Jul 29, 2005

Simul Justus et Peccator.

The Justus was a free gift that I got on my second birthday, so I can take no credit for it.

On the other hand, the Peccator is something that I have spent my entire life practicing and can truthfully take full credit for.

Jul 26, 2005

Dinner at Casita Verana.

Curried chicken, orzo, cilantro, and bright blue frozen margaritas. Served on Fiestaware plates with these really cool (literally) blown-glass insulated glasses from Bodum. (BTW, at the Bodum Knox Street store where we got these glasses, you can sip espresso coffee while logging into the next-door Apple Store's Wi-Fi network).

Giving Grace lip-service, and thereby betraying Jesus with a kiss.

Family "Christian" Bookstore: the Unpenitent Thieves.

Violating Commandments 2, 3, and 4. They're open for business on Sunday, so you can pick up a nice Ten Commandments Shrine for your household gods display on your way home from church.

Of course, then there's the part about not charging usery.

Jul 22, 2005

Do Urbanism.

A lot of my professional work is involved with a trend called "New Urbanism". New Urbanism is a land-use, planning movement meant to "reintroduce" an America that we wish existed before automobiles took over the world. It's all about anti-suburban sprawl, but new urbanism tends to take place in the suburbs. It's sort of an inner-city for young anglos, a Disneyland version of gritty urban big cities, but without the grit. It's a huge improvment over strip malls, but I prefer Old Urbanism (urban revitalization).

The photos to the left are of a new grocery store/yuppie entertainment establishment in downtown Dallas called Urban Market. Grocery store, bar, coffee shop, quesadilla bar, and bankette; the building is a mixed-use revitallization of the old Dallas Interurban Terminal (Dallas' old electric trolley-transit system from the early to mid twentieth century), which has been home to pigeons and the homeless for the last decade, and prior to that was the headquarters of Continental Trailways before it went belly up. The upper floors are residences and offices, with retail on the ground floor. And unlike suburban new-urbanism, several dozen homeless people can be found just a few yards away at the Main Branch of the Dallas Public Library.

I wish 'em all luck (the developers, proprietors and the homeless). Because UrbanMarket offer free Wi-Fi access, I'll make this a refuge from my network-restricted office. I'm posting this from the bar, enjoying a Hofbrau lager (as contract brewed by the Bavarian State-run Weihenstephaner Brewery, the world's oldest).

Prosit, ya'll!

I Like Ike.

"Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." (1954)

-- President Dwight D. Eisenhower

Jul 20, 2005

The Ten Commandments

  1. "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt..." - This commandment is to believe in the existence of God.
  2. "You shall have no other gods besides Me...Do not make a sculpted image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above..."
  3. "You shalt not swear falsely by the name of the Lord..." - This commandment is to never take the name of God in a vain oath. In Exodus, the text reads "in a vain oath" (לא תשא את שם ה' לשוא), while in Deuteronomy it reads "in a false oath" (לא תשא שם ה' לשקר).
  4. "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (the version in Deuteronomy mentions "Keep" rather than "Remember")
  5. "Honor your father and your mother..." - This commandment is a development when compared to other laws of the Ancient East (for example, the Code of Hammurabi) that do not call for equal respect of the father and the mother.
  6. "You shall not murder" - The Hebrew Bible makes a distinction between murdering and killing, and explicitly notes that murder is always a heinous sin, while killing is sometimes necessary, and in these cases just in the eyes of God. Thus, Jews take offense at translations which state "Thou shall not kill", which Jews hold to be immoral. The official doctrine of the Catholic Church and the beliefs of many Protestant Christians hold that this verse forbids abortion; in Judaism, abortion is prohibited based on other sources.
  7. "You shall not commit adultery"
  8. "You shall not steal" (sometimes interpreted as kidnapping, since there are other injunctions against stealing property in the Bible).
  9. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"
  10. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house..." (in Exodus, the text reads "... neighbour's house, ... neighbour's wife, nor his manservant..." etc. while in Deuteronomy, "thy neighbour's wife, ... thy neighbour's house, his field" etc.)

