Saturday, March 29, 2008

Intelligent talk for a change

In honor of my Obama-supporter friends, excerpts from a speech by Senator Barack Obama at Cooper Union, March 27, 2008:
In the more than two centuries since then, we have struggled to balance the same forces that confronted Hamilton and Jefferson - self-interest and community; markets and democracy; the concentration of wealth and power, and the necessity of transparency and opportunity for each and every citizen. Throughout this saga, Americans have pursued their dreams within a free market that has been the engine of America's progress. It's a market that has created a prosperity that is the envy of the world, and opportunity for generations of Americans. A market that has provided great rewards to the innovators and risk-takers who have made America a beacon for science, and technology, and discovery.

But the American experiment has worked in large part because we have guided the market's invisible hand with a higher principle. Our free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is why we have put in place rules of the road to make competition fair, and open, and honest. We have done this not to stifle - but rather to advance prosperity and liberty. As I said at NASDAQ last September: the core of our economic success is the fundamental truth that each American does better when all Americans do better; that the well being of American business, its capital markets, and the American people are aligned.

I think all of us here today would acknowledge that we’ve lost that sense of shared prosperity.

This loss has not happened by accident. It’s because of decisions made in boardrooms, on trading floors and in Washington. Under Republican and Democratic Administrations, we failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practices. We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales. The result has been a distorted market that creates bubbles instead of steady, sustainable growth; a market that favors Wall Street over Main Street, but ends up hurting both.
. . . .

[I]n our 21st century economy, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. The decisions made in New York’s high-rises have consequences for Americans across the country. And whether those Americans can make their house payments; whether they keep their jobs; or spend confidently without falling into debt – that has consequences for the entire market. The future cannot be shaped by the best-connected lobbyists with the best record of raising money for campaigns. This thinking is wrong for the financial sector and it’s wrong for our country.
Please read the ENTIRE speech for detailed analysis, guiding principles, and proposals.

I do not know if this is enough, whether it is, in fact, doable at all, because it requires an end to the old Democratic as well as Republican ways of doing things. This is also a somewhat romanticized view of our past, the intent and efficacy of our regulations in more enlightened times, but for goodness sake, let's at least get started back in the right direction, seeking not only to reverse course for our own sake, but to do far better for the rest of the world, as well.

Hat tip to aseekingspirit.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Rumours of Spring

have been grossly exaggerated.

The ubiquitous weather. Yesterday there was no snow, blue skies, warmth glinting through the sunshine. This morning we woke up to this.

UPDATE, MARCH 30, 2008. It's sunny but fracking 11 Fahrenheit this morning!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Special Prayer Request

A wonderful young woman, Naomi, and her family very much need prayers from everyone. If I can in any small way help build up the posse, here is what Caminante, Naomi's pastor in Vermont, asks:
26 March 2008

Get your prayers going

As Kris Carr author of Crazy, Sexy, Cancer would say, Get your posse going.

So, you all, you are Naomi's prayer posse. She needs your prayers. Spread them far and wide. Put her on whatever prayer list you know. Just pray. Pray for her, her mother, father, four sisters and brother.

She wrote tonight on her website:
So, not so great news. I’m going to finish radiation and try a chemo for two weeks. The chemo wont cure it but we’re hoping that it’ll slow or shrink it a little. It is Ewings and it is growing and being very aggressive. After radiation and chemo they will do an assessment but after that they said that there is nothing else they can do. After the assessment they will be labeling my case as terminal. My parents and I have talked about it and decided to try everything out there to fight this beast. We’re going to research alternatives and holistic approaches. If anyone has suggestions or knows anything please let me know. I’m hoping things work out but now I really begin my fight.
I can't believe they told her that they would be calling her case 'terminal.' It's so harsh.

If you all know of anything that might help, write me [Caminante] in the comments and I will pass it along.

Our prayers can make a difference. I don't know for what to pray but God knows. Thanks.
The story goes back awhile, but Caminante first wrote about it here:
12 September 2007

I lift up my eyes to the hills

From where is my help to come? (Psalm 122.1)

I reach out to the blogging world asking your prayers for a 24 year-old in our congregation, Naomi.

Three weeks ago, she went to the doctor's, thinking she had a stress fracture in her foot. The radiologist saw a spot on her foot and called the orthopedic surgeon. They thought it was an infection, so they cleaned it out and sent off a specimen. It came back as Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that is caused by part of the 11th chromosome moving to the 22nd. It mostly afflicts 10-20 year olds, 85% Caucasians.

She went to the doctor’s yesterday and found out the following:

-- the Ewing’s cancer has spread to her lungs, shoulder and spine but so far they don’t think it is in the bone marrow;

-- she will start next week a ten-week course of chemo that is rigourous (six hours, one day on, one day off, or two days a week);

-- at the end of that treatment, she will have her third toe and metatarsal removed and the rest of her foot will be joined together (they are trying to avoid amputating the whole thing; the next course of action would be to remove the top of her foot but keep her heel);

-- after that, she will undergo another ten-week treatment of chemo;

-- that will finally be followed by radiation.

