Saturday, September 13, 2008

America Robbed - The Debate We Need

My frustration with the presidential campaign is impossible to overstate. The designation of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential nominee has made a thoughtful discussion of the issues virtually impossible. Dialogue about the economy, the wars, the environment has been replaced with nonsense about eBay, lipstick, and bridges to nowhere.

I had strong hopes that an Obama/McCain race would put two capable candidates on the stage for a serious conversation about this country's future. Unfortunately, McCain's reckless designation of a highly unqualified vice-presidential nominee has spiked any prospect for that. Instead we'll be exploring "when is an earmark an earmark" or "who fixes lunch for the kids when mom is vice-president?"

Last Sunday (9/7/08) Sen Joe Biden, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate, gave a preview of what could have been when he was interviewed by Tom Brokaw on NBC's "Meet the Press." Asked about his position on abortion Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, responded in a thoughtful, reflective way that honored the nuances so important to issues of faith and public policy. It has received little attention; the press has been busy tracking down Palin's per diems for being home.

I've appended a transcript of that portion of the interview. Watching the video clip is better because it shows the personal dimension more effectively.

It's not poetry, but it is precisely the quality of conversation we deserve. And we're not getting it.


The following transcript is an excerpt of an interview with Sen. Joe Biden on "Meet the Press" for 9/7/08. The text was clipped without edit from the program's web page.

MR. BROKAW: You're a lifetime communicant in the Catholic Church. You've talked often about your faith and the, and the strength of your feelings about your faith.

SEN. BIDEN: Actually, I haven't talked often about my faith. I seldom talk about my faith. Other people talk about my faith.

MR. BROKAW: I'll give you an opportunity to talk about it now.


MR. BROKAW: Two weeks ago I interviewed Senator Nancy Pelosi--she's the speaker of the House, obviously--when she was in Denver. When Barack Obama appeared before Rick Warren, he was asked a simple question: When does life begin? And he said at that time that it was above his pay grade. That was the essence of his question. When I asked the speaker what advice she would give him about when life began, she said the church has struggled with this issue for a long time, especially in the last 50 years or so. Her archbishop and others across the country had a very strong refutation to her views on all this; I guess the strongest probably came from Edward Cardinal Egan, who's the Archbishop of New York. He said, "Anyone who dares to defend that they may be legitimately killed because another human being `chooses' to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name." Those are very strong words. If Senator Obama comes to you and says, "When does life begin? Help me out here, Joe," as a Roman Catholic, what would you say to him?

SEN. BIDEN: I'd say, "Look, I know when it begins for me." It's a personal and private issue. For me, as a Roman Catholic, I'm prepared to accept the teachings of my church. But let me tell you. There are an awful lot of people of great confessional faiths--Protestants, Jews, Muslims and others--who have a different view. They believe in God as strongly as I do. They're intensely as religious as I am religious. They believe in their faith and they believe in human life, and they have differing views as to when life--I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me is inappropriate in a pluralistic society. And I know you get the push back, "Well, what about fascism?" Everybody, you know, you going to say fascism's all right? Fascism isn't a matter of faith. No decent religious person thinks fascism is a good idea.

MR. BROKAW: But if you, you believe that life begins at conception, and you've also voted for abortion rights...

SEN. BIDEN: No, what a voted against curtailing the right, criminalizing abortion. I voted against telling everyone else in the country that they have to accept my religiously based view that it's a moment of conception. There is a debate in our church, as Cardinal Egan would acknowledge, that's existed. Back in "Summa Theologia," when Thomas Aquinas wrote "Summa Theologia," he said there was no--it didn't occur until quickening, 40 days after conception. How am I going out and tell you, if you or anyone else that you must insist upon my view that is based on a matter of faith? And that's the reason I haven't. But then again, I also don't support a lot of other things. I don't support public, public funding. I don't, because that flips the burden. That's then telling me I have to accept a different view. This is a matter between a person's God, however they believe in God, their doctor and themselves in what is always a--and what we're going to be spending our time doing is making sure that we reduce considerably the amount of abortions that take place by providing the care, the assistance and the encouragement for people to be able to carry to term and to raise their children.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Theological Weather Report

Originally uploaded by Nancy Jo
This has to be said.

Early in August Dr. James Dobson, leader of Focus on the Family, an evangelical, politically conservative group, stirred attention by inviting people to "ask God to open the heavens and let precipitation pour on Barack Obama just before his nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 28."(Los Angeles Times, 8/12/08)

I do not believe in an interventionist God who takes sides, whether in political conventions or football games, and then metes out some form of retribution on the other side by using the vast supply of meteorological tools available to God. Nonetheless, I took a certain wry pleasure in the beautiful weather enjoyed by the 75,000 or so attendees at the Obama acceptance speech.

Then this morning, as I watched the frantic preparations for the horrendous hurricane that seems to be once again barreling into New Orleans, my mind started turning. It appears that this will have a major impact on the Republican National Convention and on the acceptance speech of Dobson's candidate, John McCain (albeit tepid support because McCain is too liberal on some issues, particularly abortion). In a sense it can be said, if only metaphorically, that the rain prayed for on Obama seems to have been redirected to McCain.

Since I don't believe any of this bunk, I can comfortably ask this of Dobson and his cronies of the religious right: "Could you explain this little misstep to your followers who prayed for rain in one place and got a hurricane in another?" I ask this question of Dobson on behalf of millions of people who continue to see their faith demeaned and ridiculed by the reckless and unprincipled use of God's name to advance a political agenda.

And by the way, this morning the White House announced that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney would be attending the convention because of the storm on the Gulf Coast.

It sounds to me like the only one who got his prayers answered was John McCain.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

America Insulted

My longtime respect for John McCain as an ethical, independent voice has been withering for weeks and now has dropped like a rock into the sea. This photo, posted on the McCain website, is a graphic depiction of the lie perpetrated by McCain in selecting Sarah Palin as his nominee for vice-president of the United States. It should have read "Country Last," for that is precisely where he has put this nation.
This man had the audacity to claim that Barack Obama's call for an Iraq timetable showed he was willing to lose a war in order to win an election. After making that absurd and offensive allegation this 71 year old presidential candidate with four occurrences of cancer then puts the whole country in peril by nominating a wholly unqualified "hockey mom" to stand a mere heartbeat away from becoming the leader of the free world. My God, the sheer arrogance, let alone stupidity, of this is beyond words.

Thursday evening we witnessed a stunning and inspiring address by Obama calling on this nation to live out its highest values at home and abroad. Whether one opposed or supported him it seemed clear that we could have a presidential campaign focused on the big issues of our time, with quality candidates dedicated to a fair and thoughtful dialogue about our nation's future.

And then, after playing a childish media game of hide and seek, Sarah Palin was dropped with a THUD into the heart of the 2008 election. In only a matter of hours the Internet was alive with satirical lampoons and cheesecake photographs (some undoubtedly doctored, but still...). I'll concede she's got better legs than Joe Biden, but unless she can work that into the vice presidential debate on national security I don't see it as something that will turn a blue state red.

