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

We The Purple – Book Review
Aug 2nd, 2008 by Sonja

We The Purple, book coverThere are several things I want to say about this book.  But I need to begin with a disclaimer.  This is one of my Ooze book reviews.  I received a copy of this book, gratis, with the expectation that I’d write a review of it.  Just so that everyone knows.  Okay …

So … I approached this book with a lot of goodwill and anticipation.  After all, I’ve been a political independent for a long, long time.  Yes, I will admit this in public now for maybe the first time.  I’m one of the few people who actually voted for John Anderson in 1980.  There are about 17 of us (actually he got about 5.7 million votes … but there are only 17 of us who will admit it).  Unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed … with the book, as well as with my vote for John Anderson (but that’s another story).

It’s a good book.  If you’re looking for reasons to join the vast middle ground in this country, I would recommend it.  If you’ve been in the middle for a long time and are comfortable there (like me), you might find it covering old ground.  I have to say though, I recommend it with a couple of caveats.  They are these.

First, I wish that whoever Ms. Ford had editing this book had done a better job.  I found countless mistakes in both spelling and grammar that left me floundering.  Some of them were clearly places where re-writes had failed to remove extra words.  Whatever the problem, the spelling errors and extra words began to drive me nuts and detract from the readability of the book.  I can overlook one or two, but several per chapter and I wanted to read with a red pen in hand.

Second, was that much of the writing had the nature of a rant and began, through the course of the book, to sound like a conspiracy theory.  Now I’m as jaded and cynical as anyone when it comes to the political process … maybe even more than most, but I’m not sure I’d buy much of what Ms. Ford is selling.  Or … maybe I’d say it this way.  I’d buy the stripped down version, but I don’t think the fully loaded set is necessarily true.  For instance, she makes the claim that it is in the best interests of both (political) parties to keep voter participation low on election day and goes to some length through out the book to back this claim up.  Some of the arguments have merit.  Some I’m not so sure of.  Like this one about poll taxes.  Poll taxes (that is taxing people on real estate and other property before they could vote) was outlawed in the early 1960’s.  They were a popular tool used in the South to prevent African-Americans from being able to vote.  Ms. Ford claims that Southern states now use other means of levying a “poll tax” without calling it that.  She used as an example the fees that Georgia charges to gain or renew a drivers license – $35.00.  That didn’t sit right with me.  So I looked it up.  In Virginia it costs $4 per year to gain or renew a drivers license and you do so for 5 to 8 years at a time.  So it will cost anywhere from $20 to $32 for your drivers license.  Now I cannot remember whether or not I was asked for identification when I went to the polls for the primary.  Apparently, you need one in Georgia.  However, in Georgia you may apply for an ID card for voting purposes … and that is free and good for ten years.   In Vermont, a driver’s license costs $40 for four years … very expensive.  But again, I don’t know what the identification requirements are at voting.  I do know that Vermont requires a Voters Oath.  (BTW … I checked Vermont and Virginia because I have context for both.  And they are about as opposite as you can get from one another in terms of culture, demographics, philosophy, etc.)

Here’s the thing.  For someone who is so impoverished that they do not have and cannot afford a state issued identification card, voting is very low on their list of priorities.  I’m fairly certain that eating and keeping a roof over their head is going to take up most of their time and energy.  I hope I don’t sound callous when I write this and I don’t mean to.  I also don’t mean to say that impoverished people should be excluded from the conversation that is voting.  What I am saying is that there are greater obstacles to their participation than that presented by a fee for an identification card.  Maybe we need to care more about those obstacles and work around them.

Ms. Ford really shines in her description of political independents and the church.  Why we’re necessary.  Why we’ve felt so ostracized.  The damage that political polarization (on both sides) has done to the church.  And how things are changing.  The book is worth the price of admission on those chapters alone.   So I’ll leave you with a quote:

Within conservative evangelicalism, the notion that America is a Christian nation is a baby step away from the potentially disastrous belief that God is on our side–as long as we have conservative Christians making vital decisions that affect our domestic life and our foreign affairs.  This attitude is evident “in the way political and religious conservatives vigorously and often angrily attempt to force their views and interests on everyone as if their interests, by definition, are God’s interests,” writes Obery Hendricks in The Politics of Jesus.  “This is not faith; this is arrogance.”

