Monday, May 16, 2005

Update on the Fish/Ribbons

Since my last posting on this phenomenon, I've seen a couple of yellow ribbons with crosses on them. The site linked above has pictures of a very overt ribbon fish!! (I knew it wasn't just me!!)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Nine Congregants Voted Out of their Church for Refusing to Vote for Bush

As I read through this article, all of my thoughts could be summed up in the one sentence description of this blog: One Christian Liberal ponders religion and politics and how the blend of the two is currently hurting both.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Could it be...a new Jesus fish??

As a commuter in one of the most congested parts of the entire country, I'd like to bring you a news update on the so-called "culture war". Bumper stickers are the primary weapon in this conflict, and given the sheer number of hours I spend behind the wheel each and every week, I consider myself an "embedded" reporter of sorts. I brought you an initial report on this conflict back in January, but I've witnessed an interesting turn of events in recent months.


As our troops are still in harm's way, we continue to affix countless yellow ribbons to every imaginable surface. But have you noticed their orientation? Many of them are now lying on their sides. Originally, I was sure that this was a matter of practicality. As in the photo linked in the title, you have to get creative if you have a tiny bumper.

I was sure it was just practicality, until I started noticing giant SUVs wearing their ribbons sideways, too. And today on my way home, I crept for miles and miles behind a bright red Mini Cooper with a sleek, white racing strip. This Mini confirmed suspicions that have been building for months and months. On the back of the car were three stickers, all placed with utter disregard for the car's lovely paint job. The first was of Calvin kneeling at the cross. The second was a sticker of the Jesus fish, except that it was patterned after the American flag. The third sticker was a bright yellow ribbon lying flat on its side. If you look at it, that yellow ribbon looks a lot like the Jesus fish when it lies sideways like that.

I don't think this recent phenomenon would bother me if I thought it meant, "Pray for our troops". Rather, it seems like another form of competitive patriotism & religiosity between our red and blue citizens. I don't remember having any slogans on the ribbons we put up during the first Gulf War. We just put up ribbons because we were thinking about our soldiers. But now we have to have the slogan on our ribbons because it's part of the false dilemma to which we've reduced any debate about our current war: either you support the troops, or you have questions about the budget, government intelligence, etc., etc., etc...

Symbols are very powerful, and this one seems to up the ante and further increase the false dilemma from which we Americans are supposed to choose: (1) either you unquestioningly support our troops and believe in Jesus; or (2) you are an atheist Liberal who "blames America first". I worry about invoking Christ in such casual, flippant exchanges about a topic as heated as our current war in Iraq. And I hate to think that, as a result, some non-believers may come to regard the Christian faith as a package deal that comes with a bunch of politics they may not agree with.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Hell to pay? Or just to live through?

When the Schindler and Schiavo families* burst into twenty-four-hour “breaking news” a few weeks ago, my heart sank. For starters, regardless of how you feel about the end-of-life issues highlighted by this story, these families have endured fifteen years of tragedy, heartbreak, and alienation. Every member of those families needs and deserves our prayers. But the real tragedy for me occurred when Republicans in the White House, congress, and the Florida governor’s mansion scrambled onto the scene.

Imagine for a moment that you are one of Terri Schiavo’s parents, and you’re pleading for your daughter’s life. A shared faith brings your priest or pastor and fellow Christians to your side… What do you expect from them? I know that I would expect prayers, counseling, advice, support, advocacy, lobbying, protesting, and so on.

Now imagine that in the final days of a battle that has lasted for fifteen years, new sectarians join the fight on your behalf. Enter President George Bush, Governor Jeb Bush, and various members of congress. Now what do you expect?

These men did not join Robert & Mary Schindler’s fight to offer prayer, support, and guidance. Rather, when they burst onto the scene, they promised action! Worse yet, they promised action from the government, and that is exactly what the Schindlers were expecting.

And this is where a new tragedy in this story unfolded: our politicians gave that family the false hope that our government could be run like a church. They acted like church elders who were outraged at the behavior of certain congregants. They were going to convene, censure the unacceptable behavior, and demand change.

But then our politicians ran square into a problem: the framers of our Constitution had the foresight to build checks and balances into our government, which would contain the whimsy of a few politicians. These politicians couldn’t do anything except exaggerate the tragedy the Schindlers continued to endure. Despite theatric attempts to circumvent an entire branch of our government, even the Bush family realized it was out of options:

Earlier Sunday, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said there is nothing he can do to save Terri Schiavo's life.

"I cannot violate a court order," Bush said after attending Easter Sunday church services. "I don't have powers from the United States Constitution -- or for that matter from the Florida Constitution -- that would allow me to intervene after a decision has been made.