The whole treatment is expected to last two years but the doctors say there is a 78% chance of her being cured and that is their goal.

This is an awful lot for a 24 year-old to absorb as well as her family. Her next-in-line sister (17), is having a really hard time with it. So do keep them in your prayers long-haul.

For updates or further information, please go to

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Love them now

... get used to loving and valuing things and persons irrespective of the fact that they won't be there for ever. Love them now, and what you would want to do for them, do now. 'Night is coming when no-one can work', says Jesus. (John 9.4)
This passage from Rowan William's Easter Sermon (see below) jumped out at me when I read it. It is straightforward, simple, and heart-felt -- and raises the question of why this did not apply to his friend Jeffrey John and to all the other GLBTs and their families struggling with fear and prejudice against those with less "common" sexual orientations and all the social and legal barriers to living out a loving relationship with a same-gender partner.

To raise the question, especially from this context, may seem a cheap and easy shot -- but is it? Not if you are Lawrence King or one of the many youth or adults around the world for whom, according to Williams, the time is not yet ripe to recognize their full worth and dignity.

Elizabeth Kaeton, in a marvellous essay, The Radical Orthodox Rabbi, recently recalled with tears these words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe?
Expediency asks the question: Is it politic?
Vanity asks the question: Is it popular?
But conscience asks the question: Is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.
There are times, I believe, when one must dare to "love them now" regardless of the consequences. I admit that personally this is very difficult for me, in my own life and in my own relationships, as well as with the world at large. But it seems to me that this has always been the challenge of the Good News, the question we must ask ourselves.

It is extremely difficult at times, not just because of our own limitations, but from not knowing what kind of radical action is called for. It does not usually or necessarily mean radical and violent overthrow of governments, as those early disciples of Jesus learned. And while I fear he is wrong, I do not doubt that Rowan Williams honestly and fervently believes his go-slow approach is what he is called to do, that it will achieve the most in the long run, that allowing persons to have only a fraction of their humanity recognized for now will somehow bring peace and reconciliation in the distant future.

I read this morning a blistering review of a new biography of the current Dalai Lama at Salon, a review entitled Seduced by the Dalai Lama by Louis Bayard. Bayard views the Dalai Lama as embracing appeasement with China rather than non-violent resistance. I suspect it is much more complex than that but, for all I know, maybe there is some truth of the criticism of the Dalai Lama, who like Rowan Williams, is a reluctant leader of his faith and, sometimes by default, his country. Nevertheless, I was startled at the vehemence of remarks such as this:
Hell, the Dalai Lama has forgiven China, so why shouldn't we? To hear him tell it:

"Our real enemies are our own habitual tendencies toward thinking in terms of enemies ... Our terrors are of our own creation. The world itself is not so frightening, if only we can see it correctly."

With all due respect to His Holiness -- and with all due apologies for my Western bias -- this is horseshit. And something very close to an insult to those who have lived and died in terror, the Dalai Lama's compatriots in particular. Would he have dared offer this counsel to the 1 million Tibetans who were directly or indirectly killed by invading Chinese? To the countless others who were raped, sterilized, electroshocked? What about those Tibetan parents who were forced to applaud while their children were executed? Would they be expected to believe their sufferings were merely illusory and passing?

If what the Dalai Lama professes is truly Buddhism, then it raises the question, finally, of whether a monk can be an agent for political change in such a complex and dangerous world.
Indeed, these are important questions -- which kinds of danger must we or can we respond to and how? When should we to resort to political organization and action to fight violence with violence? But I wonder if the author has totally missed the point of what the Dalai Lama was saying, due to Bayard's own understandable frustration and anger with the lack of an effective response to or restraint upon the violence of the Chinese authorities.

For me, the Dalai Lama's words struck a chord with much I have read in recent months about global terrorism and the response of many in the West -- how Western governments and political leaders have manipulated fear of terrorism to use it in an Ahabian quest to vanquish what has been most recently named as supreme Evil -- or, as described in our Sunday Easter anthem, "crushing the serpent's head." Maybe the Dalai Lama is right, not just taking the long view for the sake of easy appeasement but confronting the real terrors within us as the only means that any of us can begin to overcome evil. It is not that the outside dangers are not real -- they are, quite real, as the death Rowan Williams spoke about so eloquently in his sermon. But the danger of physical death is not, in and of itself, the sum total of evil, but rather its awful instrument. Fr. Jenco knew this all too well.

I don't begin to have the answers to the age-old question of when and if violence is justified to avert destruction and mitigate suffering. But I do know that other kinds of fears -- deep internal ones, not fear of outside threats - sometimes impedes radical action to love one another. To suggest, as Williams does, that he cannot take such action but rather must wait until someday -- when we all may come to better understand each other, by a "listening process" which has long ceased to listen, when bishops and archbishops will cease their scribblings of covenants and treaties and plots, public and hidden, and finally agree that their peers are worthy of sharing Communion with them -- to wait until someday, in the long distant future, seems to doubt the power of what it means to "love them now," to do "what you would want to do for them" because the "Night is coming when no-one can work." So why cannot our leader stand up and say, quietly perhaps, but firmly, the time is now, we shall do it, and I will gather all I can at the table who will come, no one unworthy or too troublesome to be with me?

