Friday, January 30, 2009

Ted Haggard and Complex Questions

HBO has a new show, or follow up on Ted Haggard. Haggard was the founding pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was also the President of the National Association of Evangelicals and was one of the leading voices in the so-called Religious Right and a leading critic of the alleged ‘gay lifestyle,’ and ‘homosexual agenda.’

He went to a male prostitute for a massage, I am guessing, with extras, and purchased some meth. It became apparent that Haggard was living two lives. One was the life of the righteous preacher against sin and one was the life of a man struggling with his sexual orientation who was acting out. His two worlds were in a major collision course with each other and the two lives ultimately did collide.

New Life Church demonstrated the compassion to Haggard that Haggard had shown to those who were gay and terminated him and forced him to leave Colorado. Despite the fact that Haggard had pastored a church that claimed that they could ‘cure’ gay people, when he announced a few weeks later that he was ‘cured’ of his homosexual tendencies, nothing changed. Either they didn’t believe that Haggard was truly ‘cured’ or they didn’t believe that which they taught.

There are lots of lessons in this tale of woe and it is a tale of woe.

The first lesson is a condemnation of the sin of self-righteousness. For those people who actually have read the New Testament, most especially the Gospels, in totality, without treating the Bible like a series of fortunes in fortune cookies, the Gospels indicate two major sins. The first sin is not caring for the poor and the second sin is the sin of self-righteousness. The vast majority of Jesus’ diatribes against the Scribes and the Pharisees were times of scolding them for their self-righteousness. They believed that they set the religious and ethical agendas and anyone who disagreed with them or lived lives contrary to what they were preaching were sinners.

A lesson of Christianity is a lesson about not judging others and the lesson comes because judging others is something that not only often bounces back to us but because no one is truly worthy to judge other people.

Ted Haggard, I suspect, was probably a very sincere man in his preaching and his beliefs when he as the Pastor of New Life Church but he fell into the trap of self-righteousness. Sadly, as often happens, the more he preached on the subject of sexuality the further he fell into his own personal whirlwind and his life grew into a self-fulfilling nightmare.

It is said that churches often, eventually, embrace the cumulative preaching of a pastor. As Haggard grew increasingly self-righteous, he taught his congregation to be likewise. Ultimately he paid the price for his own sermons.

The second thing is this. Human sexuality is complicated. When we throw phrases around like gay lifestyle and homosexual agenda, they carry an implied belief about sexual orientation, most especially a gay orientation. The implication is that being gay or straight is a choice. You’ll note that most people who believe this never use the words sexual orientation and instead use the words sexual preference. When we use a word like ‘prefer’ is means that something is a choice.

Sexual orientation is not a choice. It is an orientation. The complexity of sexual orientation is that no one really knows why people are as they are. It is nature, nurture, or both? Is it genetic or hormonal, or both? There are people who claim to know the answers, but most of these people end up being proven wrong. We really do not have a grasp as to why people are the way they are. This ends up leading to the thing that some people delight or dread hearing. We are how God has made us. This is a simple answer with huge ramifications. If we are as God created us then God loves us as we are. And does God call for people who he has created, who he loves as they are, to be lonely and miserable?

These are complicated questions and are questions that challenge churches.

I recently met a young pastor, from another denomination, who pastored two rural congregations. They were both rather small, but through his hard work, dedication, and love of God, grew. In fact, the two churches doubled in size and the people of the two churches loved this young man as their pastor.

He is gay. He belongs to a rather hierarchical denomination and the outside authority terminated him on the spot. He could not preach, he could not write, he could not say good bye. The churches are in tatters----not because their pastor was gay but because he was no longer their pastor. They grew to love him as he was and who he loved in life was of no concern to them any longer. These two small congregations were willing to face complex questions but the hierarchy of their denomination would not.

As for Ted Haggard, everyone is trying to figure him out. I heard a therapist make an observation that Haggard and his wife are living a lie. One blogger said, unequivocally said that his wife needs to leave him. The problem is that to say such things is to enter, again, into the realm of self-righteous behavior. WE know better than these people.

Alas, leave the man alone and let him live his life.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

This is Not to be Believed

Bishop Richard Williamson of England just had his excommunication lifted by Pope Benedict in Rome. Williamson is a member of the Society of Pius X, a group that has resisted any change in the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. This is a group that has ordained its own Bishops and priests to maintain the ‘traditional Catholicism,’ that changed after Vatican II in the early 1960's. Four bishops had been excommunicated, including Williamson, and now that has been lifted.

Whether this is a good idea or not, is not my business. Having parted company with the Roman Catholic Church over 25 years ago I do not feel like I have a great deal of input on this decision.

I am, however, appalled about Williamson. I am including a link to an interview he gave about Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and the gas chambers. He believes that the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of 300,000 Jewish people during World War II and that 6,000,000 figure is wrong. Additionally he believes that there was no usage of gas chambers. His explanation of this, using logic and reason, as he states, is beyond the pale.

