Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sippican Quotes Me

I'm honored.

He's right that George Martin, the Beatles' producer, admits to having been beastly to George Harrison in the early years. The youngest member of The Beatles, very much in the shadow of Paul McCartney and John Lennon, Harrison's early songs weren't stellar, most of them never recorded.

But Harrison became a more than competent songwriter, of course. Frank Sinatra called Something the greatest love song ever written and the Chairman of the Board knew something about love songs. (The rhymes on Harrison's last LP, posthumously released, are often stunning, though overall, I found the release so unsatisfying that I couldn't justify buying it.)

What was frustrating about Harrison as a solo artist to me is that he produced LPs that were either altogether wonderful or almost completely crap, those in the latter category occasionally containing only a salvageable tune or two. 33-1/3 and Extra Texture were particularly horrible, Dark Horse only marginally and sporadically better. All Things Must Pass, though far too long (the same complaint that Harrison made to McCartney of the latter's concert appearances, by the way), is an undeniable classic, and Cloud Nine, produced by ELO's Jeff Lynne, is a fun listen. Of course, Harrison's first Traveling Wilbury project with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, and Lynne was simultaneously fresh and thick with nostalgia. Harrison's compositions on the first release were outstanding. (The second release was mediocre.)

To his credit, after the breakup of the Beatles, instead of returning comfortably to form, Harrison developed his own signature guitar style. Think high-pitched whole notes. That's the post-Beatles Harrison way of playing guitar. I never particularly cared for that sound, but it was his, an important statement from a proud man insistent that he wasn't George Beatle.

The Wilburys projects point out an important fact about Harrison: Although he was a curmudgeonly personality who, as McCartney said, "didn't suffer fools," he also was someone who loved to collaborate with others. It was he, sickened by the egomania he saw especially in McCartney, who invited Billy Preston to sit in on the often contentious Let It Be sessions. It was he too, who asked Eric Clapton to add that haunting solo to While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

Harrison was also an innovator in the Beatles days. He brought a sitar into the studio with the Fab Four for the first time and he was the one who suggested the use of synthesizers on Abbey Road.

Harrison was usually contemptuous of the Beatles, claiming that he'd worked with much better musicians than his old bandmates ever were. (He probably did. But he never worked with any set of musicians who were more impressive complete packages: performers, composers, arrangers, personalities.) When he wrote his autobiography, Harrison was feuding with Lennon and so, that Beatles bandmate was largely overlooked in his book, an unaccountable oversight. That's always stunned me and demonstrated how hateful Harrison could be when he wanted to be. (This isn't to argue that Lennon was any less so. In fact, I suspect that the only one of the four I might like as a person is Ringo Starr.)

For all of Harrison's acidic dismissals of "the Four Moptops" though, he relished the airing of the massive video history on the Beatles. Before its release, he boasted that it would show mere mortals like U2 what real musical success was like.

Sippi may be right that It Don't Come Easy, the 45 which triggered this whole discussion, is mostly a Harrison tune, though recorded and co-composed by Ringo Starr. But another great rock ditty, Back Off Boogaloo, based on a buzz word of Mark Bolen's, is pure Ringo.

Game #3 in Drive to National Championship is Today!

Go, Buckeyes!

See here for complete coverage.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Listening to Dylan and Orbison Tonight

After our recent trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I decided to get the remastered CD version of Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited through Amazon. It came today. I had it on vinyl and have always loved it. But this remastered version is incredible...Al Kooper's wonderfully amateurish organ sounds great and you hear every inflection, breath, and chuckle in Dylan's vocals.

I also ordered and received the 2006 release, The Essential Roy Orbison. I've never been a big RO fan, although I always appreciated what a fabulously affecting voice he had, as well as the passion and poignance he imparted to his songs. My wife wanted to get a copy of Orbison's most well-known songs that she could play at work. This 40-song collection covers his entire career, with the second CD devoted to the stuff he did with Jeff Lynne, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, and others near the end of his life. It's fun to hear...and hard to believe that he's been dead for eighteen years already.

Inter-Gender Communications

My wife taped this Dilbert comic strip onto our refrigerator.

Now, there's this helpful Woman Vocabulary designed to help men interpret the messages they receive from their female significant others, posted by Jan at The View from Her.

Christian Faith: The Basics...Links to The Series So Far

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14 (Oops...there was no Part 14)
Part 15
Part 16
Part 17
Part 18
Part 19
Part 20
Part 21
Part 22
Part 23
Part 24
Part 25
Part 26
Part 27
Part 28
Part 29

Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 33

[With this installment, we pick back up on a series for which I last posted on August 16.]

It's God the Holy Spirit Who makes faith in Jesus Christ possible.

In a previous post in this series, I said that one indicator that you might have of the facticity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in which Christians believe is the internal experience of those who have dared to believe in Christ. When people take the chance of believing, depending on, and praying and living in the Name of Jesus, they discover His presence to be very real in their lives and in the life of His family, the Church. They discover the truth of promises He made to His followers, such as these:

"...remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20)

"...I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I will not leave you orphaned..." (John 14:16-18)

We can believe in the Good News of Jesus and the promises of His continuing presence in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes it possible for us to trust the Gospel (which means good news) about Jesus in spite of all the bad news in our lives. First Corinthians 12:3 says, " one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says 'Let Jesus be cursed!' and no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."

