Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Resting in Abraham's Bosom

Isaiah 40:5-11 (King James Version)

5“And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
6The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
7The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.
8The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
9O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!
10Behold, the Lord GOD will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.
11He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

Coretta Scott King rests today in the bosom of Abraham. According to Andrew Young she passed quietly from this life to the next at about one o’clock this morning.

Her passing brought to mind the man and the cause she married. I remember her husband’s stirring words from1963, which were to become enshrined as the rhetorical anthem for the civil rights movement in America. I can still feel the tears running down my face as I heard the cry for justice:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal. ”I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

For her husband, the dream was cut short of its realization. For Coretta, the dream continued after his passing, too often deferred. The Divine call for justice too often gave way to the self-serving tenor of the times. Rocky ground, it seems, resists the Maker’s plow.

Through it all, Coretta was “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” She was not a reed to be shaken in the wind. She had married a man and a cause. The man was taken, but the cause remained. It was that vision, more than anything else that united them. It was that vision that sustained her when he was taken.

At the most difficult of times she remembered that it was the Almighty who had energized them for the task and that their prayers would be answered. Knowing that, she was strengthened beyond measure:

“From that day on, I was fully prepared for my role as Martin's wife and partner in the struggle. There would be many more days of difficulty and worry, and there would be many more prayers. But the unwavering belief that we were doing God's work became a daily source of faith and courage that undergirded our freedom movement.”

So, today is a day of union and reunion for Martin and Coretta. They are united with the Author of the principles they embraced in this life. The peace and justice so often denied them in this life has been granted to them for all of eternity. And, Martin and Coretta have now been reunited with one another. They are resting in Abraham’s bosom.

There was something else that struck me today as I thought of the Kings and their lives of service now completed. They held fast to the principles they preached. They lived them. It’s a lesson we all would do well to re-learn today. We must do what is right and we must do it the right way:

“The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

The earthly tasks God gave Martin and Coretta have been completed. We must now march on to complete the Divine tasks we’ve been given. As it has been proclaimed:

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.”

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Monday, January 30, 2006


Proverbs 10:23 (New Living Translation)

“Doing wrong is fun for a fool, while wise conduct is a pleasure to the wise.”

The cloture vote on the Samuel Alito nomination will take place this afternoon. It appears that there at least sixty two votes against the Democrats’ last ditch attempt to filibuster. We’ll see.

We should have seen this coming. Anyone desperate enough to engage in character assassination is desperate enough to insist they still have a chance to win the game. It’s like watching the quarterback of a football team that’s down sixty-three to nothing with ten seconds to go in the game heaving a Hail Mary pass.

John Kerry says that it’s all about principle:

“I am proud to join my friend, the senior Senator from Massachusetts, in taking a stand against this nomination. I know it is an uphill battle. I have heard many of my colleagues. I hear the arguments: Reserve your gunpowder for the future. What is the future if it changes so dramatically at this moment in time? What happens to those people who count on us to stand up and protect them now, not later, not at some future time?”

“This is the choice for the Court now. I reject those notions that there ought somehow be some political calculus about the future. This impact is going to be now. This choice is now. This ideological direction is defined now.”

Hillary Clinton has also thrown her support for a filibuster, again based on “principle”:

“Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Friday she will support an effort to filibuster the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito because she is concerned he will not do enough to protect American freedoms.” ”He would roll back decades of progress, and roll over when confronted with an administration too willing to play fast and loose with the rules,” Clinton, D-N.Y., said in a statement.”

Their supporters in the blogosphere seem to be every bit as desperate:

“The story of the day on Sunday Talk should have been just how close we are to extending debate. The story of the day should have been Alito confirmation in trouble. Two votes!”

“We have already flipped more than two to our side, we can get two more.”

“Instead we heard more of the same, “Alito” is a sure thing, nothing to see here. “Oh yeah and Kerry was in Switzerland, that was supposed to really matter and be very bad for some reason.”

Just a while ago there was this plea to Democrats who support the Alito nomination and oppose any attempt to filibuster it:

“Even those Democrats who have declared that they will vote for Alito should recognize that their Democratic colleagues, the majority of their party, feel the need to keep discussing this nomination. Is there really any reason for this debate not to continue? Does the vote happening on Wednesday or Thursday make that much difference compared to the enormity of a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land?”

I’m trying to think of why some Democrats are doing this. Some say it’s all about principle. Really?

It’s nothing more than the politics of the absurd. It’s silly!

The Republican Party is vulnerable and the Democrats are acting like fools. It makes no sense. A move to filibuster Samuel Alito will serve only to placate the left wing of the Party and the folks at Daily Kos. The rest of us want more than silliness emanating from the well of the Senate. We’d like the kind of performance one should expect from an adult. Instead, we get the kind of politics that begins with character assassination and ends in political suicide.

In this morning’s Boston Globe Joan Vennochi noted:

“National security is the only drum left for Republicans to beat. But Karl Rove's scare tactics won't work forever. The country, collectively, is smarter than Bush's brain. It just needs time to think things through and an election day.”

“Bush's sometimes hesitant and awkward answers at press conferences can be scarier than another videotape from Osama bin Laden. But Democrats have yet to figure out the alternative voice the country wants to hear. What Democrats still know best is what the left wants to hear. Speaking to the liberal base in 2003, Kerry said: “I am prepared to filibuster, if necessary, any Supreme Court nominee who would turn back the clock on a woman's right to choose or the constitutional right to privacy, on civil rights and individual liberties, and on the laws protecting workers and the environment.”

“It was a bad pledge to make in the abstract, and it is the wrong pledge to live up to now. It defines fitness for nomination strictly in ideological terms. A Kerry Supreme Court nominee could be opposed by Republicans on the very same grounds. Sticking to it now, after Democrats failed so spectacularly during the Alito hearings, is pointless. Voting no on Alito is fine. But a filibuster serves no one but the Bush adminstration. It fuels the conservative base, helping to heal internal party splits.”

Don’t these folks understand what they’re doing? By pandering to the left wing they’re destroying any chance the Democratic Party has to connect with the American people. Maybe the fire-eaters like this sort of thing, but the rest of us don’t. This is not a nation that embraces the politics of the left anymore. Liberalism is dead. Can’t they see that? Apparently not!

One of the things this demonstrates to me is that the power to make appointments to the Court was wisely placed in the hands of the executive branch. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist 76, warned of what might happen if the process was given to the Senate:

“There is nothing to apt to agitate the passions of mankind as personal considerations, whether they relate to ourselves or others, who are to be the objects of our choice or preference. Hence, in every exercise of the power of appointing to offices by an assembly of men we must expect to see a full display of all the private and party likings and dislikes, partialities and antipathies, attachments and animosities, which are felt by those who compose the assembly. The choice which may at any time happen to be made under such circumstances will of course be the result either of a victory gained by one party over the other, or of a compromise between the parties. In either case, the intrinsic merit of a candidate will be too often out of sight.”

In twenty-first century language it means that if the appointment process were controlled by the Senate it would little or nothing to do with the merits of a prospective candidate. It would be all about having agendas advanced or protected. In the twenty-first century it means Roe versus Wade.

That’s what this filibuster move is all about. It’s not about principle. It’s about agenda driven by the far left. As I said before, it may play well to the folks at Daily Kos. But, for the rest of us, both Republican and Democrat, it’s nothing more than silliness draped in expensive suits.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sunday Morning Questions for the Pilgrim and the Skeptic

Psalm 8:3-5 (King James Version)

“3When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.”