His theological views are his theological views and he is entitled to them. He is not, however, entitled to views of history that deny basic facts. The Holocaust was not made up, it was not over played, it was not an illusion, it was real.

When the United States Army entered Nazi concentration camps and word got back to the American High Command, then General Dwight Eisenhower issued an order. He ordered that an abundance of pictures and videos be taken and that the records be preserved. He was not being ghoulish. He was being incredibly wise. He believed that there would come a day when people would deny the atrocities ever took place. He predicted that fools like Richard Williamson would come along an attempt to discredit stories of the Holocaust.

It is interesting to note, in addition to this, that the Nazis kept amazingly detailed records. They did not believe they were doing wrong. As difficult as this is to believe, they believed that they were doing the right thing and were proud of what they were doing. As a result they kept amazing records. They assured that their atrocities would be remembered for the ages.

Then people like Williamson come along and deny it took place.

This man, regardless of his education, regardless of his ordination, regardless of his rank, does not speak for God. Williamson is, frankly, a sad excuse for a member of the clergy. This pathetic display of historic revision is revolting and profound frightening. He is not shading around the edges. He is denying a fact. And blaming that denial on logic. He is very clear that he is not using emotion.

This is a great example of how bad logic can be if you deny facts. You can reason yourself to any position on anything if you are willing to overlook facts. You can really go to town if you simply deny facts. The limits of your logic can go anywhere sans facts.

It is also an example of what happens when a person chooses to have no emotion and no heart for others. To deny 6,000,000 people is an act of heartlessness that knows no bounds.

This is a story that needs to be shared. People like Richard Williamson do not speak for Christ, to not represent Christianity in any way shape or form. Shout it from the housetops.

I do not know who and what he represents or wants to represent, but he does not speak as a servant of Christ. To believe that he speaks God’s Word to the world is in and of itself, an atrocity.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Henri Nouwen

I am struck by how many blogs are political in nature. I am struck how often I delve into the political realm and often how frustrating it is. One thing is for certain, about politics. Politics do have a tendency to divide people. A lot.

I am going to take a holiday from mentioning anything political. My universe is a theological and spiritual universe and I want to focus more on that.

What motived me was seeing a Facebook group on Henri Nouwen and I began to think a lot about Nouwen. Henri Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest who, through the 1970's and 1980's was probably one of the most proficient writers on spirituality. He was something of an ‘expert’ on all things spiritual and many people, including me, read a great deal of Nouwen’s works.

Nouwen passed away a few years ago. Cardinal Bernadin was dying in Chicago and Nouwen flew to see the Cardinal to talk about dying like a Christian. Nouwen and Bernadin talked and Nouwen proved to be a great inspiration to the Cardinal. In an interesting twist of fate, Nouwen flew home to Canada (where he was living at the time) and died of a massive heart attack.

Nouwen was a Roman Catholic priest who taught at a Protestant Seminary at Yale. Later in his career he abandoned that to take care of a profoundly disabled man. That became his ministry.

There were several things that made Henri Nouwen an amazing person.

First, I stated that he was something of an expert on all things spiritual and many would agree with me on this. One person who would not, however, would be Henri Nouwen. He would be quick to remind people that there are really no experts on God, and on spirituality. Nouwen would be quick to remind everyone that he was a pilgrim on the journey; much like everyone else.

Part of what made him special was this kind of humility. It is easy for clergy to decree ourselves to be brilliant and highly spiritual. Most of us, when we are honest, are anything but. It’s just difficult to get us to be honest. Nouwen, however, was always honest. He was a struggling traveler on the road; and was the first to admit it.

Secondly, Nouwen saw that there was more to Christianity than theology and theological vantage points.

The Christian Church, the Body of Christ, is, by definition, supposed to be one. It is not. It is often divided by theological viewpoints and interpretations of the Bible, and by whatever else we can think to divide ourselves by. It is often ironic that Christianity often defines itself by its perspectives on gay rights and abortion; two topics Jesus never delved into. I suspect this is true because these issues are probably easier to face than generosity and sacrifice. It is far easier to have an opinion on subjects than to live generously and sacrificially. Theology is far easier to discuss than it is to live in a Christ like fashion.

No one ever really knew Nouwen’s theological viewpoint. Was he a liberal or a conservative? The truth is, Nouwen never mentioned it. I suspect he didn’t think it mattered.

I keep thinking that I’d like to be more like Henri Nouwen when I grow up.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Looking at Some of Today’s News

It hit the New York Times website last night that Caroline Kennedy was pulling herself out of the running for Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate post. She is removing herself from consideration for personal reasons.

Lot of speculation. Some have said that it is because of her uncle’s illness and her closeness to him. Others have speculated that she was removing herself because she was not going to be the choice. It could be any of the above. “Personal reasons’ covers a multitude of reasons.

