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Obama gave his first “big” speech since becoming President last night, and it seemed to be a successful address. He touched on most of the pressing matters facing this country today- – health care reform, the economic recession, education, the needed deficit reversal and budget reform, troop withdrawal from certain areas and the bank situation involving the need for expanded flow of credit.

I admit I was an Obama supporter from almost the beginning and that unlike the general consensus of folks who seem to say that their opinion of the stimulus package is one of” not sure, too soon to tell “ (which frees them up to be for it if it works or against it if it doesn’t), I feel it is a great move full of potential and I feel that many, hopefully most, of its parts will be successful. Having said that, I still am leery of the political machine as a whole in Washington. I feel Obama has great plans and could institute great progressive change, IF GIVEN THE CHANCE. See, when FDR ushered in his sweeping reforms that brought the U.S. out of the great depression and regulated areas that for far too long had been neglected, he received almost universal support, unprecedented power and positive hand-in-hand work from all sides. Judging by the GOP in this day and age and the average armchair economic and political “experts” at home, not to mention “news” organizations like FOX news, it’s doubtful Obama will get anywhere near that kind of support. The nation’s appearing to be very supportive of Obama and his administration so far and they seem to be placing a great deal of hope in what he is attempting to do, yet there is a constant murmur of the importance to be “bi-partisan.” I can’t help but think that this is really just code for “more conservative” at best or a settling on mediocrity at worse. When Bush was president over the last 8 years there was really no attempt at any “bi-partisan” decisions. It was full speed ahead on the modern version of the GOPs methods including trickle down economics, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and corporations, the repeal of environmental safeguards, the almost complete stop on funding for scientific and medical research, an ever expanding military budget, a health care system ran by profit seeking organizations in a highly competitive (and greedy market)…I could continue for pages, but I think it’s clear that practices like these ran unchecked and heavily supported by other Republicans during the Bush administration. Very little ear was turned in the direction of the Democratic party or any citizen who was even slightly a political moderate, progressive or liberal. The past 8 years were the GOP trying it their own way, and we see how well their way has worked. Now, Obama has a chance to try things in a politically progressive manner and the voices are loudly crying out for his administration to make “bi-partisan” decisions—in other words, balance his progressive plans with a bit of the old policy styles that have failed us for 8 years. Throughout the years every political liberal has had to make concessions and become first a moderate, then ultimately a borderline conservative to simply make it in public office. The true radical, progressive liberal methods are often shelved because congress, the senate and the “armchair “experts (not to mention the lobbyists, the insurance companies, Wall Street and the CEO’s of the nation) have forced them to be.

I have faith that Obama has a clear and good vision of what needs to be done. I feel that for the first time in a few decades the average citizen in America is in support of those styled plans. For the first time in decades, there is an actual chance to move away from prehistoric, prejudiced, spirit crushing modes of politics into something positive, life affirming and opportunity expanding. We can actually see a renewed emphasis on science and education—more average folks may begin to view education as important, worthwhile and attainable. We may see policies that seek to end discrimination and prejudices—to give basic and undeniable rights to people of all races, national origins, genders and sexual orientations that have been denied them even into the 21st century.
We may see a true overhaul and reform of the crumbling, destructive, debt inducing and inadequate health care system that exists in the U.S. today. We may see environmental laws that folks like Teddy Roosevelt emphasized make their return to this country.
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Viewers of last night also got to see the new Palin, that is the new “up and comer” GOP mascot detailing that they too can be youthful and diverse, the Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  His response to the speech? Tow the party line: He urges us not to “saddle future generations with debt,” by “spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.” Hmm…we don’t need quality education, affordable healthcare, a free flowing system of attainable credit, safe and functional highways, roads and bridges built and repaired in a way that will also create thousands of new jobs, new and safe renewable energy and a strong push away from foreign oil dependency, regulations and practices that protect the environment for the safety of future generations, the creation of new and lasting jobs…all of these things, all covered in the stimulus proposal and thus most of these things are what Jindal says we “don’t need.” Of course the package bears a heavy price tag, one which Republicans seem to think will burden future generations for years. Yet at least some of these expenses are successful, future generations will have ample opportunities in which to pay it back, opportunities that the current direction has been leading away from. The path we have been on in this nation would have left future generations living in an unsafe and polluted environment, dependant on foreign oil to the extent that national security is null and void, unable to afford health care and thus living with a shorter life expectancy, with very few jobs to choose from and with very little education. Heck, the supporters of Reagan and his policies in the ‘80s saddled future generations with debt and disparity due to a lack of education and little job choice. Those policies created ghettoes and are largely responsible for a flood of crack cocaine and the spread of AIDS since research and acknowledgement of such things was missing. See, the system that has been put in place has left those of middle and lower class lacking serious opportunities in this nation, yet the upper class has been able to continue their extreme success down throughout the generations. This new plan could very well level things off enough to where all children have a chance at a decent future– if the “price tag” that awaits future generations will coincide with broader opportunity, better healthcare, more education and fuller lives, I think it’s one well worth accepting.

It’s noteworthy as well that we managed to apparently see the support of certain plans by different politicians. John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Mitch McConnell all got camera close ups at moments in which they appeared to grimace and disagree with statements being made, as well as at moments in which they seemed to be grudgingly agreeing with Obama. Interestingly, when Obama pointed out certain events he has already accomplished in his first days in office, he mentioned providing thousands of poverty stricken children with healthcare that didn’t have any before, the cameras displayed a large group of Republicans that remained seated and appeared to be frowning heavily. I suppose even something as noble and compassionate as that isn’t universally appreciated, which goes to show how difficult it is to implement progressive politics and appease staunch political conservatives simultaneously.

Last of all, Obama did indeed make a gaffe that has made the press already– The U.S. did not invent the automobile, Germany did. I guess we can all benefit from more education each and every day.

