Put That In The Hmmm Column
Oct 6th, 2008 by Sonja

LightHusband and I arose at an ungodly hour this morning.  We were on a mission.

Today is the last day to register to vote in Virginia if you want to vote in this year’s federal, state and local election cycle in November.  A friend of ours has been very active in getting people to vote.  She suggested (you may take that word in any manner you like) that we go to a local commuter train station in the early morning hours and “help” people register to vote.  She was very persuasive and somewhat zealous about it.  She also threw in a yard sign for the candidate of our choice as bait.

So we got up very, very early this morning.  LightHusband dressed in conservative gear, I dressed more liberally and we went to the train station fully loaded with clipboards full of registration forms, absentee voter cards, and pens.  We had no candidate information whatsoever.  We were not interested in prosyletizing for any particular candidate, just getting people registered to vote.

However, we made a critical error.  The people who wait for commuter trains are the responsible citizens.  They are the folks who have already registered and know all about absentee voter rules.  So we came home, mildly disappointed with our outing.

We’re trying to think of other third spaces where people gather and congregate and might be amenable to thinking about the idea of registering to vote.   Or maybe just being amenable to talking to other people at all.

Live Blogging the Vice Presidential Debate
Oct 2nd, 2008 by Sonja

Join me and others as we live blog the Vice Presidential debate this evening … should be fun!

Blake Huggins did this for the first Presidential debate last week, but I think his computer died. So I’ve set this up just in case he can’t make it tonight.

So … Blake has made a comeback and a smackdown is about to happen.  He’s got the liveblogging on his site …

Go Here for lots of commentary and fun talk during the debate

Count the catch phrases and wonder at how silly politics has become!

I’m Ashamed
Oct 1st, 2008 by Sonja

Danziger on So, like many US-ians I’ve been following the market and the hoopla surrounding what is being called the financial crisis and bailout.

The President is calling for a lot of money to be earmarked to spend on companies which made risky bad financial decisions.  Otherwise, so the thinking goes, our market will crash.  Our credit will be bad.  All sorts of horrible things will happen.  There are, apparently, monsters in our national closet just waiting to come out and eat us.

Well, there’s a part of me that’s feeling the crunch on behalf of my in-laws.  That’s for sure.  People who are depending on the stock market right now for their retirement income are bearing the brunt of this.  People who are planning to retire in the next five years or so will also bear the brunt of this.

Here’s the thing though.  Or perhaps it’s several things that I’ve been thinking about.

First is this.  This crisis did not happen overnight.  It has been slowly building over the course of about 30 years.  It began during the Reagan administration and has been the result of successive Republican AND Democratic administrations AND Congresses turning a blind eye to the consequences of their economic policies.  This is a bi-partisan issue.  No party can point the finger at the other and say, “It’s all their fault.”  Because both have done some good and a lot of bad.

For a crisis that’s been coming for so long, how is it that our government got caught with it’s pants down?

As a Christian, I do not look to a government, or a political party, or a president for redemption, perfection or utopia in this world.  However, I am a citizen and so I am a bearer of the social contract that we all hold with our government here in the U.S.  I believe that social contract gives me certain privileges and rights, but it also brings with it certain responsibilities.  It also gives the government and it’s representatives certain rights and responsibilities.  We tend to dicker amongst the left and right about what those rights and responsibilities should be.  And how they should be meted out.  But we don’t dicker about the necessity of having a government.  We all tend to agree about that.

There’s been a lot of noise and heat generated lately about this crisis heralding another Great Depression.  This feels like fear-mongering to me.  And that makes me ashamed of my government and our leadership.  Lord knows, I do not want another Great Depression, nor the panic or Dust Bowl that accompanied it.  It was a terrible time for our country and the world.  People struggled and died.  But people also struggled and overcame.  We forget that part of the story line.  We came together as a nation during the Depression.  We helped each other.  Yes, FDR put into place some things that have frayed around the edges and are coming apart at the seams now, but at the time, they were a safety net.  This allowed people to help themselves and each other.  I think of our National Park System and our national highway system both built in part by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  When people were out of work, Roosevelt created jobs for them.

Our current government though, is not living up to its part of our social contract.  Regardless of which bits and pieces you feel the government should be providing (i.e. whether you’re a liberal or a conservative), our government in its current form is not looking out for the citizens, but is looking out for business entities alone.   By rushing through this enormous financial bailout and forcing the citizenry to bear all the bad risk brought on by greedy decision-making on Wall Street, a Democratic Congress and Republican Administration are reneging on their end of the bargain.  Congress (both House and Senate) should slow down, ask for hearings from professionals in every walk of economic life.  A couple of weeks won’t hurt (as we’re seeing).  There are more options for solving this problem than all or nothing as the politicians would like us to believe.

Some of those options might involve all of us planting gardens and growing our own vegetables (Victory Gardens).  It might involve personal sacrifice on the part of the executives and executive boards of those fat cat companies; as it really should and as I seem to remember from my economics classes.  It might involve real leadership from the top, real ideas, real negotiating, real compromise, real change.  There are other options out there.  And if we’re going to put that much money on the line, we all need the opportunity to step back, take a breath and decide if it really and
truly is necessary. Or, are Adam Smith’s bones chattering in his grave  about now? Because from what little I remember from my economics  classes, this bailout/rescue seems to fly directly in the face of  solid capitalist market theory.

Privatize Gains; Socialize Losses
Sep 20th, 2008 by Sonja

I’m so angry right now I almost can’t sleep at night.  It’s a boiling, gutteral fury.  When I try to speak of it, I begin to sputter and use bad language because I don’t have enough words to express the utter depth of my rage.

My In-lawsMy in-laws turned 70 this year.  My mother will turn 70 early next year and my father is 75.  My parents are extremely fortunate because a relative left them unexpectedly very well off about 14 years ago.  However, my in-laws are not in that place.

My father-in-law worked hard all his life.  He still works hard.  He is 70 years old and with a bachelors degree in economics he works in a hardware store.  This year they will not be taking their annual three month winter trip to Florida as they cannot afford it.  Financially.  Unfortunately, their children and children-in-laws are all holding their breath for the toll this will take on their health.  They are good people who depend on the vagaries of the stock market for their fixed income retirement package.  They are good people who were depending on the stability of real estate to sell their home of 35 years when they needed to to supplement their retirement income.  Now they can do neither.

