Sunday, September 19

Not quite politics as usual

I just read an article in which Bill Clinton asserts people should listen to the tea party. I thought I needed to clean my contacts or something because that just didn’t seem right. In an interview, Clinton said, "I think there are a lot of real people in this tea party movement who are saying something that everyone should hear, which is [that] it seems like everyone but average Americans are doing all right here." He went on to say that while banks and those who helped cause the financial crisis seem to have recovered, average Americans are still struggling to pay their mortgages, to put their kids through college, etc.

I've done a little reading about the tea party. I'm a lot confused by who they are and what they stand for. Like some other moderate Republicans, undoubtedly I'd be considered a RINO by the tea party folks, I'm not a fan of Glenn Beck. I'm confused by Sarah Palin and her intentions. While I appreciate the anger and frustration towards the existing government and I think the pig-headed obstinacy of the Republicans not to try to work with the Democrats at all on any level for any initiative, even one they might agree with, is ridiculously foolhardy and short-sighted. I think the Republican establishment had better wake up and realize that it's mostly "old" as in "outdated" and it's been a long time since it was "grand."

I've said before I don't know what the Republicans really stand for any more, but then I don't know what the Democrats stand for any more other than really big government and apparently thinking that most Americans are too stupid to take care of themselves or even understand how government works. To be fair, though, the Republicans often seem to think the same and, truth be told, most Americans don't know how government works.

So from that perspective I find myself somewhat aligned with the thinking of the tea party, that whole "throw all of the bums out!" sensibility. But I also have a high respect for institutional knowledge. Not institutional corruption, of course. And not the high-handed self-aggrandizement that seems to be necessary in DC. Nor the sense that there are ways things have to be done because that's the way it works in DC.

Today's political situation reminds me of three movies, though there are plenty of films with applicable messages. The first is The Seduction of Joe Tynan (1979) with Alan Alda and Meryl Streep. Alda plays a liberal senator who has to compromise his values to make some deals that will further his career, and probably help him get re-elected. The second is Wag the Dog (1997) which shows spin doctoring at its worst as a Hollywood producer manufactures a war and manipulates the media. And the third is The Candidate (1962) with Robert Redford who plays an idealistic young lawyer who runs for Senate with no intention of winning, because he despises the compromises and necessity of deal-making, but wants to bring important issues to the voters. When it begins to look as though he might win, he begins to wrestle with his ambition and his conscience. It is, however, the story of a man who realizes he has sold out for something he isn't sure he even wants.

What does this have to do with the tea party? Nothing really. My point is that nothing about politics is "as usual" these days and I think that's a good thing. What I would love to see is everyone taking a giant step back to assess and re-assess what they stand for and what they really believe in. Theoretically, even politicians believe in public service to some extent, though it's absurdly hard to tell these days.

I think the Republicans have been lost for a while now and just about everything they say and do seems to be a knee-jerk reaction in opposition of anything a Democrat says or does. What would be really cool is if the Republicans would stop thinking about the Democrats and how many seats they have and just think about what it really means to be a Republican and what it really should mean to be a Republican and what it can mean to be a Republican when looking at the breadth of interpretations within the party.

That might be what grown-ups would do.

Maybe expecting that kind of behavior and thinking from politicians of any party persuasion is asking too much.

Friday, September 10

Contemplating September 11

A particular pastor of a small, no-longer-obscure church in Gainesville, FL got way too much press for threatening to burn one or more copies of the Koran. It was an interesting irony to me that the name of this church is the Dove World Outreach. Methinks something is very much amiss.

Think about this for just a few minutes: the dove is often a symbol of peace; I'm fairly certain the world includes Muslim countries; and "outreach" suggests a different sort of conversation with those who are not of the same faith or mindset. In fact, even in some of the weirdest so-called Christian denominations (and there are many), "outreach" means reaching out someone to try to find a common ground and probably engage in some or a lot of proselytizing. The word usually does not mean threaten to deface or destroy something of representative value.

As an aside, the Dove World Outreach Center has been taking more than a little heat. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the web hosting company pulled down the DWOC web site for violation of the acceptable use policy.

And then there were stories last night and today about how Mr. Jones agreed to postpone the burning of the Koran provided Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf agrees to find another location for the Cordoba House, a community center and mosque that is proposed to be built within blocks of New York’s Ground Zero. An imam in Florida claims to have brokered a meeting with Mr. Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Get real. Well, if the media is willing to give disgraced former Blagojevich way too much air time and print space, why not this individual from Gainesville? I'm not sure, though, if the media truly thinks this is news or if the so-called news has become some perplexing form of reality show-like infomation. I'm not sure that I can take any news outlet seriously any more about anything.

Meanwhile, back in the extremist so-called Christian world, a church in Kansas has announced that it will take over the Koran-burning task. It wearies me.

September 11, 2001 will not easily be forgotten by the American people though we are clearly at risk of demonizing the wrong people and of twisting our collective memory into something truly horrible and irresponsible. Was September 11, 2001 a tragedy of epic proportion in this country? Absolutely. A friend of mine is a NY firefighter. He was not on duty that day but answered the call to help with whatever rescue operations were possible; his house lost family that day. I have other connections to those who were in Manhattan or who were on planes, though none of the tragedy was directly mine. Still, even at my distance, the pain, anguish, and horror were palpable. I remember listening to the radio on my way to work that morning in shocked disbelief and not being able to get to a television fast enough to try to make sense of the senseless. I am still jarred by those images, and I am still sickened by the way the way too many generalize the behavior and intentions and actions of those who caused all of that death and destruction.

This is what I think I know. The people responsible for the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center were not like any of the Muslims I know, all of whom are kind, funny, smart, delightful people. The people responsible for the September 11 attach were and are extremists who have debased Islam into a perversion of itself. They were people who selected particular verses and concepts from the Koran to serve their own twisted vision not only of Americans, but of their own purpose and their own religion.

Not unlike, it seems, Mr. Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center or that like-minded church in Kansas.

I find the convergence around these dates fascinating. Beginning at sunset on Wednesday, September 8, Jews celebrated Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year, which marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance and culminates with the fast of Yom Kippur. Many Muslims this morning began the three-day celebration of Eid-il-Fitr, which marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan. And some representatives of Christianity, many of whom no doubt like to quote John 3:16 and speak of the God of love, spew hate.

President Obama has called for religious tolerance. I might go a different route. On September 11, let's call a religious truce. Let us lay down our rhetoric, our heightened emotions, our hateful signs. Let us take the day to pause in thinking we have the right or even the obligation to hurl epithets or hurtful or hateful statements at someone who is not like us, regardless of who or what we might be or in whom or in what we might believe. So rather than tolerance, a big ol' religious timeout and time of reflection.

And to those who claim to be Christians, especially evangelical Christians, let's spend some time contemplating Galatians 2:20--"For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (NIV, Galatians 2:19-22) and Matthew 22: 37-40--"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.'" (NIV).

From my probably skewed view of the world, it can be very hard to love God with this entirety of being. And believers know that because humanity is created in the image of God, believers are to love themselves, to respect themselves, to honor themselves with humility. It probably wouldn't hurt to mediate for some time on Romans 6 through 8; actually the whole book of Romans.

But it probably wouldn't hurt to spend some contemplating what brought Islamic extremists to their incomprehensible hatred of America, a hatred so great they willingly, perhaps even joyfully, perform inconceivable acts of violence in the name of religious martyrdom.