Caroline Kennedy is a brilliant person and very much a Constitutional scholar and historian. She is blessed with a great intellect and his highly educated. She is not blessed, however, with a great deal of charisma. In a prepared speech, she is fine, albeit rather bland. In off the cuff remarks, however, in front of cameras, she did very poorly. I suspect that she’s a solid behind the scenes kind of person and the public life of being a Senator was something that grew less and less attractive for her. But that’s only my guess.

A second story that has been being bantered around are the four words that Rush Limbaugh (who else) uttered concerning President Obama. ‘I hope he fails.’

This is a man who encouraged Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton so as to disrupt the Democrats nomination process. Now, in the midst of incredibly difficult times, he wants our current President to fail. It’s not even that he is dismayed on the loss of John McCain who he calls not a real Republican.

In the midst of difficult times, Limbaugh sounds almost like he’s committing treason. Alas, freedom of speech is a great right, and as Larry Flynt so said, “Everyone has a right to be offensive.” It seems right to connect these two fools together. Flynt and Limbaugh; perfect together.

And lastly, President Obama was sworn in, again, last night, by Chief Justice Roberts. Justice Roberts, a rather private man, stumbled a bit when he administered the oath of office and some things were said out of order. Well, before you knew it, speculation was rampant on whether Obama really was the President. (Actually, he was the President at noon, whether he took the oath or a bath, but that’s beside the point.) The Oath is in the Constitution and people began wondering if, because the words were not said exactly right, if they really did take.

So, Chief Justice Roberts went to the White House last night to correct this ill.

On the news yesterday, Chris Wallace stated that he didn’t really think that Obama was really the President. I guess Mr. Wallace thinks that the Oath is akin to a Hogwarts’ spell, that if you do not get the words exactly right, you turn into a frog instead of the President. Today, Matt Drudge is reporting that they didn’t use a Bible at the re-swearing in ceremony so it might not be valid or ‘blessed by God.’

I feel very badly for Chief Justice Roberts. I often find myself disagreeing with him but I think that he is a good and honorable person and he’s now caught up in a whirlwind of controversy that is beyond silly.

If this had all gone to court I cannot imagine any judge with an IQ beyond 12 even entertaining this case for very long. To even have lawsuits on the subject would have been reached new levels of stupidity and absurdity. Unfortunately, we would have seen those new levels and had to watch Roberts cringe each time one was raised. He doesn’t deserve the abuse.

It is stuff like this that makes me think that we, as a nation, are in major trouble because we have lowered ourselves to incredibly new levels of stupidity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So, What Happens Now?

Yesterday was the day that the mantle of leadership was passed from George W. Bush to Barack Obama. One became former President Bush and the other officially became President Barack Obama.

The handoff went well. Numerous reports came from the White House that the transition from Ronald Reagan to George H. W. Bush was surprisingly bad because the Reagans treated the Bushes in a rather shabby fashion and were remarkably graceless in the transition.

The Bushes, however, were remarkably gracious to the Clintons and were as helpful as they could be. The transition from Clinton to Bush was marred by vandalism and the fact that no one could get Bill Clinton to leave town.

This transition, however, went very well. The Bushes were very gracious and the Obamas were gracious in return. It was hard not to be proud of the four of them standing together with great dignity and respect for one another, and, above all, respect for the process.

There were, and will be petulant children.

The early signs of petulance came from people booing President Bush. This was disgraceful. This is a day of honoring the country and honoring the people who serve. In my mind, any person who serves as our President (even runs for the office) ought to be regarded as a patriot of the highest order. They are willing to put themselves on the line, personally, to serve their country. They are willing to be mocked by the comedians, skewered by the press, and unloved by half the country during the best of times. They are also, always at risk of an assassin’s bullet. They were well protected by the Secret Service, but a person willing to die can be an incredibly dangerous to even a well protected person. Shame on the people who booed.

And, as one might expect, President Obama was skewered all afternoon on talk radio. He is going to ruin the country, he is going to make us less safe, he is going to tear down the moral fabric of the nation, he will remove all of our rights, and will allow scurvy to devastate the United State Navy. One would presume, from listening to these folks, that things were great until Obama came along and everything is going to go to hell in a handbasket now. In short, lots of whining took place.

Meanwhile, large crowds gathered and people huddled around their televisions in search of hope, hoping and praying that the man who was elected to be the President of the United States does well. Lord knows, we need him to do well. We lived in a very troubled time with major issues facing the new President. It strikes me that we ought to get passed booing and whining and search for answers wherever they can be found.

So what happens now, is this. The time has come to try and solve problems. The time has come for people to quit booing, quit whining, quit worrying about only themselves and to grow up and recognize that solutions need to be found rather than just wallowing around in the middle of nowhere.

President Obama quoted from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13 which is the well known passage written by St. Paul about love. Here is what Paul wrote in the midst of that chapter:

For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

St. Paul is making two observations. The first is that reality and the world around us is much vaster and more complex than we often realize. We can only know partial truths about anything. We see in a mirror dimly. The philosopher Plato wrote about seeing shadows on the wall of a cave in terms of human knowledge. We know some things, but only some things. Truth is far greater than we can fathom.

