Archive for March, 2006

Not That You Care!

March 31, 2006

I’m through here until late Sunday night.

Each year I take my oldest daughter on a grand secret adventure for her birthday, and this year’s requires me to go to bed early tonight since there will be VERY little sleep Saturday. I’ll tell you all about it later on…

I do, however, plan to post a Nancy Grace / Church of Christ article I’ve just completed Sunday night. Maybe it won’t get me fired.

As Leonard Sweet would say, Carpe Manana! And as fans of the Bill of Rights would say, “Go George Mason!!!”

Yours to count on,
Al

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And now to Al with sports…

March 31, 2006

Okay, we can’t skip sports today. After all, the Final Four is this weekend along with Opening Day for Major League Baseball!!!

So… this calls for a little crowd participation.

#1: THE FINAL FOUR: Everyone’s brackets are long gone, so let’s start over. What’s your predicitons?

* George Mason is everyone’s favorite, but the “real favorites” are LSU and Florida. Which is why I predict UCLA to win it all. The Bruins over the Tigers 65-60, and the Gators over Cinderella 82-73. Bruins win the championship Monday night 60-57.

#2: THE RETURN OF BASEBALL: Bonds-Watch begins. Bad as I hate to say it, I say he hits 50 and takes down Aaron this year. What do you guys think?

#3: DISCUSSION TOPIC: And now for a real discussion about much more important things: What about the new NFL push to cut back on end zone celebrations? The argument against Chad Johnson performing CPR on a football is that it takes away from the purity of the game, while the other side argues that the fans want things like this. What do you guys think? Since the bottom line of sports is now money, shouldn’t the fans’ opinion trump all else?

"God wants us to prosper"?

March 31, 2006

Preliminary note: The 5 people who read this blog regularly (come on Al, there may be more like 8) may have noticed that I’ve been posting on days that aren’t strictly my days. And that I seem to have strayed from strictly talking about progressive politics. But you know what, I think that’s okay. I think having more posts keeps the momentum going, and that’s a good thing, so I’m going to keep it up. And, I wanted to say that this little online community has really become something that I look forward to and enjoy. I’m pretty cut off from people here in D.C. other than my coworkers and my husband, since all of our family and friends live far away, so it’s nice to have some kind of community, even if it’s just online.

Yes, the one thing about being secular that is a big downer is that there’s no automatic social outlet for us heathens. I have even thought about (gasp!) trying to find a Unitarian church to go to. Alas, TiVo can only fulfill so many needs. I was thinking about this in relationship to the whole megachurch phenomenon. I’ve sent articles to Al before asking him what C of C folks think of this nondenominational, flashy entertainment, thousands of people, warm fuzzy feel-good-about-yourself-God-loves-you-no-matter-what deal. Even though I’m no longer in the church, I feel like I have the C of C reaction anyway: if it’s too much fun, it ain’t religion. LOL. But seriously, it seems to me that most of the people who attend these churches don’t have a deep spiritual commitment to anything other than feeling good about themselves. It just seems very shallow.

Then I came upon this article in the New York Times this morning about one of the ministers of one of these huge churches in Houston. I was horrified at how materialistic this guy is and how he is using religion as a vehicle to make himself rich and then to justify his wealth. And then there is the whole thing about praying for a good parking spot. Ick!! What do others make of these megachurches?

Sweet

March 30, 2006

I heard Leonard Sweet speak three times last year at a seminar in Oklahoma. He’s the poster child for the postmodern, a theologian/scholar who writes books with titles like AquaChurch, SoulSalsa, Carpe Manana, and A Cup of Coffee at the SoulCafe. I don’t know exactly what to do with him, not that he has asked or anything. I learned from him, and I find much of his insight to be right on the money and valuable. But he’s a different bird than me, too.

I’ve somewhat admired the hippies of the 60s, while admitting that I probably wouldn’t have joined the commune had I been there. I think these postmodern gurus may be a new breed like that, but instead of tie-dyed shirts and a bag of weed, these guys come with cool eyeglasses and a cup of Starbucks. (When I saw Sweet, he also came with long silver hair and all black clothing, too.) I’ve always hoped that I would have tried to learn from the hippie movement had I been there instead of dismissing it as silly. I’m trying to do the same with Leonard Sweet, hoping that I can build some sort of internal bridge between the staunchly modern and emerging postmodern parts of my own personality.