We will now spend weeks making comments like the preceding paragraph and who knows what will surface. The significance and dignity of the process is now in serious question. It is not Sarah Palin's fault. I am sure she is a capable person with a compelling story.

This is John McCain's fault. He has been dismissive of the breadth and diversity of American women by assuming that nominating a person with the right body parts will compel millions of females to blindly vote for her, despite vast differences in values and policies. "I am a Vagina American," they declare on Jon Stewart's Daily Show.

It's a great day for comedians, but it is a national tragedy for this country and for my granddaughter. Ashley seemingly has to grow up in a society governed by the cynical and the desperate, people whose lust for power betrays us all.

John McCain suffered unimaginable pain and loss during his five years as a Vietnam POW. I've stopped caring. He no longer gets a pass. What he has done these past few weeks, and especially yesterday, cannot be tolerated. Our nation is so much better than this. So much better.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Soulful Words Matter More

Originally uploaded by DemConvention
A few months ago I was reflecting on Barack Obama's oratorical skills and I posted a piece here about the importance of words ("Words Matter," 02-06-2008). At the time there was, perhaps understandably, some concern about the candidacy of a relatively unknown, seemingly inexperienced, but highly charismatic figure. It was as if we couldn't trust our own visceral responses. He was the stranger offering a candy bar to the school kid.

I took the optimistic side, believing that this is not a case of the emperor having no clothes. I wrote that there was more than met the eye:
Obama seems to understand the importance of words. His delivery has something of the feel of the black preacher, but there is more. There is a depth behind the words that goes beyond the rhythm and cadence by which they are spoken.
I continue to believe that. However, the speeches of Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton at this week's Democratic National Convention have led me to "revise and extend my remarks," as legislators say while padding the Congressional Record with speeches never given.

I was gone during much of Monday evening and listened to Michelle's speech in the car, including the closing where Barack appeared on the big screen (from right here in Kansas City) and chatted briefly with his wife and kids.

On the radio the light-hearted repartee sounded awkward, the kids a bit bratty. The whole thing seemed contrived. I was therefore quite surprised to hear the talking heads going on and on about the charm and spontaneity of those exchanges. When I watched the replay I saw exactly what they meant. The words in her speech framed the issues and she delivered them with aplomb. But it took a cute kid on a big stage waving at her daddy to give the moment its soul.

It is said of the Nixon/Kennedy Debate in 1960 that Nixon lost because he had a five-o'clock shadow. People who heard the debate on the radio or read a transcript tended to think Nixon won. Those who watched on television thought Kennedy won. Most scholars believe the debate, the first one televised, was the difference in the outcome. Some think it was appearance. I tend to think it was soul.

Hillary Clinton's speech last night was a masterpiece. I have never been a big fan of her oratory; she often seemed strident and a bit wooden. But this one hit all the marks. It was exquisitely written and masterfully delivered. She drove it home, controlling its pace by running over the tendency of a crowd like this to applaud or give ovations to every other line. She controlled the speech because she had it "written on her inward parts," to adapt the covenantal phrasing in Jeremiah 31:33.

I still believe that words matter and can shape and change ideas. But these two extraordinary women, both delivering the speeches of their lives, have shown us that when they become soulful words they can not only change ideas but they can transform society.

People still seem a bit unsure about Barack Obama's soul. His most significant supporter and his most persistent critic have this week pointed the way to a future that affirms the worth of all persons and embraces a global community living in a world at peace. Now we will see if he can lead us not just with words eloquently spoken, but with heart and soul worthy of this transforming moment in our history.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friendship in the Era of Facebook

I've made a lot of friends in the past few weeks since my kids bumped me into the world of Facebook--some 115 of them as of now, according to my profile. I barely know many of these friends, have never met some of them, and am only connected to others through secondary sources by way of family, schools, churches, or geography. Requests come like a rock dropped into the sea, ever widening ripples of friendship that threaten to ultimately befriend me with the entire human race. No way can I keep up with birthday cards to a Rolodex like that.

It is kind of an eerie feeling to receive a note from someone unknown to me who wants to be my friend. I wonder what leads to such requests. I always look to see what connections may have prompted this invitation. In most cases the link becomes obvious, the person virtuous, and the contact harmless. If I turn down the request, which is easily done, what kind of a jerk am I?

On the other hand, if I agree to be a "friend" to such as these what does that say about the meaning and significance of friendship? I discovered a fellow traveler in a New York Times piece by David Carr, "Hey Friend, Do I Know You?" Carr's questions mirror my own. He writes:
As we speak, my Facebook page, a couple of months old, is crawling past 200 friends. There are people on there whom I have known since they wore skinny ties and distressed sport coats, and there are others whom I would not know if they walked up with name tags the size of sandwich boards. But we have friends in common, and in the parlance of social media, we are connected.
The whole piece is well worth reading. I know that this new era of social networking is causing a fresh assessment of relationships, a new map that has the potential of building bridges of peace. Of course, one must also acknowledge that there is a darker side that must be monitored as well. That which heals us can also harm us.

So we'll see how this goes. There is much here to engage us in thoughtful reflection about relationships, community, and human worth.

I am glad to have new friends. However, if I fail to send a Christmas card I trust you'll understand.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tim Russert's Long Goodbye

The death of Tim Russert has been a hard blow for me, as I mentioned in my previous post. A friend of mine shares with me the penchant of having sometimes referred to Meet the Press as "our Sunday morning church," a commonality that bristles with irony if one knows the whole story. He called me up the other day and said, "Grant, we've lost our pastor." And so it seemed.

I've watched Meet the Press for decades and never did I sit choking back sobs like I did last Sunday. That apparently was true for many, resulting in a national mourning that seemed it would never end. Russert's farewell was like those usually reserved for presidents, not for the working press.

The media attention has been amazing to me, not just in duration but also in tone. I know they were dealing with one of their own and this one happened to have so many redeeming qualities that it seemed impossible, even irreverent, to harness the superlatives. It just seemed that they couldn't run out of good things to say. Political journalists get jaded and hard-bitten at times, but suddenly they all became dads and moms, wearing comfortable sweaters and a pair of slippers. They referred to their news bureaus as "families" and their colleagues as "godparents" and "dear friends." And on top of it all, as the memorial service ended with a rendition of "Over the Rainbow" a sure enough real rainbow parked itself over the NBC studios. This may become one of those urban legends, but for the moment I choose to suspend disbelief.

Some cynics are now beginning to question the coverage as overkill, something I've been expecting and even understand. Jack Shafer, editor at large of the online magazine Slate, wrote a controversial piece on Monday in which he referred to the media attention as a "canonization" of Russert. This led to a spirited discussion on NPR that revealed the strong feelings elicited by this man.

I suspect that this has as much to do with our culture as with Tim Russert. Of Russert it is said that he was competent and fair as a journalist, open and compassionate with his staff, loyal and caring to his friends, and loving and attentive to his family. These are virtues, wise and true, but why lionize such a man? Isn't that the way we all should be?

