July 30, 2016

Saturday Ramblings: July 30, 2016

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1970 AMC Gremlin

There are a lot of us whose faith in the American political system is running low these days. It’s almost like we’re being sold AMC Gremlins again. Gosh, that was a bad (and ugly!) car. But not as bad (and ugly!) as the political campaign is about to get, now that the conventions are over.

This past week, the Blue Team met in Philadelphia for their quadrennial soirée. Like last Saturday, when we discussed the Red Team in action, we’ll give some attention this morning to what happened in the city of brotherly love, while also rambling a bit farther afield to see what else we can find that’s of interest at the end of this eventful week.

Let’s ramble!

Democratic National Committee chair Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz speaks at a press conference promoting the endorsement of David Wecht, Kevin Dougherty, and Christine Donohue for Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Heather Arnet for State Senate, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199You didn’t think this was going to be another Summer of Love did you?

Before anyone could down the first cheesesteak in Philly, Wikileaks revealed emails from the DNC that that they had (gasp! horror! surprise! wink-wink!) undercut the primary campaign of Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton in order to secure the nomination for her. The Dems National Committee, of course, is supposed to stay neutral (nudge-nudge! say no more!) The site says:

Today, Friday 22 July 2016 at 10:30am EDT, WikiLeaks releases 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments from the top of the US Democratic National Committee — part one of our new Hillary Leaks series. The leaks come from the accounts of seven key figures in the DNC: Communications Director Luis Miranda (10770 emails), National Finance Director Jordon Kaplan (3797 emails), Finance Chief of Staff Scott Comer (3095 emails), Finanace Director of Data & Strategic Initiatives Daniel Parrish (1472 emails), Finance Director Allen Zachary (1611 emails), Senior Advisor Andrew Wright (938 emails) and Northern California Finance Director Robert (Erik) Stowe (751 emails). The emails cover the period from January last year until 25 May this year.

The Washington Wire blog of the Wall Street Journal highlighted twelve of these emails, including some that mock Sanders, talk about questioning his religion as a strategy for hurting his chances, and discuss floating an entire negative narrative about Sanders and his campaign to discredit him.

It was was the last straw for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who announced Sunday afternoon her resignation as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. At first, she said she would resign after the convention, but she was booed so heartily by delegates from her own state on Monday morning before the convention started, that she decided not to gavel in the proceedings and resigned right away.

But an even bigger story was yet to come, thanks to foreign intrigue and some guy from the Red Team sticking his nose in it.

Theft.

patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199Seems that the DNC emails were actually hacked by some nefarious folks in RUSSIA.

No one knows who gave the Dems’ emails to Wikileaks, but the hacks, according to NPR, were likely done by the Russian FSB intelligence agency (code name “Cozy Bear”). The other breach was identified as coming from “Fancy Bear,” which marks it as the work of Russian military intelligence.

As late as Friday, the Democratic National Committee was still finding more evidence of tampering with their computer systems.

Given the nature of the emails, it led to all kinds of speculation about Russia sticking their big ol’ bear nose into an American presidential election and trying to help Mr. Trump win. Word is that Vladimir Putin despises Hillary Clinton, and there was a gaggle of jabber about whether or not Mr. Trump or his associates have ties in Russia that might implicate them. Also, the Republican candidate has made some…uh…unusual comments about Russia lately, and his campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, a position that goes against current military and foreign policy positions.

And then there was Mr. Trump’s press conference. Now it is traditional during convention weeks that the candidate on the other side usually “goes dark” and avoids news making statements or actions. But not in 2016. Mr. Trump stepped up to the lectern and said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to deleted emails from the private email server Mrs. Clinton used while she was Secretary of State. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Talk about a love-fest sh*t-storm! My goodness, the skies broke loose after that with showers of praise condemnation for Mr. Trump’s remarks, which he later said fell into the category of “sarcasm.”

My humble opinion is that Mr. Trump would do us all a favor after he speaks — anywhere, anytime — of just saying afterwards, “You know folks, sometimes I just say sh*t. Don’t worry about it.”

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patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199Have I been saying “sh*t” too much? You know, I need a break already. Let’s pause and take a quick look at what a political convention is really all about —

FUNNY HATS!!!

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And one stunning outfit from “Heidis for Hillary”…

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patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199Now, where were we? Oh yeah, there was a convention in Philadelphia this past week.

