Monday, January 31, 2005

On how Iraqis value democracy more than we Americans.

Some 45 people were killed Sunday while the polls were open in Iraq (hundreds more were wounded). Among the dead, nine suicide bombers and two US Marines. Later in the day, after polls had closed, 10 British soldiers died when their military transport plane crashed. The cause is still unknown, although one Iraqi insurgent group has taken credit for the crash.

According to the NY Times, some 60% of Iraqis voted in the election. That would match voter turnout in the States last presidential election (which was its highest since 1968), despite the fact that not one shot was fired not bomb set off on November 3rd. In the Kurdish north and Shiite south, people turned out in droves, mostly on foot (because of election-day bans on autos), with election officials reporting long lines of Iraqis turning out to vote later in the day. The Sunni minority in central Iraq was most likely underrepresented, due to calls for a boycott of any election held while US forces still occupy Iraq. But officials have said that turnout in some Sunni areas might have been as high as 40%.

Fears that inkstained fingers would mark those who voted as objects of persecution or perhaps even assassination have so far been unfounded. In fact, as seen from pictures published worldwide, the inkstain has been laurelled as a sign of pride and independence among the Iraqi people, both at home and abroad.

Al-Qaida linked groups in Iraq are already disputing the as-yet-unknown outcome of the elections. In doing so, they have had to switch their focus from American imperialism to Iraqi democracy itself. With statements like this, "Let Bush, Blair ... know that we are the enemies of democracy," the insurgency might be shooting itself in the foot. It's one thing to be against the US led occupation, but it's another thing to oppose the idea of democracy altogether, especially when upwards of 60% of Iraqis turned out to vote!

President Bush hailed the election as a success. But most world leaders have viewed the election with guarded optimism, as they should. This is only the first in a long line of events that include the parliamentary election of a Prime Minister, the formation of a Cabinet, the writing of a Constitution, and new elections to be held next December. The insurgents, while dealt a crippling blow, will be sure to continue attacks across the country, especially at the first hint of persecution against the Sunni minority. One US diplomat commented, "If I were an insurgent I would be really bitterly disappointed at what happened yesterday....I certainly wouldn't conclude I should surrender. I would conclude that I have to show I'm still a player."

In a news conference today, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi called upon Iraqis to unite under the newly elected government. "The terrorists now know that they cannot win. We are entering a new era of our history and all Iraqis — whether they voted or not — should stand side by side to build their future."

There's not much one can add to that. Iraqis have a long way to go yet, but based on yesterday's results, they're determined to get there, dancing in the face of violence and fear. I'll never agree with Bush that this war was necessary for American security, but I can see that things are being worked in positive ways despite our miss-steps in the war on terror. The Iraqi people and American troops deserve the credit for taking a tragic mistake and working it into an oasis of freedom in the Middle East.

Great, now I'm even beginning to sound like Bush. I'm quitting before I really embarrass myself.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Better than movies.

I was watching channel 4's local news tonight and almost started crying as they interviewed exiled Iraqis voting in Chicago today. If you didn't know already, this is historic! As I type, the polls in Iraq have been open for 45 minutes (it's nearly 8 o'clock local time). When I talked to my dad today; his only comment was "Well, you know who's going to win..." Which isn't the point at all.

The Iraqi people have never had a say in how their country is run. Today, for the first time, they do. As much as this Administration has botched up post-war Iraq, our troops and the Iraqi people have stuck it out, and this is the first in what will (hopefully) be a series of payoffs for their strength and perseverance.

Sorry this is so rah-rah-rah, but I don't have the time to be subtle or ironic or anything else. I'm just ridiculously excited and incredibly anxious. I hope and pray to wake up to good news tomorrow. If you're a church-goer, and your pastor does not mention this tomorrow morning, find a new church. If you're in college, this should be the topic of every class Monday, even Intro to Probability and Statistics. If you're alive at all, even by the most narrow of margins, think about what is happening half-way across the globe and feel or do something about it.

Dancing would be appropriate. (But then again, when isn't it?) Blogging is nice. Playing a musical instrument (if you are able) would suffice. Shouting "hallelujah!" to every person you see would be superb. Games of hopscotch and/or marching are ideal.

Freut sich!

Friday, January 28, 2005

for what it's worth

Smoke and flames pour from a vehicle moments after it exploded close to a polling station in southern Baghdad. Insurgents set off a car bomb and attacked voting stations and security forces in several Iraqi cities. (AFP/Ali al-Saadi).


Iraqi elections will be held this weekend. For those of you who cast votes in November, count yourselves blessed to have voted without fear of mortar fire. I don't know what to expect Sunday.

Reports from the news over the past few days.