Writing about the Holy Spirit in The Small Catechism, Martin Luther summarizes this power to create faith in those willing to trust in Christ by saying, "I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me..., enlightened me..., and sanctified and kept me in true faith."

How does this work? I can tell you how it has worked in my life. Back when I was an atheist and I found myself, against my will, falling in love with Jesus Christ because of the way I saw ordinary people in a church in Columbus, living for Jesus, I finally put down my dukes. I quit resisting the stubborn love of God, offered through the crucified and risen Jesus, and let Him love me. I didn't demand that He be real. I let His reality soak into my life.

That, my experience suggests, is how faith in Jesus Christ comes to be. It's never coerced. Faith in Christ, in fact, cannot be coerced. But if, as the Spirit woos us, we allow ourselves to be open to His entry into our lives, He will enter us and faith will take hold.

Over time, God has revealed Himself to be one God in three Persons, a reality which Christians call "the Trinity," although that term is never used in the Bible. We've already looked at God revealed as Father and as Son. Over the next few installments, we'll look at God the Holy Spirit and at what He does.

But above all, you simply need to know that it's God the Holy Spirit Who makes faith in Jesus Christ possible. It's the Spirit Who loves us into trusting God.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What We Learn About 'Character Issues' from Pass Being Given Schwarzenegger

You're the governor of the nation's most populous state, candidate for re-election after winning the post in a special recall vote three years earlier. Less than two months before this election day, a former live-in lover publishes a lenghty memoir recounting your drug use and enjoyment of pornography, which she observed, and infidelities, which she didn't observe until after the relationship had broken up. In response, you:
a. Issue a heated denial ("I did not watch Deep Throat with that woman, Miss Outland.")
b. Hire a political dirty trickster to undermine the credibility of the memoirist
c. Start a war with Nevada
d. Grant an interview to the former lover and write the foreword to her book
If you answered d., you're either Arnold Schwarzenegger or you've read the story recounted here. (Which, by the way, my blogging friend, John Schroeder linked to on his blog today). By all appearances, it looks like Schwarzenegger's response is the politic least in Caleefornia.

In fact, far from being upset with Schwarzenegger, California voters seem prepared to give him a gigundous re-election victory. So, is Schwarzenegger outfitted with Ronald Reagan-like Teflon? Maybe not. And I'll give you three possible explanations of why it isn't Teflon that accounts the governor's apparent imperviousness to attack over things alleged in the book by his former lover.

Maybe, for one thing, voters already thought their governor had engaged in the behaviors recounted in the memoir and have decided that they don't care. I'm reading Laurence Leamer's 2005 bio of Arnold right now. It's definitely not sanitized and was researched and written with the cooperation of Schwarzenegger and friends.

It's filled with revelations of the governor's departure from good behavior, some of which came out during his 2003 campaign. So, there's really nothing new that Schwarzenegger's one-time lover, Barbara Outland, can tell us.

Maybe, given that what happens in California is often a harbinger of coming trends in the rest of the country, the indifference with which revelations of Schwarzenegger's wild past and his handling of them tell us a lot about how US politics will be practiced in the future. Or, maybe this is how politics is already being practiced across America. Societal attitudes about the relationship between pols' personal lives and how they conduct themselves as public officials, are changing, to be sure.

In 1964, Nelson Rockefeller got no traction for his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, in part because of his divorce and rapid ensuing marriage to another woman. But by 1980, the divorced Reagan ran for President as a family values candidate. Bob Dole's emotionally brutal decision to divorce his first wife had no effect on his drive to the GOP nomination in 1996.

I'm reminded of the lines from the old Randy Newman song in which a father-to-be sings about his prospective son to his wife:
We'll have a kid
Or maybe we'll rent one
He's got to be straight
We don't want a bent one
He'll drink his baby brew
From a big brass cup
Someday he may be President
If things loosen up
Things have loosened up. And at the risk of shocking everybody, this is one preacher who thinks that that's not an altogether bad thing. None of us is perfect. And no one who runs for public office can claim moral perfection.

Having said that, I don't buy the argument advanced by some that what politicians do in their personal lives should have zero bearing on whether we vote for them or not.

It's difficult to erect walls between the facets of any of our lives. Pols' personal lives are relevant to consideration of their fitness for public office when a look at that life shows, not that they've made mistakes or committed sins--which all of us have done, but because patterns, good and bad, are seen.

The important thing to know is if there are patterns in pols' personal lives that bespeak either commendable character or enduring moral blind spots. Do they learn from their mistakes? Do they try to do the right thing? Do they hang in their with their commitments? A look at a candidates' personal lives will answer such important questions.

If a public figure is a serial adulterer, one who bugs out on marriages for no good reason, an inveterate liar, a long standing hedonist, a tax-cheat, an unreformed alcoholic, or whatever, these patterns of behavior will inevitably show up in how they do their work, giving voters legitimate reasons to doubt their reliability. And in the end, I think character is about reliability. My guess is that most voters, although likely to express themselves less long-windedly than I am here, would agree.