The answer, of course, is yes. The rest of the answer is that we are not.

I know that the major reason for my tears is not how badly I will miss his journalism (and I really, really will). I cried because I didn't have a dad like that. I really didn't have a dad at all, and the older I get the more I know how much I needed one.

I don't think my sons had a dad like that either. But I think they had a better one than I had, and I think their children will have better ones than they had. Big Russ, Tim, and Luke have inspired us by example to find a way.

Tim Russert didn't need this long farewell. But we did. I am grateful that the remarkable Russert family allowed us to borrow him for a few days, even in their grief, so that we could have Tim "for the whole hour."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert - Pursuing Truth

I suppose it is the nature of 21st century media that we build emotional connections with people we have never met. I have been experiencing that over the last few hours since hearing the tragic news of Tim Russert's death.

I was in my physician's waiting room, restlessly tapping my foot, when my phone vibrated, alerting me to a breaking news report. I read it on a two inch screen with dismay and shock. It seemed personal.

The tributes on the television tonight have been remarkable. His commitment to family, love of his dad and his son, got much of the respect from the hardened journalists and politicians who spoke of him throughout the evening.

These days I sometimes get asked about where I attend church. My answer, depending on who is asking, is to chuckle and say that I'm often at Meet the Press church. I don't mean to be disrespectful to religion. Not at all. But there is a measure of larger truth to what I'm saying there. That program has for 17 years been hosted by a man who, in addition to his love of family, understands history and culture and has a healthy respect for faith and patriotism. Every Sunday he looks across the table at our world's movers and shakers and respectfully but fearlessly asks the penetrating questions that need to be asked on behalf of us all.

In other words, he pursued the truth. At its best, when it is on message, that is what religion does. All churches should do so well as to have one such as this as their messenger.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Learnings from Ashley - Part 2 of 2

A few days ago I had some fun with this blog when I posted some reflections from the experience of caring for my granddaughter over a period of two months. It is easy to smile at Ashley's expressions or to cluck our tongues because of how cute she is. We love her innocence even in knowing that life will soon make it over into something else. But enough of that--for now we shall embrace the joy and allow it to lift our spirits and fill our hearts.

But there is something more to all of this than diaper stories. I am learning how a young child unwittingly provides us with a chance to peer deeply into our own souls and to discover things that might even transform us, but will at the very least cause us to ponder. Here are a few things I stumbled onto.

Born to be Ashley. When Ashley was in the womb the family used to talk about what she would look like. Those sonograms are pretty awesome, but once the genitalia issue was resolved it was difficult to determine much else about her features. And then she arrived. Our response was, "Of course, THAT is what she looks like. She's Ashley. She resembles....." (well, take your pick on that one--kind of depends on what branch of the family tree one hangs on). But this we knew--she's Ashley, looking exactly like she should, like we knew she would all along.

Born as a Person of Worth in the Sight of God. One of the centering principles of my life comes from my own faith tradition, in which it is proclaimed that all persons are of inestimable worth in the sight of God. This concept has profound implications for how we live our lives, conduct our relationships, and shape our political and economic priorities. I love this principle. Now comes Ashley to embody it.

Born Joyful. When Ashley was about two months old I found myself fascinated by her smiles, her laughter, and her joy. Where did this come from? What made something funny? I wrote about this a few months ago in a blog post I called "From Whence Cometh Joy?" I still marvel at it but Ashley has persuaded me that joy is birthed within, written on our inward parts. I don't know that I can defend this in College Anatomy 101, but it passes the Ashley test. Joy is in there somewhere, maybe swimming around with the intestines and the kidneys for all I know. So here's the deal. My little granddaughter has made it clear that her joy is something to be nurtured. We're going to help her with that. And don't anyone dare try to snuff it out.

Born to be a Healer. This is a little personal and perhaps a bit presumptuous but I claim it as something I learned from Ashley. Over the course of those weeks we spent together Ashley and I had some conversations. Our faces were just a few inches apart during these times. We looked into each others eyes while talking and, miracuously, she didn't divert hers. She kept her gaze focused as I told her some things she needed to know. But I also talked with her about some pain and loss that has come into my own life in recent years, largely of my own doing. When I was done talking she kept her gaze and then she did something remarkable. She gurgled forgiveness and her little hand wrapped around my finger and squeezed out a dose of redemption. I embraced the gift with tears.

Ashley is growing up in a difficult time. An unconscionable war is being waged in Iraq. Gasoline prices are spiraling upward at a record pace and the American economy is in trouble. It is a political season, one with some positive signs but also serious dangers. Ethnic, religious, and political divisions threaten our global culture.

Part of me wants to shelter her from all that. But another part of me knows she cannot be sheltered, indeed must not be. After all, she is the one who brings me the most hope, the most promise for a better day, the best reason to believe in the possibilities of tomorrow.

And a little child shall lead them...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Learnings from Ashley - Part 1 of 2

Today I completed over two months of day-long care of my 5 1/2 months old granddaughter Ashley. Her parents needed someone to watch her so my daughter-in-law could fulfill her teaching contract. To meet that need they gifted me with the opportunity to care for her during that time. Lyda will now stay home and be a full-time mom. I will return to self care, something undoubtedly needful but far less fun without Ashley.

I have asked for joint custody. Those negotiations are not going well.

Just before taking on this responsibility I pondered what it was going to be like and even wrote some initial anticipations in this blog. The actual experience far exceeded my fondest hopes. My time with Ashley was memorable beyond words and will be forever inscribed on my soul.

So what did I learn?

Well, on one level I discovered that child care utensils and practices are considerably different than when I last dabbled with infants and toddlers in the 1970's. I believe that using our car seat from that era might be a felony today. And there were other things...

--Diaper pins have been replaced by velcro. What's the fun in that? And just as you learn that proper diaper tautness is assured by positioning the velcro tabs on Cookie Monster's ears, here comes Bert and Ernie requiring completely different diaper geometry.

--I learned that with some extra effort it is possible for a baby's head to fit through the armhole of their little outfits. That knowledge, however, is not as appreciated as you would hope.

--I imagine there are some parents who are like me in wondering how a cute little girl can follow a feeding with a belch that topples the figurine on the bookcase across the room. I have researched this and am pleased to report that there is no evidence that such a capability leads to an adolescence involving tattoos, Harley Davidson jackets, or the cultivation of sweet smelling plants in the backyard.

--Here's a quick tip. When putting on a baby's sock it is preferable to get all five toes, including the little one, inside the sock before pulling it halfway up the calf.

--And finally, the $55 tanks of gas in my Camry have got me to wondering about capturing the energy generated by a baby's kicking feet during diaper changes--especially the ones involving you know what. Forget solar energy. You could heat your house if you just tapped a portion of that kicking action.

