“Do not be afraid,” said the angel, “for see—I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to all of you!
And the Word became flesh and lived among us … (John 1:14)
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Here’s a video of Lowery in action, delivering the eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral in rhyming verse. You’ve got to see it to appreciate it.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
In the last few days, in case you weren’t aware, Barack Obama tapped Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the multimillion-selling Purpose Driven books, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20. This has raised the ire both of those on the left and those on the right.
On the left, they lambast Barack for picking someone who disagrees most vehemently with them (and him) on issues of same sex marriage (in a recent interview, Rick equates it with incest, pedophilia and polygamy), abortion (Rick calls abortion reduction efforts mostly “a charade”), and the social gospel Protestantism of the 20th century (Rick labels this “just Marxism in Christian clothing”). Rick also comes under fire for not pressing President Bush on matters of torture because, he says, “I never had the opportunity”; some would view such a comment skeptically.
On the right, conservative Christians decry that Rick is associating himself with a man who does not stand for the same values (at least where gay marriage and abortion are concerned). They might also take umbrage at the interview in which he also offers his thoughts that Christian leaders sometimes focus on gay marriage because “we always love to talk about other people’s sins,” or where he says that he nonetheless supports abortion reduction approaches as a sort of Schindler’s list, a way to reduce the harm of overall evil.
But as several commentators have noted, they do share in common a concern for seeing the AIDS crisis resolved and for social justice. Rick Warren has, because of his conservatism, been one of the catalysts in the expansion of the evangelical agenda, from a two-issue platform to one that seeks to bring faith to bear on all of life; and it has been because he is a social conservative on so many staple evangelical issues that he has influence to bring to bear on these other (I would argue, equally important) issues.
I think this is vintage Barack; he is who he says he is. He says he wants to find common ground, he wants to work with those who disagree with him, he wants to get things done. This is symbolic of who he is, as was the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. During the campaign, he said he wanted to expand our politics, to rise above the pettiness and divisiveness of the last few decade. And now he’s showing it: he doesn’t surround himself with yes-men (or women), with those who will agree with every word he says and every opinion he holds. I believe this makes him a better leader. And I think that if this is the tenor for the next four years, this is something I can stay on board with, and not be disappointed about.
P.S. Rich Cizik resigned as vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals last week because he’d said in a radio interview with NPR that he supported civil unions for gay people. Rich also played an integral part in expanding the agenda to include the genocide in Darfur, global warming, AIDS, malaria, poverty and religious repression. Prominent conservative leaders on the right weren’t too happy with this, and the interview was the trigger. Here’s Nicholas Kristof’s comment on it. As for my comment, I’m disappointed and angry that this happened, and I hope that this doesn’t signal an undoing of Rich’s work.
Monday, December 8, 2008
One of my non-Christian friends emailed me a couple weeks ago, asking me what the Bible said about killing and murder. He was alluding to the Ten Commandments, and so I told him that the Bible said, no murder (short version), and more generally spoke of a consistent ethic of life and of the value of human life. A few days later, he emailed me back.
“So you should not murder, and therefore the death penalty is abhorrent to all Christians? Sorry if this sounds simplistic.” (My paraphrase.)
I haven’t replied yet, because this could be a paper topic. I could talk about the voice of Scripture that runs throughout the Bible, the witness that says that the value for human life is tantamount, and that any judgment that comes is necessary judgment, and that God does not pleasure in meting out punishment. I could talk about contextualization and how God dealt with the people where they were, culturally and historically. I could talk about the trajectory of history and of the Bible, which reaches its climax in Jesus Christ, the full embodiment of God, and how we look to him to know what God is like and it is through him that we interpret the law.
But I’d also have to be honest with him: the death penalty is not abhorrent to all Christians, just as not all Christians seek to follow Christ with their lives, thoughts, actions, attitudes, and relationships.
My point is …
First, being a “Christian” can mean a wide range of things (and we touched on this in class). Does “Christian” connote someone who is pro-life, pro-death penalty, anti-gay marriage? (Because it does for some people.) Or does “Christian” connote the opposite? (Because I know a good few Christians whose values as gleaned from the pages of Scripture motivate them to fight for the woman’s right to choose, against the death penalty, and for gay marriage.)
Second, how do we navigate this broad swathe of Christianity? Being a Christian, at its narrowest, is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he is the Lord and Savior of our lives (or something similar; I’m sure we could make it even more narrower). But it’s in the working out of what it means for him to be the Lord and Savior of our lives that we can sometimes differ.
Third, should we just be okay with this? I think that Christians who differ do so because they are sincerely and genuinely trying to figure stuff out, not because they’re being disingenuous, ignorant or moronic. (Okay, some do … sometimes.) And we all think our understanding or interpretation of the gospel and the Bible is the best, at least as far as we know (and if we didn’t, we’d have great trouble living out our convictions).
So … what to do?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
I love sports. I love playing it, and I love watching it. I love my sports teams. In September, Mara said, “Whoever you end up with is either gonna have to love sports as much as you do, or she’s gonna have to get used to it.” I laughed and said, “I’m not that crazy about sports.” And she looked at me as if I had made the most preposterous statement in the entire world.