"I'm sad that she's in the situation that she's in," Bush said, commenting publicly on the case for the first time since Thursday. "I feel bad for her family. My heart goes out to the Schindlers and, for that matter, to [her husband] Michael [Schiavo]," Bush said. "This has not been an easy thing for any, any member of the family. But most particularly for Terri Schiavo."

To Terri Schiavo's parents -- who have said Bush should do more to help their daughter -- the governor said: "I can't. I'd love to, but I can't."

Her parents have lost nearly 30 legal opinions in both state and federal courts, which have consistently sided with Michael Schiavo, who also is Terri Schiavo's legal guardian.

Jeb Bush could have come to this conclusion before intervening at all, since all of the theatrics we’ve watched play out on cable news has followed fifteen years of legal decisions. Congress and the executive branch had already created & passed laws that determine what rights families have in making end-of-life decisions, and the courts did their job: they interpreted what this meant for Terri & Michael Schiavo.

What amazes me about this situation is the continued unwavering belief of conservative Christians in the ability of Republicans to make America a nice place for them to live. This is very similar to when President Bush promised his infamous four million evangelicals that he would pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. We have heard almost nothing about the topic from our president since the election, and still conservative Christians wanted to believe that our president, a few congressmen, or one state’s governor could negate the work of an entire branch of our government.

And just like with the DOMA, there was the obligatory threat of serious ramifications for the Republican Party if conservative Christians didn’t get their way on this issue. In fact, Randall Terry promised there would be “hell to pay” if Terri Schiavo died, the same way that the Arlington group threatened the outrage of evangelical voters if no constitutional amendment was passed to “protect” marriage.

My point for all Christians is this: We will always be a just another pool of coveted voters (the “black vote”, “soccer moms”, “NASCAR dads”, etc.). Politicians will always tell you what you want to hear to get your vote. Have faith in God, not politics, and maybe we can spare dragging another family through another pointless tragedy.

*Though the marriage of Michael & Terri Schiavo technically creates one family, I intentionally use the plural here because of how the two halves have alienated themselves from each other since Terri’s stroke.

Note from the Author

You're faithful author is apparently an advocate of the six-week, European-style vacation!

I began working in a new role within my company in the first week of the year, and after almost no transition I found myself working at a feverish pitch for more hours per week than I care to admit. The obvious side effect has been that, even though plenty of interesting things have happened in the world since mid-February, I haven't had the energy to put together a coherent thought! (And how is it April already!?)

I feel like I have finally caught my breath in the last week or two, and I look forward to writing once a week (or so) in the coming weeks. Many thanks to those of you inquired as to whether I was still among the living. (I am!)

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Confessions of a former...

For readers who know me well, you may want to take a seat before you continue reading, because this confession may shock you. I can only think of one or two people with whom I’ve ever shared this particular news. And I’d like to preface this confession by saying that we’ve all had our youthful indiscretions during our college years, and I am no different. People always warn you that you’ll get started with little things and before you know it, you’ll find yourself down a path and in a place you never expected.

It all started simply enough while I was in college. I went to school in a famously liberal town in northern California, and I started making friends who were involved in politics. It was all small stuff at the beginning: voter registration drives, small meetings with the Young Democrats, and the like. But then I got more and more involved. I volunteered for a local congresswoman and the state superintendent of public education. I was helping with fundraising dinners and making cold calls to constituents. And suddenly it all got out of control, my life took a crazy turn, and before I knew it, I was a registered Republican.

That’s right, faithful readers, I am a former Republican. This is a true story and I want to explain how it happened so that we can prevent other young liberals from treading the same path I had to travel.

It all started in the dank little office in San Francisco that my roommate and I visited twice a week during our sophomore year in college. We were interns working on the two re-election campaigns I mentioned above. I was particularly excited about the state superintendent of public education, because she was riding on the recent success of class-size reduction. I really enjoyed talking to current and retired teachers who were really excited about what had been accomplished during our candidate’s previous term.

But then I quickly realized that one issue ruled most conversations that took place in our little office and at fundraising dinners and during cold calls: the ever divisive abortion issue. The topic was omnipresent and there was only one acceptable way to participate in any abortion-related conversation: active and unwavering support for and dedication to securing access to safe and legal abortion.

Now, the affliction I have which will prevent me from ever successfully running for elected office is that I see in shades of gray. The abortion issue is already complex, but it is even more so for a religious lefty like myself. My good friends at Merriam-Webster define ambivalent as having “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action”, and this is exactly how I feel about abortion. And what this means in the real world for someone like me is that I do not support overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, but I also don’t want participation in Democratic politics to require me to actively join the fight to expand abortion rights.

