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.