Today, after the Seahawks had lost their 11th game of the season, giving up their lead to the Patriots in the last few minutes of the game, standing now at 2-11, I will admit that Mara was right. I do love my sports. I get frustrated when the Mariners or the ‘Hawks or Arsenal are underperforming. And it usually colors my mood for a little while.
(On the flipside, when they win … can’t keep me down.)
I love music. I love playing it, and I love watching it. I love seeing brilliant musicianship. Tonight, after seeing Over the Rhine play at Fuller, I was reminded (as I often am when I go to gigs) of how much I enjoyed playing in Lifesize, and at LST, of how much I enjoyed playing with all the wonderful and talented musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with: Rich, Ben, Daren, and all the rest of W1/2/3.
I miss seeing outrageously mind-blowing drum solos and face-melting guitar licks and Daren bouncing up and down on the bass like he’s twenty years younger than he is. I miss being in the spotlight. I miss writing music every day, words flowing like water from an open sluice. I miss having words and images, rhymes and rhythms always rattling around in my brain.
I love music.
Congratulations to …
… Harris and Jen, who got engaged this last week!
… Rachel, who also got engaged in the last fortnight!
... Sam and Suzie, who got married!
… Joseph and Katie, who had their second daughter, Marlow Finch!
Friday, December 5, 2008
Every hero has angst. It’s part of the comic book code: everyone struggles with something, whether it’s Spider-Man trying to figure out how to balance school and girls and fighting crime, or Wolverine wrestling with his shadowy past and trying to control his feral nature. Superman’s angst is his otherness, his difference, his rootlessness; his struggle is to find his place in a world that is simultaneously his home and yet not.
Here then is the first parallel, one of the reasons I like Superman: because I identify with him. Both for myself as a Third Culture Kid, and for myself as a Christian, whose citizenship is not in this world but in heaven (Phil. 3:20), this search and longing for home—to find people who really understand me and welcome me for who I am—is one of the struggles I face. Where do I fit in this world?
But the second parallel is what struck me (again, but with more clarity) last night, when I watched Superman: Doomsday. What makes Superman who he is? It isn’t just his super-strength, or his laser sight, or his super-speed, or his ability to fly, or his invincibility. It’s his values. It’s the fact that, even though he’s got the capacity to have the world fall at his feet, even though he’s got the power to subjugate all people and do whatever he wants, he chooses to be a servant, even to the point of laying down his life to defeat evil. Uh … obvious analogy, anyone?
Of course, the Superman mythology can be interpreted another way, as feeding into some of the American myths that Richard T. Hughes looks at in Myths America Lives By: of invulnerability, of always trying to do good, of American innocence. But I think even this way of understanding the Superman/Christ/America association belies the way that we as Americans (and we as Christians) can sometimes tend to (consciously or unconsciously) claim for ourselves a messianic mantle. (New discussion … go!)
Anyway … just wanted to bare my comic book-loving soul for y’all.
[Disclaimer: The movie isn’t all that amazing; but it is 75 minutes of fun.]
Thursday, December 4, 2008
November 24: Coldplay
My three favorite bands are U2, Coldplay and Lifehouse. I saw U2 in June 2005 at Wembley Stadium. I’ve seen Lifehouse a few times, a couple times in London and once in San Diego. And a couple weeks ago, I finally got to see Coldplay at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
November 25-29: Thanksgiving in Fresno
Matt and Sara (with whom I also saw Wicked) invited me up to spend Thanksgiving with them (and their families) in Fresno. Good friends, good food, good times.
I had my last class of the quarter yesterday, and I have just a 1,000 word reflection and a 12-15 page paper to write, so … Christmas break is almost here! I’m looking forward to whatever time I have off (which actually usually ends up less than I thought or would like; oh well …).
I’ll leave you with a couple of things:
- As a Third Culture Kid myself, I’m pretty stoked to read this article on Barack's cabinet.
- And welcome to the season of Advent.
Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.
Monday, November 24, 2008
November 4: Election Day
I got to start the day off with a cup of tea in my Obama cup!! And I got to vote in my first general election!! And Barack won!! And I had a little election night shindig at mine, with lots of friends crammed into my little studio, hunched around my baby TV, and munching away on treats.
November 6: Selah’s birthday
Two of my favorite people in the world—Adam and Katie—had their baby girl on Thursday, November 6. Selah Rose was just over a week early, and I got to see her at only a few hours old. (Also went for bowling with the boys.)
November 9: Dad’s birthday
My dad is the most sprightly 71 year-old I know. Happy birthday, Dad!
November 9-13: TiTi come to play
Sunday to Thursday: my bestest friends Tim and Tiff came to stay with me for a few days after spending a week in Colorado with Tiff’s family, and they got to meet my friends (again, in Tim’s case). I hadn’t seen Tim since last October and Tiff since last June, so it was great to see them.
Highlights: brunch at Coco's, going to the beach, going to see Copeland, brunch at Marston's, talking and playing cards.
November 14: Coffee by the Books
Almost every Friday, Coffee by the Books (Fuller’s coffeeshop) puts on an acoustic music night. On the 14th, I played what will probably turn out to be one of the last times I play at C by the B, and it was probably the best I’ve felt about how I did in the last few years. The weather was perfect, i.e. not so cold that my fingers are trembling and my vocal cords are freezing; and it was great to have so many friends out in support.
