Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year Traditions?

Dear readers, as the old year closes, what are your New Year's traditions?

In Japan, some folks celebrate by attending a performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

My sister tells me there is a Finnish tradition of dropping molten lead into water to see what shapes are formed. That sounds fun.

On New Year's, my friend Heather makes Hoppin' John, a southern dish with blackeyed peas and bacon. I usually make Indian lamb stew, and if we feel like staying up late, we walk up to the park before midnight to watch the fireworks from the Space Needle.

Later in the month, we join friends for dim sum in the International District to celebrate Chinese New Year (a festive, colorful, very noisy time!).

Do you celebrate? Make special dishes? Make resolutions? (I'm tempted to resolve to gain weight this year, to see if reverse psychology works).

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Rest in peace, Odetta


The legendary folksinger Odetta died this week at age 77. Odetta marched with Martin Luther King Jr., she sang at the 1963 March on Washington, and she looked forward to singing at Barack Obama's inauguration. We'll still hear you, Odetta. The clip below features Janis Ian, Odetta and Phoebe Snow in exquisite harmony. Enjoy.



HYMN
When we grow old,
And love grows cold,
And time runs down,
Like a river
That calls us home,

The eyes grow dim,
The light grown thin.
And time will
End here forever.
Long time gone.

Then time and the river
Must stop in their tracks,
Or roll on forever,
There's no turning back.
I've waited too long,
To be left here like this.
Long time gone.

[Chorus:]
Then weep no more.
The heart is pure.
These hands are sure
Like a river
That clings to shore.

The love we learn,
The love we burn,
A love that burns,
In the darkness,
Will weep no more.
Dreams die young.

Monday, November 24, 2008

L'attitude de Gratitude

Dear readers, Happy Thanksgiving. Our virtual community is one of the many things for which I am giving thanks today. Even when we disagree, or perhaps especially when we disagree, our dialogue helps me understand that no matter the circumstances, an attitude of gratitude makes for a happy life.

Back when I started this blog, I could only dream of the day that I would feel mostly grateful -- instead of mostly confused and bitter -- for my childhood in the OALC. I can honestly say that day has come. The loss of one commmunity opened up so many others.

So I'll be lifting my glass of cheap "champagne" (Chateau St. Michelle Extra Dry de Costco) to you, my friends, around 6:30 pm PST.

To your health and happiness!

(Photo credit goes to my hubby, from the last time we opened the bubbly. The image on the TV is a clue to when that was.)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Pastypalooza

Inspired by ijumped, I baked up a passel of pasties today, both steak and chicken. The steak ones are for a friend we are visiting tonight. Although he speaks and breathes Finn, he hasn't had a pasty "in years." The chicken ones are what my mom calls a "must go" meal (the chicken was getting any younger). But hey, they aren't bad at all!

Here is my recipe. I quadrupled everything, and had enough pastry left over for a batch of joulutorttu. The whole affair took hours, and my kitchen looks like a flour bomb exploded in the middle of it. After a "sampling" of pasties and joulutorttu, my grateful hubby has offered to do the dishes while I take a bath. I call that a good deal.

Pasties

Pastry
2 c flour
1/3 c Crisco, diced
1/3 c unsalted butter, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ice cold water
1/4 cup half and half, for brushing

Mix flour and salt, cut in shortening and butter, add water. Mix until well blended. Form into log, cut in 4 rounds, and chill in the refrigerator while preparing filling. Roll into 8" circles.

Filling
3/4 pound steak (I used eye of round) or chicken breast, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 cup red wine
2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1/2 cup rutabaga, diced
3 cups potatoes, diced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup fresh parsley

Marinate meat in wine and garlic salt while preparing vegetables, then drain. Mix with veggies and seasoning in a large bowl. Roll out dough in 8" circles, trim. Brush edges with half and half. Place 1 cup filling on half of pasty, and fold over other half. Seal edges firmly and and flute, or press with fork. Place on cookie sheet. Cut 3 tiny slits in each for steam, and brush top of pasty with milk.

Bake at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Serve with ketchup and, unless you are a Yooper purist, Thai rooster sauce.

Please share your recipes for pasties or anything else you like.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Obama on Faith, and Doubt

This just-released, uncut 2004 interview is worth reading from beginning to end. I find Obama's spiritual consciousness to be profound, and I share his suspicion of certainty, his understanding of "sin" and "heaven," and his personal practice of moral realignment. We have almost nothing else in common, so if I'm feeling this way, there must be millions of others who are as well. That's a stunning thought for a former Laestadian!

Here's a quick quote:

I'm a big believer in tolerance. I think that religion at it's best comes with a big dose of doubt. I'm suspicious of too much certainty in the pursuit of understanding just because I think people are limited in their understanding.


Pinch me! That we elected this man is just too amazing to be true.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Teacher's Lament

"Jeff" posted this over at the OALC Discussion blog:

I find it very hypocritical to want large families and then need assistance to support them. My wife and I would have loved to have a large family but knew that we could not adequately support the children emotionally and financially. I cannot afford to drive the nice cars or travel extensively that the majority of these families are capable of doing while still qualifying for governmental support.

In my experience, I have seen many young mothers suffer great depression and advised from the church elders not to pursue assistance or counselling as this would be a weakness of their soul. I think they may be afraid that the women may find that counselling might expose the family to some "errors" for lack of a better terms in their beliefs. Would this be accurate?

As a teacher, I have witnessed a level of disrespect that is unbelievable and parents unable to guide (what most people would consider discipline their children) their children when they provide no financial or emotional support for them. It is very evident that the students feel that they do not have to respect us "worldly" people as we are called. The students on the playground are confronted and told they are going to hell because they believe in Santa Claus. How can a Christian even begin to criticize the premise of Santa Claus. I would be the first to admit that Christmas is excessively commercialized. But the generous spirit (not giving your kids expensive gifts) is a very Christian value.

Learning to be tolerant and work together with others motivates students. Jesus did not exclude anyone that believed, yet I often see a great deal of racism and exclusion.
Participating in sports can be fun and rewarding and when taken in context can build character within students. I don't understand why they may not participate.

I do not intend any of these comments to offend anyone and admire their christian beliefs. Even though my frustration is very evident - I just seek greater understanding.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Hope, bliss, gardens, mutts, life

Wow. The past 3 days I've been fighting a cold but enjoying the most ebullient feelings about our country and our future. "Bliss it was to be alive" is the Wordsworth line making the rounds, warming English-major hearts everywhere. Check out Judith Warner's "Tears to Remember" column (unless you are still weeping for McCain).

This morning at the grocery store, heading for the tea aisle, I nearly ran into Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), who looks JUST like he does on TV, with white hair and rosy cheeks. He was radiant, seemingly walking on air, and smiled broadly at my greeting, no doubt more at my Obama button than my mush-mouthed gee-willickers greeting. I was so flustered I read and re-read all the tea boxes, several times over.

He was gone in a flash (the cashier said the congressman joked about not being a good citizen because he forgot his tote bag) before I could ask him for tickets to the inauguration. Apparently tickets are free, and Congress gets a bunch to give away to constituents. Of course, getting to Washington, DC and back is not cheap. Sigh. I'll be at home on January 20th glued to the tube, and be glad I'm not freezing among the hordes on the Mall.

Yes. But I do so hope to get to DC at least once in my life. Our son is studying the Constitution in his 4th grade class, and next summer his school is leading a tour group to DC and Colonial Williamsburg. How I would love for him to go, and for me to go with him! But $2,200 per person is not chump change. (Business has been super slow, but if the stimulus package stimulates, we're on that plane!).

Later this morning I got a phone call from our local paper, asking for my reaction to Prop 2, the city's parks levy that just passed overwhelmingly. It includes $2 million for four community gardens (my bailiwick). Again, alas, I was gee-willickers inarticulate and giddy. I distrust most reporters, having been misquoted a lot, but this guy was really nice, so I found myself extemporizing about the economic, ecological and health benefits of urban food gardening, and recommending we go back to calling them "Victory Gardens" like our grandparents did during the Depression WWII, and in general, enthusing about the "can do" grassroots spirit that drove the Obama campaign and will continue to drive positive community change. And by the way, did you know seed sales are up and organic food sales down? Thank goodness I got another call or we'd still be talking!