I read a short devotional piece from Frederick Buechner’s “Listening to Your Life” this morning. It was titled, appropriately, “Questions.” It follows, now, for your edification, especially those of you reading who might be skeptics:

“On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, “What is the answer?” Then, after a long silence, “What is the question?” Don’t start looking at the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.”

“We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow – the immediate where and whens and hows that face us daily at home an at work – but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions of the things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each reader whoever he is the one question which, though for years he may have been pretending not to hear it, is the central question of his own life. Here are a few of them”:

“What is man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (
Matthew 16:26)”
“Am I my brother’s keeper? (
Genesis 4:9)”
“If God is for us, who can be against us? (
Romans 8:31)”
“What is truth?” (
John 18:38)”
“How can a man be born again when he is old? (
John 3:4)”
“What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? (
Ecclesiastes 1:3)”
“Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (
Psalm 139:7)”
“Who is my neighbor? (
Luke 10:29)”
“What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (
Luke 10:25)”

“When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible’s answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too.”

I began this post with questions the psalmist asked. What is man? And, why would God even want to have anything to do with him? They’re good questions and they have good answers. They can be found in the Bible.

I’m sure you have questions. Ask them. As it’s written, “Ask and it shall be given you; seek and you shall find.”

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mystic Sweet Communion - A Review of "An Experience of Spirit"

“The artist’s response to art is often more art. When we hear the passion of Jesus Christ, the thinker in us may puzzle over God’s seeming passivity in the face of evil. The artist in us may compose a poem on suffering, tell a story of courage, sing a song of sorrow, paint a picture of death. These responses, and many more, are within us all. But the qualities and possibilities of the responses differ.”

John Shea – “An Experience of Spirit (Spirituality and Storytelling)”

For the past month or so I’ve been making my way slowly through “An Experience of Spirit,” John Shea’s literary exploration of “How contemporary life stories interact with inherited stories, and how hearing of inherited stories uncovers the depth of present experience and funds the future.”

When I was first asked by Philip Del Ricci to read and review the book I thought the task before me was to dissect what Shea had written. Were the stories compelling? Was the book’s message clear? There was a part of me that wanted to move quickly through the poetic narrative. But thankfully I resisted the urge. After reading the first two chapters I saw that this was a book that needed a pilgrim, not a critic, to open its riches.

At times in the telling of the story Shea acts as a teacher, explaining succinctly, for example, how Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians have become disconnected:

“The most prized creations of the Christian tradition are its core myth and ritual. The core myth is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is embodied in the four gospels; the core ritual is the Eucharistic eating and drinking together that he initiated.”

“In the course of Christian history, this myth and ritual was elaborated into six other rituals with readings from the core myth and other books of Scripture. This became known as Word and Sacrament and formed the center of the Christian tradition. The Protestant reformation is often analyzed, in hindsight, as the “effective but not total” separation of Word and Sacrament. Generally speaking, the Protestants took the book and the Catholics took the sacraments. The result is that both groups were impoverished.” (Page 42)

I suspect that some Evangelicals might object to his use of the term “myth,” but the objections would be misplaced. Shea is speaking of “myth” as the accepted history of the Christian faith. What Evangelicals call “kerygma,” Shea calls “myth.” The use of the term isn’t used to suggest that the gospel narratives and the Christian belief about Jesus are untrue. Rather, the term is used to describe the acceptance Christians have always attached to the gospel accounts.

Shea is at his most beautiful and powerful when he takes the pilgrim (a reader like me) on the journey with him. In describing the sacramental outworking of the Christian story, for example, I found myself caught up in the wonder of it all:

“When people participate in them with receptivity and openness, they can move through the words, gestures, and objects into the reality of God. This myth and ritual was generated by the experience of God and is capable of communicating that experience. This capacity to put the participant into the living relationship to God that was revealed in Jesus Christ is signified by calling the myth the Word of God and the ritual elements the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” (Page 43)

The implications of the experience are profound. Shea describes them this way:

“The core myth and ritual of Christianity reflects the artistic dimension of the human person. For our purposes, the artist in each person appropriates reality by feeling its fullness.” (Page 45)

One of Shea’s important lessons for Evangelicals like me is that there is a great mystery passed from generation to generation through the practice of rituals like Communion (Eucharist). I’ve felt for some time that one of the things missing in my life was the ability to connect, to have communion with God in the same way my Roman Catholic brethren are through the Eucharist. I’ve believed since my days in seminary that taking the Communion elements is more than just a symbol. There’s something far more powerful to it all. There is, or should be, more than just a symbolic transaction that takes place when a Christian partakes of the communion elements. He or she should connect deeply with the Christ of the elements, feel God’s cleansing power through them, and come from the experience viewing God, themselves, and their fellows in the light of that experience. Then, something wonderful follows. What we’ve been given, we want to communicate to others:

Feeling responses to divine-human interaction are usually initially expressed in imaginative forms. Imaginative forms – poetry, story, art, music – are capable of a fullness of expression, of bringing the totality of what was experienced to light. They are also capable of triggering felling-responses in others.” (Page 45)

The end result is that what we’ve come to experience, and then know through the ritual finds a way into our hearts. From there it works its way out in creative expression. Mediation, repentance, prayer, and praise wind their way though us and find avenues of expression. It may be in the form of a simple conversation. It may be in the form of a poem or a song. It may come in the form of a story told. In doing so, it’s not a way of making the mysterious concrete. It is, rather, a way of making the mysterious real. In the same manner that the Word became flesh in Jesus, it becomes flesh in us.

The simplicity and power of the experience can be seen clearly in the way John Shea tells the story of what he’s experienced, how the Word has become flesh in him. His re-telling of the story of the prodigal son is evidence of that power:

“On the hill beside his home the Father waits. He has been there before. He sees his son coming from a distance and lifting his robes above the knees he runs to greet him. The servants who are in the field watch the old man running past them, his breath short, his eyes never wavering. By the time the younger son seems him, the father is on top of him. He embraces his son and weeps down his neck.
“Oh Father,” said the son, his arms never leaving his side.
“Bring the robe,” said the Father. The servants had gathered around.
“I have sinned.”
“Bring the ring.”
“Against heaven.”
“Bring the sandals.”
“And against thee.”
“Kill the fatted calf.”
“Do not take me back.”
“Call the musicians.”
“As a son.”
“My SON,” and these words the father whispered into his ear, “was dead and has come back to life.”
“But as a hired hand.”
“My SON was lost and is now found.”

The party had not choice but to begin.” (Page 109)

One of the complaints I’ve heard about liturgy and ritual is that it is wooden, that it has no life in it. John Shea’s experience and transmission of his story dispels that notion. Something very real has passed on to him in his life. It’s evident in his telling of the story.

I’ll close with three things. First, I recommend John Shea’s work highly to you. You can find his work, and others like it, at Liguori Publications’ website. Just use the hyperlink to the site provided above. Second, take a moment or two to visit Philip Del Ricci’s blog, titled “Through a Dark Glass.” You’ll find the visit well worth your time. As Philip says in his byline, “I hope that my perspective as a non-Catholic will be of interest to a few people. From time to time, my thoughts may scandalize but I hope that they seldom bore.” And third, for my fellow Evangelicals reading this blog, I recommend that you explore the mystery of your faith in Jesus. What you’ve been given through the gospels and, yes, even the traditions passed down through the ages is indeed the “pearl of great price.” Through these elements, and more, you’ve been given the gift of being able to connect with God, yourself, your brothers and sisters, and those who’ve gone before you. It is, as one of your fellow pilgrims has termed it “mystic sweet communion:”

“Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.”
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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Does Truth Really Matter?

“Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask.
He sees your deeds; He knows your needs even before you ask.
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?”

