was done on the up and up. Our citizens need to feel like they have a voice.

Does King George really have a Mandate?
Purple Haze of AmericaThere is no sea of "red states" in this country. Every state had a significant number of Kerry votes (well, except maybe for Utah!) and a better map shows the shade of purple for each state, based on the actual vote counts. Before the body of the 2004 election was even cold, George W was talking about spending his political capital, like he did in 2000. Considering he didn't even win the popular vote in 2000, that takes a lot of chutzpah to claim political capital while losing the popular vote! This is spin on a massive level. Out of one side of his mouth, he takes credit for getting the most votes of any President in history. Of course, the fact that the number two vote getter of all time is John Kerry seems to be glossed over. What needs to happen now it to mobilize the poplulation to resist turning back the clock a half-century. I have already seen the Fox News talking heads talking about how the losers cannot expect any concilliation in their direction, it's up to the losers to reach out in George W Bush's direction.

Four More Years Starts Now!
We cannot allow this president to appoint reactionary Supreme Court justices. Politics must not sleep for another four years. The resistance starts now!

Monday, November 01, 2004

It's About Time

I have re-discovered an old song lately, written by Terry Callier (via HP Lovecraft) called "It's About Time":

Well it's about time for the rising sun
It's about time yeah, that the deed was done.
Whoa a better day's a comin', that's a thing I know.
You and me brother, we can make it so.

Whoa it's about time, for the wars to cease,
It's about time for the dawn of peace.
Well tear down the wall, break the sword and drum,
Yea, you and me brother, we can overcome.
We can overcome.

Have you seen the tears in the young one's eyes?
Have you heard the sound of the wronged ones cries?
Now we gotta get together, that I know for sure.
But you and me brother, we can make it so.
We can make it so.
We can make it so.
We can make it so.

I tend to follow my instincts about music, and for some reason this song has grabbed me lately. I first heard it on HP Lovecraft II from 1968. The song is practically buried in psychedelic wretched excess, but the vocals come through like a lighthouse, with a sense of gospel urgency. I just found it on CD, and started searching around for the lyrics. HP Lovecraft was a vocal-heavy rock combo out of Chicago, with a taste for trippy sounds; kind of like choir boys on acid. A little more research revealed that the song was written by a friend of the band, Terry Callier. Terry is a black folk/jazz/blues singer, a contemporary of the great Curtis Mayfield. I finally tracked down the original tune, from 1965. Terry was quite young then, but with a soul beyond his years.

Tonight is November 1, 2004, the night before the election. There is no more time left before what could be one of the most important decisions this country may make. I have heard of people making plans to move to Canada if Bush is re-elected, and there is a certain life-or-death urgency about it all. I keep wondering how I will cope if Bush wins. What I think this all comes down to is how we interact with Time.

Time is long, and life is short. Subconsciously, we all hope that while we're alive, we will see society achieve that plateau of perfection, the ultimate goal of our evolution. Kind of like on Star Trek, where the races get along, poverty has been eliminated, and utopia reigns, at least inside our local star system.

When Terry Callier sang "It's about time yeah, that the deed was done" was he thinking of 1965? 1966? 1970? As we sit here almost 40 years later, does it make him look like he was wrong? We have a tendency to smirk at utopians, at their foolishness. But I feel that recognizing good and evil, and taking a stand, lives apart from whether the time is actually coming for the ultimate triumph.

Even if George Bush and his neoconservative criminal cronies may indeed hang on to power another four years, that proves nothing. Taking a stand against injustice is putting your hands on the wheel of Love, and giving it a turn. We will not always see the fruits of our labors, but we must have faith that doing good, and opposing evil, must inexorably lead us on right path. I don't mean to hedge my bets here; I think Kerry has a great shot at a definitive win, but we must not wilt away if victory is snatched from the people again.

Perhaps it's a little ironic that the song ends with "make it so." This is one of the more famous lines delivered by Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise, always with a hand gesture, moving forward.

When the path is clear, why should we be afraid to "make it so?"