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The Scary Reality of Poverty

February 24, 2009

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I was speaking with someone the other day and the subject of social work came up.
The person I was speaking with was asking me about different social organizations and charities I was interested in working with. I mentioned one regarding displaced people from other countries involved with state refugee programs as well as various homeless shelters and poverty aid programs. When the subject of poverty and homelessness arose, she spoke very sympathetically of programs dealing with homeless and poor children because “they don’t have any control over their situation,” but said that such work would be too emotionally draining for her. “Working with adults would be easier because their situation is more a result of their choices,” she said (of course poor children are likely to grow into poor adults, but that’s another story). This person meant well, and is not mean-spirited, but the implications of such a statement are wide ranging and tragically commonplace enough to almost be a general consensus. I even hear such claims from folks on the borderline or just north of the edge of poverty themselves, and I think possibly they feel their hard work is keeping them ahead and that all others should be able to do the same thing.

When you really look at the factors that lead many to extreme poverty, it’s scary how many of those factors are undiscriminating, random and uncontrollable. Poverty also tends to reproduce itself and be both cause and effect quite often.  Beth Shulman’s excellent book “The Betrayal of Work” thoroughly  describes the emergent caste system in America, a country where the gap between the haves and the have-nots is a wide gulf that widens every year (one startling stat from the book points to the disparity between the US and a country like Germany–in Germany the lower class often makes around 35 percent of what the upper class makes, in America the lower class makes only around 7 percent of what the upper class makes). Of course, there are factors that are a result of personal bad choices: running up credit cards on frivolous purchases, drug use, etc. This of course doesn’t mean such folks don’t deserve help, but I assume such qualities would make the situation less heartbreaking for someone who desires to find a rational reason that someone else is in dire straits so that they themselves can seek to avoid such things.

The truth of the matter is, though, that a huge percentage of adults that find themselves in extreme poverty and often in homelessness end up there due to factors largely beyond their control. An average person without a college degree, or without even a high school diploma will find it hard starting out in life locating any sort of job that will pay them adequately enough to  cover their own bills and expenses, much less those of a spouse or children. Even many with a college degree find it increasingly difficult to find a well paying job and most of them start out with an added layer of debt, so they too are not immune to financial risk. An average person, no matter how hard working they are, may realistically find themselves working in the service sector making minimum wage at worse, around ten dollars an hour at best. In an average city, even with 40 hours a week at the high end of this range, rent, health insurance, car payments, utilities, food and necessities are barely attainable; insurance is often the first thing to be cut. One major health issue without insurance, and quite often even with insurance, can result in a large (and largely un-payable) bill. Little other than an unpaid medical bill can as quickly destroy a person’s credit. Once a person has bad credit it’s even more difficult to find a “good” job since many of those good jobs do extensive credit checks on potential employees before hiring them. Credit is something that seems to be as important, if not more important, as actual income and personal savings. Credit is hard to build and easy to destroy. A large medical bill is not the only thing that can destroy a person’s credit, deplete a persons savings and ultimately land a person in extreme poverty. A divorce, accident or any number of other commonplace personal hardships can do that as well.

So the factors that can lead to poverty and ultimately homelessness are for very many people just a bad credit report, large medical bill or accident away. Considering that there are millions of “working poor” in America, those that sometimes work up to 2 and 3 jobs at a time in the service sector or multiple hours in 1 of them, each potentially a month away from such a situation means that it isn’t so easy to assign personal fault for someone’s station in life. The working poor are the people who work as hard as they can in areas as various as childcare, education, daycare, restaurants, banks, retail stores and as janitors, flight attendants, secretaries and call center operators.

The misnomer that those that are poor, those that have low-paying jobs and that those that are homeless are largely responsible for their own situation must end. Even those that are responsible in part or in whole for the situation they are in still deserve help, compassion and consideration from those that seek to serve their fellow human. Yet many, if not a majority, of people end up in a dire financial situation through little fault of their own. It’s time this nation recognizes this emerging modern day caste system and does its best to slim the gap that has done nothing but widen over the past few decades. So many people place such a high emphasis on work as a value in and of itself. I hear all the time people brag about never missing work due to illness, and in every corner of employment I’ve ever had I’ve often heard those in management chastise others for taking off for reasons ranging from sickness and family time to wanting to attend a concert or take a college course. This value of work shouldn’t be worshipped for the sheer sake of work alone, and an occasional request off for reasons and events that tend to the body (recovery from illness), creative sense and passion (concert), mind (college course) and family (holiday, etc) is a good and needed thing. Work should often be a means to an end, and its value should come from that which it provides for the participant and also for the good it accomplishes in the society it emerges from. If work is important, and so many derive so much of their personal sense of being from the work that they do, then let’s allow a system to emerge that takes care of those that do their work with skill, hard work, patience and thoughtfulness. Let’s make sure in America that those that work hard will have enough to take care of themselves and their families. Let’s make sure the system takes care of those that become ill and cannot work, let’s institute a system in which working hard doesn’t lead to defeat and despair but to potential and positive results. And as long as the current system exists in the form that it takes today, that of corporate hyper-capitalism and borderline social Darwinism, let’s never for a minute think that those at the bottom of this structure are there merely due to bad choices of their own–because many of us can be there at any moment. Our current economic system relies more on connection, luck, and pre-existing power than it does the actual “American Dream” that was once thought to be possibly attained through sheer force of will and dedication.
***I recommend Beth Schulman’s above mentioned book, “The Betrayal of Work- How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans,” as well as Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” for extended looks on the current economic situation (and this was pre-recession, believe it or not) and the documentaries “Sicko” for a scary look at healthcare and “The Corporation” for a look at the social Darwinism system at work in our country today. Of course, if you’re honest with yourself and have ever worked for very long in the service sector as a retail salesperson, cashier, grocer, teller, secretary, waiter or janitor you probably already know more than you could ever want to know about much of this.

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(A) Film review
(B) Enjoying Schlock rather than Celebrating Mediocrity
(C ) What Could’ve Been
(D)Parents have no common sense sometimes

So I actually went to the theaters to see the new “Friday the 13th” re-make. Me, who just wrote an article disdaining the celebration of mediocrity opted to see “Friday the 13th” this close to the Oscars without yet having seen all of the nominations– more on that later in this article, but first I should actually offer a movie review.
It’s a bit difficult to adequately review a movie like this. Going into this I knew it wasn’t going to be “good” in the technical sense. Sure the special effects are good, the violence and action looks terrifyingly appropriate for such a thing. Surprisingly the acting isn’t terrible, given the short range the actors have to work with in their characters. At this point the characters in slasher films are “teens” that are consistently over-sexed, heavy pot and alcohol imbibers with few redeeming personal qualities that wander into the wrong place at the wrong time and become prey for an unstoppable killing machine. One character of the entire lot actually gets to portray himself in a purely noble manner whereas the others only show positive qualities in short, if any, bursts.
There are some highly effective moments, and this is a movie that benefits from a theatrical viewing if you hope to get any actual jolts from it. The use of music and noise heavily amps up every possibly scary moment. Each appearance of Jason Voorhees does work in a very scary, or “awesome” (if you’re an ‘80s fan boy) way.
It’s not a re-imagining nor simply a remake of the first “Friday the 13th,” it’s more of a compressed and exacerbated amplification of the first 3 films into one hour an a half lightning bolt of gore that makes full use of new effect developments and less violence restrictions than the originals. Viewers catch the gist of the first film in the first 5 minutes of footage, and Jason gets to make his appearance much quicker than in the old days. The first group of teens to wander in Jason’s path quickly find their demise (at least most of them) and months later a new group wander into the woods on their own trip, as well as the brother of an earlier missing girl looking for his lost sister.
Anyway, it’s enjoyable and problematic and could have been so much more yet should it have been given the source material?
See, I’m a child of the eighties, born in ‘82. Growing up in my early years, cinema slashers like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers were practically omnipresent and when I was old enough to finally watch the films I was a huge fan. This geekdom comic fan and horror niche market past made it a given I’d see this. I wrote an article this past Halloween discussing 10 horror films I felt were truly great, and I went into a discussion on what is good about Horror entertainment and what makes for a good example of it (scroll back through my past entries until late October and you can read it if you missed it when I put it up the first time). This movie would not make such a cut. Yet it’s undeniably fun in many ways.

Which brings me to what I feel is a tie-in point with my recent “Celebrating Mediocrity” article. I propose now that there’s a bit of a difference between celebrating mediocrity and enjoying schlock- B-movies, silly speed metal, pulp novels and big dumb horror movies. “Friday the 13th” doesn’t pretend to be anything it is not. It doesn’t aim for crowd-pleasing wide range attractiveness of a middle-of-the-road turd of a movie like “Marley and Me.” It makes no concessions to reach the widest range of people, it knows its audience and goes after it. Critics were strictly average on their ratings and judging by most internet fan posts, a lot of 14-18 year old boys thought this was 5 star phenomenal. The rest of us, those of us who appreciate what the horror genre is capable of and what its faults are, those of us that know the good ones when we see them yet are able to glean a few minutes of gold from a lot of average see such a film as escapist fun that harkens back to a time when we were much younger and much more terrified by such a silly idea.
The one concession I make that pinpoints me as guilty of something I accused those of celebrating mediocrity as doing is that I was able to see this at my local theater. I drove 2 hours to see Milk, an hour to see “Frost/Nixon,” and my local theater still does not have the Oscar front-runner “Slumdog Millionaire,” that ones yet another hour drive away. Yet they had “Friday the 13th” and I paid them my matinee 6 bucks to see it, allowing them to keep bringing such things in over such other choices. I’d have gladly driven to a 24-plex to see this one if only my local 12-plex had things like “Slumdog” and “Milk” for the entire community to see. Oh, well.
It’s worth noting what “Friday the 13th” could’ve been. It could’ve gone two different paths from what it did, either of which probably would have been much better than it was. See, the excellently campy, action packed, big dumb summer movie that was “Freddy Vs. Jason” screamed “bad” from all directions yet remained immensely watchable and enjoyable. Sad to say, but the infinitely better and more important “Gandhi” remains a favorite of mine yet I’ve actually watched “Freddy vs. Jason” 4 or 5 times now and Gandhi only once. Which goes to show that big dumb fun remains escapist fun.
The other path that could’ve been would’ve been the Rob Zombie path. He had mentioned his interest in doing the character and concept himself, that the franchise was in dire need of a new approach to bring out its potential, yet the producers already had Damian Shannone and Marcus Nispel on tap to do it. Rob Zombie handled “Halloween” as a re-imagining and provided viewers with a captivating, disturbing, and highly psychological yet violently visceral dark art film. Zombie could’ve made art out of Friday had he been the one to write and direct this remake rather than Shannon and Nispel (who directed the remake of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) with the association of Michael Bay. The original had such capability of subtest. Ebert called it “Psycho in reverse,” with “mother killing for son.” Add that to Jason himself, a physically deformed and mentally handicapped never-ending child who simply can’t die and continually kills because his dead mother orders him to– there is so much room in that preposterous concept for a disturbing yet artful psychological thriller that Zombie’s infinitely better potential version practically writes itself if you’ve seen his “Halloween.”
I do find it interesting that the original, and undeniably classic slasher film that was “Halloween” was responsible for inspiring such a thing as the original “Friday the 13th,” and critics who loved the artful and subdued “Halloween” hated “Friday the 13th.” Now, 2 decades later we see a successful remake of Halloween that doesn’t equal the greatness of the first yet succeeds by a totally different approach possibly inspiring a remake of “Friday the 13th” which vastly improves on its original yet doesn’t beat either version of “Halloween.”
To see what a typical mainstream critic is saying of this film, here’s the first part of Roger Ebert’s review:

“ ‘Friday the 13th’ is about the best ‘Friday the 13th’ movie you could hope for. Its technical credits are excellent. It has a lot of scary and gruesome killings. Not a whole lot of acting is required. If that’s what you want to find out, you can stop reading.”

Last of all, I was at a weekday 1 pm showing and noticed at least 2 children under the age of 12 accompanying their parents to see this movie. It contains pervasive gore, language, drug use, binge drinking, sex and  nudity . What parent in their right mind would take their ‘tween to see such a thing?

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So I don’t have anything wrapped up to post just yet, but I recently heard this song again and I had forgotten how much I really dig the lyrics. Once again, if you’ve never heard The Hold Steady please run out and buy “Boys and Girls in America,” “Separation Sunday,” and “Stay Positive” in that order and then go and see them in concert-ASAP. Anyway, Spring Training for MLB kicked off today, the Oscar’s are coming up and I’m wrapping up a ton of reading for various articles I’m working on so I’m sure I’ll have my own material for this site soon enough. Enjoy the odd druggy religious lyrics from a Dylanesque Replacement’s style Punk with a penchant for parties and a large vocabulary, Craig Finn.

They got to the part with the cattle and the creeping things. They said I’m pretty sure we’ve heard this one before. Don’t it all end up in some revelation? With 4 guys on horses, and violent red visions famine and death and pestilence and war. I’m pretty sure I heard this one before. You in the corner with a good looking drifter. Two cups of coffee and ten packs of sugar. I heard gideon saw you in denver. He said you’re contagious. Silly rabbit. Tripping is for teenagers. Murder is for murderers. And hard drugs are for bartenders. I think I might have mentioned that before. He’s got the pages in his pockets that he ripped out of the bible from his bedstand in the motel. He likes the part where the traders get chased out from the temple. I guess I heard about original sin. I heard the dude blamed the chick. I heard the chick blamed the snake. I heard they were naked when they got busted. I heard things ain’t been the same since. You on the streets with a tendency to preach to the choir. Wired for sound and down with whatever. I heard gideon did you in denver. She’s got a cross around her neck that she ripped off from a schoolgirl in the subway on a visit to the city. She likes how it looks on her chest with three open buttons. She likes the part where one brother kills the other. She has to wonder if the the world ever will recover. Because cain and abel seem to still be causing trouble. She said: I was seeing double for 3 straight days after I got born again it felt strange but it was nice and peaceful. It really pleased me to be around so many people. Of course half were just visions but half of them were friend from going thru the program with me. Later on we did some sexy things. Took a couple photographs and carved them into wood reliefs. But that’s enough about me. Tell me how you got down here into ybor city. He said: I got thru the part about the exodus. Up to then I only knew it was a movement of the people. But if small town cops are like swarms of flies and if blackened foil is like boils and hail. Then I’m pretty sure we’ve been thru this before. And it seemed like a simple place to score. Then some old lady came to the door and said mckenzie phillips doesn’t live here anymore.

By the way, these are even better in song form so download it from i-tunes right about now.

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It seems that there are two definite and different major forms of Christianity in the world (and especially in America) today. Of course there is major overlap between the two as well as churches and believers that fall in between the sort of classifications either form may take. Many want to point out the existence of an inclusive moderate balanced form of the two extremes (and the extremes tend to be labeled “Fundamentalist” and “Radical/Liberal”). My focus here is that past all of the name calling and arguments, there exist two strikingly different major forms of Christianity that differ on everything from worship style and typical Sunday sermon to role of the Bible in the church and major doctrines as well as the view on what the real role of the church is or should be. So what follows is my attempt to describe the major differences these two types of Christianities have and how ultimately they see the purpose and role of Jesus and the church quite differently from each other.

The major forms I’m referring to, to give them blanket terms, are:
(A) Mainline Christianity, which includes Traditional/Classical Christianity, Moderate Christianity, Progressive and Liberal Christianity.
(B) Conservative Christianity, which includes Legalistic and Fundamentalist Christianity as well.

To start off, I’ll discuss service styles.
Mainline Christian church services tend to be of moderate to high church atmosphere. A typical Sunday tends to involve Mass, Eucharist or Communion.  The music is usually traditional or classical-oriented “church” music played with organs, pianos, bells and horns. The ministers, priests or reverends typically wear robes, but not always. Often there are recited prayers, creeds and affirmations introduced in a fairly predictable order of events. The church buildings tend to be traditional looking churches—stained glass, traditional lay out, candles.
In more conservative, evangelical, legalistic or fundamentalist churches, services today are often quite different. These type of churches have produced the “mega-church” in which the building often looks no different than a theater, concert venue or arena. Video projectors and TVs abound. The music is very often guitar and drum driven “praise” music. Many leading evangelical pastors from mega-churches readily admit they try to incorporate and emulate much of what occurs in sporting events, movie theaters and rock concerts. Of course not every conservative church is a mega church (but almost every mega church is conservative). Many churches, especially in the rural areas and smaller towns are still fairly small, but even the smaller conservative churches tend to look a bit more modern than the small liberal churches. The lights are brighter, the stained glass is becoming more and more a thing of the past in such churches, candles and traditional worship decoration is fading more and more. Not every rural conservative church has replaced all of the music with praise and worship music– some still sing country hymns and southern gospel, yet more frequently such culture affirming expressions are becoming globally conformed to the above-mentioned praise music–whether it is performed acoustic and folk-like or “rock” driven with electric instruments usually depends on the average age of the church members. Younger evangelicals vastly prefer the electric and older members still love their traditional gospel hymns.

Many evangelicals have criticized liberal Christianity for maintaining traditional services while being progressive with doctrine. For evangelicals, the service style is the area in which they feel free to stretch out and modernize, to make their visitors feel at ease by the atmosphere which emulates the type of cultural events they are used to attending. For evangelicals the church doctrine must be unchanging –it is what they cling to in the traditional sense as they feel they’ve always done.
Bruce Bawer’s excellent 1999 book “Stealing Jesus” goes into detail on this conflict. He describes typical, daily life events and practices as “horizontal experiences.” Spiritual and elevating factors seek to invoke “vertical experiences.” For traditionalists, liberals, progressives and mainline churches, the high church atmosphere, liturgy, music and recited prayers in conjunction with Mass/Eucharist seeks to transform and elevate the worshipper into experiencing something “vertical.” In this sense, the traditional worship style invokes centuries of practice, of worshipping in the way Christians have for hundreds of years to participate in something timeless. Where conservative churches have modernized their service for the dual reasons of it being the only area in which they can do something they feel is truly progressive and also to make visitors and members feel relaxed and comfortable in familiar surroundings, the other type of Christians take the opposite approach. Bawer points out that a building and service style that unabashedly dwells in the sense of church and worship and challenges the participants into stepping outside of comfortable and ordinary surroundings aids in leading them to a “vertical” and transcendent experience. These types of churches also feel no pressure to maintain traditional interpretations of doctrine at all cost without regard to new developments, thoughts and culture. For these types of churches, as Bawer suggests, every traditional interpretation, viewpoint and doctrinal assertion must be evaluated in light of new historical, theological, societal and cultural discoveries and developments. Simply because the early Hebrews or the early members of St. Paul’s churches may have held one view doesn’t mean we today must cling to it blindly and ignore any thoughts, feelings or personal revelations that seem to contradict it. Rather, the church must take deep looks at what its teachings and doctrines are and present them to the modern world so that the central and timeless meaning and message is clear and strong and not bogged down in details, prejudices, misinterpretations or fallacies. For this type of Christian, God gives us reason and intelligence so that we can accept science and history in conjunction with spirituality rather than in opposition to it.

When it comes to the mission of the church, the two types of Christians typically disagree as well. For evangelicals, the mission is to proselytize– Evangelism and Conversion. Missionaries are sent to other countries for the primary purpose of distributing Bibles and converting those of other or no faith to Christianity. Work in this country itself is typically done for the same manner. If community outreach or social work is done it is primarily to get their attention so that they can be proselytized to and thus converted. Evangelicals also place a very large priority on personal morality. It’s often an extreme form of personal morality though, in which the tiniest details of personal life are examined to ensure they are as free of sin as possible. These type of Christians are often discouraged and angered by films, TV shows, books, music and “secular” culture as a whole. Quite often they worry that secular culture is corrupting their youth and badly affecting those that might be responsive to their message and so they often protest pop culture and public education. Also, the type of morality these Christians seek to promote is very affirming of the so-called “traditional family,” and the image of America from the mythologized “good old days.” Family values are strong for those that hold these views, and for many Christians it is perceived as highly important to maintain the same type of family situation and cultural arrangement that has supposedly always been present and to take care of those that follow the same practice.

Liberal Christians, on the other hand,  place the highest priority of the churches mission on social justice. For these believers, the church and its members must act as the feet and hands of God and do work that helps others in the physical and psychological sense. Caring for the sick, poor, hungry, homeless, misplaced, abused, abandoned, forgotten, subjugated, prejudiced against, hated, vilified and unloved is the central message of God. Healing as Jesus did in his day and age involves helping those that are not whole in the hope to make them whole. Conversion is far secondary, since many of these believers feel God will not toss those that believe a bit different into hell. By helping others, loving others, and being there for others these believers feel that many of those “others” will see the purpose, joy and meaning in the lives of those that are helping them and seek to have that for themselves.

Personal morality can sometimes be a stumbling block for liberal Christians, since the level of importance isn’t as often placed on it in the sermons they hear. Yet it is important and it is a factor. Many of these believers feel that personal morality extends far past discerning pop culture and family values and includes more heavily the choices each individual makes in regards to the environment, society, government, action, treatment of minorities and “others,” etc.

Jesus is often viewed very differently by these two groups– Often Jesus is viewed in multiply different ways amongst different fringes of each group as well. In broad generalizations, liberal Christians focus heavily on the historical Jesus and his teachings of peace, justice, forgiveness, compassion and equality. They focus on his rejection of legalism and strict doctrinal enforcement, his constant focus on the “others” and the subjugated, his role as social prophet, mystic healer and kind, God consumed human. Scripture most heavily focused on are the Gospels. Many, if not most, of these type of believers also take into consideration historical study and work done to discern the proper interpretation of such Gospels and new developments in the historical Jesus studies.
Also, many of this type of Christian strongly holds to what Marcus Borg refers to as the “Post Easter Jesus.” The historical Jesus lived two thousand years before any modern Christian, but believers feel strongly he has revealed himself to them in personal, spiritual and powerful ways. This is the post Easter Jesus, and exists just as real as the historical Jesus yet in a massively different manner.
There may be disagreement on whether the resurrection was physical and literal or metaphorical and spiritual, yet either way it is viewed as miraculous by both camps.

Conservative Christians, when it comes to scripture claims to use all of it equally, yet typical sermons in such churches focus most heavily on Post-Paul yet Pauline styled letters as well as some of St. Paul’s actual letters. Very heavily in rotation in many such churches is the book of Revelation.
Rapture Theology is very big for a huge percentage of conservative Christians. In some conservative churches it’s almost the main focus. The success of Left Behind shows it’s in high interest among the members of such churches. Most of the details that invoke the Tribulation and the literal, physical and violent second-coming draw heavily from The Scofield Reference Bible. That massive tome is a study guide Bible in which each page is detailed with footnotes and side-notes tying the passages on each page to prophecy, the book of Revelation, and the second coming. Often the footnotes outnumber the actual text on a given page in sheer length. Nowadays, not every congregant in such a church owns and checks their own Scofield, but the beliefs propagated by Scofield in the early 20th century inspired traveling evangelists, prophecy writers and thinkers who set their beliefs rooted in such churches to such an extent that the thought has become dominant and unquestioned. Jesus for evangelicals is viewed historically as the embodiment of God living in a man’s body to die for mankind’s sins to save his followers from hell. His teachings are acknowledged by such Christians, but the main focus is on his death as atonement for sins that would have otherwise gone unforgiven. The future Jesus is looked forward to as one who will come in fury to punish those that didn’t accept him and rapture his true followers into paradise.

So really, although all believers of all the above groups are thought of as unquestionably “Christian,” they are miles apart, so much so that I often wonder if they truly belong to  separate religions.

The 2009 Grammy Awards Recap

February 10, 2009

grammy2009

So I’m actually doing an article about the 2009 Grammy Awards Show. A bit odd, I suppose, since the Grammy’s try their hardest to lose credibility and this year had plenty of moments to reinforce that position. Yet, compared to the MTV Awards or the Peoples Choice Awards, the Grammy’s are gospel. I guess they’re actually the only official televised music awards program even approaching credibility, yet they still fall miles short of a simple year end round-up article in Rolling Stone, Paste, Mojo, Spin or even Entertainment Weekly.
Yet there were quite a few entertaining and worthwhile moments during the broadcast Sunday night. Of course for every terrific moment there was an equally horrendous moment– – and as for the actual results? Ha. Well, I’ll deal with a little of all of it briefly.
First off, great moments. U2 opened the show with the live premiere of their new single, “Get on Your Boots.” A great performance and fairly exciting. Paul McCartney performed the early Beatles hit, “I Saw Her Standing There” backed by Dave Grohl on drums– – great time, but why does McCartney get limited to a 2 and a half minute Beatles classic and not get to play a single song off of his new acclaimed solo album while Kid Rock performs sections of 3 crap songs during his performance? Hmm. Well, Coldplay gave a nice performance with a dazzling cameo by Jay Z.. Due-that-day Mother to be M.I.A. accompanied the Queen Latifah proclaimed “Hip Hop summit” of Jay Z, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Kanye West for their performance of “Swagga Like Us,” a truly electrifying performance. Adele gave a notable performance of “Chasing Pavements,” and I will sheepishly admit to truly digging the Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus performance of “15,” a song that I am far too old to relate to yet can’t help but find oddly beautiful. Lil Wayne performed “Tie My Hands Down” with Robin Thicke and it segued into a performance by Herbie Hancock in a tribute to New Orleans which was great. But….there were some bad performances as well. The above-mentioned Kid Rock set was far too long, Carrie Underwood vomited up her “Don’t Even Know My Last Name,” in which she gave us her best Reba McEntire in a truly unoriginal pop country performance,” and call Kenny Chesney the best selling artist of any genre and a poet all you want but every song he sings sounds the same and lays sadly in the middle of the road to challenge absolutely nothing. The Jonas Brothers did just fine, yet sharing the stage with Stevie Wonder isn’t quite where they should be yet. T.I. has no stage presence, which he showed by choking in ‘Swagga’ when compared with the other 3, yet he did regain a bit of cred with his Justin Timberlake duo track. Sugarland won an award and performed a very skipable “Stay.”
On to the awards, where the show really dropped the ball on several occasions. First of all, the Grammy’s plays by its own rules. Whereas every 2008 best of music recap from every credible critical review considered every album released in the 2008 calendar year, the Grammy’s judges albums released from fall 2007 to fall 2008. So, great albums released since September in 2008 are ignored and great albums released before January 2008 are available to complicate things long after they’ve received their credit elsewhere. The first upset was that Jennifer Hudson beat out Al Green for best R & B album. Apparently Rev. Green won oddball awards for two excellent “Lay it Down’ tracks, “”You’ve Got the Love I Need,” and “Stay With Me (By the Sea)” yet viewers wouldn’t know it because those awards were given out before the broadcast began. Yet when it came down to the award he rightfully deserved for one of the best soul and R&B albums released in years he missed out. He did give a tremendous performance later on, but he deserved the Grammy. Later, Coldplay won “Best Rock Album” for a low-key World Pop album, beating Kings of Leon who delivered the most consistently great pure Rock album up for nomination from 2008 with “By the Night.” When it came time for best Rap Album, surprisingly the best were up for consideration. Since 2007 fall albums were up for consideration the excellent “American Gangster” by Jay Z and the perfect “The Cool” by Lupe Fiasco were up against 2008s best rap discs from Nas and Lil Wayne; T.I.s sub par “Paper Tail was up as well. Here the voters truly dropped the ball. If we were going just by 2008 released albums, Nas’ untitled was the unquestionable best. Lil Wayne wasn’t too far behind. But, Jay-Z’s 2007 album beat out Wayne’s in quality terms, and better than all combined was “The Cool” by Lupe Fiasco. Lupe was simply too hip and intelligent to win, I suppose. Lil Wayne did release a great album with “The Carter III,” but when compared with the socially conscious and boundary pushing Lupe disc, it should have had been no contest and the fact that it won tells me the voters really didn’t actually fully listen to and digest the complete albums before casting their votes. Other mistakes? Adele has a great voice but M.I.A. should have beaten her in terms of originality, talent, hip-ness and credibility. The best album of the year went to Robert Plant and Allison Kraus’ “Rising Sand,” a very good album yet it’s questionable that it was the absolute best album of the year.
Oh well, what can we expect. It did entertain for a few hours, and it was better than the average radio hour from Clear Channel. But did we really need to hear “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry again? Or did we really need to hear the embarrassingly flat and cheesy monologue by the actor formerly known as The Rock, aka Duane Johnson? I actually felt sorry for him for being so bad and cracking a joke about the Beatles in which Paul McCartney failed to even fake a smile too.
That’s all, next time I’ll be back to intelligent subject matter…hopefully.

piper

Piper and I believe in a different God. I don’t deny that he and I are not both Christians, but we have vastly different views on who God is, what God wants and what life is about. Furthermore, we have very different conceptions on what it means to be a Christian and what Jesus was and is really all about.

For those who are unfamiliar with the name, John Piper is the sort of poster boy for nu-Calvinism. It seems that many young evangelicals are fascinated and fervent hyper Calvinists. The primary interest these young and driven religious conservatives seem to have in Calvinism is the idea of predestination. For John Piper and those that agree with what he has to say, everyone is born predetermined to be saved or not. For those predestined for salvation there is nothing they can do to lose that; and for Piper, salvation is strictly being saved from Hell, through Jesus, by faith (and never works).

A lot of this ties in with an upcoming article I am working on, “Two Christianities and Multiple Christ’s,” but a bit of explaining has to go here. See, for Piper and pretty much ever other evangelical, fundamentalist, and religious conservative, Jesus came to earth as a literal God in Man form so that he could die on the cross to pay the “debt” of our sins because otherwise we would all go to hell. For these Christians you must say a prayer that explicitly invites Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and savior. If you fail to do that, you will go to hell and suffer agony for eternity in a pit of fire. Now, not all religious conservatives are Calvinists, not at all. But all Calvinists (in the modern and “reform” sense) are religious conservatives, I’d wager. For Calvinists, (and Calvinists do and say many things that John Calvin as a historical figure did not – sound like anyone else in Religious history?. For Calvinists in this day and age, people who are born to be saved
are the elect. Those destined for hell are damned and nothing can change that; so in effect, Jesus suffered and died on the cross to save the elect, and he did not die for the rest of the people living and dying. What’s more, Piper states that he believes in the theory of “double predestination,” and this thought holds that those elected for salvation are pre-determined and chosen without regard to any specific qualities they have and are no better than anyone else, and the people pre-determined for hell as lost causes are chosen as such without any regard to their personal qualities as well, they are no worse than anyone else, they are simply “un-saveable.”

Now before I get to the blunt reasons as to why I do not subscribe to such viewpoints and the reasons such viewpoints point to a vision of God I as a liberal Christian do not accept, I want to give these enthusiastic nu-Calvinists a bit of respect by explaining why I think they hold such beliefs and why their reasons imply they are heartfelt and decent and not immoral for such beliefs.

Really, such a view in such a way is a philosophical argument to rationalize God in a theologically scientific way (through  metaphysics if you prefer). To start with, I’m going to make a few assumptions regarding the typical believer who follows this movement.
Most evangelicals in this camp view the Bible as inerrant and highly literal. Most also place most scriptural emphasis on post-Gospel New Testament works, some of St. Paul’s work that founded the early Church and a lot of post-Paul yet Pauline-styled letters. Also, most of these folks are heavy into Rapture and Tribulation theology that owes more to the early 20th century relic The Scofield Reference Bible than the Bible itself, but that’s another issue in and of itself. Also, for these believers the main purpose of Christianity is going to heaven. It’s about a reward later for accepting Jesus now and after becoming a Christian these evangelicals are fervent about bringing others into the fold because if the only way to get to heaven and escape eternal punishment is to be a Christian just like they are, if they take their doctrines and hell concepts seriously they are going to want everyone to be like they are. Calvinists can thus maintain evangelical zeal just as non-Calvinist evangelicals do because they can never be sure who may possibly be “elected” for heaven, so they must proselytize to everyone.  Since the real deal comes later, social
issues become secondary. It’s all about souls so who cares about war, famine, disease and death in other countries and in the inner cities? Just go there to convert, that’s most important.

The view of God for these folks is one of all power—all knowing, all seeing and intimately involved  in even the tiniest details of their lives. This vision produces a conundrum.  If God is all knowing and all powerful why do bad things happen, i.e., the problem of evil. Why are some prayers answered and others are not? This becomes a matter of God not being able to do everything, God choosing not to be able to do everything, or God simply choosing not to do certain “good things,” with or without a divine plan attached. This of course is yet another issue. What’s relevant here is that if God is all knowing and all powerful, God must have known some would accept salvation and others would not.  So this invokes Calvinism as a metaphysical explanation and description of how this can be. God knows all, so he knows who will be saved. God is all powerful, so he could intervene and cause those that he knows will not freely choose God to do so. Calvinism is perfectly logical in light of this. As for Jesus, if he is the literal God walking earth then he is fully aware of that fact and is all knowing, so he willingly took the cross as substitutionary atonement for our wickedness and died for those that would be predestined to accept him.

A lot of well meaning, good and faithful Christians believe this scenario. If any of you  are reading this now, please do not become exceedingly angry at me for not accepting this argument. I have friends that believe in such things, one once gave me a book by Piper, and I have nothing against any of you. I just believe in a vastly different image of God than you do.

The God I believe in is the originator of all that is yet does not continuously invest Him/Herself in every aspect of our lives. God is there to comfort us when we fall, to fill us with love, compassion and a thirst for justice and peace. We can pray to God about anything and seek God’s revelation through worship, scripture reading and prayer yet we should not necessarily think God is responsible for every good or bad thing that happens in our lives. The God I believe in loves all equally and would never create any of us to be destined for hell. We have free will, and furthermore, being a Christian is not about “Not Going to Hell.” Being a Christian is about living a life of justice, seeking to spread peace through justice–peace in our homes, peace in our church, peace in our workplace and in our relationships. Being a Christian is about seeking to live a life like Christ lived, one in which all are worthy of love and compassion, all are equal and hold potential. It’s about doing our best to usher in the Kingdom of God, in our lives and in others. As I heard a priest tell a youth class once, we don’t go to heaven, heaven comes to us. We find it by living a life of justice and doing our best to be at peace and to be doing the will of God so that all may live more productive lives. Compassion and Justice are qualities that we all can share, and so justice seeking Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists will all find heaven and it will continue in them after death in that they’ve cultivated that spiritual life. This doesn’t negate the importance of Christ for Christians who hold such thoughts. It’s simply that for us, Jesus showed us how to live, how to work, how to teach and how to die if the need arises. Jesus showed us what a life built on Justice and seeking peace and rooted in God-intoxication is like and in his message we are urged to pick up our own cross to follow him daily. Being a Christian is not about going to heaven only and it’s definitely not about avoiding hell. God doesn’t throw folks to hell through no fault or quality of their own. If anything, God gives us every chance to be filled with his love and do good, to cultivate a spiritual essence that will never die. If we choose to avoid it at every moment then we’ll fade into the nothingness that is annihilation. But if we live a life of love and justice and if we as Christians find that life is best fulfilled in the example of God that has been shown to us in the historical Jesus’ life and teachings and brought to us in personal revelation through the post-Easter Christ, we will have fulfilling lives and heaven will be simply a by-product of that.

