Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

As you know, Kurt Vonnegut has died. I loved Vonnegut's work and his good humor.

Here are two things I wrote involving Vonnegut here at Better Living:
Kurt Vonnegut: Secular Humanist and Believer in Intelligent Design
'Stranger Than Fiction'

Praying for Jon Corzine


And please, if you haven't been in the habit of doing so, fasten your seatbelts.

Could It Be DeWine v. Kasich for the 2010 GOP Ohio Gubernatorial Nomination? And Other Stuff




Maybe. Maybe. Democrat Ted Strickland has been governor since January. Even Republicans were relieved to see the end of Governor Bob Taft's tenure, but potential Republican candidates for 2010 are getting revved up already.

I first encountered John Kasich when he ran for student government vice president at Ohio State the same year I ran on an opposition slate for a seat in the student government assembly. Kasich ran on a ticket headed by Marty Cummins, a fellow who graduated from my high school alma mater's rival institution. (I later did my student teaching at the latter school. My alma mater is Columbus West High School; the rival place is Bishop Ready High School.)

The guy at the top of the ticket on which I ran was Michael White. After graduating from Ohio State, White briefly served as head of an urban homesteading program under a Republican mayor in Columbus. On returning to his native Cleveland, he served first in the State Senate and then as mayor. Kasich was a member of the US House from the Columbus area and something of a federal budget guru during Newt Gingrich's heyday.

By the way, you might wonder whether I was impressed by the two of them--Kasich and White--back during our university days? Kasich was less ideological than Cummins and that certainly impressed me. But he wasn't polished then...or now. That's no criticism. I think that his gimmick really is that he has no gimmick.

White impressed me deeply. He was a good public speaker and in private, he showed extraordinary poise for one so young. Like Kasich, he demonstrated considerable pragmatism: In 1972, he was elected as a delegate for Hubert Humphrey to the Democratic National Convention. In a year when George McGovern was the darling of campus activists, that demonstrated some courage. But it also impressed people in the labor movement, whose support was so critical for Democrats in those days...and remains so.

Would the two of them say they were impressed with me? White might remember me, though I doubt it. Kasich and I never personally met as far as I can recall.

[The Ohio pols from top-to-bottom: Mike DeWine, Michael White, and John Kasich]

[THANKS TO: Right Angle Blog for linking to this post. In the interest of full disclosure, Kasich's ticket, headed by Marty Cummins, lost to Mike White's Student Coalition ticket. Members of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) legislative assembly, even if affiliated with a ticket--I was with White's group--were elected individually. Days before the election, it was necessary for me to take a 30-hour a week job which, with my full-time student status, would have made it impossible for me to participate in USG. I called the OSU Lantern, the student newspaper, and announced that I needed to withdraw from the race. Because I was part of the Student Coalition group, I recall getting a plurality of the votes. But, like Kasich, I didn't serve in student government.]

Friday, April 13, 2007

Religious Lives of the Presidential Candidates

Extraordinary blogger Charlie Lehardy has sent this link to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life site. They're beginning an effort to document the religious lives of major presidential candidates and, I surmise, the impact of their faith on their characters and decision-making.

To see my series on how Christians might think about the 2008 presidential race, go here.

Imus: What Took So Long? Why Just Imus?

Don Imus' comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team was both racist and sexist. And frankly, shocking to me.

I live in a conservative enclave of southern Ohio. Several years back, we did a demographic study of the area within a five mile radius of our church building and found it to be 98.2% white. But I can't imagine any of my acquaintances or friends around here making comments like those Imus made from a New York City radio studio a few days ago.

Imus got the axe because his tasteless comments finally registered "objectionable" in the financial marketplace and in the marketplace of ideas. He was voicing a morally despicable notion that, finally, in the twenty-first century, could not be accepted by the public. That's good.

But I have two questions:
  • What took so long? AND
  • Only Imus?
Imus has been an equal opportunity dispenser of hate for some time now. Back in May, 2005, I asked Is Don Imus' Fifteen Minutes Up? The immediate occasion for that post was his assault on MSNBC news reader Contessa Brewer. But I also recalled his Clinton-era appearance at the White House press corps dinner in which he spoke nastily about Bill and Hillary Clinton's personal life. I wrote that, as of that moment:
...the high and mighty Washington elite [still] bow and scrape to him, apparently deeming his classlessness to be hip or something. Isn't it time the guy got the axe?
But to me a deeper issue than what happens to Don Imus, deeper even than the racism and sexism reflected in his most recent comments, is the nastiness he and a number of others have been allowed to spew for so many years now.