Remember when I said that the first national election I ever voted in, I voted for John Anderson?  Well … I had turned nineteen that May and Ronald Reagan won that election for those of you who remember which race John Anderson ran in.  So, for the entirety of my adult life, I have heard lessons on the economy from the conservative side of the street.  In a nutshell, those lessons may be summed up by saying, “The market will correct itself, the government does not need to regulate it.”  and “We’re not a socialist state, keep the government out of the market.”  Don’t fool yourselves, Bill Clinton was no liberal when it came to economics.  There was a very good reason why he kept Alan Greenspan in charge of the Federal Reserve for almost the entirety of his presidency.  Clinton was a fiscal conservative and only barely a social liberal.

Yet, every time I turn around these same fiscal conservatives … these Republicans who hue and cry about the government staying out of the market … run to the government for a bailout when their greed fails them.  When their pride, hubris, greed and foolishness fail and put all of us in jeopardy … they run to the government teat, just like a welfare mother in the projects.  I am way past disgust.  Just where exactly do they think that government money comes from?  The trees?  No … I have news for these financiers of great and immortal fame … it comes from me and you.  We are now paying for their foolishness.

Those men of millions and billions, who ran their companies into the ground, ran to Uncle Sam for help cleaning up the mess, are now keeping the millions they gained personally and have the unmitigated gall to fight for their 60 and 70 million dollar severance packages.  They are keeping their houses (multiples each), their personal jets, their yachts, their jewelry, their … whatever, whatever, whatever AND all their money AND we get to clean up the mess they made; AND we get to pay the court fees for the battle that they’ll stage to keep their severance packages.

The ugly thing about this is this is privatizing gains and socializing losses. So when things are going well, the managements make out, the shareholders make out, the counterparties are fine. All the private sector people do well. But when something goes wrong, when decisions are made that turn out to be bad decisions, the U.S. taxpayer has to take on the problem.

And there’s something very wrong about that. Because all of those people that made all that money are running off here into the distance with the money, carrying it in their bags. And the United States taxpayer is on the hook. Gretchen Morgenson of the Times on Bill Moyers Journal Sept. 19

So … when does the market correct itself?  I’m just curious.

I think these people need to help pay for the mistakes and help clean up the mess they’ve made … just like I do with my children.  The only thing anyone “needs” is one house and one car.  Strip them of everything else and use that money to begin the bailout … that’s market correction.  Because I want someone, anyone, to help my in-laws out of this mess.  They have lived life well, made responsible, wise, and even generous decisions … so why on earth should they and everyone else who have done likewise be made to clean up this mess?

After all, the only people who didn’t see this coming were those who don’t know their history.  That would be … almost everyone.

Dear Sarah
Sep 8th, 2008 by Sonja

Unbelievable.  I scarcely know where to begin.  I should be glad, you see, that a woman is running for Vice President.  I want to support you.  You are, after all, a woman.  You are my age.  You have children the age of my children.  We even share the same moniker … Hockey Mom.  We are both Hockey Moms.  I’ll bet you even managed your kid’s team, the way I do.  Well, then again, maybe not the way I do, but we’ll get to that later.

Here’s the deal.  I can’t support you.  You don’t even know me, so this won’t matter at all to you.  But that’s okay.  I’m just using this letter format as a cute form within which to express my ideas.

There was very little chance that I would have ever voted for your ticket in the first place because of your running mate’s slavish adherence to the disastrous war in Iraq.  But I was hoping that Senator McCain would choose someone with experience, strength, wisdom and stability to bring to the ticket that I could give serious consideration to.  Instead, we are presented with … um … well … you.  You represent none of those things.  You may have that facade, but you  are like the movie set of a fictitious western Gold Rush town … all fizz and no bang.

Your candidacy is offensive to me and many other women.  It is patently obvious that it is an attempt to manipulate us into voting for someone we may not otherwise vote for, simply because you have breasts and ovaries.  I did not vote for Hillary Clinton on that basis and I won’t vote for you on that basis either.  I don’t know who is making the decisions in the Republican party, but it is insulting and offensive that they think so little of women voters.  Most of us would rather see a person in office who is carrying out decisions that we are interested in, than someone who looks like us.  As a woman, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a historian.  You seem to have no sense of the office or of your place in history.  Several months ago you candidly admitted you do not know what the Vice President does.  Yet, here you are putting your family on the line and in the spotlight for what can only be seen as personal gain, if you have no understanding of the office.  The office of president and vice president should never be sought for personal gain … read what George Washington had to say on this matter.  Or John Adams.  Or Abraham Lincoln.  Or John Kennedy.  Or even Ronald Reagan.  I would suggest, dear Sarah, that you take some time to study the difference between being smart and being wise.  It takes very little to be smart, most anyone can do it; especially if one has a good speech writer and the chutzpah to deliver as you seem to.  But it takes some time and study and dedication to become wise.  This is what we need in the Vice Presidency, wisdom.  You are smart, and you proved at the convention that you can be a smartass, but you are not wise.  As a historian, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a citizen and as a political watchwoman.  From looking at your history in government, you seem to have little sense that the primary role of a mayor, or a governor or a Vice President is to be a civil servant; with emphasis on the word servant.  This hearkens back to your lack of understanding of history, Sarah.  My guess is that you eschewed history classes as an undergraduate and just partied.  Here is a very short course.  What seems ubiquitous and unremarkable in 2008, was radical and unorthodox in 1776.  It was this … that the nature of government is to serve the needs of the people rather than the reverse.  It was this unlikely sentiment that got Thomas Paine, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Washington, and all of our other founding fathers into such hot water with England.  You seem to have forgotten that ideal and believe that being in government is to serve the needs of those in government.  Hence, you left your tiny town of Wasilla in state of outlandish debt, you clearly have no idea how to run the state of Alaska (evidenced by the line item vetos which make little sense) and I shudder to think what would happen if you were given the keys to office of the Vice Presidency.  As a citizen, I am offended.