The next call was from a dear friend, a former OALCer and very wise soul, who is just as elated about the election results. After catching up, I asked for advice about something that has been weighing on me lately: how should one advise folks to deal with OALCers?

I get emails from people who have found this blog and want advice, either in dealing with a romance, job or school conflict, or other situation that involves Laestadians (usually OALC).

I hesitate to give advice, because (1) the details are always scant, and (2) I'm no expert. So I usually offer vague recommendations (the kind I give to my friends): talk directly, set clear boundaries, model respect for differences.

Is this enough? I asked if I had a duty to learn more, or to call OALC leaders and let them know what I was hearing (even though that would cause more strife to me and my family). Well, I was relieved when he did NOT encourage that, and gave me props for taking the high road. Such as it is. What do you think, readers?

During that phone call, I missed most of Obama's press conference this afternoon. Apparently he was boring, except where he talked about the new First Puppy, saying that he prefers mutts "like me", but they need a hypo-allergenic dog as Malia has allergies. That made me laugh, as it hit home:

Yesterday for his homework, our son had to write a letter to the new president, advocating for an issue. He chose education, and encouraged "more schools" in order to reduce class size, so "teachers and students can have more one-on-one time." He also mentioned, "by the way," that his dog is a great kind of dog.

As a cocker/bichon, Bodhi is a mutt AND hypo-allergenic. As I write this, Bodhi is sleeping beside me, dreaming of chasing squirrels. His paws and tail are twitching. While there are moments I'd be happy to give him away (he gets carsick and he chews on sofa cushions), the Obamas will just have to find their own.

Okay, back to work, everybody!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Arc of History



May we all be as gracious in defeat as McCain and in victory as Obama this evening. Whatever your views, there is something to celebrate for every one in this, that an individual who could have been bought and sold as a slave just seven generations ago was just elected to lead our nation.

What a country!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Odyssey of Hope


The other day at The Secret Garden Bookstore, my daughter tugged on my sleeve. "Mama, look, that book says the Odyssey of Hope and it's about Obama!"

Actually, the title was The Audacity of Hope, but it got me thinking about my own "odyssey of hope" in politics. I guess it began when I left the OALC in 1979, which might be considered political in the sense that I rejected the power of the church over my life. In pursuit of integrity, I felt obligated to act on my convictions. On its 10th anniversary, I marched against Roe V. Wade at the Federal Courthouse in Seattle. (Though persuaded that abortion was wrong, I was appalled at the marchers carrying coffins.)

Then college happened. My next foray into politics was volunteering for the Dukakis campaign in 1988. I will never forget the excitement mixed with dread that I felt while I prepared press packets in the green room before his appearance at the Pike Place Market. It was raining outside and the crowd was swelling to the tens of thousands. There were rumors of a kerfuffle about whether "labor" had supplied the fruit for the bounty display on the speaking platform. Dukakis needed a riser to be seen above the dais. As volunteers buzzed about with walkie-talkies (this was pre cell phones), I busied myself in a quiet room assembling press packets. Dukakis was behind in the polls, but I was hopeful he could still turn things around.

Busy with my task and deep in thought, I didn't notice when Governor Booth Gardner and Mayor Charlie Royer entered. We still had at least 30 minutes before the show. They chatted; I assembled, ignoring them. Eventually they came over and introduced themselves -- as each other, switching names! Apparently they thought I was an out-of-towner and were enjoying an inside joke. When I corrected them, we all laughed. I had never met a politician before, and was a surprised to discover they were so . . . ordinary.

It was an exciting rally. I stood behind the platform with other volunteers, and as Dukakis talked about exporting goods not jobs, I had a friend snap a photo. It is blurry, grainy (predigital) and just the first in a series: Me, with Loser.

Even when I sided with a winner, I felt like I lost. Years later, it was Bill Clinton at Pike Place Market, running for a second term, and I was there on the rope line, shaking his hand (my husband was faintly appalled that I said "Bill" instead of "Mr. President"). But I had mixed feelings for my candidate, which started in skepticism and ended in disgust.

I thought the election was stolen from Gore, and still do. As for Kerry, he was only better than the alternative, and I could never get excited about his candidacy.

This year feels different. Obama is different. I respect him even when I disagree, and while I am always aware that he is a politican, his character inspires confidence.

Yesterday, I joined several dozen others in a windowless, over-heated room at Seattle's Obama headquarters. My job was to call "infrequent voters" in Everett (a suburb north of Seattle) to encourage them to vote. Most of the time I reached answering machines, but when people answered the phone, they were almost unanimous in telling me that they had already voted.

For Obama. (The conversations were brief. They didn't want to chat. They didn't want to volunteer. It was just "already voted, Obama, thanks, bye!")

Across the country, this is happening wherever there is early voting. Today's Washington Post reports that more than twelve million voters have already cast ballots, breaking Democratic by a wide margin.

What's up?

The video says it better than I can.

I just want to say that this phenomenon is much bigger than Obama. And it is why even though I am confident of his victory, I will be back at headquarters tomorrow, reminding people to vote. Because it isn't democracy if you don't participate.

(English major nerdery: the Odyssey is remarkable in that its events depend as much on the choices of women and serfs as those of fighting men.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Patriotism

I went to the clinic again this morning, steeling myself beforehand, should the angry phlebotomist be wielding the needle. She wasn't there. In her stead was a large Samoan woman who ushered me in and out in five minutes, without any comment regarding my campaign button. That was a relief.

But it got me thinking about civil discourse, and how difficult it is if either person identifies more strongly with an ideology (be it political or religious or other) than with our common humanity. Recently on this blog, I lost my cool when an anonymous poster (responding to my criticism of Bill O'Reilly), told me to "try and say," "just once," "I love America."

As if.

We all know patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, but I should not have called the poster an "ignorant imbecile," which is redundant, for starters. Four Eyes rightly scolded me. What I should have done is invite discussion on the nature of patriotism.

Is there a "real America" and by extension, a "false America"? Are there "pro-American" parts of the country? Is America blessed by God to be "exceptional" and "a city on a hill"? Are people in small towns more patriotic than people in big towns or cities? This has been the theme of Governor Palin's speeches for many weeks (rather ironic, given hers and Todd's association with the secessionist Alaska Independence Party).

Yesterday, General Colin Powell (strong Republican) responded to this divisive rhetoric in his eloquent endorsement of Barack Obama. It's worth watching.

And today at a rally in Tampa Bay, Obama said:
There are no real or fake parts of this country. We are not separated by the pro-America and anti-America parts of this nation – we all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from. There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq and patriots who opposed it; patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women from Florida and all across America who serve on our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America. We have always been at our best when we’ve had leadership that called us to look past our differences and come together as one nation, as one people; leadership that rallied this entire country to a common purpose – to a higher purpose."


For those of you who are Christians, I thought this perspective worth sharing:
For the mainstream Protestant, Palin is engaging in what Reinhold Niebuhr calls “the idolatry of America.” As Niebuhr would have it, an American Christian may be patriotic and love his country, but he must also remember that his true home rests outside of these bounds fixed by geography and time and in an eternal community with Jesus Christ. The Christian’s commitment to his faith must come first, and it must transcend a commitment to the nation-state. This means that patriotism is, in the mainstream Protestant view, a fairly complicated matter. In particular, again in the Niebuhr tradition, a Christian must guard against the risk that vanity, haughtiness and hatred towards the balance of mankind enter into his heart under the guise of patriotism; he must retain a skeptical and critical attitude which recognizes the imperfection of human works. The perspective of Religious Right figures like Palin that elevates America—as their political blinders conceive her—to some sort of sacred object is therefore little short of an act of idolatry. Jesus Christ, as Charles Marsh reminds us, “comes to us from a country far from our own” and requires that believers lay their “values, traditions, and habits at the foot of the cross.” Or, as John Calvin says, “the heart is a factory of idols,” and a primitive noncritical form of patriotism can be a particularly troubling and entrenched idol.