The End of Time
Apr 17th, 2008 by Sonja

LightHusband recently went out of town on a business trip to Cincinnati.  He traveled with his boss and a couple of co-workers.  BossMan and SalesGuy are more conservative than we are.  That’s the best way I can say this.  We are friends with BossMan and his family, but when it comes to matters of theology and politics, we generally agree to disagree about a lot.  We respect each others’ perspectives, but …

LightHusband returned from his trip yesterday and the rest of us were glad to see him again.  He used to travel quite often and we all have bad memories of that (me especially).  Like the time he went to London for a month when LightGirl was 6 months old.  He was housed in a stadium with no phone access.  It was fairly unnerving.  But he did get introduced to the Queen.  In any case, he and I went grocery shopping for dinner together yesterday afternoon on his return.  That may sound funny, but it’s something we enjoy, especially if we can leave the LightChildren home.

While at the store we ran into an old friend from our CLB1.  Now this lady also happened to be a founding member of that church.  She was (and is) a dear.  I spent a good deal of time with her oldest son when I worked in youth ministry (he was also helping out).  We had a nice conversation catching up with one another.  Then talk turned to our old church and goings on there.  She caught us up on some of the main big news.  Somehow we got on the subject of some books that she is reading and is very excited about.  It’s a series by an author named Joel Rosenburg.  Apparently, he’s written quite a series based on Ezekiel 38 and 39.  It seems to be very popular according to the sales figures on the website.  She spoke very highly of the books and recommended them to us.

In fact, she got pretty wound up about the whole idea of the so-called Second Coming and the Rapture and the End Times.  She got a big grin on her face and a light in her eyes and she stood on her toes.  The air around her was electric.  She spoke with certainty about the days to come and the fulfillment of prophecy.

Maybe I’m cynical.  Maybe I’m … I dunno.  But all I could think as I was listening to her was one word … zealot.  Well, other words came to mind too.  I wondered exactly what makes Christians with this perspective any different from Muslims who are engaging in war-like behavior to bring about their prophecies.  Then, as I was sewing today I was musing about it and I realized the root of my disturbance with the whole thing.

Everyone who subscribes to this theory of the end of time assumes that they will be among those who are raptured (caught up as it were).  They are all absolutely sure that they are among the ones who will disappear in a twinkling and everyone else (all the rest of the rabble) will be left to the horrors of the millenium.  Just as every Christian I know “knows” they will be going to heaven.  But … um … I got news.  Not everyone who thinks they’re going is.  OR … everyone (and I do mean everyone) is going.  What I mean by this is that if this whole metaphor were to actually be truth (and that is a big IF), there are a lot of people who might be in for a nasty surprise.

I have to wonder why it is that we always think that our own fruit (of the spirit) is sweet to God and therefore we’ll be raptured … but that other guy down the pew row, well … he’s not goin’ anywhere.  He may have prayed the prayer, but I don’t see any fruit in his life.

I’m just not so sure I want to be praying and acting like the Rapture is a good thing.  Because that prayer is not in scripture anywhere and does not assure me of anything other than checking a box on a human list.  It seems to me that living in a proper fear of God might just include an understanding that we are not in control … at all.

We’re Cruising Now
Apr 3rd, 2008 by Sonja

My in-laws visited for a few days recently. They are snowbirds. That is, they spend several winter months in Florida in their motorhome and then return to Vermont for the remainder of the year. So they were visiting on their way back north. My mother-in-law (LightMIL) recently marked her 70th birthday, so we had a celebration with her while they were here.

We did this by taking her on a lunch cruise of the Potomac River to see the cherry blossoms.

at the lunch table

The boat docks at a pier in southwest DC. There’s only a very tiny little bit of DC that is southwest and this pier is in it. So is Fort McNair … the location of the National War College. It takes about an hour to get there from here, no matter how you cut it. We spent a fair portion of that hour in some heavy traffic going and coming. I entertain myself by reading bumperstickers and vanity plates when I’m in traffic. Especially here in the DC area, where I’m familiar with the surroundings (i.e. there’s not much interesting to look at).

