Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Terrifying Reality

As far as it being quality television (an oxymoron, I know), Duck Dynasty is an amalgam of everything wrong with reality-format programming.  This is precisely why Phil Robertson should be regarded as one crying in the wilderness.

Our culture is receiving its end-stage call to repentance.

The very first reality-based television show ever - MTV's The Real World which first aired more than 20 years ago - didn't build a mainstream audience mainly because the real world wasn't interested in a bunch of whiny young adults.  But the real reason MTV's show didn't have a broad appeal was because it, initially, was too raw; in its early years The Real World was much more documentary-style and captured interpersonal drama simply as it happened.

Enter CBS' Survivor in 2000.  The producers of this reality-style game show recognized that in order to be successful using such a format, they nevertheless had to insert a "script" of some kind.  The average viewer may have thought she was witnessing the real reactions of spoiled Americans trying to make it on a deserted isle, but really they were watching spoiled Americans working their way through a maze built by Hollywood programmers.  There is absolutely nothing true about how survivors or real housewives go about their lives in front of the camera; every second of screen time that makes the final cut fits a carefully controlled narrative conceived by the production team.  Dramatic hook has to be created and delivered.

The narrative of Duck Dynasty is no different, and on this point it is actually a somewhat stale, contrived, warm-up-the-leftovers script where the Robertsons are actually in on the showmanship.  The Robertsons are marketers, fundamentally, long before the A&E Network knocked on their trailer door; their sales credentials are as long as their hair.  Willie and his family - especially Si! - are fully self-conscious of the fact that they are putting on a show.  They relish in playing to type.  And they are relishing all the way to the bank.  The truth about the show is that the producers haven't even had to work that hard at sketching out scenarios for the Robertsons to play into, as they are very much actors ready to sell duck calls.

Which is why Phil, the patriarch and recent scorn of the gay community, should be regarded as a 21st Century John the Baptist, anatomical comments and all.  Who was John the Baptist?  He had long hair and wore heavy, outdoor clothing (RealTree).  He was the son of ancient Jewish society's elite (a successful American small businessman).  He was loud and outspoken.  The clean-cut men of Jerusalem came out to the Jordan to see the spectacle more than hear John's rough-hewn call to repentance.  John the Baptist was not a wild, homeless outsider holding a hand-painted sign on the street corner; he was a hyperbole of the culture who dominated the ratings (if you are still bothered by Phil's crude references to female versus male anatomy; John the Baptist was no shrinking violet when it came to calling sexual immorality what it was).

John the Baptist got attention using the most basic, bottomed-out, almost stale program the culture offered - religion.  He paved the way for Christ by making noise and by offering a sharp contrast between religion and faith.  God is using the market-exploited and exploiting Robertsons to accomplish his judgment.  John the Baptist drew people in then knocked them down with his condemnation of sin.  His hearers either walked back to Jerusalem and its compromise with the Romans in the name of power, or they stayed and listened further.

Christ Jesus followed John and enacted judgment and grace simultaneously, as only God can.  Part of the way the Lord did this was by meeting us, the couch potatoes, where we were.  His baptism was an expression of obedience to the Father's will, but it was also a demonstration of his compassion to us very similar to his actual birth -- he was coming down to our level.

The terror of God's call to repentance on us, as the controversy over Phil Robertson shows, is that it is done in absolute passive-aggressive comfort.  Phil's boom-lowering condemnation of sin based loosely on 1 Corinthians 6:10 was given initially to a magazine no one reads anymore - EXCEPT homosexual men!  Then, in perfect modern media fashion, he was dismissed from the show, which suddenly made his comments NEWS!  As they say in Hollywood, there's no such thing as bad publicity.  Only a divine purpose could have orchestrated these events; other than the passion of his convictions, I do not believe Phil Robertson, his son or his agent were calculating enough to know who he was talking to, marketing acumen aside.

And so here we are, an entire society - but especially the conservative segment that largely comprises Duck Dynasty's viewership - being forced to broach the concept of sin.  How odd.  How uncomfortable.

How terrifying.  And a silly man wearing camo has done this. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief, Pollyanna History of Texas Republicans

National headlines aside, the practical business of campaign season is underway in Texas.  So-called political insiders (of which I am one) are preparing campaigns in anticipation of the primaries next March.  This used to be a very rote process by which one could set his watch.  However, thirty days before candidate filing even begins, debate – and, regrettably, acrimony – has begun between the sub-factions within the Republican Party across the country.  The noise percolates even in the absence of candidates in some parts of the state.  One Facebook post I recently saw made a broad, infantile call for ANYONE to take on “establishment” officials, on the grounds that doing so will “make them listen.”  Whatever.