According to Christian belief, if you break one Commandment, you are guilty of breaking them all. This underscores our status as sinners. But for all those who complain loudly about the the Ten Commandments not being put on public display to their satisfaction, I have a simple question.

What did you do last Saturday? I mowed the yard, did some laundry, went shopping, and did some other internet-related work (Sunday was about the same).

Jul 18, 2005

Christianity Today says it. I just post it.

George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal Declaration on Human Rights. "Original intent" of America's founders is not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness. The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the Creed. "God Bless America" is not the Doxology.

Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it's less and less obvious.

It's a whole 'nother country.

It really is fascinating to me that the Press (especially the European Press) refers to Lance Armstrong as a Texan, but almost never as an American (and then only secondarily). If Armstrong was from California, I somehow don't think you'd see people waving Golden Bear flags. Greg LeMond (the first American to win the Tour de France... and three times at that) was from Nevada, which is perhaps an even more "western" state than Texas and home to internationally famous Las Vegas, and yet he wasn't ever referred to as a Nevadan (sp?), but simply as an American. Something about the Texas myth.

When I visited Quebec a few years ago, I was told to identify myself as a Texan so that I wouldn't be confused for an "English" Canadian. Being known as an American was good, but being a Texan got me a free beer in Montreal.

It's good to see that the world's fascination with Texas and the "Lone Star Myth" stills lives, and that even the loathed "Cowboy from Crawford" hasn't totally expended that currency in Europe.

How He taught me to pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, your Name is holy.

Your kingdom is breaking in,
so that your will can be done on Earth,
just as it is done in Heaven.

You give us all we need, day by day.

You forgive our sins,
just as we forgive others.

You do not turn us over for trial,
but you free us from our Accuser,
because the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours for all eternity.


Jul 15, 2005

Amazingly ignored grace.

How can we get around the fact that, according to Jesus, to understand God and God's relationship with the world we have to begin with grace? This is especially troublesome for Christians, who claim to follow the teaching of Jesus, but it is also problematic for those who consider Jesus simply a wonderful teacher. After all, this wasn't a minor part of the legacy he left us; this was its central theme. We can't fault him on this without negating his entire ministry.

But how can we go along with this, really? It would mean a total reversal of our values. It would disrupt everything. Absolutely everything.

What might work is this: don't reject grace, just tame it. Honor it, by all means, and enshrine it in official confessions and praise it in religious ceremonies, but keep it within reasonable bounds, keep it away from the rest of life, keep it from running wild. If grace remains free, it will get into too much mischief. So always qualify and explain it. Preach sermons about it, if you must, but always conclude with a mighty therefore, as in "therefore, this is what you must do in response to God's grace,"

Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, said the most cunning strategy for defending ourselves against grace is to tame and harness it, to allow grace "to take its seat in the pew, cheerfully don the vestment and mount the pulpit, zealously to make Christian gestures and movements, soberly to produce theology, and in this way, consciously participating in the confession of Jesus Christ, radically to ensure that His prophetic work is halted, that it can do no more injury to itself, let alone to the world."

-- Donald McCullough, The Trivialization of God: the Dangerous Illusion of a Manageable Deity

Where these things can end.

"God is with us."

Jul 14, 2005

Why this bothers me.

Politics is creepy stuff. Always has been, and sadly, always will be. It has its shining moments, like when Lyndon Johnson pushed the Voting Rights Act through Congress, knowing full well that it would kill the Democratic Party in the South for decades to come. That was one of politics shining moments, when principal, honor, and yes, Christianity, overcome greed and the lust for power.

But moments like that are few and far between.

Since embracing Christianity over twenty years ago, I've not cared too much for politics. I paid attention, I had my preferences (based on the New Deal and the Sermon on the Mount), but I didn't sweat the results on a day to day basis. But this current bunch of Right Wing GOP leaders, having risen to power on the basis of Southern Racism and faux-patriotism coming out of the Reagan years, decided to grab the flag and drape it over the Cross of Christ, equating Christianity with the GOP. Gullible Christians, who for too long have heard a watered-down version of the Gospel that stressed cheap grace and the law, have fallen for it hook, line, and sinker. Following the pattern of original Sin, they have exchanged the atoning sacrifice of Jesus for a works-based religion that has more to do with Islam and Mormonism than it does with following Jesus.