So I broke down and bought one of his books with a title I found interesting: Summoned to Lead. I found it to be…how shall I say it…very postmodern. I underlined lots of profound statements. I wondered what in the world he was talking about the rest of the time. I assume this is postmodernity at its best.

I’m going to share some bits and pieces from Sweet on Thursdays so that our readers can help me figure some of this out. Oh, who am I kidding, there’s about five of us that actually read Houseflies on a regular basis. So if all five of you will engage me in a little dialogue, I’d appreciate it. You can help me break down this book and learn something that might inspire us all to make a positive difference in this rapidly changing world.

In the Introduction, Sweet writes: To put it bluntly: the whole leadership thing is a demented concept. Leaders are neither born nor made. Leaders are summoned. They are called into existence by circumstances. Those who rise to the occasion are leaders. Everyone is “called” by God for some kind of mission. But sometimes the “called” are “called out” for leadership. How you manifest your mission will change throughout the course of your life. But the mission remains constant…

To illustrate, Sweet recalls John F. Kennedy’s response when asked how he became a war hero: It was easy. They sank my boat.

So what do you folks think: Is leadership totally dependent on circumstances?

Mordecai’s plea for salvation from Esther “at such a time as this” rings down through the millennia as a thought worth considering. It’s an overtly spiritual thought on one hand (being called by God), but not necessarily so (e.g. Lincoln was elected by actual votes after all). Either way, leadership is directly related to outstanding circumstances.

I “think” Sweet eventually makes a point that depends totally on this foundation. So are we with him so far? Or has he been drinking a little too much coffee?

What’s Culture Got To Do With It?

March 28, 2006

I wanted to share an article with you all that relates back to one that I posted last week, on the depressing statistics about young African American men. In Sunday’s New York Times, Harvard sociologist Orlando Patterson argues that socioeconomic factors have only weak explanatory power, and that we have to look at cultural explanations.

The reluctance of academics to do so, he says, is the result of misperceptions about the implications of talking about culture. First, many believe that cultural explanations inherently blame the victim. Second, some feel that zeroing in on culture means we are powerless to make changes. Both of these views are incorrect, Patterson argues.

What’s really fascinating is his summary of some research that has been done about why young black women graduate from high school and attend college at much higher rates than their male peers. (Which ties in to my post from Friday on that subject). According to these young men themselves, the consequences of not obtaining an education pale in comparison to the seductiveness of what sociologists call the “cool-pose culture.” And, importantly, this subculture cannot be disconnected from the broader culture in which it originated. Specifically, the cool-pose culture wouldn’t be so seductive if white kids didn’t think it was all that and accord respect to participants.

Anyway, the article goes into this in greater depth. There is much food for thought here.

The Other Problem with Islam

March 28, 2006

Picking up on Joe’s post yesterday, and to bring this story to a slightly wider audience, I feel compelled to post today on the story of Aisha Parveen, a young Pakistani woman who was kidnapped at the age of 14, forced into prostitution for six years, and who, unless a Pakistani court decides in her favor, will face more rape, torture, and death at the hands of the brothel owner who enslaved her. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof reported on Parveen’s story on Sunday, and again today. Unfortunately, because of the Times’ ill-conceived Times Select premium service, only Times home subscribers or Times Select subscribers can read his columns. This is unfortunate, because this is a story that needs to be heard.

This is particularly the case because it is not an unusual story. As most people are probably aware, in the Islamic world being raped is a crime — not raping, but being raped. In truth, the real crime is being a woman, because Islam is even more deeply misogynistic than Christianity. Women accused of “zina” offenses — fornication and adultery — are routinely killed by their relatives to “protect the family honor.” In this case, Parveen’s kidnapper and tormentor claims that they are married, so she is being accused of adultery. She was luckier than most, because she met a man who rescued and married her. Now she is facing being returned to her captor and, she is convinced, murdered by him. The hearing was yesterday and, thanks in part to Kristof’s column, the case was continued for a week. Because of the attention, Parveen’s chances are better than most.

