Archive for September, 2006

The Homelander Revolution

September 28, 2006

Since it is, in fact, one of my hobbies to try to understand this whole red state-blue state thing (for lack of a better term), I was wholly engaged by this book review of Brian Mann’s Welcome to the Homeland, which makes another attempt to explain it all to ya on this subject.

One choice excerpt:

Another way of putting it is that homelanders are the highly visible minority of Americans who are least comfortable with the totality of change in our national life over the past 40 or 60 or 100 years. They’re uncomfortable with the transformed role of women, the heightened sensitivity to race relations, the declining importance of marriage, the dethroning of Protestant Christianity as a quasi-state religion, the widespread acceptance of homosexuality, the renewed influx of non-English-speaking and nonwhite immigrants, and the constant negotiation required by the polyglot nature of metropolitan life.

Rural, conservative Americans see themselves, Mann writes, as outsiders in our metrocentric culture, but as outsiders who are “uniquely connected to the true vein of national character” and therefore “uniquely qualified to judge and correct the broader society when it goes astray.” This conviction is profound and genuine, Mann insists. He paraphrases the message of Focus on the Family’s influential radio broadcasts this way: “We’re normal. We’re healthy. We offer a better way forward.”

This makes good sense to me, admittedly a clueless blue-stater despite my red-state roots. (And by the way, could someone in the studio audience please explain what the Intimidator is?).

On the other hand, Mann’s book contains some deep flaws, which the reviewer details on the last page of the review. Personally, I loved Thomas Frank’s What’s The Matter With Kansas and found it incredibly insightful. This formulation, though, adds another piece to the puzzle. If Frank is describing how metros see homelanders, to utilize Mann’s terminology, Mann is describing how homelanders see themselves, which is equally if not more important in trying to understand what’s the matter not just with Kansas, but with all of us.

T.O. Attempts Suicide

September 27, 2006

The controversial Terrell Owens, popularly known as “T.O.”, reportedly attempted to take his own life.

T.O. rose to football stardom as a San Francisco 49er, but his controversial time as a Philadelphia Eagle elevated his career (and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus’s career) to rock-star status. His little pre-Monday Night Football towel-dropping commercial with Desperate Houseflies star, Nicollette Sheridan, just made him more popular than ever.

When he signed with his former nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys, it was understood that there would be a lot of T.O. to be seen this year. Owens had a decent game at Jacksonville in Week 1, and then was greeted with great enthusiasm in his home opener against Washington in Week 2. He broke his finger in the first quarter (which explained his less-than-stellar game), but he didn’t tell anyone until the 4th quarter. Afterwards, he underwent surgery to repair the fracture.

On my way to work this morning, I listened to ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike relay reports out of Dallas that T.O. had a bad reaction to pain medication and had to be rushed to the hospital last night. Greenie theorized that he would recover quickly, possibly even playing this weekend, while Golic wondered if the reaction might deplete his energy enough to make playing a football game on Sunday difficult.

Now, there’s suddenly a whole new set of questions.

When emergency personnel reached Owens, the bottle that held his pain medication was empty, and he reportedly tried to take two more pills after they arrived. When asked if he had tried to hurt himself, the normally loquacious Owens replied with one word: “Yes.”

I, for one, have to remind myself from time to time that the larger-than-life entertainers in our world are not, in fact, larger than life. In my moments of clarity, I feel sorry for the controversial figures that don our tabloids. Their lives must be hell, in spite of the beauty in which we try to paint their pictures.

In addition to all his other cover images, Terrell Owens may very well become the poster child for this dark truth as well.

Politics, Politics

September 25, 2006

Since there hasn’t been too much political talk around here lately — in the sense of talking about specific politicians or public policy initiatives — I thought I would post on a couple of stories I read today that interested me.

