Friday, January 22, 2010

Beer and Healthcare Reform

I like beer; I support health care reform; this commercial combines them and nicely captures my sentiments:

Hat tip Andrew Sullivan

A Pact with the Devil

Pat Robertson has taken a widely deserved verbal pounding for his comments that the residents live in perpetual misery because they made a pact with the devil in order to gain their freedom from the French.

I actually think there is a grain of truth in Robertson's statement. I would suggest that there was in fact a "pact with the devil" made that sealed Haiti's future in perpetual suffering. That pact wasn't made by the residents of Haiti, though, but by the French and the British and the United States in a devil's deal that brought black slaves and their "free" labor from Africa to Haiti and the rest of the America's in exchange for white people's wealth.

The residents of Haiti who kicked out the French in 1804 were slaves. The native Americans on the island that now is divided into the Dominican Republic and Haiti had long ago been killed off by colonists or the diseases brought to the island by the colonists. The French gained control of the western half of the island from Spain in 1697 and named it Saint-Dominique. The French immediately began importing African slaves to the island to work the sugar fields. By the 1740's Saint-Dominique and Jamaica were the world's top suppliers of sugar. Saint-Dominique was making France very rich.

On the back of slaves. By 1789 twenty nine thousand African slaves were arriving each year in Saint-Dominique. One in three would be dead within three years. So the slaves kept pouring in. Slaves outnumbered natives and Europeans 8 to 1. In 1791 they revolted.:"The signal to begin the revolt was given by Dutty Boukman, a high priest of vodou and leader of the Maroon slaves, during a religious ceremony at Bois Caïman on the night of August 14." Robertson's pact with the devil.

It took more than a decade of rebellion and the continuing weakening of France on the world stage, but in 1804 the independent country of Haiti was born. The French, though, exacted a terrible price for giving up this prized sugar fix. They posted warships off the island and isolated Haiti for 21 years. They were aided by the Americans and British who were aghast at the dangerous idea of a successful revolt of slaves. Finally in 1825 the government of Haiti agreed to take out a loan with a French bank to compensate France for the loss of its sugar and its slaves. The amount of the loan was enormous and crippling. It was twice what the United States government had just paid France for the Louisiana Purchase. Paying off that debt impoverished Haiti for more than 100 years; in some years Haiti was paying 80% of its annual revenues to service its debt. It wasn't paid in full until 1947.

That was just the beginning of Haiti's debt woes which continue up to this day. And it only tells part of the story of Haiti's misery that also includes repeated invasion and occupation by the US, corrupt and cruel dictatorships, and natural disasters.

The people of Haiti are a resilient people. And they remain proud of their legacy of being the only country in history born of a successful slave revolt. With aid pouring in from around the world there is hope this time that the country can get a clean start, with new infrastructure, new jobs, and, for once, no debt. The nations of the western world owe it to Haiti to forgive it its debt and help it rebuild.

Let's not forget who it really was that made a pact with the devil that put Haiti on the path to perpetual misery.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Free Market Disaster Relief

Our congregation is responding to the disaster in Haiti by turning our Souper Bowl day into a day of making health kits for Church World Service. The Church of the Brethren is one of the founding denominations of CWS and like many congregations in many denominations we channel much of our disaster relief response through CWS.

Meanwhile many individuals are donating through the Red Cross text-messaging appeal. Mennonite Central Committee is on the ground in Haiti, as is Food for the Hungry. Global Aid Network and Samaritan's Purse are there for those who wish to channel their giving through more evangelical outlets. And I am sure this is just the tip of the ice berg of agencies working in Haiti.

What I wonder is how it all works logistically? Do these agencies coordinate with each other? Do they work in their respective niches? Do they compete? Would there be a better way of doing it? Maybe there is so much need that it doesn't matter; anywhere you put up a tent with food or medicine you will be overwhelmed. But with all the email appeals I am getting from various organizations and all the media appeals it makes me wonder how it all works on the ground.

Meanwhile there is a certain irony that none of it works very well until this other organization arrives on the scene to coordinate logistics.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

After Massachusetts

Ezra Klein speaks my sentiments:
For now, it's worth observing that a Democratic Party that would abandon their central initiative this quickly isn't a Democratic Party that deserves to hold power. If they don't believe in the importance of their policies, why should anyone who's skeptical change their mind? If they're not interested in actually passing their agenda, why should voters who agree with Democrats on the issues work to elect them? A commitment provisional on Ted Kennedy not dying and Martha Coakley not running a terrible campaign is not much of a commitment at all.
A whole year has been spent (lost?) getting us closer than we have ever been on health care overhaul. The House needs to pass the Senate bill as it is and then make changes through the reconciliation process. If they let a special election kill their signature issue when they are this close to getting it done, they don't deserve to be running the country.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Where is God in Haiti?