Kristof writes: “Saddest of all, her story isn’t newsworthy in a classic sense. There’s nothing at all unusual about a young Asian woman suffering years of sexual enslavement, or judicial malpractice or murder.

And that’s the challenge for us all, Asians and Americans alike — to change our worldview and put gender issues like sex trafficking higher on the global agenda.

A quarter-century ago, Jimmy Carter plucked human rights abuses from the backdrop of the international arena and put them on the agenda. Now it’s time to focus on gender inequality in the developing world, for that is the greatest single source of human rights violations today.”

Kristof does not discuss in any detail the role of Islam in the “honor killing” and “zina offense” phenomenon. And, doubtless lack of education plays a role in allowing these draconian views to be perpetuated and go mostly unchallenged. But even if Islam is just the vehicle for advancing an agenda that is essentially political (and, really, aren’t they all?), its destructiveness is just as horrifying.

Like Kristof, I will give Ms. Parveen the final word to give readers an idea of how much women are hated in Pakistan. She said, “God should not give daughters to poor people,” she said in despair. “And if a daughter is born, God should grant her death.”

You will be assimilated…

March 27, 2006

Any Star Trek: The Next Generation fans hanging around this blog? If so, they’ll immediately recognize the source of the title for this article.

It comes from “The Borg”, a cyborg alien lifeform that moves across galaxies colonizing planets by either assimilating the native species into their own “collective” or extermintating them if they refuse to assimilate. Their trademark phrase is, “We are the Borg. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” Once assimilated into the collective, an individual unit that becomes dysfunctional is cut out of the collective and destroyed. An individual unit that is separated from the collective by capture or accident is hunted and re-assimilated or destroyed.

Sound familiar?

I can’t help but see some parallels with Islam. Just look at these points:

– The Quran separates the world into two “houses”: the house of Islam (Dar-al-Islam) and the house of war ( Dar-al-Harb). Any non-Muslim falls into the house of War. According to the Quran, these two houses are in a perpetual state of conflict that will not be resolved until the house of war is completely subjugated by the house of Islam. There are three methods of subjugation; conversion, destruction, or if you are one of the lucky “people of the book” (Christians, Jews, and some say Zoroastrists) you can live under Islamic rule as a second class citizen and pay a dhimmi (tax) to your Islamic masters. Bad luck if you happen to be Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion. You either convert to Islam or get killed.

– The penalty for a Muslim rejecting Islam and converting to another faith is death. Unless you have been completely out of touch for the last couple of weeks, you couldn’t help but hear about the case of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan. Born into the Islamic faith, he converted to Christianity while working in Germany 16 years ago. His own family turned him into Afghan authorities for prosecution. Charges have been dropped due to a “lack of evidence” but the cries for his blood in the Afghan street have not died down.

So to sum up… Islam seeks to convert, or at least subjugate, the entire world, by the sword if necessary. Once converted to Islam, you can never leave the faith under penalty of death. It’s kind of like a spiritual “roach motel.” It’s another practical application of the old maxim: “What’s mine is mine. What’s yours is negotiable.”

I don’t really have a point to all of this other than to throw out some thoughts I’ve been having lately. Islam worries me. I don’t trust it. I’ve actually read the Quran. I know what it says, and it bothers me. The hardliners aren’t the ones adding or taking away from the Quran. It’s the “moderates” that are sugar-coating it.

Take a quick look at these articles by Mark Steyn and Andrew G. Bostom. The Bostom article does an excellent breakdown of what the Quran actually says about apostasy. The Steyn article brings out this juicy tidbit:

In a more culturally confident age, the British in India were faced with the practice of “suttee” – the tradition of burning widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Gen. Sir Charles Napier was impeccably multicultural:“You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: When men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks, and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”Needless to say, “suttee” is no longer practiced in India.

What is the Church?

March 27, 2006

Sorry it has been awhile since I have posted but this will also probably be the last time I post for awhile. My family will be moving overseas this summer and I just don’t have time to write and get everything else done before our move. My inspiration for what follows comes from here.