I will admit that I struggle with resentment over this acrimony.  I used to be a student of it – an objective observer.  But increasingly, I feel as though I and many others are the object of envy.  I have attempted to call these people out, and I have been met not with any correction of the facts as I presented them, but with a blanket attack that I was a liar.  I have been active in Republican politics since I was 16 (that’s 25 years to those of you who don’t know I celebrated the 23rd anniversary of my 18th birthday last May).  I have actually had the opportunity to directly shape policy and “make a difference” at the highest levels of federal and state government.  And yet, my contributions are a pittance compared to the time, treasure and life others have put in for many years.  Worse, many of the people attacking us have been working on behalf of conservative principles for a sum total of 30 months.

I am proud to be a part of the establishment.  I am prouder still that my establishmentness is rooted in a correct, holy understanding that our constitutions set forth an incremental approach to change.  I am as proud as the Constitution’s limits on my passion as I am my passion itself.  Still, I want to better understand this hostility toward the establishment.  My inner history nerd cries out to examine its sources, causes.  I guess I feel that if I can better understand the fracture, I can be an agent of healing it.  Call me Pollyanna, but that’s what goes on in the ol’ squirrel cage between my ears.

I have been spending the past several weeks wading through David Halberstam’s 1994 tome, The Fifties.  I saw another recent social media post stating that the national GOP has been in a civil war for the past fifty years.  Really, it’s been sixty years, and Halberstam goes in depth in explaining the two basic camp’s origins:  northeastern interventionist-internationalist vs. Midwestern libertarian/isolationist.  This tension in the marriage only really appeared in the early 20th century with the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt – the northeastern variety is probably the older spouse, dating back to the abolitionist, pro-government origins of the GOP in the 1850s.

All of this makes for fascinating but lengthy, somewhat dry storytelling (unless you’re a nerd, of course).  What I’m interested in is how this split appears here in Texas.  Besides that of my personal, ethnic Texanism, this importance also comes from the academic theory that however the Texas GOP evolves, so goes the rest of the country.  Texas is in many ways a microcosm of the U.S. 125 years ago during the GOP’s greatest period of hegemony.  We are a place where resources are abundant, where an immigrant workforce does the menial labor while a burgeoning middle class devotes its time to rapid technological advancement, and where the prevailing view is that government should work hard at getting out of the way.