My superficial observations:

  • Michelle “The White House Mama” Obama rocked the house.
  • Her husband did ok too.
  • Hillary’s husband Bill (the former president) told how he picked her up in a library after they’d made goo-goo eyes at each other (nudge-nudge, know what I mean? say no more!). And by the way, did the former president look 90+ years old to you like he did to me? (It’s the miles, not the years.)
  • Mrs. Clinton made history as the first female major party nominee for president (though others have run before — for example, here’s twelve).
  • Funny, I didn’t hear much about Bernie after the second day, when the love-fest for Mrs. Clinton got rolling.

bill-hillary-clintonSeeing both Mr. and Mrs. Clinton on stage led a lot of people to ask: What in the world are we going to do with Bill if Hillary becomes president?

An article in the NY Times considers the tricky situation a Hillary presidency might create. Mrs. Clinton’s staff has said he will not become a regular at cabinet meetings. He will not be invited into the Situation Room. He will step away from his family’s foundation work and it’s possible he won’t even have an office in the West Wing. What wife wants that guy looking over her shoulder while she’s trying to work?

The article also notes that the Clinton team wants to see Bill doing something meaningful, since seasons of relative inactivity have provided opportunities for Mr. Clinton to get in trouble in the past. I can’t imagine there’s anything Hillary would like less than repeat performances of some of those embarrassing scenarios.

Putting Mr. Clinton to good use, while containing his less helpful impulses, would be a major test for Mrs. Clinton as president, given the spotlight and pressure they would be under and her limited ability in the past to rein in his excesses. Mrs. Clinton sees him as her most trusted confidant and sounding board on national security and the economy, advisers say; one recalled a recent golf outing where Mr. Clinton received several phone calls and emails from Mrs. Clinton before reaching the 14th hole.

Yet Mrs. Clinton is still not sure if she would give a formal position to Mr. Clinton or rely on him to help behind the scenes and keep a low profile, aides say. She clearly wants him busy: Appearing on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, Mrs. Clinton said that it would be “an all-hands-on-deck time” if she won the presidency and that she would rely on Mr. Clinton — as well as President Obama — and “put ’em all to work.”

At the same time, she emphasized that she and Mr. Clinton would not be co-presidents, leaving open the question of how he would spend his days when he is so close to the levers of power that he knows well.

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With Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, Christianity Today decided to trace “The Deep Roots of Our Hillary Hostility.” If you follow the link, you’ll find a 45-minute podcast discussing this, with a summary article.

They are speaking of evangelicals when they say “our.” A recent Pew survey showed only 16% of evangelicals said they would vote for her. And a number of those said they would only do so because they dislike Donald Trump more.

One of the contributors to this feature, Alan Noble, an English professor at Oklahoma Baptist University, says he remembers listening to talk radio disparaging Clinton back when he was a kid in the ’90s.

“Every time I [hear] the name Clinton,” Noble said, “there’s all this baggage, rhetoric, language, fear, anxiety, corruption, sliminess, conniving, big government baked into me [from when I was a child].”

Though Clinton claims that her faith has always informed her commitment to public service, many of the stances she has taken have been opposite to American evangelicals, many of whom became known as “the Christian Right” by virtue of their opposition to those political positions.

I haven’t listened to the full podcast, but in my opinion there is more to be concerned about with regard to Mrs. Clinton than her positions on a few specific social issues, but these are matters that don’t always draw the ire of the evangelical crowd. Evangelicalism tends to be as shallow in what it opposes as in what it affirms.

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patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199Seen on Facebook this week.

Worth pondering.

Most Christians on this planet are NOT American.

That means they’re Christians w/out being Republicans, Democrats or even capitalists. (Keith Giles)

 

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Tony Campolo praying at the DNC

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Good article at RNS about the Democrats and religion: “The Divided Soul of the Democratic Party.”

The article points out that the convention in Philadelphia had a good share of attendees who see supporting the Democratic party as a matter of acting on their faith. However, despite intentional efforts to close the “God gap” between the Republicans and Democrats since John Kerry’s defeat in 2004, this year, the Democratic leadership has downplayed the role of faith-based participants in the process of drafting the party platform and helping to shape the campaign message Mrs. Clinton.

Privately, many expressed anger at this development, which they say is a departure from the party’s earlier efforts to heed the concerns of religious believers — concerns they say could attract undecided voters and those disillusioned with what they see as the dark and divisive language from Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Previous Democratic efforts to attract faith-based voters began in earnest after the failed 2004 campaign of nominee John Kerry, when the so-called God gap — the glf between churchgoers who vote for the GOP as opposed to the Democrats — emerged as a glaring problem.

In 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaign was diligent about reaching out to people of faith and including faith-based activists and party regulars in the campaign and, subsequently, in the Obama administration.

Yet those efforts tailed off noticeably this year, which can only fuel the public’s growing impression that Democrats are more hostile to faith than the GOP is.

…Some delegates in Philadelphia said it’s time for the party to do more to change that dynamic. They said they are viewed too often with suspicion by party officials if they speak about faith or if they talk about hot-button moral issues such as abortion and religious freedom, or on behalf of faith-based programs or school choice.

“If we really are the inclusive party then we should include everyone,” said Paul Vallone, a New York City councilman and practicing Catholic who spoke after a breakfast meeting for the New York state delegation. “Everyone’s got to feel that they can bring their faith to this party and not feel ostracized for it. That still hasn’t happened. We really need to focus on that.”

gty_tim_kaine_dnc_speech_jc_160728_12x5_1600One very visible person of faith that has gotten some attention is Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who went to a Jesuit school and spent time engaged in mission with the order in his youth. Here is an excerpt of his speech from the convention:

My parents, Al and Kathy, here tonight and going strong, they taught me about hard work and about kindness and most especially, about faith. I went to a Jesuit boys high school, Rockhurst High School.

(APPLAUSE)

Wow, that’s a big line for the Jesuits.

Now we had a motto in my school, “men for others.” And it was there that my faith became something vital. My north star for orienting my life. And when I left high school, I knew that I wanted to battle for social justice.

(APPLAUSE)

Like so many of you. Like so many of you.

That is why I took a year off from law school to volunteer with Jesuit missionaries in Honduras. I taught kids how to be welders and carpenters. (SPEAKING SPANISH), faith, family, and work. Faith, family, and work. (SPEAKING SPANISH).

And let me tell you what really struck me there, I got a firsthand look at a different system. A dictatorship. A dictatorship where a few people at the top had all the power and everybody else got left out.

Now that convinced me that we have got to advance opportunity for everybody, no matter where you come from, how much money you have, what you look like, how you worship or who you love.

Kaine’s speech sparked reaction from Catholics like Ross Douthat at the NY Times, who criticized him for his positions on abortion and gay marriage, etc., and said that Kaine’s loyalty to the Democrats has “erased any Catholic distinctiveness in his politics.”

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Dispensationalist preachers used to have a standard line: “I know I’m going to heaven, either by the under-taker or by the upper-taker.” That is, by death or via the “rapture.”

Well, one of the most prolific proponents of the rapture and dispensational theology, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the “Left Behind” books, died this past week at age 90. The undertaker got him.

Those of us who knew of Pastor LaHaye back in the day remember other books he wrote that were popular among the evangelical crowd. Many of us had our first experience of mixing psychology with the Bible through “The Spirit-Controlled Temperament,” the first book besides The Living Bible published by Tyndale House Publishers. And not a few church folks had their eyes opened by Tim and Beverly’s Christian sex manual, “The Act of Marriage,” an important book in the 1970’s wave of emphasis on the Christian family.

But it was with the “Left Behind” series that LaHaye gained most of his renown. The founder and president of Tim LaHaye Ministries and the PreTrib Research Center, LaHaye sold 62 million copies of the series, which he co-wrote with Jerry Jenkins. (You can read Jenkins’s tribute to LaHaye HERE.)

He has been at the heart of evangelical activism since the 1960’s, founding two accredited Christian high schools, a school system of 10 Christian schools, San Diego Christian College (formerly Christian Heritage College), and assisting Dr. Henry Morris in the founding of the Institute for Creation Research, the nation’s foremost exponent of creationist materials. He was also a very generous benefactor to other evangelical Christian institutions and causes.

Tim LaHaye was married for 69 years to Beverly, who became well known in her own right as the founder of Concerned Women for America, a conservative political advocacy group.

If there were a Mt. Rushmore for American evangelicalism in the late 20th century, Tim LaHaye would probably deserve a place on it.

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patriotic-american-top-hat-red-white-blue-colours-stars-stripes-jaunty-angle-white-background-36483199Finally, I’m feeling kind of worn out and mellow after two weeks of political conventions. Let’s have something quiet and reflective for our music selection today.

I did NOT choose this song because of Hillary (though I’m sure her supporters would cheer using the title to express their feelings for her). I just think it is one of the loveliest covers of a Beatles’ song I’ve ever heard.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of my favorite musicians, Pat Metheny. Let it wash over you. And I promise — next week, no politics (nudge-nudge, say no more, say no more).

Wendell Berry on the Future and the Present

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This week, what we are doing (instead of listening to me) is hearing and discussing quotes from Wendell Berry’s 2015 book, Our Only World: Ten Essays.