In religious communities disasters on the magnitude of Haiti inevitably bring up questions about God and suffering. Why does God allow suffering to happen? What kind of God would allow suffering like this to happen? Some people look at the stories of miraculous rescues coming out of Haiti and see the hand of God; others look at the enormous magnitude of the suffering and question if there even is a God. The great disparity of responses was illustrated by two neighbors in Haiti as reported in a USA article:

"It's a miracle," said Anne-Marie Morel, raising her arms to the sky after a neighbor was found alive in the rubble of a home. If one person could be resuscitated from the utter destruction of this street, there remained hope that many other could still be found alive, she said.

"Nonsense, there is no God and no miracle," shouted back Remi Polevard, another neighbor, who said his five children were somewhere under the nearby debris.

"How could he do this to us?" Polevard yelled.

I think spontaneous expressions of gratitude for miraculous rescues and cures is perfectly understandable. It is problematic, though, to raise this kind of emotional response to the level of universal principle. Does God really spare one person's family member and take another? What kind of God would that be?

In the face of great tragedy we each have to find our own answers to these deep questions that haunt our thinking about God and our faith. For me, it was precisely my inability to find a satisfactory answer to the God and suffering question that led me to believe that there is no all-powerful God with his or her hands on the levers of our lives. What kind of all-powerful God would allow suffering like this to happen - not the kind of suffering we bring on ourselves by our own poor choices but the kind of suffering that falls on innocent people? And if there was such an all-powerful God who is allowing, or causing, this kind of misery on the planet, this God would not be worthy of our worship. Or so I believe.

What I see when undeserved suffering washes over people is the absence of God. There is no one out there or up there. We are alone in the universe.

Or not quite. We have each other. We suffer together and we flourish together. And it seems that when we throw our hearts and minds into tending to the suffering and nurturing ourselves to health and wellness we experience the joys and sorrows of life together and this makes us feel the presence of hope and love and… God.

I do not think there is any satisfactory philosophical answer to the question of why more than 200,000 have died in Haiti and where in the name of God is God. The only satisfactory answer is found in doing something about the suffering, becoming the hands and heart of God.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Take that America's Team

This Steeler's fan is happy for the hometown Vikings.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lost Supper

Over at GetReligion Terry Mattingly isn't too happy with the folks at Entertainment Weekly for their take on this last season promotional picture for Lost. Here is the quote from Entertainment Weekly:
FUN FACT! The Last Supper — Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion — is commemorated by Christians through the sacrament of Communion, the eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Some Christians believe that when you eat the bread and drink the wine, the stuff actually converts into the body and blood of Jesus during digestion, although their appearances remain the same. (Which explains the weird carpentry aftertaste.) This miraculous conversion is known by a fancy term: Transubstantiation, ”the conversion of one substance into another.” Example sentence: ”If Jack’s ”Jughead” plans works, he and the castaways will be transubstantiated into a new reality.”
Here is Terry Mattingly's response:

After reading this, please express your opinion on the following: The entertainment-magazine journalists who wrote and edited this tidbit were:

(a) Ignorant.

(b) Unprofessional.

(c) Silly and childish.

(d) Intentionally setting out to blaspheme a doctrine of ancient Christianity and, thus, to insult millions of believers.

(e) Counting on the fact that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers and Anglo-Catholics would not blow up their building.

(f) All of the above.

Thank you for your time. Many GetReligion readers will now want to go outside and scream.

Are there really Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglo-Catholics who would blow up a building because someone is making fun of their religious beliefs?

My guess is that the writers at Entertainment Weekly are irreligious and ignorant about not only the content of specific beliefs but about the dead(ly?) seriousness with which some believers take their religion here in America. They probably grew up watching Monti Python's Life of Brian and thought it was funny. And thought it was OK to poke fun at religion in our part of the world.

I think it really isn't OK for writers, even of fluffy entertainment magazines, to be ignorant about the subjects they write about. If they are going to write about transubstantiation they should at least make an effort to know what it means.

But I don't have any problem poking fun at anyone's religion or politics, mine included. If we can't take a little ribbing about our beliefs, which don't make always seem logical or make sense, then we have a pretty shallow kind of faith.

And we shouldn't be outraged or offended or surprised by mockery and humor about religion in this post-Christian age. It's actually good for us. Why do we believe what we believe? How can we explain it to people who don't understand? It helps us think more deeply about what our faith. No more mindless repeating of creeds or doctrines without knowing what they mean and without being able to explain them to someone who has no idea what you are talking about.

And if they don't want to understand, well we can rest in the comfort that they are going to burn in hell. Just kidding; I don't believe in any hell that is not of our own making here on earth.