Paul’s second observation is that there is an analogy in this in our lives as human beings. When we are children we perceive things one way; and when we become adults our perceptions change. We put away childish things; we leave childish ways behind us. Obama’s point was simple. We need to stop acting, stop behaving in childish ways, and learn to become adults in our national discourse. Children may have their ideals, but it takes adults to solve problems. It is time, as a nation, to get over our childish temper tantrums and grow up.

Over the last several months our outgoing President and incoming President both behaved like adults. It was almost startling; sight rarely seen in our nation’s capital. Adults. Who’d have thunk it.

The wing nuts will not be happy. The left will clamor that enough is not being done. The right will clamor that the wrong things are being done. The wing nuts will boo and whine. Let them. Let’s hope and pray that as a nation, we have adults in charge, in both parties, who will look to solve the problems facing us instead of holding their breath until they turn blue.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Random Musings

It is absolutely amazing the number of people who have descended on Washington D.C. for the Inauguration. The idea of standing for countless hours, having to stand on line for a limited number of porta-potties, and being with a couple million of my closest friends makes me happy to not be there. I can easily share the excitement of the day at home!

I cannot fathom the amount of security there is in that city this day. I hope and pray that all goes well and everyone is safe.

Spirit Airlines attempted to collect fees from people who missed their connecting flight because the flight they were on ended up landing in the Hudson River. They wanted one guy’s credit card number and he had to inform them that his credit card was still water-soaked and on the plane. Evidently the airline relented when they saw the story on the evening news...

Some major classiness going on. Obama hosted a dinner for McCain and it demonstrated a lot of class for both of them. President Bush has demonstrated great class in the transition as had President-elect Obama. Makes me wonder when we are going to hear, again, from Governor Poor Me about her being excluded from all the events. It is obviously the fault of (insert latest bad people here).

I have really enjoyed watching MSNBC, which, in many ways, has become the Fox News of the left. It will be interesting to see how they report things when Obama does not do things that they approve of. Fox had a tendency to gloss over the failings of George W. Bush; we will see if MSNBC follows the same path or is willing to be highly critical when criticism is called for.

If I am George W. Bush, I am happy to leave and go home to Texas. I cannot imagine why anyone would want this job. I think that it would be good to see Obama’s hair color as it is now; it will change. A lot.

As I am writing this the Obamas and the Bushes are having coffee at the White House. I wonder if the service is so good there that the servers drink the coffee for the people. Frankly, it might be better off. Could you imagine having to use the rest room while on stage? Yikes!

It was reported that the Obamas were going to a Worship Service at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House. Attending a special Worship Service at St. John’s is a tradition on this day. The press was reporting that they didn’t know what the Worship Service was about. Duh. I can tell them this. They won’t be releasing balloons with cards on them congratulating the Obamas on their birthdays.
Recently there was major press coverage on the Obama girls going to school on their first day of school. I was appalled.

The children should be left alone. I am not a fan of George W. Bush and have never been one. I was furious, however, how we had to see pictures of Barbara and Jenna at college, or drinking, or whatever. It was totally wrong. They were college kids and should have been left alone. Before them Chelsea Clinton was mocked, literally mocked in a particularly revolting way for how she looked as an awkward adolescent. The mocker, of course, was the expected one presiding over his talk radio show.

Leave the kids alone!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Living Documents

I recently read a person reflecting on whether the Constitution was a living document or not. The article was less about the Constitution and more about a particular challenge to it. The writer raised an interesting question.

So much, I think, of the written word, is alive. Words have a way of coming back and reminding us of things all the time. Some documents, however, are, by necessity, living documents because people make choices to live by them. The Constitution is a living document, constantly reflected on and analyzed and interpreted. The greatest living document of all, I believe, is the Bible.

How one approaches a living document is important. For a document to be alive and treated alive, three approaches must be made.

First, what do the words actually say?

What makes the Bible challenging with the words is that the words are always translations of other words. Jesus and the people around him spoke a street language called Aramaic. It was less a formal language, not really a written language, but the casual language of the average person on the street. In the New Testament the words that were recalled spoken in Aramaic were translated into Greek, ancient Greek, and in the English Bible those words are translated again into American English.

This doesn’t, obviously, dismiss the words, but it requires some serious looking at the words and what they say and what the original language was stating.

The second aspect of this is reflecting on from whence the words or the thoughts came? Years ago in theology we were taught to see what the “sitz in leiben,” the situation in life, was. What was the history, the culture, and the understanding of the people at the time this was written?

Ancient Judaism spent so much time in captivity, nomadic periods, and exile, that it is impossible to read the Hebrew Scriptures without recognizing this. In the New Testament, any Bible Study that does not reflect on the impact of the Roman Empire on the life of the people is not a very good Bible Study.

The third aspect is to reflect on what all of this means here and now. In the context of our world, in the context of modern science, and contemporary understandings of things, what does this say to us in the here and now?

