29 September 2008

The Crap Sandwich Act of 2008

So the House defeated the Wall Street bailout bill this afternoon, in a vote that crossed party lines more than I thought it would.

John Boehner called the bill "a crap sandwich," and Rep. Paul Braun of Georgia called it some gross kind of s'more. I don't know about all that, but I do think that a lot of the people who loved Ron Paul (but didn't understand what he meant by abolishing the Federal Reserve) are probably feeling like he was right (though still not understanding what the Fed is or does).

Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey...

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band will be playing at this season's Super Bowl. I feel kind of ambivalent about this news -- it's pretty much guaranteed to be a lukewarm performance (unless the performer is Michael Jackson). On the other hand, a Bruce performance might be fitting for this year's Jets-Giants Super Bowl.

27 September 2008

Hip aesthetics = electoral votes?

Go to http://www.pentdego.com/obama.aspx and you can make an Obama poster that says whatever you want it to say. I'm just waiting for someone to program a utility that will take a picture of me and make it look like this iconic high-contrast, tricolor poster.

26 September 2008


Remember how when I'm not reading political news, I go to seminary? Me too. Since being a student doesn't seem to lend itself to blog posts as well as working at a church does, I haven't really been posting as much this Fall.

I'm going to try to do a better job of spotting good nuggets that come up in reading or lectures, and pass them along. Today, from the first thing I've ever read out of Barth's Church Dogmatics:

"Be it noted that this determination of God, this content of predestination, is already grace, for God did not stand in need of any particular ways or works ad extra. He had no need of a creation. He might well have been satisfied with the inner glory of His threefold being, His freedom, and His love. The fact that He is not satisfied, but that His inner glory overflows and becomes outward, the fact that He wills the creation, and the man Jesus as the first-born of all creation, is grace, sovereign grace, a condescension inconceivably tender." (Church Dogmatics II/2:121)

24 September 2008

Bring it.

Due to the financial crisis, McCain is suspending his campaign for the week, and calling on Obama to do the same. This includes Friday night's debate.

The Obama campaign needs to release a statement like this right now: "The current financial crisis makes a conversation between the two men vying for the presidency even more necessary -- not less. We look forward to seeing Senator McCain for our scheduled debate on Friday, and in light of recent events we are prepared to spend the entirety of the debate addressing the current financial situation and our plans for the future."

I'm hoping for an exchange like, "Let's clear up a couple of things. First of all, 'unfunded mandate' is two words, not one big one."

23 September 2008

Let me just say ...

...that I have absolutely no concept of what would happen if Congress didn't bail out Wall Street with the giant cash infusion they are currently debating. (Nor do I really understand where the $700 billion comes from or goes, or how it helps.) This is one of the downsides of being a grad student -- I really don't feel like I have the time or bandwidth to try reading enough to understand all this.

Slate said that the money for the $85 billion loan to AIG earlier this month came from the Federal Reserve selling off some of its securities reserve. Those reserves are now down to $200 billion, from $800 billion nine months ago. It seems to me - and I'm more than willing to be wrong on this one - that it's probably investors in other countries that are buying all those assets. Meanwhile, the Treasury is buying the bundles of high-risk mortgages that are at the epicenter of this mess, and for which they're never going to get payment. I'll just assume these losses will find their way into the national debt somehow.

Congress has been reluctant today to let such an expensive plan sail through. This is funny, since one of that body's specialties is signing half-trillion dollar blank checks.

16 September 2008

Luckier than Lou?

Jeter breaks Gehrig's Yankee stadium hit record; also steals boy's bike, runs over puppy.

Sorry the posts have been lame lately; blame school. Look for some posts soon about early Methodist history or some crap like that.

11 September 2008


There's a lot of curious stuff happening in the campaign these days:
  • In the bastion of logic and erudition that is The Late Show with David Letterman, Obama explained that, if his pig metaphor had anything to do with Sarah Palin, she would be the lipstick and the pig would be McCain's policies -- not, as McCain and the echo chamber supposed, that Palin was the pig and the lipstick was ... lipstick, or something?
  • The National Journal went and found a politician who actually HAS been called a pig during a political campaign.
  • I do miss the freewheeling Lincoln Chafee ever since he was voted out in 2006.
  • To those of you who live in DC, an ABC reporter spotted this car on the streets. If you see it, pop an extra quarter into the meter; just be sure to report it to the FEC.

06 September 2008

Changing Whom We Believe In

I only occasionally read the Sojourners blog, but I was pretty pleased with Jim's post on Friday about the "Country First" language that prevailed in St. Paul last week (and was just as explicit in Denver the week before).
The high-powered and, frankly, militaristic rhetoric kept telling us that "country" should be put above everything else -- including family and friendship. But what about faith? Should country be put ahead of faith, too? I kept wanting to yell back at the people yelling at me about putting the country first and say, "No, not me, I'm a Christian."
In the spirit of putting "faith first," in Jim's words, Heather is talking about starting a group at school called "Duke Divinity students for Jesus (and in the meantime, for Barack Obama)". I predict that this will appall some of our colleagues, but it's at least an effort to explicate the nuanced position of a politically engaged Christian in America.