November 18: A Wicked Night Out
The day before my birthday, I went to see Wicked with Hyunja, and Matt and Sara, preceded by dinner at Thai Patio in Hollywood, one of the best Thai places I’ve been to … ever. So dinner was great (I’d recommend the Volcano Seafood dish), and Wicked was amazingly awesome.
November 19: Turning 26
My 27th year began with birthday dim sum. And then I was in class for seven hours, which I’ve never done to celebrate a birthday before. And then dinner with M&S (Matt and Sara, not Marks & Spencer), and birthday dessert with friends. Good times … (Also, happy birthday also to Helen and Shing, my birthday buddies!)
November 21: Korean BBQ and Bolt
Friday night, Micah and Christie treated me to Korean BBQ dinner for my birthday (which Gabe and Maribeth and the kids also came to), and then we hit up downtown Disney to watch Bolt with the Journey youth group (and their friends). It was hilarious; I laughed so much I couldn't breathe. That’s the measure of a funny film.
November 22: Monstars Football
Fuller’s intramural flag football playoffs were this past Saturday. Last year, we made it to the championship game where we lost handily after playing three games before that. This year we won our first game, and then lost in the final four; but it was a good run, and we had a lot of fun this quarter. Changing our team cheer to “Yes We Can” propelled us to three victories, but couldn’t carry us through. Oh well; you win some …
And there’s still a week of November left! God is good. :)
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Jesus would rather invoke the great kingless history of Israel. … Just like the kingless confederacy of Israel in the Torah, the kingdom [of God] Jesus spoke of is a real political kingdom that is unique, confusing, and unheard of. His kingdom is not of this world because it refuses power, pledges a different allegiance, and lives love. (110)When we consider history, I think it’s very tempting to look back and wonder how things used to be so much better. A decade ago, America was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Two decades ago, the Berlin Wall fell. Four decades ago, a man walked on the moon. Those were the good times. Now? We’re in an economic recession, America has a reputation to repair, and we’re facing global threats of climate change, terrorism, and other major concerns.
Now, I don’t think Claiborne and Haw are trying to idealize history, nor are they implying that Jesus was doing so. And perhaps this perspective can be blamed on my realism/cynicism coming through, but when I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I’m reminded of a people who complained constantly, starting right after the Lord delivered them from Egypt, even when he was with them in pillars of fire and cloud; I’m reminded of a people who disobeyed Joshua even as he led them into the Promised Land; I’m reminded of a people who, only a generation after Joshua’s death, “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). When I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I see what I see today: a bunch of people trying their best to follow God, making mistakes and messing up, but always, always being recipients of both God’s justice and his outrageous grace.
I think it would’ve been pretty amazing to live in the days when God dwelled with his people Israel, or when Jesus walked the earth, or when the early church “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold” (Acts 4:32, 34). But I’m not sure that we were meant to just seek to emulate those times. We live in different days, with different tools at our disposal and different challenges to face.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
I always wondered what these would look like in practice, what these would look like when lived out; and I realized that that’s part of the challenge, part of the commission of the gospel. Every generation is called to figure out in its own context what it means to follow Jesus Christ and to bring the good news to the poor and the oppressed, to welcome the marginalized, to overturn the world’s understandings of power and strength and glory.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This morning, I was able to have some more time to think about this momentous event. Barack Obama is our new President-Elect. After twenty-one months, the election process is over. It’s been a long and grueling couple of years, and I’m definitely glad the election is here and gone (and that we won).
But this, I’m realizing—this is where it really begins. This is where the hard work needs to kick in, and the hope and the sacrifice and the spirit of giving and service. The election is only the beginning. It is only a beginning. It is a momentous one, but it is only a beginning nevertheless.
Our work is not yet done: we are still mired in an economic recession, fighting two wars, and facing the global threats of climate change and terrorism, among other things. We have come far, but there is still a long way to go. And this thought is not to discourage or to depress; it is a reminder and an encouragement. Let us celebrate this moment, and enjoy it.
But let us not rest on our laurels, thinking that electing Barack Obama to the White House is the end of our work, that he will take over the reigns and guide us to salvation. We have come too far for that. We have been reminded of our responsibilities—we are our brother’s keeper, we are our sister’s keeper; what happens on Main Street affects what happens on Wall Street, and vice versa; what we do at home and abroad affects our ability to effect change for the better; we are, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. This is the way God’s universe is made.”
The journey, the adventure, did not come to an end last night with a victory that put the first black man into the White House; it does not finish with the speech that was given in Grant Park, Illinois; it does not conclude on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States.
It’s just another beginning. And after the couple of days off that I’m giving myself to recover from the tiredness of the last couple years, I’m going to get excited about what’s coming next again. Bring it on! ☺
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
And in case you didn’t know, it’s now Election Day 2008! Vote away …
Sunday, November 2, 2008
What does it mean when we say, “Muslim”? Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was notable for me in that it took by the scruff of the neck the subtle and insidious belief that if someone is a Muslim, he or she is connected to terrorism. Contrary to some people’s mistaken assumptions, the majority of Muslims are not extremists, bent on bringing destruction to the West and overturning capitalism and globalization. Can we see Muslims as believers in the one true God, equally committed in their spirituality, and trust that they seek to live out their faith as diligently as we do?