Living documents do not just speak of the past, but the speak to the present and even the future.

To me, the Bible gets abused, badly, in two ways.

The first way is that it is often interpreted by reading what the words say right here, and right now with no regard for the situation in life, the culture, or even language issues. What does it say???? What does it literally say????

The problem is that if one takes this approach the Bible becomes incredibly narrow, incredibly out of context, and frankly, incredible dead. The Bible is a living, breathing document that demands so much greater respect than to just literally take the modern words and use them however, we see fit.

The second way the Bible is abused is by trying to dismiss what it says in its totality and to treat ‘living’ as a means of saying we can use it however the wind blows. Again, this is an abuse and shows little respect. It is merely using the third part of the equation to the here and now, and dismissing the words.

For a document to be living and breathing, all the parts have to be taken into consideration, words, context, and application.

Is the Bible a living document? If it is not, than what is the alternative to living?

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Remarkable Feel Good Moment

Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger is a new American hero.

He made an incredible landing on the Hudson River saving the lives of every person on the US Air Flight that had just left LaGuardia Airport.

He was in a peculiar spot. To go back to LaGuardia would mean flying back over Manhatten to get to Queens. Kennedy was too far off. Newark was just south of him and Teterboro was very close. The problem he had was that he had no power.

Having grown up in that region I do have a sense of the geography. The Hudson River is actually pretty wide---wider than the Ohio River between New Albany and Louisville. The Hudson also has a lot of boat traffic. Water taxis go back and forth and the Circle Line Cruises are constantly going around. Needless to say at great deal of shipping is also on the river.

The river is also between two highly congested areas. New York City is, obviously, wall to wall people, but Hudson County, New Jersey, right where he went down is the most densely populated county in the most densely populated state. Thousands of people were at risk along with the people on the plane.

Sullenberger saved a lot of lives and demosntrated great courage and skill. To add to all of this, he walked the plane several times to assure everyone was out. The plane could have gone to the bottom of the Hudson with him still on it; he would not leave until he knew the people in his charge were safe.

Water taxis and the passengers stopped what they were doing and rush to the plane. The Coast Guard, Circle Line, and more water taxis showed up. A brave pilot and amazingly good citizens turned a near tragedy into a remarkable 'feel good' moment.

In the midst of very cold weather, a shaky economy, and an uncertain world, a brave pilot and some really great citizens reminded us that there is a whole lot of good left in this country.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Getting Beyond Stupidity

I read a news alert that stated that Barack Obama met with his enemy. I was taken aback. I had no clue as to who is enemy is.

As I read the short article the writer had investigated an address Obama visited and one would presume, had a conversation with the homeowner who, the news article labeled, is the enemy. The enemy's name is George Will. Somehow in all the universe, I cannot ever come to any clue that George Will and Barack Obama are enemies.

I keep wondering when we will be getting beyond the stupidity of seeing political opponents as enemies. I was educated in an environment where rational differences of thought were not only tolerated, they were embraced and appreciated. I do not see George Will and Barack Obama as enemies. They are both very thoughtful, very intelligent, well educated individuals who might disagree with each other on numerous topics, but never be disagreeable with each other. They are both comfortable in having conversations with people with whom they differ.

George Will, to me, is a refreshing contrast to so many we see these days. He has a great deal more in common with folks like Barack Obama with whom he disagrees than he would with most talk radio hosts with whom he might agree. Whereas most of the talk radio hosts speak endlessly about their thoughts, receive callers who agree with them, and shout out callers who disagree with them, George Will engages in thoughtful conversation. Will actually has the testicular fortitude to discuss things with people that so many on the radio lack.

Ideas are usually generated from the right and the left. Solutions come when people come together and actually solve the problems of the world. Will and Obama are not enemies; they are both men who value thought, embrace diverse opinions, and are willing to have conversations with each other. They represent, when they meet like this, what is best about our country.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh Well,

Oh well, the Giants thrill ride was fun while it lasted. I would have loved to have gone to the Super Bowl again but this year it was not to be. It does not take away, however, the joy of last season.

Looking at the four games this weekend, beginning with the Giants, of course, they Giants were simply not as good as the Eagles. The Eagles offense and defense both played better than the Giants. Ultimately McNabb dealt with the wind better than Manning did and Andy Reid benefitted by Tom Coughlin’s not taking the wind into account. The Giants won the toss and made a choice that meant that they were going to be playing into a stiff wind in the fourth quarter.

But there was something else. My daughter and I watched a replay of the NFL Channels show on last year’s Super Bowl. They showed highlighted plays that got the Giants there. In one clip after another there was a big play by Plaxico Burress. He was often the guy who made something out of nothing and his presence in the field always kept two defenders busy. He let his team down in a big way this year and they really did need him in the stretch. It’s obvious that if he is gone for good, they will need a big play receiver.

