Friday, September 24, 2010

OK, two things: First, I have counted 6 times by two different professors at my steadfastly Reformed, Westminster-loving seminary in the last week-plus, occasions where any normal Protestant would add the word, "alone" to the phrase, "justification by faith." Golden opportunities, mind you. Even in contexts of disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church, where such an appellation would seem most appropriate, in fact. 6 times. And my alleged comrades-in-arms, birthed not only in the bloodbath of Luther's protest, but in the blood of the Lamb, declined to add it. Look, I'm almost Catholic; I don't care what you say, to some extent. And I certainly wouldn't want to get anyone in trouble over there. But if we Reformed are re-visiting this position, we ought to talk about it, not hide our insights behind the bulky sweater of covenant theology or the Coke-bottle glasses of storied hermeneutics. [Maybe they're sick of being trapped by the Catholic apologist-bots you're getting snookered by.--ed.] Well, good for them. But if they're that afraid of our historic stance, maybe they should swim the Tiber ahead of me.
Secondly, I have a confession to make. [You mean a confession confession?--ed.] Simmer down, Sparky. Don't get ahead of...ourselves. I'm Protestant until I say otherwise. Besides, I agree with Rabbi Tbone: Either way I go, my soul is safe, at least as far as I know. God knows me, and I know Him. Even if I'm supposed to be Catholic, I am hiding nothing from his merciful touch, and I quite frankly cannot desire the promises contained within the Catholic sacraments (and God help my Protestant soul, the sacraments themselves) any more than I do right now.
But no, what I meant to say before I was so rudely interrupted was this: I love 'Grey's Anatomy.' Maybe I need to turn in my man cards for saying that; I don't care. If 'Scrubs' hadn't been made first, and its protaganist, John "J.D." Dorian was A) a woman, B) less of a tool, and C) looked a lot like Ellen Pompeo, you have 'Grey's Anatomy.' It's amazing. I sampled it here and there, but as it happens, my brother and his wife who just moved in love the show. And since my brother is the coolest, manliest man I know, I have cover. Still, you may have heard the audience is mostly women. And I have to tell you, even if so, we can learn a thing or two from them. In general, women in this culture seem to favor character-driven stories; action or suspense are not bad things to like. But female audiences (anecdotally) witnessing a disaster are not going to be hooked by the disaster itself; rather, they seem to want to see how the characters react to the events, and how they react to each other. And frankly, I do too. This show has a pretty impressive array of deep, multi-layered characters. You want to like them, to root for them, but they all fail the heroic ideal at points. We'd hate them, but...they're us. That's good storytelling. [Rant on 'Scrubs' and "John Dorian" forthcoming.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dear George Michael,

Recent events involving your car and drugs have forced the British legal system to incarcerate you. I suppose we are all relieved that no one was hurt. And as you are no doubt aware, you will have some time to reflect not only on this incident, but on the general direction of your life. As one optimistic friend once said, "There are no problems, only opportunities." I might only interject that there seem to be both, and this is fitting for the merciful God to allow.
I would not dare to judge you, or claim to know exactly what you must do. That said, I wonder if your remarkable and full life up to now is all that you had hoped. Is it abundant in the true sense? You have explored every human avenue of pleasure that exists on earth. You've worked hard, and played harder. Perhaps even now, those things are revealed as cruel masters indeed. Others looking in might say that I've no standing to say such a thing; 'tis true, my path has been mercifully safe. But the difference between us is only in degree, if there is one.
Do you remember when Diana, Princess of Wales, died? I remember you and Sir Elton John (with one other man) singing "The Lord Is My Shepherd" at her funeral. I remember how you and all the world barely could contain your sadness. Have you ever wondered at this Shepherd? Who is He, that he could inspire us to enter a holy place and invoke his help when death overtakes even the best of us? I know Him. Remember when you sang "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin? Whatever it is actually about, it sure sounds like a gospel tune to me. Then again, everything she sings takes me to church. Your first hit was called "Faith." Have you ever pondered beyond the vague allusions? What is it about God that so clearly captivates you, in spite of what griefs you may carry against "organized religion"?
As much as it may annoy some, (even you) I have to speak of the love and mercy of God found in Jesus Christ. As one hopelessly lost fool to another. I have always liked your music and respected your talent. And now, if I could in some alternate universe be counted a friend of yours, I would plead with you to turn away from the path of self and emptiness which has led here. Not because I am better than you, but because I have tasted emptiness and tasted Good, and I shall never give it back, God help me. If you have found love or good or joy in this life, dare to scratch below its surface, and you will find Almighty God as the source. You once sang a remake called "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." One thing I know for sure is that God never does. He delights to extend the light of day until we all bask in the light from his beloved Son. You may have a great deal of time or a little, but you must ask how much more delay you can afford. I'll be praying and hoping for you.