One is the developing story of Senator George Allen of Virginia, who is running for reelection (and rumored to be planning on a presidential run in 2008) and who memorably referred to a young man of Indian origin as “macaca” several weeks ago during a speaking engagement. Apparently some of Allen’s former teammates from UVA football have come forward with allegations that Allen regularly used the “N-word” and expressed racist attitudes during college. This is in addition to previous reports of his affinity for the Dixie flag and racist attitudes expressed more recently, as well as the macaca incident. So, there are two questions these stories raise: one, are they accurate? and two, if they are accurate, why are they important? I have my own views on these questions, of course, but I’m interested to hear what others think about it.

The other interesting story of the weekend was Bill Clinton’s Fox News interview with Chris Wallace. You can read the full transcript here. For my money, I have to say that it’s about damn time that a Democrat stood up for himself; I only hope that those who are still in office will be emboldened to do the same. With particular reference to the Somalia incident, one reporter at Salon has put together some supporting evidence here regarding who wanted to “cut and run” then. Interesting stuff.

But What If…? (Chapter 8, The Powers That Be)

September 21, 2006

Chapter 8: “But What If…?”

Summarizing Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be” so far:

* God wars against the unseen forces that govern the world (“principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and the lives of the Spirit-filled followers that come behind.

* A close look at Jesus reveals that he rejected violence as his modus operandi and that his followers are compelled to do likewise. Jesus also rejects pacifism (i.e. meekly “taking it”). Instead, Jesus proposed war against the “powers that be” by a third way, what one might call, “creative nonviolence” – resistance without resorting to violence.

Wink’s chapter eight raises the ever-present question: But what if…? Creative resistance without resorting to violence may sound good, but what if your spouse is attacked? Or what if someone breaks into your house? Or what if… let’s see… you get reports that another nation is making weapons of mass destruction intended for people you pledged to protect?

All good questions. Wink claims they arise naturally from a LOT of world history’s worth of conditioning us to think in one of two ways: fight or flight. We’re not used to even thinking in the third way proposed by Jesus, but more thinking/discussion on the ideas may prove helpful.

For instance, nonviolence theorist, Angie O’Gorman, teaches that most assailants need the victim to act like a victim. In contrast, responding to an assailant in such a way to provoke a sense of wonder tends to diffuse hostility. She states that it is nearly impossible for both “wonder” and “cruelty” to be present in the human psyche simultaneously.

In The Universe Bends Toward Justice, she tells a personal story. She was sleeping in her upstairs bedroom one night (with the telephone downstairs) when she was suddenly awakened by a man kicking open her bedroom door. She described the situation this way:

“He was somewhat verbally abusive as he walked over to my bed. I could not find his eyes in the darkness but I could see the outline of his form. As I lay there, feeling a fear and vulnerability I had never before experienced, several thoughts ran through my head – all in a matter of seconds. The first was the uselessness of screaming. The second was the fallacy of thinking safety depends on having a gun hidden under your pillow. Somehow I could not imagine this man standing patiently while I reached under my pillow for my gun. The third thought, I believe, saved my life. I realized with a certain clarity that either he and I made it through this situation safely – together – or we would both be damaged. Our safety was connected. If he raped me, I would be hurt both physically and emotionally. If he raped me he would be hurt as well. If he went to prison, the damage would be greater. That thought disarmed ‘me’. It freed me from my own desire to lash out and at the same time from my own paralysis. It did not free me from feelings of fear but from fear’s control over my ability to respond. I found myself acting out of a concern for both our safety which caused me to react with a certain firmness but with surprisingly little hostility in my voice. I asked him what time it was. He answered. That was a good sign. I commented that his watch and the clock on my night table had different times. His said 2:30, mine said 2:45. I had just set mine. I hoped his watch wasn’t broken. When had he last set it? He answered. I answered. The time seemed endless. When the atmosphere began to calm a little I asked him how he had gotten into the house. He’d broken through the glass in the back door. I told him that presented me with a problem as I did not have the money to buy new glass. He talked about some financial difficulties of his own. We talked until we were no longer strangers and I felt it was safe to ask him to leave. He didn’t want to; said he had no place to go. Knowing I did not have the physical power to force him out I told him firmly but respectfully, as equal to equal, I would give him a clean set of sheets but he would have to make his own bed downstairs. He went downstairs and I sat up in bed, wide awake and shaking for the rest of the night. The next morning we ate breakfast together and he left.”