The game was not a real surprise. The Eagles and the Giants are very evenly matched and both play tough physical games, and their games are usually close and it is a coin toss as to who will win.

The other NFC game, however, was a stunner. The Cardinals really embarrassed the Panthers. I have always felt that Jake Delhomme seemed to have some confusion on which jerseys his players were wearing. His best receivers were Cardinal defenders and he threw 5 picks. Warner did cool off, but he started the game hot and the Cardinals just played very, very well.

If the NFC Championship game was going to be played in Philadelphia I would think that the Eagles were a sure thing. In the desert with the Cardinals playing their best football of the season, this game will be interesting. Great defense usually beats great offense, but the Cards have a and amazing air show going on these days and a clever coach. It will be interesting. I’d still predict the Eagles, but I could be wrong. At this moment, however, I think that the Eagles are the best team in the NFL.

In the AFC the game between the Titans and the Ravens was a duel between a veteran quarterback and a rookie quarterback. The Titans had the savvy veteran and were at home. However, three turnovers in the red zone did them in and Flacco did a superb job for the Ravens. Rookie coach and rookie quarterback are bringing them to audition for the big show. This team is going to be formidable for anyone.

There are, of course, the Steelers. Big Ben is not my favorite guy in the world, but he did come up big for the Steelers and they play fierce and tough football. They pounded the hard charging Chargers into the ground time and time again.

It is hard to bet against the Steelers in this game. Home team, veteran quarterback, and a veteran coach. I know that the Panthers overcame this once, but the Titans are not the Steelers.

My prediction is that it will be a Keystone State Super Bowl.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Governor Poor Me

My first impression of Sarah Palin was that she was very poised and gave an excellent first speech. When she spoke at the Republican Convention it looked like a new political star was rising. In front of a large crowd and a massive television audience, she spoke with coolness and precision. The problem was, as the campaign went on, it became increasingly obvious that she was good at giving speeches that good speech writers wrote for her. On her own she began to have problems.

The interview with Charles Gibson was bad. The news media was actually pretty kind about her performance in that. It was a poor performance but it was also a first time out. The Katie Couric interview was a cosmic disaster. In both instances the problem really wasn’t the questioners or even the questions. The problem was that Palin did not know the answers. She could not really answer the initial questions and when the follow up questions came, she was off to a universe that has been unexplored. Her response of choice became stringing together as many cliches as she could and hoping her cliches and charm would work. For some they did but for the majority of Americans, her performance was woeful.

Her debate with Joe Biden was interesting. At first she had him baffled. It wasn’t because of the brilliance of her answers, is was that she was ordering Chinese food in an Italian restaurant. Nothing she said matched the questions. She admittedly and deliberately did not answer the questions posed to her. I almost fell of my chair when the news media (on MSNBC) actually seemed to applaud her for this tactic and said it effectively kept Biden off guard at the beginning of the debate. Well, yes, he was off guard. If you have no clue as to what your opponent is answering, it tends to be a tad distracting. The vast majority of people watching the debate, however, were angered. The average person does get weary of politicians who never answer the questions.

She also called herself a feminist. I had a great experience while in was in seminary to have a summer job at the seminary working in the library. For six weeks that summer, I lived with over 60 nuns. These were amazing women and most of them were pretty staunch feminists. They did not hate men. They were not anti-male. What they did believe, however, was that if women wanted to achieve respect and success they had to be smart and use their intelligence to achieve things. They studied harder than I ever did and many of these women were incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, and extremely well versed in their topics of conversation.

I was thinking of them when Palin started winking and making cutesy remarks. She represented everything these women were opposed to. It wasn’t her positions, it was her thinking that a woman would achieve status and success by playing cutesy. And ignorant.

Now she is Governor Poor Me. She was a victim of the McCain Campaign and her handlers. She was a victim of Katie Couric and Tina Fey. She was, above all, a victim of the main stream media all of whom were very liberal and totally opposed to her. These were the same people who applauded her speeches, her debate performance, and even gave her credible remarks after the Gibson interview.
She was not a victim of the news media. She was not a victim of the media loving Obama. She was a victim of her amazing lack of knowledge. She was a victim of her own ambition of accepting the nomination for a position that she was woefully unqualified for. She is rapidly becoming a victim of her own whining about how evil the media is and her ‘poor me’ profile. She is a victim as much as a college student whines about the ‘unfair’ questions on the exams while her classmates are simply answering the questions. The questions were unfair because she did not know the answers.

There were four candidates, two for President and two for Vice President. John McCain, agree with him or not, knew what he was talking about. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, agree or disagree with them, knew what they were talking about. Sarah Palin stood like a deer in the headlights and blamed the mean car for coming down the road that she was crossing. She did not know the answers to basic questions. That is not the fault of anyone but herself.

Now she’s giving interviews whining about how unfair everyone was to her. She has implied that if she had been Obama’s running mate, the media would have ‘loved her.’ She missed the point.