Lighten up people! Or Get Lost!

Satan Offended by Pat Robertson

The best letter to the editor in the Star Tribune in response to Pat Robertson's inanity:
Dear Pat Robertson, I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action. But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished. Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"? If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll. You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract. Best, Satan
Lily Coyle is identified as the letter writer.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Pot Calling Kettle

Dunker Journal links approvingly to these comments by Peter J. Leithart in Touchstone Magazine:

Gender-neutral names for God look so innocuous. What could be wrong with baptizing in the name of “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier”?

As Paul would say, much in every way. To name the First Person as “Creator” is to name him in relation to the world, and so too with “Redeemer” and “Sanctifier” for the Second and Third Person. But God isn’t defined by the creation. He’s defined by himself, which is why the First Person must be named in relation to One who is also God.

Gender-neutral names deny the freedom of God; they attack the God-ness of God, and as such, they are idolatrous.


The Birth of a New Religion

David Pogue writes a widely read technology column for the New York Times. Recently he reviewed Google's new smart phone, the Nexus One. His review was mostly positive but he did offer a few criticisms. His column today is about the feedback he got from readers about his review:
Reader feedback about my review of Google's new cellphone yesterday was unusually voluminous and, in some sectors, vitriolic. Where I had written, "The Nexus One is an excellent app phone, fast and powerful but marred by some glitches," some readers seemed to read, "You are a pathetic loser, your religion is bogus and your mother wears Army boots."
He notes that he hasn't seen this kind of response to a technology column since the Apple/Microsoft wars. But now:
But guess what, gang? There's a new religion in these holy wars. And it's Google...And yet here is this new army of Google defenders, raising their spears and chanting as though you've insulted….Apple.
New religion. Holy Wars with an army raising their spears and chanting. Interesting use of religious association.

The Anchors of our Faith

James McGrath links to an interesting post by Ricky Carvel where Mr. Carvel talks about his struggle to reconcile his faith in God with his growing skepticism about whether the Bible actually "describes" that God. This prompts Jim to reflect on his own "life-transforming" experience of God that was more important in his faith formation than his belief in the Bible. This experiential "anchor" freed him to do critical study of the Bible and that critical study did not lead to the loss of faith. He wonders if those who resist critical study of the Bible do so because the Bible as the revelation of God is their anchor, more so than experience. Interesting question.

I never believed in the Bible as "the Word" of God. I was a sceptic about miracle stories and resurrections from the dead from childhood on. I also never had any kind of "saving relationship with Jesus Christ." In fact the two worst experiences of Christianity that I ever had growing up were going to a Billy Graham movie with a youth group and participating (by virtue of being in church on those Sundays) in a Lay Witness Renewal where the goal was to bring us to a saving relationship with Jesus and where I felt totally manipulated.

What "saved" me in church was the community made up of caring Sunday School teachers and youth group leaders and just lots of good people. With a very few exceptions I enjoyed church and was encouraged by pastors and other leaders who took an interest in me to raise the questions I was raising, and who embodied the way of Jesus in the way they lived their lives.

My "God" experiences growing up were mystical experiences in nature, in reading and thinking, and in relationships that I didn't think of as God experiences because I wasn't given the language to connect my experiences with God. They certainly were nothing like the God I heard talked about in church or read about in the Bible. It wasn't until I began reading about mystics and I learned that there was such a thing as an apophatic tradition within Christianity that I realized that my own spiritual experiences had a place in the big tent of historic Christianity. That helped keep my in the fold, so to speak, and eventually gave me a passion for reaching out to others who might have the same kind of non-traditional experiences.

What also helped was doing critical study of the Bible which had the seemingly curious effect of strengthening my faith. I learned that there wasn't just one understanding of God or one picture of Jesus in the Bible. The Bible itself was full of diversity and not only diversity but disagreement about Jesus and God and Truth. Furthermore the various authors weren't just channeling God or singing in harmony but were vigorously arguing a position with their contemporaries, and correcting the positions of those who came before. Learning a little church history and discovering the non-canonical gospels only confirmed this truth for me. There was never a golden age of unified belief and there has never been one correct picture of God, Jesus, or the Truth. Learning to read the Bible as an ongoing conversation or argument helped me re-engage the Bible as a beginning place for reflection about my faith.

Anyway, for me it wasn't believing in the Bible or having a life-transforming Jesus experience (language not used by Jim) that kept me within the fold of Christianity. It was community - not perfect community, but real community made up of imperfect but good-hearted people, which in its own way was a life-transforming anchor.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Lost Generation

A friend sent along this palindrome. It was created by a 20 year old for a contest by AARP titled "u @ 50". This video won second place. When they showed it, everyone in the room was awe-struck and broke into spontaneous applause. It is very good.