Archive for October, 2006

St. Louis Wins Again!

October 31, 2006

I read that St. Louis edged Detroit as the most dangerous city in the United States.

First, the World Series. Now this.

Detroit must be very embarrassed.

A Hero For Terry Austin

October 27, 2006

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by alsturgeon

Prayer and the Powers

October 26, 2006

We are finally to the last chapter in Walter Wink’s The Powers That Be. (Don’t get too excited, however. I will print the epilogue in a final post in the near future.)

My summary of the book so far: God wars against unseen world forces (i.e. “principalities and powers”) both through the life of Jesus and his followers. This war dismisses both the practice of violence (“morally illegitimate or excessive use of force”) and pacifism as commonly understood, choosing instead to fight in a third way: nonviolent, creative resistance. The foundation for this choice of weaponry is a love for ALL mankind, including enemies (whom we also wish to rescue from the “powers that be”).

PRAYER AND THE POWERS

I will freely admit that I was disappointed to find that the last chapter involved prayer. Not that I have anything against prayer per se, but I have always found the concept and practice problematic. Plus, it is often used as a cop-out from personal responsibility (e.g. Would you help me out? Well, I’m sort of busy… Would you at least pray for me? Oh sure, I’ll pray for you…)

But Wink’s thoughts challenged me to rethink the subject.

To Wink, prayer is the very foundation of the battle against “the powers that be.” By that, he argues that it is in prayer that the secret hold the powers have on our lives is broken, and that it is there on “the interior battlefield where the decisive victory is won before any engagement in the outer world is even possible.”

Which all sounds good.

But what happens there? How is the secret hold broken, and how is a decisive victory won?

Wink writes, “In prayer we are ordering God to bring the kingdom near… We have been commanded to command. We are required by God to haggle with God for the sake of the sick, the obsessed, the weak, and to conform our lives to our intercessions. This is a God who invents history in interaction with those ‘who hunger and thirst to see right prevail’ (Matt 5:6, REB)… Praying is rattling God’s cage and waking God up and setting God free… When we pray, we are not sending a letter to a celestial White House, where it is sorted among piles of others. We are engaged, rather, in an act of co-creation… History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being. If this is so, then intercession, far from being an escape from action, is a means of focusing for action and of creating action. By means of our intercessions we veritably cast fire upon the earth and trumpet the future into being.”

So prayer, far from being reduced to a list of personal requests or a religious act, becomes instead a time to envision justice, to call on God to bring it to be, and a time to recapture my place in that purposeful vision.

But, as scary as it seems, let’s be honest. God doesn’t always seem to hold up his end of the bargain.

Sometimes we are way off base in our prayers, of course. That should go without saying. “But,” Wink goes on, “there are situations where God’s will seems so transparently evident that to assert that God says no is to portray God as a cosmic thug. I still cannot see, after thirty years, how the death by leukemia of a six-year-old boy in our parish was in any sense an act of God. And does anyone wish to argue that our current worldwide rate of death by starvation – approximately twenty-two thousand children a day, or around eight million a year – is the will of God?”

Wink’s answer is that prayer is not simply a two-way transaction (humans and God). He argues that we often leave the principalities and powers out of the equation (for an example from Scripture, he offers the story recorded in Daniel 10). Like the freedom granted individual human beings, institutions likewise have freedom to wreck the world around us (speaking to the leukemia example, he speaks to a corporation’s record for pollution in that very area).

He writes, “In short, prayer involves not just God and people, but God and people and Powers. What God is able to do in the world is hindered to a considerable extent by the rebelliousness, resistance, and self-interest of the Powers exercising their freedom under God.”

Later, referring to the Nazi dilemma, he continues: “In such a time, God may appear to be impotent. Perhaps God is. God may be unable to intervene directly, but nevertheless showers the world with potential coincidences that require only a human response to become miracles. When the miracle happens, we feel that God has intervened in a special way. But God does not intervene only occasionally. God is the constant possibility of transformation pressing on every occasion, even those that are lost for lack of a human response. God is not mocked. The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but they are inexorable…”

So in the end, prayer is calling on God to do what is right in the world, and in so doing, realign “us” with that vision as well. But our adversary is formidable. It seeks to have us again while clinging desperately to those in its grasp with a continual thirst for more. Nonetheless, we fight on with the weapon of love for all humanity, and it is in our quiet, clarifying moments in prayer that we both develop and maintain the vision of the world that is to come that allows us to practice that love with the courage it requires.

World Series

October 25, 2006

Cards 2. Tigers 1. Here’s your chance to discuss.

Some things that stand out in my mind:

  • The Tigers have a leadoff man who led the AL in strikeouts, and a shortstop who led in errors.
  • Is Jeff Suppan using Barry Bonds’ trainer or somethin’?
  • LaRussa’s Game 1 silence on Kenny Rodgers. What’s up with that?