Ashley made me laugh, but she also made me think about important things. More about that next time.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Supreme Court Rules on Death's Sting

US Supreme Court
Originally uploaded by dbking
The United States Supreme Court dashed the hopes of death penalty opponents last Wednesday when it ruled that lethal injection protocols in Kentucky do not violate constitutional protection against "cruel and unusual punishment." While narrowly framed to apply to Kentucky's case the ruling had immediate implications for a number of other states, including Missouri, where executions had been put on hold pending the Court's ruling on the Kentucky case.

The decision could have a grisly aftermath as it would appear to open the door to a number of executions that have been suspended around the country. Matt Blunt, Missouri's ineffective, lame duck governor declared that execution orders should be reinstated immediately.

The whole matter is a bit bizarre. In Missouri the story took a tabloid turn when it was revealed that a physician administering the so-called lethal cocktail was dyslexic and allegedly transposed dosage specifications. It would be humorous if it wasn't so tragic. Can you imagine how families must feel as judges in black robes deliberate over the level of pain that is justifiable in snuffing out the lives of their loved ones?

The New York Times, in an editorial aptly entitled "The Supreme Court Fine-Tunes Pain," speaks to the swirl of issues that encircle the ruling:
The Supreme Court’s regrettable ruling upholding Kentucky’s use of lethal injection is a reminder of why government should get out of the business of executing prisoners. Rather than producing a crisp decision upholding the constitutionality of lethal injection, the court broke down into warring opinions debating the ugly question of how much unnecessary pain the state may impose.
The nonsense that underlies this debate is the reason why the death penalty should be abolished. I am not naive. I know that many brutal and repugnant men and women await their fate on death row. I was personally acquainted with a religious cult leader who was executed in Ohio after murdering five people, including three children. I wrote some reflections about that story in my blog back in 2006. I can't imagine how hard it is for the family of victims. I know that many of them believe that death brings closure and peace. I am persuaded that it does not, because it comes at the cost of brutalizing us all.

The United States is virtually alone in the developed world as a sponsor of state-supported executions. It is time for that to change. As for me, I am on the board of Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, an organization that recognizes that capital punishment is inequitably imposed, on occasion takes the life of the innocent, and every time it is used diminishes and demeans our society and its values. There is a higher standard to which we should measure ourselves.

This isn't about what dosage of chemicals is most humane in imposing death. It is about the state understanding that the sanctity of life has no exceptions.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Ashley Naps, Royals Win

So, how does it get better than this......?

A beautiful little girl downs her bottle, does her obligatory burp, and then drops off to sleep nestled in my arms, just as the Royals game begins in HIGH DEFINITION. She sleeps peacefully, beautifully, in my arms for the ENTIRE game (won by the Royals 4-0).

I had no choice. I had to just sit there and watch the ballgame, unwilling to disturb her slumber. Once the game concluded she awoke with a multitude of smiles. They are continuing even now as she plays.

The only problem was that I had put a little plate of cheese, crackers, and chips on the table, just out of my reach. All I could do was stare at them the whole time because I didn't want to awaken her.

Ashley care is going great. She is a marvel. I love her very much.

And the Royals are undefeated since she was born.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ashley Care and the Pursuit of Peace

A bit more than three months ago I became a grandfather for the first time. If you've experienced it yourself you know that it is a life-changing event, transforming your viewpoint and reordering your priorities.

Obiously, some of my impressions about such things have found their way here, even though this blog is not intended to be a family diary in perpetuity or a gallery of beautiful baby pictures. (I'm not saying that such things aren't highly desirable, so for cute kid pictures and new parent musings just skedaddle over to Brian and Lyda's blog.)

However, my purpose here is to try to weave life experiences and reflections into insights that connect to the values in my mission statement. In that spirit I want to tell you about something significant that begins today and promises to be a challenging but immensely satisfying slice of my life.

My daughter-in-law Lyda has finished her maternity leave and now returns to her classroom to fulfill her teaching contract. When the school year ends she plans to stay at home with Ashley full-time. However, between then and now there is a nine week bridge of time that needs to be covered. Brian and Lyda have asked if I would be willing to care for Ashley during that time.

I am sincere when I say that I was honored to be asked and know that it was a statement of ultimate trust. I did not take the request lightly. It is a major commitment to care for a three month old child all day long. That is especially true now that I've reached a time in life when my body is only rarely described in terms that compare favorably with the lithe frame of Greek mythology's Adonis.

Ashley, of course, was the deal clincher. The opportunity to spend long blocks of time with this child is irresistable.

Some of you are gracious enough to wander into this little corner of cyberspace and reflect with me on the smorgasbord of issues--some serious, some whimsical--that we engage in here. Because of that I thought you should know what I'll be doing over these next two months. Who knows what effect diapers, swaddling clothes, warm bottles, hissy fits, and "glad to see you, grandpa" smiles will have on my views about heritage, diversity, and peace.

I have a feeling Ashley is about to reframe them in deeply satisfying ways.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Batter's Eye

I learned something interesting when my son Jeff and I were in Arizona last week for our five day immersion in baseball spring training. I noticed that the stadiums we visited had what looked like an unfinished scoreboard or billboard in right center field. I asked Jeff, a spring training veteran, what that tacky looking board was doing out there. He said it was the "batter's eye."

Despite being a baseball fan since I was a kid, I had never heard of the "batter's eye." The entry in Wikipedia describes it thusly:
The batter's eye (short for batter's eye screen) is a solid-colored, usually dark area beyond the center field wall of a baseball stadium, that is the visual backdrop directly in the line of sight of a baseball batter, while facing the pitcher and awaiting a pitch. This dark surface allows the batter to see the pitched ball against a sharply contrasted and uncluttered background, as much for the batter's safety as anything. The use of a batter's background has been standard in baseball (as well as cricket) since at least the late 1800s.
Boy, that got me to thinking. One of baseball's canonical sayings is "keep your eye on the ball"--good advice for hitters, but also for defensive players as well. Only the pitcher is excused. They have to keep their eye on the mitt that the catcher puts up as a target. The pitcher's job is to throw sufficiently deceptive "stuff" that they prevent the hitters from keeping their eye on the ball.

But now comes the "batter's eye," designed to clean up the background so that the ball doesn't have to be seen against a fan's shirt or a homemade sign urging attention to John 3:16.

We should all have it so good. In life we all have to keep our eye on the ball as well. I'm kind of wishing we had a batter's eye to help us out. Our backgrounds tend to be cluttered with life's refuse and sometimes we just can't keep focused because of all the "stuff" that masks what we need to see and do.

The author is unknown to me, but one of my favorite sayings is this: "It is not known who first discovered water, but this much is known--it was not the fish." We are often the least equipped to see our own lives with clarity. When we're in the middle of it all, when we're looking out into centerfield and see only an array of shirts and signs, it is very difficult to see our own truths.

When things get tough it would sure be nice to have a solid dark background out there when the high, hard one comes our way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama's Grandmother and Mine

Big Heart
Originally uploaded by Golden Emporium

When I was a young boy growing up in Toronto my grandmother took me to Detroit to see my Aunt Margaret. She lived in a high rise apartment building downtown, one I had not previously visited. While the adults were chatting I began to explore and soon my wanderings took me into the outer hallway. As I walked down the long corridor I looked up and came face to face with a black man--a custodian in the building as it turned out. I gasped and a sudden wave of fear washed over me. I turned and bolted down the hall and into the safety of my aunt's apartment.