- Bob Dylan – “When He Returns” (1979)

A while back Nancy read “A Million Little Pieces,” a book highly recommend by Oprah Winfrey. After she read it she told me that there was something that just seemed funny about it. There was a part of her that wanted to give James Frey, the author, the benefit of the doubt. The true story of a man who’s hit bottom and then redeemed himself was very appealing. But Nancy couldn’t bring herself to the place where she believed the story.

Not having read the book, I had no good advice to give her on how to bridge the gap between her doubts and James Frey’s words.

That’s where I left it all until this morning. Right after breakfast I read Ellen Goodman’s opinion piece “My Sorry Life (well sort of).” James Frey, it seems, played fast and loose with the truth:

“THE HEADLINE WRITERS got the most out of this brouhaha. After James Frey's memoir of self-destruction and redemption, “A Million Little Pieces,” was riddled with buckshot from the Smoking Gun website, they got to work: “A Million Little Lies.” “Truth, the Whole Truth and Memoirs.” “Prose and Cons.” “Too Bad to Be True.”

“It turns out that the “gut-wrenching memoir” that Oprah loved and that sold 3.5 million copies was made of whole cloth as well as whole life. Frey did five hours in custody, not three months in jail. He didn't mix it up with the police officers, and he barely knew the girl who died in a train accident for which he said he was blamed. And that's the beginning.”

“The defabrication set off the debate on truth and virtual truth, reality and essential reality, fiction and nonfiction that pits certified members of the “reality-based community” against the post-modern-recontructionist-abstract-expressionist-who-knows-what school of literati.”

Oprah Winfrey, whose recommendation had given the book the traction it needed to be a best seller, defended Frey:

“Phoning in near the end of the show, on which Frey gave his first interview since the controversy broke earlier this week, she dismissed the affair as “much ado about nothing” and urged readers inspired by the book to “keep holding on.”

“What is relevant is that he was a drug addict ... and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves,” Winfrey said”

So, who’s right about James Frey?

Now I’m not a big fan of Ellen Goodman, but in this case she has hit the mark. The question she raised is really important. Is truth nothing more than something that can be reconstructed to market a book or an idea? Or was getting caught in the act of passing fiction off as fact “much ado about nothing,” as Oprah contended.

How much did Frey fabricate? A lot, apparently. On January 8th, a weblog bylined “The Smoking Gun” exposed Frey in a piece titled “A Million Little Lies – Exposing James Frey’s Fiction Addiction.” A small sample follows:

“But a six-week investigation by The Smoking Gun reveals that there may be a lot less to love about Frey's runaway hit, which has sold more than 3.5 million copies and, thanks to Winfrey, has sat atop The New York Times nonfiction paperback best seller list for the past 15 weeks. Next to the latest Harry Potter title, Nielsen BookScan reported Friday, Frey's book sold more copies in the U.S. in 2005--1.77 million--than any other title, with the majority of that total coming after Winfrey's selection.”

“Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey's book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw “wanted in three states.”

“In addition to these rap sheet creations, Frey also invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students. In what may be his book's most crass flight from reality, Frey remarkably appropriates and manipulates details of the incident so he can falsely portray himself as the tragedy's third victim.”

This is really more than “much ado about nothing.” This is not a matter of the public demanding verbatim transcripts of conversations from a person’s life. This is not a matter of people viewing the same events from slightly different perspectives. This is pure fabrication.

When I read Augustine’s Confessions I don’t expect each and every word of each and every conversation to be written exactly as they took place. I don’t expect a word for word transcript. I’m not a lawyer, I’m a pilgrim. But I do expect the facts of the story to be accurate. I don’t expect invented facts thrown in to lend credence to what otherwise might be a very dull, uneventful life. Truth simply cannot be built on a foundation of lies.

One of the really troubling things I see in all of this is the gullibility of some who’ve read, and continue to defend, Frey’s work. The real truth doesn’t seem to be good enough, so Frey created “truth” and a lot of folks fell for it. Why?

C.S. Lewis, I believe, got to the heart of the problem:

“The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart – an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience different things; in other words they must experience change. And since they need change, the Enemy (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them, just as He made eating pleasurable.”

I think that Frey may not have been satisfied with the truth of his life. So, he created a new one and cashed in on what he’d fabricated. Along the way he found some willing not only to read his book, but also to defend what he’d done. To them, created truth was better than the real thing. Fabrication and falsehood were worthy of praise while the real truth was deemed to be unimportant, “much ado about nothing.”

There is, of course, a cure:

“But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm.”

It may seem as appealing to exchange the truth for a lie today as it was two thousand years ago, but there’s something very valuable lost when we make the deal. The truth is lost, and so is the firm foundation life in a free and decent society should be built on. As Goodman noted in her column, it’s dangerous ground to tread:

“Where does all this slippery thinking take us? The morphing of truth and fiction promotes a world in which facts are “subjective” and reality “flexible.” It feeds an indifference to honesty and a belief that every truth is up for grabs. At its most extreme it lends credibility -- street cred -- to such frauds as the Holocaust denial.”

“Did you notice that the new president of Iran calls the Holocaust a “myth”? Someday we'll read about it -- in his memoirs.”
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Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Window to Truth

John 1:1-5 (New Living Translation)

“In the beginning the Word already existed. He was with God, and he was God. He was in the beginning with God. He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn't make. Life itself was in him, and this life gives light to everyone. The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

I found myself still thinking about the Luigi Cascioli case this morning. I’m part amused, part sad when I think about it. I suppose it’s best to let it go. I’m not sure how things work in Italy, but here in the United States a man has the constitutional right to be a fool.

I also spent some time reading the first chapter of John’s gospel. It’s a section of Holy Writ that’s always fascinated me. I was struck, as I always am, with the portion of the chapter that describes the Word becoming flesh:

“So the Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.[a] And we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father.”

What an incredible statement. Jesus was everything that God could ever say about Himself. There is no theological statement comparable to it. It was as if God was saying to the world, “Do you want to know what I’m like? Then, look at this man and you’ll see.”

Some who profess themselves wise stumble over it. It’s not abstract enough for them. They prefer the weightier matters of scholarship over the direct manner God communicated to the world in Jesus. But God, being wiser than the wisest of us, spoke to us through His Son. It was His way of making the abstract concrete.

As I said, there are some who consider themselves wise who stumble over the notion of God revealing Himself to the world in human flesh. They’d rather talk about the “nature and shape of illusion.” The reason they rarely connect with those outside their philosophical circles is that most of us don’t want to live our lives on the foundation of illusion. Jesus was a real man. He gave us more than Fidel Castro’s beard or Casper Weinberger’s jut jaw. He was the real thing.

I’ve heard it put this way. If one were to take a biologist and a child and ask each to describe a tree you would get two different approaches. The biologist would in all likelihood describe photosynthesis, root systems, and so forth. The child would take you to a window, point, and declare, “Do you see that? That’s a tree.” I think that’s what God did in Jesus. He took humanity to the window and said, “Do you want to know what I’m like?” Then, look out the window with Me and you’ll see.”

I believe. I’ve been to the window. I’ve seen that Jesus was, and is, the Word made flesh. I’ve seen what those who lived with Him saw. Jesus is God!

Luigi Cascioli and the skeptics need something abstract. That’s tragic. God has given them Jesus, a real man.

They question the authority and accuracy of what God has said. What more authority do they need? They believe many things on the authority of what someone else has told them. Why not the Gospel?

C.S. Lewis was once a skeptic who found his way to belief. He was taken to the window and saw for himself. I’ll close with his words now. Perhaps they’ll find a place in the heart of a skeptic or two reading this post:

“I have explained why I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Do not be scared of the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove it by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so…Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.”