That's why it bothers me. The GOP has blasphemed my Lord. They have dragged his Holy Name in the mud, all for mammon's sake. They swept into power proclaiming themselves virtuous, while filling the air with all manner of filth. No lie is too big, no smear is too brazen, as their god Mammon demands sacrifice.

May God have mercy on us for our foolishness, for calling them to power in Jesus' Name.

It depends on what the definition of "is" is.

Joseph Wilson, in an interview broadcast Thursday on NBC's "Today" show, said he thinks the White House's posture in this controversy represents a continuing "cover-up of the web of lies that underpin the justification for going to war in Iraq."

Wilson was asked about statements by Rove's defenders noting that an e-mail describing Rove's conversation with Time reporter Matthew Cooper indicated that Rove did not specifically mention Valerie Plame by name.

"My wife's name is Mrs. Joseph Wilson," he replied. "It is Mrs. Valerie Wilson. He named her. He identified her," Wilson said. "So that argument doesn't stand the smell test ... What I do know is that Mr. Rove is talking to the press and he is saying things like my wife is fair game. That's an outrage. That's an abuse of power."

-- AP

On traitors.

"Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, narco-trafficking, people killing each other, fundamentalists killing each other in the name of God. These and more. Many more. As our analysts know, as our collectors of intelligence know - these are our enemies. To combat them we need more intelligence, not less. We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country.

Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors."

George H. W. Bush
Dedication Ceremony for the George Bush Center for Intelligence
April 26th, 1999

Jul 13, 2005


When I was a child, I would occasionally bring home a new word or phrase I’d picked up at school. If I learned the word in class, that was usually a good thing, and I would proudly try it out over the dinner table.

But if it was a word I learned on the playground (or the boy’s room), I knew better than to test it in front of my mother or father (Dad used Lava soap, but Mom preferred Ivory… neither tastes very good). But accidents happen, and cleanliness’ immediate following of Godliness is something I have practical knowledge of.

I recall once saying “God damn it!” while playing either Monopoly, Risk, or Mille Borne (our three family games). It was "Ivory Time", as I was hauled down the hall to the lavatory. Mother explained to me that I had broken one of God’s Ten Commandments, and had taken his name in vain. I’ve been pretty careful about that ever since, although I have often wondered just what that Commandment meant.

The Hebrews were very careful to not use the name of God. They usually used a term like “Lord”, or the letters YWYH as a stand-in for the Holy Name. So “God” isn’t his name (anymore than “Christ” is Jesus’ middle name). So I’ve long thought that while I may have deserved my “tongue lathering”, I wasn’t breaking the 3rd Commandment.

So just what is “taking the Lord’s name in vain”? In large part, it was a prohibition against making claims for God that were untrue. This verse meant that one is not to use the name of God for “any frivolous or malicious purpose or in magic.” Which brings me to the point of this post; the activities of the “Religious Right”, a.k.a. the Pharisees (for those who worry that the Left -- the Sadducees -- will get off easy, don't fret yourself as I'll be addressing them as well).

When we KNOWINGLY use God’s name for material or political gain, we are violating the Third Commandment (remember, the Ten Commandments aren’t graded like a school test… miss three and you can still pass… no, here an inch is as good as a mile when it comes to missing one). In the Book of Acts, when Herod allows the citizens of Tyre to praise him "like a god, not a mortal", Herod is consumed by worms. In 1 Samuel, when Saul assumes the authority that God has given to others, the kingdom is taken from him. Even Moses suffers from failing to give God the glory when he strikes a rock for water, allowing people to think that he (Moses) brought forth the water. To play God, or to assume God's authority, always leads to destruction.