Paging Dr. Kissinger

October 21, 2006

Since I seem to be about the only one posting these days, I’ll fill the dead airtime by disagreeing with many Democrats and, according to the polls, a majority of Americans.

We should not withdraw from Iraq. It was a mistake to go in. It was an obvious mistake. It was boneheaded and willful and pre-ordained. But Congress closed its eyes and supported it. The media closed its eyes and supported it. The American people closed their eyes and supported it. So now we’re in it, there’s no changing that, and we can’t just throw up our hands and walk away because it’s turned into the mess we all should have known it would be in the first place.

Napoleon once said, “If you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.” In other words, don’t try, don’t give it a good effort, don’t go half way: do it. I don’t think there’s any way we can take this particular Vienna; that is, I don’t think we can win, at least not in the terms laid out by the Bush administration. The residents of Iraq will never — in any of our lifetimes, at least — like us. They aren’t going to thank us for trying to share our infidel god’s blessing, democracy. That’s because Iraq is not going to be a democracy — a shining example in the heart of the Middle East. It’s going to be what it has become: the heart of the long blood feud between Sunnis and Shia. And that’s what it’s going to be until a person or government sufficiently repressive comes along to put a stop to it. (See, e.g., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and pre-war Iraq.)

That can’t be us. For us, Iraq is now about saving what face we can. The “solution” is not to withdraw; it’s to draft and re-invade. Massively. To carpet the country with so much military force and so many soldiers that the insurrectionists and civil warriors (I think what’s happening in Iraq now is both an insurrection and a civil war, two simultaneous wars) can’t breathe. To what end? To demonstrate that, sufficiently roused, we can. They aren’t going to like us; we should at least make sure they respect what we’re capable of. Right now they don’t, and why would they? Having foolishly set out to take a Vienna that was never there to be taken, we have to at least demonstrate the ability to make it miserable if we wanted to. Then get out and flood the place with all the humanitarian aid we can afford. Make war — not half-assed, but with a will — then make peace with a will.

It stinks. But I don’t see that we have (or ever had) any other choice, once having invaded. It was a horrible, unbelievably naive (or cynical) and sophomoric idea. But the withdrawal that should happen in response is not to withdraw the troops from Iraq. It’s to withdraw the fools who put them there.

Those Wacky Voters

October 18, 2006

There’s an interesting ballot initiative for South Dakotans in November. It’s called “JAIL for Judges.” The idea is that if you’re involved in a legal proceeding — criminal or civil, as plaintiff or defendant — and you don’t like the outcome, you can sue the judge. That’s right: sue the judge.

You might suspect the trial lawyers are behind this, but you’d be wrong. The man behind it is a conspiracy theorist with a history of legal difficulties and quixotic court cases. He also happens to not be a resident of South Dakota; that was just the easiest (which is to say, the only) place he could get his initiative on the ballot.

He says it’s a question of democratic accountability. Judges, he says, have to be accountable to someone. In this case, that someone would be a special grand jury with rules admittedly designed to favor the plaintiff (that is, the person suing the judge). This neatly overlooks the fact that judges in SD, like in many states, are elected, and therefore already democratically accountable.

One might think this is one of those nutty propositions that show up on ballots from time to time, only to garner about 10% of the vote. One would be wrong. This thing is actually polling as a winner. If it wins, its backer says he has a multi-millionaire who’ll finance efforts to get it on the ballot in other states.

Anyway, I thought I’d blog it and see what people think.

An American Tragedy

October 16, 2006

I’m an American and Americans consume. We consume better than anybody in the world. The thing we consume the MOST best is television. And after 9/11, it’s our patriotic duty to consume like we’ve never consumed before, else the terrorists win. So when my 15 year old RCA tv went dead as a hammer last week, I, being known for my patriotism, began looking into replacing it.

Have any of you bought — or tried to buy — a tv, recently? It’s nigh impossible.

See, they got this HDTV thing on. It’s the coming thing, they say. In fact, they’re so sure of it, the government has mandated that all television signals be HD by 2009. They’ve mandated dates for this before, only to push them back. So 2009 might not be the year, either. But it evidently is the case that at some point in the not too distant future, a tv that doesn’t accept, process, and render digital signals will be fully as useful as an 8-track tape deck.

I’ve been stalling, waiting for all that to sort itself out. The sound on my old RCA went out about 8 years ago, and it’s been showing other signs of decline, recently. But no, by gum, I wasn’t going to replace it. If the fates allowed, I wasn’t going to buy a new tv until all this HD nonsense was settled and a man could buy a decent, normal-sized tv for a decent, normal-sized price.