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Luigi Cascioli Case - Proof for the Existence of Fools

John 21:25 (New International Version)

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

I came across a little piece of news a while ago. Enrico Righi, an Italian priest has been ordered to prove in court that Jesus actually existed. He must do so in answer to a criminal complaint filed by Luigi Cascioli, an atheist who claims:

“That Righi violated two Italian laws by making the assertion: so-called “abuse of popular belief” in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and “impersonation” in which someone gains by attributing a false name to someone.”

What had Father Righi asserted? The good Father, as any good Christian would, asserted that Jesus of Nazareth actually did exist:

“Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.”

So, the question of the existence of Jesus is being litigated. What millions and millions of people, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, agnostic, and atheist take for granted, Father Righi and his legal team now have to prove to the satisfaction of a court. Amazing!

Aren’t there enough crooks to prosecute in Italy these days? Apparently not.

The case reminds me of some of the silly cases that people have brought against God. I’ve read somewhere about a case filed claiming God was at fault for not acting on behalf of a plaintiff in a dispute with his enemies. What did the plaintiff want in the case? He wanted God to return his youth and guitar playing skills. God even gets blamed for all the bad stuff in the fine print of insurance policies. Every once in a while I read my homeowners policy for a bit of amusement. There are clauses in it that indemnify my insurer against “acts of God” that might do damage to my house. Included in those acts are pestilence, plague, hurricanes, meteorites falling from outer space, forest fires, and so forth. What’s amusing to me is that the acts of God are always framed in negative terms. For the insurer it means that they aren’t going to cover my loss if the Almighty does something mean to me.

The current case, though, has taken a creative turn. An adherent of Jesus is being prosecuted for simply claiming He exists.

I wonder how the lawyers are going to approach this. Are the prosecutors going to demand a birth certificate? I’m not sure there was one. Will they demand that Jesus’ body be exhumed? The tomb is empty!

I’m only a layman, but I do have some ideas about the matter. Years ago Nancy and I went to Paris. One of the day trips we took was to Les Invalides. There, entombed in splendor, lies Napoleon. I remember at the time comparing the glory of Napoleon’s tomb to the empty tomb in Jerusalem that could not hold Jesus in. But there was something else that I thought of that day. Above Napoleon’s tomb, carved on the highest part of the walls, was one of the great accomplishments in life – the Napoleonic Code. It’s been two hundred years or so since Napoleon lived, and I doubt that people know that Napoleon Bonaparte existed because they can see a birth certificate or the coffin in which he’s buried. People universally accept the fact that he existed because they can read about what he said and did and see the impact he had on the world. While Napoleon might be considered a great man, the impact he had on humanity pales in comparison to the impact Jesus had, and continues to have today. In those terms, there is far more evidence that Jesus existed than there is for the existence of Napoleon. It’s recorded in the Gospels, the epistles, and even in secular history. More importantly, it’s recorded in the hearts of millions and millions of Christians around the world.

I think about myself. I know I exist. I don’t need Descartes or a battery of lawyers to prove my case for me. But two thousand years from now there is going to be far less evidence that I ever passed this way than there is for Napoleon or Jesus. Two thousand years from now the words I’ve posted on this blog will have been deleted by some unknown archivist somewhere. My gravestone will have been eroded by time. My birth certificate will have been cast into some Massachusetts catacomb, never more to be seen. I will not be revered as either a great thinker or conqueror. I will not have left great ideas or great sermons like the Sermon on the Mount. But, I am confident that two thousand years from now, if the world as we know it still exists, Jesus will still be revered and worshipped. As far as I’m concerned that’s good enough.

The record of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection, are not, as Holy Writ puts it, “cunningly devised fables.” The evidence for Jesus’ existence, life, teaching, and deeds is overwhelming.

Luigi Cascioli would do well to follow the lead of wise men who’ve tested the evidence and came to that sane conclusion. Simon Greenleaf, one of the founders of Harvard Law School wasn’t sure about Jesus and sought to disprove the things written and believed about him using classic rules of legal evidence. The result of his search was “The Testimony of the Evangelists,” a classic work in apologetics. He began with doubts about the Christian claims:

“These are no ordinary claims; and it seems hardly possible for a rational being to regard them with even a subdued interest; much less treat them with mere indifference or contempt. If not true, they are little else than the pretensions of a bold imposture, which, not satisfied with having already enslaved millions of the human race, seeks to continue its encroachments upon human liberty, until all nations shall be subjugated under its iron rule. But if they are well-founded and just, they can be no less than the high requirements of heaven, addressed by the voice of God to the reason and understanding of man, concerning things deeply affecting his relations to his sovereign, and essential to the formation of his character and course to his destiny, both for this life and for the life to come.”

Greenleaf examined the evidence and concluded:

“The doctrines and precepts of Jesus are in strict accordance with the attributes of God, agreeably to the most exalted idea which we can form of them, either from reason or from revelation. They are strikingly adapted to the capacity of mankind, and yet are delivered with a simplicity and majesty wholly divine. He spake as never man spake. He spake with authority, yet addressed himself to the reason and understanding of men; and he spake with wisdom, which men could neither deny nor resist…He is represented in every variety of situation in life, from the height of worldly grandeur, amid the acclamations of an admiring multitude, to the deepest abyss of human degradation and woe, apparently deserted by God and man. Yet everywhere he is the same, displaying a character of unearthly perfection, symmetrical in all its proportions, and encircled with splendor more than human.”

I know I exist. I know that Luigi Cascioli and Father Enrico Righi exist. I know Napoleon existed. And, at the core of my life, I know that Jesus existed two thousand years ago and now sits enthroned in heaven. I’d be a fool to believe otherwise. Luigi Cascioli, the Italian atheist, would do well to follow my lead in this regard.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Has the Leopard Changed His Spots? Osama bin Laden, the Democrats, and the Mainstream Media

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”

Winston Churchill – As quoted by Jay Dyson (July, 2005)

Osama Bin Laden has extended an olive branch. In an audiotape released this morning by Aljazeera, the world’s terror czar had this to say to America:

“In response to the substance of the polls in the US, which indicate that Americans do not want to fight Muslims on Muslim land, nor do they want Muslims to fight them on their land, we do not mind offering a long-term truce based on just conditions that we will stick to.”

“We are a nation that Allah banned from lying and stabbing others in the back, hence both parties of the truce will enjoy stability and security to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by war.”

“There is no problem in this solution, but it will prevent hundreds of billions from going to influential people and warlords in America - those who supported Bush's electoral campaign - and from this, we can understand Bush and his gang's insistence on continuing the war.”

Upon reading the statement it was clear to me that Osama was playing to his base. He was just picking up where John Murtha, Howard Dean, and Nancy Pelosi had left off.

In November, for example, Representative Murtha proposed that we:

“Immediately redeploy U.S. troops consistent with the safety of U.S. forces. Create a quick reaction force in the region.Create an over- the- horizon presence of Marines. Diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq”

A few days after the Murtha proposal House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi gave it her seal of approval:

“We should follow the lead of Congressman John Murtha, who has put forth a plan to make American safer, to make our military stronger and to make Iraq more stable,” Pelosi said. “That is what the American people and our troops deserve.”

Then in December Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean weighed in:

“The idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong,” Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean predicted today that the Democratic Party will come together on a proposal to withdraw National Guard and Reserve troops immediately, and all US forces within two years.”

It makes me wonder whether or not some influential Democrats are puppets hanging from Osama’s propaganda strings or whether it’s the other way around. It’s hard to tell since the parties are dancing so close to one another.