There is a fundamental answer to all the “what-if” questions, and that answer is DO SOMETHING! Wink points out that Jesus did not forbid self-defense or counsel nonresistance. It is the use of “violence” as a technique that he calls on the carpet.

It is worth noting that the use of violence is not so easy and effective in the “what-if” questions either. What if someone attacks my spouse and a gun is pointed at her head? (I’ll beat the %#$@ out of you sounds good in theory, but…) What if someone breaks into my house? (Shooting first & asking questions later makes for a good bumper sticker, but that plan doesn’t always progress smoothly…) What if a nation is reportedly making weapons of mass destruction intended for you? (Not everyone originally in favor of violence remains on that bandwagon after the fact…)

In short, the “what-if” questions are worth asking, but violence should have to answer, too.

One important point: Wink writes, “Are there situations where violence is, if not necessary, at least unavoidable? Perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish between force and violence. Force signifies a legitimate, socially authorized, and morally defensible use of restraint to prevent harm being done to innocent people. Violence would be a morally illegitimate or excessive use of force. A police officer that must arrest a killer may have to use force to restrain him. Such a use of force falls within the definition of his or her office as spelled out by society and Scripture (Rom. 13:4).”

Chapter 8 in a nutshell: First, there are no easy answers to the “what-if” questions, but we should recognize that there are more than two options (violence and nonresistance, both of which prove problematic in their solutions). Second, there is a difference between the use of violence and the use of legitimate force (e.g. police) to restrain violent people and prevent harm to innocents.

(Next: Chapter 9, “The Gift of the Enemy”)

The Religious Left? That’s Unpossible!

September 20, 2006

Here’s another article someone called my attention to. I don’t have much to say about it, but I thought I’d post it to give others a chance to comment if they wanted.

The Quarterly Book Report

September 20, 2006

Wulp, I still haven’t formulated my thoughts on migrant farm workers, I’m sorry to say. I’ll do my bestest to get to that before next Wednesday. I have been grading a wheel-barrel full of essays. Most teachers usually complain about their students’ writing (I’ve been known to gripe ’bout this), but I’m very encouraged by my students. Their essays so far — since you’re itching to know — are intelligent, and the students have something unique to say in them. AND, even though we’ve only had about three weeks of classes, I seem to have taught them that it’s okay to be funny in their essays.

When I’m not reading student essays, I’m reading: Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It’s funny and good for those of us who struggle with Christianity. Even if it is a bit touchy-feely for my taste. Enemy Combatant, by Moazzem Begg. I know I’m spelling his name wrong. Almost finished with it. He was arrested and interrogated by Pakistani and British and U.S. intelligence officers. Other than having sympathies for the Taliban, he had done no crime. He was imprisoned for 2 or 3 years. Occassional physical torture. And then the even worse torture of not knowing what had happened to his wife and three young children when he was arrested. The subject of the book is disturbing and interesting, but he really isn’t the best writer in the world. Plus he’s a little full of himself. So along with his getting beaten and whatnot, you get to hear about how he’s the smartest person in the world. NeoConservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, by Kristol. I wanted to know what NeoConservatism was, so I decided to read the “Godfather” of the movement’s book about the movement. I still don’t know what NeoConservatism is. They should drop the “Neo.” Credit where credit is due: he’s a good writer, even if I disagree with a lot of what he says. Only Revolutions, by Mark Danielewski. I loved his first book, House of Leaves, so I bought this one without really looking at it too much in the bookstore. I’m loyal that way. Ummm…I’m trying to reserve judgement until I’m farther into it. It’d better get better soon, though, else judgements will be made early. Oh, and I almost forgot: Memories of my Meloncholy Whores, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Not a bad sentence in the book. Very good. It’s short and you should pick it up at the library.