Maybe too, the voters of California are disinterested in the behaviors Outland recounts in her book about Schwarzenegger because they're all from the distant past. They would likely be upset if Schwarzenegger smoked pot or watched porn yesterday. But the events Outland talks about took place about thirty years ago.

Voters seem to believe that fairness demands the recognition of a kind of statute of limitations when it comes to looking at past indiscretions. President Bush realized this before many other pols, explaining why, during the 2000 campaign, he refused to answer questions about his life prior to age 40. He wouldn't defend actions he took that came before a defined point at which he started to get his life together. Voters respected that firewall. California voters, though often deemed by Red Staters as being flaky and unconscionably liberal, are really applying the same firewall to Schwarzenegger's life that Red State voters applied to George W. Bush six years ago. I think that's fair.

This last one, in fact, is the likeliest explanation for the pass being given Schwarzenegger.

A final thought: What's not happening to Schwarzenegger's political fortunes will give Rudy Giuliani hope that he can pass muster among conservative GOP primary voters whose concerns are more personal than political. There are questions about Giuliani's personal life and his caustic ways. The pass being given Schwarzenegger will be seen as a positive omen by the former New York mayor preparing to run for President.

Of course, it may be argued that Arnold's indiscretions are not as recent as those of Rudy and that Rudy's decision to leave his wife may indicate greater personal brutality than that exhibited by the mature Arnold. It will be difficult for Rudy to erect a Bush-style firewall for personal actions he's taken since entering public life and which are of recent vintage. But it's possible that there exists such a stockpile of well-deserved September 11, 2001-generated goodwill for Giuliani that he'll get that pass from voters who otherwise put a lot of stock in personal character in their pols.

Californians appear to have decided that their governor has grown up, much the same decision made by US voters about George W. Bush in 2000.

The jury is out as to how voters will respond to Rudy Giuliani in 2008.

[Thanks to Rick Moore at Holy Coast for linking to this piece.]

Third Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: James 3:1-12

[You'll find an explanation of what this post is about at the first pass at this weekend's lesson. Here's a link to the second pass.]

[Continuation of verse-by-verse comments]
7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
(1) Obviously, James is engaging in a little hyperbole in v. 7. Not every species of beast and bird has been tamed by human beings. But many species have been so tamed. And, at the least, human beings exercise dominion over the created order. (Sometimes not to good effect.)

James' argument here is derived from a typical Jewish form of argumentation, employed often in the Old Testament as well as by Jesus and by Paul. The formula is: If this little thing, then how much more this big thing.

James' argument will be: If this little thing, how astounding this smaller thing, which it turns out, is really a much bigger thing.

James is saying, "We're able to tame or subdue the animals of the earth, yet we can't tame a smaller thing, our words. But, in fact, our tiny words are much bigger and far deadlier than the greatest physical predator we will ever encounter! They have the ability to destroy others and ourselves."

(2) The tongue is merely a symbol for our human capacity for communication, often used in intemperate, egotistical, boastful, unkind, or hurtful ways.

(3) The description of the tongue as "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" is an apparent allusion to the serpent whose lying words tempted Eve and Adam into rebellion against God. (A mark of the subtlety of the serpent is that he told the truth in a lying way. It was true that Adam and Eve were not immediately killed by eating the forbidden fruit. But decay and death had become part of the human experience through this chasm created between humanity and the Author of life.)

(4) Chris Haslam points out that the order in which "beast...bird...reptile...and sea creature" are listed here is the same in which they appear in Genesis 9:2 (in which God speaks to Noah); Deuteronomy 4:17-18 (in which God's people are told not to make idols); and I Kings 4:33 (which speaks of Solomon).

(5) Haslam also points out that the reference to the "deadly poison" emitted by those who misuse the gift of speech echoes Psalm 140:3, which says of evildoers:
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s, and under their lips is the venom of vipers.
As you can see, these two verses are rife with allusions to Genesis, the Old Testament book which the rabbis insisted was key to understanding God and the faith.

(6) In the description of the tongue as "a restless evil" is mirrored descriptions of the devil (or Satan). In Job 1:7, for example, Satan tells God that he has been going "to and fro on the earth...walking up and down on it." And First Peter exhorts Christians to stay connected to God, alert to temptations, by saying, "Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour" (First Peter 5:8).

Jesus, in telling people to remain connected to God and alert to temptations after they've been delivered from evil, says that the demons of hell evidence the same restless energy seen in the devil himself, a desire to indwell people and so rob them of life. He also says that we need to fill the vacancies left by old sins and addictions with Him, His life, and His love, otherwise sinful dependencies may take up residence in us again:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but it finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, it finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So will it be also with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)
9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
(1) We dare to praise God and then curse, put down, belittle, or marginalize human beings made in God's image. That doesn't work in the Kingdom of God! John writes in the New Testament:
Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (First John 4:20-21)
(2) Yet again, this passage alludes to Genesis, reminding us that in one of its creation accounts, Genesis says that we human beings, unlike all the other living things God created, were made "in the image of God."

11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
(1) In the last few verses of his essay, James explains why this ought not to be so (v. 10).