Osama’s tried this tactic before. A few days before the 2004 presidential election he came out of his cave long enough to lecture American voters:

“It is true that this shows that al-Qaeda has gained, but on the other hand, it shows that the Bush administration has also gained, something of which anyone who looks at the size of the contracts acquired by the shady Bush administration-linked mega-corporations, like Halliburton and its kind, will be convinced. And it all shows that the real loser is ... you.”

“It is the American people and their economy. And for the record, we had agreed with the Commander-General Muhammad Ataa, Allah have mercy on him, that all the operations should be carried out within 20 minutes, before Bush and his administration notice.”

“It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would abandon 50,000 of his citizens in the twin towers to face those great horrors alone, the time when they most needed him.” “But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers, we were given three times the period required to execute the operations - all praise is due to Allah.”

“And it's no secret to you that the thinkers and perceptive ones from among the Americans warned Bush before the war and told him: “All that you want for securing America and removing the weapons of mass destruction - assuming they exist - is available to you, and the nations of the world are with you in the inspections, and it is in the interest of America that it not be thrust into an unjustified war with an unknown outcome.”

“But the darkness of the black gold blurred his vision and insight, and he gave priority to private interests over the public interests of America.”

Upon reading the statement I found it difficult to ascertain whether Osama had plagiarized from the Democrats’ playbook or whether their statements on Iraq and the War on Terror were plagiarized from his.

A while ago I listened to a bit of Scott McClellan’s press briefing. It appears that some in the mainstream media are now taking up Osama’s cause along with the Democrats. When questioned about the tape, the press secretary told the media point blank that the United States doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. John Roberts of CBS News and Martha Raditz of ABC News focused on the negative poll numbers bin Laden cited in his blurb, forwarding the insane notion that Osama just might be right and it’s time to pack it in.

This all demonstrates how cagey Osama is. He needs allies in high places and has found some in Washington, D.C. and America’s newsrooms.

The cynical side of me says that we should entertain the proposal. We should send Murtha, Dean, Pelosi, Roberts, and Raditz as emissaries to Tora Bora with white flags. Perhaps they could discuss, and agree to, bin Laden’s terms for surrender over a bit of fattoush. If they couldn’t come to terms we here in Emporia, Kansas might be willing to pay the airfare for Patrick Kelley, another closet admirer of Osama, to go and swing the scales in favor of Al Qaeda. When it’s all said and done they can jointly nominate Osama for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Cynicism aside, though, I know we can’t let that happen. Some Democrats and some in the mainstream media might think it’s a splendid idea, but the overwhelming majority of us don’t. We know that despite the propaganda campaign to make himself as a peacemaker, Osama is a leopard whose spots haven’t changed. The same murder that filled his heart in 1998 is on his mind today. Do you remember what he had to say back then? I’ll refresh your memory:

“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, “and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,” and “fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God.”

Do you remember what he had to say less than a month after the September 11th attacks? I’ll refresh your memory:

“I want to talk on another point, that those youths who did what they did and destroyed America with their airplanes did a good deed. They have moved the battle into the heart of America. America must know that the battle will not leave its land, God willing, until America leaves our land, until it stops supporting Israel, until it stops the blockade against Iraq.”

“The Americans must know that the storm of airplanes will not stop, God willing, and there are thousands of young people who are as keen about death as Americans are about life.”

Do you know what the intentions of Osama bin Laden’s followers are? I’ll refresh your memory:

“Instead of just searching for criminals, the night patrols were instructed to seek out people watching videos, playing cards or, bizarrely, keeping caged birds. Men without long enough beards were to be arrested, as was any woman who dared venture outside her house. Even owning a kite became a criminal offence.”

“The state of terror spread by the Taliban was so pervasive that it began to seem as if the whole country was spying on each other. “As we drove around at night with our guns, local people would come to us and say there's someone watching a video in this house or some men playing cards in that house,” he said.”

“Basically any form of pleasure was outlawed,” Mr. Hassani said, “and if we found people doing any of these things we would beat them with staves soaked in water - like a knife cutting through meat - until the room ran with their blood or their spines snapped. Then we would leave them with no food or water in rooms filled with insects until they died.”

“We always tried to do different things: we would put some of them standing on their heads to sleep, hang others upside down with their legs tied together. We would stretch the arms out of others and nail them to posts like crucifixions.”

While Murtha, Dean, Pelosi, Roberts, and Raditz may be prepared to wave the white flag, the rest of America isn’t. Most of us recognize what we’re up against. Most of us see Osama bin Laden for what he his – a terrorist, a liar, a vile human being. He may have some adoring fans in high places, but the rest of us are prepared to see this battle through. We’ll get him. We’ll either kill him or bring him before the bar of justice. As the President said in 2001:

“These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.”

“We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except the will to power -- they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Road Home

Isaiah 40:3-5 (New Living Translation)

“3Listen! I hear the voice of someone shouting, “Make a highway for the LORD through the wilderness. Make a straight, smooth road through the desert for our God. 4Fill the valleys and level the hills. Straighten out the curves and smooth off the rough spots. 5Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken!”

This morning I was giving thought to a long trip home I took in 1966, particularly a long part of the journey through the desert landscape of America’s southwest. Starting at Travis Air Force Base, I tagged along with a group of three other guys in a beat up old Ford. I was on my way to Boston, another was on his way to Oklahoma City, another to Dayton, Ohio, and Hollis Oliver, whom we called “Moses,” was on his way to Atlanta, Georgia. For three days we passed through the heat of Death Valley, dropped a muffler somewhere in Arizona, and made our way to high ground during a flash flood between Tucumcari, New Mexico and Amarillo, Texas. I split up with the group in Oklahoma City and made my way to Boston in increments, thanks to the generosity of a series of long-haul truckers.

I didn't make it home by chance. I made it to Boston because I knew where I was coming from and also knew where I wanted to go. One of the great lessons I learned on that trip was the value of a road map, of knowing where I’ve been and where I’m going in life.

I suspect this all puts me at odds with the flow of the culture I live in. While I’m no expert on the subject, I’m told I live in a post-modern world, where roadmaps are often considered an unnecessary burden for the traveler.

In 1994, Presbyterian theologian Daniel Adams described some of the dominant post-modern themes in the following manner:

“At least four major themes can be discerned in postmodernism.(29) The first is a rejection of classical metaphysical thought. This is, in a sense, a rejection of a philosophical metanarrative that formed the foundation for much of Western thought. The nature of reality is not found in objective truth but in the phenomenological linguistic event. Metaphysical objectivity is replaced by sociological subjectivity. In theology this rejection of classical metaphysics has taken the form of a shift from deductive theology to inductive theology.(30) This shift lies at the foundation of liberation theology and the numerous socio-political theologies now in vogue.”

“This sociological subjectivity leads to the second major theme which is a rejection of human autonomy. The subject, that is, the person, is always part of a larger sociological matrix which includes history, culture, economics, religion, politics, and philosophical worldview. Theology does not “fall from the skies” but is constructed within a complex socio-cultural matrix.

“These first two themes have led to a movement in contemporary theology known as nonfoundationalism,
(32) which seeks to disassociate theology from objective foundations such as Scripture, creeds and confessions, and ecclesiastical tradition. Theology, in this framework, arises out of the needs of the community within the ever-changing contexts of culture and history. Scripture, creeds and confessions, and ecclesiastical tradition are part of the ever-changing contexts of culture and history and cannot, therefore, serve as the foundations for theological life and work. Ethics rather than doctrine is central to the task of theological construction; hence doctrine emerges from ethics rather than ethics from doctrine as in traditional theology.”