Music Links:
HP Lovecraft CD
New Folk Sound of Terry Callier
About the Boondocks comic strip (below)
After I had completely written my blog entry, I noticed the following comic strip, due to be printed the next day. I couldn't believe the serendipity at work here!
At the time, I wasn't sure what "C. P. Time" was, so I asked around, and found it refers to "Colored People Time," which is somewhat more flexible than Greenwich Mean Time.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Ground Game

The tension is mounting. What the next week and a half will be like is like is the two-minute warning of a tie-score Super Bowl. I can't wait for the election to be over. I feel like my whole body is reacting to the stress level. The thought that the Bush/Cheney neocons will somehow prevail fills me with a dread I can't quite comprehend. I don't think we'll move to Canada if that happens, life will somehow go on, but I think we'll be much less safe, and the planet's health will be far more endangered, and the economy will be finally flushed down the toilet.

So here we are, facing perhaps the clearest choice in a generation, and the band plays on. At the end of every Al Franken Show on Air America Radio, Al has been delivering what essentially amounts to his stump speech/halftime pep talk, with an increasingly feverish pitch:
"...the fact of the matter is it will all come down to the ground game and who wants it more...You know, Paul Wellstone said the future belongs to those who are passionate and who work hard. I am asking you to be passionate and work hard..."
Every time I hear him, his voice is more urgent than the last time. It makes me wonder if I'm doing enough in service of my country. Nonetheless, there are some basically good signs:

  • Due to Kerry's clear debate victories, the polls have tightened, and depending on which one you read, they can give us hope.
  • There is an unprecedented amount of new voter registration. This usually means people hunger for a change. Also, these new voters aren't showing up in the polls, as pollsters are prohibited from calling people on cell phones.
  • The forces in power are trying very hard to inhibit voting, as high voter turnout also favors Democrats. I think they're scared!
  • Time after time, we see George W. Bush speaking in front of a hand-picked, vetted crowd, while we see huge, enthusiastic crowds embrace Kerry and Edwards. Freedom is on the march indeed! I don't think this is what W had in mind though.

We will certainly be living in a different world on November 3rd. I doubt the entrenched interests that benefit from the Electoral College will ever give up power, and let us truly achieve a "one person, one vote" democracy. I was reading the transcript of a recent interview with noted dissident Noam Chomsky, and he thinks we come up miserably short of other countries, such as Brazil, as far as true democracy goes.

I hope Kerry can pull this off, because I don't think I can forgive myself if he doesn't win. Did I do enough?

Until then, Hope Springs Eternal!

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Ten Commandments, what's all the brouhaha?

Last Sunday, I was once again in my adult discussion class, and there were way too many possible ideas that could serve as grist for the blogging mill. But one topic caused me to continue thinking about it more than others: ethics. Often times we wonder 'what's happened to the world today?' and point our fingers at the various causes: teachers, parents, TV, politicians, etc. The subject of the Ten Commandments came up, and we discussed how we felt about posting a copy of them in public school classrooms. Most people were against it, but I have to admit, that even I was pretty foggy on what the commandments actually were.

Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. All reasonable ideals, wouldn't you think? Now, if that's what the Ten Commandments are, what's the big deal? Well, all it took was someone else more knowledgeable than I to remind us it also includes 'I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.' The first few commandments are generally regarded as religious doctrines. Clearly, putting this kind of thing in a classroom is a clear endorsement of a specific brand of religion. This got me thinking. If we're so concerned about the cultural inculcation of ethics, why not distill the Ten Commandments into a simple moral code that does not push any one religion. Kind of like the 'New Ten Commandments.' Well, something about the phrase 'New Ten Commandments' sounded kind of familiar, so I decided to Google it.

Newsflash: I wasn't the first person to have this idea. In fact, there are lots of different takes on the idea. Some are actually pretty reasonable, some are pretty entertaining. I'm not going to offer my 'top ten,' but I do think it would make for an enlightening discussion in a church setting. Would a church be willing to discuss taking their brand of God out of the Ten Commandments? If one cares more about the greater good than proseletyzing, I think it's an excellent opportunity for a church to help society at large. I won't hold my breath on this though. I can't see how any organization that puts God at the center could conceive of distilling the Deity out of this brew.