What does it mean when we say, “Christian”? If it’s quoted in the media, it’s usually referring to someone in the Religious Right—an ‘evangelical Christian.’ But most of us at Fuller Seminary would probably identify ourselves as evangelical Christians; and many of us would abjure aspects of the Religious Right’s agenda, or at least their methods. Must we attach a codicil to the words “We are Christians” spelling out exactly what kind of Christian we are? Or can we be people who all follow Christ but have different ideas of what that may look like, and can we value unity in the body over our particular interpretation of Scripture? Can we trust that God works through all manner of people who claim to follow him, and even through those who do not?
What does it mean when we say, “liberty”? Is it personal and individual freedom to do whatever I please? Is it license to pursue my own prosperity, regardless of those whose wellbeing is undercut? Is it about freedom from government interference, whether it be taxes or healthcare or education? Or is it connected with responsibility at all, with a duty to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper?
What does it mean when we say, “evil”? Do we locate it in a person—Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Do we locate it in people—al Qaeda or Hamas? Do we locate it in an ideology—big government, being pro-choice, or homosexuality (referring to the sin, not the sinner, of course)? Or do we call injustice evil? Do we call poverty evil? Do we call thousands of African children dying every day from preventable diseases and for lack of drinking water evil?
David Dark writes, “We need media that will help our words (freedom, love, terror, mercy, evil, forgiveness, democracy) regain their heft. When they lose their heft, we’re tools for whatever contagion best suits the stratagems of the prospering wicked. We lose the ability to question someone else’s abstractions, and we’re left with little means to learn or understand better stories than whatever seems to suit our anxious projections of ourselves” (The Gospel According to America, 49).
May we learn to be careful with the words we choose and the words we use.
I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.As General Powell pointed out, the underlying association that the McCain campaign was banking on was that people would associate Muslims with terrorists, a ploy which undermines any attempts at living in peace together because it grossly misrepresents the majority of Muslims and what they stand for. There are actually great similarities between Islam and Christianity: both the church and the Umma (the Muslim community) stand for ideals of justice, righteousness and peace. Both the Bible and the Qur’an agree that God is one, and generally-speaking, Christians and Muslims believe they are talking about the same God, though their witness concerning God may be different. Both Christians and Muslims believe that this God that they both worship is the Creator, and that he is separate from his creation. Both Christians and Muslims believe that God reveals himself to humanity, whether through the person of Jesus Christ or the words of the Qur’an. Both faiths stress peace and humility in relating to people of other faiths. Though Islam is a missionary faith like Christianity, it says in the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error” (2:256). Likewise, though Christians are called to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:20), they are also called to reflect the character and attitude of Jesus (Phil. 2:5ff), and to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22ff). This is especially noteworthy when one considers the complex relationships between Christians and Muslims in the world today.
But the really right answer is, "What if he is?" Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated [with] terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards—Purple Heart, Bronze Star—showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American.
He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.
For many, especially for those of one faith who have not considered the other, it is all too easy to assume, perhaps because of the polarization between the two faiths that we see in American culture and the media, e.g. Islamic extremists and Christian fundamentalists, that our differences are too great. Of course, there are differences between the two faiths—substantive differences about humanity’s nature being fallen or not, or about the final revelation of God coming through the Bible and Jesus or Muhammad and the Qur’an—and these differences should be acknowledged, but I think that more people need to understand that we are not as far apart as those hardline factions in both our faiths would portray us.
Barack Obama is not a Muslim. But even if he were, so what?
Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The highest rate of abortion was recorded in 1981, when the rate of abortion in the States stood at an astounding 29.3 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. In the three decades since, we’ve seen a gradual decline, until last year we had 19.4 abortions per 1,000, and a total of 1.2 million. The decline is notable among teenagers, and when abortion does take place, it tends to happen earlier in the pregnancy, which is more beneficial for the mother’s health. I’m thankful for the decreasing rate of abortion. But, first, 1.2 million abortions per year is still too high for me; and second, the overall decline hides a disparity that I’ll talk about later.
The issue of (induced) abortion is one of the most contentious of our time. Some call it the defining moral issue in this election. And let me say from the outset, I believe that abortion, whenever it happens, is horrific. To crush the promise of life is an unspeakable tragedy. But I also think—I have to think—that the issue is far more comprehensive than traditional arguments for and against abortion stand. To say that one’s stance on abortion is defined by whether one believes abortion is good or bad—and I think most everyone would agree that it’s never a good thing—or by whether one believes it should be criminalized, or by some other black and white dichotomy, is too simplistic. But I’ll get into that in a second.
I believe that God gives life. Personally, I wouldn’t claim Psalm 139:13 (“it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”) as a basis for the understanding that life begins at conception. To do so would be to haphazardly harness a piece of beautifully poetic writing to support a moral argument for a biological event. It’d be like saying the creation poem of Genesis 1 tells us how God literally created the world rather than telling us the more foundational proposition that God is the Creator. (If I’ve lost you already … oh well.) But I do believe that life is a gift from God.