A fan in the USA,
Jason Kettinger

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I've been something of a fan of President Obama since he appeared on the scene in 2004. I heard the convention address that made him a star in 2004 (and was deeply moved, I must say). I predicted his election in 2006, after hearing a speech he gave to the Save Darfur rally in Washington, DC that spring. Right-wingers (and I am one, in many respects) scoff at his alleged soaring rhetoric and meteoric rise. And he should rightly receive mountains of criticism for his anti-life policies regarding abortion, his nationalizing economic policies that stunt growth, and his amateurish dealings with the opposition and its ideas, such as they are. But those who do not respect the events of his election, who mock his supporters as unthinking idiots, who behave as though the country is a gulag in which we are all trapped (understanding that the logical end of many Obama policies/ideas is exactly that) are not only irritating, but they demonstrate a lack of understanding in how American politics works. As my old teacher Rick Hardy told me when noting that the academic discipline in which we were both engaged (let the reader understand) was misnamed, "Politics is an art, not a science." Obama was a master artist in 2008; he got a little lucky, he had bad opposition (of course, that opposition was selected largely by members of the opposition party) and he has a great story, which he used to great effect. And this piece is substantially true, if a little inoffensive and basic. Yet one of the most significant points of data in this story is Obama's undiminished standing among black Americans (north of 90 percent). And I would caution some of us in using certain metaphors to describe black loyalty to the Democratic party (though I encourage and do not denounce black conservatives for doing so). And I would describe most policies embraced by the Democratic Party in the US as counterproductive and actively harmful to race relations and the good of the nation in general. But, if you or I were black, could anyone blame us for feeling intense loyalty to the president as a symbol? No. Even on the worst day of the Obama administration, it is inarguably and irrevocably historic. Heck, I'm white, and I hate criticizing him. [You just say that because you're one of the idiots who voted for him.--ed.]

[Totally New Separate Thought That Should Likely Have Been A Separate Post] True, admitting a mistake like this is a difficult thing. Still, I don't feel as though I could have done differently, given the understanding I had before me at the time. Christian leaders are justifiably hesitant to tell parishoners for whom to vote as a spiritual matter, but I will say that if I had been commanded one way or the other, I would have obeyed. Still, I do feel that conservative Catholics and other Christians who were exhorted to vote against Obama are in major danger of co-option and betrayal by those with whom they ally. However, I'm not muddle-headed enough to tell the Catholic Church or anyone else to "stay out of politics." That fascistic move is the first step in, well, fascism. The state is always in the business of silencing the Church when it, under the dominion of Satan, is engaged in evil. Stupid people who see the often close connection between theologically and morally conservative Christians and "conservative" political groups often make the equally vapid mistake of affirming their opposites out of some simplistic contrarianism. I need to say this: Jim Wallis, God bless him, is the epitome of this. He's not only infuriating most of the time, it's quite obvious he hasn't thought through most things with the intellectual rigor that's required. "Progressive" political theory and opinions are just plain factually incorrect, largely. And indefensible historically. And the problem for Christians of a more anticapitalist/redistributionist stripe becomes this: When the state acquires the requisite power to reach its economic goals, certainly becoming tyrannical in the process, what will you do? Politically conservative American Christians already face dissonance when their favored choices support the death penalty, foolish and deadly wars, and betray them on abortion and other bioethical issues. And while capitalism presents unique challenges and temptations, it does not, contra some, lead inevitably to nearly irreversible sin and evil.
[Back to Advice/Final Thoughts On Race and Obama] If you hang around American conservatives enough, you'll hear Obama described on the kind end of things as the "Affirmative Action President" and other such things. And while he may be out of his depth, and he may have benefitted from a certain lack of scrutiny partly due to his race, we have to be really careful in how we express these things. The Republican Party deserves not only more historical credit for its willingness to combat anti-black discrimination, but its members deserve the good-faith assumption that they are not racist, despite the brilliant and immoral job Democrats have done painting Republicans and their ideas as racist. However, because most of the party is white, the attitude Republicans often use in mocking Democrats and their policy inanities in regard to race (which, granted, they richly deserve) is, at best, tone-deaf. Racism still exists, and most of us are unaware of its continuing pervasive impact. In short, the GOP will not eat into black (and other non-whites) support for Democrats until we frame our ideas through black (and brown, etc.) eyes, with an acute sensitivity to our continuing lack of awareness (which should continue to dissipate with time). We can't yet say, "We pick the best person, without regard to race" and brush the argument aside, because we do not live in a colorblind nation, despite our aspirations. All other things being equal, in fact, the GOP should prefer representatives of color to white ones. For now, we should play the cynic's game right along with the Dems, until we reach our goal(s). The GOP needs to be more active in recruiting minority candidates; they need to stop favoring the creation of "majority minority" congressional districts if they still do (too much like the tactics used in the South to dilute voting strength in the past); they need to get younger (my generation is much more aware of the nuances here, and powerfully committed to a post-racial vision). Finally though, are you ready and willing to accept that a significant, indeed massive amount of historical revisionism will take place regarding Obama--no matter what happens--especially in the hearts and minds of black Americans? In short, can you deal if Obama goes down a hero? Like Lincoln, Kennedy, FDR, and Reagan? This is actually very likely to occur. And like the men in this brief list, it will largely be undeserved when it occurs. But I guarantee you: our first black Republican president will have Obama to thank, and will happily do so.