But what brings me here today is the synchronicity of the topic. I was almost going to write on the 'New Ten Commandments,' but didn't feel strongly pulled enough. Then today, in a big surprise, the Supreme Court agreed to hear disputes from Kentucky and Texas over public displays of the Ten Commandments.

In the Kentucky case, the commandments were displayed at two county courthouses with other documents, such as the Magna Carta and Declaration of Independence. In the Texas case, a Ten Commandments monument is joined by various historical monuments on the Capitol grounds. You may remember that last year, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore lost his private battle against having his 2.6 ton granite monument of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse. It was surprising that the court would hear this argument, since they had avoided doing so for over twenty years, since a 1980 ruling against displaying it in public schoool classrooms. What seems to be going on here is an end run around the separation of church and state, by displaying the Commandments along with other historical documents. Hopefully the court will honor one of the most important tenets of our country (the separation of church and state for those of you confused by my use of interlocking parallel pronoun references), but then again, we're talking about the same court that stopped a presidential election in its tracks to appoint a winner.

In a world where fundamentalism of all kinds ironically brings out The Beast in people, I remain hopeful that the Ayatollahs of the Bible Belt can be kept from succeeding in their seemingly endless attempts at a coup d'etat of the United States government.

Oh, and one more thing:
The Christian, Jewish, and Islamic Ten Commandments

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Kerry/Bush II Debate | Is this the way it will go?

"So, you can't really be undecided after this, can you? You want this guy?"

"The line it is drawn The curse it is cast"
-Bob Dylan

So, unless Dick Cheney has Osama Bin Laden locked up in his secret bunker, the way this race is going to go will definitely be more of the same. George W. Bush will essentially lie through his teeth, tell America that John Kerry is the bogeyman, and above all else, "I am the great and powerful Oz…pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

There is a cynical, often well-founded view that Americans are too lazy to truly check the facts candidates want us to believe. This may well continue, but I'm starting to feel like more and more people are tired of being taken for saps, even if they think of themselves as Republicans. Bush clearly has got nothing real to share. Several issues were clearly laid out:

Stem cell research
Even though Kerry clearly explained that the embroyos scientists would like to use are already frozen, from fertility clinics, and not from abortions, George stuck to his line about not "Embryonic stem-cell research requires the destruction of life to create a stem cell." Duh...

Kerry gave one of the best answers I've heard in a long time about how wrong it is to legislate faith issues for others, which is the core issue of the separation of church and state, and George kept a pluggin': My answer is, we're not going to spend taxpayers' money on abortion. On the subject of partial birth abortions, Kerry quite rightly pointed out the legislation Bush was talking about had no provision for considering the health of the mother, which is why he voted against it. George said: "Well, it's pretty simple when they say: Are you for a ban on partial birth abortion? Yes or no?"

The War in Iraq
Where do I begin? Perhaps at the end of the debate. Even after all that has gone down, when asked if George could think of three mistakes he'd made, he couldn't think of one.

If you know anyone is a swing state, give them a call, tell them how important this election is.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Smoke and Mirrors in Cleveland: The Veepstakes

Cleveland Rocks: Lots of body blows, but time will tell

My quick two bits for tonight is that the debate was a draw, but might play out quite differently. Dick Cheney did a much better job than George W. Bush did the other night, and that puts on a good reassuring front for the GOP faithful.
Darth Vader calmly and cooly lied the night away, and landed a few good jabs at Edwards in the process.
One of Dick's so-called home runs was when he told everyone that even though as the President Pro Tem of the Senate, he comes to the Senate every Tuesday, tonight was the first time he'd met Senator Edwards. This was intended to diss Edwards as a no-show Senator.

Never mind that anybody who runs for President obviously puts everything else on the back burner.

Never mind, that as we found out a few minutes later from Senator Patrick Leahy, that when Darth comes to the Senate, he only meets with Republicans.

As it turns out, it was just a plain lie. Elizabeth Edwards had to come up to Cheney personally at the end of the debate, and remind him they'd met before at a prayer breakfast. They'd sat next to each other!