Your candidacy is offensive to me as a Christian.   You understand so little of what our government is intended to be that I scarcely know where to begin.  But I’ll begin with scripture, Sarah.  With the Gospel of John and your acceptance speech.  In the Gospel of John chapter 13, we find Jesus saying this, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  My dear Sarah, as a Christian and disciple of Jesus Christ, would you please point me to the place in Scripture where Jesus is shown making fun of people for their choice of citizen action?  Where He makes jests at the expense of another person for any reason?  I’ve studied the Scriptures fairly intently and I can’t find it anywhere.  But I will acknowledge that I may have missed something.  I would also like to bring the following to your attention:  the two Great Commandments as Jesus spoke of them in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22 ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  In what fashion may it be considered loving of your neighbor, to call him a racial epithet?  How is it loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your  mind, to stand before a convention hall filled people and lead them chants the way you did the other night?  In many ways that you might not have forseen you have become an icon for the Christian way in this country.  You must bear that mantle with wisdom and respect.  Or we will see more articles written like this:

Democrats are not the enemy of course, but even if they are, I saw no expressions of Christian love for them.  I saw plenty of sarcasm, put-downs, mocking, and bitterness.  Palin mocked Obama’s decision to serve others as a community organizer.  Giuliani, a very wealthy and cosmopolitan man himself, made fun of Democratic elites.  I heard misleading statements and flat-out lies.  Palin falsely suggested that Obama wants to read a captured Bin Laden his rights–of course, this is preposterous and Obama has never said this, but it didn’t stop Palin from spreading misinformation.  On a more mundane level, she also suggested she had sold an expensive government plane on eBay–it didn’t actually sell on eBay, but McCain is now falsely claiming that it did sell on eBay–at a profit (also not true).  Of course, McCain is no stickler when it comes to the facts–he falsely claimed in his own speech that Obama will raise your taxes, leaving out the important caveat that 95% of Americans get tax cuts under Obama’s plan.  Mike Huckabee fired off a zinger about Palin winning more votes in her mayoral election than Biden garnered as a presidential candidate.  Sounds great–unfortunately, it’s a lie.  I am no theologian, but I vaguely remember there being a commandment inveighing against this kind of thing.

With follow on comments such as this:

 Try to make a list of 5 great things that religion has done to significantly increase the happiness and well-being of humanity. Now make a list of 10 terrible atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion. Which list was easier to make? The Republicans suddenly make a lot more sense if you stop assuming Christianity has anything to do with love. Christianity is nothing more than the sum of the actions of all Christians. (emphasis mine)

Dear Sarah, remember that little bit I dragged out of the gospel of John … they will know us by our love.  I don’t care what you want, or what you think, or what you love.  You are vastly unimportant to me, because I do not know you at all.  Except for this.  I do know that for millions of people now, you represent Jesus.  What kind of Jesus will you be?   Getting laughs, applause, and/or votes by telling lies (no matter how small), and belittling others is unacceptable for those who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.   Thus far, as a Christian, I am offended.

So, we come to the end of this small exercise.  To say I am disappointed in your selection as the Republican vice presidential candidate would be a gross understatement.  I am offended by the misogyny and manipulation that the Republican National Committee is attempting with your selection.  I am terrified by the betrayal of our historic national values that is at stake.   We are indeed at a turning point in the history of our country; I wonder how many people really understand this.  How many will look back and say, “I wish I had …?”

Respectfully yours, Sonja

Personally Speaking
Sep 4th, 2008 by Sonja

I haven’t written in a while and I apologize.  Things have have been bubbling here in the LightHouse, some good, some … eh.  So I’ll fill in the gaps for you.

Back in July LightGirl was visiting a friend and they went walking in the woods chattering away as girls are wont to do.  A few days later, she found a tick in her bellybutton (of all places).  She had a rash and some other odd symptoms so I took her to the doctor … who chastised her for not wearing insect repellent and did some blood work.  And off we went on our trip to Vermont.  Some days later I received a phone call from the doctor’s office saying that the test for Lyme Disease was positive and they were calling in a script for antibiotics.  Okay.  She didn’t do well on those particular antibiotics, so we changed to a type called Ceftin.

She finished that round last Thursday (a week ago today).  But she wasn’t doing well.  She was lethargic and achy.  Her head hurt and she didn’t have a very good appetite.  I had to beg her to go to hockey practice (which is very unlike her).  So we went back to the doctor, who put her on another round of antibiotics and got us an appointment with an infectious disease specialist if she did not improve by the end of this round (mid-September).  By Tuesday morning, something was seriously wrong with my girl.  She couldn’t stand up longer than a minute or two and was complaining that her knees hurt.  She would not go up or down the stairs more than once a day.  So I called the doctor to get in to see the infectious doctor earlier.  It took two days, but we finally got an appointment to see a specialist in Charlottesville today.  Our doctor faxed her records to him.  Imagine my surprise, when he called yesterday afternoon to tell us that her Lyme blood test results from July were NEGATIVE!  They had never been positive at all.

LightHusband looked up her antibiotic on the internet and it seems that the symptoms we had attributed to Lyme Disease are also less common side effects of the Ceftin.  She has not taken any of the antibiotic since that phone call (she’s missed two doses) and she is steadily improving.  She has no joint pain and her soul is back there in her eyes.  She’s laughing with us and eating normally again.  She has a lot of her sass back … which I may regret, but I will enjoy.

So there have been quite a few ups and downs over the past few days.  I’ve been reading the political news fairly avidly and will probably be sharing some of my thoughts on that soon.  I have a few more book reviews to post in the next couple of weeks.   I’ve been trying to get school organized and begun … but of course, with LightGirl sick, no school has happened.  However, LightBoy has begun making SockMonsters from all of our singletons this week.  He is also using LightHusband’s old ties as accoutrements.  He is busy dreaming up an internet kingdom selling these recycled toys.  So, this is an education of a different sort.

Sigh … onward and upward.