Imus is gone. But there are many supposed entertainers, artists, and satirists left in music, talk radio, television, movies, and video game production who are making big money through nastiness. They promote a culture of physical, psychological, and emotional violence that disdains the humanity of groups and individuals. They coarsen our culture, degrade our discourse, and balkanize us all. These folks have every right to spew their junk. But the rest of us also have the right to turn them off, tune them out, and ask Big Media to deprive them of their platforms and any income derived from their invective.

Satire is a legitimate thing. Putting down self-absorbed power mongers in politics, business, or the arts is a necessary step in improving our common life. Satire can also puncture the inanities of current fads and social conventions, also useful.

Imus was, questionably, seen as a satirist. But Imus and others have used their media platforms not to satirize or even entertain, but to vent hate and stereotyping against whoever they want to pick on.

Don Imus is off the air because advertisers and an aroused public said, "Enough!"

When will we say the same thing about the Michael Savages, Snoop Doggs, Rosie O'Donnells, the creators of games like Grand Theft Auto, and others who, each in their own ways, use hatred and disdain of others as part of their schtick?

[See here, here, and here.]

[UPDATE: Moanna asks if my reason for including Rosie O'Donnell on her list is attributable to my listening "to those those who misquote her as she speaks out for the right of all Americans to question their government and make choices in their lives."

I respond:
No, Moanna, I include Rosie O'Donnell in that list of media hate mongers because of her racist stereotyping of orientals and her hateful lumping of Christians with radical Islamic-based terrorists.

To poke fun of [sic] Chinese people on national television with the "ching chong" stereotyping of past generations or to say that all Christians--who account for much, if not most, of the charitable giving and serving in the world today and are so involved because of Christ's call to love their neighbors as they love themselves--represent the same sort of threat to the world as that of Osama bin Laden is not only factually inaccurate, it's hateful.

That's why I include Rosie O'Donnell in that list of haters.

On the Christian front: Perhaps O'Donnell was exposed to a form of Christian faith that was all about rules and nothing about grace. I'm sorry for that and would love to acquaint her with the God revealed in the Bible. But before she spews hatred, she ought to know what she's talking about.

Thanks for your question and for reading the blog.

God bless you!

Mark Daniels
[THANKS TO: About.com's phantom Conservative Politics: US editor for linking to this post.]

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Experienced Democrat?

Some months ago, I said that I thought Senator Barack Obama ought to take a pass on the 2008 presidential race. Though undeniably brilliant and someone it's easy to see in the White House, I said that his sparse Washington experience might be insufficient.

But I was shocked to hear this Linda Wertheimer report on NPR today. African-American women torn between supporting Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton were interviewed and several said that Clinton was the more experienced of the two.

I suppose it's how one measures experience. But when considering elective political experience, of the three Democratic frontrunners--Obama, Clinton, and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Obama has the most experience. By my reckoning, counting his time in the Illinois state legislature, Obama has spent twelve years in elective office. Clinton has just over six years and Edwards has six, from his single term in the Senate.

Whichever of these three is nominated for the presidency, if any of them become the eventual nominee, will have to bring someone onto their ticket to shore up questions about experience deficiencies. (The way George W. Bush attempted to do in 2000, when he brought Dick Cheney onto his ticket.) But the one with the least experience deficiencies is Obama.

[Note: I wrote a bit about this experience issue, raised repeatedly by Senator Clinton, here.]

[THANKS TO: Deborah White at About.com's U.S. Liberals site for linking to this piece in a very interesting post weighing the debate among Democrats regarding Clinton v. Obama.]

The Mystery of Rudy Giuliani...Solved? And the Non-Mystery of Mitt Romney

Rudy Giuliani has been confounding people--including me--by continuing to score well among conservative evangelical Republicans, many of whom appear willing to support his candidacy for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Rudy is the frontrunner in spite of favoring gay marriage, gun control, and public funding of abortion.

There are many ways to explain these mysteries.

In the case of gay marriage, Giuliani's position is more in tune with the Barry Goldwater-Gerald Ford tradition of conservatism. The traditional conservative understanding of federalism was that the federal government had no business regulating the bedrooms of consenting adults. It further saw that traditional marriage, a rite of the Church, could not be threatened by any covenant established by the state, whose interest in marital relationships was (and is) threefold:
  • the control of sexually transmitted disease;
  • the joint ownership of property and its disposition in case of divorce; and
  • the care and custodianship of children, whether the relationship continues or ends in divorce.
If some conservatives find Giuliani's position on gun control objectionable--and not all do, their apprehensions will be somewhat blunted by his apparently strong anticrime record while serving as New York mayor.