So I want to be committed to the position that values life—not just the life of the unborn child, but the life of the mother as well. But what does this look like? Some would say, without hesitation, making abortion illegal, or placing more restrictions on abortion. Others, like Susan Cohen, director of government affairs at the Guttmacher Institute, argue, "Evidence from around the world shows that placing restrictions on abortion to make it harder to obtain has much more to do with making it less safe than making it rarer." So, because of the contentiousness of the issue, because we don’t live in a Christian nation (and whose version of Christianity would take precedence), because there are hardliners on both sides who would be unwilling to give up any ground or meet in the middle, I want to focus on the things that we can agree upon.
Abortions are unwanted pregnancies. Virtually every single time. (But not all unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. Nearly half of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and four in 10 of these are terminated by abortion, which means that about 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion.)
So how can we try to reduce unwanted pregnancy?
Fifty percent of U.S. women obtaining abortions are younger than 25; teenagers account for 17% of all abortions. So should we continue teaching abstinence? Sure; I’m a firm believer that not having sex is the best way to prevent pregnancies. But teaching kids not to have sex isn’t going to stop them from actually having it. (The teen abortion rates declined from 42 per 1,000 in 1989 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004, and it started even before abstinence-only education kicked in, so let’s not jump on that bandwagon.) Is teaching contraception going to mean less unwanted pregnancies? Possibly, probably, hopefully; but it’s not going to definitively deal with the problem. 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users, who reported consistent, correct use, still got pregnant.
But what about other factors that come into play? According to the Guttmacher Institute’s research, non-use of any kind of birth control is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic or less-educated. Since 1994, unplanned pregnancy rates among poor women (those whose income was below the poverty line) have increased 29%, while rates among higher-income women (those with incomes at least twice the federal poverty level) have decreased by 20%. In 2001, a poor woman was four times as likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy as a higher-income woman, five times as likely to have an unintended birth and more than three times as likely to have an abortion as her higher-income counterpart.
Looking at race, Hispanic and black women are three and five times more likely, respectively, than non-Hispanic white women. On average, the abortion rate declined across the board, but while it fell 30% among non-Hispanic white women (from 15 to 11 per 1,000), it fell only 20% for Hispanic women (from 35 to 28 per 1,000) and only 15% for black women (from 59 to 50 per 1,000). For me, that disparity is a glaring indictment of the inequality that still plagues the system.
So let’s not pretend that abortion doesn’t disproportionately affect the poorer, the less-educated, and blacks and Latinos. Let’s not pretend that poverty doesn’t factor into it, that education doesn’t factor into it, that structures that may favor the majority culture don’t factor into it. Let’s not pretend that any number of other factors that I haven’t mentioned (and may not even be aware of) don’t factor. We’ll need to address the cultural issues that say, for example, that the men can do whatever they want and not take responsibility for it. We’ll need to address some cultural mindsets that have women looking to men to define their identity, thereby leading them to enter into ill-advised relationships.
In short, let’s not make abortion a black-and-white issue when there are so many factors involved that it’s mind-boggling. As I said at the beginning, I think that abortion, whenever it occurs, is a horrific tragedy, but some people approach the situation in a similar blasé manner as telling poor people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps … ignoring the fact that, figuratively speaking, some people don’t even have bootstraps.
At the end, I’m left facing a situation that seems to large to do anything about. But I think it’s better to have a more holistic understanding of issues—and everything is interconnected—than to make something cut-and-dry that is not so simple. Hopefully, it will make us less self-assured and more humble, more open to hearing out the other side and seeing what ideas and strategies they have for addressing the problems that face us. Hopefully, it will make us realize that we don’t hold all the cards, that we don’t know everything, and that those who have different opinions about a contentious issue such as this aren’t necessarily ignoring the gravity of the situation (or morons).
Obama and Abortion
Here are some things Barack has said over the last few years:
On an issue like partial birth abortion, I strongly believe that the state can properly restrict late-term abortions. I have said so repeatedly. All I've said is we should have a provision to protect the health of the mother, and many of the bills that came before me didn't have that.
Part of the reason they didn't have it was purposeful, because those who are opposed to abortion have a moral calling to try to oppose what they think is immoral. Oftentimes what they were trying to do was to polarize the debate and make it more difficult for people, so that they could try to bring an end to abortions overall.
As president, my goal is to bring people together, to listen to them, and I don't think that's any Republican out there who I've worked with who would say that I don't listen to them, I don't respect their ideas, I don't understand their perspective. And my goal is to get us out of this polarizing debate where we're always trying to score cheap political points and actually get things done.(2008 Fox News interview: presidential series; Apr 27, 2008)
I absolutely think we can find common ground [between pro-life and pro-choice positions]. And it requires a couple of things. It requires us to acknowledge that.
1. There is a moral dimension to abortion, which I think that all too often those of us who are pro-choice have not talked about or tried to tamp down. I think that's a mistake because I think all of us understand that it is a wrenching choice for anybody to think about.
2. People of good will can exist on both sides. That nobody wishes to be placed in a circumstance where they are even confronted with the choice of abortion. How we determine what's right at that moment, I think, people of good will can differ.
And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.(2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College; Apr 13, 2008)
[The issue of when life begins] is something that I have not come to a firm resolution on. I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.(2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College; Apr 13, 2008)
We've actually made progress over the last several years in reducing teen pregnancies, for example. And what I have consistently talked about is to take a comprehensive approach where we focus on abstinence, where we are teaching the sacredness of sexuality to our children.