(2) Fruit was an accessible image to an ancient agricultural society like the one from which the Bible emerged. The idea in much of the Bible's use of fruit imagery is that the way we live will reflect what's going on inside of us.

Are we connected to the God we meet in Jesus Christ, surrendered to Him?

Or, is someone else calling the shots in our lives, such as the devil, the world, or our sinful selves, to paraphrase Martin Luther?

John the Baptist, as he prepared the people of Judea for Jesus' ministry, called the people to repent and is quoted in Luke's Gospel as saying:
“You brood of vipers! [venomous snakes again!] Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)
Jesus tells His disciples that those who remain faithful to Him will display that faith in their living:
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. (John 15:8)
Paul says that those who are in relationship with Christ, in whom the Holy Spirit thus lives, will evidence that presence in their living:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:19-23)
Jesus also says that we'll be able to pick out false prophets from those speaking on His behalf "by their fruits." (He also says that He will allow these false prophets to continue to operate because if he were to destroy them, he would also destroy the righteous among whom they live.):
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My Cincinnati Reds took it on the chin on Wednesday night, losing to the San Diego Padres, 10-0. reports:
In his first poor outing since coming over in a July 31 trade from Minnesota, Kyle Lohse was pummeled for seven earned runs and eight hits in only 2 1/3 innings. It was his shortest start of the season with either the Twins or Reds.
I like Lohse a lot. But the Padres were simply dominating tonight. The last game of this series is tomorrow.

The hunt for Reds October continues. But however this season turns out, it's been a great effort by the management and the players on the field. They've brought the excitement back to Reds baseball. As a fan of the team since 1969, I'm excited about that!

I'll Take the Jaded Mainstream Media Any Day

That was my reaction to various progressive bloggers' worshipful posts about their meeting with Bill Clinton on Tuesday. Over fried chicken in his New York office, the former President met with Democratic bloggers. (A functionary from Senator Hillary Clinton's office was also present.) One blogger has commented on blue Mr. Clinton's eyes are and another said that he was surprised at the number of issues on which the former President and the bloggers agreed.

Whenever any members of the pajama modem brigade get invited to rub shoulders with the high and mighty from their own party, they tend to react as the citizens of Mayberry would were they invited for an audience with Earl Scruggs. Subsequent posts reflect a fawning credulity. Bloggers whose daily writing is filled with criticism lose all capacity for critical thinking when ushered into the presence of luminaries from their own parties, be they Republican or Democrat. "Sheesh, Andy," they seem to say, "he must be a great guy. He thinks I'm so important and I can't think of anything on which we disagree."

In these instances, give me the perspectives of jaded professional journalists who've been inoculated against all snake oils. They may sometimes be overly critical, their questioning unduly barbed. But when a President or a former President pulls them aside to schmooze and bust a move for their latest push, they're less likely to be taken in. They're likely to react more like a man in one of Lincoln's apocryphal stories: "You have heard the story, haven't you, about the man who was tarred and feathered and carried out of town on a rail? A man in the crowd asked him how he liked it. His reply was that if it was not for the honor of the thing, he would much rather walk."

By the way, bloggers who swoon over the honor of special attention from major pols can be found on both sides of the partisan divide. There are even some mainstream journalists who act like they're from Mayberry.

I try to put the most charitable spin on the actions of words of others. But I worship only one God. When it comes to anybody else, "trust, but verify" are appropriate watchwords. As bloggers play an increasingly prominent role in politics and cultural life, a little jadedness will do.

[TY to Althouse.]

[Thanks to the guys at Article6 Blog for linking to this post. But I should point out that, in the piece where they make the link, they were critical of what they perceive to be a fawning attitude of mainstream media mavens toward the Clintons. I was pointing out the lack of critical thinking which many bloggers apply to pols with whom they are, by and large, aligned, whether they're on the Right or the Left.]

The Chafee Win and Partisan Purity

Many Republicans today are lamenting the support Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee received for his primary win over Mayor Stephen Laffey of Cranston yesterday. Chafee will be the GOP nominee for the Senate in spite of a voting record that's fairly liberal.

Although Laffey insisted throughout the primary campaign that he was no conservative and trumpeted many views of a more liberal tenor, his candidacy was embraced by conservatives throughout the country, such is their revulsion toward Chafee.

It's interesting to look at the Senator's win and the ongoing drama of Joe Lieberman, who I think is going to win as an independent candidate for re-election to the Senate in Connecticut this year, in the light of history.

Once upon a time, America's two major political parties were great tents that contained ideologically disparate members nonetheless united on certain core beliefs.

The Republican Party was a moderately conservative coalition that contained classic conservatives like Barry Goldwater, pragmatists like Jim Rhodes, George Romney, and Hugh Scott, and northeasterners who tilted liberal on social issues, like Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits. In spite of their differences, they generally were advocates of foreign policy realism, fiscal moderation, a less intrusive federal government, and a strong military. There were definite flaws in the Republican Party of the 1940s to 1970s, such as its slowness to embrace the cause of civil rights for African-Americans. But it was a place where those of the center-right could be relatively happy together.

