30 August 2008

You Go, Johnny!

Well, that was a surprise. Mind you, I mentioned Governor Palin months ago as a rising star in the political firmament. Like others who saw Senator Obama in 2004, I pegged her as a “next gen” candidate. You can read all about it in the paper and on other sites, the twist and turns and spin it all means. Let me say something unlikely to be heard in the din.

Diversity is now normal. With each party fielding a ticket that is not two old white men, from this point forth that will be the exception.

One or the other will win, right? And that means one or the other will be running for re-election, right? So the next time we could possible have four old white guys will be 2016, by which time congress and state houses will be filled with 30-something officials moving into their forties. And as a group they will be racially more complex, and more of them will be women as well. By then we will see color and gender diversity as normal in candidates as well. How cool is that?

This is a watershed moment, friends. And John McCain did it. I won’t vote for him in November because I do not share his party values, and he may not have done it in order to change the country. One way or the other, though, because of his willingness to take a risk, we have been changed. For the better in my estimate. He has my respect.

Now, how about a gay president?

Don’t hold your breath.

26 August 2008

Go Ahead, Dream Big

Well, I for one was not impressed. Joe Biden is a fine guy; even David Brooks likes him. But honestly, I was hoping for someone more thrilling.

Months ago – Ok it was June – I teased the folks at StreetProphet (a Kos like website for squirrelly religious folk) about an Obama-Clinton ticket. I was laughed at as hopelessly na├»ve. This past week it was the dream that wouldn’t die. Maybe my prophetic powers are better even than I realized. (to quote the moose of yore, “Don’t know my own strength.”)

Even though the die has been cast, let’s play "what if" for a moment. Exercise the imagination and maybe have a few laughs along the way.

1. Obama – Shriver. That’s right, the wife of “Ahnold,” which would mean that he would have to resign. Would this be a bad thing? And she has high recognition to say nothing of very deep connections. Of course, she’s never held office, but happens to be related to about a dozen. And the Kennedy name excites frantic reactions left and right. But what about…

2. Obama – Richardson. The gov/rep/am/sec of NM, who flamed out early (and was my horse at the start of the race), has the perfect Veep resume. Add his southwest constituency and that he is half Latino, he would have been demographically perfect. He dumped the Clintons early, clearly waving his Horshak hand for the job. But he is even more of a loose cannon than Joe, so why not go for a democrat with the steadiness to thrive in republican land? Hence…

3. Obama – Sibelius. Blond bombshell governor of heartland state. Sorry fellow Michiganians, Granholm was born in Canada and to change that law would open the door to the governator. Governors always have an advantage when running for president, but it may not work for Veeps. But the whole black guy with blond girl thing is still a bit volatile (can you spell Paris?) so instead why not…

4. Obama – Stabenow. A blond bombshelter. Not being mean but it means her appeal is genuinely political. No chortling here. And she has that Biden authenticity with the plus of a state larger than a county. But, Obama is from Illinois which is only slightly more prosperous than the Great Lakes State. And Debbie has a conservative streak that could make her balk around things like the automobile industry. So why not go for broke, and set the old liberal rocket ablaze and don’t hold back. The truly perfect ticket was…

6. Obama – Kennedy. Yep, Teddy. Sure he’s old and sick, but think of what it would mean to be able to round out the fifty years since 1960 with another Kennedy? One could say that JFK marked the end of the liberal era, or at least its emotional high water mark. Conservatism has reached its climax in W and a Kennedy as VP would be a terrific bookend. Sure, he would not live out the term, but the mere hope of seeing him sworn in and then presiding over the body he has served for most of those fifty years, even for a short time, would be worth it.

That’s going to have to be enough. I did not have time for the Obama – Jolie ticket, the Obama – Gorbachev ticket, the Obama - Oprah ticket. Tell me your outrageous Obama ticket. Go out on a limb. We may never have another wild card like this again in our lives.

20 August 2008

More Soon, I Promise

Summer turned out to be anything but relaxed. Nothing wrong, far from it. But after a jaunt to Austin this weekend (business and pleasure) I will heve been on the road three separate times this summer, five if you count preaching dates locally to Ann Arbor and Holland. That makes for a busy summer. And Labor Day is just two weeks off.

Good news: repainted the rest of my garage (except that back wall which is inaccessible except by scaffolding and invisible except for the neighbor behind me), washed half the downstairs windows on my 1887 house (that turned out to be a week's work in itself), harvested three tomatoes and two meals worth of snap peas, signed the contract for some landscaping we've been planning for two months, read the Cambridge Bible Commentary on Joshua, Judges, Samuel Kings, and Isaiah, and practiced the piano (heard improvement!).

I also finished the first part of a book, a spiritual autobiography, and am well into the second part, and hope to be done with that by All Souls Day and the manuscript itself by next spring. (This is not the book I want to write, but the one I need to write.)

Won't share that yet. Too raw. But I am scouring for typos in a short book (15,000 words) built from sermons on the constitution. Hoped to have it done in June. Maybe next week. The church will have snazzy copies on line in September. You can get a boring text version by writing me directly.

Undone: the rest of the windows, cleaning the basement, organizing my financial papers and plans, hanging a shelf for a model boat, replacing the flood light on my front porch, the rest of my first floor windows, and a whole lot of church work.