So, if the media decides to lay down again, and quit paying attention to the truth, the GOP could come out OK here. But it's hard to say. I'm starting to feel like the cat is out of the bag as far as the untruthfulness of the Bush administration is concerned. I think Cheney was very convincing in an old-school Big Lie sort of way, but that presumes that everyone is going to buy it. It could turn out that it will go big time against Cheney for those same reasons. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Different Kinds of Faith

I was in a discussion group this morning, discussing a book I don't particularly like, The Culture of Disbelief, by Stephen Carter. Professor Carter, an African American, tells a story about how when he was in school, he was taught the slaves were generally a happy lot, and what they really wanted out of life was to have a good master. In my typically tasteless sense of humor, I twisted that cretinous statement into a joke: "that's what we're all looking for!"

There's a lot of talk in the book about the separation of church and state. Mr. Carter believes the Founding Fathers were more interested in protecting the church from the state, than vice versa. I found that an unacceptable enough premise to take the book too seriously. This led to talking about Creationism, and how widely held these anti-scientific views of the universe actually are. According to a 2001 Gallup Poll study:
Although most scientists subscribe to the theory of evolution as the best explanation for the origin of human beings, a recent Gallup poll shows that the American public is much more divided in its own beliefs. Americans choose "creationism" over "evolution" when asked which of these two terms best describes human origins, but slightly larger numbers of Americans choose one of two evolutionist explanations than choose a strict creationist explanation when given a choice between three specific views. At the same time, only about a third of the public say that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is well supported by evidence.

I was pretty aghast at the idea that so many people would think creationism is on a par with the theory of Natural Selection, and thought it sounded familiar to polls that show almost a majority of Americans believe that there's a connection between pre-9/11 Iraq and Al Qaeda:

The bipartisan commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks said it had found no evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Hussein and the terrorist organization led by Osama bin Laden. Its staff has said it had found "no credible evidence" that Iraq had cooperated with Al Qaeda in targeting the United States.
Surveys of Americans consistently have found large numbers who say Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, despite repeated declarations by a variety of investigators to the contrary. As recently as June, a Gallup Poll indicated that 44 percent of those surveyed said Hussein was personally tied to the terrorist strikes; 51 percent said he was not. [Boston Globe]

I'm not coming to any new discovery of the human psyche here, In 1941, Erich Fromm published his famous work Escape from Freedom, and long before that, Fyodor Dostoevsky dealt with these themes in a chapter of the Brothers Karamozov that is so famous, it has been repackaged by itself, The Tale of the Grand Inquisitor.

Faith is a difficult topic. In the context of how it can provide a positive guiding force and direction to a people, it's a great thing. But in certain situations, like the faith in creationism, the belief that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, and that George W. Bush is a great leader, it falls just a tad short for me.

Perhaps we are all just looking for a good master.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

The origins of talking points

Recently, I've been listening a lot to Air America Radio. It's pretty addictive, especially listening to Randi Rhodes, who is on via live computer stream from 12-4PM PT, or tape-delayed on the new AAR affiliate in town, The Quake (AM 960). I enjoy listening to Randi, even though she's one of those aggressive smokers who thinks anti-smoking laws are akin to facism, she doesn't like the Grateful Dead, and thinks the Band isn't a good Southern rock band. The last point is not to defend the Band's Southern rock cred, but to point out they're almost all from Canada!

Anyhoo, one of the things Randi does is recommend things to her audience, and she's been talking a lot about the 1976 Movie Network. In this world of Fox News, the concept of the news department being controlled by the corporate powers is no longer fantasy, but has come to pass big time. Just listen to Ned Beatty's rant from the movie, and you will hear a classic.

One of the movies that I am continually reminded of lately is Z, from 1969. It's based on Greek politics, but Greece is never mentioned in the movie, and that doesn't really matter. The thing I bring to the table here is how the ruling junta would go around giving talks about the opposition, using key slogans and code words that you would hear repeated later in the movie. Now I don't know the etymology of "Talking Points," and I'm sure in one form or another the concept has been around since speech began, but it seems the recent push to keep hammering away on talking points has reached a special level of critical mass.