This morning on the way to school, our 7-year old asked "What color is McCain?"

"White?" I ventured.

"No! I mean is he blue or red?"

That was a great learning moment. If there is anything Laestadianism has taught me, it is that how we view others, and how we describe them to our children, is a matter of choice and can be done with love or fear. I told her about the political color tradition (red/right and blue/left) and how it is inadequate to the task of defining our candidates or us. She understood instantly. Her "favorite color is rainbow" -- which is a pretty good motif for the founding ideals of this country: unity in plurality, and symbolic of hope.


Thanks for reading, friends.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Hate = Blood

You've seen the news reports: McCain/Palin rallies are getting increasingly ugly.

"Terrorist!"
"Treason!"
"Kill him!"

There will always be whackos and haters at rallies. Speakers have a responsibility to encourage calm. Unless, of course, they are hoping for unrest.

This topic has a Laestadian connection, by the way, for those readers who prefer we keep to that topic on this blog. Laestadius was accused of hate-mongering after the riots of Kautokeino, where his followers took quite literally his words that the saloonkeeper was an agent of the devil. They killed him. Laestadius denied any connection but toned down his sermons.

Will McCain do likewise before blood is shed?

Against his previous promises and the advice of many Republican advisors (some now jumping ship), he and Palin are stoking the fires of fear and hatred. 100% of their TV ads are negative. Character assassination is now their priority, dominating their speeches. Hateful comments are not contradicted from the podium, but actually affirmed.

How dare they? Knowing the tinderbox we sit on as a nation? If blood spills, it is on their hands.

Back in June, I had my own scary encounter with a hater: the phlebotomist drawing my blood for a routine test. A young, heavily made-up woman, she took exception to the logo on my t-shirt and spent several painful minutes lambasting Obama while digging around in my arm with a needle. When I complained that it hurt, she went to work on the other arm, continuing her racist tirade. I was so appalled that I could barely speak.

This is Seattle, after all, the city of "nice." I tried some banter to lighten things up . . . but she was dead serious, and even after she withdrew the needle, more than a little frightening. On my way out the door, I called out loudly enough for the Pakistani family in the waiting room to hear:

"Get used to having a black president, miss, 'cuz it's going to happen." That cheered me up.

And it is going to happen, if Obama can survive.

(Above is a photo of a man arrested yesterday for terrorist threats. He said he needed to vote to "keep the ni**er out of office," and that he had weapons at home. Heaven help us.)

Sunday, October 05, 2008

What is Christian

Today, Norway's largest newspaper published a story about a simple act of charity by a Christian whose faith many Christians, 20 years later, would not only question but deny, even claiming -- via nasty emails distorting the Book of Revelation -- that he represents the antiChrist.


The polygots among you may read the original here.

A Google-translated English version is below.

(Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan responds to the article by saying "Christianity, unlike Christianism, doesn't mean controlling others, policing their lives and removing their rights. It can also mean just helping someone you don't know when you can.")

ÅSGÅRDSTRAND (VG): Mary was a newlywed and ready to move to Norway, but was stopped at the airport because she didn’t have enough money for the trip. Then a stranger turned up and paid for her.

Mary Menth Andersen was 31 years old at the time and had just married Norwegian Dag Andersen. She was looking forward to starting a new life in Åsgårdstrand in Vestfold with him. But first she had to get all of her belongings across to Norway. The date was November 2nd, 1988.

At the airport in Miami things were hectic as usual, with long lines at the check-in counters. When it was finally Mary’s turn and she had placed her luggage on the baggage line, she got the message that would crush her bubbling feeling of happiness.
-You’ll have to pay a 103 dollar surcharge if you want to bring both those suitcases to Norway, the man behind the counter said.

Mary had no money. Her new husband had travelled ahead of her to Norway, and she had no one else to call.

-I was completely desperate and tried to think which of my things I could manage without. But I had already made such a careful selection of my most prized possessions, says Mary.

Although she explained the situation to the man behind the counter, he showed no signs of mercy.

-I started to cry, tears were pouring down my face and I had no idea what to do. Then I heard a gentle and friendly voice behind me saying, That’s OK, I’ll pay for her.

Mary turned around to see a tall man whom she had never seen before.

-He had a gentle and kind voice that was still firm and decisive. The first thing I thought was, Who is this man?

Although this happened 20 years ago, Mary still remembers the authority that radiated from the man.

-He was nicely dressed, fashionably dressed with brown leather shoes, a cotton shirt open at the throat and khaki pants, says Mary.

She was thrilled to be able to bring both her suitcases to Norway and assured the stranger that he would get his money back. The man wrote his name and address on a piece of paper that he gave to Mary. She thanked him repeatedly. When she finally walked off towards the security checkpoint, he waved goodbye to her.

The piece of paper said ‘Barack Obama’ and his address in Kansas, which is the state where his mother comes from. Mary carried the slip of paper around in her wallet for years, before it was thrown out.

-He was my knight in shining armor, says Mary, smiling.

She paid the 103 dollars back to Obama the day after she arrived in Norway. At that time he had just finished his job as a poorly paid community worker* in Chicago, and had started his law studies at prestigious Harvard university.

In the spring of 2006 Mary’s parents had heard that Obama was considering a run for president, but that he had still not decided. They chose to write a letter in which they told him that he would receive their votes. At the same time, they thanked Obama for helping their daughter 18 years earlier.

In a letter to Mary’s parents dated May 4th, 2006 and stamped ‘United States Senate, Washington DC’, Barack Obama writes:

‘I want to thank you for the lovely things you wrote about me and for reminding me of what happened at Miami airport. I’m happy I could help back then, and I’m delighted to hear that your daughter is happy in Norway. Please send her my best wishes. Sincerely, Barack Obama, United States senator’.

The parents sent the letter on to Mary.

This week VG met her and her husband in the café that she runs with her friend Lisbeth Tollefsrud in Åsgårdstrand.

-It’s amazing to think that the man who helped me 20 years ago may now become the next US president, says Mary delightedly.

She has already voted for Obama. She recently donated 100 dollars to his campaign.
She often tells the story from Miami airport, both when race issues are raised and when the conversation turns to the presidential elections.

-I sincerely hope the Americans will see reason and understand that Obama means change, says Mary.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two Responses to Greed-American Style

Evangelist Jim Wallis is mad as heck:

The financial collapse of Wall Street is the fiscal consequence of the economic philosophy that now governs America — that markets are always good and government is always bad. But it is also the moral consequence of greed, where private profit prevails over the concept of the common good. The American economy is often rooted in unbridled materialism, a culture that continues to extol greed, a false standard of values that puts short-term profits over societal health, and a distorted calculus that measures human worth by personal income instead of character, integrity, and generosity.

Americans have a love-hate relationship with government and business. The climate seems to shift between an “anything goes” mentality and stricter government regulation. The excesses of the 1920s, leading to the Great Depression, were followed by the reforms of Franklin Roosevelt.

The entrepreneurial spirit and social innovation fostered by a market economy has benefited many and should not be overly encumbered by unnecessary or stifling regulations. But left to its own devices and human weakness (let’s call it sin), the market too often disintegrates into greed and corruption, as the Wall Street financial collapse painfully reveals. Capitalism needs rules, or it easily becomes destructive. A healthy, balanced relationship between free enterprise, on the one hand, and public accountability and regulation, on the other, is morally and practically essential. Government should encourage innovation, but it must also limit greed.


Economist Paul Krugman has a few reactions to the proposed bailout:

. . . if the government is going to provide capital to financial firms, it should get what people who provide capital are entitled to — a share in ownership, so that all the gains if the rescue plan works don’t go to the people who made the mess in the first place.