Abortion is a tougher one for conservatives, even some secular conservatives, to swallow.

But I think that Giuliani is even winning points and support from conservatives who intensely disagree with him on this trifecta of issues. Why? Because he isn't changing his position simply to make himself acceptable to some wings of his party. He seems to basically be saying, "I'm a fiscal conservative who'll fight terrorism. I also believe in strict constuctionist interpretations of the Constitution. Yeah, we disagree on other issues. I'm still the same guy today I was yesterday and I won't try to pull the wool over your eyes, pretending that I've had a road-to-Damascus experience when it comes to gay marriage, gun control, or abortion. But, there's a lot more that unites us than divides us."

My guess is that Giuliani is appealing to conservatives because of his refusal to flip flop on the issues.

Conversely, Mitt Romney appears to be facing all sorts of problems because he looks so much like a flip-flopper:










And notice the humor some clever Fox News Channel producer was showing here...



[Also see here. By the way, I'm not a Rudy Giuliani fan. I don't do endorsements, just observations.]

Johnny Hart Dies

See here.

Ohio Blogging...


Thanks to Michael Meckler, scholar and blogger, for recently linking to Better Living. Meckler's blog is one of the best sources of information on what's going on here in the Buckeye State, not to mention providing excellent insights into historical events and their meaning. Meckler is also brilliant!

The new blog, Columbuser.com, is off to a strong and impressive start. It too, promises to be a great source of information on all things Buckeye!

From Columbuser, I learned that Lisa the Waitress of The Restaurant Widow is looking for the best burger in Ohio. My favorite burger in Ohio is served at Cruisers in Seaman, Ohio, just off of the Appalachian Highway. It's located about thirty miles to our east in Adams County. (We live in the east 'burbs of Cincinnati.)

My wife and I went there last year on the recommendation of acquaintances. We've driven there several times since because of how much we loved the burgers. They also have great homemade pies.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

How To Believe in Easter

[This message was shared during worship with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, on April 8, 2007.]

Luke 24:1-12
You’ve heard me tell the story before of an expectant couple, anxious to confirm their suspicions about the gender of their baby. They arranged to have an ultrasound done at the doctor’s office. So, they arrived for the appointment, the pregnant mom got onto the table, and the doctor began the procedure. Suddenly, the doctor let out a, “Wow!” “What is it?,” the couple wondered, “Is it a boy?” “Well,” the doctor replied slowly, “the middle one is.”

Sometimes life surprises us and the only appropriate response from us, apart from fainting, is, “Wow!” Easter records the greatest event in human history. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, rose from the dead. And yet, we manage somehow not to be stunned or amazed by it. How is it that you and I can “acquire the fire,” gaining or regaining our sense of wonder at the most wonderful thing that has ever happened? Maybe the answer lies in going back to the original Easter and following what happened according to one of the Biblical writers on the first Easter Sunday. I want to do that by considering Luke’s telling of the Easter story, doing so from three different perspectives.

First, there is the perspective of the women who came to the tomb at sunrise that Sunday morning. They’d come to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, a task they’d been unable to do before it had been buried. But the women got a surprise. The stone was rolled away. Jesus’ body was gone. Luke says, with incredible understatement that they were “perplexed.”

You and I would be perplexed, too! We too would ask the questions that were undoubtedly swirling in the minds of the women at the tomb: If Jesus had such power over death, why would He have bothered dying for us? Has someone stolen His body and if so, why? Those would have been some of the women's questions, I suppose, because none of them had expected that even Jesus, as powerful and wonderful as He was, could beat death.

Most people have small expectations of life. But on Easter, God shouted that He reserves the right to surprise us! He reserves the right to replace our shortsightedness with an awareness of eternity! Easter is worth a WOW!

The second perspective on the first Easter is that of the other disciples, the other followers of Jesus with whom the women at the tomb shared the news of Jesus’ resurrection that day. In the midst of their perplexity at the tomb, the women had encountered two angels, who had reminded them that Jesus had said He had to die on a cross, bearing our punishment for sin although He didn’t deserve it, and that He would rise again, opening up eternity to all who follow Him. And so, they told the other disciples about Jesus’ resurrection. "Jesus is alive!" they said.

The other disciples didn’t believe them. Why? Some scholars think that the women were disbelieved because they were women. It may be. In those days, for example, a woman’s testimony was never deemed valid in a legal proceeding. That's because women were thought to be unreliable. But Jesus had never shared the sexist attitude of first-century Judean culture. Unlike other pious men of that time, He spoke with women in public. And I think it’s especially fun that God chose women to be the first to preach the Easter message!