Let’s call her Rachel. She a girl from the midwest, in her 20’s, just barely, and has a hard time keeping from crying. She seems hesitant to share very much, but after a few minutes, she seems pretty comfortable talking with me. Her problem, as she says it, is that she can’t stop crying. She does not know why she can’t stop, but nevertheless, this is her problem.

As Rachel gets into her story, I come to find out that her boyfriend, with whom she is living, is addicted to pornography and is trying to get her to always do new and different things in bed. He does not realize he is addicted and she does not seem to think he is, but he can’t stop it and rationalizes to her why he needs to use pornography when she is not around.

She starts to go into her family background and lets me know that she is from a broken home where her parents divorced, she bounced back and forth between homes, and both stepparents didn’t like her, in fact one even hated her. She got into trouble at school, sold and used drugs as a teenager in high school and at one point almost died from a drug overdose. Her close grandparent has recently passed away and her boyfriend treats her like an object instead of like a person. Aside from his addiction to pornography, he is never happy with Rachel and is frequently yelling at her for even things such as cleaning the house. When she organizes, you see, he can’t find anything, so it’s her fault.

Neglected as a child, treated as an object by her boyfriend, and the loss of a close relative, no wonder she can’t stop crying. Sadly, except for a few minor details, her story is not unique. Rachel does not know what a normal, healthy family looks like. She doesn’t know what a healthy male-female relationship looks like. She doesn’t know what acceptance looks like. She knows a lot about condemnation, never being good enough, never anyone to care about what happens to her. One of her biggest needs is to be accepted and loved as a person, to have someone listen to her and try to understand how she’s feeling. She needs to be treated like a human being, as someone worthwhile. Where will she find this? In what kind of church would Rachel feel welcomed? Is there any such church? What would it look like?

It would be a place where people are vulnerable. A place where people admit that they don’t have everything right. Where people know that they are sinners and share their struggles openly. It would be a place where people accept and love, not judge and criticize. It would be a place where Rachel could be herself, with all of her problems, and not be expected to be perfect before she could belong. It would be a place where people would realize that they have not cornered the market on truth, even though they always strive for truth. It would be a place of forgiveness.

Sadly, I don’t think there is a church that meets this description. No, I’m not looking for a perfect church. That’s impossible among imperfect humans. But here’s what is possible: We can be a place of forgiveness instead of judgment. When we slip up and judge someone or treat him or her in an unloving way, we can say we’re sorry and reconcile with the one we’ve wronged. We can always strive to understand the word and strive for the most excellent theology, while admitting we have not arrived. Even Paul was able to admit that. Why can’t we?

I think a part of the problem is that we are afraid. We are afraid of being genuine and honest with others. We are afraid of taking off our masks and sharing our true selves with others. We’re afraid of what people might think. We are afraid they would judge us. We’re afraid that we are the only ones who struggle with the particular sins that tempt us, that no one else can understand. We are afraid they would use our vulnerability to hurt us even more. We are afraid to be human. How ironic. We sit on a pew hiding our problems from the very people who would be the best ones to help us with those problems.

What is the church anyway?

Affirmative Action for Men?

March 24, 2006

I don’t know how many of our dear readers are regular consumers of the New York Times. I get the Sunday edition at home and read the website during the week. Although I don’t always agree with their editorial decisions, they do have a lot of interesting articles. Yesterday was a banner day — three interesting articles in the Style section (which is not really always about style, but anyway), on pet adoption, the return of the beard, and a trend toward gender-neutral fragrances. And on the front page was an article on the first generation of adopted Chinese girls.

But the one that really stumped me was an op-ed by an admissions officer at Kenyon College in Ohio. In it, she admits that the application pool has become so gender imbalanced that it is now easier for young men to get into college than young women. In starker terms, a young woman with the same grades and test scores as a young man is less likely to be admitted. Because, she goes on to say, once a college goes past the 60/40 women-to-men tipping point, no one wants to go there anymore.