UPDATE:  And now the rest of the story …

We had an appointment with our primary care physician this afternoon and an education at the same time.  So … it turns out that there are “strict constructionist” doctors, just as there are strict constructionist judges.  Who knew?  When testing for Lyme Disease there are these things called bands.  I have no idea what those are … but they … um … are.  In any case, there are five of them.  For a strict constructionist doctor, you must have five of five positives to get a diagnosis of Lyme Disease.  Now, our primary care doc, saw LightGirl … saw that she was presenting with a tick bite and a rash AND three out of five positive bands and decided to be conservative.  She does this all the time.  She said that only one of her Lyme Disease cases presented with all five bands positive this summer.  It’s a gray area, as she freely admitted.

LightGirl is doing better and better the longer she is off the meds so all is well and we are all breathing a little easier now.

A Theory Of Everything
Aug 25th, 2008 by Sonja

 … but I might revise it later

So, as you know I’ve been on vacation.  No television (thus no Olympics to squander my braincells).  Lots of porch time for pondering.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading.  I’ve been trying to catch up on my belated Ooze reading (and I have … sort of).  Then my brother came and landed a new book in my lap.  My mom insisted I read it … first … so I could send it on to my other brother and his wife.  Okay.

In Defense of FoodIt’s an easy read.  Well, the reading is easy and engaging.  But it pulls you into some deep deep thinking too.  Dangerous territory.  The book is “In Defense Of Food:  An Eater’s Manifesto” by Michael Pollan.  You might recognize him as the author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “The Botany of Desire.”

As I’ve been reading this book, the Lakeland Revival and Todd Bentley have been unraveling rather publicly.  You can read blogger opinions about it in various places.  I (of course) have been following Kingdom Grace (start with Apostolic Bullshit and then read parts II and III), Brother Maynard, Bill Kinnon and iMonk (among others).  In a post the other day, Bro M asked the question whether or not Christians are more gullible than the rest of the general population.  And something that has been unsettled in my head clicked into place.  This post is a result of that click; perhaps it was an epiphany or maybe it’s just a rant … I’ll let you be the judge.

As I first jumped into the book I found it striking how closely it paralleled the Christian sub-culture.  Quotes such as this jumped out at me:

“The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutrition science, and – ahem – journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding the most elemental question an omnivore confronts.  But humans deciding what to eat without professional guidance—something they have been doing with notable success since comgin down out of the trees—is seriously unprofitable if you’re a food company, a definite career loser if you’re a nutritionist, and just plain boring if you’re a newspaper editor or reporter.  (Or, for that matter, an eater.  Who wants to hear, yet again, that you should “eat more fruits and vegetables.”?)  And so like a large gray cloud, a great Conspiracy of Scientific Complexity has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition—much to the advantage of everyone involved.  Except perhaps the supposed beneficiary of all this nutritional advice:  us, and our health and happiness as eaters.”

Then there’s this:

The first thing to understand about nutritionism is that it is not the same thing as nutrition.  As the “-ism” suggests, it is not a scientific subject, but an ideology.  Ideologies are ways of organizing large swaths of life and experience under a set of shared but unexamined assumptions.  This quality makes an ideology particularly hard to see, at least while it’s still exerting its hold on your culture.  A reigning ideology is a little like the weather—all pervasive and so virtually impossible to escape.  Still we can try.  (italics mine for emphasis)

Well, I won’t bore you with the quotes on all of the pages I’ve flagged, just tell you that this book looks like a veritable rainbow when you see the long page edge of it shut.

Michael Pollan does a masterful job telling us that it is highly likely that the source of many of our health ills (from diabetes to depression, heart diseases to hyper-activity) in the modern world is the so-called “Western Diet.”  That diet composed of refined sugar, refined grains and refined fats.  We have so depleted our soil that we are now both overweight and starving ourselves to death.  It’s the Modern paradox.

(Aside … I’m particularly fond of Michael because he outs soy as a modern evil.  I’ve been convinced for years that soy will be our downfall and refuse to consume it in any form if I can help it –I’m also highly allergic to it–but now you know what my tinfoil hat is 😉 )

So what, you would be correct in asking, does any of this have to do with Todd Bentley and the unraveling of the Lakeland Revival?  Nothing at all.  And … well … everything.

You see, a long time ago, and not so long ago when you look at it in the grand scheme of things, we humans relied on each other for advice.  We relied on our elders to teach us how to walk in the world, how to behave, what were good things to eat, what weren’t, who the charlatans were and who they weren’t.  We lived in close community with one another.  Sometimes that was painful and ugly.  Sometimes it was beautiful.  But regardless, the advice we got from each other was given by people who knew one another with some level of intimacy and (here’s the important part) the giver of the advice didn’t have a horse in the race.  In other words, the giver of the advice wasn’t going to receive remuneration or paybacks for any kind of change in the behavior of the receiver of the advice.

Things have changed rather dramatically in the last 100 or so years.  Now we pay for advice that used to come from the elders in our communities.  Not only do we pay for it, but in paying for it, we subsidize those who stand to gain the most from our receiving their words of wisdom.  We change, and they get paid twice.  Something is amiss.

Or this example:  meningitis.  A drug company has developed a vaccine for meningitis.  I know this because LightGirl recently went in for a physical.  She was offered a vaccination for meningitis.  We took it.  But I was blind-sided by it.  I’m not so certain it was necessary or right.  The doctor presented it as a good thing, the insurance company covered it.  So … no big deal.  Not really.  But she’s young enough that she’ll need a booster before college and no one really knows the long term effects of this vaccine.  Really.  And what is this vaccinating against?  What are the realistic chances that she’ll contract viral meningitis?  Uh … slim and none … realistically.  When I look at it, the doctor had every reason to “sell” this vaccine to me and the drug company had every reason to “sell” it to him.   I had virtually no opportunity to sit back and peruse the situation from a dispassionate vantage point and the doctor?  He had horse in the race.  I was not getting unbiased information from him.  Now he’s a good doctor, LightGirl is not disadvantaged by having this vaccine that we know of.  My point is … we don’t know enough.  I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision.  I only have enough information to make a decision that benefits the person giving me advice.

I can never have enough information to make that informed decision … because I cannot get outside the box of the medical ideology that permeates our culture to find that kind of information.