Found new levels of self recrimination about my inadequate leadership skills. (Been practicing that for a very long time, by the way, and as a result am very good.) Still, it is tough to be able to see what could be and not be able to get there. I think alternately of Sisyphus and Tantalus. (Leaders do not muse on Greek myths, i think. But as the sailor said, I Yam What I Yam.)

Gotta pack. More next week.

15 August 2008

Run Silent, Run Shallow

Holy cow, another week has gone by. Of course, I have been home only part of that time, and being away meant that scads of stuff was waiting here to be done, tapping their figurative impatient toes as it were.

In just that short time I was away, however, 16 days, sunrise got markedly later. I rise with the sun, which means in summer my eyes open before six no matter when I closed them. But on returning to the western cusp of the time zone dawn lingered until 630. I found it hard to get going.

Maybe it is age or I am just noticing something more, but light seems to have a stronger effect on my mood than I remember in youth. Not whether I am happy or sad so much as whether I am active or passive. Even on my gloomiest days I feel a certain energy in the day. It may be nasty, angry energy, but it's energy.

But once the sun vanishes so does my ambition. Yes, I am writing this in the evening. In a few minutes, though, it will be finished. And I did it as much to stay awake to a decent hour as to send a signal down the wire to you, my two dozen loyal listeners. Thank goodness I am not burdened with the virtual fame of those bloggers who have thousands hanging on the edge of their monitors waiting for the next dose of quips and switchblade judgments.

Perhaps tomorrow I shall have wry and incisive wisdom to offer. Right now, I feel like this is the blogospheric version of Warhol’s “Sleep.” Boring, ordinary, honest. In a world where only the rich and powerful famous seem to be alive, this may be a subversive act.

08 August 2008

The Transient And The Permanent

I spent much of Wednesday and Thursday traveling the back roads of Vermont and Massachusetts. Partly it was to see places I had not seen before in all the years I lived in the area, but it was also to see familiar places and take pleasure in their continuity.

Of course, nature is the most durable. To see a fine tree or a mountain as a child and then again as an adult is very consoling. We personally grow and change and ultimately die, but the land around us stays the same.

That’s a like of course. Not that we do not grow and die, but that nature stays the same. The magnificent Grand Canyon, which seems never to change, is constantly changing. Simply not at a pace we in our brief lives can sense. And from that fact, that even the world is changing, comes the longing for the eternally reliable. “O, thou who changest not, abide with me,” says the old hymn.

One hundred and almost sixty years ago a great sermon by Theodore Parker, radical and renegade Unitarian, set off a firestorm. It was called “The Transient and Permanent In Christianity.” He declared all the physical aspects, even Jesus himself, to be transient and ultimately trivial. You can imagine what an effect that had.

And yet, so many years later, we still cling to the transient in life. Who does not cherish the mementos of youth, the photographs and flotsam we store in drawers and boxes? Who does not enter into a familiar place – house, town, church, forest – and feel the peace of familiarity? But these are the very things that will vanish, the transient passengers of existence.

What about the permanent, then? Who, when faced with the choice, will take uncomfortable truth of our economically obese society over the comfortable illusion of our deserved good fortune. Who would give up the domesticated goodness of charity and manners before the wild eyed demands to take up the cross as the scriptures we revere tell us? Who would surrender the pleasing beauty of refined tastes to the fierce beauty of youth and those outside the norms of good taste?

We generally serve the transient and ignore the permanent. And then wonder why our lives are unsatisfied and empty. No, I shall not recommend Jesus, as Parker taught me that he too is transient. Let the paradox of what we worship dawn upon you. Our churches, our worship, our sanctuaries and solemn words are all transient. If even the Grand Canyon is mortal, what hubris is it of ours to think anything we say or do or make shall last forever?

Today I shall wander again in the woods of New England and upstate New York. Their longevity will console me, to be sure. But my ear will be listening for a heartbeat deeper than this. My eye will seek a horizon beyond the treeline. Surely, there must be something there; but if there is not, let me at least know that.

04 August 2008

One Person Does Make A Difference Sometimes.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. I only ever read his first book, “One Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” but that book changed Russia. “A great writer,” the obit said, “is a secret government in his country.”

Last week a deranged man assassinated people in a church because of that church’s values. It remains to be seen if he makes a difference in the country. I suspect not, but he made a difference in those lives and in that church.

One can make a great difference for good or a great difference for evil, I hasten to remind. And the effect that a person has, even their having such great effects, depends on other factors at work. Had not Nikita Khrushchev allowed “Denisovich” to be published, Solzhenitsyn would have remained a high school teacher with a lot of writings. Had not Atkisson’s ex-wife been part of the church years before he might not have known about it or its principles.

The visible actor may be one person, but the situation is full of actors: other people, the culture, the accidents of time and opportunity. Ultimately, we all take part in moments that seem to be about a single person.

That’s a disturbing thought. Whoever said “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” was right. Which is why that other fellow was right who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (sic) to do nothing.”

Doing nothing is perhaps the original sin. We are all caught in MLK’s web of mutual interdependence. If few of us will appear in the spotlight of history, we all help point that spotlight and either join the cheering or the jeering. Few times give us such a clear reminder than decisions made now by all, not just a few, can have immense consequences. “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless,” Dorothy Day observed. That’s the path to doing nothing. “There is simply too much work to be done.”