I wrote my college thesis on affirmative action, which was a big issue in the 1990s. For various reasons, including adverse court rulings in the employment context, and the 2003 Supreme Court double header in the education context (holding that explicit numerical goals or quotas are not okay, but a qualitative process that takes race into account is), there has been much less ink spilled on it since the millenium. In high school, the idea that someone whose “objective” qualifications were less than mine could gain access to an education that I was denied incensed me. I was very naive about race back then. (And, being young, I was also very self-centered). In college, I learned enough in my first three years to realize I was wrong, but I wasn’t sure why, which is what led to my choice of senior thesis topic. The education I got about the history and present reality of race in this country was life-altering. My thoughts on affirmative action completely shifted. I knew that I had been successful because of chance, not because of any herculean efforts or work ethic of my own. So if someone else who hadn’t been as lucky in the life-chances lottery as I had been was given an opportunity, who was I to complain? Whatever the opportunity was, I had no entitlement to it. And who was to say that the measures of merit we use really measure desert to begin with? [Aside: in this interview, Lani Guinier explores this issue quite eloquently].

But despite all of this, when I read this New York Times editorial, what the admissions officer described still felt unjust to me. And I feel like I really need to think through why this context is different from race. My initial thought is that it is different primarily because boys are not disadvantaged relative to girls in society as a whole. If anything, the reverse is true. And I’ll go ahead and say it: I just don’t buy all of the crap about boys being discriminated against in schools by female teachers who penalize them academically for “acting like boys.” That sounds to me like making biological excuses for the fact that boys aren’t doing as well in school. Isn’t it just as possible that there’s a cultural reason that boys do not take school as seriously as girls do, on average?

Thinking about possible cultural explanations also called to mind an article I read yesterday about the rise of “laddie” culture and extended adolescence for men. This was fascinating because there are so many dimensions to the issue. Certainly large parts of Chaudry’s description rang true, although blaming the problem entirely on popular culture and advertising seems too simplistic. There is a definite cultural trend toward depictions of men as stupid and irresponsible. This seems to tie in, in some way, to the rising number of women who apply to and attend college relative to men. (And I should point out that the gender imbalance in these numbers reflects the fact that more women are going, not that fewer men are going. The number of men attending college has not increased, but it has not decreased either).

So, I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this issue. Why are more women than men attending college? What causes a college with more women than men to become less popular with both sexes? Why do boys do less well in school than girls? Is the cultural representation of men as irresponsible oafs driving reality, or is it the other way around? Is it unjust for bright young women to be rejected from colleges when ostensibly less-qualified young men are admitted? (And hey, in the interest of a little levity, if you’d like to comment on the return of the beard, that’s cool too).

Attention Please

March 23, 2006

[Note: This news, as you might suspect, particularly caught my attention. I feel helpless about it right now, but I wish there was something I could do.]

Amber Alert issued for children of slain Weststate pastor
By JENNIFER PEEBLES
Staff Writer

A statewide “Amber Alert” has been issued for three little girls from southwest Tennessee whose father was found slain in the family’s home last night.The three Winkler girls are from Selmer, Tenn., and may be with their mother, Mary Winkler, according to the alert statement put out this morning by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Their father was identified by the Associated Press this morning as Matthew Winkler, 31, the pastor of Selmer’s Fourth Street Church of Christ. The girls, who are all Caucasian, are:
+ Breanna Winkler, one year old.
+Mary Alice Winkler, age 6, is three feet tall, weighs about 40 pounds, and has dark brown hair and dark eyes.
+ Patricia Winkler, age 8, is four feet tall with dark brown hair and weighs about 60 pounds.

Their mother, Mary Winkler, is 32. She is 5-feet, 3-inches tall and weighs 120-125 pounds.

“We’re just really puzzled,” Selmer Police Chief Neal Burks told the AP. “We need to talk to her.” The group is believed to be traveling in a gray 2006 Toyota Sienna van bearing Tennessee license plate NDX288. The girls’ father was found slain in their Selmer home, which the AP described as the church parsonage around 9:20 p.m. yesterday, the TBI said. His body was found by members of the family’s church after the Winklers failed to show up for services, the TBI wrote. The girls and their mother were last seen at around 5:45 p.m. Tuesday.

Anyone who spots the van or the mother or the Winkler children should contact the Selmer Police Department at 731-645-7906 or call the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND.