Friday, December 31, 2004

Joe Straczynski rocks my comic collection

I just finished reading three trade paperback comics my wife bought me for Christmas, from Joe Straczynski's run on "Amazing Spider-man." At this point, I've declared open season on anything he's written and am preparing to admit that I might have misjudged "Babylon 5." His comics take a little while to get going, but when they take off, they're nothing short of incredible.

In the first ASM trade, Straczynski basically reinvents Spider-man's origins by suggesting it wasn't the radiation that gave Peter Parker his power, but the spider itself. From there he ventures into a story that explores the totemic nature not only of Spider-man but of a number of heroes and their villains. (That's why Captain America, a hero emblematic of America, has for an arch-enemy the Red Skull, who embodies Nazism, and so on.)

From there he goes on to reinvent the entire Spider-man mythos, in an entirely believable way. He revisits the guilt that drives the hero, completely alters his relationship with his aunt, and then gives the unassuming Peter Parker a long overdue measure of heroism, by having him become an inner-city high school science teacher.

That last part is one of the things I really enjoy about Straczynski's writing. In addition to his creativity in exploring the mythic aspects of his subject -- and changing Spider-man from a purely juvenile adventure comic to a more adult one -- he doesn't shy away from some of the more unpleasant parts of city life. Superhero comics all too often earn the rep as kiddie comics because they're fighting a different supervillain each month, dressed in costumes as silly as the ones the heroes themselves wear, and usually with some melodramatic and obviously evil goal, like conquering the world.

In Straczynski's comic, Parker is faced with serious issues like students coming to school with guns, with drug addiction and homelessness, and with society's indifference to those problems.

A few months ago I read another comic Straczynski wrote, called "Midnight Nation." It's published by Top Cow Comics (a division of Image) under the imprint Joe's Comics. It follows the experiences of an L.A. cop named David Grey after his soul is stolen by the Devil and he walks across the nation to New York (naturally) to get it back.

The only people Grey can see, and the only things he can use, are whatever has been abandoned. And there are plenty of people he meets: families with children, downsized manufacturing workers, runaways, ex-cons, and others of society's cast-offs.

I found the comic deeply moving on a spiritual level, particularly at the end, when the protagonist comes face to face with the Devil, hears the Devil's argument about why the rebellion against heaven is needed -- rather nicely, the Devil's argument is one based on compassion, that he can't stand the misery contained in God's creation -- and Grey has to decide whether he still wants his soul and which side of the war he wants to be on. It's not wholly biblical, as Christian orthodoxy holds that Satan's rebellion predates the Fall and the coming of death and misery into the world, but it is an excellent read, and you've got to give Straczynski kudos for dealing with these questions so honestly, even if the exact storyline he uses to raise them are debatable.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

random memory

My first-grade teacher made me write with my left hand. It wasn't until partway through the year that my parents discovered I was writing with one hand at home and with the other at school, and intervened.

I have no idea why she did this. My older brother is a lefty; perhaps she thought that meant I should be one too.

The possibility also has occurred to me from time to time, especially when my stutter is especially bad, that maybe she actually succeeded: that I actually was left-handed, but she managed to convince me that I was right-handed.

Mrs. Hlavsa was a witch. (No offense to Wiccans, past or present.) All I remember clearly about this particular issue is that one night at dinner my father had me write something with my left hand, and then with my right hand. After that he asked me which hand I preferred to write with, and I chose my right hand. That could be because I was right-handed, or it could be because Mrs. Hlavsa had me convinced that was the hand I was "supposed" to write with.

I mean what I said, though: She has got to be the all-time worst teacher I've ever had. It took me until last year to admit, however begrudgingly, that I do owe her some modicum of gratitude for teaching me how to read.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

god and morality

In a discussion thread over at CHRefugee, a friend asked, "Do actions contain an inherent moral value if God is not part of the equation?" His question was precipitated by an often-amusing and thought-provoking comic strip called Tom the Dancing Bug.

My understanding is that we can have morality without any sort of religious underpinnings, but unless morality is based on the character of Deity, then it is wholly arbitrary and relative.

In the Judeo-Christian worldview, it's God himself who is the standard by which we measure whether things are good or not. It's not a matter of a divine police officer or heavenly lawmaker saying "Do this" and "Don't do that." Goodness is neither laid down by God nor something that he appeals to; it is a self-evident characteristic of his, so that all things can be measured against him. Where our hearts deviate from his, we call that evil, or sin; when we conform to his likeness, we call it good.

Remove God from the equation, and there still can be good and evil, but they're a far paler and less hardy substitute. Do we determine goodness by man? Men change; we are fickle and capricious and what is good to us one day may not seem good to us the next. Do we determine good by common consensus? That's what society has chosen to do, and as a result, every moral compass we have is thrown out of whack and every person is left to follow an individual guide, to go along with the shifting sands of morality the rest of us make in aggregate, or to try to redefine morality for our generation by pushing the envelope in whatever direction suits us.

Even if there arises a great person, and all of us flock to him or her for a generation, and define our morals on that person, sooner or later that person dies, and we are left either to elect a new standard to follow, or to reinterpret the morals left us by the departed leader.

So while morals have nothing to do with Christianity -- Christ's concern is with our salvation and with the love we show for one another, not for our behaviors -- I don't think you can divorce morality from God in such a manner.

Monday, December 27, 2004

an end to abortion

A friend of mine and I recently got into a spirited debate about the role of Christians in the political arena, which is why there are a few entries on the subject here. Greg made the claim that since the abortion issue flared up in the legal arena first, that the courts are where the push to stop abortion should take place. (Just to explain his argument, it was Roe v. Wade that made abortion a constitutional right in the United States, not a law passed by Congress or a state legislative body. It was entirely by judicial fiat, although later abortion laws have come from legislators.)

My take? The rot in America's soul that led to Roe v. Wade didn't begin in the court. It began in the American people, and it's among the American people that we have to fight to reverse Roe v. Wade -- not through legislative means, but through the spiritual weapons Christ gave us, namely prayer, fasting and love -- again, not the charitable feeling sort of love, but the hardcore love that allows us to open up our homes and lives to people in crisis pregnancies.

Lobbying is about mustering political muscle and getting politicians to vote a certain way because they hear one set of voices screaming the loudest. That's a lousy way to make changes, because other people can scream loudly too, and when all the screaming is finally done, you're left with hurt and division where there didn't used to be. Heck, I'm pro-life and I get turned off by the blistering pro-life comments I hear and read.

If we -- the church, pro-lifers, sanctity of marriage people, whatever label we affix for the sake of argument -- get things changed legally without winning the hearts of the people, we've lost more ground than we've gained in the most important battle before us.

I won't say political effort is wrong, but I am concerned -- deeply concerned -- that it seems like so much effort, and such a loud effort at that, goes into politics these days, when the church is at its most effective when it quietly goes about doing God's work and allows that sort of committed lifestyle to rock society to its core.

jesus and politics

There's a piece in Boundless magazine by a J. Budziszewski that deals with the issue of whether Jesus should be considered a liberal. Budziszewski makes several points, which I'm going to address one at a time:

1) Jesus cannot be described solely as liberal nor solely as conservative. Absolutely. I've said that before, but it's also a rather facile statement, as the writer makes the point of later on. On most core values, conservatives and liberals in America generally are in agreement. Few conservatives favor segregation, letting the homeless starve, or beating gays to death. Those who do are regarded as a fringe group or (with the exception of indifference to the poor) are regarded as criminal. Similarly, I think it's safe to say that most liberals do not regard abortion as a Good Thing -- safe, rare, legal and rare is the mantra -- and neither do they hate Christmas and Easter, nor believe pornography should be in the hands of everyone.

Jesus' defining personality trait was compassion. He regarded compassion for the suffering as so holy that it was the best way to honor the sabbath; he gave of himself even when he was exhausted and had gone away to get a moment's rest; and his followers included a motley bunch of insurrectionists, traitors, religious zealots, the educated, working class laborers and so on. He would go out of his way to spend time with a tax-collecting Gentile female prostitute with leprosy.

As far as Christians go, the chief distinction between Right and Left is the question of how to demonstrate that compassion. Like many conservatives, I believe that the best response to the growing disparity between haves and have-nots is personal relationships and involvement with other people. Unlike me, many conservatives consider increased government effort in that arena to be wrong, because of the risk of an entitlement mentality. (I don't consider it very good, but I think it beats the pants off letting people languish without what they need.)

2) "Good" Christians. I'm uncomfortable with Budziszewski's statements about what someone can do and be a "good Christian." Yes, choosing a political philosophy or lifestyle that is in conflict with Christ's character eventually will force a person to choose between the two, but the assignation of "good Christian" and "bad Christian" based on belief usually matches up with our own personal biases. There are degrees of maturity, but that maturity usually comes in different areas of our life at different rates. It strikes me as proud and judgmental to designate others as "good Christians" or "bad Christians" based on bits of their behavior that we can see, especially in as sweeping a manner as Budziszewski does here.

I'll probably lose points for this, but a person's position in Christ is unaffected even by being a Nazi, being a slave-owner and supporting abortion on demand. It's Christ alone who makes any of us good Christians.

While it's a fair statement to say those things are grossly inconsistent with the character of Christ and that someone who is following Christ eventually is going to find a conflict between faith and practice, if those practices make someone "not a good Christian," then I have no basis for saying that I'm a good Christian because my own sins are pretty foul, themselves.

My point is that all of us are sinners, whether we're Nazis, Republicans, Democrats or unable to tell a difference. If I say that you're not as good a Christian as I because you commit a sin that I don't sin, I'm forgetting my place.

Obviously everyone who is following Christ wants to be in his will. My experience has taught me that being in his will often has less to do with external circumstances (the touted "calling") than with the inward heart and how it aligns with Christ. Working for Acme or Friz Cola often is less of an issue to God than how I serve Christ during my employment at either of those places.

So can you be a Nazi, a slave owner, or an abortionist and be a good Christian? As surely as you can commit adultery and be a good Christian, get a divorce and be a good Christian, tell a lie and be a good Christian, or hold a grudge and be a good Christian. It's only by the grace of God that any of us may hope to be considered good in heaven's eyes.

3) The abortion issue. No dispute here -- almost. I think Budziszewski is oversimplifying the position. I'm against abortion, except when it is medically necessary to save the mother, but I remain unconvinced that the massive political effort we've put in through the pro-life movement is the best way to end abortion. One of Bush's best position statements on abortion was that a country that can pass a constitutional ban on abortion doesn't need one.

It's possible, although fairly unlikely at this point, I think, that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. That is not going to change the predominantly pro-choice belief of America, particularly in states like New Jersey where ANY attempt at modulation is seen as undermining abortion rights. That's because Americans by and large haven't had the spiritual awakening to see abortion for what it is, and such moral and spiritual strengths not only must be earned instead of being legislated, they are undermined when we attempt to mandate a policy through legislation.

So yes, I'm pro-life. I've attended marches on Washington. I've marched in front of a hospital that performs abortions in Allentown, Pa., and I pray for abortion to end. I've yet to be convinced by anyone that the ongoing political effort to end abortion is going to accomplish that goal, nor that it won't cost us dearly on many other fronts.

A far superior way to that end is through compassion and personal involvement. That's how the first-century Church ended infanticide in the Roman Empire, after all. Not by getting the Senate to condemn the practice, but by making nightly trips through the city and rescuing abandoned infants, and then raising them.

Compassion has a moral force that politics can't even come close to.

4) The judgment issue. Okay, here's the part that mildly cheeses me off even as I acknowledge there is some truth in what the professor says. It's a writing issue. Yes, a liberal could be saying "Jesus was a liberal, because liberals are more than those no-good stinking conservatives." However, the professor character, who appears to speak for Budziszewski, never acknowledges the flip side of the coin: A conservative could say, "Jesus was a conservative, because conservatives are ore than those no-good stinking liberals." And because the liberal character the top is knocked down easily here with no chance for reasonable representation, I see him as a caricature, and find that the article is less reasonable/balanced than it pretends to be.

What's the message readers are going to take away from this article? I see three of them in this section: Liberals don't have a good reason for supporting the social programs they do; liberals don't have a good reason for opposing war; and liberals are judgmental hypocrites (although I'll allow that I'm overstating that one myself).

To sum up, my reading of the article is that, although it claims to present a balanced view of things, it still reflects a brias toward one side of the debate. As I said, I could easily write a piece where the grad student -- who really does act like he's in high school -- is confused because a friend of his had a bumper sticker that says, "Jesus was a conservative."

And really, what prompted this piece? It's the growing number of people in the U.S. like me who identify themselves as liberals and as Christians -- and the reminder that Jesus doesn't belong to the Religious Right, which I think is the presumption we've seen played out for the past few presidential elections. The truth of course is that both Religious Left and Religious Right belong to the Lord, and woe to any of us who try to own him.

religion and politics

Political manuvering reforms society with all the grace and delicacy that a sledgehammer produces fine sculpture. We set up certain rules that require certain forms of behavior, and force everyone into that mold whether they will or no. Control and requirements are the world's way of doing things.

In my understanding of the kingdom of God, that's not how we're supposed to work. A rule that is fine for one situation will not work in another, and love is to be our law -- not the disinterested sort Plato wrote about, but the up-close and personal kind that Christ modeled. The world uses legislation and judicial fiat and such because control is what the world understands; as children of God, we are called to get to love the people in this miserable world and through the force of Christ's love, chnage them and the societies we live in.

I have little to no faith in political action committees, lobbyists or any other agency to stop abortion or to right the other wrongs facing our society, and I get concerned when I see the amount of effort Christians, churches and parachurches put into the political process. We could elect thousands of Christians into office, and it won't move our country away from a spiritual precipice, or we could pass thousands of laws to enforce our notions of morality, and nothing would change. People would still go to hell, only now they'd curse us as they do it.

Friday, December 24, 2004

the fine art of holiday torture

When I was growing up, my parents had a Christmas tree ornament that would chirp like a bird every five seconds. To whoever bought it, this must have been a mildly entertaining amusement. In the hands of myself and my brothers, it was an instrument of the keenest torture.

We would hide the ornament some place near the tree but maddeningly out of sight, plug it in and then take the dog out for a walk. By the time we returned, the entire house would have been turned upside-down in a futile attempt to find the ornament and stop the chirp-chirp-chirping before it drove everyone mad.

Remember how the steady drip-drip-drip of the water torture is said to break the mind of even the strongest prisoner? Compared to Tweety, it's a dip in the kiddy pool. The tolling of the EdgarAllen Poe's bells, bells, bells that fills the city with fear? A light tinkling of brass.

This ornament was the surest way to drive anyone to the brink of madness, and we all used it to that end for many years. At last Tweety took a mysterious trip out of the house in the bottom of the wastebasket and was seen no more. For the first time in years, there was something resembling peace in the Learn household on Christmas Day.

In the aftermath, we all agreed on one important point: That was as bad as it got. There was no Christmas ornament imaginable that could top the chirping Christmas bulb for pure irritation.

Fortunately, for those of us who revel in irritating one another, there is good news. The good people at research and development have not stopped producing new Christmas decorations. Whether it's inflatable Santas of nightmarish proportions who loom menacingly over children and threaten to block out the sun, or a singing and dancing Grinch Claus who croons the theme song from "The Grinch," the opportunities to irritate brothers, to annoy friends and to scar young children for life are better than ever.

Let's start with the inflatable colossus now seen in front yards across the state. There are those who, correctly believing a 900-foot blow-up ornament to be tacky, see no use for the thing. The problem here is not with a snowman big enough to qualify for its own ZIP code, it is a lack of imagination.

Gemmy, which markets the inflatable mammoths, sells no fewer than 47 of them on its Web site. In addition to the Santa and snowman monoliths, the collection features other holiday stalwarts like Scooby Doo and SpongeBob SquarePants. As a special literary treat, the assortment also includes something that once might have been a reindeer before it stumbled upon the secret isle of Dr. Moreau.

A smaller one nicely blocks all view of the street from your front windows. Plant one of the larger models out front, and you'll have complete privacy. Pesky neighbors, uninvited relatives and bill collectors won't be able to find your house. Best of all, you'll be providing the perfect cover for the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man if he ever comes to town.

For maximum scare effect, set up some lighting behind the beastie — this works especially well with the unfortunate reindeer — and wait until dark. Now as little Timmy comes over to see if your son can play, turn the lights on, give the goliath a push and make the appropriate growl from deep in your throat. Watch little as Timmy jumps into the air and runs withershins around the front yard three times before conking out under the oak tree. This is the life.

True, you can still get fairly traditional Christmas decorations like a light-up snowman for about $20, but why would you want to? They're not nearly as much fun.

From time to time, of course, someone is going to make it inside the house: your children, for example. For maximum damage, and to give them something interesting to tell their therapists in 30 years, it's important to go for the big guns.

First, get the kids as they come in the door with a 5-foot Dancing Grinch, also by Gemmy. There's no better way to keep the Christmas spirit than to have the Grinch twisting away and crooning the words to his theme song. Better yet, flank the door with the Grinch and his partner in crime, a 5-foot bear who sings your favorite Christmas jingles from hell, including "Winter Wonderland," "Jingle Bells," "Up on the Rooftop" and "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

Next fill the house liberally with more musical toys. For $13, you can get a Holiday Time Sing and Dance Santa who joyfully croons, "I'm Santa Claus" to the tune of "The Wanderer." Other marvels include a singing dog who howls his way through "O Christmas Tree" and "Deck the Halls," and a Coca-Cola polar bear who wails on the saxophone in a way to make even the staunchest Republican yearn for the days of President Clinton. Don't worry — even if they play the same song, they're guaranteed to play it at slightly different pitches and slightly different speeds.

Even though everyone knows what will happen, no one can resist the siren call of the buttons that activate the singing. If you're really good with eBay, you might be able to dig up one of the motion-activated talking Christmas trees from the early 1990s. In no time at all, you'll be creating Christmas memories that will last a lifetime.

If you're lucky, you might even survive the experience.

Monday, December 20, 2004

harry potter and magic

I've pointed out to some people that the magic in Harry Potter has no resemblance to actual magick as it is practiced in the real world. (It includes ingredients such as powdered unicorn horn, phoenix feathers, and similarly fantastic ingredients. I mean, really, if we're going to be that wary of Harry Potter, we need to be wary of Greco-Roman mythology too.) The main magic of Harry Potter is the imagination that it fires in its readers, a witchcraft we need more of.

A second point is the virtues it teaches. Children who read Harry Potter are going to see courage, loyalty, friendship and sacrificial love played out in a very dramatic and believable way. It's easier for us to believe in virtue and bravery when we've seen them lived out, even if the person living them out was fictional.

Third, Harry Potter (like any good fantasy) awakens in all of us an awareness of the spiritual world. I'd say that's important in a world as material as ours. The person who is dead to the spiritual world and lives consumed with thoughts of daily bread and self-indulgence is not a person who is going to think about the sublime wonders that surround him on a day-to-day basis, and will forget Beauty and other spiritual things. A person who is aware of the spirit also is open to the Spirit.

Fourthly, I stress the Christian imagery contained in the novels. I have no idea if that's deliberate on Rowling's part, or if it's just because she's writing within a culture that has over two thousand years of Christian influence and in a language shaped by the Bible, but either way there's some heady stuff, such as the way Harry's mother died to save him, thus destroying Voldemort's reign of terror and giving Harry an immunity to Voldemort (sacrificial love that parallels Christ's sacrifice.) In "Chamber of Secrets," there's even more symbolism, as Harry descends into Tom Riddle (Voldemort's) lair to save Ginny Weasley, fights and defeats a basilisk, drawing aid and comfort by professing his faith in Albus Dumbledore.

Lastly, I just accept that some people are going to disagree. I knew one woman who was aghast that I saw nothing wrong with Spider-man. (He walks on walls.) That's their prerogative. When my grandmother saw me reading comic books, and expressed her disapproval to my mother, my mom responded that at least I was reading. I've applied that principle myself a few times: You raised me, and now I'm raising my children.

If I'm feeling really ornery, I might point out that people who are scared of being led into the occult by the Harry Potter novels probably should stay away from the Bible. In just the first 50 chapters, I find people engaging in adultery, incest, rape, genocide, rank deceit, murder, inhospitality and attempted fratricide. This is a pattern of behavior that repeats throughout the rest of canon, with the worst offenders often held up as role models.

In other words, it's a meaningless objection.

Sunday, December 19, 2004


My wife doesn't wear any makeup, so naturally Evangeline has virtually no interest in it. About two weeks ago, we were at a birthday party for the son of some friends ours, and the son's older sisters and cousins were putting on makeup. Evangeline asked what it was, they told her, and the look on her face remained utterly clueless.

Personally, I find the idea of makeup to be generally gross, but it doesn't bother me when it's applied decently. Bright and garish makeup, as has been the custom in our culture at various points in my life, just turns me off.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

losing man's best friend

"Of course you have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature Christians are the most forgiving, understanding and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst at the get-go, they appreciate the importance of having different perspectives, they're slow to anger, quick to forgive and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love.

"No, wait -- I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers."

I wrote that in 1998, after a friend of mine was catching grief over the jokes he had been including in his "Fishers of Grin" humor mailing for Everyone gets the dig about Christians and our often-graceless manner, but what I've always enjoyed about it is its dead-on depictions of Labs. They really are a saintly breed.

I bought my second black Lab in late 1994, when I was living in Bethlehem, Pa. I recently had returned from living as a missionary in Haiti, where I had been forced to leave behind my previous dog, also a black Lab.

Once I bought Hamlet, we were inseparable. I took him with me all around the Lehigh Valley. He accompanied me when I went to visit my family in Pittsburgh, and he always came up to Lafayette College from 1995 to 1997, when we would visit my girlfriend during her undergraduate days there. Everybody knew him as the dog who spoke Haitian Kreyol, because that was the language I had used to train him.

Hamlet was the first dog of mine ever to have his own entry in the phone book -- Ma Bell gave me two entries for the same flat rate, and who was I to waste one of them? -- and also the first dog of mine ever to be listed as a friend of a church I was attending. (I don't think the elders were amused when they found out.)

He was a brilliant, stubborn, energetic and often destructive dog. He chewed holes in furniture, ripped up favorite books of mine, and broke out of his cage I don't know how many times, even when it was padlocked.

He also played a part in my romance with my girlfriend, whom I later married. One time the three of us were walking along a stream in Bethlehem, and Hamlet -- off his leash and galavanting along the streambed as he was wont to do -- wouldn't come back. So I threatened that if he didn't come back, I would push her into the water. She had enough time to voice a quick protest, and then I delivered on what I had promised.

Walking him was an experience -- I swear he made my arm a good six inches longer as he pulled at the leash with all the force of a man o'war -- but it was also invariably a pleasant one, since through Hamlet I discovered the other inhabitants of Easton, from the other dog owners out for a stroll in the morning, to the children who wanted to play with him, to the homeless man who stopped to scratch him behind the ears.

I don't think I've ever loved a dog more than I loved him.

About six years ago, when my wife and I got an apartment here in Nova Bastille, we realized we didn't have enough space for him. Labs are made to run, and our apartment had no yard and even less free space inside.

So Hamlet moved in with my parents, who have a huge yard and who discovered they enjoyed having a dog again. If he had a good life with me, he's had a great one with my parents, and they've enjoyed having him around as well.

Because Hamlet was born on Halloween, my father has developed a tradition of having trick-or-treaters sing "Happy birthday" to Hamlet before they can have any of the treats being passed out to celebrate. I'm told Hamlet's birthday is a hit with children all around the neighborhood.

Nothing good lasts forever. Now a little more than 10 years old, Hamlet has been in a lot of pain lately. He has no interest in eating, doesn't like to walk, and spends most of his time lying around and licking his leg. Friday night, the vet announced he had found a malignant and inoperable cancer behind one of Hamlet's hips.

I love him, and can't let him go on suffering each day. I'm probably going to call my parents on Saturday and tell them to go ahead and have him put down.

We're planning to visit my parents for Christmas, and my daughter loves seeing Hamlet, who admittedly is a lot more fun to play with than our dog Sandy, the dog we have here in our home.

I don't want to have to tell her that Hamlet has died, and that he won't be there for her on Christmas. I want to give her one last time to see him and play with him, and I want that for myself too. I want to be there with him, and hold him one last time as he goes to sleep, so he knows that he's loved, even as he drifts off.

It's not going to happen, and that really bites.

Copyright © 2004 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Psst! I totally stole this from Brucker.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

thematic progressions in mark

Being going through the gospel of Mark again, not for a formal study this time but to get a sense of its overview, for a project I'm working on. I'm looking for the themes and events as they develop and unfold in the gospel, and I noticed some stuff on Sunday that really caught me by surprise.

It's the progression. Jesus starts out fairly simply; he arrives back in town from being in the wilderness for 40 days, and picks a couple disciples. They're fairly respectable, hardworking chaps too: the sons of a priest, and a couple brothers who work as fishermen. He goes into Capernaum, casts out a demon and performs a bunch of healings. Fairly (ahem) unremarkable stuff.

But the next day, after he has spent some time in prayer, his ministry takes a new approach. In Capernaum again, he doesn't heal a paralytic -- he starts out by saying, "Your sins are forgiven" -- and then heals the man. The religious leaders, who surely were intrigued by his miracles, now are mortified.

And then he steps it up again. He picks a new disciple -- someone who has been collaborating with the Roman occupiers and making himself wealthy by extorting money from his countrymen.

Now he starts breaking the Sabbath laws of the day. His disciples pick grain on the Sabbath to eat, and he defends them. He heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Now there are plots to kill him, so what does he do? He go and picks out 12 apostles, a move that is surely going to drive people bonkers with the seditious overtones of a new (or renewed) Israel. Sure enough, the priests claim he's in league with the Devil and his own mother tries to stop him, apologetically telling everyone, "He's out of his mind."

Now that he has everyone's attention, Jesus launches into a number of parables about what the Kingdom of God is like -- and then demonstrates what it is, by violating the established order and heading into the most unclean region possible for a Jew -- a cemetery in Gentile territory, where a man is kept captive by a thousand demons, and near a herd of swine. After that, the gospel mentions that Jesus returned to Judea and raised Jairus' daughter Tamar from the dead.

In those opening chapters, Mark set the tone for the rest of his gospel, from the coming of Christ and the failure of the priests to recognize him as the fulfillment of the Law, down to his descent into hell (a symbolic interpretation of the madman of Ganesseret) and the defeat of Satan, followed by his rescuing the prisoners in hell and ultimate triumph over death.

It's interesting. I never saw this progression before. I should try skimming the New Testament more frequently.

'strangers in paradise'

I got turned off SiP around the time of "Tropic of Desire," since it seemed to be going nowhere. It was pretty much the same old back-and-forth, with loads of Francine introspection and internal growth but very little change in her situation, and loads of plot threads Terry had dropped in the middle, as if he had forgotten about them. (Francine's job with the ad agency, for one; Freddie's former secretary who was now letting Francine and Katchoo stay in her garage apartment, and so on.)

And he kept trying to top the original Darcy Parker story, with the result that things kept getting more and more melodramatic and less and less what originally attracted me the comic. (That's not to say the comic didn't still have some strengths. That plane crash was brutal, and I'll never forget the issue about Freddie's divorce.)

Anyway, there's still the Natasha factor. Although she has read several other comics I've encouraged her to -- "Sandman" being most notable -- she at times has hounded me to get the latest trade edition of SiP. So last year, she bought me three new SiP trades for herself for Christmas. He finally brought Francine's story arc to its conclusion, did something interesting with Casey, changed Katchoo's situation from the bored artist waiting for Francine and REALLY developed David Qin's character.

So I'm reading it again.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

the temptations of christ

I've been doing some thinking lately about the nature of the temptations Christ faced in the wilderness. Because while we may gain some insight into Christ from the temptations, it occurs to me that we also should be able to draw some spiritual meaning for ourselves from the passages in Scripture that deal with them, beyond the mere "Christ was tempted just like us, but did not sin."