In our final post of thoughts from Berry, he meditates on Jesus’ words, “Take no thought for the morrow,” encouraging us to remember that, if something is right to do to make the future better, it is right to do now, for the present good.

• • •

There is in fact much at hand and in reach that is good, useful, encouraging, and full of promise, although we seem less and less inclined to attend to or value what is at hand. We are always ready to set aside our present life, even our present happiness, to peruse the menu of future exterminations. If the future is threatened by the present, which it undoubtedly is, then the present is more threatened, and often is annihilated, by the future. “Oh, oh, oh,” cry the funerary experts, looking ahead through their black veils. “Life as we know it soon will end. If the governments don’t stop us, we’re going to destroy the world. The time is coming when we will have to do something to save the world. The time is coming when it will be too late to save the world. Oh, oh, oh.” If that is the way our minds are afflicted, we and our world are dead already. The present is going by and we are not in it. Maybe when the present is past, we will enjoy sitting in dark rooms and looking at pictures of it, even as the present keeps arriving in our absence. Or maybe we could give up saving the world and start to live savingly in it.

…Only the present good is good. It is the presence of good — good work, good thoughts, good acts, good places — by which we know that the present does not have to be a nightmare of the future. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” because, if not at hand, it is nowhere.

From “On Being Asked for ‘A Narrative for the Future’” (2013)
In Our Only World: Ten Essays

Wendell Berry on Being Caught in the Middle

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This week, what we are doing (instead of listening to me) is hearing and discussing quotes from Wendell Berry’s 2015 book, Our Only World: Ten Essays.

Today, Wendell Berry expresses a frustration many of us feel. We are comfortable with neither the left nor the right, today’s conservatism or progressivism (especially as practiced by the current political parties). Both sides have contributed to the degradation of individual, family, and local community governance, because both are beholden to corporate interests. The result, Berry laments, is a “politics of mutual estrangement” that just keeps spinning its wheels in the mud, splattering anyone and everyone around.

• • •

In the present political atmosphere it is assumed that everybody must be on one of only two sides, liberal or conservative. It doesn’t matter that neither of these labels signifies much in the way of intellectual responsibility or that both are paralyzed in the face of the overpowering issue of our time: the destruction of land and people, of life itself, by means either economic or military. What does matter is that a person should choose one side or the other, accept the “thinking” and the “positions” of that side and its institutions and be so identified forevermore. How you vote is who you are.

We appear thus to have evolved into a sort of teenage culture of wishful thinking, of contending “positions,” oversimplified and absolute, requiring no knowledge and no thought, no loss, no tragedy, no strenuous effort, no bewilderment, no hard choices.

…To believe, as I do, that families and communities are necessary despite their present decrepitude is to be in the middle and to be most uncomfortable there. My stand nevertheless is practical. I do not think a government should be asked or expected to do what a government cannot do. A government cannot effectively exercise familial authority, nor can it effectively enforce communal or personal standards of moral conduct.

The collapse of families and communities— so far, more or less disguisable as “mobility” or “growth” or “progress” or “liberation”— comes from or with the collapse of personal character and is a social catastrophe. It leaves individuals subject to no requirements or restraints except those imposed by government. The liberal individual desires freedom from restraints upon personal choices and acts, which often has extended to freedom from familial and communal responsibilities. The conservative individual desires freedom from restraints upon economic choices and acts, which often extends to freedom from social, ecological and even economic responsibilities. Preoccupied with these degraded freedoms, both sides have refused to look straight at the dangers and the failures of government-by-corporations.

The Christian or social conservatives who wish for government protection of their version of family values have been seduced by the conservatives of corporate finance who wish for government protection of their semireligion of personal wealth earned in contempt for families. The liberals, calling for too few restraints upon incorporated wealth, wish for government enlargement of their semireligion of personal rights and liberties. One side espouses family values pertaining to temporary homes that are empty all day, every day. The other promotes liberation that vouchsafes little actual freedom and no particular responsibility. And so we are talking about a populace in which nearly everybody is needy, greedy, envious, angry, and alone. We are talking therefore about a politics of mutual estrangement, in which the two sides go at each other with the fervor of extreme righteousness in defense of rickety absolutes that are indefensible and therefore cannot be compromised.

From “Caught in the Middle” (2013)
In Our Only World: Ten Essays

Wendell Berry on Local Economies

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Wendell Berry on the Commerce of Violence

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Wendell Berry on Knowing and Believing

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Pic & Poem of the Week: July 24, 2016

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Another Look: Why I now love weddings

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