"About 300,000 Iraqi, U.S. and other multinational troops and police will provide security for the voting, which will take place at 5,300 polling centers." (AP)

"If reasonable numbers of the country's embattled Sunni Arab minority go to the polls, defying a vicious insurgency, the rebels could lose steam. That, in turn, would improve life for average Iraqis and may mean a quicker trip home for America's 150,000 troops. But if most Sunnis stay away, either out of fear of attack or a belief the election is illegitimate, the new government could start out weak. Tensions might rise between Sunnis and the majority Shiites flush with new power. And the insurgency might get a shot in the arm." (AP)


'A U.S. helicopter crashed in a desert sandstorm in the early morning darkness, killing the 30 Marines and one Navy sailor aboard.' (AP)

'Militants set off at least eight car bombings that killed 13 people and injured 40 others, including 11 Americans.' (AP)

'[President Bush] said it was a "very discouraging" day when the U.S. death toll for the war rose above 1,400.' (AP)

'Four days before historic elections in Iraq, many candidates' names are still secret. Almost no one is out pressing the flesh. And fliers threaten death to anyone who dares vote.' (AP)

'Using paper ballots, voters will choose parties rather than individuals. The number of candidates seated from each party will depend on the party's percentage nationwide. Results may not be known for several weeks.' (AP)

'The fact that candidates' names remain unknown has raised concerns that many Iraqis will choose a slate based mainly on the top few candidates, without knowing much about anyone else on the list, or their positions. It also means many Iraqis are susceptible to influence from people they trust — voting, for example, according to what their imams or tribal leaders recommend.' (AP)


'Iraqi newspapers also published for the first time the names of some 7,000 National Assembly candidates, many of whose identities had been kept secret to protect them from assassination.' (AP)

'One Marine was killed and five others were wounded when insurgents fired mortars at their base near Iskandariyah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad in tense Babil province.' (AP)

'In Ramadi, capital of the insurgent-plagued province of Anbar, an Iraqi national guard soldier was killed when insurgents attacked a joint U.S.-Iraqi force guarding a voting center at a school, police Lt. Safa al-Obeidi said.' (AP)


'Al-Zarqawi's group posted a new Web message warning Iraqis that they could get hit by shelling or other attacks if they approach polling stations, which it called "the centers of atheism and of vice. "We have warned you, so don't blame us. You have only yourselves to blame," it said.' (AP)

'In London, voters and election officials clapped their hands and sang to celebrate the start of voting, and one staff member banged a water container like a drum. "Today I feel that I am born again," said Darbaz Rasool, 23, a Kurd who fled Iraq in 1994.' (AP)

'"I am voting out of loyalty for my fellow countrymen, for our great Iraq, for those buried in mass graves and for our martyrs," a weeping Adel Mijbil Qawqaz said at a polling station in the United Arab Emirates.' (Reuters)

'Najib Al-Hilsy, a truck driver from Lincoln, Nebraska, drove overnight [to Chicago] for nine hours. "I have to do something for my country," he said. "I hope democracy comes to Iraq."' (Reuters)

Five more U.S. soldiers were killed today. One in a bombing in southern Baghdad at 2:00pm local time. One in a firefight with insurgents in the north at 2:15pm. Three more in a roadside bombing in western Baghdad at 4:00pm. (AP)


The Associated Press has a great Q & A about the basics of the election; check it out if you're curious.

Pray, too. I don't know what else to say.

things we lost in the fire

I am deciding that it's getting harder every day to care about money. I am saddled with thousands in debt from my days at college, and I care less about it with each passing night. Tomorrow morning, moments after waking up, between rolling out of bed and stumbling to check my inbox, I will have less of an interest in paying off these loans than I do right now.

I'm sure my lenders would not like to hear this. I'm sure my credit rating goes down with every word I type. I'm sure I will never own a home. I'm sure I couldn't care less.

Break out the vinyl. I'll hook up the speakers.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Sometimes, when I think about important things, I don't always write about them.

I really want to write about abortion right now, but I won't, because I know nothing and have nothing of weight nor consequence to say. Plus I am a boy, so I'm not sure if that's something I'm supposed to comment on at all.

So instead here are two blogs to waste some of your precious time on. First, a blog I stumbled across last night. It is called "School of Cool" and it will only take you 1.5 minutes to read all 10 or so posts. It's like what SNL would be like if the show were only 1 minute long, and run entirely by a Comedy Central intern named Danny, which in my opinion would be a vast improvement.

The second comes from my friend Jamie's friend Carla Sue, and is made up of quotes. It's called "Quotes of My Life." Some are they-should-have-their-own-show-on-HBO amazing. It could be on right before the Sopranos.

And because Jamie already knows about that blog, I'm going to add another one just so she'll have an extra option. Jamie, here's a blog that I think is all in Icelandic. Or something like that. I just like looking at the funny words and wondering if a real live Viking wrote them. It could happen....

Also, solar flares are happening all around us. Wear sunscreen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

random thoughts and potent potables, aka, shitface shitsauce

I'd like to think I've grown up since junior high school, but swear words in unlikely phrases are still real funny to me. I'm kind of stupid, I know.

So let's type. First up, the Board of Trustees at my sort-of Alma Mater released a statement yesterday in which they officially decided to get rid of Dr. John Sanders at the end of the 04-05 school year. Feh, no real surprise there. They did hook the guy up with a nice severance deal, where they'll pay him through the 05-06 school year. It's euphemistically called a "sabbatical." In real-people talk, we might call it a "soothing-their-guilt-ridden-conscience type deal." Or possibly just a "covering-their-behinds-when-the-backlash-begins type deal." Either way, I've already declared my intentions to quit 2005.

Moving on from things that matter to things that don't, Paul Giamatti was passed over for an Oscar nomination for his performance in Sideways, which might be the most ridiculous idea wrought by mankind. Of course I'm exaggerating, but please, the man can act like it's nobody's business. I think I just added the Oscars to the list of television events I probably will be skipping this year (other entries include the Super Bowl and the State of the Union). Give me VH1 or 'the N' any day of the week. Just kidding....sort of.

Marginally speaking of our marginally competent government, the Federales have announced that we lost 427 billion dollars this year, and had to borrow it from other countries so as not to bankrupt the United States of America. Good job slaps for everyone!

[Oh yeah, and in case you missed it the White House quietly (but officially) gave up their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq a couple of weeks ago. Quitters.]

In other news, Titan is a flammable moon covered with "dirty" ice and natural gas. I was really hoping that it had oxygen to breathe, so that my grandchildren might someday live there. No really, I'm serious. For honest.... Anyways, scientists say it's a good thing there isn't much oxygen, because the entire moon would blow to pieces (like in Star Wars!) if there were. So much for awesome space landings on Saturn's sweetest moon.

So is there any good news today?

Yes! It seems that Rolling Stone will in fact publish Zondervan's print ad for their new Bible, aimed at hipster emo/granola/hip-hop kids. I'd like to think I played a part in this, but who am I kidding. It's the free market that has once again prevailed! If you can't trust corporate account officers, who can you trust? Wait a be honest, I don't really care anymore. Just the fact that Zondervan makes money selling translations of divine revelation makes me want to vomit. I think I need to sit down. Oh wait, I am sitting down. Crap.

But, in spite of all these disappointments, I still had a wonderful yesterday. Firstly, because I checked out a copy of La Boheme from the Lake Geneva Public Library, which makes my ears happy. And secondly, I have bottled mango juice in my fridge from Trader Joe's, which makes me tum-tum happy. Two cds and 36 ounces worth of frothy, operatic, mango-goodness.

I think I just made up a new word. Take that, George W. Bush!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Criticism as evaluation.

The best article ever written about Christian rock is in this month's issue of GQ (the February one with Jamie Foxx on the cover). Yes, I have a subscription to GQ as well as subscriptions to every other magazine on earth (he said sarcastically but with bits of truth behind it). There's usually one really good article in the magazine, just like Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone...sometimes two, if you pray hard enough. And this month's good article happens to be about one journalist's trip to Creation Fest in Pennsylvania.

Just that GQ sent a writer to Creation should be enough to make you want to read this article, just to see what their angle is. But they actually sent a pretty good writer, John Jeremiah Sullivan, who says things like this:

Remember those perfume dispensers they used to have in pharmacies -- "If you like Drakkar Noir, you'll love Sexy Musk?" Well, Christian rock works like that. Every successful crappy secular group has its Christian off-brand, and that's proper, because culturally speaking, it's supposed to serve as a stand-in for, not an alternative to or an improvement on, those very groups. In this it succeeds wonderfully. If you think it profoundly sucks, that's because your priorities are not its priorities; you want to hear something cool and new, it needs to play something proven to please...while praising Jesus Christ. That's Christian rock.

In other words, it Sam's Choice off-brand blandness. And that's genius writing, encapsulating what makes Christian rock so horrendously unlistenable but so welcomed by parents, youth pastors and churchgoers everywhere. For growing up listening to Christian music, and working at a Christian radio station for a season, I can't believe no one ever summed it up like so. I've never heard it described in exactly that way, but it's the way I will describe Christian rock for the rest of my life.

What drew me into the article was a photo caption that finds itself in part of the article itself. I've never tried explaining praise and worship music to a non-Christian, because it just seems so crazy and churchy and cheesy, that I'm afraid it would scare people away if I told them we sing rock songs to Jesus before the sermon. Sullivan's description builds upon mine and confirms it, making it scarier than ever:

The sound that woke me was a barbaric moan, like that of an army about to charge. Early mornings at Creation were about "Praise and Worship," a new form of Christian rock in which the band and the audience sing, all together, as loud as they can, directly to God.

He makes it sound like a cross between snake handling and a Dashboard show, which probably isn't too far off when you think about it.

But the article takes another turn near the end, when Sullivan reveals that he was into the Christian scene for a while in high school -- a stellar evangelist it seems to boot (he calls it his "Jesus phase"). A funny and informative send-up of Christian music become a story of Sullivan's connection with a group of young men from West Virginia during his trek to Creation; and a buried confession of his love for Jesus of Nazareth after all these years. It's powerful stuff.

And yes, it's in GQ. Maybe go buy it, even though it's about $4 for the whole issue. Maybe don't, and I could hand you a photocopy one of these days. It's really good though, and I can't say enough wonderful things about it. Because I saw myself in him and in the people he was writing about. And finally, I understand why most Christian writers suck so much.

Because we're afraid to be honest about how absurd our religion/faith is. It's funny that it took an article from GQ to help me realize this, but it's true. Christian writers are afraid to be too self-critical because they're afraid of becoming apostates (myself included). Apostates and agnostics don't have those problems, so their insights cut deeper, hurt a little more, and make us face the facts the we Christians do and say some pretty horrible things -- things that seem pretty benign to us -- but that anger and belittle those outside the church.

I don't have any easy answers or quick-fix solutions. But I'm finally beginning to understand that our little evangelical subculture more than simply keeps us overly-safe and cut-off from "the world;" it creates a barrier that some on the outside either cannot or outright refuse to overcome. The second we Christians became a phenomenon that journalists try to understand and figure out is the second we lost our relevance in modern culture. We became like any other American fringe group: Goths. Libertarians. Emo kids. Soccer fans. We lost our footing in culture, then decided the best recourse was to create our own.

So I guess the question is, it is worth it? Protecting Christian kids from Hoobastank while at the same time keeping "seekers" (another horrible term) out?

Based on the success of your local Family Christian Bookstore, I think the answer from most evangelicals is, "Yes, you're damn right it's worth it."

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Jesus, with swords and stuff...maybe guns, too.

What we really need is an ass-kicking Jesus, with freakin' kung-fu grip.

At least, that's what Christians are saying to the news media ('Braveheart' Becomes Role Model for Christian Men - Reuters).

This shouldn't come as a shock to many who've experienced the evangelical Christian subculture, but the movie Braveheart is very popular among young Christian men. It's got it all. Frat-boy moonings, lots of swords/hacking of said swords, and (if only for a few seconds) boobies. What more could you want?

John Eldredge writes books for Christians. In Wild at Heart he sets forward an argument that Christian men should be more passionate and active about life. He argues that too many Christian men are nice guys, and that we need a little bit of that warrior spirit that one can find in movies like Braveheart, The Patriot, Gladiator, etc.

Which is all fine and dandy, if it didn't ignore one glaring fact -- Jesus wasn't much of a warrior. The guy had passion out the wazoo, but he never went to battle as a guerilla warrior against the Crown, nor did he fight a Roman Emperor to the death in the Coliseum. When backed into a corner, he didn't go crazy-wild with an ax on the people who killed his family. No, he just died like a thief.

Admittedly, the book of Revelation depicts Jesus returning on a steed with fire and brimstone in his wake. But until that time, I think it's a safe bet to say he wants us to emulate the first Advent of the Christ. Meek and humble, pointed and critical, filled with the power of the Holy Ghost, spurred by the passion of the cross, and living victoriously in the promise of the resurrection.

Jesus was no warrior, but the guy had passion written all over him. Maybe Mr. Eldredge should have taken a cue from the life of Christ when he was writing to Christian men about passion, directing them to the likes of Hudson Taylor, Dr. King or Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- not because they weren't particularly violent men, but because they were men who lived passionate lives captivated by the words of Jesus, and not in spite of them.

We don't need no stinking Braveheart. We've got all the goods we need without resorting to Hollywood renditions of reluctant gladiators/revolutionaries. We've got JC, kicking it old school in the Sermon on the Mount. Passion through the extra mile. Victory through death. The kingdom through mercy and mourning.

The Jesus we're still afraid to talk about. The Jesus who doesn't make a lick of sense. The Jesus we try to sweep under the rug.

Well guess what. He doesn't intend to stay there long.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

short posts

Maybe this is real dumb, but I had never heard of the weather term "cold snap" until just two weeks ago. Does everyone know what this means, or did someone in the news just invent it to make me feel dumb? Apparently, I'm in the middle of one, regardless of whether it's an old turn of phrase or this year's "metrosexual."

Anyhoo, tonight was the first night that my beard ever came in handy. I've had it since last spring, so it's never been through a winter before. But I worked outside tonight for a couple of hours in the great midwest snow storm that's still hounding outside my door, and my cheeks stayed mostly nice and warm. I have no complaints. My beard pulled through.

I did get stuck driving home though. I guess beards can't help with that.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Who I work for, they've got issues.

Sometimes I like to start my posts off with a confession. I don't know why, it's just fun (and informative). So here I go.

I am a magazine geek. I have subscriptions to maybe seven or eight periodicals, some which come once a week. One of those magazines is Fortune, which I don't even pay for. I'd never even peeked inside an issue of Fortune before my free subscription, but hey, it was free, so what was I supposed to do?

It's actually pretty good, if you're into business. And because I'm into quite literally everything, I'm into business. The January 24 issue was especially fun, with a cover story on the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Thirty-seven were "large companies," with over 10,000 U.S. employees. My employer, good old Wal-Mart, was noticeably left off. (Yes, Virginia, I work for Wal-Mart.) Which might have been part of the reason they decided to take out a full page ad in over 100 daily newspapers across the country last week, defending their treatment of Wal-Mart Associates (aka, employees).

Frankly, Wal-Mart doesn't do as much as other retailers do for their employees. Hourly pay is lower compared to Target, Sears, etc., the health coverage they provide is unaffordable for some of their hourly associates, and the turnover for hourly employees is higher than it should be (at least in my particular store). This newest PR plank is the latest in a massive campaign that includes underwriting programming on NPR and airing those feel-good television commercials that try to convince you Wal-Mart is your home away from home. There's only one problem: it's mostly just PR wind.

Until Wal-Mart decides to change its culture -- until it decides to raise prices just so much so that she can pay her employees a decent wage and take care of them when they get sick -- all the PR in the world isn't going to make a dent of difference. As long as it churns out poorly trained, poorly payed associates; as long as it can't provide adequate and modestly-priced health coverage; as long as it pays little attention to the high turnover rate in some stores among hourly associates, there will be literally thousands of disgruntled current/former employees who will deflate the wind from under their marketing sales. As much as we live in a quasi-Orwellian, 1984 world these days, not even the most intensive ad campaign can overcome the honesty of the people who work for or have worked for Wal-Mart stores.

Until we change our culture, and begin to put both the customer and the employee on equal footing, we can find better things to do with our money than buy full page ads in 100 newspapers. In fact, if we'd only take a look at some of the things that got certain companies on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, we could begin to get a few ideas.

1) The coffee giant Starbucks offers part-time employees and their same- or opposite-sex partners comprehensive health coverage. That's part-time employees.

2) General Mills encourages her employees to go to school. They reimburse tuition costs at 100% up to $6,000 per year. And if employees leave after they graduate, they don't have to pay back a thing.

3) MBNA, a credit-card issuer, gives a paid week off to new grandparents. Mention that to the greeter next time you walk into Wal-Mart.

4) Adoptive parents at CDW (an electronics company) can receive up to $3,000 to help with the fees that come when adopting a child.

5) Wegmans Food Markets, a grocery chain in the North-East U.S., was rated as the number one best company to work for. Mostly due to their motto, "Employees first, customers second." And they back it up with more than words. The family-owned chain figures that when employees are happy, customer service is a piece of cake. Not a bad idea. That other family-owned giant I happen to work for ought to take note.

Now aren't you proud I didn't say a word about how we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan but still managed to have a $40 million party back home in Washington D.C.? Not to mention the uncalculated cost for the largest post-9/11 security operation in the United States, which will come straight from the pockets of your average tax-paying citizen? (Sure, Bush has every reason to celebrate, but in light of recent events in Iraq and the Indian Ocean does he have to party like it's 1999?)

Dang it. I was so close....

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tepid rock journalism and trendy Biblical translations just don't mix in today's postmodern matrix.

Rolling Stone magazine has decided it doesn't sell advertising space to businesses hawking Bibles. Apparently Zondervan was about to buy some print space to show off their new gen-x/y NIV translation, but Rolling Stone pulled the plug at the last minute, appealing to an unwritten policy that prohibits them from running ads with religious content.

That's right, an unwritten policy. In other words, they just pulled it out of the ether.

It's bad enough that Rolling Stone hasn't mattered since 1971. It's bad enough that they don't know much about rock and roll anymore, deciding to paste either Lindsay Lohan or some half-dead rocker on their cover in an attempt to appeal simultaneously to both aging boomers and horny young teenagers.

Now they won't let people pay them to advertise one of the oldest literary texts in human history. Does it matter that the new translation has an 80% chance of sucking? Not really. All that matters is that I'm still smarting from the time they failed to include just one song by Nick Drake, Conner Oberst, Elliott Smith, Chan Marshall, Mark Kozelek, Patty Griffin or David Bazaan (I digress) in their 500 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time last month.

I have way too much time on my hands.

Check please.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Me and Jim Dobson.... A Love Affair

There's this Beastie Boys song from Licensed to Ill that I really like, called "She's Crafty." I was listening to it tonight, and it reminded me of an article about James Dobson in the latest issue of U.S. News. Because like Lucy in the song, Dr. Dobson is crafty like ice is cold.

I should tell you that I have a history with Jim. I grew up with him in a way. My parents read a couple of his books, so he helped raise me. They still get his Focus on the Family newsletter and magazine, and I'm pretty sure they give him money every year.

For the longest time, that was all we had. Then college happened. First off was my trip to the annual Evangelical Theological Society conference in the fall of 2002. ETS was a bit of a bummer, with not a few theologians bashing the crap out of John Sanders, who was one of my professors at the time. They seemed to have this unseemly condition where they failed to separate the man from his theology. Consequently, it became standard practice to question his faith and character every time they questioned Open Theism. (Read Christianity Today's coverage of the event here.) Strike one for evangelicalism if you're keeping score.

While attending the conference in Colorado Springs, another old professor of mine, Dr. Chris Leland, was kind enough to give myself and Jake Sikora a tour of the Focus on the Family headquarters. Dr. Leland has been there since the summer of 2002, and as far as I know, enjoys teaching at the Focus Institute quite nicely. The building was big and expensive and a foreshadowing of HC's own Science Building, albeit on a smaller scale. Suffice to say, I was both impressed and uncomfortable with it all. Let's call that half a strike.

The following spring of 2003, our relationship took another turn. The National Religious Broadcasters had recently appointed Wayne Pederson as president of their organization. (NRB is a sort of association of evangelicals in the television, radio and print industries.) Not long before he would have been introduced at their annual convention in Nashville, Dr. Pederson made some comments to the effect that perhaps the emphasis of NRB would be better spent on the Gospel than on politics. He was concerned that religious broadcasters were putting more and more of the their faith in policy battles than in the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Enter me and James Dobson.

We were both at that convention in Nashville. I was there to accept an award for an essay I wrote, ironically sponsored by Focus on the Family. They gave me a plaque and a $1,000 for school. I read my paper to a bunch of college students and their professors. I got two job offers and three personal sales pitches from graduate schools. (Where are they now?) Life was good.

I never saw Jim, except from afar. We may have nodded politely, but probably not. The man had no idea who I was, even though he had just given me 1,000 bucks. Dr. Dobson was there for one reason -- to make sure Pederson never become president of NRB. He took Pederson's comments personally, and wasn't about to allow someone who put the Gospel over politics to rise to such a prominent position in the evangelical community. In a closed door meeting in the Opryland Hotel, Dr. Dobson made his case that Pederson was not fit for the job -- that the evangelical church was a major force in American politics, and that we needed an NRB president who toed his party line.

There was no vote that I know of at the convention -- Pederson decided to resign before things got ugly. One professor of mine who was allowed in the meeting because of his standing in IRB (the college division of NRB) later confessed to me how sad the whole process had been. This from a man who usually had nothing but good to say about Dr. Dobson. Something about the whole process had left him disenfranchised. As far as I was concerned, that was strike two and a half. (CT covered this one, too; one of my favorite pieces they've done.)