The first temptation Satan brought before Christ was to turn stones into bread, if he was the Son of God. By this time, Jesus had been fasting for 40 days. If he's hungry now, it's because he's begun to starve. It's no sin to feed yourself to hold of starving to death. (Well, it might be stupid to eat bread if it's been 40 days since you've eaten, but I don't think Satan was tempting Jesus toward constipation and/or vomiting.)

I *think* the temptation was more along the lines of using his divine authority for his own advantage, or, given Jesus' response, a temptation to indulge earthly needs before the pressing spiritual need -- such as "Who am I, and what is this incredible stirring within my soul that drove me out here forty days ago?" -- before him. So the application for us should lie along a similar theme. Not "turn stones to bread if you think you're the Son of God" (since I *don't* think I'm the Son of God), but allowing an earthly need -- even a pressing one -- to take precedence over a spiritual need that must be addressed immediately.

The second temptation Christ faced was to throw himself down from the Temple, so that the angels would catch him. One reading of this I've come across, in Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov," in the movie "The Miracle Maker" and in Graham Green's "Monsignor Quixote" is that Satan was trying to eliminate the role of faith in the salvation equation -- being caught by angels as he fell in front of a presumably crowded Temple would make it pretty obvious that Jesus had God's seal of approval. No faith means no salvation, for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, et cetera, et cetera. (Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor actually had a similar understanding of the bread temptation.)

The weakest interpretation on the jump-off-the-Temple temptation was that Satan was tempting Christ to kill himself. I don't buy that, since he specifically mentions the promise that God would command his angels concerning his Holy One.

The thing is, I can't see how this is a temptation that applies to us with such a reading. Is it just a temptation to take the easy road out? That gets covered in the third temptation, when Satan offers Christ all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship.

The last temptation -- and I want everyone to know what an effort it was not to write "The last temptation of Christ" right there -- is easy to see the connection for us. It's fame, success, power, getting the ability to order things the way we want them ordered. it's also, ironically, the most shallow one, since if Satan has the kingdoms of the world and can give them to Jesus in exchange for worship, he really hasn't lost anything, but he's gained Christ in the process.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


The big two enemies of quality in journalism are, ironically, deadline and competition. You see, everyone wants to get The Story, and to get it, we have to get it *first.* That means we scramble to get the information pulled together, and if it seems like it's credible, we run with it. If it's big, we let our excitement get the better of us sometimes, and we don't stop to consider how noncredible it might be, especially if we hear that somebody else is working on the same story. Even working at weeklies, I've fallen guilty to this, to my shame, just because I knew that a reporter from a daily newspaper was there.

So, despite his years of experience, I think Rather made a really stupid mistake because he wanted to get it first and he didn't bother to take the time to make sure his source was reliable and his information was accurate before he went to press with it. And then, like every other human being on this planet, his pride got in the way and he refused to admit that he had made a mistake. He stuck by his story, even though I'm sure he realized there was reason not to. His supervisors stuck by his story, even though they had to realize there was reason not to. Why? Because of stupid human pride and an unwillingness to admit that even as one of the highest-profile telejournalists in the world, you can make really stupid mistakes, just like a first-year reporter, because you got all excited over an exclusive and forgot to get it right before you got it first.

Remember Alexandra Polier? There was a big sex scandal surrounding her and Kerry back during the primary, claiming that she and Kerry had had an affair while she was an intern on his campaign. Only one problem: It never happened. There was some innuendo, some rumor-mongering and an overactive press corps digging into her life making things miserable for her as they linked her to Kerry in a big rush to get a big news story.

Shoddy reporting happens a lot, and it's not just because of a liberal bias or a conservative bias. It's because sometimes enthusiasm and bloodlust for the next Big Story gets the better of every journalist.

I don't think there's a conscious effort afoot to smear Bush, which is what many conservatives seem to believe. My understanding of reporters stationed overseas -- no personal experience, but I knew missionaries who were interviewed with them in the days leading up to Clinton's invasion of Haiti in 1994 -- is that they're required to file at least one story each day. Editors then decide which stories to use, and which to hold "for a rainy day." Often, those rainy days never come because the news never stops happening, which very well could mean that some of the stories you want to see are being filed away indefinitely because an editor sees something of local or regional interest as more pressing and more newsworthy than the other stories coming from Iraq.

I'll go a step further: To an extent, I think conservative groups (including evangelicals) have had heard "liberal media bias" repeated so often that they see it even when it doesn't exist. Generally the view I get from conservative Christians is that Clinton basked in the warm glow of love that came from the liberal media, while the liberal media is trying to roast Bush alive.

BUT! I remember quite clearly that several commentators were looking at the media treatment of the Clinton presidency while he was in office, and were struck by how hostile the media were toward him. (Time magazine did a cover story on this one month, in 1994 or 1995, I think.) And during the 2000 primary, the media often were willing to overlook the way Bush treated McCain and presented him fairly positively, while regularly casting Gore as robotlike and as an undesirable presidential candidate. (That's because Bush treated the reporters decently, would talk with them about the Yankees and the Mets, and Gore talked over people's heads.)

I don't think Rather's resignation was unwarranted; even if his motives were not based on personal political beliefs, the lack of sound judgment is so monumental that, given his prominence, he should beat an exit from the world of reporting and retire.

We all take sides, after all -- even as a reporter, I had feelings on whom the paper should endorse, even if I never voiced them even to the editor -- but chasing stories solely because of how they fit political leanings is despicable.

Much perceived bias, though, can be attributed to laziness, shoddy reporting or a lack of clear vision and guidance from up top, rather than to a calculated effort to advance a specific agenda.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

that horrid little man

My wife and I recently watched the entire Rowan Atkinson "Blackadder" series, courtesy of a friend who has loads and loads of DVDs he doesn't watch and is only too happy to lend them out while he is not watching them.

I first saw part of "Blackadder" season one while I was an exchange student living in New Zealand in 1987. I find that over all, I prefer the second series. In the first one, they were still getting their footing, and not surprisingly, the BBC nearly canceled it.

In the second series, Blackadder had a certain sophistication -- mixed with the family vindictiveness, of course -- that was required for keeping his head in Elizabeth's court. That gave him a level of class and appeal that was lacking in the first series and that was diminished in the third and fourth series. (My wife did note that each Edmund Blackadder appeared to be smarter than his ancestors, even as he was lower in class ranking. I couldn't help but wonder if that was more or less deliberate.)

On the whole, I'm feeling rather proud of myself. When I started dating my wife, she had seen all three "Wallace and Gromit" episodes and knew Monty Python solely from "The Quest for the Holy Grail." Since then, I've made her into a "Flying Circus" fan, and shown her the joys of "Red Dwarf," "Blackadder" and "Fawlty Towers."

I wonder what my chances are of getting her hooked on "Dr. Who" (relatively slim, I should think, given the comparatively low production values and writing that varied immensely in strength, but I suppose it's worth trying).

Tom Baker is the definitive Dr. Who for most American fans. The production values on Pertwee's episodes were really low, but it *was* the late 1960s, so that's not too horribly surprising. On the other hand, his were the most down-to-earth science fiction, since the Time Lords had stranded the Doctor on Earth as punishment for his crimes, a sentence that was commuted after the events of "The Three Doctors."

The problem is I have exactly TWO episodes on tape -- "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Five Doctors." The latter is an episode for the fans, and would be too confusing for a neophyte; the former might make a good introduction, although again, by that time in the show's run there was a fair amount of history the writers just assumed everyone knew. Not sure how well it would fly either.

I might have other episodes I recorded off PBS my first summer home from college. I'd have to check.

One episode I really would like to see is "Doctor Who and the Fatal Death." It stars Rowan Atkinson as the Ninth Doctor. The setup is that the Doctor is preparing to settle down and marry, but first must deal with the return of the Master. Unfortunately, the Doctor keeps getting killed and uses up his remaining lives very quickly, and with some very unusual personalities emerging ....

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

celebrating hanukkah

Count me and my family among the number of Christians making an effort to celebrate Hanukkah. It's partly to educate the girls about other cultures and ways of doing things, partly to educate them about Judaism, and partly to build their knowledge and appreciation of what God has done for his people.

My calendar has Dec. 8 marked as the first day of Hanukkah -- stupid Gentile that I am, I believed it, when I should have realized that Hanukkah would start at sundown Dec. 7. (Actually, I did suspect that, but failed to check.)

This afternoon, the girls and I went into a Judaica shop in the next town over and bought a menorah and candles. I think I inadvertantly misled the owner into thinking that I'm Jewish. I'm not sure, but I think so. For starters, I always say the opening H in Hanukkah like the "ch" sound at the end of Bach, which is how it's supposed to be pronounced. For a second thing, I explained to E and R in some detail the significance of the menorah and the shamash, told them time and again the story of Judah the Macabbee, and of course R also has a biblical name. I think the girls' curly hair also lent us the image, although R's hair is far blonder than I've ever seen on a Jewish person.

On the other hand, E kept asking me what Hanukkah is, even on the way out. Maybe they thought I haven't been a particularly observant Jew, especially since I acknowledged I was buying the menorah a day late, or maybe that I was a Gentile who had married a Jewish woman. No idea.

E found it enthralling when I lit the candles tonight and said the prayers, although she was mortified that I wouldn't blow the candles out before they melted away. (She overcame that, and decided it was neat to watch them melt that far.) No dreidel games, although E learned a dreidel song in preschool last year, and we did eat latkes. With shellfish and pasta admittedly, but I didn't feel inclined to keep kosher, especially since dinner was rushed so my wife could get to book club on time.

No traditional doughnuts, though. I've never liked jelly doughnuts, especially a kind I can't even spell or pronounce. I might get a more regular sort of doughnuts to share with the girls, and explain that it's also a tradition we've half-borrowed.

This is actually (sort of) the second Jewish holiday we've added to our family observance. Last Easter, I tried to structure the meal around something like a Hagaddah service, focusing on the Easter story rather than the Passover one. It was a total disaster, of course, but I'm trying again next year. It occurred to me some time a couple years ago that the annual Pesach ritual is an excellent way of preserving the Jewish religion, culture and identity in alien and often hostile cultures, and that I'd have to be an idiot not to want to do that with my own faith.

Last night as I was watching the candles on the menorah burn low, I thought about a friend of mine named Josh. Josh is the son of a cantor, and the two of us had a tremendous working relationship at WCN, where we talked about our faiths openly and safely. (He said that I was a puzzle to him -- he'd never known another Christian as deeply religious as me who wasn't always trying to convert him, who told jokes about his own religion, or who agreed the Tanakh made better reading than most of the New Testament.)

We had talked periodically about the kosher rules, and Josh found it hilarious when I mentioned the amendment an ex-girlfriend of mine had had about pork. It was that pork is never kosher, unless it's eaten at a Chinese restaurant. He loved that one.

He also told me that his father had told him about a group of lost Jews discovered in South America. Their great-grandparents or whoever had been so secretive about being Jews, for fear of persecution, that their descendants didn't realize it themselves. They celebrated Mass every Sunday, and prayed to the saints and all, but on every Friday evening, they turned the pictures of the saints around until sunset Saturday, and kept other traditions usually associated with Jews. "For example," I threw in, "every Christmas, they go out for Chinese food." "That's right," Josh said. "But they have no idea why they do it, since no one else does."

No particular relevance to Hanukkah, I suppose, but I thought about them and chuckled all the same.

We also read "The Christmas Menorahs," a true story about a whole town rallying around their Jewish families who were being targeted by neo-Nazis who were throwing stones through windows where they saw menorahs. It was a nice reminder about the power of courage and love, and E seemed to enjoy it, along with the traditional story about Judah the Macabbee.

She had a hard time understanding why somebody would hate another person for being Jewish. Good for her. I hope she feels that way her whole life.

Tomorrow should be better. I figure by the eighth day, I should have it down to a science. I'd really like to get to know more of the Jewish holidays and incorporate them into our family life to one degree or another. I've always had an interest in Judaism, and it's deepened with my faith. I think I'm becoming a messianic Gentile

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Wrinkle in Time'

I haven't seen it, but I think the most interesting review comes from Madeleine L'Engle, who said something to the effect of: "The director surpassed my original expectations for the movie. I thought it would be bad, but it wasn't -- it was much worse."

Friday, December 03, 2004

ditching the gadflies

Evangeline and I went to Babylon today -- Broadway, specifically, a couple blocks from Union Square. Someone tried to solicit money from me to protect the environment from President Bush -- I had no idea he was the greatest threat facing the environment, but I guess it makes sense since he's also the greatest threat to everything else -- but I managed to throw him off by speaking to him and Evangeline only in Creole, and left the poor bugger thoroughly confused.

Se obligasyon mwen, non?

I did that at Burger King once too. I wish I could have recorded the conversation, because the poor woman who was trying to take my order at the drive-through was so frazzled after my third attempt. "Mwen vle de chizbege, un laj pom fri e un koka, souple." (I want two cheeseburgers, a large fry and a Coke, please.) It seems pretty straightforward to me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

the artist at school

Those who have been following the artist's career will be pleased to know that on Monday night she attended her first-ever drop-in session at the Hoover Point Art Gallery, where she will be dropping in once a week for the next several weeks, after which we will enroll her in a regular art class at the gallery.

The teacher completely amazed me in ten minutes, not just with her knack for dealing with a 5-year-old respectfully, but also for her ability to revolutionize Evangeline's approach to drawing. To show her ability, Evangeline drew a picture of Mulan, who is her favorite Disney character right now because of the connection she has made between Mulan and her own namesake.

Well, the teacher dug out the wax color pencils and showed Evangeline a different approach to drawing, using lines put close together and deliberately, and had her draw a school of fish. After that, she had Evangeline draw water around the fish using washables, and using a mix of greens, blues and purples. Then -- this will be obvious to art people, but it was something new to me -- she had Evangeline dab the picture very lightly with the tip of a wet brush, and the washables turned to paint, creating a nice water effect.

The whole session took about an hour, but held Evangeline's rapt attention the entire time. As I said on my way out, the downside is that from now on, Evangeline's going to tell me that we have the wrong paper, the wrong pencils, that I'm not taping her paper to a cardboard backing, and so on.

But I'm pleased. I think she's genuinely gifted artistically, and I'm excited to give her the chance to pursue that gift and develop it before she ends up being a washed-up 40-year-old still living in our basement and surfing the Internet after she comes home from her job as an attendant at a place with the motto "Eat here and get gas."


My current read is "Wicked," the book the musical is based on. Simply incredible, though I think Maguire loses steam in a few places and Natasha found the ending dissatisfying. Probably the main appeal to his work is that he gives such a perverse rendering of "Wizard of Oz" that it can't help but appeal to any adult who remembers enjoying either the movie or Baum's book as a child. Elphaba (the wicked witch) is interesting and sympathetically portrayed although she is, ultimately, arguably as wicked as the title claims.

And we're also reading Evangeline "The Wizard of Oz," which is rather interesting because I had never read it growing up, and am reading Maguire's treatment at the same time, and am finding it colors my view of Dorothy's experiences. (The wizard is a total despot, for starters, as bad as Hitler or other fascists who sponsor genocide and abuse their power for personal gain. I actually told Evangeline that I think the wizard is an evil man, which she took as me being silly, which I suppose I was.)

I'm told that Frank Baum revealed in later books that the wizard had done some nasty things to the ruling family in order to come to power; if that's the case, Maguire plays it to the hilt. The wizard overthrows the Oz regent and either kills or imprisons the toddler Ozma before engaging in the wholesale destruction of one group of people after another. Real nasty SOB -- not "a bad wizard but a good man" as he described himself in the movie.

an odd interest

I recently and finally finished reading a book by Gina Kolata about the 1918 Flu (also called the "Spanish Flu"). Epidemiology long has been an interest of mine, so despite the dry-sounding topic, it's really quite fascinating. Odd choice of recreational reading? I think it was something that grew out of reading "The Canterbury Tales," actually. Craig Rustici, our Chaucer professor, explained that England in Chaucer's day was experiencing massive social upheaval owing to the new upward mobility experienced by laborers, whose skills suddenly were in demand, owing to the effects of bubonic plague.

In other words, a disease that made its way from China to Europe along trade routes was a major contributor to the end of the Dark Ages, along with more conventional means of social change such as shifting philosophies and wars.

So while my interest is definitely a layman's -- I can't begin to tell you the molecular biology at play in chickenpox, let alone in plague -- I can't help but find massive outbreaks of disease interesting because of their social consequences. In the case of the Spanish flu, it led to an entire generation overdosing themselves and their children on antibiotics, affected commerce and transit -- people avoided large crowds, where the risk of exposure to the killer flu was increased -- and also led to the Ford presidency imbroglio of vaccinating everyone to avoid a return of the Spanish flu, even though there was no scientific reason to fear such a return. (The specter was that powerful.)

Kolata's been reviled by those covering the newspaper industry and science reporting for her brias and inaccuracies in her reporting, and deservedly so, but she writes engagingly and captures the personalities of the people she's writing about in this book. I have another book of hers here about the events leading up to the cloned sheep Dolly, but haven't read it yet.

My current read is "Wicked," the book the musical is based on. Simply incredible, though I think Maguire loses steam in a few places and Natasha found the ending dissatisfying. Probably the main appeal to his work is that he gives such a perverse rendering of "Wizard of Oz" that it can't help but appeal to any adult who remembers enjoying either the movie or Baum's book as a child. Elphaba (the wicked witch) is interesting and sympathetically portrayed although she is, ultimately, arguably as wicked as the title claims.

And we're also reading Evangeline "The Wizard of Oz," which is rather interesting because I had never read it growing up, and am reading Maguire's treatment at the same time, and am finding it colors my view of Dorothy's experiences. (The wizard is a total despot, for starters, as bad as Hitler or other fascists who sponsor genocide and abuse their power for personal gain. I actually told Evangeline that I think the wizard is an evil man, which she took as me being silly, which I suppose I was.)

So far I recommend it.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

the boy next door

The Penn-Trafford Star has a much better write-up about what happened to Jeff Cole:
Last week, injured Army Spc. Jeff Cole, 20, of Level Green was honored by a personal visit from President George W. Bush.

"It was pretty cool," Cole says nonchalantly. "It was definitely something most people can't say they've ever done."

Neither is being thrown from a Humvee.
And can you believe, the boy met the president of the United States and didn't brag about it when he came home for Thanksgiving this past week? This was the first I heard of it.

(And it looks like I was right: Jeff was hurt in an attack, not in an accident.)

deck the halls

The girls and I set up our Christmas tree Friday while their mother was at work, and E even started decorating it. It now has a baby doll, various Kool Toyz pieces and red plastic monkeys hanging from its branches. For a while it had a Barbie up on top of the tree in place of the angel, but since Barbie fell off, we've settled for a balloon.

I'm inclined to let the girls handle the decorating entirely this year, and leave the traditional ornaments locked up.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

a kick in the gut

Last night, Evangeline and I were reading a bedtime Bible story about Bartimaeus receiving his sight. The question at the end of the story was about what the child most wanted, with an encouragement to ask Jesus for it because he delights in giving us the desire of our hearts.

What does Evangeline say? "All I want is to see Isaac just one more time." Ouch!

If anyone's free and wants a beer, come on over. I'm buying.

No new news on him. The last I heard, he was living with his father, grandmother, aunt and two cousins, so he has some sort of family structure and something approximating siblings, which will give him sorely needed social interaction.

He's talking -- thank God -- and attending a special preschool paid for by the state. He's behind in many areas, but he's making progress, which is what I wanted. He's also settled down quite a lot, owing in part to the discipline we instilled and to his ability to commuicate and interact with the world around him.

That's all I know. I've no way of getting in contact with them even if my reason wanted to, so as I told Niki, if Eowyn's prayer is to be answered, it will be by God and not by her father.

Monday, November 22, 2004

tired of liberalism being villified

Down in Florida, apparently a group of Democrats, unable to accept Kerry's defeat on Tuesday, apparently are being diagnosed with some sort of post-stress syndrome, and are getting some kind of therapy to help them cope. That's silly, I agree, but what's irritated me right now is one conservative friend who has taken this as proof that liberalism is a philosophy that attracts irresponsible people and encourage irresponsible behavior.

Maybe if they would stop recycling what conservatives say liberalism is about and consider what liberals say liberalism is about, we'd have a point of commonality.

Liberalism is a political/social philosophy of responsibility. Liberalism called for an end to segregation because it was oppressive toward blacks; it called for women's votes because the status quo had restricted their voce. Today it calls for a hand up for the poor and needy; it continues to call for a voice for blacks and other minorities; it calls for respect across the board to differing worldviews, political positions and so on.

By contrast, I suppose I could say that Republcanism encourages people to keep their money to themselves, that it rewards wealth and power by allowing people to aggregate greater amounts of wealth and power, and encourages a devil-may-care attitude toward others. I haven't, and I don't hold that that necessarily is the case, so why don't we all do everyone a favor and can the holier-than-thou crap, all right?

There are sore losers on the Democratic side, and sore winners on the GOP side. Why? Because *both* parties have a fair number of boneheads, bedwetters and self-righteous crybabies, to use the unneeded and uncalled-for inflammatory language I've been hearing.

Maybe some have forgotten, but during the Clinton years, there were any number of fine upstanding examples of the Right who said it was time for good Christians everywhere to question their allegiance to the American government (James Dobson, re: partial-birth abortion), who kept bumper stickers on their car that said "Pray for our president / May his days be few, may another take his place" and who acted like the nation had fallen off a spiritual precipice by electing Clinton. Four years ago, I knew a couple Bush-supporters who were practically paralyzed with dread at the thought that Gore might win and Bush lose.

So let's stop knocking one another's socio-political viewpoints as being for whiners, all right? I've had ENOUGH of the self-righteous aggrandizement of the Right, the GOP and Bush, I've had ENOUGH of the villification of the Left and the Democratic Party, and I've had ENOUGH of this whole sorry mess.

Friday, November 05, 2004

moral values

What bugs me is that the definition of "moral values" has become so narrow, and mainly seems to be related to sex. I'm a Democrat because of my moral values. While neither party is perfect, the Democrats seem to me to be more concerned with the moral issues that are most important to me: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the masses.

Republican approaches to these issues seem to be more concerned with making sure that no one is cheating the system than with making sure the needy actually get what they need. Democrats are more likely to be against the death penalty, and they are more likely to look for peaceful solutions to our international problems, as opposed to military solutions.

Unfortunately, the media don't seem to really want to analyze actual issues. It's much easier to say that Republicans are more likely to cast votes based on morals (implying that Democrats are less moral than Republicans) than actually take the time to look at what that means. I would say that almost all of us make our morals a major consideration when we vote, but we don't all base them on what the Republican Party and the media have managed to define as morality.
-- Rob Timmins

Thursday, November 04, 2004

abandoned by god

There are times in every believer's life when it seems like God has abandoned us. I went through one of those times after we lost Isaac. A friend of mine went through one when she was run out of a ministry and slandered by the heads of the ministry. Sometimes, God leads us into a dark place, with nightmares on all sides, gnashing their terrible teeth and ready to tear us limb from limb, and he leaves us there. Other times, he throws us headlong into the pit.

No, I don't think it's just a feeling that God has abandoned us. I think in a very real, though not absolute sense, he does abandon us at those moments, and that's why we feel such despondency and grief.

Let me explain.

In another year or so, Evangeline is going to learn to ride a bike. She doesn't know that yet, of course, and even if I told her, she wouldn't know what I mean by it. But sitting here, I know that in the spring, I'm going to screw some training wheels onto her bike, put it and her into the car, and drive up to the university one weekend to enjoy the parking lot with her.

Evageline will feel nervous at first, as she takes those first tentative and rickety spins on her bike. But she'll discover that although she rattles back and forth, she doesn't fall, and slowly her confidence will build. That's pretty much what it's like for us as we take our first steps of faith and begin to grow.

After a while, I'm going to take those training wheels off. Evangeline is going to fall down, her bike will drop, and she will scrape her elbows and knees and maybe even get a few cuts. It will hurt, and she will cry. I'm going to do this to her anyway, and after she falls I'm going to have her get back on the bike and try again.

Is Evangeline in any real danger? No, of course not. We're in a parking lot where there will be no cars moving about, she will have a helmet on, and I'm going to be with her the entire time. She won't be able to tell that, though, since I'll be behind her, and she's going to keep falling even though she never used to fall on her bike and even though her father is with her.

That's a small thing by comparison, but the Long Dark Night of the Soul is like that. God doesn't just remove a "feeling" that he's with us, he actively withdraws all the support he's provided for us before. What's left is a void that makes no sense to us because it contradicts our every previous experience with God.

When Evangeline has learned to ride her bike, she'll have a more mature understanding of herself, of me, and of her relationship to me. She'll see that while I love her and will do everything I can to keep her from harm, that does not mean I will do everything I can to keep her from pain. She'll also have developed new skills she wouldn't have had and be more of what I intend her to be (i.e., a self-sufficient, healthy and active little girl).

When God tosses us off a cliff or leads us into the abyss, he strips away all the comforts we've known before and lets us discover underlying realities we've only caught glimpses of before. Because of my experiences two years ago, my relationship with God is irrevocably altered. I have a much greater sense of his majesty, his glory, his transcendence -- and his utter self-abasement on the Cross. My understanding of God grew dramatically as a result of my experience. He's much bigger than I ever had imagined, and I am much smaller.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

in the wrong church

On Sunday I was pretty much told by my daughter's Sunday school teacher that I shouldn't bother coming to church if I'm going to vote for Kerry (that was the substance, not the text, of what she said).

I find that depressing in its own right. Are we as a church so blinded by politics and political leaders that we're willing to start dividing sheep from the goats based on something as inconsequential as a vote in the presidential election? That's horrible. I voted for Kerry, Greg voted for Bush; you're a Democrat and RBP is a Republican, but really, who gives a toss? When darkness falls and the Devil stirs, I know that I can count on all three of you equally.

Christina's big passion is abortion; mine are poverty and child abuse; others of us are impassioned over sexual sin, medical care, the growing acceptance of magick -- those differences don't matter to me. What matters to me is that we are one body, following one Lord, sharing one baptism.

If things get rough -- and very probably they will continue to do so in the years to come -- I know where I can turn for understanding, support and fellowship. It's not in a political party or presidential administration. It's in the catholic-small-C church of believers.

The divide we're seeing in our nation along political lines bothers me, and I probably should be praying about it more. To be honest, it deeply grieves me that the church has been party to that division by its growing alignment with the Republican Party and the way it has allowed the name of the church to be subverted for one side of the political game.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

the party's over

As I write this we are in the process of recovering from the 5-2 celebration we had here today. We celebrated Evangeline's fifth birthday and Rachel's second, with Rachel's celebration coming only one day ahead of her actual birthday.

What a great time!

I have now formally surrended in the fight to keep Barbie out of our house for as long as possible, that time now apparently having passed. E got two Barbie dolls this summer, which pretty much signaled the beginning of the end. The girls have fought more frequently and more contentiously over who gets to play with the two Barbies and with Ariel than anything.

Today, E and R opened their presents from their Grandma H and found not only a new Barbie for each of them, but new outfits that fit their old dolls as well. (For the first time in months, Ariel and Barbie are no longer lounging around the house naked, trying to seduce Moon Knight.)*

Additionally, when we have our smaller family gift-giving tomorrow, R is going to discover the Barbie doll that Daddy bought her last month, in foolish oblivion to his mother-in-law's designs. Five Barbies, an Ariel and a Belle who walks around wearing nothing but her corset should be enough for a two-girl family, I reckon. Especially since the girls also have taken to playing with Moon Knight recently.