But we also recognize the importance of good medical care for women, that we're also recognizing the importance of age-appropriate education to reduce risks. I do believe that contraception has to be part of that education process.
And if we do those things, then I think that we can reduce abortions and I think we should make sure that adoption is an option for people out there. If we put all of those things in place, then I think we will take some of the edge off the debate.
We're not going to completely resolve it. At some point, there may just be an irreconcilable difference. And those who are opposed to abortion, I think, should continue to be able to lawfully object and try to change the laws.(2008 Democratic Compassion Forum at Messiah College; Apr 13, 2008)
I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don't make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy. And I think that's where most Americans are. Now, when you describe a specific procedure that accounts for less than 1% of the abortions that take place, then naturally, people get concerned, and I think legitimately so. But the broader issue here is: Do women have the right to make these profoundly difficult decisions? And I trust them to do it. There is a broader issue: Can we move past some of the debates around which we disagree and can we start talking about the things we do agree on? Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in these circumstances.(2007 South Carolina Democratic primary debate, on MSNBC; Apr 26, 2007)
[An abortion protester at a campaign event] handed me a pamphlet. "Mr. Obama, I know you're a Christian, with a family of your own. So how can you support murdering babies?"Obama and the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)
I told him I understood his position but had to disagree with it. I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually; that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved when making that decision; that I feared a ban on abortion would force women to seek unsafe abortions, as they had once done in this country. I suggested that perhaps we could agree on ways to reduce the number of women who felt the need to have abortions in the first place.
"I will pray for you," the protester said. "I pray that you have a change of heart." Neither my mind nor my heart changed that day, nor did they in the days to come. But that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own-that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that had been extended to me.(The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama, 197-198; Oct 1, 2006)
Some have condemned Barack Obama for his support of the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation which will remove all of the legal restrictions on abortion that have developed in the years since Roe v. Wade. Personally, I would prefer that Barack be less pro-choice than he is; and many would argue that his championing of the Freedom of Choice Act clearly demonstrates what an extreme pro-abortionist he is, but this is the reductive and simplistic view that I have been arguing against. I believe that, despite being pro-choice (and I believe one can be pro-choice and still be a Christian), he is wanting to meet those in the middle who want to work on ways that will achieve a reduction in unwanted pregnancies, precisely by addressing many of the factors (poverty, education) that I outlined above (and healthcare, which I didn’t mention) that many people would categorize as separate issues.
I recognize that I may not agree with you on this issue—can’t please everyone, right? And I may not have persuaded you to think otherwise. But persuasion hasn’t been my goal. I really just wanted to articulate the thoughts that are zooming around in my brain. I will confess that an issue as big and complex as this often leaves me stumped, and I swing back and forth on the best perspective with which to view the problem, and the best ways to deal with it. But I’ll do the best I can with what I do know and understand, and trust that God will somehow put his redeeming touch on my sin-tainted thoughts and actions.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne describes what he saw in America after the events of September 11th, 2001:
Conservative Christians rallied around the drums of war. Liberal Christians took to the streets. The cross was smothered by the flag and trampled under the feet of angry protesters. The church community was lost, so the many hungry seekers found community in the civic religion of American patriotism. People were hurting and crying out for healing, for salvation in the best sense of the word, as in the salve with which you dress a wound. A people longing for a savior placed their faith in the fragile hands of human logic and military strength, which have always let us down. They have always fallen short of the glory of God. (2006:199)
The Christian faith became too easily subsumed into American patriotism, and there were many in the American Church too easily persuaded to support the war in Iraq. Yet Obery Hendricks Jr. argues that this is not an isolated incident but a cultural phenomenon: “in the strange calculus of American political culture patriotism has come to be virtually equated with Christianity. Love of country is extolled in the same breath as love of God” (The Politics of Jesus, 2006:324).
Such an attitude is not only unbiblical, but it undermines the global and universal nature of God’s invitation and salvation. As Jim Wallis comments, “Nationalism doesn’t go well with the kingdom of God. The church is the international body of Christ, and “God bless America” is not found in the Bible” (The Great Awakening, 2008:74). In Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address in 1865, he acknowledged the tragic irony of asking God to be on one’s side:
Both [sides] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not, that we not be judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully. (quoted in E.J. Dionne, Souled Out, 2008:186)
His advice: “Do not say that God is on our side. Let us hope that we are on God’s side” (quoted in Hendricks 2006:193).
It would be easy, especially in a country where Christianity—or some semblance thereof—is so ingrained into the cultural identity and where national pride is so encouraged, for Christians to allow their faith and their love of country to become intertwined, for God to be seen as promoting their agenda—whether conservative, evangelical, liberal. When this does happen, as has happened in part already, the American church’s mission to the world—to demonstrate the love of Christ and the power of the gospel—is hampered by her association with all other things American: “For many in America and around the world, the American flag has smothered the glory of the cross, and the ugliness of our American version of Caesar has squelched the radiant love of Christ” (Greg Boyd, The Myth of an American Nation, 2005:14).
Monday, October 20, 2008
Hear my cry, O Lord, out of the depths of my soul!(“Watchmen,” Lifesize, based on Psalm 130)
Let your ears be attentive to me, attentive to me:
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning.