That’s what happened in the savings and loan crisis: the feds took over ownership of the bad banks, not just their bad assets. It’s also what happened with Fannie and Freddie. (And by the way, that rescue has done what it was supposed to. Mortgage interest rates have come down sharply since the federal takeover.)

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a “clean” plan. “Clean,” in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached — no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review “by any court of law or any administrative agency,” and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.

I’m aware that Congress is under enormous pressure to agree to the Paulson plan in the next few days, with at most a few modifications that make it slightly less bad. Basically, after having spent a year and a half telling everyone that things were under control, the Bush administration says that the sky is falling, and that to save the world we have to do exactly what it says now now now.

But I’d urge Congress to pause for a minute, take a deep breath, and try to seriously rework the structure of the plan, making it a plan that addresses the real problem. Don’t let yourself be railroaded — if this plan goes through in anything like its current form, we’ll all be very sorry in the not-too-distant future.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Best Way to Reduce Abortion

Initially I wrote this as a response to Cvow, who (like many of you, dear readers), believes that abortion is wrong in all circumstances because life begins at conception. Although I am prochoice, I think this view is logically consistent given its premises. And I'd like to thank Cvow for being candid and calm in expressing his views.

With all respect to you guys, as a woman of child-bearing age, my views are not merely academic: at any point, it could be me in the moral crosshairs. (Later, I'll tell you what two friends just decided.)

Let's agree, for the sake of argument, that all abortion is immoral because life begins at conception. We'll leave aside for now just how that is determined, but accept the fact that a good 30% of these conceived lives self-abort, i.e. miscarry. (If we were being consistent, we might want to limit human reproduction to nonsmoking, non-coffee-drinking young women, and neuter men over age 35 as they are risk factors for miscarriage).

But onward: what is the best way to reduce abortion?

Three options: make it unnecessary, unavailable, or illegal.

Is the first method effective? We know that women continue to have abortions in countries where it is illegal, under conditions that often result in terrible tragedy. Some 70,000 women a year DIE from unsafe abortions. Others suffer grave injuries, including infection, hemorrhaging, and infertility. This hurts women, their families, and whole communities, but it does very little to reduce abortion.

Making abortion less available is happening right now in the U.S., and it does work to reduce the number of abortions -- among the poor and the very young, who are least likely to afford daycare or healthcare. The baby is substantially more vulnerable to violence, poverty, disease and abandonment. I respect the anti-abortion activists who adopt such children, but there will never be enough of these adopters to stop the cycle. Except in those rare cases, this option is not ethical, as it treats the unborn life with higher value than the born life.

How can we make abortion less necessary?

The first way is to reduce unintended pregnancies (half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended, and, of those, half end in abortion). Prevention includes adequate sex education (abstinence-only doesn't work), contraception (cheap or free, like Viagra), and safety from sexual violence.

In spite of the above, there will always be some unintended pregnancies. I can't emphasize enough that the best way to reduce abortion in this case is to ensure that the mother has the means to have and raise a child in health and safety.

One of most common reasons women choose abortion is because they can't afford a(nother) child. How are we doing as a country to ensure that ALL women have education and career opportunities, healthcare, childcare, housing, and services for disabled children?

Personal aside: two of my friends are now well into unplanned pregnancies (birth control is not 100% reliable). They have previous children, are in committed marriages, and have stable (well, until last week) incomes. These women are prochoice for all women, while against abortion for themselves. They are also, given the current economic crisis, deeply concerned about how their expanded families will make ends meet.

Imagine how many women of less fortunate circumstances are weighing their options. How can we best help them come down on the side of bearing the child?

Both of my friends are supporting Obama in this election. Like them, I think that Obama's priorities and policies will go further in preventing abortions than McCain's.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

White Privilege

by Tim Wise

For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for an easy-to-understand example of it, perhaps this list will help.

White privilege is when you can get pregnant at 17 like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you, or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.

White privilege is when you can call yourself a "f*ckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, who likes to "kick ass" if people mess with you, and who likes to "shoot sh*t," for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.

White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.

White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."

White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough or the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office -- since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s -- while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights because (ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school) requires it, is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.

White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you.

White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wanted your state to secede from the union, and whose motto was "Alaska first" -- and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.

White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do -- like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor -- and people think you're being pithy and tough. But if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college -- you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.

White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."

White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.

White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.

White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.

White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.

And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possible allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90% of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain...

White privilege is ... the problem.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Is Palin an Extremist?

From David Talbot at Salon.com:

Sept. 15, 2008 | WASILLA, Alaska -- The Wasilla Assembly of God, the evangelical church where Sarah Palin came of age, was still charged with excitement on Sunday over Palin's sudden ascendance. Pastor Ed Kalnins warned his congregation not to talk with any journalists who might have been lurking in the pews -- and directly warned this reporter not to interview any of his flock. But Kalnins and other speakers at the service reveled in Palin's rise to global stardom.

It confirmed, they said, that God was making use of Wasilla. "She will take our message to the world!" rejoiced an Assembly of God youth ministry leader, as the church band rocked the high-vaulted wooden building with its electric gospel.

That is what scares the Rev. Howard Bess. A retired American Baptist minister who pastors a small congregation in nearby Palmer, Wasilla's twin town in Alaska's Matanuska Valley, Bess has been tangling with Palin and her fellow evangelical activists ever since she was a Wasilla City Council member in the 1990s. Recently, Bess again found himself in the spotlight with Palin, when it was reported that his 1995 book, "Pastor, I Am Gay," was among those Palin tried to have removed from the Wasilla Public Library when she was mayor.

"She scares me," said Bess. "She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

"At this point, people in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology."

Bess -- a fit-looking, 80-year-old man in a gray University of Illinois sweatshirt and blue jeans – spoke with me over coffee at the Vagabond Blues, a cafe in Palmer with a stunning view of the nearby snow-capped Chugach Mountains. The retired minister moved to the Mat-Su Valley with his wife, Darlene, in 1987, after his outspoken defense of gay rights at Baptist churches in the Santa Barbara, Calif., area and Anchorage landed him in trouble with church officials. In the Mat-Su Valley, Bess plunged into community activism, helping launch an assortment of projects, from an arts council to a shelter for the mentally disabled.

Inevitably, his work brought him into conflict with Palin and other highly politicized Christian fundamentalists in the valley. "Things got very intense around here in the '90s -- the culture war was very hot here," Bess said. "The evangelicals were trying to take over the valley. They took over the school board, the community hospital board, even the local electric utility. And Sarah Palin was in the direct center of all these culture battles, along with the churches she belonged to."

Read the rest of the article here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Garrison Keillor (Not a Fruit Fly)

By Garrison Keillor
Sept. 10, 2008

So the Republicans have decided to run against themselves. The bums have tiptoed out the back door and circled around to the front and started yelling, "Throw the bums out!" They've been running Washington like a well-oiled machine to the point of inviting lobbyists into the back rooms to write the legislation, and now they are anti-establishment reformers dedicated to delivering us from themselves. And former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is an advocate for small-town America. Bravo.

They are coming out for Small Efficient Government the very week that the feds are taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, those old cash cows, and in the course of a weekend $20 billion or $50 billion (pick a number) go floating out the Treasury door. Hello? Do you see us out here? We are not fruit flies, we are voters, we can read and write, we didn't just fall off the coal truck.

It is a bold move on the Republicans' part—forget about the past, it's only history, so write a new narrative and be who you want to be.

Sen. John McCain has decided to run as a former prisoner of war and a maverick, a maverick's maverick, rather than President Bush's best friend, and that's understandable, but how can he not address the $3 trillion that got burned up in Iraq so far? It's real money, it could've paid for a lot of windmills, a high-speed rail line in Ohio, some serious R&D. The Chinese, who have avoided foreign wars for 50 years, are taking enormous leaps forward, investing in their economy, and we are falling behind. We're wasting our chances. The Republican culture of corruption in Washington hasn't helped.

And a former mayor of Wasilla, a town of about 8,500, who hired a lobbyist to get $26 million in federal earmarks is now running against the old-boy network in Washington who gave her that money to build the teen rec center and other good things so she could keep taxes low in Wasilla.

Stunning.

And if you question her qualifications to be the leader of the free world, you are an elitist. This is a beautiful maneuver. I wish I had thought of it back in school when I was forced to subject myself to a final exam in higher algebra. I could have told Miss Mortenson, "I am a Christian and when you gave me a D, you only showed your contempt for the Lord and for the godly hard-working people from whom I have sprung, you elitist battle-ax you."

In school, you couldn't get away with that garbage because the taxpayers know that if we don't uphold scholastic standards, we will wind up driving on badly designed bridges and go in for a tonsillectomy and come out missing our left lung, so we flunk the losers lest they gain power and hurt us, but in politics we bring forth phonies and love them to death.

I must say, it was fun having the Republicans in St. Paul and to see it all up close and firsthand. Security was, as one might expect, thin-lipped and gimlet-eyed, but once you got through it, you found the folks you went to high school with—farm kids, jocks, the townies who ran the student council, the cheerleaders, some of the bullies—and they are as cohesive now as they were back then, dedicated to school spirit, intolerant of outsiders, able to jump up and down and holler for something they don't actually believe.

But oh, Lord, what they brought forth this year.

When you check the actuarial tables on a 72-year-old guy who's had three bouts with cancer, you guess you may be looking at the first woman president, a hustling evangelical with ethics issues and a chip on her shoulder who, not counting Canada, has set foot outside the country once—a trip to Germany, Iraq and Kuwait in 2007 to visit Alaskans in the armed services. And who listed a refueling stop in Ireland as a fourth country visited. She's like the Current Occupant but with big hair. If you want inexperience, there were better choices.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Sermon by Jeremiah Wright

I bet the title got your attention. ;-)

I'm posting this sermon for two reasons, one of which is political, and the other which relates to Laestadianism.

First, the political. By now we've all heard the excerpts from Wright's sermons which caused Obama to finally renouce Wright and his membership at Wright's church. Wright said some things that are pretty much inexcusable in my book, and most books for that matter. You might wonder (and I certainly wondered myself) how Obama could have stayed in his congregation if that kind of stuff was the stuff regularly preached there. Hopefully this sermon helps answer that question. I think it's a great sermon and while it doesn't excuse what Wright has said with such noteriety, it does make the case that Wright is capable of far better theological reflection than what we've all heard on YouTube.

Secondly, the topic of this sermon is "Hope." It was the sermon that inspired Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," and is a topic relevant to all of us who have had to bear unbearable situations. I think as former Laestadians we of all people can understand what it's like to sit in church and listen to things that we think are crazy. As former Laestadians we also are familiar with the suffering of those who feel trapped and helpless under an oppressive system that we felt helpless to change.

We left, but how do people who feel like they can't leave continue on in their suffering? I think this sermon helps answer that question.

One final note before I leave you to the sermon. Where the "horizontal" and "vertical" dimensions come together; there is the cross.

Hope
Preaching Today published this sermon in 1990.

Several years ago while I was in Richmond, the Lord allowed me to be in that city during the week of the annual convocation at Virginia Union University School of Theology. There I heard the preaching and teaching of Reverend Frederick G. Sampson of Detroit, Michigan. In one of his lectures, Dr. Sampson spoke of a painting I remembered studying in humanities courses back in the late '50s. In Dr. Sampson's powerful description of the picture, he spoke of it being a study in contradictions, because the title and the details on the canvas seem to be in direct opposition.

The painting's title is "Hope." It shows a woman sitting on top of the world, playing a harp. What more enviable position could one ever hope to achieve than being on top of the world with everyone dancing to your music?

As you look closer, the illusion of power gives way to the reality of pain. The world on which this woman sits, our world, is torn by war, destroyed by hate, decimated by despair, and devastated by distrust. The world on which she sits seems on the brink of destruction. Famine ravages millions of inhabitants in one hemisphere, while feasting and gluttony are enjoyed by inhabitants of another hemisphere. This world is a ticking time bomb, with apartheid in one hemisphere and apathy in the other. Scientists tell us there are enough nuclear warheads to wipe out all forms of life except cockroaches. That is the world on which the woman sits in Watt's painting.

Our world cares more about bombs for the enemy than about bread for the hungry. This world is still more concerned about the color of skin than it is about the content of character - a world more finicky about what's on the outside of your head than about the quality of your education or what's inside your head. That is the world on which this woman sits.

You and I think of being on top of the world as being in heaven. When you look at the woman in Watt's painting, you discover this woman is in hell. She is wearing rags. Her tattered clothes look as if the woman herself has come through Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Her head is bandaged, and blood seeps through the bandages. Scars and cuts are visible on her face, her arms, and her legs.

I. Illusion of Power vs. Reality of Pain

A closer look reveals all the harp strings but one are broken or ripped out. Even the instrument has been damaged by what she has been through, and she is the classic example of quiet despair. Yet the artist dares to entitle the painting Hope. The illusion of power-sitting on top of the world - gives way to the reality of pain.

And isn't it that way with many of us? We give the illusion of being in an enviable position on top of the world. Look closer, and our lives reveal the reality of pain too deep for the tongue to tell. For the woman in the painting, what looks like being in heaven is actually an existence in a quiet hell. I've been a pastor for seventeen years. I've seen too many of these cases not to know what I'm talking about. I've seen married couples where the husband has a girlfriend in addition to his wife. It's something nobody talks about. The wife smiles and pretends not to hear the whispers and the gossip. She has the legal papers but knows he would rather try to buy Fort Knox than divorce her. That's a living hell.

I've seen married couples where the wife had discovered that somebody else cares for her as a person and not just as cook, maid jitney service, and call girl all wrapped into one. But there's the scandal: What would folks say? What about the children? That's a living hell.

I've seen divorcees whose dreams have been blown to bits, families broken up beyond repair, and lives somehow slipping through their fingers. They've lost control. That's a living hell.

I've seen college students who give the illusion of being on top of the world - designer clothes, all the sex that they want, all the cocaine or marijuana or drugs, all the trappings of having it all together on the outside-but empty and shallow and hurting and lonely and afraid on the inside. Many times what looks good on the outside-the illusion of being in power, of sitting on top of the world - with a closer look is actually existence in a quiet hell.

That is exactly where Hannah is in 1 Samuel 1 :1-18. Hannah is top dog in this three-way relationship between herself, Elkanah, and Peninnah. Her husband loves Hannah more than he loves his other wife and their children. Elkanah tells Hannah he loves her. A lot of husbands don't do that. He shows Hannah that he loves her, and many husbands never get around to doing that. In fact, it is his attention and devotion to Hannah that causes Peninnah to be so angry and to stay on Hannah's case constantly. Jealous! Jealousy will get hold of you, and you can't let it go because it won't let you go. Peninnah stayed on Hannah, like we say, "as white on rice." She constantly picked at Hannah, making her cry, taking her appetite away.

At first glance Hannah's position seems enviable. She had all the rights and none of the responsibilities - no diapers to change, no beds to sit beside at night, no noses to wipe, nothing else to wipe either, no babies draining you of your milk and demanding feeding. Hannah was top dog. No baby portions to fix at meal times. Her man loved her; everybody knew he loved her. He loved her more than anything or anybody. That's why Peninnah hated her so much.

Now, except for the second-wife bit, which was legal back then, Hannah was sitting on top of the world, until you look closer. When you look closer, what looked like being in heaven was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Hannah had the pain of a bitter woman to contend with, for verse 7 says that nonstop, Peninnah stayed with her. Hannah suffered the pain of living with a bitter woman. And she suffered another pain - the pain of a barren womb. You will remember the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4 who had no child. The story of a woman with no children was a story of deep pathos and despair in biblical days.