R blew everyone away while unwrapping her presents today, when she opened a package from her Auntie Audra and discovered her own princess doll. "It's Snow White!" she said, clear as a bell of purest crystal. I am happy to report that although Snow White and Barbie briefly switched outfits this evening, she is still wearing clothes. Moon Knight reportedly is disappointed, but is happy he will not need to be increase his cold shower regimen in the near future.

And naturally the fight we had to break up tonight was over who got to sleep with Snow White.

E's favorite gift today appears to be a queen outfit, complete with a gown, a crown and nice queen shoes. After the party had ended, the first thing she did was to change out of her dress and into her royal attire. Quite a sight too -- we took a picture which I may someday share here if I ever get around to it. Other gifts received today include early reader books, books that Daddy can read to her and loads of art supplies, since E is our little artiste.

The present that most amused me is the new Lite Brite. It's battery-operated, which is annoying since we'll need to replace batteries quite often, I should think, but it's also portable (being battery-operated, duh) and -- this is the amusing part -- is billed as "flat screen." Some friends of ours and I were joking that it's the new hi-tech Lite Brite. It's cable ready, and has a high-density plasma screen for you to use when you stick plastic pins through construction paper.

Something like 17 kids came, plus their parents and the Reading Fairy, which made our house one crowded, happening place. On top of that, the pizzeria where we usually order our pizza apparently is closed, so we had to scramble at the last minute to find a new place to order seven pies -- and they forgot to include the sausage on one pizza, even though they still billed us for it.

Ah well. At least no one gave us an Elmo toy.

* Moon Knight, as in the Marvel Comics split-personality superhero who functions as a Batman rip-off, blessed with superpowers by Konshu, an Egyptian moon god I never heard of outside "Moon Knight" and "West Coast Avengers." I have an action figure of him, who apparently has been ready to give his right arm to spend some quality time with Barbie, since that's precisely the appendage that came off him today as he was rescuing Barbie from some monster or another.

back from babylon

Our trip went well, all things considered, though next time I'm going to try to find other things we can do while we're up there. It just seems like such a waste to spend all that time on the train, and then turn around to come home after an hour.

The train ride was a lot of fun, though. This was Evangeline's second trip to a photo shoot in Babylon and she every bit as enthralled this time as last, perhaps even more. The entire way up to Penn Station in Babel, she kept the passengers in the car entertained by talking animatedly about how fast we were moving, asking if this stop was ours, and screaming, "Look, Daddy! We're in outer space!"

She surprised me, though. After we reached Penn Station, we got onto a PATH train to head to the World Trade Center in Babylon. Evangeline, who was not even 2 years old on 9-11, asked me if it would be safe to go there.

"Yes," I told her. "The bad men who knocked the buildings down can't hurt anyone anymore."

She was great the whole time. She loved going on the subway, and although she is still intimidated by escalators, was a trooper at going up one in Daddy's arms, and never once let go of my hand the entire time we were in the city.

We got off at Union Square, and she had a blast there, too, looking at all the pumpkins that were being sold, all the dogs that were being walked, and so on. Naturally, although I found 15th Street right away, I wasn't sure of my orientation and ended up walking five blocks the wrong way before I was able to establish that I was getting farther from West 15th Street and not closer. Five blocks, carrying a child on my shoulders and a backpack full of books we brought in case we had to wait at the photographer's for our turn.

There was no waiting period at the photographer's, though. We went in, filled out our paperwork, Evangeline got her picture, we left and got a snack, and then we began the trip back to Iowa in the middle of rush-hour traffic.

It was a lot of fun to make the trip with her, but like I said, the next time I hope I can figure out some more of what we can do while we're in the city and make more of a day of it if we can. I'm not inclined to shop much at Babylon prices, but if we can find something historic or artistic to see, it would make a nice addition to her homeschooling scrapbook.

If we're lucky, they'll call us back next week and Evangeline can get some money for college to make up for all our traveling ...

Friday, October 29, 2004

out of the fire

Well, it's done. Today I wrote my last two editorials, handed in my office key and said my goodbyes. Time and God alone will tell whether my being at WCN served any purpose or advanced the kingdom of God in any way. It was a hard time for me, but I'd like to think that some good came of it.

Actually, I know some good came of it. For starters, I know better now what I want out of my life and I think I'm less likely to settle for something less than what I need. Being in a stinky situation has a way of giving you some sort of clarity about what you want, what you're capable of, and why you keep ending up in bad spots.

I shared the gospel with a number of co-workers, and a few officials.

In my editorials and columns, I strove to uphold basic truths about our obligations to care for the needy. I issued calls for change, and sometimes that alone was enough to stir other people to action.

I got to make fun of Elmo in front of more than 100,000 readers.

I trained two reporters and made them stronger writers, shored up two sagging newspapers and gave them renewed vision and respect within the community, by bringing in local columnists, and making the papers into a voice for the community and within the community.

It still angers me that the W's work only 40 hours a week and yet still take the money they do -- and then have the gall to say that there's no money in the budget to provide better resources, hire more than a skeleton crew or pay us better. But in the long run, I think I gave some of my co-workers hope. An editor with the same ridiculous work load as me has given notice; another editor told me he plans to give notice in two more weeks. And I know of two different reporters who have refused promotions because they want more money than the company is willing to give them. (That apparently caught management completely off-guard when it happened, but people are catching on that we get change when we force them to face reality.)

I think I earned something of a reputation as an agitator at WCN because I kept pushing for more help and better resources to do our jobs, and kept urging other people to do the same. My reporter is one of those who has been telling them that she's not taking my job unless they pay her better for it than they've offered.

It's done, though. My wife starts full-time at Rutgers on Monday. It turns out that she actually will make more than I have been, and she's going to get better benefits than I had too. (And there's no commute, since she can walk to work, which means we'll save on gas.)

Thanks to everyone who's put up with me through this. It's been a long and torturous road, but it's finally over.

off to babylon

I'm taking Evangeline to Babylon tomorrow, Friday, for an afternoon trip. As long as I'm there, is there anything people would like me to forget to get them?

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Kerry by default

I expect I will vote for Kerry on Nov. 2, but if Nader weren't a looney, he might be a viable candidate for me to vote for.

In no event is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush. It's a vote for Nader, even if it indirectly leads to a Bush victory. The Star-Ledger published a voter's guide Sunday that I want to look at more closely, since it's possible its presentation of third party and big two candidates will lead me to reconsider my vote.

(Yes, I am still relatively undecided because, quite frankly, neither of the main two candidates appeals to me.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

black jesus

I'm tired of seeing the white, blond-haired Jesus, but who isn't? I want to see black Jesus some more.

White blond Jesus everywhere you look. He's in the Sunday school material, even though Jesus wasn't blonde. I taught at a Christian school in Bethlehem, Pa., and he was in all the Bible class materials, even though all but two of my students were Hispanic or African-American.

White blonde Jesus had a nice run, but let's give him a break. Let's remind ourselves that Jesus is for other people too, and not just us.

In Haiti, at the Baptist Haiti Mission in Fermathe, I saw a picture of the Holy Family in the art museum there. In this picture, a black Joseph was teaching a white Jesus the family trade while a white Mary was busily at work nearby. It was a very Haitian scene, except for the white people.

That's the damage the white Jesus can do; people forget that he's like them, and instead they see him as like another people, the missionary or the American forces. He's a foreigner, an outisder; and not someone who knows what it's like for them.

I do enjoy the other-ethnic pictures I've seen. The National Cathedral in Port-au-Prince has pictures of the black Jesus at different times of his ministry: his baptism, raising Lazarus from the dead the Last Supper.

The funniest part of the black Jesus is that he's usually pictured with a white Judas.

Copyright © 2004 by David Learn. Used with permission.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

not in the funny papers

A friend of mine wrote this comic, based on a church drama I wrote about telling off God. The occasion for the drama was the loss of my foster son.Indigo did a fantastic job, and made the cuts I needed to make in the drama.

She's amazing.

remember to vote

Just to make sure everyone has heard:

Because election officials are expecting a large turnout at the polls for the presidential election, because of the low number of poll workers, and mostly because of the potential for physical altercations between Republicans and Democrats, Congress has decided to alter the election turnout rules:
  • Democrats are to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 2.
  • Republicans are to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 3.
  • Members of third parties are to vote on Thursday, Nov. 4.
This also should allay fears of voter intimidation and tampering, and should eliminate problems of the sort of that jeopardized the 2000 presidential election.

Remember, every vote counts!

Monday, October 25, 2004

philadelphia visit

A few weeks ago, we took a homeschooling field trip to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, and afterward went to visit the Betsy Ross house down the street. Lo and behold, they were having an impromptu sword fight by a troupe called Joke & Dagger.

I genuinely wish I had brought a camera with me -- they're not allowed in the mint, so I hadn't bothered -- because the final segment of their presentation included giving training to children in the audience who could answer history questions connected with Colonial America. (Evangeline correctly stated that there were 13 Colonies.)

For 15 or 20 minutes, Evangeline and Rachel dodged, parried, and generally came within a hairsbreadth time and again of hitting one another, the other children and the actors with their wooden poles as they swung them around. Evangeline actually drove one of the actors to the edge of the stage, and when they were teaching the children to duck and thrust, Rachel managed to go up and down at precisely the opposite moments of when she was supposed to.

Much we all loved the Mint and enjoyed the visit to the Quaker Meeting House, I think the swordfight had to be everyone's favorite part, especially because the girls got to go up on stage themselves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

'jesus' movie anniversary

Twenty-five years ago today, "Jesus" opened in the U.S. Since then, it's been shown in every country of the world, and translated into over 800 languages.

