31 October 2008

'Tis the season?

I guess Halloween and historic elections bring out the best in people. In the last day I've come across interesting homemade videos by a couple friends that I figured I'd post, in case you've got a few minutes to spare over the weekend:
  • Matt Newell-Ching, whom I followed to Duke and to Sojourners before I'd ever met him, playing the role of "Joe the Regional Organizer" and explaining why he'd vote for a candidate who's going to give tax breaks to people richer than he is.
  • Julian 'J.Kwest' DeShazier, an FTE Ministry Fellow at the University of Chicago, just posted the very professional music video for his track "I Am (Obama)".
  • A guy I know from back home made a kind of quirky music video about the New Jersey Devil as a Halloween present for his fans. It's sort of like "Thriller", but for white people who like the blues. 
Finally, here is the pumpkin that Jill and Dan carved:

The Good Old Days (pt. 2)

"Whitefield preached at Cardiff, where attempts were made to interrupt him by placing a dead fox in their midst and setting hounds to hunt it."
-1739 account of Wm. Seward

30 October 2008

My prison is a series of tubes.

One of my favorite things to read on the web is Slate's Explainer column, in which they take up provocative questions that are tangential to the news of the day. Questions that would never be answered by news articles themselves. Questions like, "Why does Quinnipiac University have such a respected political polling operation?" or "Where did the government get $85 billion for AIG?"

Today's Explainer asks: Now that he is a convicted felon, can Alaska Senator Ted Stevens vote for himself in next week's election?

This was the first thing that popped into my brain when Stevens' conviction was announced, and right then, I emailed my question to Explainer. That's right, they answered my question! Now, they don't provide attribution for the questions, and I'm sure they get lots of duplicate questions from different people. But I'm just going to enjoy this one for me.

P.S. He can vote for himself, because Alaska's division of elections ruled that Stevens will not technically have been "convicted" until his February sentencing. Right now I guess he's just sort of a "felon-elect," and therefore he's allowed to vote.

27 October 2008

The Good Old Days.

From the journal of Howell Harris, an 18th century Welsh revivalist who was a close associate of Rev. George Whitefield:
23 Aug. 1743. London ...[Went] to hear Bro. Whitefield preach to little children, many hundreds of them, in their infant language. There was such a cry as I never heard before. They cried with united cries so loud that his voice could hardly be heard.

25 October 2008

On Campaigns, and Telling the Truth

We all know that the currency of a presidential campaign is not reality, but perception. The most important way of measuring the time between now and election day is by counting down the remaining news cycles. The whole goal of a campaign is to put out a persuasive message that will be amplified in the echo chamber of 24-hour news networks.

Something peculiar happens, though, when someone speaks an actual, uncomfortable truth that people don't want to hear. If you disrupt a narrative that is already being stitched into the conventional wisdom, the response seems to be, "Don't distract me with the facts." This has happened at least three times during this long campaign, when surrogates for Obama have spoken the truth, but have either chosen poor words or spoken too bluntly for America to actually consider what they'd said.

Wesley Clark, June 2008: "I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president." Translation: "Wesley Clark has criticized John McCain's patriotism!" His real point: military service is not the same thing as command experience, and does not entitle one to the presidency.

Jeremiah Wright, 2003 sermon: "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme." Translation: "He said God damn America!" His real point: in the Bible, the prophets pronounced God's damnation on Israel when they did not care for the widows and orphans, or when the rich would grind the poor beneath their feet.

John Murtha, October 15, 2008: "There is no question that western Pennsylvania is a racist area." Translation: "How dare he accuse his own constituents of being racists!" His real point: Ummm, actually, most parts of the country are racist. Perhaps all areas. Murtha might've been speaking more truthfully than he imagined when he made this comment. The point is, let's not kid ourselves about the incredible uphill battle that Obama has been waging to win the confidence of working-class whites in rural areas.

So the next time there's a big media dust-up over someone's crazy comment - and you know it'll happen again soon - just pause for a second, and try to think through whether there might be any truth lurking beneath the surface-level outrage.

24 October 2008

Every President is a War President

"Christian Anti-War Movement Must Prepare for an Obama Presidency," via Steve's shared items. Long, but an important, sobering consideration of what might await us in 2009 and beyond.

23 October 2008

Look not to your own interests...

From the Department of Tooting My Own Horn:

On Tuesday, I preached a sermon in preaching class on Philippians 2:1-13. I opened by talking about the present financial situation, and showed how in a sense, what we have is not a market malfunction but a natural product of the system we have. In a free market, we are all expected to be "rational, self-interested actors," and all the people who might've been at fault in causing this mess were being just that: they were trying to do what was in their own best interest. I then went on to contrast that sort of self-interest with the humility which Christ exhibited, and to which Paul exhorts the Philippians.

So I felt more than a little vindicated when I read that the Maestro himself, Alan Greenspan, backed up my reading of things when he testified with remarkable candor before Congress this afternoon.
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”

Mr. Waxman pressed the former Fed chair to clarify his words. “In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Mr. Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Mr. Greenspan replied. “You know, that’s precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well.”

Palin and Disability

In the Vice Presidential debate, Sarah Palin said that she and McCain have agreed that her policy portfolio in the White House will include energy policy, government reform, and issues facing families of children with disabilities. That last issue, of course, is one of personal importance to the Palins, and it's encouraging to hear it raised for the first time at such a high level in the public square. (I assume it is the first time someone anywhere near the White House has said that issues of developmental disability will be a part of their work?) As several L'Arche friends have said, you gotta give her credit for that.