Here’s where I find my theory of everything in the nexus between this book and Lakeland.  My generation (Gen X believe it or not) and Gen Y and Millenials and maybe even Boomers and really anyone alive today have been raised to be distrustful of their elders.  We’ve all … all of us … Christians, atheists, Hindus, whoever … religion has nothing to do with this … been taught to believe that only professionals can teach us what to do next.  That’s why we look to professionals in every area of our life.  We have professional Christians, professional nutritionists, professional child rearing experts (of every stripe) … you name the issue … we have professionals to tell us what to do.  Often confusing professionals who dole out conflicting advice which changes every few months or years.  So we must keep changing the stuff we purchase … the gadgets, gee-gaws and books … more and more books on every subject under the sun.

The reality is that most of us know … we know … what to do.  We know what’s best and good and right and true.  We know the right way to be and how to be that way.  Or maybe we don’t … but an expert is cannot tell us the best road to choose.  Only someone who knows us can give us advice.  Only someone who is intimate with what is important to us, can ask the right questions.   Sometimes we do know in our heart of hearts that when Sara Lee markets a loaf of bread as “Soft & Smooth Whole Grain White” bread it’s an oxymoronic crock of smelly dung so deep and wide that not even God’s grace can cross it.  We don’t buy it and we shouldn’t buy it … not literally and not metaphorically.

It’s not that we (Christians … or anyone else) are necessarily gullible.  It’s that we’ve been taught to suspend our native intelligence over and over and over again on so many issues.  We’ve been taught by our governments and our religious leaders; our politicians and our teachers to listen to the experts.  Listen to the experts and the professionals … they know what they’re talking about.

But they all have a horse in the race.  No one ever told us that part.  They all … every DAMN ONE OF THEM has something to gain by getting the lot of us to suspend our good judgment and believe their twisted un-truths.

So … are Christians gullible?

Not any more gullible than the Congress of the United States who believed George W. Bush when he said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, yet it patently did not … according to every single unbiased study that had been done.   Hell, I knew it didn’t … a stay at home mom in Virginia.

Not any more gullible than the hordes of people who believed Bill Clinton when he said he hadn’t had sex with Monica Lewinsky or hadn’t smoked marijuana because he hadn’t inhaled.

The problem is not that we’re gullible.  The problem is that we’re listening to the wrong “experts.”  For hundreds, even thousands of years we listened to people who knew us and were in relationship with us.  People who know, for example, that I get wigged out when faced with unexpected trouble (like a car breaking down on my way to college is likely to ruin my entire college career).  I have learned over time how to manage those issues better, but my elders who know me, also know to ignore some of my outbursts as, “she’ll get past it.”  Not, “let’s medicate that.”  Or they might ask a few pertinent questions, such as, “How important is this?”   Now we think we need to see an “expert” or a “professional” about the many different issues in our lives … these experts, these professionals have a vested interest in “selling” us something … a way of life, a medicine, a book, something …

So, the next time you get all hyped up about something, remind yourself that you live in a capitalist system.  You do.  Every thing.  Every damn thing costs.  So when you ask for or receive advice from an expert or a professional, ask yourself what does that person stand to gain from their advice … even if it appears to be as wholesome as a revival in a church.

But Wait, There’s More
Aug 11th, 2008 by Sonja

I wrote the other day that if Jesus walked the earth today, I don’t think He’d vote.  When I did that, I forgot something very important.  It’s the unwritten code of Christians.  Peggy, my cHesed sister, reminded me of it in the comments.  It’s this:  when we say we think that Jesus would do this or that, by implication we often mean that other Christians ought to do this or that.   Most often that’s true.  Jesus is our model and we, who are serious disciples of Jesus, want to do what Jesus would do.  However, I don’t believe it’s true when it comes to voting and I’ll explain why.

So, first of all, I’m standing by my assertion that IF Jesus were here today (instead of 2000 years ago) he probably wouldn’t vote.  There are a number of reasons for this, and if you’re interested you can read that earlier post.  But primarily I believe that Jesus put relationships first.  If he were to pick a candidate, vote for a candidate then it would be all over.  For ever and a day, people would use that information as a weapon.  It would be power used for the wrong purposes.

Here’s the thing, though, Jesus lived and walked the earth during an entirely different age.  He lived during a theocratic empire.  So the option to vote was not available.  I’m doing what we in the LightHouse fondly refer to as MSU.  That is, Making Stuff Up.  Yes, I’m doing so with a lot of fairly decent assumptions (or so I like to think).  But it’s still, in the end, Made Up.   A Fairy Tale of the first order.  We have to look at what Jesus did do.  He didn’t vote, but he didn’t have the opportunity.

Here’s what He did do.  He turned His back on using power.  He rejected power in favor of transformational relationships.  Here’s what I’d like to suggest.  There is a way to be a disciple of Jesus and an active responsible  member of our representative government.  That is to stop.  Stop being manipulative. Stop striving to be correct.  Stop accruing power.  Be humble.  Vote your own conscience and allow others to vote theirs.  I remember when I was a child it was considered impolite to discuss whom and what you were voting for.  I recently discovered to my great surprise that my grandparents were staunch Republicans and were convinced that the election of FDR would lead to the downfall of the United States in 1940.  I never knew who they voted for, but what they stood for was another thing entirely.

Critique the system, the candidates, the platforms … but your vote is your own.  And perhaps your choice should be a private matter.  Here’s a great example of that from fellow Scriber Charles Lehardy:

I like Barack Obama. He is bright, refreshingly articulate, a moral and genuine Christian man with a sincere desire to bring change to America. As a conservative Democrat, I disagree with Obama’s vision for American on a number of points, but find I agree with him on a great deal. I don’t know yet who I’ll vote for and I won’t be using this space to lobby for my favorite candidate.

Weighing pros and cons, articulating what is important to ourselves, etc. is one thing, manipulating that and declaring it to be “the will of God, ordained by Scripture,” is another thing entirely.  It smacks of subordinating Love and transformational relationship to power.  This creates not the Kingdom of God, but a fiefdom of men.  More laws will not create a more moral populace, neither will more money.