Do you remember the story of Sarah and what she did in Genesis 16 because of her barren womb - before the three heavenly visitors stopped by their tent? Do you remember the story of Elizabeth and her husband in Luke I? Back in Bible days, the story of a woman with a barren womb was a story of deep pathos. And Hannah was afflicted with the pain of a bitter woman on the one hand and the pain of a barren womb on the other.

Hannah's world was flawed, flaky. Her garments of respectability were tattered and torn, and her heart was bruised and bleeding from the constant attacks of a jealous woman. The scars and scratches on her psyche are almost visible as you look at this passage, where she cries, refusing to eat anything. Just like the woman in Watt's painting, what looks like being in heaven is actually existence in a quiet hell.

Now I want to share briefly with you about Hannah - the lady and the Lord. While I do so, I want you to be thinking about where you live and your own particular pain predicament. Think about it for a moment.

Dr. Sampson said he wanted to quarrel with the artist for having the gall to name that painting Hope when all he could see in the picture was hell - a quiet desperation. But then Dr. Sampson said he noticed that he had been looking only at the horizontal dimensions and relationships and how this woman was hooked up with that world on which she sat. He had failed to take into account her vertical relationships. He had not looked above her head. And when he looked over her head, he found some small notes of music moving joyfully and playfully toward heaven.

II. The Audacity to Hope

Then, Dr. Sampson began to understand why the artist titled the painting "Hope." In spite of being in a world torn by war, in spite of being on a world destroyed by hate and decimated by distrust, in spite of being on a world where famine and greed are uneasy bed partners, in spite of being on a world where apartheid and apathy feed the fires of racism and hatred, in spite of being on a world where nuclear nightmare draws closer with each second, in spite of being on a ticking time bomb, with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God. The vertical dimension balanced out what was going on in the horizontal dimension.

And that is what the audacity to hope will do for you. The apostle Paul said the same thing. "You have troubles? Glory in your trouble. We glory in tribulation." That's the horizontal dimension. We glory in tribulation because, he says, "Tribulation works patience. And patience works experience. And experience works hope. (That's the vertical dimension.) And hope makes us not ashamed." The vertical dimension balances out what is going on in the horizontal dimension. That is the real story here in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. Not the condition of Hannah's body, but the condition of Hannah's soul - her vertical dimension. She had the audacity to keep on hoping and praying when there was no visible sign on the horizontal level that what she was praying for, hoping for, and waiting for would ever be answered in the affirmative.

What Hannah wanted most out of life had been denied to her. Think about that. Yet in spite of that, she kept on hoping. The gloating of Peninnah did not make her bitter. She kept on hoping. When the family made its pilgrimage to the sanctuary at Shiloh, she renewed her petition there, pouring out her heart to God. She may have been barren, but that's a horizontal dimension. She was fertile in her spirit, her vertical dimension. She prayed and she prayed and she prayed and she kept on praying year after year. With no answer, she kept on praying. She prayed so fervently in this passage that Eli thought she had to be drunk. There was no visible sign on the horizontal level to indicate to Hannah that her praying would ever be answered. Yet, she kept on praying.

And Paul said something about that, too. No visible sign? He says, "Hope is what saves us, for we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man sees, why does he have hope for it? But if we hope for that which we see not (no visible sign), then do we with patience wait for it."

That's almost an echo of what the prophet Isaiah said: "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." The vertical dimension balances out what is going on in the horizontal dimension.

There may not be any visible sign of a change in your individual situation, whatever your private hell is. But that's just the horizontal level. Keep the vertical level intact, like Hannah. You may, like the African slaves, be able to sing, "Over my head I hear music in the air. Over my head I hear music in the air. Over my head I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere." Keep the vertical dimension intact like Hannah. Have the audacity to hope for that child of yours. Have the audacity to hope for that home of yours. Have the audacity to hope for that church of yours. Whatever it is you've been praying for, keep on praying, and you may find, like my grandmother sings, "There's a bright side somewhere; there is a bright side somewhere. Don't you rest until you find it, for there is a bright side somewhere."

III. Persistence of Hope

The real lesson Hannah gives us from this chapter - the most important word God would have us hear - is how to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident. It's easy to hope when there are evidences all around of how good God is. But to have the audacity to hope when that love is not evident - you don't know where that somewhere is that my grandmother sang about, or if there will ever be that brighter day - that is a true test of a Hannah-type faith. To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope - make music and praise God on and with whatever it is you've got left, even though you can't see what God is going to do - that's the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt's painting.

There's a true-life illustration that demonstrates the principles portrayed so powerfully in this periscope. And I close with it. My mom and my dad used to sing a song that I've not been able to find in any of the published hymnals. It's an old song out of the black religious tradition called "Thank you, Jesus." It's a very simple song. Some of you have heard it. It's simply goes, "Thank you Jesus. I thank you Jesus. I thank you Jesus. I thank you Lord." To me they always sang that song at the strangest times-when the money got low, or when the food was running out. When I was getting in trouble, they would start singing that song. And I never understood it, because as a child it seemed to me they were thanking God that we didn't have any money, or thanking God that we had no food, or thanking God that I was making a fool out of myself as a kid.

Conclusion: Hope is What Saves Us

But I was only looking at the horizontal level. I did not understand nor could I see back then the vertical hookup that my mother and my father had. I did not know then that they were thanking him in advance for all they dared to hope he would do one day to their son, in their son, and through their son. That's why they prayed. That's why they hoped. That's why they kept on praying with no visible sign on the horizon. And I thank God I had praying parents, because now some thirty-five years later, when I look at what God has done in my life, I understand clearly why Hannah had the audacity to hope. Why my parents had the audacity to hope.

And that's why I say to you, hope is what saves us. Keep on hoping; keep on praying. God does hear and answer prayer. Jeremiah Wright is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. - 1990 Jeremiah Wright

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Numa Numa

The kids go back to school tomorrow. Pardon me while I celebrate a little.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Monday, August 18, 2008

Where is the Country?

Above, retired army colonel and conservative historian Andrew Bacevich, whose son was killed in Iraq. See the whole interview or read the transcripts here. Highly recommended.
There are many people who say they support the troops, and they really mean it. But when it comes, really, down to understanding what does it mean to support the troops? It needs to mean more than putting a sticker on the back of your car.

I don't think we actually support the troops. We the people. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population. About a million and a half people that are on active duty.

And then we really turn away. We don't want to look when they go back for two or three or four or five combat tours. That's not supporting the troops. That's an abdication of civic responsibility. And I do think it - there's something fundamentally immoral about that.

Again, as I tried to say, I think the global war on terror, as a framework of thinking about policy, is deeply defective. But if one believes in the global war on terror, then why isn't the country actually supporting it? In a meaningful substantive sense?

Where is the country?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Is Georgia the Finland of Our Day?

It is hard to make sense of the Russian invasion of Georgia. All I know is that America has forfeited its moral standing in the world. Some argue that this is about oil, and Georgians can expect more violence, with little the U.S. can do to help. Some seem to warn of even darker outcomes. Here is an excerpt of an interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former U.S. national security advisor.

Fundamentally at stake is what kind of role Russia will play in the new international system. Unfortunately, Putin is putting Russia on a course that is ominously similar to Stalin's and Hitler's in the late 1930s. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt has correctly drawn an analogy between Putin's "justification" for dismembering Georgia -- because of the Russians in South Ossetia -- to Hitler's tactics vis-a-vis Czechoslovakia to "free" the Sudeten Deutsch.

Even more ominous is the analogy of what Putin is doing vis-a-vis Georgia to what Stalin did vis-a-vis Finland: subverting by use of force the sovereignty of a small democratic neighbor. In effect, morally and strategically, Georgia is the Finland of our day.