Put your hope in the Lord, for with him is unending love;
he will redeem us from all of our sins, from all of our sins.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning.
Socialism is a fairly nebulous term, having been used to describe positions as different as anarchism, communism, and social democracy. At its most neutral, it is, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "a social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members."
But most commonly, people (especially in America) equate it with communism. Because of this, you would be hard-pressed to find any politicians in America describing themselves as social democrats (as you have in Europe). But the idea behind socialism at its most basic is about shared responsibility, shared contribution and shared profit. In reality, it is hard to achieve, but the goal is pretty admirable, isn’t it?
For Christians, this idea of sharing, of interconnectedness, of mutuality shouldn’t be foreign to us. To mention a couple of points, Luke writes in Acts, “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (4:32, 34-35). And Jesus tells us, “just as you did [or did not] to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40, 45).
Now I’m not saying this automatically translates into a government-sponsored commonality at all, but the whole individualistic idea of everyone looking out for themselves is something I’m a lot less comfortable with. (Perhaps having lived in ‘socialist’ and ‘heathen’ Europe for eight years has rubbed off on me.) Nor am I ragging on those who, through their hard work, are doing very well for themselves. I applaud them, and I commend them when they are generous in giving. But charity is different from justice, because charity doesn’t address the injustices in the system.
As for Obama and socialism, here’s what former Secretary of State Colin Powell had to say:
Taxes are always a redistribution of money. Most of the taxes that are redistributed go back to those who pay them—in roads and airports and hospitals and schools. And taxes are necessary for the common good, and there's nothing wrong with examining what our tax structure is or who should be paying more, who should be paying less. For us to say that makes you a socialist, I think, is an unfortunate characterization that isn't accurate.
If you want to play the socialist card regardless, then you’re probably gonna have to acknowledge that the $700b bailout which, in part, will give a bunch of money to failing banks, is socialist, and that McCain’s idea of having the government buy up bad mortgages is pretty socialist too.
I’ve never liked labels or boxes, especially when they’re usually so nebulous—what, for example, does it mean to be a Christian when we’re represented by people as different as Jerry Falwell, Tony Campolo, Gene Robinson, and Jeremiah Wright? But in any and every case, I think we need to be careful how we use them.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
“I want to acknowledge that Sen. McCain tried to tone down the rhetoric in his town hall meeting yesterday,” Obama said at a morning rally in North Philadelphia, drawing loud boos from the mostly Black audience.
Obama pivoted into a mini riff on civil political discourse, concluding “We can disagree without being disagreeable.”
Friday, October 10, 2008
If I leap, if I trust, I do not know for sure what will happen.
What I do know is this: if I don't leap, if I don't trust, if I don't hope, if I don't ask, I will never soar. I will never know. I will live and grow old and die standing on the side of that cliff.
NB. Not to be taken literally.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
First of all, a little on Bill Ayers. In the 1960s, he was a student activist who was one of the leaders of the Weathermen group, also known as the Weather Underground, an organization that campaigned against the government’s involvement in the Vietnam War, often by violent means, such as bombs. Since the early 1980s however, Ayers has been well-known for his work in education reform. Currently a Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, his interests include “teaching for social justice, urban educational reform, narrative and interpretive research, children in trouble with the law, and related issues.” He’s worked with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to help shape the city’s school reform system, and was even named Chicago’s Citizen of the Year Award in 1997 for his work in school reform. So he’s hardly an anti-establishment figure right now.
Which leads us to the connection between Ayers and Obama. Ayers hosted a meet-and-greet for his inaugural run for the state senate in 1995, contributed $200 to Barack’s re-election fund to the Illinois State Senate in 2001, and the two served together from 2000-2002 on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty, philanthropic foundation. That’s about it. Obama’s denounced the violent actions of the Weather Underground, and since he was 8 years old and living in Indonesia at the time, it’s hard to see how the guilt by association ploy works at all.
What angers, frustrates, but most of all, worries, me is that I don’t think they understand the consequences of what they’re doing. McCain and Palin are equating Barack Obama with a terrorist. Unless you’re inclined to think that Barack is some kind of Manchurian candidate (and if you do, I really can’t help you), such a claim is absurd. Not only this, but it feeds into the fears and prejudices of people who are already uncertain about him, whether because of his race or his name. At McCain and Palin rallies recently, they’ve been asking the question, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” In response, people have been shouting, “Terrorist!” or “Traitor!”, and in one case, even calling for him to be killed.
I came across this video clip this morning. I’ll let the people speak for themselves.
Of course, I’m not saying that all people who are against Barack are only against him because they’re paranoid or ignorant. But you’ve got to wonder if the McCain campaign understands the kind of vitriol they’re inciting with their line of character attacks. And if they do know what they’re doing, what does this say about the kind of administration they’d lead?
I understand attacking an opponent’s policy proposals, for outlining why you disagree on the economy or on foreign policy or on energy, for pointing out where you think the holes are in the other person’s ideas. But trying to incite animosity, or to try to win votes by playing on people’s fears, is deplorable.
UPDATE: Here's what Barack had to say about the issue today (Oct. 9).
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
When I arrived in the US in the summer of 2006, I had never even heard the name of Barack Obama, and I had very little interest in politics. That changed within a month of being here. A friend of mine, shocked at my ignorance, directed me to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where Obama was the keynote speaker. I watched the video. I was blown away.
