Monday, November 29, 2004

The world can be a pretty crappy place...

I now work for a police agency and so I get to hear all sorts of wild stories. Some of them are pretty interesting, but one today was very sad. Our detectives are on the verge of breaking up a large, local prostitution ring. Their big break was when one of the prostitutes was sent to the hospital by her pimp.

This girl is 16 years old and has been "hooking" for two years. She's pregnant and a meth user, but has been trying to cut back since she learned that meth is bad for the baby. She's turning 20-30 tricks a week for $35 each. Her pimp (who happens to be a woman) would drop her off at migrant camps and she'd work her way through one man at a time.

One of the officers was talking about prostitution in our town and kept referring to these women as hookers, whores, and street-walkers. I understand that officers can become jaded and not see the humanity of the people they work with, but I kept thinking how cruel it was to refer to this girl as a whore.

I'm sure her life is more complicated and filled with more pain than I can imagine. How is it our society can tolerate a system that turns 14 year old girls into prostitutes? What is America to this girl? What is the American dream to a 16 year old girl supporting herself through prostitution?

I don't have an answer, but I wish I did.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Shame on me!

I'd like to be able to say that I haven't been blogging because of my new job. Unfortunately that's not true. In truth, I've been in a bit of a religious funk. It's hard to say what's caused it, but the result is a deep spiritual disconnect.

So I started to think this weekend about the times when I've felt closest to God. Some of those have been at church. What I realized was the one constant has really been music. I haven't talked about it much on this blog, but I've spent a lot of my life involved in music. Through high school and college I played in band. When I graduated college I was an excellent tuba player and a passable bass trombonist. I can sing a bit and slowly hack my way through easy music on a piano.

That's all to say that I really feel like I experience God when I'm making music. But starting about four years ago I had to put aside my music (which involved playing in a community band) to focus on other things - mainly working full-time and going to graduate school full-time simultaneously.

I think I'm feeling the lack of that connection and need to find a way to bring music back into my life - now while balancing family and full-time work. I'm also going to try to be better about blogging.


Friday, November 05, 2004

Read this

This is from a column by Robert X. Cringely. Read the whole column here.

Back to the election. If the experts are correct, the 2004 election results mean we now live in a country where morality is apparently the major concern of people. Am I wrong, or is the same thing not true in Iran? And if our morality is in fundamental conflict with their morality, which side will be willing to sacrifice more to obtain what they view as their just end? I can tell you it ain't us.

Back in 1986 I talked Penthouse magazine into giving me an assignment to write the story: "How to Get a Date in Revolutionary Iran." The premise was that hormones are hormones, and those wacky kids in Tehran, most of whom could still remember the Shah, had to be finding some way to meet members of the opposite sex. So I headed off to Iran to find out the truth. If you are interested in such stuff, the only time a single man and woman not from the same family could be together in private back then was in a taxi (he being the driver), so all the teenage boys who had or could borrow cars turned them into taxis. This, of course, put all the power in the hands of the woman since she could see him but he had to take pot luck.

I eventually finished the piece and decided to go see the war since I had been in Beirut and Angola, but had never seen trench warfare, which is what I was told they had going in Iran. So I took a taxi to the front, introduced myself to the local commander, who had gone, as I recall, to Iowa State, and spent a couple days waiting for the impending human wave attack. That attack was to be conducted primarily with 11-and 12-year-old boys as troops, nearly all of them unarmed. There were several thousand kids and their job was to rise out of the trench, praising Allah, run across No Man's Land, be killed by the Iraqi machine gunners, then go directly to Paradise, do not pass GO, do not collect 200 dinars. And that's exactly what happened in a battle lasting less than 10 minutes. None of the kids fired a shot or made it all the way to the other side. And when I asked the purpose of this exercise, I was told it was to demoralize the cowardly Iraqi soldiers.

It was the most horrific event I have ever seen, and I once covered a cholera epidemic in Bangladesh that killed 40,000 people.

Waiting those two nights for the attack was surreal. Some kids acted as though nothing was wrong while others cried and puked. But when the time came to praise Allah and enter Paradise, not a single boy tried to stay behind.