But what makes the Texas GOP unique early in the 21st Century is just how the aforementioned spouses came to lead it.  The traditional, pro-government, egalitarian, pro-big business Republicanism of the northeast was a transplant.  This is the party of George H.W. Bush who heard about the crude oil plays of the Permian Basin after World War II and struck out with elite, New England financial backing.  The fortune he made enabled him to set up shop in Houston and literally build the party from scratch.  With the exception of maybe one R in North Dallas or out in the Panhandle ranch country, THERE WERE NO REPUBLICANS in the state anywhere prior to about 1965.  It was a dirty word.  To be Republican meant you were a sherry-sipping Episcopalian banker out to screw the hardscrabble, teetotaling Baptist Democrat cotton farmer.
At the same time, however, the excesses of Lyndon Johnson’s back-slapping, double-dealing socialism fomented a rift within his party between those same frugally-minded cotton farmers and an Austin elite who truly practiced what they preached when it came to thinking everyone should get a check from the Treasury.  The Great Society and Vietnam became Texans’ understanding of interventionism and internationalism.  The chief Texan critic of LBJ was historian J. Evetts Haley.  His A Texan Looks at Lyndon:  A Study in Illegitmate Power, gave voice and cohesion to those Baptists who knew something was wrong with the President but felt restrained by the group think to express it.  A Texan Looks at Lyndon became a kind of cherished, underground literature among respectable folks, and although Haley attempted campaigns as a Democrat, his writings matched verbatim in places with the rhetoric of Goldwater, Reagan, Buckley and Phyllis Schlafly.  The conservative Republican movement in Texas was born.
In time, George W. Bush, a Texan who nevertheless held a Connecticut birth certificate, rose to transform the state into a Republican monolith in one fell swoop.  But while he held deep convictions about social issues at odds with much of his northeastern Republican pedigree, W nevertheless advocated interventionism, ranging from ‘compassionate conservatism’ to Iraq.  Had he been successful in these policies, the roughshod conservative wing might not be as noisy as it is today.  But Bush struggled, in spite of his convictions.  And today, what Texas Republicans are left with are lost, confused movement-conservatives firing in all directions and an establishment that is only seeing pitchforks.
How can the tension be resolved?  I think basic principles of respect and honest disagreement can aid in the healing process.  Unfortunately, the frustration and fear emanating from the national situation under Obama has infected the two spouses in the Texas GOP.  The exact same tactics used to attack the President’s policies are being turned on any Republican, usually an incumbent, “establishment” officeholder, who is suspect.  Complex policies designed for complex situations are unwilling to be understood and are lied about.  This is the hallmark of liberals, as we saw last summer with HB2.  (Ironically, that bill's complexity was somehow embraced by conservatives, but that's another subject).
But I think the greater way to overcome the current rift is to first realize that the pie of power and influence isn’t as small as many act like it is.  Everyone has a voice across a huge state Republican apparatus.  Repeatedly, I come across grassroots-types who once felt “unheard," and they admit in so many words that is because they were lazy.  They didn’t go to townhalls, club meetings or rallies and interact with their elected officials.  Instead, they sat at home for years and only listened to the evening news.  On the day they quit complaining and started dialoguing, they saw they could have it both ways:  principles and peace.
In the information age, these same malcontents are absolutely terrified of reading or considering a source that might present reality.  I know of community and party leaders who will not follow the official communications of their representatives on Twitter, but who instead take the emailed musings of some privately-funded activist as gospel.  Many of these people are afraid of consensus.  They don’t want to be confused with the facts, and they feel that to “come up with the best we can” is the equivalent of walking outside in their underwear.  J. Evetts Haley was one of the first to suggest LBJ had a vested interest in the assassination of JFK; today, we prefer the dark narrative of Oliver Stone to simple, boring reports from Speaker Boehner’s office about what’s gettable from the White House.
The good news is that we as Republicans have an equally strong history of allowing our faith to guide us, dating all the way back to abolishing slavery.  Embedded in this same faith is the ability to find humility.  To paraphrase Pollyanna:  “We’re not supposed to be glad we’re very rich, are we?"

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Right to Heal

Ours is in no way a society of oppression.  Our rights here are abundant and generously protected.  The U.S. is so far removed from places like Sudan that we might as well be another planet.  Neither are we anything at all like India, Saudi Arabia or Nigeria where millions scrape by in abject poverty while the elite give new meaning to the term “the 1%” and many must grimly face persecution of various sorts on a daily basis.  Even compared to the more “liberal” countries where economic distress is ebbing, such as China, Indonesia or places in Latin America, our nation just doesn’t possess the man vs. man hardship that plagues the majority of the population.  Regurgitate whatever you want from your pot-smoking, conscientious professor, we just don’t have these problems in any real sense.

There is no amount of inner city chaos you can show me in America that comes close to meeting any standard of true oppression; it’s even rare among criminals.  There is no amount of turmoil among poor whites that rises to this level.  Among Mexican immigrants in the U.S., both legal and not, anything resembling tyrannical depravation is temporal at worst.

All Americans have rich people problems.

At the top of the list of our rich people problems is the unwanted pregnancy (NOTE: there may be an “unplanned” pregnancy, but in the instant it’s unplanned it becomes either wanted or not).  The unwanted pregnancy is a greater shackle on the American mindset than addiction, ignorance, lack of resources, family discord – everything.  Why?  Because the unwanted pregnancy, for either father or mother, represents a human being’s most uncontrollable experience.

The unwanted pregnancy offends a rich society’s ability to chart its own destiny.  But more than this, the unwanted pregnancy is a divine affront to the human ego.  Even Carl Sagan, the renowned atheistic scientist, admitted that sexual reproduction is counter-intuitive to a basic model of evolution, as one or both parents become virtually defenseless against the cold, hard world at some point in the process.

I know a young man who experienced this shaking fear once.  Although an abortion was fairly distant from the mind of this young man and the mother, the affront hurtled the father’s ego into the stratosphere.  As his ego was amputated from his sense of self, shame enshrouded him.  He became a fully justifiable target of anger.  Pain was in his handshake, in his presence; it ground up the hearts of those who loved him the most into hamburger.  Alcohol became the only salve to his mangled dignity, which of course only made things worse, both in the near and long term.