But there may be another reason the disciples didn’t believe the women. A few years ago, a prominent preacher told the true story of a friend and his son when the boy was small. The little guy had two heroes: Captain Kangaroo and Mister Rogers, back when both of those children’s show hosts were on TV. The father and son would sit and watch these two stars every day. Then an announcement was made that one day, Mister Rogers was going to visit Captain Kangaroo’s show. The boy was so excited he could hardly stand it. Day in and day out, he would ask his father, “Is this the day? Is this the day?” Finally, the day came and the two of them sat in front of the TV to watch this magic. Captain Kangaroo’s show began and after a few moments, Mister Rogers was introduced. The boy watched this for a few moments and then, left the room. Mystified, his dad found him in another part of the house. “What’s wrong?” the dad asked.” The son replied, “It’s just too good. It’s just too good!”

The women’s story of Jesus’ resurrection may have been dismissed because it was simply too good to be true
.

The third perspective on the first Easter comes from Peter. Peter, you know sometimes gets a bad press because like us, he’s proud, impetuous, and prone to snap judgments. But when Peter heard the women’s story of Jesus’ resurrection, he reacted differently from the other disciples.

Maybe that’s because Peter had a track record with Jesus, memories that came flooding back to him now. Maybe he remembered the early morning when he and his crew returned from a night of futility when they’d been unable to catch any fish. They found the preacher Jesus, from landlocked Nazareth, waiting on the shore. He suggested that they put back out and lower the nets. You can almost hear the smirk in Peter’s voice when he tells Jesus that, like generations of Galilean fishermen, they’d been out trolling the waters all night long. He knew what he was doing, Peter seemed to say. He was a professional fisherman. But then, he said, as if to prove Jesus wrong, he would go out again. They’d gone just a few feet from shore and lowered the nets. They became so full that the catch nearly sank the boat. Peter was overwhelmed. He collapsed before Jesus and begged the Lord to go away. Peter was aware in a sudden, dramatic way of how great the distance between him and the sinless Lord Jesus.

He may have also remembered the events of just a few days before. Jesus had told Peter that when the going got rough and the world turned against Jesus, Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times. Peter told Jesus that would never happen. But it did.

Peter had been the first to confess that Jesus was the “son of the Blessed,” a Semitic phrase signaling Peter’s belief that Jesus was God Himself.

That flood of memories may have incited Peter to not walk, but run, to the tomb and investigate for himself. There, he saw all the evidence he needed: the tomb empty and the linen burial cloths, left behind. Our Bible lesson says that Peter went back home “amazed.”

Peter, I think, holds the key to our believing and greeting the good news of Easter with a Wow! And not just on Easter Day, but every day of our lives. For Easter to have meaning for us, it won’t be the result of our gaining knowledge through say, the reading of Scripture. (Although anyone who follows Jesus will want to read Scripture in order to know Him better!) And it won’t be the result of emotions. (Although the better we know Jesus, the more our emotions—like love and gratitude and even others like anger with injustice—will be roused.) The wonder of Easter will come to us in another way, Peter’s way.

Before he became a political bully, something I really regret, psychologist James Dobson offered meaningful help to Christian families. He once told the story of being alone with his then-toddler son, Ryan, shortly after they’d moved into a developing neighborhood. Dobson was busy preparing dinner when he became aware of silence in the house. He called for Ryan...no answer. He looked all over the house and couldn’t find him. He then ran outside and saw, to his horror, that, some distance away, Ryan had crawled into the back of a large dump truck. How this little guy had climbed up there, Dobson didn’t know. He wanted to avoid startling his son, so Dobson approached him quietly. The closer he got to Ryan, the more he could hear that Ryan was talking to himself. At one point, Ryan decided he wanted to get out of the dump truck bed. So, backing up toward the edge of the truck, he began to probe with his feet for a place where he could land. Try as he might though, he couldn’t find it. Dobson heard his son saying quietly, “Somebody help the boy.” Ryan finally decided that he would just back off the bed and see where he would land. He did so and fell...right into the waiting arms of his dad.

In the end, we will only know the truth and the life-changing power of Jesus’ resurrection when we stop trying to get through this life on our own steam. The WOW! of Easter will be ours when after remembering Jesus’ track record as Peter did, we surrender and simply fall into Jesus’ waiting arms. On this Easter Sunday, that’s what I invite you to do...today and every day!