I also had a hunch that Sarah Palin's noble interest in helping disabled children & their families might end up becoming a policy bludgeon to be wielded in the campaign, because that tends to happen with just about everything in our elections. (Think of body armor for troops, or prescription drug benefits for the elderly.) Such a development would seem particularly tragic with something as tender as developmental disability. The last thing we want to see is the replacement of "Joe the Plumber" with "Trig the Happy Down Syndrome Kid".

So, here I am voicing my fear about what might happen, in hopes that I will somehow jinx it into not happening. That being said, Palin will deliver her first policy address of the campaign (!) on Friday, and it will be about her commitment to families of children with special needs. Do good, Sarah.


I'm hoping this is the tipping point that sends North Carolina blue:

19 October 2008

Can a Good Christian be a Good President?

Back at the beginning of the month, I attended a panel discussion that was put together by the Duke Pathways Program. They're the religious vocational discernment program at Duke, funded by the Lilly Endowment. The provocative title of the program was "Can a Good Christian be a Good President?" I missed the name of the panel's moderator (an English professor) as well as that of one of the panelists. The other four on the panel were Peter Feaver (evangelical; Political Science; served as an adviser to the Bush NSC from 2005-2007), J. Kameron Carter (National Baptist; Christian Theology; author of a new book), James Joseph (UCC; Public Policy; U.S. Ambassador to South Africa under Bill Clinton), and Sam Wells (Anglican; Christian Ethics; dean of Duke Chapel).

Because people from different academic disciplines speak in different languages, the panel seemed to have a bit of a difficult time engaging one another. Nevertheless, the individuals on the panel made a lot of interesting points. Ambassador Joseph spoke out of his experience as a civil servant, a liberal mainliner, and a Democrat. He also won the award for "Most Alarming and (Arguably) Least Christian Statement of the Night". When a student asked a question about the inherent compromise of voting as a Christian ("both candidates have policies that are diametrically opposed to what Jesus says..."), the Ambassador bristled. "Jesus lived in a very different time," he said, "and I don't know how you know what he would've said in these times ... I don't know that Jesus would comment on strategies." Ouch.

Dr. Feaver was, as usual, very engaging. He took a couple swings at Jim Wallis, lumping God's Politics along with the later Moral Majority platforms as "blasphemy".

I'll wrap up just by posting paraphrases of a couple of the things Sam Wells said, because they're worth relaying:
  • "There is the presumption that politics is about how to deal with our problem of scarcity. Politicians are a type of theologian who deal with the hole we're in since God didn't do a good enough job of creating and redeeming us."
  • "There are two broad strands in American religious history: one that seems to think of the Bible as a sort of constitution, and another that sees the Constitution as a sort of bible."

10 October 2008

I may still be ignorant, but I'm also hip.

You may recall that NPR's This American Life did an extremely informative program explaining the subprime mortgage thing back in May. Well, good news: they came back with another really helpful program on the financial crisis this week. It's available for free streaming or download here. It's certainly still confusing -- most of the story takes place in a part of the economy that I had never even imagined might exist -- but they go to great lengths to make it accessible. I get the feeling that we are going to be hearing about all of this (or feeling its impacts) for a long time, so if you're tired of not understanding the news, this show is really worth an hour of your attention.

Who is the real Barack Obama?

You may have noticed that things have gotten a lot more dicey on the campaign trail the last week or two. If you haven't heard about some of the anti-Obama vitriol that's been bubbling up at McCain events (or if you have, but are still in the mood to be alarmed) check out this article and watch the video. To McCain's credit, in this video we do see him forcibly take the mic from a woman who said she was concerned about Obama because "he's an Arab." Although he came back with the typical, vaguely racist reply that knows no party boundaries: "No, no, he's a decent man."

I don't know if it's the proximity of the election (25 days) or the total economic upheaval that has people skittish, but it seems like the "foreignness" of Barack Obama is returning to the surface. No real indication of whether this is the kind of thing that will influence undecided voters, or whether it's mostly at play among people who are already decidedly pro-McCain.

Along these lines (but digging into a lot of different issues) is George Packer's article in this week's New Yorker: "The Hardest Vote: The Disaffection of Ohio's Working Class".

07 October 2008


Nadia sent along this disconcerting article: Supreme Court lets stand death sentence after Bible reading

It's an interesting circumstance: in the sentencing phase of a triple-homicide trial in Texas, the jury initially votes 10-2 in favor of execution. The foreman stands up and reads Romans 13:1-6 aloud. Several hours of deliberation followed, and the jury eventually reached unanimity in sentencing Jimmie Urbano Lucero to death.

It doesn't seem too surprising that the Supreme Court would decline to consider this case. I don't know anything about what kinds of jury behavior qualify as "misconduct" of the sort that renders a trial or sentence unfair. But I imagine that the Bible has surely been invoked (if not read aloud, or if not explicitly cited) by countless jurors trying to persuade their peers over the years. When you put twelve regular folks in a room and ask them to make a decision, they're going to use the tools at their disposal to do their duty. Let's just add that to the longer list of reasons why the death penalty has no place in our society.

So I don't doubt the legality of what this jury foreman did. Nor do I doubt the sinfulness of it. It's a real shame, and it is perfectly legal.

06 October 2008

This place keeps getting better.

Today, Bishop Gene Robinson is doing a bunch of events at Duke. Frankly, I'm probably not going to make the time to go to any of those talks, but it seems like a big deal to people here that he's coming to campus. Tonight, there is an event I really wish I could go to, but I have a meeting that I have to attend. It's a movie screening and discussion with Adam Hochschild, author of two really excellent books: King Leopold's Ghost and Bury the Chains. Of course, in a month or so, we'll have the real blessing to host l'Arche founder Jean Vanier for a few days at the Divinity School. 

But none of that is as exciting as this morning's announcement: WE GOT OPRAH!!!