[You can see the video here, and read the transcript here.]
Here was a man who inspired me to believe in hope for the future, even at a time when we were still entrenched in Iraq, chasing the wind of Al Qaeda and catching nothing, and our foreign policy had led us to become largely isolated from and resented by the rest of the world—coming from the UK, I experienced a fair amount of this. Here was a man who exuded responsible (not just more or less) government, who spoke of the audacity of hope, who seemed to speak for everyone. Here was a man of charisma, of inspiration. Yet there was something more, a sense that these were more than just words.
And as I watched him and listened to him, I began to believe. I trust Barack Obama: I trust his character, I trust his integrity, I trust his faith in God and his faith in people.
People may call me a fool for being taken in by his empty rhetoric and his false promises; they may deride me or be anxious for me because I think that he will actually try to do the things that he says he will. However, those who know me know that I brook no nonsense, that I do not make decisions lightly, impulsively, or irrationally. Furthermore, while I understand that presidents often are unable (or unwilling) to carry through on promises they make to the people, I support the vision that Barack has and the direction he wants to take the country.
I believe that his faith shapes his life, shapes his choices and decisions. He was not raised in a Christian, or in any kind of religious, household; his parents had Muslim, Baptist and Methodist roots, but the Bible, Koran, and Bhagavad Gita shared shelf space with books of mythology. He is a Christian now (contrary to circulating reports about him being a Muslim), but I’ll let his own words speak for him. Probably the most widely-publicized are his words in The Audacity of Hope, in which he writes:
It was because of these newfound understandings—that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved—that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ [in Chicago] one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth. (208)
In January 2007, reporter Cathleen Falsani (who also wrote an article on Bono’s faith), asked him the question, “Are you an evangelical?”
Gosh, I’m not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations. I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means.
Does it mean that you feel you’ve got a personal relationship with Christ the savior? Then that’s directly part of the black church experience. Does it mean you’re born-again in a classic sense, with all the accoutrements that go along with that, as it’s understood by some other tradition? I’m not sure.
My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn’t grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions.
There are aspects of Christian tradition that I’m comfortable with and aspects that I’m not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, ‘You know, I’m not sure about that.’
A simple ‘yes’ would have been much easier. But it would have been too simplistic. Faith is not simplistic. It is simple, but it is not simplistic. In 2006, Obama delivered the keynote address for the Call to Renewal conference and it was described by Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. as “what may be the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy’s Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican.” For the full text of the address, you can go here, but here are some snippets (that definitely do not encapsulate the inspiration of the speech):
Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place because you are first of this world, not apart from it.
[Conservative religious leaders] need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.
[When a gang member] shoots indiscriminately into a crowd … there’s a hole in that young man’s heart—a hole that the government alone cannot fix. [Contraception can reduce teen pregnancy rates, but so can] faith and guidance [which] help fortify a young woman’s sense of self, a young man’s sense of responsibility and a sense of reverence that all young people should have for the act of sexual intimacy.
Our fear of getting “preachy” may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in some of our most urgent social problems.
No matter how religious they may or may not be, people are tired of seeing faith used as a tool of attack. They don’t want faith used to belittle or to divide. They’re tired of hearing folks deliver more screed than sermon. Because in the end, that’s not how they think about faith in their own lives.
Before I began to learn more and more about the issues and policies, the biggest draw for me was his character. I admire Barack Obama because he preaches and lives out integrity and accountability—in his work as a state senator, as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, as a lawyer, in his life as a father, husband and Christian. I admire the fact that he had the conviction to vote against the war in Iraq when even I thought it wasn’t all that bad an idea. I like that he has won the unofficial endorsement of Colin Powell, a man I greatly admire; Powell serves as an informal advisor to Obama, which counts in my book. He is a politician who has been described as ‘humble’ (by CA Senator Barbara Boxer).
But I am not simply voting for Barack because he is a Christian, because he has what I perceive to be good character. I support him also in the policies that he puts forward and the things that he defends. I don’t agree with him on every issue, I don’t expect him to legislate exactly as I would like. But for the most part, I see in Barack Obama a more pragmatic and more thought-out approach in terms of what the gospel demands of us on the one hand and what the Constitution demands of us on the other. I think the line that politicians have to tread in living out their faith is a very narrow tightrope, and it involves much balancing and careful consideration.
Three years ago, before I’d even heard of Barack Obama, I figured that American unilateral action in Iraq and its belligerence on other matters of foreign policy had relegated the world’s richest and most powerful nation to the role of global bully and isolated it against the rest of the world. I figured that the Republicans had cornered the Christian vote, that people who voted both pro-life and for the death penalty (a contradictory position for those who believe in the sanctity of human life?) would also vote red. Then along came a guy who introduced me to the nuances of the interaction between politics and faith, re-emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between church and state while maintaining that his faith is not something that can be detached from his character and his decisions. I figured that the only way to work for change was to challenge governments to do things by getting people to make enough noise, as Bono did with the One Campaign and Make Poverty History (and continues to do with other matters). Then along came Barack Obama, who made me believe that the system, while flawed and broken, is not impossible to work within, though much grace and perseverance is required.
In the next part, I’ll take a look at some of these policies.