But do the fates allow? No. Not that I can complain. Fifteen years is well above the average lifespan for a tv. But still, the timing is unfortunate. Not only has the HD broadcast/cable/sattelite thing not settled out, not only are there 4 competing tv picture technologies (plasma, LCD, DLP, and LCoS) and 2 more soon to come (SED and laser) offering almost as many “HD” resolution levels (480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p), not only is there a whole new Beta vs. VHS war being fought for the future of DVDs (HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray), not only are all of these tvs hideously expensive, not only do all of the manufacturers have horribly high “lemon” rates, but said manufacturers can’t even settle on a single standard for hooking their hideously expensive tvs and dvds together (composite, component, and S-video all work with everything, but they don’t do HD; DVI and HDMI do HD, but are so complicated, one company’s DVI or HDMI implementation might not talk to others).

Here’s the Patriotic Consumer’s situation. In order to get a tv that won’t be obsolete in a few years, a body cannot spend less than $1,000, and that’s for the bottom-feeder sets. More likely, it’s going to be $1,500 to $2,000. Tack on $150 for a minimally HD dvd player (because your old dvd player, which still works just fine, doesn’t do HD at all, althought the DVDs themselves do), an HDMI cable, etc., and lets call it an even 2 grand. So you’ve just dropped 2 grand so you can continue watching your movies and The Daily Show. (And that’s not counting the up-charge for digital cable or sattelite, if you decide to spring for that.) You get your new stuff home. Hook up the tv and turn it on. It sucks. Not just the suckiness you expected, but, like, everybody’s face is green and their movements look like Max Headroom. You’ve gotten a lemon. Take it back and get another new tv. There is, believe it or not, a decent chance that one will be a lemon, too. So you’ll take it back and get another, or maybe try a different one.

You finally get home with a tv that works. You hook up your new dvd player and pop in your trusty dvd of Casablanca or American Pie 8: Wacky Defecations, and find out your player and tv don’t speak the same HDMI. Take the player back. Try a different one. Repeat as needed.

For $2,000, this is what you get.

How badly does that suck? Can you imagine any other consumer market in which that would be tolerated? Can you imagine getting a fancy new dishwasher home and discovering it won’t connect to your plumbing? Buying an expensive new cd player and having to take it back and back and back before you get one that works? People would go apey.

What’s the problem here?

I think it’s that tvs are like breasts, guns, and cars: Americans, by and large, like them big. In fact, big is almost all we care about. So the market responds. In the race to give us the biggest possible screen size without herniating every disc in America, the manufacturers have gotten ahead of themselves. The tvs they make are big, alright, but they stink. Plasma? Stinks. LCD? Stinks. DLP? Stinks. LCoS? Stinks. Why? Because all the R&D has been going into making these new-tech tvs bigger, not better; and to the degree they’ve developed the technology to make the things look decent, they only put that technology on the biggest models (50″ and up). They invest nothing in quality control. And the marketing people are running the whole show, which is why you have a “New and Improved!” connection format coming out every third Wednesday.

What’s a Patriotic Consumer to do?

A Thought From My Old Buddy, Eugene…

October 13, 2006

Everyone be prepared: I just started reading another Eugene Peterson “pastoral” book. I’m sorry, but you might be inundated with a thousand references to Peterson for a while…

The book is titled, The Unnecessary Pastor, a book Peterson co-authored with Marva Dawn. I’m not giving a book review – I’m still in the Introduction (page 4). But, as is often the case with Peterson, he wrote something that grabbed me so hard I laughed out loud, had to set the book down and share the thought with someone.

Here’s what he wrote: I am in conversation right now with a dozen or so men and women who are prepared to be pastors and who are waiting to be called by a congregation. And I am having the depressing experience of reading congregational descriptions of what these churches want in a pastor. With hardly an exception they don’t want pastors at all – they want managers of their religious company. They want a pastor they can follow so they won’t have to bother with following Jesus anymore.

Prompt any thoughts from anyone out there?

Bueller?

My Personal Hurricane Katrina Video

October 12, 2006

Hey, hey, turn up your speakers girls and boys. I’m trying to learn how to use “You Tube,” and if I’ve been able to pull it off, you should be able to watch a minute’s worth of video I took on my digital camera near the end of Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005.

The video is shot from the fire escape door next to my office at the church building. The best part is listening to the howling (Katrina’s language). If you look closely, you can see the bayou has risen to the back of our parking lot, which wouldn’t mean much if you didn’t know that the normal level is about 20-30 feet below the back of our parking lot!

Holy Moly

October 9, 2006

From MSNBC.com:

A new poll by Newsweek indicated the Foley scandal was doing significant damage to the Republicans’ political fortunes and could sink their chances of holding onto control of Congress on Election Day, Nov. 7. The poll found that 52 percent of Americans, including 29 percent of Republicans, believe Hastert was aware of Foley’s Internet communications with underage pages and tried to cover up Foley’s actions. More of those polled, 42 percent, now say they trust Democrats to do a better job handling moral values than Republicans; 36 percent favored Republicans on the values question.