The whole topic makes me queasy, and in reality my feelings are somewhere between the two extremes. Nevertheless, at the end of my internship I found myself working at a fundraising dinner for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. That night was a dizzying experience I will never forget. Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who argued “Jane Roe’s” case in front of the Supreme Court, was the keynote speaker, and she delivered an amazing speech. Much of it resonated with me: she painted a scary picture of a government that wants the authority to make such intimate, personal decisions about the physical bodies of women.

However, being the deeply ambivalent religious lefty that I am, much of it did not resonate with me. And in the end, I was so mad at myself for having been there in the first place, that I decided I was done with politics, and especially the Democrats! The fervent pro-choice stance seemed to be the glue that held the myriad liberal factions of the Democratic Party together, and I had found myself utterly unable to say the simple words, “Actually, I don’t really want to help out with the NARRAL dinner, because I don’t feel that strongly about the issue.” I was terrified that I would have been ostracized, so I said nothing.

The next day I got up and went straight to the post office to fill out a new voter registration card. In a daze rivaled only by the night before, I filled out the new card, checked Republican, and dropped it in the mail. Several weeks latter, the vanilla-colored confirmation of my new registration arrived in the mail. It had really happened. I had really registered as a Republican. I stood in front of the mailbox and stared at the tiny, dot-matrix letters which spelled, “Republican”. I took the card upstairs and buried it in my sock drawer.

As the next few weeks passed and I listened to Democrats and Republicans arguing on the daily news, I realized I’d buried my own Tell-Tale Heart in my dresser drawer. I listened to Republicans yammer on about one thing or another, and I realized (again) that I really wasn’t one of them. I knew that if I volunteered for one of these guys, I’d be attending fundraising dinners to support the active and unwavering fight to reverse Roe v. Wade. And I could think only of my voter registration card in my sock drawer.

Eventually, I tore up that card and went back to the post office to re-register as a Democrat. All told, I was a Republican for about six weeks. I believe my religious and political identities are more complicated than a black-and-white view of this one issue. We as Liberals and we as Christians are called to address more than just this one issue. If we will let this one issue define the depth and complexity of our values and concerns, then there are innumerable issues we will never address and countless people we will exclude from the solutions. Take it from this former Republican.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Making America a Nice Place for Christians to Live

The article linked above reports on a press conference held by the National Association of Evangelicals to provide their perspective on the involvement of evangelicals in politics over the last few decades. It’s an interesting read, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Religious Right Officially Thrown a Bone

If you are a member of one of the lobbies making up the Christian Right (or if you were one of the now-infamous “values voters” in November’s election), you eagerly anticipated about 9% of Wednesday night’s State of the Union address, which addressed issues like abortion, stem cell research, and “activist judges”.

And if you are a supporter of the Arlington Group, which rallied support for the president based on his support for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, you sat on the edge of your sofa awaiting just 38 words of the entire speech:

Because marriage is a sacred institution and the foundation of society, it should not be re-defined by activist judges. For the good of families, children, and society, I support a constitutional amendment to protect the institution of marriage.

For those of you who cast your votes solely because of the gay marriage issue and Mr Bush’s pre-election promise to “protect the institution of marriage”, this was your reward. The president dedicated less than 1% of his speech to letting you know that he agrees with you. This was not a war cry; this was not a call to action; this wasn’t even a promise for future action. All you got was a simple statement that he agrees with you.

Contrast Mr Bush’s statement above with the following:

To make our economy stronger and more dynamic, we must prepare a rising generation to fill the jobs of the 21st century. [No Child Left Behind]

To make our economy stronger and more competitive, America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs. [Regulation & Legal Reform]

To make our economy stronger and more productive, we must make health care more affordable, and give families greater access to good coverage -- -- and more control over their health decisions. [Health Care Agenda]

The same-sex marriage issue didn’t even merit a “must” in the president’s speech. All he said was that he personally supports a constitutional amendment. He didn’t call for an amendment, and he certainly didn’t say that we must have one. But all this pales in comparison to the attention dedicated to the two issues that truly dominated Mr Bush’s speech.

Almost 45% of the president’s speech was dedicated to Iraq & the War on Terror: “To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder.” These were the president’s signature issues during his re-election campaign, and he worked tirelessly during his first term to build support at home and abroad for his war in Iraq. As a result of his efforts, a significant portion of our budget and our military are dedicated to the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

About 22% of the president’s speech was spent championing private accounts for Social Security, telling us that “we must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all”. Immediately following his speech, Mr Bush launched a 2-day, five-state campaign targeting red states with Democratic senators in order to garner support for his Social Security agenda. This, my friends, is where the president will spend his “political capital” before entering the lame duck phase of his second term.

So if you cast your vote for Mr Bush based on your support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, I hope 38 words of a State of the Union address are a sufficient reward for your loyalty to the GOP.