The Democratic Party was a moderately liberal coalition that contained classic liberals like Hubert Humphrey and Abraham Ribicoff, pragmatists like Stuart Symington and Henry "Scoop" Jackson, and southerners who were conservative on social issues, some of them unconscionably so when it came to civil rights. In spite of their differences, they--like their Republican counterparts--were advocates of foreign policy realism, of a Keynesian approach to the federal budget (later embraced by Richard Nixon who once famously declared, "I am a Keynsian" and by default, via supply side economincs, by Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush), a more active federal government, and a strong military. (In the late 50s and early 60s, the Dems wanted to spend more on nuclear arms than Republicans did). Some members of the Democratic Party were shameful segregationists. (Among them was Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who switched to the Republican Party in the mid-1960s, and who moderated his views after the passage of the great civil rights legislation.) But the Democratic Party was a place where those of the center-left could be relatively happy together.

These less ideologically pure parties may have been good for America, especially at a time when the country faced an implacable foe in the Soviet Union and a Cold War that was mostly not fought on battlefields. America had to be at its best in order to contain the Communist threat, Republicans and Democrats realized. Our country was often not at its best in this era. But, fitfully, the parties usually allowed for the development of an American consensus on a variety of issues and within the parties themselves, useful debates in which all had their say, took place.

The Republican national party and its Senate campaign committee were living out of the old center-right consensus model in backing Lincoln Chafee in this year's primary. The party wants to maintain control of the US Senate and isn't concerned with the niceties of ideological purity. Chafee squeaked out a win last night.

Numerous factors have contributed to the heightened ideological fervor in both the Republican and Democratic parties--the effects of the Civil Rights struggle and the War in Vietnam, the removal of a lot of politics from the smoke-filled room in deference to primaries and caucuses, and the emergence of the Religious Right in the 1980s being three big ones.

But in the future, will the old model employed by the national Republicans in the Rhode Island race be acceptable to the party rank-and-file, to the bloggers who provide intellectual and practical support to the party, and to its more ideological leaders? Will the newer ideological model, embraced by many Democrats as well as Republicans, consign us for decades to Red vs. Blue shouting matches? Or will the jihadist threat, like the Communist threat of an earlier era, cause partisans to be less concerned with ideological purity, more accepting of diversity within their ranks, and more pragmatic in their approach to policy?

The continued strong support which liberal Rudy Giuliani is receiving for his presidential run from conservative Republicans may be an early harbinger of a reversion to big tent political parties, even among rank and file neocon bloggers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Maxwell Smart Would Love It

Agent 86 used to talk on his shoe phone. A student at MSU has created a recharger for cell phone that's connected to one's shoe and activated by walking.

OSU Should Win on Saturday...But Complacency Must Be Avoided!

I commented to my son earlier today that I sort of cringe when Ohio State's football team plays smaller in-state schools like the University of Cincinnati's Bearcats.

The Buckeyes will be playing UC at the Horseshoe in Columbus this coming Saturday. Ohio State is coming off of an impressive win against the University of Texas in Austin this past week, a game which, at the time saw #1 and #2 in the nation face off. UC lost in its game with Pitt, played here in Cincy last Friday night.

Ohio has many fine smaller universities, like the University of Akron, whose Zips beat North Carolina State's Wolfpack in Raleigh on Saturday. Other top notch smaller schools include Bowling Green, University of Toledo, Kent State, and Miami.

OSU has a commitment to playing games against in-state schools, which is something that the schools sought for many years. This season, UC goes to Columbus.

The reason that these games so concern me is that these smaller schools' teams have sufficient talent to have the potential to vie for the upset, especially if the Buckeyes are complacent.

On paper--and probably on the field--Ohio State should dominate the game on Saturday. But I hope my Buckeyes avoid any complacency and continue their march to the national championship!
Hoping that SWEET! turns into SWEEP!
Jason Larue, who has struggled at the plate all year long, hit a walk-off home run in the eleventh inning to give the Reds must-win victory against the San Diego Padres tonight. Larue has always given 100% even though his batting average on the year is a paltry .180. He remains one of the best defensive catchers in the game and a guy always capable of hitting the long ball. I was happy to see him round the bases tonight! (I only saw his at bat and that of Juan Castro, who grounded out just before Larue came to the plate.)

The Reds once again proved themselves to be masters of the dramatic tonight, gaining their sixth walk-off win of the season, tops in the National League in 2006 in a game delayed and disrupted by rain.

This pulls the Reds to within 2-1/2 games of the Padres in the Wild Card race. I'm hoping that "Sweet!" turns into "Sweep!"

Which Path Will You Choose?

[This is my latest column, written for the Community Press newspapers in the Cincinnati area.]

No matter how far over the rainbow you go, you’ll still be carrying a full supply of your own rainclouds with you.

What do I mean by that? Basically this: Running away doesn’t eliminate most of our problems in life.

I meet a lot of people who suffer from what I call, “If only...” syndrome. You know what I’m talking about:

“If only I had a different job...a nicer house...a better sex life...a different boss...a more understanding dream job somewhere else...”

People who suffer from this syndrome think that if only they could change things like their incomes, spouses, jobs, house sizes, locations, and careers, suddenly all would be well in their lives.

But it’s been my observation that most of the time, the discontent we feel with life has more to do with what’s happening in us than with what’s happening to us.