In the recent Bush-Kerry debate, John Kerry discussed the scenario when a preemptive strike would be justified, his actual words were: "But if and when you do it, Jim, you've got to do it in a way that passes the test. That passes the global test where your countrymen, your people understand fully why you're doing what you're doing. And you can prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."

Immediately George Bush began the process of misinterpretation, and said "Let me-I'm not exactly sure what you mean: passes the global test. You take pre-emptive action if you pass a global test?" At first blush, the confused Bush perhaps was remembering all those pesky exams he had to take in school, as if Kerry was suggesting that the president needed to take some sort of test before he could take action. In a speech in Columbus, OH today, George Bush twisted Kerry's words even further: "When he laid out the Kerry doctrine, he said that America has to pass a global test before we can use American troops to defend ourselves,...When our country is in danger, it is not the president's job to take an international poll, the president's job is to defend America."

The simplest of sentence analysis shows Kerry is speaking about taking an action that is justifiable after the fact. George Bush is pounding away at the image of America having to wait to act, until this mysterious 'test' has been passed. It's a pretty straightforward corruption of what Kerry says, but in this day and age, if you say it often enough, if you can get your operatives at Fox News to say it often enough, it must be true!

So, that's enough for now. If you like political thrillers, rent the movie Z, if you find yourself at the proverbial water cooler listening to someone parrot the talking points about the Global Test, you should disabuse said parrot of these ideas!

How much is a smirk worth?

Much has been made of George W Bush's smirk during the debate, but he's been smirking for four years, and it hasn't mattered much yet.

How much Teflon does Bush have to burn?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Time to bring in a new pitcher, John Kerry

I just came up with an analogy that anyone, Democrat or Republican, should be able to relate to about why it's a good idea to "change horses in midstream."

Imagine America as a baseball team.

The public is the coach, and the President is the pitcher.

One could even be very gracious to Bush, as we understand it must have been quite a burden to be the President when September 11, 2001 came. I think we can all just walk up to the mound, tell George "thanks for the innings you pitched, you just don't have your good stuff today", and point with our right hand towards the bullpen (for those of you who are baseball-illiterate, the coach uses the left or right hand to point to the bullpen to signify whether to send in the left or right-handed pitcher. John Kerry is right-handed) and motion to Kerry that it's his turn to pitch, and win the game for us.

This seems like a pretty good response to this relentless "stay the course" pathology we're hearing. What do you think?


Sunday, April 25, 2004

When the butterfly flaps its wings

Earth Day 2004
[my lay sharing on 4/25/04 in the Early Service]

In Brazil, a butterfly flaps its wings, setting off a chain of events that ends with a tornado in Texas. These types of sayings illustrate the concepts of so-called chaos theory, but to me, it says something more. But first, perhaps a little explanation.

First, Chaos theory is based on the following two concepts:
1) systems may appear to lack order but there are always underlying, if inexplicable, rules governing them; and
2) small or simple events can cause bigger or more complex events within the same system. Meteorologist Edward Lorenz first described the butterfly effect in 1972. The example of a small event such as the flapping of a butterfly's wings creating a tornado in Texas illustrates the impossibility of making completely accurate predictions about complex systems. Although the impact of events may be determined by underlying conditions in the system, precisely what those conditions are and what the impact will be can never be sufficiently articulated to allow long-range predictions.

Now clearly, this is a high-falutin’ way for a weather person to cop out on why their predictions are never right!

If you do a web search on the phrase "when a butterfly flaps its wings" you'll get all sorts of interesting things.

a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing, the stock market on Wall Street flounders.

The flap of a butterfly's wings in Central Park could ultimately cause an earthquake in China.

There are some quite humorous stories, and I don't want to take up your time relating them all, but the point being illustrated over and over again is that small things can have larger, unforeseen consequences. The use of the term chaos can also be confusing, since most of us thing of it as something negative, but this new meaning has more of a "God only knows" side to it. It's also about perspective. Think about a hurricane. When you are aboard a ship amid a hurricane, all you feel is Chaos, even disaster. That's because you are too much inside it. If you happen to be in a weather satellite above the hurricane, then what you see from there is an orderly and majestic swirl moving along a certain path. Different viewpoints sometimes do give qualitatively different understandings.