There is an ego in our society – in each of us - that wants to protect itself with the logic of:  it is wrong to bring an unwanted child into the cold, hard world.  By this logic, the perceived oppression around the earth I discussed earlier becomes an excuse for the wealthy.  There is no reason to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in the U.S. – NONE!  For the same reason that we are a grand experiment in listening to our better angels, America possesses the resources for every life to live and excel.

Proponents of abortion try to point out that where there is limited access, there is greater poverty and backwardness, that wealthy societies honor and protect a woman’s right to abort.  Well, the world’s most powerful economic engine, China, also performs the most “legal, safe” abortions (even state-paid and mandated).  In the past 40 years, more than 335 million Chinese babies have been killed.  By contrast, 50 million American children have been killed during the same time period.  Put another way, if none of these abortions would have occurred, China’s population would be 25% larger, while the U.S. would be 16% bigger.

But the truth is that the mark of a wealthy, mature society is that it protects life.  The best case in point is how even the most secular nations of Europe, like France and those of Scandinavia, all ban second and third trimester abortions.

But what about the health of the mother?  Irrelevant and inconsequential.  Pro-abortion advocates are eager to point to a dubious statistic based on a flawed, 75-year-old study which says 5,000 women died of unsafe abortions in America prior to Roe v. Wade.  Do the math.  Even if true (which it isn’t), that’s 200,000 women over 40 years.  Even from a utilitarian standpoint, this is no comparison to what has been done to children in this country.

Putting a mother’s life over a child in this case is completely beside the point.  Life must be protected using the maximum extent of the law.  Is a troubled woman a murderer for the abortion her child?  I would submit that she and the parties involved are guilty of a lesser category of manslaughter, because the circumstances of an unwanted pregnancy are complicated and often murky.  The mother is NEVER the only party involved, obviously.  It is unjust to single her out, even if she is or becomes pathological about obtaining abortions (the statistics on women who get multiple abortions after the first one will take your breath away).

Yet there is a deeper reason why life must be protected.  The power to reproduce is the power to heal.  A family, even in its loosest, most basic definition – a male and female who produce an infant – is 100% influenced by the father – and a heterosexual one at that.  In the past 150 years or so, our society has over-emphasized the mother.  But the presence or absence of the father completely determines the outcome of a family unit and the heart of a human being at all stages of life (the best that scholarly literature can say on the subject of donor inseminated children or the children of same-sex families is that the jury is still out).

The most lost, confused, afraid father has little chance of finding healing and redemption if his child is killed.  The term, right to life, so often used in public policy debate is synonymous with the right to heal.  Recapturing the father is the antidote to all of society’s ills, whether they be real or just rich people problems.  When abortion advocates complain about patriarchy and demand their “rights,” what they are really crying out about is the pain they’ve experienced from bad, weak or misguided men.  Good men can be agents of healing to this hostile spirit.

The young man I mentioned earlier became a father of a son who will be entering high school in the fall.  He is also the father of another son, a daughter, and two stepchildren.  There have been many mistakes, but there have been far greater moments of victory.  Not long ago, the oldest son said something very simple and profound to his father as he walked into church to help lead the youth group music.  "I love you," said the 14-year-old.

For those of us involved in the public square, a fight comes along every now and then that reminds us of why we got involved in the first place.  In Texas, we are poised to pass one of the toughest anti-abortion, pro-women’s health laws in the United States.  HB2 is an elegant blend of law and grace, and it fits within the current Supreme Court interpretations of the aforementioned women’s rights.  True, by next week abortion proponents will be rushing into a friendly federal courthouse for an injunction, which they will probably get.  But with our system, this moment is one for which many of us will be held accountable one day in much different court.  And outside the sphere of lawmaking, all of us will be held accountable for how we defend each other.

Please don’t infringe on my right to heal.

Friday, June 14, 2013


I've been on radio blackout for a while.  Why?  Got married.

And what was the first birthday gift given to me by my wife?  Walmart premiere passes for our new, 7-member family to Man of Steel.  I also got a T-shirt with a super S emblazoned on it, which I of course wore to the event.

I believe in Superman.

So great is my faith, in fact, and semi-idolatrous, that we pulled the kids out of Baptist church camp 16 hours early so we could all make it to the premiere (WARNING:  spoilers ahead).  Which is why I must write on the ground as all the self-righteous heretics out there cast stones at this marvelous, spell-binding new version of the comic book character franchise.  Let he who is without sin leap over the nearest tall building with a single bound.