I do not know. All I can hope is that we all learn to better find and embrace that radical power of love in our own lives, and hope and pray that our leaders may as well.

Update: Since I wrote this I read the awful news of the violent attack during the funeral ceremony being held for the sister of Davis Mac-Iyalla in Nigeria. Jonathan, as usual, has expressed his sentiments about the role Rowan Williams should be playing with... well, bog-standard pith. Read it here: "An Evil Orthodoxy."

Also, this quote from +Gene Robinson:
"It's almost laughable - the premise seems to be that I could undo in an hour an entire lifetime of orthodox teaching," he said. "If I am so off-base in my thinking and in my theological reasoning, wouldn't that be apparent to people? So I think the fear must be that I will make too much sense, that I will actually describe the God that people know in their lives, and then that will demand change."
From interview in The Boston Globe, hat tip to the Admiral of Morality.

And finally, this: Giles Fraser and "Putting an End to Scapegoating."

March, 25 Update:

Father Jake now has this on More Violence in Nigeria.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The first day of Creation all over again

Easter -- that is, Easter Sunday morning church celebrations with the brass and the timpani, the belt-it-out hymns and anthems, their martial words and proclamations of Victory -- is something I actually dread each year and sigh a big sigh of relief when it is over. For me Easter comes in the middle of the night, the Resurrection that occurred when no one was looking, light out of darkness in quiet and a searing glory that is beyond sounds or words. Easter Sunday at times seems a profanation of that great mystery and the way it should get under our skins and into what life and breath we have left in this world.

I thought about writing about it further, but I suspect it all has to do with my personal idiosyncrasies, and I'd just as soon get back to the regularly scheduled programming of everyday life.

Yet, I woke up this morning, to find this marvelous sermon, by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. It takes me to the kind of Easter I seek -- the one that happens on Monday after and every day after that. So I share the part I liked most here (and recommend the whole linked below):
Easter may tell us that death is conquered, but it doesn't tell us that there was never any contest.

Perhaps that's the clue. Easter is not about denying death, and the resurrection doesn't make the nightmare death on the cross unreal. Death is exactly what the artists and scientists and psychoanalysts say: it is a full stop to human growth and response, it is night falling on everything we value or understand or hope for. Fear is natural, and so is grief at the death of another (Jesus, remember, shed tears for the death of a friend). Don't attempt to avoid it or deny its seriousness. On the contrary, keep it in view; remind yourself of it. When the tradition of the Church proposes that you think daily about death and prepare for it, it isn't being morbid but realistic: get used to it and learn to live with the fear. And meanwhile - Shakespeare was being entirely Christian in this respect - get used to loving and valuing things and persons irrespective of the fact that they won't be there for ever. Love them now, and what you would want to do for them, do now. 'Night is coming when no-one can work', says Jesus. (John 9.4)

So what does it mean to say that, despite all this, death is 'defeated'? When death happens and growing stops, there are no more plans, no more hope of control: for the believer, there is only God left. Just as at the very beginning of creation, there is God, and there is the possibility that God has brought into being by his loving will. When death has done all it can do, God remains untouched and his will is the loving and generating will that it eternally is. When we look at death, we look at something that can destroy anything in our universe - but not God, its maker and redeemer. And if we accept that we shall die and all our hopes and schemes fall into the dark, we do so knowing that God is unchanged. So to die is to fall into the hands of the living God.

That is why the effort to keep death daily before us is a source of life and hope. It is to commend ourselves every day into God's hands, trusting that he is eternally a loving creator, in whom there is no darkness at all, as the New Testament says. (I John 1.5) And when we let ourselves go into God's hands, we do so confident that he is free to do what he wills with us - and that what he wills for us is life. The Easter story is not about how Jesus survived death or how the spirit of Jesus outlasted his mortal frame or whatever; it is about a person going down into darkness and the dissolving of all things and being called again out of that nothingness. Easter Day, as so many have said, is the first day of creation all over again - or, as some have put it, the eighth day of the week, the unimaginable extra that is assured by the fact that God's creative word is never stifled or silenced.

Celebrating Easter is celebrating the creator - celebrating the God whose self-giving purpose is never cancelled and who is always free to go on giving himself to those he has called. And resurrection for us is that renewed call: when we have fallen silent, when we no longer have any freedom to respond or develop, God's word comes to us again and we live. (II Cor 5.17) We can't really imagine it; it isn't just a continuation of our present life in slightly different circumstances but a new world. Yet all that God has seen and worked with in this life is brought into his presence once more and he renews his relationship with it all, spirit and body.
From the Archbishop's Easter Day Sermon
Sunday 23 March 2008, Given at Canterbury Cathedral
© Rowan Williams