There was nothing overt in my upbringing to give me a reason to be fearful of other races. I was never taught to feel negatively toward people of color. The racism I experienced in my family was subtle and cultural. For example, my grandmother would lead us through the playful musical ditty, Eanie Meanie Miney Moe/Catch a Nigger by the Toe/If He Hollers Let Him Go/Eanie Meanie Miney Moe. It never occurred to us that the song was racially charged, nor did it seem wrong when my grandmother referred to a Brazil nut as a "nigger toe."

Later in life, as education and experience began to sensitize me to cultural racism, I was appalled to think that racial references like that were to be found in the heart of my own family. It is because of that family memory that Barack Obama's remarkable speech on racism resonated within me with such power. In responding to the understandable firestorm over the incendiary remarks of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama chose to do more than political damage control. In refusing to fully repudiate the man he described as "like family," Obama found the perfect point of reference in his own grandmother:
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Obama's courageous address is an illustration of why we need to take a chance on this guy. He reportedly labored into the night drafting this speech because he felt it needed to be said. He took a politically risky course because the issues are so important to the nation. Instead of scrambling to minimize political vulnerability Barack Obama chose to lead.

As a man with a black Kenyan father and a white Kansas mother, Obama's cultural roots are a bit more diverse than mine. But we both had a culturally challenged grandmother who loved us and who we continue to love, imperfections aside. Our shared memories become tools for the racial healing so urgently needed in our society. In his speech, Obama has framed the issues eloquently and passionately. He deserves our support.

My grandmother, may she rest in peace, was a Canadian with English and Pennsylvania Dutch bloodlines. I am sure she would be distressed to think her insensitivities would be recalled in this way. What I would explain to her is that personal memories and stories are the slices of life that link us together as human beings. Properly used in the cause of justice the stories become not an embarrassment but a blessing.

Note: The photo at the beginning of this blog is not of my grandmother or Barack Obama's. It was chosen because she looks like a grandmother we could all love.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"The Show" - Sun City Style

In the great baseball film Bull Durham a career minor league ballplayer named Crash Davis (Kevin Costner's best role) uses his limited major league experience to bedazzle the young players, all of whom live and breathe only one goal. That all consuming desire is to make it to baseball's Nirvana--the Major Leagues. In the locker room they call it "making it to the show."

Crash has had only modest playing time in the Majors, but enough to make him the resident expert for those doomed to play on the perennially woeful Durham Bulls, a Class A minor league team. It is far from the glamor and glitter of the Majors so Davis can hold the young players in the palm of his hand while spinning tales of life in the big leagues:
Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once - the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.
My point in all of this isn't to do a movie review, although I certainly recommend it as a moving and thoughtful film about many more things than just baseball. (Look it up on the Internet Movie Database.)

Actually, this is all brought to mind because my baseball-loving son and I are spending a few days in Arizona visiting some spring training sites and attending meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable games. Jeff has done this with friends for several years. This time I get to be his spring training buddy, which is pretty cool.

We're seeing a game a day in different spring training parks. Our primary focus has been our much beloved but long-suffering Kansas City Royals, scrapping this year to escape from their two decades of ineptitude. We're here to help.

Those who know me, or have read this blog for a while, know that I subscribe to the notion that baseball is life, or at least that it informs life in helpful ways. A couple of years ago I blogged here about Opening Day in baseball and how life needed one. We could all use a fresh start when anything is possible. If Royals fans can believe that anyone can.

I'm here to report, however, that life in the minors isn't as gloomy as one might imagine. There are several municipalities around Phoenix that have built excellent sports complexes that include training fields and a very nice stadium. The facility becomes identified with one or two Major League teams and team loyalty is fostered thereby. Residents, many of them seniors, work as volunteer ushers, concessionaires, souvenir store clerks, and parking attendants. The latter needs a little work. When pedestrians, SUVs, and wheelchairs converge simultaneously in one intersection it becomes clear that elderly men with whistles and waving arms do not necessarily assure public safety.

All in all, life seems pretty good here. Oh, the stadiums are smaller but the amenities aren't bad and the enthusiam is high. I'm guessing it gives the young players a foretaste of what may come. Here they live out their hopes to make it in the Big Leagues.

As for us fans, it's up-close baseball and a lot of fun to experience. Ticket prices are not proportionally lower. But if you're going to emulate "the show" why not do it in pricing, eh?

Cup holders would be appreciated.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Broken Dishes

I was in the living room sipping my morning coffee and skimming the newspaper when the dishes tumbled from the shelf and crashed to the floor in a cacophony of sounds--smashing and thudding and cracking and splattering. The cats flew across the room as if shot from a cannon and did not resurface for hours.

I ran helplessly to the kitchen, hoping to salvage a favorite mug or retrieve dishes used for special occasions. But there was little salvation to be had for the occupants of the middle shelf in the second cupboard to the right of the sink. All they could hope for was to survive as one plate out of a set of four--not really a meaningful life for a plate raised in a plate family. The verdict was a bit less brutal for the surviving mugs. They can be loners, never having to let on that they were once part of a mug community.

I swept up the broken pieces and went searching for the shards of glass hiding in corners, under appliances, and clinging to the bottom of my slippers. Apparently I had ingested an insufficient amount of coffee because my mind started to wander a bit. I began to wonder where this incident in my cupboard fit into the so-called natural order of things. Broken dishes are part of the Cosmos too, you know.

The shelf had tipped because it was missing one of those little pegs you stick into the sidewall of the cabinet. They cost about 20 cents. You're supposed to use four. We had three.I have to admit that I knew the dang peg was missing. It just seemed that some of the dishes were counter-balancing the shelf and holding it in place. I figured it would be okay if I just let it go until I remembered to stop by the hardware store.

Enter the Revenge of the Cosmos. Actually, it's not the wages of sloth I'm thinking about here. I'm aware that a little intervention the day before, even the week or month before, would have saved all this grief. That's the self evident piece of learning.

What I'm wondering about is far less evident and not really answerable. It's had months, maybe years, so why this moment to fall? There was no one in the kitchen. No exterior activity that lightly bumped the shelf into catastrophe. In the silence of the kitchen, with nary a warning, the shelf belched its contents onto the floor.

In Africa they say you die for only one reason--your time has come. I never found that comforting when I was in a car lurching over dilapidated Kenyan highways, the vehicle in the control of an African holding those views. What if his time has come, but mine hasn't? Who decides this?

But to follow the point, maybe that shelf and its contents simply had run out of clock. Maybe it's nothing more complicated than "their time had come." But if you buy that, don't you also have to accept that all of us are just hanging out until the Cosmos notifies us to gather up all our worldly belongings? Seems kind of a cynical way to look at one's life. I don't have a clue how to answer that, but maybe this will tell you something about how it played out with me.