“A third theme in postmodernism is praxis, that is, serious concern for the practical ethical aspects of human life. Postmodern thinkers have been especially harsh critics of the "underside" of modernism whereby people of non-Western cultures have been exploited, and oppressed. This is why the contextual theologies from the non-Western world, as well as feminist, womanist, African-American, Hispanic, and other theologies from marginalized groups, place so much emphasis upon praxis. Theology is not only to be thought; it is also to be lived. Whereas philosophy has traditionally been the dialogue partner with theology, today it is sociology. Orthopraxis replaces orthodoxy.”

“The fourth major theme is a strong anti-Enlightenment stance. Some postmodernists even call the West's attempts to make its values universal intellectual terrorism.
(33) Taken together, praxis and a strong anti-Enlightenment stance involve a rejection of the West, an attractive perspective for Islamic scholars.(34) There is in postmodern theology a decided turning away from the Enlightenment tradition with concurrent attempts to recover the insights of traditional cultures.”

“The result is a pluralism of theologies with no one perspective assuming a dominant position in the church. Theologically speaking, we live in an intellectual marketplace which includes not only postmodern theologies, but also those that are both premodern and modern in their basic assumptions.”

If I read this correctly it says that post-modern theological thought is a process in which the pilgrim finds his or her way through the wilderness using the signs of the times or some internal spiritual barometer as guides. It’s a way of traveling the road of life by feel and instinct.

There are times when this seems very appealing to me. Years ago I answered the question Nancy raised of where I’d been in life and where I was going this way – “Where have I been? Back there! Where am I going? Out there!” In a fit of cleverness I called it my John Wayne theology. I didn’t need a roadmap to know where I’d been. I was right here, in the now. Nor did I need a roadmap to figure out where I was going. I was going “out there.” It was all that simple.

With the coming of age and maturity, though, I’ve changed. I like roadmaps. When I’m traveling from Emporia to Chicago or Santa Fe I take a roadmap with me so that I don’t get lost along the way. The same holds true of my theology. My journey in life is more than just a matter of wandering aimlessly through the wilderness. It began here on earth, in Boston, Massachusetts and it’s going to end in heaven. I wasn’t created to wander aimlessly, hoping that in the end I’d fumble my way into heaven.

Theologian C.S. Lewis once had an encounter with a man who was listening to one of his lectures about roadmaps and theology. “I’ve no use for all that stuff,” the man said. “But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

Lewis, the great defender of orthodoxy, had this to say in response:

“Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But the map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God – experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely get on your own are very elementary and very confused. And, secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is why a vague religion – all about feeling God in nature, and so on – is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work: like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.”

I’m with C.S. Lewis. I like the Christian roadmap, and I like the fact that it’s been tested over the centuries and has been found to be reliable. I’m wise enough now to know that without it, left to my own devices, I could easily get lost.

A man much wiser than I had something to say about subjective paths and aimless theological wandering. His words, like Lewis’s, are like anchors to me:

Proverbs 16:25 (King James Version)

“There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

Another man, equally wise, had this to say about the subject:

2 Peter 1:16 (New Living Translation)

“For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes.”

At a time when subjectivity is in and history and tradition are out I intend to stay out of step with the trends of the times. I’ve wandered before in the theological wilderness, fumbling around in the minefields of subjective truth. They’re poor substitutes for the real roadmap. I’ve learned over the years that all roads don’t lead to Rome, nor do all philosophies lead to the Celestial City. There is only One Way and it’s been proven trustworthy.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Laying Axes to the Root - The Need for Reform Within the Republican Party

Proverbs 16:11 (New Living Translation)

“11The LORD demands fairness in every business deal; he sets the standard.”

It appears that there may be a reform movement afoot within the Republican Party. Awakened by the Jack Abramoff scandal, rank and file Republicans are now demanding change. Tom Delay has resigned his position as House Majority Leader. Over the past week or so Republican lawmakers have begun throwing their hats into the ring. Up till a couple of days ago, it appeared that things we’re going to remain business as usual, with Representative Roy Blunt becoming one of the front runners for the open post. The problem with Blunt is, of course, that he has ties to both Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff. That, as far as I can see it, hardly constitutes reform.

But just a day or so ago another hat was tossed into the ring. John Shadegg from Arizona announced his intention to run for the Majority Leader’s position. A brief excerpt from his letter of intent follows:

“Ten years ago, we took control of the House of Representatives for the first time in half a century. It was a historic achievement, and it was possible because we stood for the principles the American people believe in: a smaller federal government, returning power to the states, lower taxes, greater individual freedom, and – above all – reform.”

“I am running for Majority Leader, and I ask for your support. In addition, in order to make clear my commitment to this race and my goal of leading an invigorated Republican majority, I am resigning my position as Policy Chairman. I personally believe it is not appropriate to try to retain one position in our elected leadership while running for another. My campaign is based on reform, and reform should begin with an open process.”

“In the past decade, particularly recently, we seem to have lost sight of our ideals. I believe that in order to reconnect with the American people, and retain and grow our Republican Majority in the House, we need to recommit ourselves to our principles.”

Shadegg has given Republicans an honorable alternative to the tawdry politics that have placed the Republican hold on Congress in jeopardy.

The early response to his announcement has been very favorable. Larry Kudlow, for example, had this to say about Representative Shadegg:

“The race for House majority leader now has a third horse: Arizona's John Shadegg. Prior to this development, the two-horse race between Missouri's Roy Blunt and Ohio's John Boehner had few conservatives excited, although Boehner had been looking like the better bet over Blunt, who has been tied to the seedy, backroom dealings of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Blunt is the last thing Republicans need right now, while Shadegg offers a clear path to returning the GOP to the first principles of lower spending and ethical governance.”

“Hopefully, Shadegg, who is not part of the Abramoff lobbying culture, will run on the budget-cutting proposals of the Republican Study Committee, in particular the RSC plan to end midnight "earmarks," which stealthily insert pork into bills without debate.”

“These earmarks are not only budget-busters, they open the door to rogue lobbying, where legislative favors are traded for cash. If the 100-member RSC gets behind Shadegg, it could win in come-from-behind fashion. This rebel group is full of change agents, people like Mike Pence, Jeff Flake, Paul Ryan, Marsha Blackburn and Jeb Hensarling -- rising young stars in the GOP firmament. This crowd, of which Shadegg is a longtime member, stands on bedrock conservative principles. They all deserve seats at the leadership table of high Republican policymaking.”

There’s also a grass-roots movement supporting Shadegg. Bloggers are casting their bread upon the waters of reform. It started with this from “The Truth Laid Bear:”

“But we are certain that the public is disgusted with excess and with privilege. We hope the Hastert-Dreier effort leads to sweeping reforms including the end of subsidized travel and other obvious influence operations. Just as importantly, we call for major changes to increase openness, transparency and accountability in Congressional operations and in the appropriations process.”

“As for the Republican leadership elections, we hope to see more candidates who will support these goals, and we therefore welcome the entry of Congressman John Shadegg to the race for Majority Leader. We hope every Congressman who is committed to ethical and transparent conduct supports a reform agenda and a reform candidate. And we hope all would-be members of the leadership make themselves available to new media to answer questions now and on a regular basis in the future.”

There are times, as Holy Writ observes, that the axe must be laid to the root:

Luke 3:9 (New Living Translation)

“Even now the axe of God's judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

This is such a time. It’s time for us to wield our axes and cut down to the root that’s infecting Washington, D.C. Those of you who read this blog know that I’m a Democrat and that I’ve been hard on the Democratic Party. I think it’s now time for my Republican readers to belly up to the bar and demand reform within their party. To that end, I have two recommendations. First, go to this link and sign on to the reform campaign. Second, contact your Representative using this link.