Now put this in a current context. What effective limit is there to the number of Islamic kids willing to blow themselves to bits? There is no limit, which means that a Bush Doctrine can't really stand in that part of the world. But of course President Bush, who may think he pulled the switch on a couple hundred Death Row inmates in Texas, has probably never seen a combat death. He doesn't get it and he'll proudly NEVER get it.

Welcome to the New Morality.


Thursday, November 04, 2004

It's going to be a long four years...

"I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," said Bush.

In other words, you're either with him or against him. Sigh.


Sometimes it stinks to be right

So last week I predicted Bush would win 52% - 47%, with Nader coming in with 1%. Actual results so far show a Bush win, 51% - 48%. Pretty darn close, if I do say so myself. I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised that Nader played less of a role than I thought he would. Hopefully he'll wander off into obscurity now.

I hope the Democrats use the next four years to learn from their mistakes and really build momentum for the 2006 midterm elections and 2008 presidential election. Another thing the Democrats need to do: reclaim the moral authority to talk about values. As Jim Wallis says, the Republicans have convinced America that they are the only party that can talk about values, and the only moral issues that matter are abortion and homosexuality.

Democrats need to build some serious relationships with Christian progressives and start talking seriously about morals and values. Democrats need to forcefully reject the attempts of Republicans to narrowly define what is "moral." Talking about meeting the needs of the poor and marginalized in our society is a moral issue. Guaranteeing access to healthcare for all citizens is a moral issue. Fighting for religious tolerance and against government establishment of religion is a moral issue.

I'm seriously considering registering as a Democrat. The Democratic Party needs to hear the voices of Christian progressives. How do we make sure they get the message?


Defending Orthodoxy

Recent discussions on this blog have basically come down to what is orthodox? How far is too far? When is an idea too crazy? I think when we have these discussions what we run into is the desire to defend orthodoxy. It is about drawing lines. Who is in and who is out.

But I've been wondering, who are we defending orthodoxy for? I think the desire of Christians to strictly define what is orthodox is a mechanism of institutional and organizational survival. The fear is that without strict boundaries of acceptable thought the organization (the Church) will lose its distinctiveness. But how does that translate into spreading the good news? I think the inclination to defend orthodoxy is destructive to the mission of the church, because institutional concerns trump the ability of Christians to share Christ's radical message of love and grace.

Think of Martin Luther King Jr. Certainly his message was well outside "orthodox" for many southern Christians. But almost no one would argue now that people of color should be excluded from the church. Think of the movements within mainline denominations to allow women to participate in ministry. Again, outside of orthodoxy. But most Christians now would never think of denying women the right to be full partners in ministry.

Those social movements trumped the desire to defend orthodoxy. What if gay/lesbian/bisexual rights are the next movement? How are conservative Christians keeping the church from sharing the good news in the name of orthodoxy?
I think crazy ideas are good things. They're not all right, but we need to have space where we can think wild thoughts and ask crazy questions. Crazy questions like, "why does God love me?" "How can God forgive me?" When we try to limit thought to what is appropriate and orthodox, the body of Christ suffers.

I'm going to leave you this quote from Jeffrey John (read the full article here):

... If you're ever disillusioned by other Christians it's your own fault because you shouldn't have had illusions in the first place - either about them or yourself. We are all on the margins where God is concerned, but he holds his nose and he uses what he's got. If he wants to use a bad-tempered old bag to feed the poor of Calcutta, who are we to say otherwise? If he wants to use a rampant adulterer to bring freedom to a billion black people, who are we to complain? It was probably their sins that brought them to God in the first place. The question for us is, what comparable good have we achieved to balance out ours?

The Church that Jesus first assembled was a gang of sinners and rejects. Any Church that is His Church ought to know that it is the same. It has to show the same kind of love, the kind that includes and embraces first, then let’s the love do the healing from the inside. That’s what Catholic means. Michael Marshall once wrote: ‘the test of genuinely Catholic Christianity is not that it makes good people better, but that it makes bad people holy’.

Or as Oscar Wilde, another good Catholic put it: We are all in the gutter; but some of us are looking at the stars.

Thanks to Father Jake for the link.