Yesterday I went to the hardware store and bought a whole package of those little pegs to secure the shelves in our cupboards. I consider this a triumphant declaration on behalf of life and its meaning.

And anyway, it was only a couple of bucks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Broken News

Breaking news
Originally uploaded by dooce
"Film at 11:00" is the way they used to say it. That was the teaser used by television stations to alert viewers that there would be some visual to add interest to the talking heads reporting the evening news. That's when news was a serious matter, perhaps so much so as to be a bit dull.

All that has changed. It now appears that events become worthy of mention as news not because of their significance but because there is video. Local television stations report car chases from the other side of the country just because they have film taken from the traffic chopper. It drives me nuts.

I have a high regard for the contribution journalism makes to society. My oldest son is a professional journalist, a career path I once imagined for myself before I got diverted, whether for good or ill. I'm proud of my son's career and he and I have had many conversations about journalistic ethics. I've learned a lot from his experiences. I am not a persistent critic of print or electronic journalism. I'm something of a media junkie myself and probably spend way too much time with newspapers and news channels.

However, this "Breaking News" thing is just too much. It apparently is calculated to lend a sense of immediacy and urgency to a story. But what results is that the lead story becomes whatever is the most immediate traffic accident, hold-up at the 7-Eleven, or Brittany Spears DUI. It all depends, of course, on whether there is video.

It's becoming a joke, but in my opinion it isn't funny. The trivialization of local news, which seems to be happening around the country, is having a debilitating affect on the sharing of information necessary to the building of community.

Breaking news
Originally uploaded by
Naeem Rashid
We live in a very complex world in which information is the most important commodity. I find it disturbing to see a program like Larry King Live, a nightly hour-long interview show, devote night after night to high profile crimes, usually those involving beautiful white women. Apart from the hypocrisy of treating crime as entertainment, and criminals as stars, this unfortunate practice misses the opportunity to provide dialogue on the important issues of our time.

The 24 hour news channels are now going the "Breaking News" route. MSNBC, Fox, and CNN are all scrolling the hot news stories across the bottom of the screen. My 20 inch television, an object of scorn from my kids, displays the various layers of scrolling news banners at a point just below the nose of the talking heads. The announcement of Britanny Spears most recent divorce filing was presented as a "Breaking News" banner scrolling across the forehead of Wolf Blitzer.

All is not lost, of course. There are important and dependable outlets for serious news. I rarely miss Meet the Press, a hard-hitting interview show every Sunday, or This Week with George Stephanopoulos, a personal favorite. For those of us into hardcore news we can search out Chris Matthews, Bill Moyers, or the columnists of major newspapers.

But even as I write this piece the local news station is spending about ten minutes of air time reporting on tonight's American Idol highlights, and covering a contestant who lives in Joplin. I've got nothing against American Idol. I watch it myself. But it is NOT news. It is a news station using its outlet to promote an entertainment program with big ratings.

The issues in our society are way too important to be subsumed by the culture of celebrity and the pursuit of ratings and profits. The breaking news fixation is urgently in need of repair.

Be sure to shoot plenty of video.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dare I Trust Obama With My Mind and Heart?

I am admittedly a political junkie. I moved to the United States from Canada in 1959 when I was eleven years old. Even at that young age I remember being interested in the likes of Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker, who were the luminaries of Canadian politics in those days

True to form, I quickly got intrigued by American politics and can recall participating in school debates about the virtues and vices of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. I'm sure there was compelling interest among my classmates in the political views of this annoying kid who had just moved to the States from his Canadian igloo.

Nonetheless, politics became an ongoing interest of mine. I grew up and went to college in the 1960's and, like many students in those days, was deeply concerned about the war in Vietnam. I took out American citizenship in 1965 and cast my first vote for president in 1968. I will confess here what I tend to avoid admitting except when waterboarding is involved. That vote went for Richard Nixon, who said he had a "secret plan" to end the war. I believed him and thereby earned my first dose of cynicism about American politics.

I will never forget that election of 1968, particularly the Democratic National Convention, which was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago, Illinois, from August 26-29. Only part of the convention was in the Amphitheatre; the rest of it was in the streets where massive protests and violent confrontations were unfolding on national television. I vividly recall watching Senator Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn) in the podium nominating George McGovern and declaring, "If George McGovern were president, we wouldn’t have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." That led to a finger-pointing, expletive-laced response from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

But here's the thing. I spent that summer living with a friend at his grandparents' trailer home in Manteno, Illinois, where we were working at a bridge building plant. That night, in the tight confines of the trailer, my friend's grandfather was shaking his fists at the television and yelling at the "hippies" in the streets. I, in turn, was yelling at the police for clubbing college kids protesting a seemingly fixed convention. (For a wonderful, well-written book about this incredible year in American politics, read Theodore H. White's The Making of the President 1968.)

That week had a profound impact on me. I saw how politics divided generations, raised and dashed hope, and stirred cynicism and indifference. In 1972 I was excited to support the anti-war candidacy of George McGovern, only to see him crushed at the polls. In the years that followed I continued my interest in the political scene but no candidate captured both my mind and my heart.

And now comes Barack Obama. Something is going on inside me. I am far more hardened by cynicism and resistant to illusion than in those "loss of innocence" experiences of the 1960's. But I'm listening and I'm feeling. I don't think the pathway between my mind and heart has been entirely lost--just overgrown with brush and missing signage. But I think I'm going to hack at the weeds and look for directions. I'm going to allow myself to be a bit vulnerable and open myself to the possibility of hope.

It feels kind of good.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Words Matter

I have long believed that words are extremely important. I'm notorious for lingering over a phrase or incessantly massaging a paragraph. It's very annoying to editors when I'm slithering past a deadline, which I usually am. But words have power and they should be handled with care.

Originally uploaded by jovike
I have been thinking about this as I have observed the emergence of Barack Obama as a presidential candidate. His oratorical skills are remarkable and he has used those to good effect, making this political season not only interesting but also important. People are drawn to him even if they do not share his political philosophy.

I think one reason for that is that Obama seems to understand the importance of words. His delivery has something of the feel of the black preacher, but there is more. There is a depth behind the words that goes beyond the rhythm and cadence by which they are spoken. One senses that the response to his oratory signals that there may be the potential here for the formation of a national movement for change, or at least a historic realignment of American politics.

It is both inspiring and frightening. Words like this can be used for good or ill. History is the witness to both.

Ronald Reagan was a master of words. Whatever one thought of his policies no one could deny his ability to light up a room and to unify people around a core of ideas. And who will ever forget the speech he gave on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in midair. He used 648 words to comfort the families of the seven astronauts who died, and to lift the spirits of a country in mourning. His speech, written by Peggy Noonan, ended thusly:
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."
I cried.

There are phrases that continue to resonate over the years. Patrick Henry's "give me liberty or give me death." FDR's "nothing to fear" wartime challenge. JFK's "ask not" inaugural. Martin Luther King's "mountaintop." Words change lives, frame ideas, and embolden people.