Most people looking for changes of venue would do better looking for changes of viewpoint. Abraham Lincoln, no stranger to disappointment, is reported to have observed, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Are you intent on appreciating your life, grateful for the blessings you already have? Or, are you wasting your time faulting other people or blaming your circumstances for the unhappiness by which you’ve decided to live?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not counseling anybody to put their lives on cruise control.

If your marriage isn’t what you think it should be, talk it over with your spouse or seek counseling.

If you’re in an abusive or adulterous relationship, get out of it now.

If you feel that a change in jobs or careers would bring you greater fulfillment or a better income with which to support you and your family, there’s no reason you shouldn’t go for it.

But people who play musical chairs with their relationships, jobs, and residences, thinking that there’s a magic doorway to nirvana over the next hill, only carry their unhappiness with them.

The greatest unhappiness we experience stems from what the Bible calls sin: the failure to love God, the refusal to give others the consideration we want them to give us, and the unwillingness to treat the blessings we’ve been given with respectful appreciation.

Jesus Christ, Who was God in the flesh, once said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matthew 6:21-23)

We choose the prisms through which we look at our lives. We can, like the proverbial ship’s steward, rearrange the deck furniture on a doomed Titanic. That’s what people who blame others or their circumstances for their unhappiness do; they change the externals of their lives without addressing their real problem, the sin inside that has them mired in selfishness and immaturity.

Or we can, like centuries of believers, experience contentment and the power to make positive changes in our lives by taking responsibility for ourselves, our sins, and our outlook, asking for forgiveness from God through Christ, and from Him, receiving the power to move toward becoming the people we were made to be.

The first path leads to more unhappiness. The second one leads to God, personal growth and renewal, and eternity. Which path will you choose?

[Thanks to busy Dan at A Slower Pace for linking to this post.]

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: James 3:1-12

[An explanation of what this post is about can be found in the first pass at this Bible lesson, here.]

1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
(1) Jesus, like James, speaks of the stringent standards to which teachers are held by God in Matthew 5:19. Jesus also upbraids those teachers who love their role for the honor it accords them, rather than doing it to be servants.

(2) But verse 2 will make clear, the speech of all Christians has eternal significance, either reflecting the presence of Christ in our lives or the disruption, discord, hate, greed, and envy of hell.

2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle.
(1) James is not about to commend religious perfectionism. None of us is perfect, he says. In order for our speech to accord with God's will for human beings, we need wisdom. Wisdom is ours when we ask God to give it to us, James has already said. Wisdom, in short, is a gift God grants to those who live in what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal."

(2) The image of the bridle as a check on one's mouth is a commonplace in Hebrew, Greek, religious, and secular discussions of uncontrolled speech. But James will discuss this issue in decidedly Christian terms.

3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
(1) In the world around us, we see how large things can be controlled by small measures. The tongue is a small thing, the strongest muscle in the human body, that controls our body and mind. Yet when our words aren't under God's control, they're under demonic control, as James will soon make plain. The damage thus inflicted by our words--our tongues--is incalculable!
(2) Chris Haslam notes that one of the books of the Apocrypha, Sirach, has some passages that relate to these verses. (The Apocrypha is a set of writings which neither Jews or Protestant Christians accept as being part of the Bible, but is accepted as canonical by the Roman Catholic and Episcopal fellowships.) I found the following passages, beyond even those specifically cited by Haslam, to be of particular interest in connection with our verses from James:
Curse the whisperer and doubletongued: for such have destroyed many that were at peace. A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many, and driven them from nation to nation: strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men. A backbiting tongue hath cast out virtuous women, and deprived them of their labours. Whoso hearkeneth unto it shall never find rest, and never dwell quietly. The stroke of the whip maketh marks in the flesh: but the stroke of the tongue breaketh the bones. Many have fallen by the edge of the sword: but not so many as have fallen by the tongue. Well is he that is defended through the venom thereof; who hath not drawn the yoke thereof, nor hath been bound in her bands. For the yoke thereof is a yoke of iron, and the bands thereof are bands of brass. The death thereof is an evil death, the grave were better than it. It shall not have rule over them that fear God, neither shall they be burned with the flame thereof. Such as forsake the Lord shall fall into it; and it shall burn in them, and not be quenched; it shall be sent upon them as a lion, and devour them as a leopard. (Sirach 28:13-23)
While I don't accept the books of the Apocrypha as being part of the Bible, they do give us some insight into the thinking of the early Jewish-Christian community of which James was, according to Acts, a prime leader. Sirach, like James, is an example of wisdom literature, albeit one not as sophisticated as James. Unlike Sirach, James also explicitly links wisdom and right-living to the maintenance of a strong relationship with Christ, a relationship initiated in Baptism, when God's Name is invoked over Christians.

6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.
(1) The New Interpreter's Bible says that the image of the tongue inflamed by hell means more than that "speech is a problem to be solved." In it, James "points to the cosmic dualism that underlies the two ways of directing human freedom"; it can be directed by God or by the devil. James more fully explores this theme in his discussion of human arrogance and its horrible effects on the Church in 3:13-4:10.

More in the next installment, I hope.