Segregation, Then and Now

September 18, 2006

I just read this article on the New York Times website, about one of the many public swimming pools closed in the 1960s. The article’s tone was so funny to me, funny strange not funny ha-ha, because it talked as if the covering over of pools and the taboo on “race-mixing” is a relic of the past.

But the truth is, when they open that pool, only black people will go there. All the white kids will go to the pool at the local country club or other unofficially segregated entity. Just like all the public schools in Mississippi educate mostly the black children, while the white children attend “Christian” segregation academies. In most nominally integrated Mississippi high schools, the school-sponsored prom is attended by the black kids, while the parents of the white kids throw them a separate prom at the country club.

Probably not a lot of people outside the South know this. Here in DC, it would be thought outrageous — and yet, the schools here are just as segregated. There just isn’t the same overt racism here as there is in Mississippi, where teachers at the seg academies use the “N-word” with impunity and Dixie flags are everywhere because, you know, it’s our heritage.

Segregation doesn’t have to be enforced by law. People will always find a way to flee from what they fear. Digging out a pool can’t make racism a thing of the past.

Vibrating for Jesus (or, How the Virgin Mary Got Her Groove Back)

September 14, 2006

Now here’s an interesting article, recently called to my attention. Joe Beam, for those who don’t know, is a Church of Christ preacher. He’s been a regular on the workshop/lectureship circuit for years and years and years. His focus on sexuality, however, is a relatively recent development.

I’ll be interested to hear what people think of his approach. I have some thoughts of my own, but don’t have time to post them just now. I’ll share them later, perhaps in a second post.

Beyond Pacifism and Just War (Chapter 7)

September 14, 2006

“The new reality Jesus proclaimed was nonviolent. That much is clear, not just from the Sermon on the Mount, but from his entire life and teaching and, above all, the way he faced his death at the hands of the Powers. His was not merely a tactical or pragmatic nonviolence seized upon because nothing else would have worked against the Roman Empire’s virtual monopoly on power. Rather, he saw nonviolence as a direct expression of the nature of God and of the new reality breaking into the world from God.” (Wink, “The Powers That Be,” p 128)

Summarizing the first six chapters of Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be”:
* God wars against the unseen forces that govern the world (“principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and the lives of the Spirit-filled followers that come behind.
* A close look at Jesus reveals that he rejected violence as his modus operandi and that his followers are compelled to do likewise. Jesus also rejects pacifism (i.e. meekly “taking it”). Instead, Jesus proposed war against the “powers that be” by what one might call, “creative nonviolence” – resistance without resorting to violence.
* Practically, this resistance doesn’t seek to seize power or disrespect the rule of law; instead, it seeks to transform both people and society through peaceful means. This, however, is neither simply for the able-bodied (on one hand) or the faint of heart (on the other); instead, this type of fight will take great courage and require great sacrifice.

And now, in chapter seven, we turn to the idea of war.

Cicero originated the idea of a “just war,” but it was Augustine that articulated the idea for Christians. And although most Christians would advocate “just war” in conversation, Wink argues that most Christians confuse the concept with one (or more) of three types of war:
(1) the HOLY WAR or CRUSADE (e.g. Hebrew conquest of Canaan, medieval crusades, the Ayatollah vs. Iraq);
(2) a POLITICAL WAR or WAR OF NATIONAL INTERESTS (e.g. Iraq invading Kuwait, U.S. in Vietnam, Soviets in Afghanistan);
(3) MACHISMO or EGOCENTRICITY (e.g. Thatcher and the Falklands, Saddam’s refusal to withdraw from Kuwait, GWB’s personalization of the war in Iraq).

Wink claims that most wars in world history (that Christians have been involved in) fall into one of these three categories. No Christian body has (before fighting begins) debated and decided whether a war meets just-war criteria. “Instead, the sorry record reveals that Christian churches have usually simply endorsed the side on which they happened to find themselves.”