*One last disclaimer is that not all Christians who renounce the theories of predestination go nearly as far as I have in affirming other religions , but some do. Many who feel Christianity is the only real way still find the theory of predestination troubling and contrary to their beliefs. It’s also note-worthy that Calvin was a brilliant Theologian that spoke of much more than just predestination.

*Another last note on affirming other faiths–even Billy Graham, proud evangelical that he was, affirmed Jews and Catholics future in heaven to which many fundamentalists recoiled in horror. Many, many Episcopal, mainline Baptists and others affirm God’s revelation to his people through various figures in different times and places.

That’ s all for now. Much more on some of the topics I barely touched on in my upcoming “Two Christianities, Multiple Christ’s.”

bitchmicconnell

Thank you so much, Kentucky. I say this because every time someone on the news says that certain Republicans are slowing down and grinding Obama’s stimulus package to a halt they zoom in on Mitch McConnell’s face. Of course I realize not all Kentuckians were misguided enough to keep Mc in for yet another term–I currently live in Kentucky and voted against Mitch in Novemeber and thought he had been in the senate too obscenely long years ago.
One of the things Obama trimmed from his stimulus proposal early on to try and appease the Republicans was a provision for increased distribution of birth control. It’ s sad that this is something the GOP wanted cut. Aren’t they vehemently opposed to abortion, welfare and single mothers? Wouldn’t birth control being more readily available to those that cannot afford it work in the reduction of such things?
Anyway, Obama’s been trying to get this stimulus package off the ground and the GOP will not give him a break.
The thing they keep insisting be added in much more abundance to the bill are further tax cuts for the wealthier percentage of the population and the more profitable businesses. In short, the GOP’s idea of economic stimulus is the same as it has always been- Trickle Down Economics. Obama proudly stated yesterday when pressed on giving these breaks yet again that “That’s not what the American voters voted for.” Good. It isn’t what we voted for and it is not what we expect from Obama. Trickle Down Economics have never worked, not when Reagen used them or when either Bush used them.

FDR accomplished great things and ushered in sweeping reform, evolving this nation and saving it from its economic bleakness. He did this because he had a clear vision and plan, this country was in desperate need, and as a result senate, congress and the American public gave him full support and unheard of power to institute his plans. As a result programs that still benefit us greatly were implemented and this country emerged from its depression.

Now it’s 2009. Obama has consistently reached out for GOP support and made concessions yet Republicans have repeatidly refused to budge and have instead stubbornly clung to economic plans and political ideals that are ignorant, dangerous, greedy and illogical. Clinton had to clean up Reagen and HW’s voodoo economics and now Obama has to clean up W’s catastrophe and is finding very little bipartisan support.

Pass the bill and pass it soon. We voted against the GOP’s tired and useless “Greed is Good” mentality in the hopes of progressive politics. Fall in line, Mitch and team.

Okay, maybe now I can move on to working on and posting the articles I have been planning. Two religious themed ones are coming up soon, the first is “Two Christs, Multiple Christianities,” the other is “Why I Don’t Believe in the Same God as John Piper.”

Leave Phelps Alone

February 5, 2009

phelps

This week Olympic swim Champion Michael Phelps made headlines by being caught on camera smoking Marijuana by taking a bong hit.

A woman I know who is very nice, kind and considerate spoke of it so upset in the regard that children like her own have fewer and fewer role models, especially in the area of sports. Phelps dashed his role model status by being outed as a pot smoker.

Back in the summer Phelps became a sensation, his 2008 Olympic performances were staggering and to date he has now won more Olympic Gold medals (coming in at 14) than anyone else in Olympic history.

This news event shows more about American hypocrisy and how often we as a nation miss the point than it has to do with the character of Michael Phelps. Phelps shouldn’t lose his name over such a triviality, but it’s almost a certainty that this incident will hurt his career, his endorsements and his public persona. It shouldn’t. He brought acclaim to this country by excelling in his field and winning through peaceful competition. He earned victory for a country without ever picking up a weapon and killing anyone. He trained and worked, swam 8 hours a day and practiced until no one else in the world could hold a candle to him in his given sport. Now, after months and years of vigorous training and competition, he is wealthy, well known and guess what else? He is an American kid in his early twenties and the whole world watches him–he got caught relaxing by taking a celebratory hit off of a bong. Had he been photographed emerging from a bar after 10 drinks he would not have been chastised. Yet marijuana in moderation is less dangerous for the average person than alcohol. The fact that Phelps has the lung capacity and the drive that he does indicates he’s nothing more than an occasional recreational pot smoker. But pot’s illegal and no huge corporation makes money off of it. He’s still a sports hero, he’s probably a swell guy as well. Anyone pointing a finger probably has close relatives who have experimented with pot too. Give any successful late teenage or early twenty-something intense media scrutiny and some dirt will probably show up. If you have teenage children there’s a significant chance they’ve smoked pot once or twice in their life and it doesn’t make them bad people, it doesn’t mean they have a problem, it doesn’t mean they (or you) have failed. Youth since the 1920s have smoked pot in some significant percentage.  Which doesn’t neccesarily mean you should condone it either, it just means it’s not that big of an issue. Leave Phelps alone, don’t point a finger.