I saw the usual number of intolerant bumper stickers. Things like “You can’t be both Catholic and Pro-life.” “Put the Christ back in Christmas.” “Man’s way leads to a hopeless end! God’s way leads to an endless hope!” I reflected, as I often do when I see these bumper stickers, with no little resentment and aggravation, what do the drivers of such cars hope to gain by bearing these stickers? To me (and it is possible that I’m wrong) these stickers seem arrogant, harsh, and hubristic. I don’t mean to pick on the Catholic stance on abortion in this instance, because there are many anti-abortion stickers out there. But all of them suppose that the bearer has thought through the issue most thoroughly, and you, dear reader of the bumper, have not. If you would simply accept the veracity of the sound-bite on the bumper you will be issued into a new level of truth and righteousness.

They also make me think of the nearly constant refrain that this is a “Christian nation.” Keep “under God,” in the Pledge of Allegiance … it’s very important. We must institute or keep prayer in our public schools; letting it go has been the downfall of our whole way of life. Or has it? Are we really a Christian nation? What would that really look like? Who would decide which brand of Christianity we would follow as a so-called Christian nation?

I think about those things. Because some versions of Christianity have a lot of rules. Some have much fewer. Who would decide? Typically the many rules version of a religion is the one that takes charge in a country, when there is a country ruled by religion. There was a time (back when I was in college studying anthropology) when I could tell you the reason for this. Now, I simply understand that it happens and grieve it. I was thinking about this as well the other night as I read toward the end of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini. (warning … spoiler alert)

A main character has killed her abusive husband. He had raped her, beaten her, withheld food and water, thrown her around like a rag doll and treated her worse than most of us treat our household pets for nearly 20 years. She killed him as he throttled her best and only friend. Killing her husband was an act in defense of another human being’s life, albeit a woman. What follows here is her sentencing by a Taliban court in Kabul:

“It does not frighten me to leave this life that my only son left five years ago, this life that insists we bear sorrow upon sorrow long after we can bear no more. No, I believe I shall gladly take my leave when the time comes.”

“What frightens me, hamshira, is the day God summons me before Him and asks, Why did you not do as I said, Mullah? Why did you not obey my laws? How shall I explain to Him, hamshira? What will be my defense for not heeding His commands? All I can do all any of us can do, in the time we are granted, is to go on abiding by the lsaws He has set for us. The clearer I see my end, hamshira, nearer I am to my day of reckoning, the more determined I grow to carry out His word. However painful it may prove.”

He shifted on his cushion and winced.

“I believe you when you say that your husband was a man of disagreeable temperament,” he resumed, fixing Mariam with his bespectacled eyes, his gaze both stern and compassionate. “But I cannot help but be disturbed by the brutality of your action, hamshira. I am troubled by what you have done; I am troubled that his little boy was crying for him upstairs when you did it.

“I am tired and dying, and I want to be merciful. I want to forgive you. But when God summons me and says, But it wasn’t for you to forgive, Mullah, what shall I say?”

His companions [2 other judges] nodded and looked at him with admiration.

“Something tells me you are not a wicked woman, hamshira. But you have done a wicked thing. And you must pay for this thing you have done. Shari’a is not vague on this matter. It says I must send you where I will soon join you myself.

“Do you understand, hamshira?”

Mariam looked down at her hands. She said she did.

I know a lot of people will read this and think things like well … that’s the Muslims … we Christians aren’t like that. We have grace, after all. Do we? How do you think this situation might have played out in a Christian court? I’m not certain it would have looked any different.

I ‘m glad we don’t live in a “Christian nation” but one that is guided by our First Amendment. A nation where Jews and Christians and Muslims and Hindus and Flying Spaghetti Monsters are all equal under the law. The idea of becoming a Christian nation frightens me, quite frankly. While I want to know that those who lead us have thought through their personal issues of faith, I also want them to be open and welcoming to members of other faiths. Thinking that one has all the answers to questions that haven’t been asked has no place in the government of an empire.

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