So yes, we should vote, and we should (as much as is possible) vote our consciences.  Will we find candidates who represent our values?  It’s not likely that a politician will do that 100% especially on narrowly defined issues, however, chasing power and wealth, using them to further our own ends will not bring about Kingdom ends no matter how much we’d like to think it will. Even God knew that transforming hearts takes more than Law, it takes Love.

The Church and The Vote
Aug 6th, 2008 by Sonja

Yesterday I wrote the story about the nexus of my political perspective and my faith.  It has been a place that’s been filled with tension for a very long time.  After all, I live in a state where tobacco is king.  And football is a prince.  It’s the Bible Belt, sweetie and I shouldn’t expect anything different.

And yet perhaps I should.  For all the sermons, from the literal pulpit and the bully pulpit, that I’ve heard about how Christians are to be in the world but not of the world, it would seem that we ought to be somehow different.  Yet we are not.  We look just like everyone else.  We fight our neighbors, sue our co-workers and friends, we marry and get divorced at the same rates, according to some studies abortion rates are actually higher among evangelicals and fundamentalists (p. 160-161, We The Purple … I tried to find the original article that Ms. Ford quoted, but the magazine website is no longer available).  We look for ways out of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than how to live in it.  In short, according to all available data, we are just like everybody else except that “we’re also busy for a few hours on Sunday morning.” (I can’t remember where I heard that, but it stuck and it’s sorta funny.)  For many of us we also have a more than annoying habit of being supercilious, hard headed, and power hungry.  The reputation that Christians have is unsightly and unworthy.  What we’re doing is not working.  So perhaps we ought to try something else.

So take a step back from all of this with me and let’s look at this from another perspective.  For the past week or so The Church of England has gathered some of it’s top leaders and thinkers together at the Lambeth Conference.  They did something new this year and invited a rabbi to speak at their gathering.  I’m indebted to Mike Todd at Waving or Drowning for linking to the full text of Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks remarks.  Reb Sacks spoke on the nature of covenant and the context it gives to our lives.  Here’s the link to the full text, I highly recommend you download them for yourself and read them.  I’m going to wrestle with a couple of quotes below.

And let’s begin our journey at the place we passed on our march last Thursday, in Westminster. It was such a lovely day that I imagine meeting up with my granddaughter on the way back and taking her to see some of the sights of London. We’d begin where we were, outside Parliament, and I imagine her asking what happens there, and I’d say, politics. And she’d ask, what’s politics about, and I’d say: it’s about the creation and distribution of power.

And then we’d go to the city, and see the Bank of England, and she’d ask what happens there and I’d say: economics. And she’d say: what’s economics about, and I’d say: it’s about the creation and distribution of wealth.

And then on our way back we’d pass St Paul’s Cathedral, and she’d ask, what happens there, and I’d say: worship. And she’d ask: what’s worship about? What does it create and distribute? And that’s a good question, because for the past 50 years, our lives have been dominated by the other two institutions: politics and economics, the state and the market, the logic of power and the logic of wealth. The state is us in our collective capacity.  The market is us as individuals.  And the debate has been: which is more effective? The left tends to favour the state.  The right tends to favour the market.  And there are endless shadings in between.

But what this leaves out of the equation is a third phenomenon of the utmost importance, and I want to explain why. The state is about power.  The market is about wealth.  And they are two ways of getting people to act in the way we want.  Either we force them to – the way of power.  Or we pay them to – the way of wealth.

But there is a third way, and to see this let’s perform a simple thought experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others.  How much do you have left?  1/10 of what you had when you began. Suppose you have a thousand pounds, and you decide to share it with nine others.  How much do you have left?  1/10 of what you had when you began.  But now suppose that you decide to share, not power or wealth, but love, or friendship, or influence, or even knowledge, with nine others.  How much do I have left?  Do I have less?  No, I have more; perhaps even 10 times as much.

The Chief Rabbi is on to something here. The state is about the distribution and manipulation of power. The market is about the distribution and manipulation of wealth/money.  Where does the church fit into this equation?

So that’s what I want to write about today.  For the last 20 or 30 years, evangelicals have posited that they could play the political power game and play it well.  We’ve seen organizations such as the Moral Majority (headed by Jerry Falwell) and the Christian Coalition (headed by Ralph Reed) come and go.  Up until very recently, (as in the campaign cycle of 2006) it was a foregone conclusion that the evangelical voting block would vote Republican.  That is slowly starting to change.  Those thinly veiled voter information guides produced by Concerned Women for America and Christian Coalition are (hopefully) a thing of the past.

So, the question still remains, who would Jesus vote for?  Or would He even vote?  It’s my belief that He probably would not participate in the political process.  The state is about the creation, distribution and manipulation of power.  It works hand in glove with the market.  The market exists to create, distribute and manipulate wealth.  Both of those operations are/were an anathema to Jesus:

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him. After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry. Then the devil came to him and said, “If you are God’s Son, tell these stones to turn into bread.” Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:

`No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.’ ”

Next, the devil took Jesus to the holy city and had him stand on the highest part of the temple. The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. The Scriptures say:

`God will give his angels orders about you. They will catch you in their arms, and you won’t hurt your feet on the stones.’ ”

Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, `Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’ ”

Finally, the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power. The devil said to him, “I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.”

Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: `Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”

Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him. (Matthew 4:1-10)

Every place in the gospels where Jesus was offered the chance to have power and/or wealth he passed it by.  Even when that power would serve a so-called higher purpose.  He knew that in the end, the power would end up serving itself rather than the purpose.  It always does.  Power consumes itself.  Power becomes it’s own end and requires more and more fuel for its engine.  Jesus knew that.

He could have come as a political king.  In fact, the Jews of the day fully expected that.  That’s what they were looking for and why so many missed out on their Messiah.  He wasn’t what they were looking for.  They were looking for their savior to come and overthrow the Romans, give them back their Promised Land, their Holy City, their Tabernacle, their Temple, their status before G-d.  They’d been looking, watching, waiting for hundreds of years, tens of generations … waiting.

But it didn’t happen the way everyone expected.  And here’s the thing.  We can’t fully comprehend how things went down in those first century days when Jesus walked the earth.  Because everything changes once you know the end of the story.