The summer night my parents, family and friends sat in the Rolling Hills Twin Cinema in Greenville, Texas to see the first Reeve version in 1978 impacted my soul with a force equivalent to that of Episode IV a year earlier.  But Superman: the Movie was different.  Although I would absorb more of Lucas' Expanded Universe over time, the visuality of Superman burned itself with heat vision into that kinetic part of my consciousness.  Superman represented raw excitement.  For years afterward, I ran around the house with long pieces of cloth tied around my neck, until I finally outgrew them for a driver's license.  Whereas Star Wars may have conveyed information and meaning into my imagination, Superman supplied the energy.

So when the Man of Steel trailers began to hit, I - and I suspect many millions of others - felt a shudder that a Snyder-Nolan reboot of the character could in fact provide us all with the best of both worlds (to borrow a phrase from the new movie).  After all, we were "just about American as you get" - we aren't from a galaxy far, far away.  We crave meaning here, now.  And the ability to whup our enemies via the Jetstream.

And Snyder,, delivered.

The movie is just as strong as its hero.  Acting, effects, writing, themes, etc.  There is only one minor plot flaw in that Zod's world engine seemed to straddle Metropolis at random during terraforming.  No real reason is given as to why he didn't choose Tokyo, Gotham or London, other than that it's a Superman movie.  But this is easily forgivable.  I have determined that all the roughest reviews thus far are coming from late middle-age critics at dead media who long for Reeves & Reeve's sap.  The Superman of their youth is that brightly-colored, sugary character who first appeared in an actual Technicolor cape in the late 50s.  Their "energy" is the pixie stick; mine is the PowerBar.  Therefore, it follows that the Snyder-Nolan-Cavill version with gravitas (that is successfully achieved, contrary to MSN) is going to be rejected by these nostalgic wimps.  I would also argue that the Snyder-Nolan version is more in keeping with the spirit of the Depression-World War II Superman.

Which brings me back to the religious nature of following our hero.  Quite unlike the late 70s and early 80s when Superman was just for kicks, the coverage of Man of Steel has made many overt, direct references to the parallels between his origin story and that of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As part of the Walmart premier night event, we were subjected to a cold-water featurette at the beginning.  But one salvageable comment from it comes from Kevin Costner who says, "We all are looking for someone who can fix everything."  Indeed.

One of the more well-crafted themes of the filmmakers, I think, is their stark portrayal of bureaucratic blockage, be it the Council of Kryptonian Elders, the U.S. Army or The Daily Planet.  Laurence Fishburne's Perry White is a lawsuit-at-the-ready old media editor who congratulates himself for protecting the public from what he thinks they can't understand; Harry Lennix' General Swanwick is a jerk of an officer who could be a Zod-in-waiting.  As the faces of control, all I could think about in these scenes was our President.

Superman and Lois Lane war against these bureaucracies as much as they do an extraterrestrial threat.  In other words, they are trying to save mankind from the big outer space zap as well as from itself!   Yet this is the craving we have as spiritual beings.  This is why Superman has endured for 75 years as a superstory.  Kudos to the storytellers here for highlighting our superneed.  I, at least, believe I have a need.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

"The Warrant"

After three years, I have finally published a new story.  You can download it from Amazon either here or from the link above.  BUY IT!  Nowhere else this weekend will you be more entertained for $2.99 than by "The Warrant."

If you read The Princess, you will notice a significant switch in the genre of fiction I've taken up.  In trying to create new, interesting characters for another political story, a secondary person became more interesting to me.  This character was a more spiritual, allegorical personality, and so from there I junked the basic, narrative fiction formula I was in and went fantasy/sci-fi.  Moreover, the political genre is virutally dead - there is more apathy toward it than our actual elections!  Just take a look in a Walmart bulk box to see it packed with Richard North Patterson hardbacks.

But after switching, I began to realize that the angel/demon genre I was in was only slightly less beleaguered.  For good or ill, Frank Peretti defined the genre back in the late 80s with his Present Darkness series.  His "behind the curtain" look at spiritual warfare was novel, sensational, and a landmark in Christian fiction.  In fact, until Peretti, most of us thought Christian fiction something of a scientific impossibility, if not sinful dabbling.  The genre then fell off for several years, both in the Christian and secular presses, only spawning grocery-rack-style romances with any note.  Then recently, different authors, most very new, have tried to revive it a'la Twilight or Harry Potter, hoping angels/demons would provide a vehicle for the next big thing.  And it goes without saying that post-Peretti, most of these genre pieces are syncretistic at best, rarely attempting to conform with any type of conservative theology or spiritual truth.

So, I became anxious during prewriting about whether or not I was in the right genre, or if the genre even held any promise to be interesting.  But, I kept putting fingertips to keyboard, and one day last autumn the story you can read for $2.99 as an e-book exploded out of my mind and onto the computer screen.  I am confident you will find it compelling, and I hope you enjoy it.  It comes more out of the 11-year-old creative recess of my brain.  Once when asked what qualified him to write children's stories as a bachelor, C.S. Lewis replied, "Not only do I know some children, but believe it or not, I used to be one." (paraphrase)

Tell your friends!  "The Warrant" is a unique look at the spirit world all around us.  I thought it was about time to write about it, since they are already looking at us.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

30th Anniversary of GCS Fire

This weekend marks a defining event of my childhood.  At some point during the night of February 9, 1983, a mentally ill African-American man with a history of arson smashed the window of the southeast classroom of Greenville Christian School.  The school had been renting the education wing of the old Washington Street Baptist Church, located, of course, at the intersection of Washington and Wellington Streets in North Greenville.  The young man had been arrested on suspected arson of the structure before, but his prior target had been the old sanctuary proper.

The window through which he chose to set the fire was hidden behind a large, untrimmed cedar tree.  The campus had been plagued with burglaries and other damage during the school's entire occupancy, dating back to 1977.  Many times, human feces could be found in piles of paper - or not - in front of doorways or other nooks along the building's exterior.  This included underneath the cedar tree which provided cover for the troubled man's crime.  North Greenville was then -- and still is -- an economically depressed section of a smallish southern city.  Surrounding the campus were rotting frame houses with notorious occupants.  Beer bottles in what was then a dry city were as common on the school grounds as the slap of a plastic jump rope.

To young Christian children, the regular mistreatment of our campus signaled nothing short of the assaults of Satan and his minions.  The young man who lit the fire served as the epitome of the evil out to destroy us.  He wasn't just a firebug; he was a diabolical mind under demonic torment.  The fire itself was the catharsis of our war against the Prince of Darkness.

Using little more than matches, the arsonist lit his fire in some papers against the inside wall beneath the broken window.  The flame then spread directly upward and ignited the composite drop ceiling of the classroom.  An angel altered the Greenville Fire Department quickly as the flame burned slowly across the dense ceiling.  This slow-burn gave the fire "plenty to feed on" which fortuitously prevented a conflagration.  However, the burning composite produced thick, choking smoke which filled every single square inch of the education wing.  It seemed also to have an adhesive property to it, as the ruthless cloud absolutely covered every surface it enveloped with a foul-smelling brown film.

The next morning, Thursday, February 10, my mother woke up my sister and I late with the news.  Even though we knew Satan was out to get us, nothing gets a 5th grader out of bed faster than news that his school burned.  I will admit I wanted to rush to campus and take in the awful shock of what I had just heard.  Soon we were joined by other board members, including my dad, in inspecting the damage.

I was struck by the gallons upon gallons of water everywhere.  At first, I thought the fire had burned the pipes and caused a massive leak, but it was quickly explained that the fire hoses caused this water damage.  Again, the perverse side of me was a little disappointed that my classroom, which adjoined the one where the fire started, wasn't a charred cinder.  But after seeing all the water damage, it was revealing to me how the cure seemed worse than the disaster.

But the damage to our school wasn't the defining moment I referred to earlier.  Over the next seven days, including the weekend, the entire school family, as well as others in the community, got together to reopen.  Southern Baptists, Independent Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and just good'ol run-of-the-mill evangelicals worked hard to relocate classes to a church, scrub that stinky film off desks, and re-inventory which learning materials were still usable.  And all of this without a headmaster (what we called a principal), who had resigned only weeks earlier.

I spent the remainder of 5th Grade crammed next to my classmates in half of a mobile home.  The following autumn, however, we moved into a new campus which is the school's current location.  Years later I told this story to a pastor friend up in the Chicago suburbs, and he couldn't believe the body of Christ worked together in this way.  Today, I'm still struck by the same effort of faith.  It is my gold standard for how I measure a Christian community.

Psalm 126:5

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Rove Wars

Every so often something happens in the political world for which I have an apt metaphor.  Recently, the undulating blogosphere of conservatives and Republicans rioted with the news that Karl Rove, former consultant and Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush, had formed another PAC with the intent to follow the William F. Buckley goal of "nominating the best conservative who can get elected."  This news and the way it's been reported has been viewed as anti-TEA Party.  Why am I compelled to relate a story like this allegorically?  Because it is an opportunity to really examine why political people feel the way they do - what makes them tick - and to rebuke same with the heart of the matter before we pull the trigger in the circular firing squad we've formed.