Both McCain and Obama said that they were going to choose someone who could step right in. McCain, for whatever reason, did not do this. He chose a person who was woefully unprepared. Obama chose a person who could step right in. She would never have been Obama’s running mate, ever, because he wouldn’t have chosen her in a million years. The reason was simple. She didn’t know what she was talking about.

I would suggest that if she wants to be taken seriously, she quit the winking and begin reading. I do not believe that this is an unintelligent woman. This is a woman who lacks a basic education on so many issues. Instead of portraying herself as Governor Poor Me I would suggest she take her loss like an adult and recognize that she has a great deal of learning ahead of her.

Thursday, January 08, 2009



The movie “Doubt” begins with the character, Fr. Flynn, giving a sermon on doubt. His premise (which is theologically sound by the way) is that doubt is an important part of growing in faith. Without doubt, real faith cannot grow.

In the process of preaching this sermon he makes an enemy in the school’s principal played by Meryl Streep. Her character, Sister Aloysius, is a woman, a nun, who a hard, difficult woman, finds the concept of doubt to be anathema. She lives her life by certainty. As she says over and over again, she knows people.

Amy Adams plays Sister James, a young, kindly nun who ends up in the middle of a war between the associate pastor of St. Nicholas Church and the principal of St. Nicholas School. The story centers on whether Father Flynn had been inappropriate with a young, friendless, African American student.

This is really a great movie and very well played by the performers in the movie. Streep and Hoffman are their usual brilliant selves, Adams is great, and Viola Davis who plays the mother of the student in question and who is in the movie for all of 10 minutes, steals the performance spotlight from two giants. If Viola Davis does not win best supporting actress for her performance in this movie, the Academy will have passed over one of the great all time performances in a film.

The movie, however, is about doubt and certainty and the battle between them. But, at least in my mind, it goes much deeper.

The story, at least to me, is actually about Sister Aloysius and her descent into her own personal hell. Priests are preaching on doubt, nuns are beginning to question her, and ball point pens are taking over the world. The certainty of her world is beginning to collapse but she can not admit it. Her security is based on that certainty and she will go to any means to preserve it.

For many people Sister Aloysius will be dismissed as a caricature of nuns. She is not. I have known many sisters very well, and these women are intelligent, wise, and good beyond almost all imagination. Often serving in a church that offers little to no recognition of what they have to offer the wider church, these women do amazing things.

In 1964 convent life was painful for so many people. The era in which this story was told was between the two sessions of Vatican II and life was going to change for priests and nuns in amazing ways. Some dreaded it. They found their security in what they knew and they believed that serving God required suffering. They, like Sister Aloysius were willing to suffer and believed that everyone should suffer along with them.

The problem with Father Flynn is this. He can either be a great guy who is being railroaded by this troubled woman or he is a charming predator. He can be either. His personal caring for the young man, his protection of the lad in the harshness of the school can either be the efforts of a caring, compassionate priest, or grooming by a predator. He does have answers to the questions but they do not fly with Sister Aloysius. She is certain that he was not appropriate with the young man and wants the priest gone. She sees herself as a protector of the students in her charge and, ultimately the world and the church as she sees it.

Ultimately the movie offers no answers. It leaves the viewer with doubt. People leave the theater, and many are certain in what happened or didn’t happen. But they fall into the dilemma of certainty. There are so many questions that are left unanswered that it leaves the viewer with doubts. Which ultimately makes this movie a slice of real life.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Ann Coulter and Her Premises...

Ann Coulter lives with several premises.

Her first premise is that all people who are either self-professed liberals or seen, by her, as liberal, are bad.

Her second premise is that if she states something is a fact, it is a fact, despite what any other research indicates.

Her third premise is that civil discourse is foolishness. Her books and speeches are not restrained by any sense of civility on her part.

Her first premise is more sad than anything else. If people believe that goodness or badness are based on ideologies those people are folks who ought to be pitied. The quality or lack of quality of individuals is based on so many factors. If one actually followed the Bible’s qualities of goodness as opposed to what people like to think they are, those qualities generally revolve around kindness, charity, compassion, and generosity. A great Rabbi once indicated that the dual commandment of loving God and loving people is the core of the Bible; the rest is commentary. What he says would apply to the New Testament as well as the Old Testament.

One thing I have learned in a quarter century of being a minister is that virtues such as kindness, charity, compassion, and generosity are qualities that rarely have an ideological tag to them. They are virtues shared by people of all creeds of all political beliefs.

Her second premise is something I see more and more of. We seem to have come to the conclusion that if a person states something as a fact, and sticks with the statement, and repeats it over and over again, it suddenly becomes a fact. Additionally, people often see a well argued hypothesis as a fact. If one can make a statement, give examples, give anecdotal examples, then it is a fact.

It doesn’t quite work that way. Facts are, by their very nature, indisputable. Interestingly enough, there actually are a lot fewer facts than people often realize. If one studies ethics, a part of philosophy, it is based on premises, thoughts, and opinions, but it really isn’t based on facts. This is why there are so many debates as to right and wrong, good and bad.