You can read more of the interview here. (For information about the Russo-Finnish War, go here.)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Love in a Jar

This summer I am teaching our kids how to make jam the old-fashioned way, with no added pectin, just fruit and sugar and a whole lot of stirring. We use observation (does it gel on a cold saucer?) instead of a thermometer to judge its doneness.

We skim the foam, ladle the bubbling jam into hot jars, cap them tightly and invert them, then after a few minutes, turn them right side up and listen for the ping, pong, ping of the successful seals.

Our son uses his best penmanship, if not spelling, on the labels ("apricot vannila" is one Finnish-like result). He and his sister carefully align the jars on the windowsill to admire.

Their delight in the process is surpassed only by their delight in the product, spread on buttered toast, glopped onto ice cream, or eaten straight off the spoon. They've invented an "Italian soda" using sparkling water and jam foam (too sweet for grown-ups).

How fortunate we are. Within an hour, we have wiped up the counters and turned to other activities.

While typing up a beloved aunt's memoirs recently, I realized that I come from a long line of women who worked from sun up to sun down, and often beyond, growing, harvesting, and preparing food for their families, in addition to all of the other chores of tending to family and farm. Preserving food for the winter was a necessity, a stay against hunger. It was certainly not recreational.

If they didn't plan ahead and ran out of sugar or jars (as I'm wont to do), the fruit could go bad before the next trip to town. If they felt like blogging instead of making dinner, ordering pizza was not an option. Planning was essential. How little time they had just to themselves!

This summer as I practice that ancient kitchen alchemy, I thank my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother, and all the women before them in a long chain of caring and lore. They bequeathed many skills to me that are no longer necessary for survival (or even for canning, e.g. paraffin). But their legacy of love is preserved. Generation after generation. Spoonful after spoonful.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Sports, a Good Thing

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We are back from vacation and a lovely one it was, with equal parts solitude and company, activity and leisure, familiarity and newness. The San Juans can't be beat for beachcombing, camping and hanging out with former Laestadians. Our last day culminated in 17 lbs of u-pick blueberries, a sizable quantity of which is staring at me as I write this, as if eager to be made into jam.

(Did you know Laestadius drafted his sermons with a quill and blueberry juice? Me neither.)

Before I get to work, I want to say something about sports. Obviously there is good and bad to be found in anything as broad and varied (and ancient, predating written history) as "sports." Unexposed in my impressionable years, I have little interest in professional sports, although I've been thrilled by a few Mariners games (not this season, alas), and I love watching the Olympic Games. My hubby feels pretty much the same. When we began our family, we wondered what role sports should play in our lives. His swimming, my yoga? Hiking, bicycling? Certainly we wanted our children to be active and healthy. With no family history to draw on, no relatives to consult, no prohibitions or expectations, we looked around to evaluate the case for kids' sports.


In the families we knew, both Laestadian and non, there were a few unfortunate kids whom we thought would have benefited from sports or some other time-consuming passion (science, chess, music, art) that would have kept them preoccupied and self-assured during those crazy middle school years. Sadly, drugs filled the void. Drugs offered both a pastime and an escape from their feelings of inferiority and separateness. Some are still whirling in that vortex. Among their parents, there is not one that doesn't regret not making sure their kids were kept busy after school.

Sports do keep you busy.

Among the children we knew who played sports, the sole downside was that one boy had been injured, several times, on a college football field.

So (in our admittedly small but nonetheless relevant sample) we saw, on the one hand, drugs and alienation, and on the other, a broken collar bone, a twisted ankle. None of the athletic children went on to play sports professionally. None seemed to suffer an excess of pride or aggression.

It was not hard to pick. Yes on sports in our family, but hold the football.

At their young ages our children have tried t-ball, baseball, soccer, tennis, martial arts, Irish dancing, ballet, swimming, basketball and gymnastics. They have played on leagues, in camps, and on the playground. Their coaches have been incredibly decent, teaching their own and our children important life skills along with the game.

Our kids are learning to win and lose gracefully, to listen to their bodies, to respect individual differences, to stretch their limits and compete against themselves. They are learning humility, the kind that knows the true measure of a person is character, not ability. They know that individuals are not equally gifted, but every person can progress with practice.

Given our experiences so far, I feel confident that there are many more advantages than disadvantages.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Studies indicate that children's involvement in sports helps them with schoolwork, improves health, and protects against smoking, drug use, and teen pregnancy.

RWB refers to a "beer league" or a "church league" but I have never encountered either. Maybe that's a Clark County thing. There are many leagues in these parts, but they are defined by the sport, location, and age or ability or gender of the participants. Adults have a zillion opportunities to get active, too. Why let the kids (and the spoiled overpaid multizillionaire pros) have all the fun?

I'm thinking about joining an amateur softball league, as I've learned the amazing satisfaction of a solid base hit. If the games include a celebratory beer afterward, so much the better. It feels so good to be free.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Open Thread

Okay folks, I'm off to the farmers market, to be followed by a family bike ride, to be chased by a zoo concert, to be topped with a camping trip. Yahoo! I do love me some summer. Have some of these cherries . . . last of the season.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Technical Problems

Regrettably (or happily, depending on your views), users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer are not able to see much of this site. In fact, if you are using IE, this is probably the only post you are able to read.

Please consider using Mozilla Firefox or another Linux-based browser. You can download Firefox for free here.

I've been told by techie friends that: (1) Internet Explorer is evil and (2) the alternatives are more stable, more secure, and more fun (lots of extensions, themes, and add-ons). So there you have it.

I've also been told that migrating this site over to Wordpress would be a good idea, but the very thought exhausts me. Maybe when the kids are off to college and I'm staring at an empty nest, in about 10 years.

Meanwhile, if you have any low-energy clues for how to improve the site, let me know.

UPDATE: My bad. Cheeks red. Turns out I mangled some "span class" code halfway through Friday's post. Thanks for the clue, Anonymous; it was a very low-energy fix :-)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Parking Lots and Teens

From this week's Reflector:

Maybe teens should hang out in church parking lot

In the letter to the editor, Ms. Jennifer Bohn of Battle Ground is right, we do not owe teens a place to "hang out," and be disruptive. These teens are like a lot of kids. Their behavior is not unusual. They want to be together and socialize. That's a good thing. The problem is that not all, but many of them throw their Starbucks cups, soda bottles, Quizno's and Jack-in-the-Box fast food wrappers, their countless cigarette butts, and blobs of slimy chew on the ground between the Fred Meyer store and the Starbucks. Until the people are told this is wrong and not acceptable, they will continue doing what they're doing.

Many of them are discourteous to shoppers wishing to drive through the parking lot to go shopping. Now that more and more of your readers are fed up and speaking up, perhaps the management at the Fred Meyer and surrounding stores will understand the shopping public has a choice of where they spend or don't spend their money.

The problem will either be corrected quickly, or many of us that don't want the hassle or disruption, will simply turn the other cheek and take our dollars to shop elsewhere. Have you noticed how nice the Safeway is since the remodel? There's even a Starbucks inside.

I do have a suggestion of where the teens can "hang out." How about the Apostolic Lutheran Church south of town by the Cedars golf course? Their sign reads, "Everyone Welcome." Wonderful and neighborly. Now, all the church needs to do is take the padlock off the gate and let the teens hang out there, and throw cigarette butts, fast food wrappers, soda bottles, and Starbucks cups on the ground.

Many of the teens already know where that church is. I know where it is because I've driven there, and taken the time to speak with some of the church's elders about this issue. By the way, with no resolution or commitment from them. I suspect the gate to their parking lot is locked to keep teens out. That is odd. I've never seen another church that has a gated and locked parking lot. I'm puzzled. Or, maybe those of us bothered by the discourteous teens can stop, smile, shake hands, park next to them and "hang out." We could play our car stereos loud, and socialize with them. We could talk about local, nation, international politics, or just smile and be with them. That would drive any normal teenager to find another place to gather.

Maybe Mr. Monty Center of Amboy could do as Ms. Bohn suggested, and invite the teens over to his place. It's a win-win for everyone. And they lived happily ever after. God bless us, everyone.