Rove has assumed an odd place in our political culture -- even the popular culture at large, to some degree.  The victorious political consultant who acheives celebrity in his own right is a new phenomenon in American society and history.  Over the past 35 years or so, Americans have begun to assume, enabled by the media, that no candidate arrives in the White House without a savant genius directing his every move.  The first person to acheive this notoriety was Hamilton Jordan, one of Jimmy Carter's lead consultants in the 1976 campaign.  This is ironic, given how when Carter was inaugurated he did not even have a Chief of Staff for over two years.  With the exception of Reagan (more on this in a minute), no recent President -- or serious nominee -- has seemed to ride into the White House without a Tonto.  Bush 41 had Atwater.  Clinton, Carville.  Then Bush, Rove and Obama, Axelrod.  But even some of the loser's consultants have parlayed their ineptitude into a decent paycheck:  Howard Dean's Joe Trippi has become what might be the first free agent of the punditocracy, taking gigs with both MSNBC and Fox in recent years.

Rove, however, has risen beyond the Robin role (or Batman, depending on one's level of cynicism about the process) that our modern media now expect when covering a presidental race -- any race, really, by now.  Among Republicans, Rove has taken on (or created) two roles for himself:  the GOP punching bag and GOP high priest.  He has become a kind of Republican patriarch we secretly feel the need to have in the absence of strong leadership (see previous paragraph, re: Reagan and keep reading).

The far right, TEA-party, same-old-angry-people who vote Republican have taken the Oliver Stone view of American politics:  that there's always an unseen godfather pulling the strings with the goal of ruining the country.  Because Rove understands the importance of PACs in federal elections and has worked hard to create them (not just his latest one in question, the Conservative Victory Project), many conservatives of the myopic variety have eagerly assigned Rove the role as Old Man Potter out to ruin Bedford Falls and vainly rename it.  (NOTE:  while Karl Rove works tediously to organize PACs in accordance with the law, the revitalized Obama Democratic Party has mastered the under-$200-donor loophole in the election code so as to obscure their contribution sources).

By contrast, mainstream GOPers (I refuse to use the disgusting misnomer recently created:  "establishment") turn to Rove by default when beaten and discouraged because he was the last guy to direct a winning presidental candidate.  Mainstream GOPers tend to include big donors who can support Rove's PACs.  Hence, Rove is able to create PACs, which are active everywhere.  But because Republicans struggled last fall, Rove and his PACs are now to blame.  So goes the love-hate persona Rove has been elevated to on the GOP side.

The Party's Rove relationship is a lot like The Clone Wars of the Star Wars Expanded Universe.  The Clone Wars were an interregnum period of manipulation and chaos during the rise of Emperor Palpatine.  Unlike the universe according to Lucas, however, the Rove Wars are a reflection of the vacuum of leadership that currently plagues the GOP.  To be sure, Rove himself has committed serious strategic missteps, especially in the areas of public policy (he alone is responsible for the spike in federal education spending; he also caused the defection of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords in a 50-50 Senate back in 2001).  But is he a Sith Lord?  Of course not.

The Rove Wars are a reflection of a bad leadership model we have come to accept -- the one of Lone Ranger/Tonto or Batman/Robin  -- which brings me back to President Reagan.  I'm not sentamentalist, and I am not sure President Reagan would do as well in today's primary system.  What I am sure of, however, is that Presdent Reagan - quite the contrary to how he's been portrayed - kept his consultants at the consultant level.  Jim Baker, Michael Deaver, David Gergen -- all were talented men who took orders from a man with an exceptionally clear vision.  No, Reagan wasn't a wonk.  Yes, he could seem unempathetic -- a quality that is a must-have for today's candidate.  But he knew what he knew and he willed it to be carried out.  He didn't need someone to consult on agenda items that in some respects saved our country:  growth-oriented tax policy, defense against a well-organized Communist empire, and the proper role of government.