Have you ever read a book and gotten about 4 chapters in, then read the last chapter?  I have.  Sometimes I’ll just read the last page.  I just need to know who’s still alive at the end of the book.  Once in a while I’ll read the whole last chapter.  It completely changes the way you read the book.  The whole plot of the book comes into play in a different way.  You understand different nuances of character and see things differently.  You begin to understand how things work together differently.  It all makes more sense when you know the outcome.

In the same way, we know the end of Jesus’ story from the beginning.  We know  that He came born as a baby in a stable, heralded by shepherds, spent part of his childhood in Egypt, got separated from his parents at the Temple as a boy, etc, etc., etc.  We know all of his story now.  But at the time, it all came out piecemeal.  One little bit at a time and must have been quite bewildering.  Even down to His death and resurrection.  Which were one more bit of evidence of Jesus laying aside power in place of relationship.

Now, it’s fairly easy to rationalize and say that, “Well … He’s God.  I’m not.  I need to keep some power for myself and for others … how else will we get along in this fallen world?”  Well, that’s a fair question.  How else will you or get along in this world?

Power is a zero-sum game.  That is, in order to keep some for yourself, someone else has to lose some.  Wealth is also a zero-sum game.  In our capitalist culture we excel in zero-sum games.  We love them.  We begin teaching them as soon as our children have consciousness.  Here are the things that are not zero-sum games … that is if you want to get some for yourself, you have to share it with others (which is counter-intuitive in our capitalist culture):  knowledge, influence, love, kindness.  Or maybe you don’t necessarily “have” to share with others, but the sharing with others will not in any way diminish the amount that you have and it will likely increase what you have.

The problem is that the church, from the time of Constantine, has engaged in the affairs of the state and rationalized it by saying that it’s for a greater good.  Sometimes waxing, sometimes waning, the church has made greater and lesser grabs at power in the state.  Remember, the state is concerned with the creation, distribution and manipulation of power.  What did Jesus do with power?  Every single time it was offered to him?  He turned his back on it.  Now there’s a good reason for that.  Which can summed up in one word … possibly two.  But for now the one word is, covenant.  No, two.  Covenantal relationship.  Jesus has a covenantal relationship with us, individually and as a group (His Bride).

Once again, I’ll let Chief Rabbi Sacks explain this:

One way of seeing what’s at stake is to understand the difference between two things that look and sound alike but actually are not, namely contracts and covenants.

In a contract, two or more individuals, each pursuing their own interest, come together to make an exchange for mutual benefit.  So there is the commercial contract that creates the market, and the social contract that creates the state.

A covenant is something different.  In a covenant, two or more individuals, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, come together in a bond of love and trust, to share their interests, sometimes even to share their lives, by pledging their faithfulness to one another, to do together what neither can achieve alone.

A contract is a transaction.  A covenant is a relationship.  Or to put it slightly differently: a contract is about interests.  A covenant is about identity.  It is about you and me coming together to form an ‘us’. That is why contracts benefit, but covenants transform.

So economics and politics, the market and the state, are about the logic of competition.  Covenant is about the logic of co-operation.

For the last 20 to 30 years the church has busied itself with the logic of competition rather than the logic of co-operation. We are to be in the business (as it were) of transformation. Go back to the beginning of Reb Sacks speech, where he said that “The state is about power.  The market is about wealth.  And they are two ways of getting people to act in the way we want.  Either we force them to – the way of power.  Or we pay them to – the way of wealth.”  The liberal end of the spectrum in our country tends to favor the state, the conservative the market.  And in the church (on both sides) we’ve bought into this.  We’ve agreed with the rest of the world that there are only two ways to get people to do things.  And it may just be time to admit we’ve been wrong.  We’ve been trying the way of the world in different forms and fashions for 2000 years.  And we’ve tried especially dogmatically in this country for the past 30 years.  It has not been a crashing success.

So I’m suggesting that perhaps Jesus wouldn’t even vote.  He eschewed all power in favor of relationship.  He worked the logic of co-operation in order to transform.  I’m beginning to wonder what it might look like if we, his followers, started to do that as well.  If we stopped worrying so much about being right (as in correct, no matter what sort of correct you might be talking about), and started worrying about our relationships with our families and our friends and just made that enough for each day.   If we engaged in the logic of cooperation and love.  If we became truly people of covenant and understand what that means, both the responsibility and the privileges, I just can’t imagine the supernatural “Power” that it would unleash.  None of us would gain anything by it.  We’d all individually likely lose.  But until we’re willing to look past what’s immediately in front of us and see what Jesus was talking about we will remain concerned with the small things of this world.   We have to come together, be able to look at a larger horizon, and be known finally for our love for each other as He said in order for any of this to come true.

The Dancing of Politics and Bedfellows Strange
Aug 5th, 2008 by Sonja

Way back when …

In the depths of my personal history, I lived next door to Pete Mondale and his wife. It was back in the day. Back when I had just gained my own personal freedom and earned my own apartment in Washington DC. It was a studio in a renovated brownstone in a neighborhood on the precipice of regentrification. I paid $280 a month for a room the size of my current diningroom, a kitchen, two large closets and a bathroom which was not so large. There were five apartments in the building and one in the basement in which lived an Hispanic family of unknown quantity. An intense guy named Mike lived on the third floor; he rode a motorcycle and took me for rides every now and again. The second apartment on the third floor seemed to rotate a lot. On the second floor next door to me lived a forty-ish woman and her little boy. She was on welfare and never turned the lights on … just the television. The little boy visited me a lot. After the mother died of a heart attack and the little boy went to live with older siblings, a young woman named Amy lived in that apartment. On the first floor lived an older African-American couple. For security there was a deadbolt on the front door to the building. If I stood in the middle of my kitchen and stretched out my arms I could touch the opposite walls with my fingertips … on all four walls. But it also had beautiful high ceilings and huge windows (three of them!). And I could afford a place of my own. All by myself. Nothing matched, except one set of coffee mugs, until my brother broke three of them in the porcelain sink and I slept on a mattress on the floor. But it was all mine. That, and my bicycle and my 13″ black & white television set.