Hence my horror at the GOP and the religious Right's appropriation of not only the mind of God, but also His mantle. Of course, it's always a Graceless God, a God of LAW (the only time God's Grace is appreciated is on a ME level... Chuck Colson will talk about how God saved and forgave HIM, Dubya will talk about HIS accepting God and being forgiven for HIS sins, even while laughing at another Christian who pleads for mercy on her way to the executioner's gurney. "Salvation by Grace is for ME, but YOU have to earn it through the LAW" they seem to be saying. The Mormons must see the Religious Right as their next, great conversion field. Of course, their personal Grace reception excuses them from whatever sins they continue to commit... but not yours.

Am I being harsh? Some say so, but this issue is the Crux of the Gospel. The True Gospel ("Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near!" Mark 1:15) is made inaccessible to those who need it... even to those who yearn for it. This is the great sin, this is taking the Lord's Name in vain. Almost every right-wing "Christian" organization will espouse "tax cuts" as one of their goals. "Prayer in school, end abortions, cut my taxes, punish homosexuals." The only thing I can find in either the Old or New Testaments about taxes is our being told to pay them, and tax agents being told to not cheat. The only financial burdens I see being called to be lifted are those on the poor, not the rich. ANd make no mistake, by the World's standards (and by God's standards) the vast majority of White American Christians are rich.

"Viper's brood", Jesus called them. Worm food.

But the Left? The United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Church of Canada have all claimed to be guided by the "Holy Spirit" in making their decisions to normalize and sacramentalize sodomy, that somehow it is the "Holy Spirit" that approves of men inserting their penises into other men's rectums (in the name of love). Guided by a spirit, no doubt, but certainly not the Third Person of the Trinity. And so the Left not only takes the Lord's Name in vain, they also commit the sin that cannot be forgiven (in Jesus' own words), by blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And what of the men and women trapped in homosexual sin? They are now told it's not only OK, it's God's plan for them.

Those who think they are homosexual are denied the chance to be forgiven and healed by the very vessels they would turn to for comfort and healing... imagine an alcoholic showing up at an AA meeting only to find an open bar, and their sponsor telling them to "Drink up!". That's what the liberal churches have done.

"Viper's brood", Jesus called them. Worm food.

The GOP's Big Lie about Valerie Plame

The misinformation being spread in the media about the Plame affair is alarming and damaging to the longterm security interests of the United States. Republicans' talking points are trying to savage Joe Wilson and, by implication, his wife, Valerie Plame as liars. That is the truly big lie.

For starters, Valerie Plame was an undercover operations officer until outed in the press by Robert Novak. Novak's column was not an isolated attack. It was in fact part of a coordinated, orchestrated smear that we now know includes at least Karl Rove.

Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card.

A few of my classmates, and Valerie was one of these, became a non-official cover officer. That meant she agreed to operate overseas without the protection of a diplomatic passport. If caught in that status she would have been executed.

The lies by people like Victoria Toensing, Representative Peter King, and P. J. O'Rourke insist that Valerie was nothing, just a desk jockey. Yet, until Robert Novak betrayed her she was still undercover and the company that was her front was still a secret to the world. When Novak outed Valerie he also compromised her company and every individual overseas who had been in contact with that company and with her.

The Republicans now want to hide behind the legalism that "no laws were broken". I don't know if a man made law was broken but an ethical and moral code was breached. For the first time a group of partisan political operatives publically identified a CIA NOC. They have set a precendent that the next group of political hacks may feel free to violate.

They try to hide behind the specious claim that Joe Wilson "lied". Although Joe did not lie let's follow that reasoning to the logical conclusion. Let's use the same standard for the Bush Administration. Here are the facts. Bush's lies have resulted in the deaths of almost 1800 American soldiers and the mutilation of 12,000. Joe Wilson has not killed anyone. He tried to prevent the needless death of Americans and the loss of American prestige in the world.