Wink continues, “Many Christians assume that any war they feel is just is just… The just-war criteria, however are actually very demanding. They presuppose that no Christian should be involved in a war unless it meets all or at least most of the criteria. The burden of proof is always on those who resort to violence.”

Here are the criteria:
* The war must have a just cause.
* It must be waged by a legitimate authority.
* It must be formally declared.
* It must be fought with a peaceful intention.
* It must be a last resort.
* There must be a reasonable hope for success.
* The means used must possess proportionality to the end sought.

* Noncombatants must be given immunity.
* Prisoners must be treated humanely.
* International treaties and conventions must be honored.

Wink argues: “It is not the criteria themselves that are problematic but the fact that they have been subordinated to the myth of redemptive violence.” He argues that just-war criteria may be useful in preventing wars as well as reducing violence within wars, but in the end, the very foundation of the concept is suspect.

He writes, “Violence can never stop violence because its very success leads others to imitate it. Ironically, violence is most dangerous when it succeeds… Christians do not live nonviolently in order to be saved, or in order to live up to an absolute ethical norm, but because we want to end the Domination System. We eschew violence because we do not wish to extend by even one day the reign of violence in the world. Nonviolence is not a matter of legalism but of discipleship. It is the way God has chosen to overthrow evil in the world. And the same God who calls us to nonviolence gives us the power to carry it out.”

In addition, the very precepts of just-war are problematic in their interpretation. Wink writes, “…take the criterion of ‘last resort.’ Theoretically, just-war theorists are committed to the use of every feasible nonviolent alternative before turning to war. In fact, I know of only one just-war theorist – James F. Childress – who devotes any space at all to nonviolent alternatives. The rest focus on what constitutes last resort. This focus has the effect, however, of shrinking the ethical field. ‘Last resort’ becomes ‘timely resort,’ as in the writings of Ramsey; we soon find ourselves discussing ‘preemptive strikes,’ the assassination of heads of state, and even Pentagon doublespeak like ‘anticipatory retaliation.’ In our war with Iraq, did we allow sanctions and diplomacy to work? Was that war truly a ‘last resort’?”


In Wink’s words…

“Jesus’ third way is coercive insofar as it forces oppressors to make choices they would rather not make. But it is nonlethal, the great advantage of which is that if we have chosen a mistaken course, our opponents are still alive to benefit from our apologies… Jesus’ teaching carries us beyond just war and pacifism, to a militant nonviolence that actualizes in the present the ethos of God’s domination-free future…

“Just-war theory has not been so much mistaken as mismarried to the ideology of redemptive violence. Its pagan roots were never sufficiently purged of their origin in the Domination System…

“Governments will still wrestle with the option of war, and ethicists can perhaps assist them with their decisions. But the church’s own witness should be understandable by the smallest child: we oppose violence in all its forms. And we do so because we reject domination. That means, the child will recognize, no abuse or beatings. That means, women will hear, no rape or violation or battering. That means, men will come to understand, nor more male supremacy or war. That means, everyone will realize, no more degradation of the environment. We can affirm nonviolence, without reservation, because nonviolence is the way God’s domination-free order is coming.”

(Next: “But What If…” – chapter 8)

Practical Nonviolence (Chapter 6, Wink)

September 8, 2006

Walter Wink’s “The Powers That Be” addresses the unseen forces that govern the world (that the Bible refers to as “principalities and powers”). The Bible claims that God wars against these powers on some level, both through the life of Jesus and the lives of the Spirit-filled followers that come behind. In chapter five, Wink proposes that Jesus rejected violence as his weapons of war and that his followers are compelled to do likewise. He goes on to propose that the corresponding concept of pacifism is misinformed as well (i.e. meekly “taking it”). Instead, Jesus proposed war against the “powers that be” by what one might call, “creative nonviolence” – resistance without resorting to violence.