This election year we will once again experience an avalanche of words, most of them justifiably forgettable. But perhaps a few will have the power to linger, to inspire, and to change us all. We must listen attentively so that we can embrace the words that speak justice and truth, and reject those that demean and delude.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

From Whence Cometh Joy?

Our wonderful granddaughter, not quite two months old, has been remaking our world. It is not just her indisputable beauty, her disarming charm, or her obvious brilliance. It is something more, something deeper and even a bit mysterious.

In the past few days Ashley has begun to smile and even to seemingly laugh inwardly in response to external stimuli. It is now too frequent and predictable to allow you cynics to dismiss it as gas. This beautiful little girl is beginning to know joy.

But why? I'll admit my three-finger helicopter landing on her stomach is pretty entertaining. My ability to twist my face into something resembling a mop would obviously result in gales of laughter among those older and more sophisticated. But how does Ashley know this is funny stuff?

It may seem like an insignificant question, but I think it is something well worth pondering. I cannot account for it except to say it seems clear that laughter and joy are inbred and not learned. To have joy, to laugh, to smile--these are inherently a part of what it means to be a human being.

I have had the privilege of traveling rather widely throughout the world. I can distinctly remember playing with a group of children in an African village. We shared no common language. We came from entirely different worlds. But within minutes we were all laughing and joking together as we played little games that American children would readily know. Laughter knows no geography, culture, or language. It comes from within.

There are many things in our world that conspire to snuff out joy and to mute laughter. To do so is a crime against humanity. Ashley has reminded me that a smile is far more than a pleasingly upturned lip. It is a declaration of life itself.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Labeling Faith and Justice

I remember watching a presidential debate four years ago in which John Kerry was asked to explain his pro-choice position in terms of his Catholic faith. His answer was painful to endure. A veteran politician who surely had to answer this question many times, he had neither the words nor the disposition to talk about his own faith. His response was like scratching fingernails down a blackboard.

That is when it hit me forcefully that the religious right has thoroughly hijacked the language and agenda connecting faith and public policy. I had worked extensively in ecumenical settings over the years and I knew very well that religion had no political affiliation. I knew that there were eloquent voices of faith speaking to issues of peace, justice, and equality. But those voices were seldom mentioned in the media, and were largely ignored by the politicians who needed their insights and their support.

After the Democrats got thumped in 2004 some politicians who embraced the cause of social justice discovered they were in need of some pastoring, and perhaps some mentoring. I posted some thoughts on this at the time, focusing particularly on Jim Wallis and his very influential book, God's Politics. It became evident that a broader understanding of faith and politics was being birthed in the national media.

Now comes a post by Brian McLaren, chair of Sojourners, one of my favorite faith and justice organizations, in which he describes the need for a new name to attach to folks like him:

A lot of us are people without a label these days.

Media folks want to call us the “Religious Left,” since they can tell we’re not the Religious Right. But that bipolar terminology brings a lot of baggage we neither want nor believe in. There’s “Progressive Christians” – but that’s interpreted by some as a euphemism for “Religious Left.” Some people like to mix red/Republican and blue/Democrat and speak of “Purple Christians,” but the image for me evokes bug-eyed believers who have held their breath too long.

Despite the progress made since 2004, it seems that the "faith agenda" is now dominated by Huckabee evangelicals and Romney Mormons--a fascinating thing to watch but certainly not something driven by social justice issues. Obama has pulpit oratory reminiscent of the black preachers but religion is not really at the heart of the man or his policies. The efforts of other candidates to utilize faith talk has been at best uninspiring and sometimes embarrassing. Once again the presidential campaign is lacking the voice that finds justice, not creationism, in faith, and that names the poor, not the privileged, as a religious cause.

Labels are often a negative thing. They oversimplify. They divide. They minimize.

But sometimes a wisp of an idea, however virtuous, needs first to be named. A label will guarantee nothing. It is by deeds that we shall be known. But those of us whose faith embraces social justice need to find a name that gives voice and identity to the cause, perhaps the calling, that defines us and unites us.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Huckabee's Pulpit

A few months ago I commented to friends that if I was a religious evangelical and political conservative I'd be looking at Mike Huckabee as a presidential candidate. He is articulate and humorous. His conservative credentials are strong. He's a Baptist preacher, far more orthodox by Protestant Christian standards than Mitt Romney, a Mormon and the other claimant for the religious right vote.

Sure enough, his personal charm and down home style began to attract a following. Running in what many feel is a weak Republican field, he scored an unexpected victory in the Iowa caucuses. Now he has jumped to the top of many national polls.

We should be very afraid.

On January 14 in Warren, Michigan, Huckabee was speaking to a large crowd about proposals for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I knew his position on those issues, but nothing had prepared me to hear him say this:
I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution. But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that’s what we need to do is amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than trying to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.
I have no idea what Huckabee truly meant by this ominous assault on the "wall of separation" between church and state. Even the evangelical magazine Christianity Today seemed troubled by his statement, noting that it may cost him more votes among evangelicals than help him. One can only hope.

The constitutional doctrine pertaining to the separation of church and state is certainly a complex topic and, like all constitutional issues, is part of a living document. We are fortunate that Americans have recognized that amending the constitution is a grave matter and should not be a way of resolving parochial differences on cultural or religious concerns.

I know that many so-called mainstream people of faith are appalled at this dangerous statement from a presidential candidate. We must now hope that evangelicals will see beyond the rhetoric and recognize that Huckabee's position puts their own freedom of religion at risk, and not just that of people whose theology differs from theirs.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Finding One's Voice

At the top of his voice...
Originally uploaded by Matt1962
"Over the last week I listened to you and in the process I found my own voice." Hillary Clinton's remarkable statement following her victory in New Hampshire is worthy of serious reflection.

In some respects the political context of the statement mutes its power and importance. Cynics see it as a premeditated softening of her image in an effort to attract new voters, especially women. Others see a hidden agenda, a strong statement of independence by a candidate with a massive network of supporters all of whom want something from her, and a high profile husband who often upstages her.

Frankly, I don't know what to make of it myself. One could question why it took so long to find her own voice when she has spent over 30 years in politics and now seeks the highest office in the land. We may discover more as time goes on. We can be sure it wasn't a slip of the tongue. Hillary Clinton, whatever one may think of her, doesn't make such statements without calculation. Some think that demonstrates seriousness and clarity; others think it depicts a robotic, programmed woman with no soul.

But in truth I don't really care what was behind the statement. I'm sure most of us have found ourselves in situations where life's circumstances leave us feeling inauthentic, abandoned, and experiencing what some call anomie--an uncertain sense of self. In their extreme such conditions lead to depression and a feeling that life has no meaning. For many it is experienced as a loss of voice.

Agents of social change sometimes say they are functioning as a voice for those who have no voice. Others speak of an inner voice, sometimes defined as conscience, discernment, or calling. Those of us with five decades or so of living will remember the famous trademark that depicted the dog Nipper looking into a gramaphone and hearing the voice of his deceased master. The trademark then took on the caption "His Master's Voice" and became the identifiable image of RCA for many years. Voice transcended death and its sting.