Based on the gospel of Luke with a disco twist, it has been called a "Saturday Night Jesus."

religion in politics

For its protestations to be nonpartisan, this petition does take a few obvious swipes at Bush. That, I suspect, is due more to the presumption, real or imagined, of the Right that everyone who follows Christ should vote Republican in the national election.

Still, I wholly agree with the basic thrust of the petition: There are other moral issues that Christ calls us to work toward that both parties systematically ignore.

Politicians and politically minded folks regularly use religion as a means of building support for themselves, their candidates or their issues. I've seen or heard it used to rally opposition to same-sex unions, to oppose stem cell research and abortion, to call for reforming public education, and just to suggest that one presidential candidate is somehow superior to another.

It really gets sickening after a while. Which was more laughable: Bush calling Jesus Christ his favorite philosopher, or Howard Dean claiming that Job is his favorite New Testament book?


People of conscience, religious and not, are going to have stands on all these positions, and I think it's a given that God cares deeply about these and other issues facing America, including those that don't get mentioned.

If politicians are going to be brazen enough to invoke God's name to justify their candidacy, then they need to follow through with a commitment to pursuing the things that God names as his priorities, not just the hot-button political issues of the day. And both sides of the political debate, Right and Left, need to remember that there are legitimate differences of opinion on several of these issues. Greg Hartman is opposed to same-sex marriage; I support it, and I'm proud to call him a brother. To naby, abortion is the overriding issue that trumps all others; while I am unabashedly pro-life, I consider other issues as well -- and still we stand in prayer for one another when the need arises, and would share Communion if the chance arose.

It's not an issue of whether we're a Christian nation; it's whether those who declare themselves followers of Christ are going to pursue the standards of justice laid out in Scripture, whether they will see care provided for the orphans and the widows among us and whether they will be servants of the least Americans, or only of the strong and powerful.

Monday, October 18, 2004

open letter

Dear Vera,

Believe it or not, but I understand exactly what you're saying. What you're going through, and perhaps staring to see the end of, is one of those long trough periods called the Long Dark Night of the Soul. They're hideous. They're times when it feels as though God has led you down a dark and treacherous path to the very bottom, and suddenly leaves you there. On every side are monsters with teeth and claws that will rend you if you take one wrong step, and when you scream and curse and howl at the One who led you into that pit, demanding some explanation, some reason that could possibly justify why a God who claims to be so full of love would do this to you, all you get is one simple command: "Follow me."

I've been there. I know how you feel. Losing my son two years ago was the worst thing I have ever been through in my life, and it was every bit as bad as what I just described, if not actually worse.

If I can give you any encouragement, it is this: You are not alone. You cannot always see us, but you are hemmed in on all sides by a great cloud of witnesses, of other believers who have been to that place of despair and places worse still and found victory in Christ. The longer-standing members of this forum carried me far during that time -- I don't think they know how far, and in some ways I don't think even I can fathom how far -- and we will carry you. It's not just in prayer, but it is a mystery. Who among us does not suffer and the rest of us do not suffer with them? We're a body, and when one part is injured the whole body feels the pain.

You are not alone, and one day the anguish will be over. Before that happens, you may have felt pain a thousand times worse than anything you ever known before, and you may have sunk deeper into despair than you ever have. But it will end. And when it is over, you will find that you experience joy in a fullness you never believed possible, and find a peace and a faith that are more unshakeable than you have ever known.

I still have scars from what happened to me when I lost Isaac, and that loss still strikes like a blow to the chest at times, and sometimes I still weep. But you know something? I wouldn't trade those tears for anything I had felt before it all came crashing down on me.

Our choice, as always, is to ruin our own lives, or to let God ruin them for us, for his greater glory. I know how I have chosen, and I every confidence that you will make the same choice I did.


Cervantes once wrote, "Even a fart can be musical" -- a memorable way of saying that even something that appears to be useless can still have beauty and something of quality about it. He saw the unauthorized sequel to "Don Quixote" as the only exception to this rule.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

fighting terrorism

Anyone who thinks we can significantly end terrorism with military force is kidding themselves. And, I just don't see Jesus advocating military force against anybody. There has to be a better way.

There has to be a better way, but I have no idea what it would be. Some might say, something along the lines of "Give them what they want, and supposedly they'll go away." Of course, it used to be when a terrorist struck, the group would issue a demand, like "Withdraw the occupying troops from Belfast" or something. Al Qaeda made no such demand on 9-11. The whole of their message seemed contained in the events of the day: Die.

I think we can make a strong case, that privation provides as fertile a breeding ground for terrorist ideology as a pile of manure does for flies. But how do you end that privation? I've lived in the Third World; I've seen how much U.S. aid money makes it to the people it's intended for, and how much makes it into private bank accounts. Pouring money into other countries willynilly does little to solve their economic problems, and often ends up fostering anti-American sentiment because we shore up corrupt and oppressive regimes like the Taliban or Saddam Hussein's.

Not to say that poverty is the only cause. Bin Laden and his lieutenants were all wealthy and educated. Clearly living in an insular society that brutally suppresses free thought also can lead people to horrific crimes and terrorist behavior. But impoverished areas can be terrific breeding grounds for hatred and terror. Bin Laden and Arafat, after all, don't blow themselves up. They send other people.

And generally, although not universally, terror finds more support among people who feel they have no other way to express their voice, not among the well educated and wealthy who stand to lose if the status quo is shaken.

The remedy, ultimately, isn't going to come from a political system, since in the end this isn't a political or economic issue but a spiritual one. So the question before us really is, how do we as citizens of the Kingdom of God respond to terrorism and to the terrorists? What can we do as believers, in addition to praying, to see an end to terror and the advancement of the Kingdom of God whatever happens to political structures and hierarchies?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

the religious left

I have it on good authority that I am going to hell when I die.

Amazingly, this isn't because I watched "The Last Temptation of Christ" back when I was in college. It's not because I drive too slowly in the fast lane, and it's not even because I think a footlong ponytail looks good on a 34-year-old man.

No, I'm going to hell because I have the audacity to call myself a Christian and a liberal at the same time. I'm a member of the Religious Left.

Despite the seeming oxymoron in a term such as Religious Left, the truth is that religion and liberalism actually have a long, shared history in this country, going back at least to abolitionism, when socially liberal religious groups such as the Society of Friends formed the backbone of the Underground Railroad, risking arrest, fines and harassment by rescuing blacks from slavery in the South and smuggling them north to freedom in Canada.

In the years since, the Religious Left has been at the forefront of issues such as women's suffrage and the Civil Rights movement. Susan B. Anthony? She was a Quaker. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? That should be obvious. Many who added their voices to his in calling for an end to segregation, did so because they shared his convictions, based in the teachings and example of Jesus, that racial segregation has no place in a civilized society.

Not surprisingly, religious liberals have strong feelings about war. While the establishment has pounded the drums for war, religious liberals have manned humanitarian efforts in the middle of battle zones to make sure that the wounded innocents are cared for, since the time of the Civil War on. Others have fought hard to maintain or restore the peace, remembering as Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

In Dallas, the Trinity Foundation has challenged churches and synagogues to meet the needs of the homeless head on, by providing them with a place to stay and helping them find jobs. The Trinity Foundation also keeps tabs on hucksters who use religion as means to make themselves wealthy at the expense of the vulnerable.

In Chicago, when the city administration decided to gentrify an area, the Jesus People -- a religious commune on the wrong side of the tracks -- fought to protect the people who depend on the low-income housing that had been targeted for redevelopment. They called the exploitation and willfull disregard for the poor what it was, and saved the homes of hundreds of immigrants.

And while President Bush during the 2000 presidential primaries was incredulous when an interviewer asked him about hunger in Texas, former President Carter -- like Bush, a professed born-again Christian -- is a major figure in Habitat for Humanity, an organization that has made tremendous strides in providing affordable housing for the poor.

Equal rights for women, civil rights for minorities, support of hate-crime legislation, affordable housing, food and clothing for the homeless, civil unions for same-sex couples, education for those in prison, an end to capital punishment -- these are all liberal causes, and they're all causes I support as a Christian.

During the last 20-odd years, the Religious Right has been the dominant voice from Christian groups, as it has claimed a monopoly on truth, and its interpretation and application. Depending on whom you listen to, any deviation from the party line -- which increasingly has meant the Republican Party line -- is unpardonable. You can't disagree and still be a "real" Christian.

Contrary to what many on the Right, both religious and not, would have us believe, liberalism isn't a cancer eating away at the core of an otherwise healthy society. It isn't about undermining traditional family values, about eroding the foundations of our nation, hating America, or giving people a free ride at the expense of the public.

Liberalism is the simple belief that everybody deserves the same basic opportunities and respect as everybody else, regardless of the social, economic, religious or racial position they were born with.

That's it. If it means some people will take advantage of the system, so be it. In the long run, I'd rather be taken advantage of than to throw a family out on the street because they couldn't pay the mortgage in a sour economy. I'd rather have less money in my own pocket than leave employees struggling to get the health care they need. I'd rather face disappointed shareholders than reward years of company loyalty with job outsourcing.

"Whatever you do to the least of these," Jesus says, "you do to me."

I'm religious, and I'm a liberal. Let my heart bleed.

Copyright © 2004 by David Learn. Used with permission.