What does this have to do with how we observe Earth Day in church?

For starters, let's take a quick look at the official stance of the UMC:

The Natural World

160 All creation is the Lord's, and we are responsible for the ways we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God's creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation. We should meet these stewardship duties through acts of loving care and respect. Economic, political, social, and technological developments have increased our human numbers, and lengthened and enriched our lives. However, these developments have led to regional defoliation, dramatic extinction of species, massive human suffering, overpopulation, and misuse and overconsumption of natural and nonrenewable resources, particularly by industrialized societies.
This continued course of action jeopardizes the natural heritage that God has entrusted to all generations. Therefore, let us recognize the responsibility of the church and its members to place a high priority on changes in economic, political, social, and technological lifestyles to support a more ecologically equitable and sustainable world leading to a higher quality of life for all of God's creation.

This is a good general statement, and there's lots of specifics available to those interested. Other topics such as pesticide use, energy conservation, coal mining, recycling, and environmental justice are all covered in more detail. Check it out.

Last Year, the church council voted to join the California Interfaith Power and Light coalition, and asked our pastor to sign the covenant. Here it is:

California Interfaith Power & Light seeks to be faithful stewards of God’s Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. This ministry intends to protect the earth’s ecosystems, safeguard public health, and ensure sufficient, sustainable energy for all.

Now, the pastor has signed it, but he can't do it all by himself. We all need to place our hands on the wheel of faith, and make it spin in the direction of Love.

Now, I'd like to ask for your imagination here. I had some grand plans for an example of how we can save some energy, but one thing led to another, the butterfly flapped its wings, and it didn't happen. So, please, turn around and look at the exit sign above the doors in the center. Please imagine it's an LED exit sign, like those traffic lights that have popped up since the big energy crisis. OK, everyone in on this imaginary sign? Good.
This one sign will save up to $24 a year in energy bills. This is nice, of course, nice that money that could go towards apportionments or other ministries isn't just going away in our energy bills. But that's just money, that's not the what's really important. That sign, over the course of a year, will use from 100-300 less KwH, which directly translates to less carbon dioxide getting dumped into our atmosphere, which is directly the cause of global warming. This church has pledged itself to protecting God's creation, and that little sign will be helping. We're going to change all the signs here, about 30 of 'em, and when you see the new signs, I hope you'll remember why we really did it. I'm hopeful that over the course of the next year, we'll be replacing most of our light fixtures with low energy versions, which will save even more power.

But let's get back to the wings of a butterfly; I'd like to talk about melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. It killed my father about 8 1/2 years ago, so it's something I'm quite aware of. Here's a simplified explanation of how one can get melanoma. Cancer is essentially a cell whose DNA has mutated, and survives to reproduce wildly, taking over, and damaging the body's organs. What starts this off is a tiny packet of ultraviolet light, invisible, yet quite damaging. Now we are under a certain amount of UV light all the time, and our bodies have certain ways to fend off damage, or even repair it. But once in a while, here and there around the world, one of these packets gets through, and damages a single cell to the point where it becomes a viable cancer. It's hard to say why it happens. I of course have asked myself why did my father have to die this way. It's kind of like the lottery, but not the kind you want to win. Now there's a lot of ways to protect yourself from UV rays; sunscreen, hats, longsleeve shirts, etc., but Mother Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, has something else, and it's called the ozone layer. It's like our big blanket of sunscreen, but we've been unravelling it for years.

Now, more of those little packets of UV light are getting through, and melanoma rates are higher.

Now the ozone layer isn't being destroyed by global warming, I don't want to spread any junk science here, but these are both large complex systems that are caused by a large number of small events, as well as big ones. I'm not saying that if you replace your light bulbs with flourescents that somebody's father won't get melanoma, but the whole point of all this talk about butterfly wings is that we're all connected to each other, in a million ways, and what we do to, in, and around God's creation makes a difference.

I don't know how much time we have left here on earth, it's my dream we can protect Creation, and keep it around.

You might call me a dreamer.

Without Love in the Dream, it'll never come true.