But don't take my word for it, read the biased Senate intelligence committee report. Even though it was slanted to try to portray Joe in the worst possible light this fact emerges on page 52 of the report: According to the US Ambassador to Niger (who was commenting on Joe's visit in February 2002), "Ambassador Wilson reached the same conclusion that the Embassy has reached that it was highly unlikely that anything between Iraq and Niger was going on." Joe's findings were consistent with those of the Deputy Commander of the European Command, Major General Fulford.

The Republicans insist on the lie that Val got her husband the job. She did not. She was not a division director, instead she was the equivalent of an Army major. Yes it is true she recommended her husband to do the job that needed to be done but the decision to send Joe Wilson on this mission was made by her bosses.

At the end of the day, Joe Wilson was right. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It was the Bush Administration that pushed that lie and because of that lie Americans are dying. Shame on those who continue to slander Joe Wilson while giving Bush and his pack of liars a pass. That's the true outrage.

-- The above post is from Josh Micah Marshall's TPM Cafe weblog.

Denominational Changing of the Lightbulbs

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

Charismatic : Only 1
Hands are already in the air.

Pentecostal : 10
One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Presbyterians : None
Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

Roman Catholic : None - Candles only.

Baptists : At least 15.
One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken .

Episcopalians: 3
One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about
how much better the old one was.

Mormons : 5
One man to change the bulb, and four wives to tell him how to do it.

Unitarians :
We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

Methodists : Undetermined - Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass.

Nazarene : 6
One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting

Lutherans: None - Lutherans don't believe in change.

Amish : What's a light bulb?

-- Note: Of course, Mormons are not Christians, nor are MOST Unitarians. But for the sake of the joke, I'll let that pass.

Jul 11, 2005

Movie Quote of the Week.

Saw "The Aviator" this weekend (the partly ficticious story of the life of Howard Hughes). In a scene from the film, Howard Hughes and Katherine Hepburn visit her blue-blood, upper-crust parent's estate in Conneticut for an artsy-fartsy family gathering.

Hepburn's mother announces from the wood-paneled, leaded-glass dining room, "We're all Socialists here. We don't care about money." Hughes responds sardonically, "You don't care about money because you have it. You've never had to earn any."

A reminder that the Left has it's love of money as well as the Right does, and that Jesus tolerated neither's.

Jul 8, 2005

Hail, Mammon!

"My first thought when I heard - just on a personal basis, when I heard there had been this attack [i.e., yesterday's terrorist attack in London] and I saw the futures this morning, which were really in the tank, I thought, 'Hmmm, time to buy.' "

- Brit Hume, Fox News

A clearer example of the Right's worship of Mammon I can not imagine.

To my friends who stand on the right, I encourage you to consider how common this attitude is on that side of the aisle.

To my friends on the left, I encourage you to not worry TOO much about that speck in your neighbor to the right's eye.

Jul 7, 2005

As We Forgive Our Debtors

Now, for all its failings and its perversions over the last 2,000 years—and as much as every exponent of this faith has attempted to dodge this idea—it is unarguably the central tenet of Christianity: that everybody is equal in God's eyes. So you cannot, as a Christian, walk away from Africa. America will be judged by God if, in its plenty, it crosses the road from 23 million people suffering from HIV, the leprosy of the day.

What's up on trial here is Christianity itself. You cannot walk away from this and call yourself a Christian and sit in power. Distance does not decide who is your brother and who is not. The church is going to have to become the conscience of the free market if it's to have any meaning in this world—and stop being its apologist.

- Bono

Jul 4, 2005


(An e-mail to a Christian friend whom I admire, in response to a patriotic/christian Fourth of July message.)

We only like checks and balances when they favor us. We only like power when we wield it.
This is not a "Christian Nation", any more than it is the "New Jerusalem". The Enemy would have us believe otherwise.

I will dare to be so bold as to quote the Christian hymnist Robert Zimmerman (from his mid-sixties song "With God on Our Side") to one whom I think in all ways to be my better:

In a many dark hour
I've been thinkin' about this
That Jesus Christ
Was betrayed by a kiss
But I can't think for you
You'll have to decide
Whether Judas Iscariot
Had God on his side.

Peace and love... His Peace and His Love, as there is no other.