Michael Mitchell Battle Ground, WA

As I mentioned earlier, I feel bad for the many considerate, nonlittering, nonloitering OALC teens who will no doubt be teased about this.

For the others, community service would be an appropriate penalty: work on a cleanup crew, read books to the elderly, or peel potatoes in a soup kitchen. OALC mission work.

This also presents an opportunity for the OALC to provide something for these kids to do. How about some basketball hoops in the church parking lot? A construction project? Idle hands are the devil's workshop, and all that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Milgram Shock Experiment: the Perils of Obedience

The Milgram experiment is a 1961 study that measured the willingness of participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.



Milgram summarized the experiment in his 1974 article, "The Perils of Obedience", writing:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects' [participants'] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects' [participants'] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.



Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.





The study and subsequent experiments are worth contemplating, not only for insights into our national crisis of morality in sanctioning and using torture, but into more personal aspects of conformity. What makes us accept authority? What makes us question it?



I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Study Reveals Nondogmatic Faith

Thanks to RWB for alerting us to the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, which seems to have surprised everyone with its finding that a sizable majority of Americans believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life."

Yowzah.

Genie is outta the bottle.

RWB finds this "contrary to God's word" and I can understand why, if one prefers a literalist approach to the Bible. Perhaps if the Pew people had phoned as many Laestadians as Jehovah Witnesses (the only group with a majority claiming exclusive truth), the numbers might have changed a bit.

But maybe not.

Clearly, most folks in the 21st century have experienced, seen and/or read too much about other religions to be seduced by claims of exceptionalism.

Some baffled commentators have wondered whether survey respondents actually intended to say that "many denominations (Christian denominations) can lead to eternal life." Hmmmm. I may overestimate the average American's intelligence, but I think most folks know the difference between religion and denomination. Don't you?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

They Will Know You by Your Love

It's always interesting to hear what outsiders think of Laestadians, especially when they know next to nothing about them.

One day when I was in 6th grade in the little country school where my siblings and I were the only OALCers, I was surrounded in the school cafeteria by a group of angry girls. They accused me of saying that our classmate Michelle (a pretty but vapid girl whom I disliked) was going to hell because she was . . . Catholic.

I cried; I denied it. I had never said such a thing, and that much was true. Perhaps I felt bad, knowing that our religion taught that Catholics had "dead faith." But of more concern to my 12-year old soul was how did my classmates know? As far as I knew, nobody in town knew anything about our church.

Perhaps they knew enough. It was in all we didn't say, and all we didn't do, in the years we lived there. One's character is legible in one's actions.

I found an old thread on a mothering.com board about the OALC in Battle Ground. A member had inquired about affordable places to live. (If you aren't familiar with Mothering, it is sold in health food stores, and features articles on midwives, breastfeeding, nutrition, and healthy family living in general.) Here is a sampling from the thread:

From "AmyMay":
There is a large apostolic lutheran element out here, lots of women with lots of children (5-6 is not uncommon), wearing dresses (don't get me wrong, they look pretty chic to me, but frighteningly similar to each other), long hair, no makeup...again, nothing wrong with that, but it is a little disturbing to me, and I wonder what they are taught and told to look a certain way to "fit in" and be obedient to church rules and expectations....

In school, the apostolic children group together and can be very mean to outsiders coming into the area. It's taken my kids almost a year to feel like they are finally fitting in and making friends. There was lots of teasing because my son had long hair, and none of us go to church. Anything different and unusual to the local kids was up for discussion and teasing about. It was pretty hard on my sensitive, liberal-minded kids.

From "FlyingSpaghettiMama":
BUNHEADS! Dude, so few people know about the sublime religion that is Old Apostolic Lutheran. I hate to generalize, except when I do, and boy, they tend to be an intolerant, inbred (no really, they have to marry inside the church, and all the church members came over about 100 years ago, and all the names are very reused - check it out) grouches who hate pants-wearin' women and other liberals of all stripes. They really, really hate gay people. And like to run them down with their MONSTER TRUCKS. They terrify me, honestly, and they appear to enjoy terrifying others as well.

I would try to get your son outta there by high school age or have him transfer to a Vancouver school. Trust me. It only gets worse and more violent. It's rough going out there.

But Battle Ground (and environs) is very beautiful, for sure. Except for the AL problem . . .

. . . they're originally from Finland. It's too bad, you'd think a community that left in search of religious tolerance would be a lot more tolerant themselves. Like the mennonites!

From "kxsiven":
Mostly from Norway side though. The movement has at least 8 different branches here and none of them is that scary what you are writing about the 'American version'(fundamentalism is pretty much unknown here anyway). If I have understood right, small group got in disagreenment with the main group 100 years ago and they left. Today the movement is very very tiny and probably will have a natural death in coming years.

There is obvious stereotyping here. I suspect some accusations of "meanness" may be due (just as it was for me in 6th grade) to what is NOT being experienced. No invitations to playdates, birthdays and barbeques, no donations, no volunteering, etc. But OALCers being human, their doctrine may provide cover for some less-than-Christian behavior. I remember reasoning that it was okay, even preferable, to avoid Michelle. Only later did I realize how jealous I was (she was blonde! a cheerleader! popular!). My "beliefs" made it easier to dislike her than examine my own prejudice.

Isn't that how all prejudice works?

(The photo was taken by our 7-year old at the farmers market last Thursday. She fell in love with and used her allowance to buy the hand-made doll in the blue sweater, at right. She named her Madeline. The skin colors of the dolls was a complete non-issue, and I found myself surprised at my surprise that she didn't choose the one that looked most like her. Kids like her are going to change the world.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

To my husband and all the terrific fathers I know who are not only reinventing the role for themselves but for future generations: good on ya. Today the New York Times has an article about couples practicing "equally shared parenting." Simply put, that means mom and dad share, more or less equally, the responsibilities for tending the kids, making money, keeping the house, and "recreation."

Feminist pipedream? Liberal menace? Admirable ideal? From a website devoted to the topic:
Imagine a life without having to choose between a meaningful career and enough time with your children. Envision that while you are at work, your wonderful children are safe, happy, healthy and growing in the care of someone who loves them just as much as you do. At home, you spend many hours with them each week to connect with and nurture them. There is plenty of time for yourself and your favorite hobbies as well, and you never have to do more than half of the housework. The burden of earning the family’s income no longer falls on just one of you. You are fully competent as a parent rather than an understudy or manager to your spouse, and you have an energized marriage with a fun and happy partner . . . Equal sharing doesn’t just happen. It can be hard earned and hard kept. Our society does little to encourage it, and many workplaces are not yet well prepared to honor it. It usually means living more simply, establishing yourself in your career before children arrive, and having the utmost respect for your partner.


I think most families, whether they consider themselves "progressive" or not, are tending toward this model. Even Laestadians. Certainly in my own extended family I have seen a notable increase in the amount of time dads are spending with their children. I don't know if the more moms are contributing to family income and enjoying more time away from house and children, but I would guess this is also true. (Certainly it is in my case.)

My daughter's first grade teacher told me that in recent years, fathers ("even doctors!") are taking time to volunteer in the classroom. After 40 years of teaching, she finds this remarkable.

In my experience, refining one's ideas about what it means to be a good father or mother is surprisingly difficult, especially in times of stress, when we tend to revert to type. I have to continually question my reactions and remind myself of my values. Balance can be elusive.

Case in point, our daughter just came up and asked me to play dolls with her. Her daddy is out riding bikes with her brother, and she wants company.

Well, I don't wanna. I don't remember MY parents ever playing dolls (or riding bikes) with us. The lawn needs mowing and the oven is dirty and the dog could use a bath, and of course there is more newspaper to read on this fine sunny morning.

But conscience demands that I sit on the floor and talk in a high squeaky voice for a few minutes. The rest will still be there when our baby is grown.

How are the changing roles of parents experienced in your life?