The difficult so many people have is that they have a difficult time embracing that the world we live in is a complicated place. Things do not fall as we’d like them to fall and world events are often difficult to totally understand. The recent conflict between Israel and the Gaza strip is a great example. The reasons of being for both Jews and Palestinians are quite compelling and extensive.

Coulter makes numerous statements in her latest book that have been proven to be wrong. She either did poor research, came to bad results, or is just dishonest. When challenged on her bogus statements shed simply says that she is right and her critics are wrong. That’s a nice world to live in. It resembles Oz more than reality, but, oh well.

Her last premise is a core problem we have. Civility is a lost virtue. The ability to sit, to respect others, and to listen to others and offer reasonable responses seems to have been lost. Ann Coulter is not the only one. Rush Limbaugh sees no virtue in civility. Bill Maher sees no virtue in civility. Michael Moore doesn’t either and neither does Karl Rove. Al Franken might become a Senator from Minnesota and one of his best selling books was “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.” It is not a book title that indicates a generosity of spirit.

This lack of civility comes at a great price. The intense mean spiritedness that we are experiencing has crushed the ability for people to actually solve problems. One of the problems our government has is that people are not looking for solutions, but looking to find ways to make their opponents look bad. People look across the aisle and see enemies, and not fellow Americans.

People often say that America is suffering from moral erosion. Like anything else, the first example of moral erosion is always around sex. People generally are more tolerant of rampant greed or rampant violence than they are of rampant sex. I am not saying that any of these rampants are good, just using this as an example. To me, the greatest form of moral erosion is a lack of civility, a complete lack of kindness to others. The concept of ‘loving one’s neighbor,’ is no longer important. Sad.

The saddest things of all are these. Ann Coulter will be invited to make numerous appearances to pass on what she loves to pass on, and many people will buy her books. And sadly, they will believe her.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Dangers of Certainty

I have a confession to make. I am not a hard core ideologue of any sort and, to be quite honest, I have a difficult time trusting hard core ideologues. Over the years I’ve come to see that many people equate ideological ideas with being principles, and they hold on to an ideology over rationality and practicality. The worst thing of all is that ideologues tend to be certain about their ideas. In the marketplace of ideas, they really have no need to engage other perspectives because they are right.

There are dangers of certainty that lurk. Big ones.

The first is this. Ideologies are based on ideas and not based on things that necessarily work all the time.

Converse opposites about the marketplace give us some insight into this.

Some will say that the market can solve everything as long as the government stays out of things. We all learned about a laissez-faire approach to things. Leave it alone and it will itself. Any idea of outside regulation is anathema. The problem is that when there is no outside regulation and laissez-faire is the attitude, the market consistently doesn’t fix it. The Great Depression and our current economic woes can be traced to a lack of regulation and a lack of restraint. The market didn’t fix it. And our health care system, if people believe that the market alone can fix this, I would be willing to discuss you purchasing a certain bridge in Brooklyn that is for sale...

But the converse opposite is that the government should take care of everything. This also doesn’t work. A competitive marketplace means that people who work harder, get more training, etc., can become more successful. If the government treats everyone the same, if the government takes care of everything, it kills the motivation for people to improve.

Practicality seems to indicate that the way we deal with things is a balance between regulation and free market. But ideologues are not about practicality; they are about ideologies and the ideology is always right.

Secondly, ideologies tend to be dangerous because the are right and are generally insistent that everyone abides by their thoughts.

In religious life many people have a low regard for Christianity as it is perceived to be cruel and judgmental looking to find fault with people who do not live according to ‘Christian’ standards, or more interestingly enough, what they claim Christian standards to be.

I was greatly offended by recent comments by Mike Huckabee who indicated that this year’s election was not impacted by people voting for values. The reality is that it was not impacted by people voting for HIS values; everyone votes on values. It is just that values are usually more subjective in nature than strictly objective. He either intentionally or unintentionally insinuated that people had no moral vision, whereas many people did vote their moral vision. It was just not his. And it was not his vision of what Christianity ought to be.

In governments, however, the last century demonstrated the danger of ideologues running the nations.

In 1917 left wing ideologues took over Russian and created the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union looked to purge dissidents and was cruel to its citizenry and proved to be perfectly willing to provide measures for mass extermination of people.

In the 1930's right wing ideologues took over Germany. Germany looked to purge dissidents and was cruel to its citizenry and proved to be perfectly willing to provide measures for mass extermination of people.

Worse yet, both were successful in their extermination attempts and both ultimately proved to be dangerous and complete failures.

Ultimately ideologues tend to be wing nuts. They will hold onto their ideas, good, bad, or indifferent and proclaim that these ideas are their principles. It doesn’t matter which side of the bench they are sitting on, the left or the right. In either case, when others get off the other end, they will always end up on the floor cursing at the others, because the other people were the ones who are wrong. Ideologues are certain of their rightness and in that they are dangerous.