Lately, Dr. Dobson's words would seem prophetic, as his organization's support of President Bush was enough to offset increased voter turnout among youngsters voting for John Kerry. The NRB affair was only a spring training game compared to the main event last November. His role in the Arlen Specter affair was even less subtle. Jim expects much, and "God drops" in policy speeches won't suffice. He wants action from Bush, and he's let our president know.

So does Jim own George? Not hardly. But he could raise one hell of a shitstorm should Bush move to the center in an effort to work with Democrats on the Hill. Meanwhile, due to the influence of Jim on myself, evangelicalism, the movement I grew up in, is half a strike away from falling to pieces. So that's my story. That's the tale of me and Jim Dobson. We go way back, and I have a feeling we're not done with each other yet.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

ft. wayne

I'm typing from the downtown branch of the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which may in fact be my new favorite library in the whole wide world. I've been staying with my brother and sister-in-law, enjoying people, places and things without too many cares to worry about. Except I have $10 left for food, and that has to last until Sunday.

Yesterday, I found myself at Hyde Brothers Used Books for the very first time. And while I might take issue with certain Jake Sikoras over whether it's the best used book store on the planet (John King's Used Books in Detroit gets my vote), I will concede that Hyde Bros. is incredibly sweet. And by sweet I mean there are books packed higher than very tall men could even dream to reach. But I also mean that I found four books that I can't wait to read. Here they are, in order of discovery:

1. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. I've had this on my imaginary list for a real long time now, but finally I found it for 1.95, which is going to make it even better, I think.

2. Walt Whitman: Selected Poems, Ed. Gary Schmidgall. I almost bought Leaves of Grass, but this collection looked interesting because it contains many of his poems in their original form, before he became popular and proper. Supposedly, the jacket says their packed with homoeroticism; I'm just hoping they're honest.

3. In Defense of Tradition, by Richard M. Weaver. Kind of a cornucopia of short writings and essays from one of my favorite conservative, dead people. Back when conservatives weren't popular, and we had brains, too.

4. Eat Fat, by Richard Klein. I was looking for No Logo, by Naomi Klein, which they didn't have. But this stood in it's place, and looked interesting. It's basically an argument of sorts that thin is only a passing fad in the grand scheme of historical fashion, and that fat has been "in" for the great majority of time and culture. It's funny, too. And has pictures of naked, fat people. You probably would not find it in Wal-Mart.

My goal was to buy a copy of Ulysses, by Joyce, but I put it back at the last second. First, the binding was wrong and the dust jacket just wasn't very attractive. But mostly, I'm not ready for it. I have to be excited like Christmas when I buy this, otherwise, I don't think I'll get past the tenth page. And I want to get past the tenth page.

I'm kind of itchy now to drive to Detroit and visit John King's. I have no money, but plenty of credit. And cheaply priced, wonderfully written books are whispering my name on the mountaintops.

I just might have to answer.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Singles Bible Study - Room 202

Sometimes, when I'm tired of writing about how much Washington, DC is a complete and utter crock of a town, and sick of helplessly watching the world collapse under the weight of its own injustices, I float on over to and find something absurd to laugh about.

Christians say and do such stupid, stupid things. And I love them for it, mostly because I am one myself. If you can't laugh at the things we do in the name of Christ, then you might possibly resort to murder. So please, laugh, because I'm too young to die.

Not to say that everything that comes out of CT is total crap, but rest assured you can't surf the site for 5 minutes without unearthing something that'll make you smile. And this night in particular, it came from the Christian Singles section.

First, a disclaimer. I'm a single 20-something, so go ahead and put me into a box. Supposedly I really want a woman (or man) to give me meaning in life. Supposedly I'm a key demographic to the evangelical church. Supposedly what I really need is a singles-oriented group where I can interact with other Christian singles as we learn that being single is a gift from God.

Supposedly, according to all the Ministry textbooks, I am not just single. I am a single.

Well fuck that.

During my year in Montana I had every intention of joining a local church. For a couple of months there, I actually did....until I got pigeonholed as "a single." And once you get that label, there's only one way to rid of it. Back in college, this problem didn't exist. Everyone was single -- except for those few who couldn't wait until after graduation to have sex and not feel guilty about it. But church after college is about putting you with people of the same subset: young couples, soccer moms, retired folks, divorcees, etc. I guess there's no room for integration except for that hour or two on Sunday morning. Welcome to Willow Creek America.

My problem with the Montana church? I hate singles. Don't get me wrong, single people are fine; I get along with them great. Just like I get along with married people. Most of the people I admire most are married; they're good friends and I love them to death.

But singles? They make me want to vomit blood. That's overly gross, I know, but they seriously do.

So anyway, back to Christianity Today. One young lady has a column, or at least I think it's a column, about how being single is okay as long as you're in love with God, or something along those lines. In her column, she recounts a story about how she met a Frenchman on an airplane, instantly connected with him, then hours later found out he was married. It's a sad story, but I don't need her writing like she's a evangelical Bridget Jones to recognize that. And when she says things like, "He looked French, and anyone who knows me well knows that French men pretty much have me at bonjour," I can start tasting the vomit in the back of my throat.