It's important that we continue to imagine and practice ways of working for good through the political system while making clear to everyone that our citizenship is in heaven. It's a problem that putting an Obama button on my backpack, or a Jesus fish on my car, or a Mets sticker on my laptop, all seem to carry the same valence: those are my allegiances. I don't know whether to blame politics for being so absolutist ("Obama supporters agree with him in every way") or Christian culture for being so simplistic ("All you have to do is say you believe in Jesus, and then you're in") but I'm looking for more nuanced perspective in political discourse and more genuine depth in Christian discipleship. Is that too much to ask?

I'm wondering if Heather's new group might find a willing member in her academic adviser, who just wrote a rather unenthusiastic book review of a new volume of essays by Christians who choose not to vote.

03 September 2008

I mean, everyone's teenage years are awkward, right?

I was thinking that the most uncomfortable man at the Republican National Convention must be Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who it seems was as surprised as everyone else that McCain's running mate is not Tim Pawlenty but Sarah Palin. From the department of salt-in-the-wound, someone referenced her from the podium as "Sarah Pawlenty". Surely, the Convention couldn't get more awkward than that for anyone.

I was wrong. His name is Levi Johnston, and they made him fly to Minneapolis to be on the tarmac when McCain arrived in town today. Rick Davis is probably going to try to stage a prime-time wedding at the convention, with the Reverend Huckabee presiding. Always think carefully about the consequences of your actions, kids.

02 September 2008

Not a good sign

Nobody's called for a GOP ticket change, and I don't expect we'll see one. But the fact that anyone -- even the wry, trivia-obsessed Slate Explainer column -- would be asking questions about the technicalities of replacing a VP candidate from a presidential ticket is yet another reflection of the simple fact that nobody knows what to do with McCain's selection of Sarah Palin. There's a YouTube video from P.Diddy that I won't link to because of the f-bomb, but I believe he speaks for many of us when he surmises that John McCain must be buggin'.

The McCain campaign knows what to do: find a way to make her look both human and eminently qualified.

Christian Conversations

I am interning during this academic year with the Wesley Fellowship at Duke University. They are Duke's United Methodist campus ministry group. I was very active with this ministry during my undergraduate years at Duke, and I also live in the house that they own near campus, so it's a community that is near and dear to my heart.

One of my projects this semester is to facilitate a small group that will discuss "social issues" or "politics" or "something". Though it is an election year, we will hopefully not talk much about the election per se. However, I do hope that over the course of the semester, the students will at least develop an understanding that it is impossible to be an apolitical Christian, because of the political nature of the Christian story. ("Politics" here being understood broadly as "the way we interact with one another in the world.")

I have been very unsure of how to proceed. Should I ask them to read a book during the semester? Should we discuss a different specific social issue each week? I'm not sure. But Will Willimon is back on his blog today with a report on his conference's effort to have productive discussions about the current U.S. wars, and I think it describes part of what my hope is for my group this semester. His post is worth a quick read.

01 September 2008

Is Theodicy a "Problem" at all?

Although it appears at this moment that Gustav is not likely to be quite the storm that Katrina was, it's still obviously a serious event. It's hard to imagine what it must be like to live under the continual threat of devastating hurricanes, or to endure repeated chaotic evacuations - especially if you are elderly or have mobility issues.

Hurricane Katrina sparked a giant political conversation, but it also stirred the theological pot. Christians often end up trying to defend God (or find themselves accusing God) for letting such a tragedy happen. It's a hard defense to mount, because there is just so much suffering at every turn. UNC professor and ex-Christian Bart Ehrman reflects on the worst events of the 20th century in an effort to demonstrate the fallacy of believing in a loving, omnipotent God in his book, "God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question--Why We Suffer". (I haven't read the book; just this review of it.)

It might be the case that the "most important question" for Ehrman and others to ask is actually, "Why do I feel that the existence of suffering is humanity's most important question?" I think that people recall specific sayings of Jesus ("Ask, and it shall be given unto you"; "I am with you always...") and translate that in their minds into "I will protect you in the ways you want to be protected." That's not a careful reading. In times of trouble, we must also remember that this Jesus who seems to be our guardian is also a man who didn't particularly want to be crucified, yet submitted himself to God's will -- and said that we, too, must take up our cross.

That's kind of dangerous territory; comparing human suffering with Christ's crucifixion could be malappropriated to justify violence or tragedy as instruments of God's will, a la Falwell with 9/11 or Hagee with the Holocaust. The nuance is critical: we don't have to believe that God causes/permits these great tragedies, but we do have to let go of the expectation that God will protect us from pain and suffering (as well as its corrolary, that the experience of suffering presents a challenge to faith).

My thinking on these questions is colored by the fact that I have not experienced a direct, profound tragedy in my life the way that so many others have. One dear friend of mine had a Sunday School teacher, Todd Beamer, who died in Pennsylvania on 9/11. Another friend and classmate named Jill has a mother who is living with very aggressive ALS right now. I was there when Jill got the telephone call about the diagnosis, and you can read/watch a pretty intimate interview that her parents did with the local TV station here. I'm one step removed from these events & relationships, and so I know it is easier for me to stand back and say that they should not call God's sovereignty into question. But I do think it is true nonetheless, and the enduring faith of these two friends helps me believe that.

If anyone is interested, Jill is joining 5 siblings, 3 brothers-in-law, and 5 nephews in the Michigan Walk to Defeat ALS. You can support her towards her $1000 goal here.