When will the GOP find someone to bring balance to the Force?  My ability to pick the next Jedi is muddled with my self-interest.  But I do know this:  hate, fear -- and I would add, envy -- these are the pathways to the Dark Side.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Recent Birthdays

Saturday was Robert E. Lee's birthday, a commemorative date so forgotten that it's no longer worth the paper of the calendar it's printed on.  Some states in the Deep South actually merged the date out of quiet protest with the Martin Luther King holiday they adopted during the 1980s and 90s.  Texas didn't do this, as the state had already created a "Confederate Heroes Day" on January 19 forty years ago.  While staff duties are cut back on this day at Texas agencies, state offices fully observe the federal King holiday every third Monday of January.

President Obama's 2nd Inaguration yesterday signaled more than just the deadness of a holiday like Lee's birthday.  I don't know that I've ever heard an inaguration speech more agenda-oriented.  He's allowed to do this, of course; I'm not faulting him for that.  And there's part of me that would have wanted to work with him, but the President has proven completely unwilling to work with me.  But again, I don't mean to single him out for this attitude.  Ever since President Bush 41's infamous 1990 Budget Deal, the White House - every White House - has operated on a "we will take only what our power/majority will get" strategy.  Clinton was the master at this, especially considering that of the entire past 20 years, he had the toughest opposition in Congress.  Actions of honorable compromise and concession, which was the true legacy of General Lee, are as moribund as the commemoration of his birthday.

But there is another Civil War legacy that might be as dead as Lee's, and that is, ironically, the one of conciliation put forward by Abraham Lincoln.  True, he took no prisoners in the pursuit of his agenda.  But once vanquished, Lincoln held fervently to a spirit of forgiveness and compassion toward his enemies.  Lee knew this, and it was one of the reasons Lee trusted Grant and the Commander-in-Chief to recieve a surrender.

President Obama and his supporters have yet to demonstrate this aspect of Lincoln's legacy.  So hellbent have they been in executing their plan of social justice, no where yet do I see the slightest hint of openness toward their opponents.  There is always time to change, but I am not holding my breath.  I would gladly like to be counted among the loyal opposition if I knew the President would have me.

So in the spirit of Lee's conciliation, on this day I would like to lay out where and how I stand in relation to the President's agenda.  I am not asking for anything at this point.  I simply feel that an honest presentation of what most of last fall's losers really think and feel has not yet been presented.  I will lay out just a few issues:

  1. Marriage for Homosexual Men and Women - I am not a homophobe.  I am not terrified of gay men, nor do I fear gay people being around my children.  If anything bothers me about the lesbians ahead of me in the Walmart check-out line, it's that they are arguing over the per pound price of pork chops and holding everyone up.  I do, however, care about how civil institutions recognize the official pairing of gay people.   I hold fervently to the idea that a state or local jurisdiction can and should decide this (the U.S. Constitution does not need to proscribe a definition of marriage or the right thereof any more than it should define the population value of a slave).   I believe my community should be able to express my values about what I think marriage should be.  My faith informs these values.  Allowing a civil institution to bless the marriage of homosexual people is one step closer to forcing a religious institution to recognize such a marriage.  To link "rights" with loving someone is absurd.  Otherwise, I truly don't care how you live and how you love unless you are claiming the name of the Lord Jesus over your life and relationships, concerning which Christians have been given very clear instructions about how we are to reflect him.
  2. Budget and taxation issues - I believe a human being should be able to chart his or her own course in life.  I hold dearly to God's Providence as the means to do this.  Public policy can and should support this, but only to a modest degree.  The problem is determining the modest degree, and deciding what boundaries to put on entitlements or "ladders of opportunity."  47% of our nation no longer sees public assistance as a safety net; the government is a big box retailer to almost all of these people, be they an immigrant, a single parent, a disability applicant, a veteran, a widower, a member of an ethnic minority intent on revenge, and even many professionals.
  3. The Second Amendment - It is true we no longer require a militia to defend our lands as was the case as recently as 150 years ago.  Accordingly, full-auto firearms, grenades, mortars and SAMs should be restricted from public purchase.  This is the extent to which the right to bear arms should be restricted without being infringed.
  4. Violence in media - a non-issue
  5. Climate Change - climate change has been proven to be a natural phenomenon as much an anthropogenic one.  There is a case to be made that the global industrialization of the past 100 years has had an impact, but only a modest one.  Do we cancel out fossil fuels until we better understand the human contribution?  Of course not.  The country's best scientists state there shouldn't be cause for alarm and there is no need for catastrophic predictions and poltical hysteria.  America does not need to "lead" in this area.
I will admit that this short list is reactionary and defensive.  I have complied it in response to the speech yesterday.  Are the President and his supporters listening?  I'll give them until Lincoln's birthday to answer.