It's not a bad story. It's the type of story that Anne Lamott might weave into gold, effortlessly tying grace and neurosis and anti-Bushisms while leaving your feet tingling with her words. But what makes the Frenchmen story hard to swallow is when CT girl has to end an a "point."

A few lessons about our "chance" meeting became clear with hindsight. As much as some sexual temptation is visible a mile away—you're in a serious dating relationship, you're walking into a steamy R-rated movie—some of it's very sneaky. It wasn't until I was relaying the situation to a friend and she replied, "That guy would've had an affair with you," that I realized the full extent of what I'd walked away from. My rendezvous on the plane also reminded me that we always need to be on guard, and close enough to God to hear his whispered cautions to us.

I'm sure ending on a "point" is something they require for CT columnists, especially when writing for Christians singles. But points sometimes hide what makes storytelling worthwhile in the first place. They seem to make everything that has come before it invalid, or at least not as important. Points make stories dishonest. And they turn storytellers into tele-evangelists.

So if you're going to take anything away from this, don't. Just enjoy how much I've left unsaid, and speculate how I'm really quite bitter about being single and would dance with joy if all married people died in house fires tomorrow. But don't try to find my point. And if you do find it, just ignore it. It's not really all that important to begin with.


P.S. I'm listening to Wilco while typing this, and realizing how much better they are than anything I could ever say. I almost want to erase this whole thing and tell you to go buy Being Therethis very instant. Because it's that good. So maybe pick it up if you stumble across it. And realize that music doesn't sound this good when life = happiness and every story has a lesson. Sometimes, stories just end. And sometimes, life keeps on going when you wish it would just stop.

P.P.S. Sorry to end on a downer, but that's going to be it for a few days, while I go about a mini-vacation of sorts across the Midwest. See you in Toledo, South Bend and North Adams. Be good.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Know your Alberto Gonzales

Today, during daylight hours, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin the confirmation process of Alberto R. Gonzales as President Bush's next Attorney General. Ubiquitous, talking-head speculators have speculated that he will be confirmed, but not after answering some pointed questions about his legal role in the treatment of terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. In his previous capacity as White House Legal Council, Mr. Gonzales' recommendations helped to narrowly define this Administration's definition of torture, thus allowing the DOD/CIA quite a bit of leeway in the way they could legally treat detainees. As we know by now, the results weren't pretty.

The Washington Post has also published a full story about Gonzales' role concerning terror detainees. The AP has posted a brief biography for Mr. Gonzales, as well as framed some possible questions he might be asked during his confirmation hearing. As usual, has decided to use fiery rhetoric rather than reasoned argument, taking out a rather damning full-page ad in the NY Times. In addition, a group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders have written an open letter to Mr. Gonzales asking him to denounce the use of torture on moral and legal grounds before he takes the office of head lawyer of the United States of America -- not a bad idea in my book.

This man is probably going to be our next attorney general. You should take a few moments to get to know him. And pray that he never comes after you.

How's that for rhetoric?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

What's a superpower to do?

Ahh, the internet.... How can this digital giant be responsible for both massive amounts of free porn and millions of private dollars earmarked for Asian tsunami relief efforts? Oh that's right. Good old duplicitous humanity.

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting how the internet, both as a news medium and an outlet for charitable giving, is revolutionizing both how and how much Americans are giving. Wake up, read a news article about the devastation, watch a streaming video about relief efforts, view a few pictures of young orphans, point and click to help those in need. All in your underwear. Welcome to the future.

In the midst of all this, Reuters has released a strikingly honest article suggesting that all the goodwill Americans could muster still would not turn the tide against anti-Americanism in Muslim countries (of which Thailand, Sri Lanka and Indonesia can at least be partially counted). Our nation's course in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel will always dominate the discussion, no matter how great a PR campaign we might implement. Giving helps show that we're not cold-hearted towards Muslims, but it will never convince them that our cause across the Middle East is just. To think of it their eyes, what if the Taliban had sent millions of dollars of Afghan aid to New York in the wake of the September 11th attacks? Would that have made everything bygones? I would venture to guess, "No." We've got a long way to go before the American name means what it used to around the world.

And speaking of a long way to go, recent events in Iraq don't seem to encourage the national vote later this month. The local governor of Baghdad was recently killed in an insurgent attack, and calls to postpone the election seem to be rising in crescendo. But the Bush Administration has got to stick to their guns concerning the January 30 date. It's not an ideal date, but the facts suggest that there will never be an ideal date. Elections have to happen, and the sooner they do, the sooner we can bring our troops back home. Postponing won't make things better, it will just prolong the violence. The elections must go forward, for the sake of our troops, and for the sake of a free Iraq (from both terrorism and imperialism).

Back home, it's snowing like hell, not just outside my window, but across most of the country as well. Be safe. And have a little fun. Lord knows someone has to.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I don't have a clue where we'll all be one year from now, but hopefully we'll have seen this film, and not have been tragically disappointed.

Click here for a trailer about WETA's early work on the Chronicles of Narnia.

Is it weird that all the focus is on the "armies" of Narnia? Let's hope this isn't Hollywood's quest for another LOTR. I just want to see Aslan, and always winter but never Christmas.

(Thanks to Liz R. for the heads up!)

Saturday, January 01, 2005

my year in review

Thoughts on writing and Relevant magazine

These last 365 days, I’ve tried to be a writer. I’m still not sure if a writer is something you try your hand at, or if it's just something you are. I don’t have an answer. I only have life.