It’s time for the deceit and sham to stop. It’s time for the deficits built and purchased in Washington’s back rooms to end. It’s time to demand accountability and honesty from our representatives.
I believe this is what John Shadegg’s announcement was all about. I support it. I hope you do too.

Friday, January 13, 2006

No Decency, No Shame

1 Corinthians 14:40 (New King James Version)

“Let all things be done decently and in order.”

Yesterday morning I sent a note to the office of Senator Edward Kennedy, expressing my displeasure with what he had attempted to do to Samuel Alito in the nomination hearings. A few hours later I got the following response:

“Thank you for your message. Hearing your views is important to me, because it allows me to better understand the constituents that I serve in the United States Senate. It makes me proud to know that my constituents take an active role in our government by corresponding with me, and I look forward to responding to your concerns in greater detail.”

“As you can imagine, my office receives a great number of messages every day regarding a variety of issues. This is particularly true of e-mails. In the meantime, I just wanted to let you know that your e-mail has been received, and to ask for your patience until I send you a more detailed response.”

”Again, thank you for writing. Please feel free to visit my website http://kennedy.senate.gov to follow my work in the Senate and to learn more about the services my office can provide to you.”

Warmest regards
Ted Kennedy

I doubt that I will get any further correspondence from Senator Kennedy. If I do, I will publish it on this site.

What got me, a citizen outside his constituency, worked up enough to send correspondence the senator from Massachusetts? I can sum it up in two words – fairness and decency.

I have no problem with any senator asking a prospective Supreme Court justice difficult questions . I believe they have an obligation to do so. The issues that find their way to the High Court have, in a temporal sense, supreme importance to the citizens of this country. For example, beyond abortion, which seems to be the paramount concern of liberal Democrats, there are issues of property rights I believe were decided wrongly in favor of ordinary American citizens, particularly the poor, in Kelo v. New London. In that five to four decision, the four liberal justices (Souter, Ginsberg, Stevens, Breyer) and one conservative (Kennedy), decided against Suzette Kelo, a citizen of New London, Connecticut in her attempt to save her property from an eminent domain claim by the city. She lost her case to both municipal and corporate interests. The Supreme Court decided that private economic development trumped her right to own the home she and her family had lived in for generations. I’m well aware of how eminent domain works. Twice in my life I’ve been impacted by it. When I was young, in high school, I lived in a very poor neighborhood near Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Central Square. Our family accommodations were far from regal. We rented an apartment that was adjacent to an alley outside a small Italian restaurant. Often, as patrons were leaving to go the parking lot on the other side of our building, they would bang playfully on our windows as they did. While things like this happened with some frequency, I always felt that having a roof over my head outweighed the irritation. I had a place to live. As all of this was going on I managed to win a school and commerce day essay contest sponsored by a civic group. One of the rewards for me was getting to attend a luncheon, sponsored by Rotary or Kiwanis, as a guest of honor. After lunch I was introduced to the gathering. Some of the attendees, upon finding out I lived on Brookline Street, in a depressed part of town, asked me what I thought about the new road that was being proposed by the City of Cambridge that would necessitate some private dwellings, including the apartment building I lived in, being claimed by the city under eminent domain provisions. I didn’t know then what eminent domain meant, so all I could do was profess ignorance. “What does eminent domain mean?” I asked. When I found out I was upset. “I don’t like it,” I said. “Why do they need to build the road through my house? Why not yours or someone else’s?”

Years later, in Memphis, the issue of eminent domain was to come up for me again. Nancy and I had just bought a home, a beautiful antebellum, near the University of Memphis. One of the things we weren’t aware of when we bought it was that the university had designs on the house we’d just purchased, along with several others on our block. They were considering asking the City to allow them to claim eminent domain so that they could replace the houses on our block with an arts center. I was a bit more sophisticated by this time. I understood that the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution meant there are times when public benefit (a road, a hospital, a school) might outweigh my personal interests. I also knew that my property couldn’t be taken without just compensation. In the end we sold our home to the University of Memphis.

The Kelo ruling, which was affirmed in large part because of the liberal bloc of the Court, has broadened the definition of public use and eminent domain. Now, municipalities can claim that a home, a block of homes, or an area of a municipality can be declared blighted, freeing the municipality to sell the homes and land to private developers. If, for example, the City of Emporia decided that our neighborhood is blighted (there are some rentals in bad shape), it could claim eminent domain over the neighborhood, then sell it to private interests to enhance the city’s tax revenues. While it may not happen in Emporia, it will happen somewhere. Corporate interests wanting to build a shopping mall or a regional headquarters for their company or a series of trendy shops now have a mechanism available to them they’ve never had before. Who will be hurt by this ruling? The justices of the Supreme Court? Ted Kennedy? Of course not. It will hurt the poor, particularly minorities. Here in a small city like Emporia it would hit Hispanics particularly hard. It wouldn’t be overtly discriminatory. No one would target “them.” What “they” had would just need to give way to “public use,” as redefined by the Supreme Court. The sad reality is that the poor simply don’t have any economic clout, while developers do.

So, the Supreme Court has ruled. In time the heavy hand will drop on the rest of us, particularly the poor, in favor of corporate interests, just like it did on Suzette Kelo in New London, Connecticut.

I found it fascinating that, when questioned about the Kelo case, Judge Alito seemed to express some sympathy for people who will eventually be caught in the ugly squeeze created by this unique interpretation of public use the High Court has made. Upon hearing what he had to say the senate committee about eminent domain and the Fifth Amendment, I found a new measure of respect for the man. He may have made a difference in our favor had he been on the High Court when Kelo was being argued.

It doesn’t end for me with issues like eminent domain. Free speech is a paramount right guaranteed by our Constitution. This morning I read an essay by Brian Anderson published in City Journal. The piece, titled “The Plot to Shush Rush and O’Reilly,” outlines some of the things legislators have been doing in the name of campaign finance reform. One of the things that’s especially troubling is the approach legislators and the courts are now taking vis a vis political speech on airwaves and the internet. I highly recommend you read the entire essay. It’s very enlightening. It’s also very frightening. There are a couple of portions of the essay that I’d like to highlight. First, there’s this:

“But when the chief House architects of campaign-finance reform, joined by McCain and Feingold, sued—claiming that the Internet was one big “loophole” that allowed big money to keep on corrupting—a federal judge agreed, ordering the FEC to clamp down on Web politics. Then-commissioner Bradley Smith and the two other Republicans on the FEC couldn’t persuade their Democratic colleagues to vote to appeal.”

“The FEC thus has plunged into what Smith calls a “bizarre” rule-making process that could shackle the political blogosphere. This would be a particular disaster for the Right, which has maintained its early advantage over the Left in the blogosphere, despite the emergence of big liberal sites like Daily Kos. Some 157 of the top 250 political blogs express right-leaning views, a recent liberal survey found. Reaching a growing and influential audience—hundreds of thousands of readers weekly (including most journalists) for the top conservative sites—the blogosphere has enabled the Right to counter the biases of the liberal media mainstream. Without the blogosphere, Howell Raines would still be the New York Times’s editor, Dan Rather would only now be retiring, garlanded with praise—and John Kerry might be president of the U.S., assuming that CBS News had gotten away with its last-minute falsehood about President Bush’s military service that the diligent bloggers at PowerLine, LittleGreenFootballs, and other sites swiftly debunked.”

Then there’s this:

“Two popular conservative talk radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, explained why the gas tax was bad news and urged listeners to sign the 225,000 petitions necessary to get the rollback initiative on the November ballot, though they played no official role in the campaign and regularly featured on their shows defenders as well as opponents of the tax hike. With the hosts’ help, the petition drive got almost twice the needed signatures, but the ballot initiative, strongly opposed by labor unions, the state’s liberal media, environmental groups, and other powerful interests, narrowly lost.”