Monday, September 11, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: James 3:1-12

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

The Bible Lesson: James 3:1-12
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.

Some General Comments
1. For some general information on the New Testament book of James, go here.

2. Most scholars agree that James 3:1-12 is a tightly constructed essay.

The book of James is an example of what Biblical scholars call wisdom literature, as we've noted over the past few weeks. But unlike most examples of this genre, James weaves the aphorisms and forms of argument associated with this literature into cohesive statements, essays.

The overall theme of James is that Christians should authenticate the faith they believe and confess in the way they live; that living requires wisdom, which can only be acquired through faithful reliance on Jesus Christ through the everyday moments of life.

But more than delivering a series of should statements, James seems to be saying that we can act our way into faith. If we take the risk of living the way faithful people live, we'll find Christ at work, creating genuine trust in God within us.

This weekend's lesson is bookended, forming what the scholars call an inclusio (or inclusion), by addressing believers as brothers and sisters at both the beginning and the end of the essay.

3. It would be inappropriate, I think, to believe that this chapter is addressed only to teachers of the faith. Given the general tenor of the book of James and the fact that it was addressed to Jewish Christians dispersed throughout the Mediterranean region, James is here discussing the corrosive effects of gossip and other intemperate speech on the fellowship of the Church and its witness before the world. All Christians are called to put their speech under the authority of Jesus Christ, though James acknowledges "that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness" (3:1, the only place in the book where James uses the first person plural).

4. Concern over the devastating effect of uncontrolled speech was commonly expressed not only in the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, it was also a frequent theme in the writings of ancient philosophy. But there are some very specifically Biblical and Christian elements to James' discussion of this problem that isn't found in other ancient literature. Among these unique elements, which I hope to delve into in the verse-by-verse comments, are:
  • Seeing gossip and other unseemly talk as an outbreak of hell.
  • A pessimistic view of our capacity for exercising human-directed self-control over our speech.
  • An acknowledgement that because none of us is perfect, we cannot control our speech.
  • The doublemindedness that James speaks of earlier in the book (1:8) is reflected in the doubletongued ways of those under the influence of hell. Such people dare to praise God and curse the person made in the image of God with the same tongue.
  • The passage is filled with allusions to the creation imagery of Genesis and the ideas of being made part of a new creation through Jesus Christ which we've already seen several times in the book of James.
  • At the end of this passage, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that the only way to be self-controlled in speech is to rely on the power of God. (Paul says that self-control is a "fruit of the Spirit," the result of faithful reliance on Jesus Christ, in Galatians 5:22-23.)
5. This passage has more than speech in mind, of course. All our communication is included.

More in the next pass, I hope.

Talking with Children About 9/11

As you can imagine, this post on what to tell children about 9/11 has gotten a lot of hits today. If parents, teachers, and others find it helpful, then the piece is fulfilling its purpose.

[Thanks to Pseudo-Polymath and Mama's Place: Fun and Faith for Your Kids for linking to the post on four things to tell kids about 9/11.]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

No Favorites!

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, during worship celebrations on September 9 and 10, 2006.]

James 2:1-10
It happened on the streets of Cleveland this past Monday afternoon. But it could have happened in any city anywhere. [As the picture from England to the right attests.] We had just visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and were walking on East Ninth away from the lakefront toward the garage where we were parked. Ninth was packed with traffic heading for an Air Show at the lake. We crossed Ninth at Superior, where Saint John the Evangelist Roman Catholic cathedral sets.

At the corner, we went to the other side of Superior, just across from the cathedral. In the middle of the sidewalk there, at 2 in the afternoon, lay a homeless person covered in a heap of blankets, asleep. Only a small gray head poked out at the top. Next to the heap was a pair of shoes. We passed by him or her as far away as we could without actually stepping into the street. We had no idea what sort of person we might encounter had they been awake. And I must confess that I didn’t want to find out.

There are poor among us. Maybe not homeless, but poor. And it’s hard for we well-intentioned white middle class Christians to know how to respond to them. They evoke a maelstrom of conflicting emotions within us. Many times, we’re downright afraid of the poor, of being used by them or worse.

And yet we know that the Lord Who died and rose for us, Who accepts us we are in order to mold us into who we are to become, has commanded us--not suggested, commanded us--to love God with all our whole beings and to love others--even the poor--as though they were our very selves.

A few years ago, a Lutheran pastor on vacation was asked by his fellow Lutheran clergy to conduct a little experiment. They wanted to see how their congregations would react if someone like the person we saw sleeping on Superior Avenue in Cleveland showed up for worship at their churches.

So, their colleague went a few days without a shower or a shave, let himself get a good case of bed head, then put on his worst clothes, and headed to several different churches for Sunday services. In none of the churches did anyone say, “Hello.” No one shared the peace of God with him. No one offered him a program when he arrived or a coffee during fellowship time. It was as though he didn’t exist.

What a contrast those reactions were to one encountered by former President Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter in Brooklyn a few years back. The Carters, deeply committed Christians, were in Brooklyn to help build some Habitat for Humanity homes. Rosalyn Carter remembered that a Lutheran pastor who had once lived close to their home in Plains, Georgia was now serving a congregation in Brooklyn. So, she and Jimmy and about forty Habitat volunteers went to that congregation’s building on Sunday morning only to find that worship was finished and the worshipers were milling around, coffees in hand, for fellowship time.