Some time ago, I declared quite openly in the pages of the Huntingtonian how I wanted to write. Since then, it’s been a struggle. I tried my hand at sending a few literary submissions to agents who handled children’s authors, but only got a few, polite rejection letters. This past fall, I’ve tried magazines and periodicals, because I can’t seem to stop writing about current events. I figured someone might want to pay me for my troubles, right?

Wrong. No takers thus far. I feel a bit of a failure. I know I haven't been trying for long, but its hard to keep sending submissions when most places don’t even have the courtesy to say that I suck, let alone acknowledge that I even sent something in the first place.

But if I am to be a failure, I want it to be the most open and honest failure of all time. I want it to be a desperate failure; a failure of monumental proportions. I want as many people as possible to know how I’ve failed. How I shot for my dreams and missed by lengths of the sun.

What few people I know will remember how I failed, and look back on it, and remember how I wasn’t always a 7th grade history teacher or a district manager at J.C. Penny's. They might even encourage me to pick it up again, and re-piece the shards back together, just for the heck of it. And I will. Because if I'm anything, I am a sucker. But I will never hide the fact that I am. I will fail with the best of them, and rest easy in the fact that many of my heroes were failures, too. Oh yeah, failure will be like second-nature. And I will embrace it like a brother.

One magazine in particular though, hurts more than any other. And that’s Relevant magazine. My brother got me a subscription last Christmas, and I’ve been painfully following along bi-monthly for the past 12 months. But what makes it hurt so much is the fact that I can’t even get them to publish anything I right. Even on their website, where pieces go up with no monetary exchange. Your only reward is to see your name in digital print. Not even for free will they publish me. Go ahead, rub it in.

It hurts doubly because I mostly hate what’s in the magazine, but absolutely love the idea. The content is all trucker hats and pop culture and seeker-sensitive ideas on morality and mortality. It's Rick Warren for the Passion generation. It's Brian McLaren channeling Toby Mac channeling Ashton Kutcher. And it’s sick. But the idea, a magazine for young Christian men and women that isn’t crap, that’s what makes me want to write for them.

It began about a year ago, with the face of Bono on the cover. Seemingly implying that this was an interview with Bono. It wasn’t. This is a trend for the magazine in general -- covering people they’ve never spoken with. But it’s hard to fault an upstart magazine with this, because they don’t have the wherewithal to interview everyone they’d like to cover. But for future reference, they are a great many people who would be worth interviewing, regardless of their photogenic ability to sell magazines.

There have been many awkward moments during my brief relationship with Relevant. The summer music preview immediately comes to mind. As does their disastrous quote-unquote “political coverage” of the 2004 election, which set journalism for young adults by young adults back a number of years. But others items such as “Rock Stars on God", “Are Women Inferior?”, “So What if You’re Single? Get A Life!”, "Can I Believe in Evolution and Still Be a Christian?”, “What Is It About Starbucks?” have turned the magazine into a punchline of bad evangelical cliches. There's Dan Haseltine trying with all his might to write profound spiritual truths; lots of info for young, hip, single sub-culture-ites; and of course the subtle hypocrisy of rating albums according to their lyrical and spiritual content, but saying nothing of these things in the DVD section. Because f-words in movies don't count, I guess.

Even more serious articles such as “Putting a Face on Gay Marriage” “Got Church? It Does a Body Good” fail to explore relevant issues from all the angles -- to really delve into how murky it can be for young Christians to find biblical answers in the midst of a complex, fallen society. This isn’t rocket science. Let’s just do some quality research, interview a few people who disagree, and write an article with more space set aside for actual words than fun pictures with a trendy, post-college layout.

Not even the presence of my old CCM friend John Fischer can save the day. When CCM went to pot (or was it I just discovered that the music they covered was crap?), the magazine always ended on a high note because of Fischer's musings on culture and God. His last days at CCM were my last days as a reader. But not even my old soul-mate makes me want to put up with Relevant.

But I can’t help wanting to write for them. Not because of what they are, but because of what they could be.

There is plenty of potential. Interviews with Talib Kweli, Richard Linklater, Pedro the Lion, Soul Survivor and Chuck Palahniuk. A nice mix of music reviewed (even if they're rating system is a little too Michael Medved). And the occasional opinion piece from Don Chaffer, my favorite, long-haired, jam-band Christian.

So in the end, I don’t know what this magazine is about, and for some reason, I don’t think they do either. Sure, they have their mission statement, but over the past year, I’ve rarely seen it fulfilled. Ever since I first experienced Dave Eggers, and especially since Sideways, I’ve wanted to see a magazine like this where Christians write about things that matter, and they write well about these things. Good writing is hard to come by these days, I’m just one example of a glut of bad writers this side of the Atlantic trying to make good. Multiply me by a million, and you’ll see why so much crap gets put out, not just on the world wide web, but in actual, factual print media.

So to recap. I want to write, and I’m not afraid to fail at it if I have to. Relevant is awful, but it has the potential for so much more. Dave Eggers and Paul Giamatti are pure genius, and cover stories on Keanu Reeves movies are dumb ideas. One of these days, the voice of young Christians will matter, because we will finally have the right words to say what we’ve been trying to say for our still-so-awkward adult lives.

This is the new year. In fact, the newest year so far.

Let’s write.

(And there's more, this time on McLaren and the Emergent Church, over at Midwest Mindset. It's a two-fer-one day. Aren't I nice?)