The bonus was that it was next door to Pete Mondale and his wife. They, being middle aged, owned their whole house. They had regentrified it. It was beautiful. They took good care of their house. And, without being parental, kept half an eye on me. Just half. Just enough. We were not close at all, but I knew that if there was an emergency, I could knock on their door for help. There never was an emergency, but their door was always there.

Pete Mondale is the brother of Walter Mondale, who at the time was campaigning for president on the Democratic ticket. He was the first nominee in history to select a woman as a running mate, Geraldine Ferraro. They ran a exquisitely executed campaign that everyone knew was doomed from the start. They were running against the incumbent Ronald Reagan. It was gloriously hopeless from the beginning.

I had just begun dating LightHusband and his earliest memories of me are that I yell at the television during political debates. I still do, when I can stomach them. He was completely dumbfounded. Why would anyone yell at an inanimate object? But I was yelling at the foolishness of Reagan’s policies … remember trickle-down economics? … he was intrigued. Now he yells too on rare occasion.

In my family, we talk back to the television and radio and express disagreement. Especially when we think something is wrong or ill-founded (read: stupid) and we might even throw our hands up in the air as well. In fact, one time during a particularly good rant, someone asked me if I am Italian. Not one little bit, I replied. All British. Just none of the hangups. And I’m cheeky too.

All of that is to say, while I’ve been an independent for a long time, I’ve viewed life primarily through the lens of a Democrat.  I worked for my senator when I was in college. Senator Stafford was a life-long Republican and I thoroughly admired him and supported his work. I believe that the government’s job is to protect it’s citizens, to provide a safety net for them should they need it, and several other things that I haven’t yet verbalized enough to write.  I still don’t know who I’ll be voting for in the upcoming presidential election.  There was a time when I certain it would be Obama … but recently I’ve been thinking about Nader.  I know … throwing my vote away again.

In 1989 and 1990 LightHusband and I had been married a few years and we had our “conversion experience” and joined an Evangelical Free Church here in town. We took all the classes. Learned all the ropes. Joined all the clubs. Did all the right things. Learned how to fake it til we were makin’ it.  Began teaching 5th&6th grade Sunday School.  Sometimes the kids knew more than we did, sometimes we knew more than the kids … everyone learned in that class.  I still keep in touch with a couple of those kids … who are now grown ups!!  Somewhere in this time period one of the larger radio stations in the area became “Christian” so I began listening to it going to and from work each day.  Thoroughly indoctrinated I was.

In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for President.  And the whole world went to hell in a handbasket.  You may not have not noticed it at the time, but it did according to all the naysayers in the Christian world.  Particularly in the pulpit of many churches.  I remember going to visit our pastor at some point during the election.  He and his family had recently moved out of their townhouse right next to ours and were transitioning to a single family home.  In the interim, they were house sitting across town.  I want to take some time to set the stage for this visit because it’s important.  This pastor and his wife were the people who had lead LightHusband and I to Christ.  We were very close to them.  Our houses had shared a wall for several years and we had shared life with them.

When we got to the house, I noticed that their two girls (homeschooled and in first-ish grade) were watching “Ren & Stimpy” that precursor to South Park without any supervision at all.  It was an episode in which one character was farting on the head of the other in the bathtub.  While we spent a lot of time quoting and laughing about Monty Python together as adults, I knew that this was not something either of them would condone for their very young daughters if they really knew about it.  But they weren’t really paying attention.  In any case, I was there to try to talk to our pastor about political discussions from the pulpit and why I didn’t believe they were appropriate.  The whole “Ren & Stimpy” thing threw me off guard temporarily and of course, I was a young Christian arguing without much back up.

What I didn’t realize was that he didn’t think he had to listen to a woman about much of anything in any case so I might as well have been talking to a wall.  At the time, I had no idea about the whole complementarian/hierarchical debate and the damage it could do a relationship.  I also did not have a good enough command of the scriptures or the faith to be able to stand against his belief that politics and faith do mix in the pulpit.  Oh, how I wish now for a Richard Land (head of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) to counter-act the prevailing wisdom of the time.  “Pastors are called to serve all their parishioners, he says, and to endorse a candidate even privately is needlessly partisan and divisive.  “I have an obligation to minister to all Southern Baptists, and it’s true, four out of five of them voted for George W. Bush, but I have an obligation  to that other fifth as well,” he says.” [We The Purple p. 144]

While Bill Clinton weathered some moral crises during his presidency, hundreds of thousands of people did not die at his command or because of his lies.  He has his flaws, but despite the claims made about him during the election cycles of 1992 and 1996, he did not turn out to be the anti-Christ.  Neither did Al Gore, nor did John Kerry.  It’s interesting to me that in every election cycle there are Christians who make the claim that the Democratic candidate is actually the anti-Christ.  It’s no surprise to me now that there are those out there making the same claim (and more stridently than ever) about Obama.

The point is that by the time George W. Bush was handed the presidency in 2000, I had come to the decision that it was safer in Christian circles for a person to acknowledge being a homosexual than to acknowledge being a political independent or Democrat.  Not that either acknowledgment would be particularly safe, mind you … just that one would lead to slightly less ostracizing than the other.

That’s wrong.  On both counts, but I’m not writing about homosexuals today.  Jesus is not a Republican and I’m not certain He’d vote for one.  But He’s not a Democrat either, and I’m not certain He’d vote for Obama.   No matter how much I like him.  I began to think more seriously about how would Jesus interact with the political system that we have constructed here.  It’s fairly different from the political system that he encountered in first century Jerusalem.  It’s not an autocratic police state.  We have a lot more freedom.  Trying to take the gospels and epistles and make a one for one comparison is fairly disengenuous.

I’m not certain Jesus would vote.  Although it’s hard to know.  He didn’t participate in the power structures of the day, but then hardly anyone did.  The idea that an average citizen could participate at any level in a system of government was as foreign to them as flying to the moon.  Who would do such a thing?  If he did vote, I think Jesus would put relationship first over rules.  I think he’d take that into consideration when looking at candidates and their platforms.  He’d think about Love, Grace, and Mercy and how that all fits together.

But when push comes to shove … I don’t think Jesus would vote.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you why.

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