Undaunted, former President Carter walked up to a man, flashed his trademark grin, extended his hand, and said, “Hi, my name is Jimmy Carter.” This small Lutheran congregation in Brooklyn, New York went a little crazy, as you can imagine. When they learned that the Carters had wanted to worship with them, the whole congregation offered to go back to the sanctuary to do the entire service over again. And that’s what they did.

Now, I personally can’t throw stones at the churches that ignored that pastor-turned-impoverished man. After all, this past Monday afternoon, in the shadow of the spires of a great Christian church, I saw a homeless person and didn’t wonder how I might help him or her and I didn’t even pray for them. I walked around them and silently wished that our paths hadn’t crossed.

And I can’t throw stones at the congregation that went through worship a second time for former President Carter and the other Habitat volunteers, either. They were being hospitable. But do you think that would have happened if Jimmy Carter had just been a peanut farmer from Georgia? I sort of doubt it. We do tend to go a little more out of our ways for some people than for others, don’t we?

The words of our Bible lesson for today couldn’t be clearer in their intent. James, the earthly brother of Jesus, is calling his fellow Christians--and all of us who confess Jesus as Lord and King today--to live out the love for neighbor that the “royal law” of God commands of us. He condemns Christians who show preferential treatment for the wealthy...or for any other group of people.

James also asks us to take note that it’s often the poor who are able to see our need of God far more quickly than those of us with regular incomes, homes we own (even if we’re co-owners with the local bank), and full bellies.

Back during my seminary days, I worked part-time as a janitor. One of our crew was a refugee from an African country where there had been years of civil war. Then a drought and accompanying famine came. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, one of the greatest organizations in the world, helped him and his family come to America.

One night as we got ready for our shift, he told me, in broken English, what he had learned from his experiences: “There were many years of war in my country, years we could have grown food. But the crops were destroyed by different armies. Then no rain came and no food could be grown. We need God to live in peace. If we had lived in peace when the rains God sent were still falling, we would have been ready for the years with no rain.”

I had just gotten a Master’s Degree in theology when I met that man, but I learned alot about trusting dependence on Jesus Christ than I have ever been able to teach anybody else. That's the sort of lesson that the poor can teach all of us who rely on things like money, stuff, and status.

The Bible shows us that God wants all of us to have equal access to Him, His grace, His mercy, and His blessings. To that end, God has always worked hard to help everyone, rich and poor, get a clear view of Him and of themselves and their need for Him. That has sometimes entailed knocking down the high and mighty and sometimes, lifting up the low and powerless. In the Gospel of Luke, the language of highway engineering is used to describe John’s ministry of preparing people for the Savior Jesus. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, it says:
“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
God has no favorites! God wants all to see and experience His goodness.

Maybe that’s why the early Christians pooled their resources for the benefit of the poorer members. Luke’s other book, Acts, says that:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts... [Acts 2:44-47]
Now, I’m not suggesting that we form a commune and by a van. But I do think that James and these other passages of Scripture I’ve cited remind us that the call to love our neighbor--be it the neighbors in our homes, or this church, or our community, or the world--includes a call to care about the physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and financial needs of others.

That’s why I loved seeing all the people lining up last week to offer their help with the duffel bags for Clermont County foster children. There will be other opportunities for you to share with the poor and the needy of various kinds in the weeks and months to come.

But let me mention another opportunity, one I hope to kick off at the Thanksgiving Eve worship that we’ll be having here with the folks from All Saints and Lutheran Church of the Resurrection this year. I’m going to be asking all of you to make an offering to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Hunger Appeal this Thanksgiving. But more than that, I hope that we’ll designate a percentage of all our 2007 offerings to this vital and efficient ministry.

Pastor Ed Markquart, whose preaching and writing have been influencing me for over twenty years, notes that from the 5-million members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) come annual contributions of $15-million. Fifteen million is nothing to sneeze at, of course, and that amount does a lot of good. But, Markquart points out, that amounts to $3.00 per person, about the cost of a Big Mac. He then says that what ELCA congregations need are pastors like James, the author of our Bible lesson.

If James were our pastor, I’m certain that he would tell all we white, middle class followers of Jesus not to be partial to the powerful or full-walleted. Nor indifferent to those whose lives are wracked by the ugliness of poverty, homelessness, discrimination, and hunger.

He would tell us not to depend on governments to uplift the poor.

He would tell us that people saved from sin and death by Jesus put their faith in action. They seek to live the royal law of love for neighbor. They not only welcome the poor in their midst; they find ways to help the poor they may never meet, except in heaven.

Please, prayerfully consider setting aside some fast food money, making a generous offering to Lutheran Hunger Appeal this Thanksgiving Eve, and for 2007, making a mental note to add the cost of a Big Mac to your offering twice a month in order to help the hungry of our world. That's a total of $72 per household next year. It could make a huge difference in the lives of hungry, poor people.

I’ll be praying about that too and asking God to help me to remember that God has no favorites!