In chapter six, Wink explains that the critics of nonviolence often claim that it doesn’t work, although he is quick to point out that violence is often ineffective. Plus, nonviolence has been very successful in many places: Gandhi and King come to mind first, though Eastern Europe in my lifetime bears witness as well. As a result, after deflecting the criticism that “it doesn’t work,” Wink focuses chapter six on “Practical Nonviolence.”

I will summarize my take on chapter six in five principles:

Wink writes, “Once the path of violence has been chosen, it cannot be easily renounced by the new regime. As John Swomley puts it, violence is not conducive to teaching the respect for persons on which democracy depends. It’s not just that those who live by the sword will die by the sword, as Matthew 26:52 has it, but that a whole lot of other people, many of them innocent of any crime, will die as well. By contrast, nonviolent revolution is not a program of seizing power. It is, says Gandhi, a program for transforming relationships, ending in a peaceful transfer of power.”

Wink writes, “In the civil disobedience practiced by King and Gandhi, those who appeal to a higher moral authority nevertheless subject themselves to the principle of civil law. No proponent of the third way would attempt to get off scot-free for breaking an unjust law, for that would encourage the chaos of lawlessness in a society already plagued by legalized injustices… Following Jesus, we, too, should refuse ever to obey an unjust law. But by undergoing the legal system’s punishment, we affirm our willingness to suffer on behalf of a higher law that we are determined to see transform the law of the land. We must be lawful in our illegality. It is only because we submit to the principle of law that we can demand that unjust laws be made just in the first place.”

Wink writes, “Jesus’ kind of nonviolence is not for the perfect, but for frightened, fed up, and even violent people who are trying to change. His is a practical, achievable nonviolence that can be taught to anyone of any age. Not just young men of war-making age, but all sectors of the population can participate, from babies to the elderly.”

Wink writes, “…if we are to make nonviolence effective, we will have to be as willing to suffer and be killed as soldiers in battle. Nonviolence is not a way of avoiding personal sacrifice. Indeed, it requires that we take that sacrifice on ourselves rather than inflicting it on others. It demands a heroism that a surprisingly large number of people are prepared to shoulder. Gandhi was adamant that nothing could be done with a coward, but that from a violent person one could make a nonviolent one… Nor should nonviolence be misconstrued as a way of avoiding conflict. The ‘peace’ that the gospel brings is never the absence of conflict, but an ineffable divine reassurance within the heart of conflict: a peace that surpasses understanding. Christians have all too often called for ‘nonviolence’ when they really meant tranquillity. In fact, nonviolence seeks out conflict, elicits conflict, even initiates conflict, in order to bring it out into the open and lance its poisonous sores… To risk confronting the Powers with such vulnerability, simultaneously affirming our own humanity and the humanity of those whom we oppose, and daring to draw the sting of evil by absorbing it in our own bodies – all this is not likely to attract the faint of heart. But I am convinced that there is a whole host of people waiting for the Christian message to challenge them to a heroism worthy of their lives. Has Jesus not provided us with that summons?”

Wink writes, “Before engaging in nonviolent action, however, there is spiritual work that needs to be done. We want to be able to oppose evil without evil making us over into its likeness… We become what we hate. ‘Whoever fights monsters,’ warned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.’ Over and over we have failed to recognize this truth… ‘You always become the thing you fight the most,’ wrote Carl Jung, and the United States has done everything in its power to prove him right… ‘The ultimate weakness of violence,’ observed Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.’ Evil is contagious. No one grapples with it without contamination…Reality appears to be so constructed, whether physically or spiritually, that every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. Thus every attempt to fight the Domination System by dominating means is destined to result in domination. When we resist evil with evil, when we lash out at it in kind, we simply guarantee its perpetuation, as we ourselves are made over into its likeness. The way of nonviolence, the way Jesus chose, is the only way that is able to overcome evil without creating new forms of evil and making us evil in turn.”

(Next Post: “Beyond Pacifism & Just War” – Chapter 7)