“Meantime, however, a group of pro-tax politicians sued No New Gas Tax, arguing that Wilbur’s and Carlson’s on-air commentaries were “in-kind contributions” and that the anti-tax campaign had failed to report them to the proper state authorities. The suit sought to stop NNGT from accepting any more of these “contributions” until it disclosed their worth—though how the initiative’s organizers could control media discussions or calculate their monetary value remained unclear. The complaint also socked NNGT with civil penalties, attorneys’ fees and costs, and other damages. Even more offensively, to litigate the suit the politicians hired a private law firm, Foster Pepper & Shefelman, which serves as bond counsel to Washington State. The firm, which represents unions, hospitals, and retirement funds among its other clients, could thus clean up from the state’s plan to sell gas-tax-backed bonds. Appearance of corruption, anyone?”

The same legal reasoning used by the State of Washington against Wilbur and Carlson can also be used against people expressing political views on the internet. McCain-Feingold has opened the door. So much for free speech.

I’m a blogger and I occasionally express my political views. Thousands of other bloggers, liberal, moderate, conservative, and radical, do the same. I don’t agree with everything I read. But I do believe that the Constitution affords me, a conservative, the right to freely express my political views. I also affords those I strongly disagree with that same right. McCain-Feingold can now be creatively used to stifle political speech of folks like me. It’s mind boggling enough that it begs the question, as Mr. Anderson noted:

“All this massively begs the question: Why should any American need government permission to express himself? Instead of a media exemption, blogger Glenn Reynolds sarcastically commented at a recent conference, maybe we need a “free speech exception, in which you are allowed to say what you want about political candidates without fear of prosecution by the government.”

How did the Supreme Court feel about all of chilling effect that McCain-Feingold has already begun to have on free speech? In a five to four decision, with conservative justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy dissenting, almost all provisions of the flawed law were upheld. What did the majority opinion have to say about free speech?

“…the First Amendment would render Congress powerless to address more subtle but equally dispiriting forms of corruption.”

“[no person or group may engage in] broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that refers to a clearly identified candidate for Federal office; [and] is made within 60 days before a general, special, or runoff election for the office sought by the candidate; or 30 days before a primary or preference election…”

So, thanks to the High Court’s decision in McConnell v. the Federal Election Commission, free political expression can be regulated by lawmakers. How’s that for liberality?

All of that is to say that the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court is critically important to all of us. What was Ted Kennedy fixating on over the past few days? A magazine subscription!

“KENNEDY: You called CAP a “conservative alumni group.”
It also published a publication called Prospect, which includes articles by CAP members about the policies that the organization promoted. You're familiar with that?
ALITO: I don't recall seeing the magazine. I might have seen...
KENNEDY: Did you know that they had a magazine?
ALITO: I've learned of that in recent weeks.
KENNEDY: So a 1983 Prospect essay titled “In Defense of Elitism,” stated, quote, “People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic. The physically handicapped are trying to gain equal representation in professional sports. And homosexuals are demanding the government vouchsafe them the right to bear children.”
Did you read that article?
FEINSTEIN: Finish the last line.
KENNEDY: Finish the last line -- is, “and homosexuals are...
FEINSTEIN: No, “And now here come women.”
KENNEDY: If the senator will let me just...
FEINSTEIN: Yes, I will...
KENNEDY: Can I get two more minutes from my friend from...
Just to continue along.
I apologize, Judge.
Did you read this article?
ALITO: I feel confident that I didn't. I'm not familiar with the article, and I don't know the context in which those things were said. But they are antithetical...
KENNEDY: Well, could you think of any context that they could be...
ALITO: Hard to imagine.
If that's what anybody was endorsing, I disagree with all of that. I would never endorse it. I never have endorsed it.
Had I thought that that's what this organization stood for I would never associate myself with it in any way.
KENNEDY: The June '84 edition of Prospect magazine contains a short article on AIDS. I know that we've come a long way since then in our understanding of the disease, but even for that time the insensitivity of statements in this article are breathtaking.
It announces that a team of doctors has found the AIDS virus in the rhesus monkeys was similar to the virus occurring in human beings.
KENNEDY: And the article then goes on with this terrible statement: "Now that the scientists must find humans, or rather homosexuals, to submit themselves to experimental treatment. Perhaps Princeton's Gay Alliance may want to hold an election."
You didn't read that article?
ALITO: I feel confident that I didn't, Senator, because I would not have anything to do with statements of that nature.”

This all has had my blood boiling for two reasons. First, the good senator from Massachusetts was giving little or no thought to issues of real importance, like eminent domain or free speech this week. Life experience has taught me that the right to property, as expressed in the Fifth Amendment, and free speech, which is guaranteed by the first amendment, is far more important than a magazine subscription.

It’s also angered me because I remember the Army-McCarthy hearings well. I was young, but I’ll never forget the character assassination the Democratic senator from Wisconsin engaged in. It was a shameful! Read some of the following transcript yourself and see if you don’t agree:

McCarthy: Jim, will you get the citation, one of the citations showing that this was the legal arm of the Communist Party, and the length of time that he belonged, and the fact that he was recommended by Mr. Welch. I think that should be in the record....
Welch: Senator, you won't need anything in the record when I finish telling you this. Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. When I decided to work for this Committee, I asked Jim St. Clair, who sits on my right, to be my first assistant. I said to Jim, “Pick somebody in the firm to work under you that you would like.” He chose Fred Fisher, and they came down on an afternoon plane. That night, when we had taken a little stab at trying to see what the case is about, Fred Fisher and Jim St. Clair and I went to dinner together. I then said to these two young men, “Boys, I don't know anything about you, except I've always liked you, but if there's anything funny in the life of either one of you that would hurt anybody in this case, you speak up quick.”
And Fred Fisher said, "Mr. Welch, when I was in the law school, and for a period of months after, I belonged to the Lawyers' Guild," as you have suggested, Senator. He went on to say, "I am Secretary of the Young Republican's League in Newton with the son of [the] Massachusetts governor, and I have the respect and admiration of my community, and I'm sure I have the respect and admiration of the twenty-five lawyers or so in Hale & Dorr." And I said, "Fred, I just don't think I'm going to ask you to work on the case. If I do, one of these days that will come out, and go over national television, and it will just hurt like the dickens." And so, Senator, I asked him to go back to Boston. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty, I would do so. I like to think I'm a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.
McCarthy: Mr. Chairman, may I say that Mr. Welch talks about this being cruel and reckless. He was just baiting. He has been baiting Mr. Cohn here for hours, requesting that Mr. Cohn before sundown get out of any department of the government anyone who is serving the Communist cause. Now, I just give this man's record and I want to say, Mr. Welch, that it had been labeled long before he became a member, as early as 1944 --
Welch: Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers' Guild.
McCarthy: Let me finish....
Welch: And Mr. Cohn nods his head at me. I did you, I think, no personal injury, Mr. Cohn?
Cohn: No, sir.
Welch: I meant to do you no personal injury.
Cohn: No, sir.
Welch: And if I did, I beg your pardon. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.
McCarthy: Let's, let's --
Welch: You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?

Ted Kennedy crossed over the line. He abused his privilege. He has no decency. He has no shame. What he did was in the worst tradition of American politics. I’m not one of his constituents, so there’s little I can do to express my outrage about the offensive behavior he’s engaged in other than by way of correspondence or this blog.

If he, and some on the High Court have their way, my right to express those views could become subject to government oversight and control. That, it seems to me, is far more important than a magazine subscription!