Finding one's voice isn't easy. It requires self awareness and transparency. It can be kind of scary, but it can also be exhilarating. I think I've found mine on occasion, but too often it eludes me and begins to sound like laryngitis.

Hillary Clinton's statement was inspiring to me. I hope she is successful in finding and using that voice.

And maybe I'll clear my throat and give it a whirl myself.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Coronation Postponed

Originally uploaded by cizauskas
A few days ago I posted my concerns about Iowa and New Hampshire having such an undue influence on the selection of the presidential candidates. I still believe what I wrote, but it must be said that these few days have delivered some unexpected lessons, and important ones at that.

I haven't decided who I will vote for in this election and I see no sign that the various candidates are restlessly awaiting my endorsement. It is an interesting race, however, especially because it is the first time in decades that there is no incumbent president or vice-president on the ballot. So it's fun for us political junkies to play with possibilities.

However, as events unfolded over these few days the media coverage of the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary took things to a whole new level. The online and television talking heads starting running out of hyperboles for Barack Obama and soon had him sweeping the country leading a massive transformation of American society, with the entire world soon to follow.

I like Obama very much. He is a tremendous orator and I believe he has the potential to be a change agent of the first order. For a while there I found myself readily embracing what was happening. But somehow it seemed a bit premature to let one night of caucuses in Iowa anoint a global leader of social change. And sure enough, New Hampshire voters trumped Iowa and postponed the coronation.

All of this is caused primarily by a yearning for fundamental change. The incumbent president has led the country into a tragic and unnecessary war that will have spiritual and economic consequences for many years to come. Debate over immigration policy is beginning to expose our underbelly of institutional racism, not unlike our government's response to Katrina. Health care is fast becoming a crisis that could bump the nation into class warfare.

The country needs a leader who can embody hope, articulate a vision, and bring about tangible results. We all have those yearnings and perhaps that makes us a bit too vulnerable. But we must be careful not to allow the media to prepackage the change process through polls and punditry.

There is a lot of wisdom in the common, everyday people of this nation and the world. We will let the media know when the time for transformation has come.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Blogging, Dialogue, and Idiots

It has been a while since this blog has been active so I thought it might be helpful to review a few of my operating assumptions.

I began this endeavor primarily as a way of disciplining myself to write on a regular basis. That goal has obviously been an abject failure, although I'm giving it one more chance.

Secondly, I really didn't want to focus on any particular subject, but just to let that whimsically unfold according to whatever interests me at the time. You will note a predilection on my part to write about faith, culture, and politics--a result of my own education and profession. But there will be a wide variety of issues here, some of them serious and others not so much so.

Thirdly, I had hoped that we could foster some meaningful dialogue. Blogger, which is the progam I use, has many virtues, the most appreciated being its relative simplicity of use. It does have some limitations in fostering dialogue, however, and that is something I will address should there be sufficient interest to do so. In the meantime, please use the "Comments" section appearing at the bottom of each post. Your thoughts and observations are welcomed.

Finally, I would like to explain why I use moderated posting. This simply means that I must approve each comment before it appears on the public list. Please be assured that I do not use that to censor or screen ideas. I welcome those, whether agreeable to me or not. Unfortunately, I found previously that automated "bots" were finding the blog and posting seemingly innocuous entries but often with links to malicious or objectionable contact. I chose the moderation approach to filter out that junk and thereby protect all of us from idiots, unfortunately not including the elected variety. I can access the blog remotely as well as from home so in most cases your comments will be posted very promptly.

So, with housekeeping and explanations out of the way let's see where this takes us, eh?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Iowa Caucuses 2008

Originally uploaded by John Edwards 2008
Today one of the stranger exercises in American politics will unfold in the state of Iowa. I have mixed feelings about the whole thing.

In some respects it can be seen as a true demonstration of grassroots campaigning. Millionaire candidates find themselves sitting at the kitchen tables of farmers, trying to demonstrate a working knowledge of fertilizers and hoping they won't be called upon to assist in the delivery of a calf. Given the ridiculous amount of time and money invested in Iowa by the major candidates one would think they have shaken the hand of virtually every citizen in the state. I imagine Mitt Romney sends anniversary cards to every heterosexual couple in Iowa.

I went to college in southern Iowa and enjoyed the exposure to life in small town America. I have always valued those years because it gave me a feel for such a life, even though I am an urban guy. So I think it's good for the candidates to step out of their limos and walk the streets of America's small towns. They need to check out the onion rings at the Bluebird Cafe, and cope with the blank stares that come from trying to order a grande latte with a sprinkle of cinnamon on the foam.

On the other hand the caucus system, especially when coupled with the New Hampshire primary a few days later, gives the fine citizens of those states a wildly disproportional say in the selection of the president of the United States. It is ludicrous to suggest that these states are representative of the country, but the selection of the candidates will be a done deal long before the citizens of most states will even know who's running and why.

The truth is that in the next week a few thousand voters are likely to determine the two people who will run for the presidency in 2008. That troubles me very deeply.

Perhaps I shouldn't fuss about it. It could be worse. In 2000 the President of the United States was "elected" in a cloistered room by nine people in black robes.

Dare I say that the result of that decision demonstrates the wisdom of wider consultation?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Blogging and Birthing - A New Beginning

Over the past months I have been reminded, most vigorously by my sons but also by others, that my blog came to something of a cliffhanger ending a year ago.

Having announced that some traditions withstand all change I then had to confess I was wrong. Some traditions, no matter how virtuous or significant, must yield when life intervenes with demands of a higher order. I said such had happened to us on Christmas Day 2006, chose not to give specific details, but assured everyone that all was well.

I did not intend for a year to pass without further posts, nor can I explain why. My sons have goosed me about it a few times. They seem to think that declaring all is well and then dropping off the face of the blogging earth tends to send a mixed message. Some of you have gently inquired and expressed hope that we might begin again.

And so we shall.

The picture accompanying this post is of our son Brian, his wife Lyda, and our first granddaughter Ashley. (If you cannot wait to see more pictures you may find them in abundance here.) She arrived on December 18. 2007, a beautiful burst of new life, and a whole new reason to talk about those things for which I still care very deeply--the creation of community that embodies heritage, diversity, and peace.

I'm not sure where we'll go with the blog. I'm thinking a lot about faith and politics these days. I wonder why? I've got some rants in me and they're looking for an outlet.

The clinic lost my urine sample one day and I think that needs to be discussed. I'm troubled about the fact that restaurants rarely include spoons in their table service anymore. This needs to be exposed.

I'm upset about Darfur, worried about health care, angry with politicians, and optimistic about the Kansas City Royals. Again.

But I'm also feeling kind of soft and gentle these days. You see, I get to hold Ashley quite a bit. And therein is all the hope one needs.

And therein is a good reason to begin again--blogging and birthing.