Saturday, August 30, 2008

O, Bomb It on the Mountain!

Dennis Perrin on Obama's nomination and his acceptance speech.

His analysis is funny and hard to top. Great quote:

"I have a dream, that one day, a man of African heritage will rise up from humble beginnings, and take the reins of imperial power, bombing and starving poor people he's never met in order to appease those affluent few who made his ascent possible. I have a dream today!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Georgia, Abkhazia, and Ossetia

Anyone might disagree with some details, but it reminds us what trouble we get into by leaping into strife without knowing anything about it first. And there is this: the guy actually knows something about what he's talking about.

Other examples of how we get into trouble by grabbing passing dogs by the ears include the leap into Vietnam on behalf of the French after World War 2, and indeed how we as individuals jump into all sorts of strife without learning anything about it first:

The Trouble with Georgia

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A few good questions

Thursday, August 14, 2008

You wanna see?

In his book The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel observed that a poet would have seen the magnificent buildings in Samaria, and Ahab's ivory palace, and he would have sung of beauty. Amos looked at these and saw injustice and a cry. For this reason Isaiah said of Tyre, "The Lord's purpose is to defile the pride of all beauty" (Isaiah 23:9).

Well, how do we know when beauty is really ugly? It's right there: when it has pride. I'll need to think about that some more.

Heschel again. The poets see beauty, but the prophets see injustice. Jesus: "What is high with men is detestable to God."

Dave Zirin's sports column, "Edge of Sports," addresses this issue today as squarely as any of us Christians ever do, and he can't get more specific. The original post. Here it is:

Women’s Gymnastics: The Big Mac of the Beijing Games
By Dave Zirin

If you have been reading this blog, you know that I am somewhat conflicted about the Olympics. There is the beauty of the games, and an ugly pervasive undercurrent that can leave you queasy. It's like eating at McDonalds: so tasty at first, so nauseating upon reflection.

If the Olympics are McDonalds, then women's gymnastics is without question the Big Mac. There is the remarkable, CGI-like athleticism by all the young women involved. Then there is the knowledge that the competitors have had their bodies and health manipulated and warped so they can execute on the springboard.

Last night of course was what Sports Illustrated's EM Swift called "the marquee event of these Beijing Games" the women's gymnastics team finals where China and the US went head-to-head. China won, and in a staggering act of hypocrisy, all that US national team coordinator Martha Károlyi and her husband Béla (banned from coaching the team for unspecified reasons) could do was bellow about how the Chinese team violated age violations and cheated their way to the gold. (Béla calls the Chinese gymnasts "half people.") The media has run with this, raising hell with accusations that the Chinese were using several gymnasts under the age of 16. The Chinese coach, Lu Shanzen smartly responded, "If you think our girls are little because of looks, then maybe you should think the Europeans and Americans are strong because of doping."

Let's forget the terrible irony that the media is all too concerned about Chinese gymnasts who aren't 16 but have turned a blind eye to the way Chinese child labor has been used to prepare Beijing for the Olympic games. Béla and Martha Károlyi launching these attacks is like hearing George W. Bush criticize Russia for invading Georgia: they simply have no moral standing whatsoever. The Károlyis' success in gymnastics is unparalleled. They have coached nine Olympic champions, fifteen world champions, sixteen European medalists and six US national champions. Yet to deal with the Károlyis is to deal with the devil. Their reputation for starving young girls on 900 calorie a day diets and verbally abusing them so they can be light enough to stick the landing, is infamous. There have even been reports suggesting that Béla has had young girls practice on broken bones. As 1996 Olympian Dominique Moceanu said last month, "If it was up to the athletes, [the Károlyis would have been banned from the sport] a long time ago." She also once said, "I'm sure Béla saw injuries, but if you were injured, Béla didn't want to see it...You had to deal with it. I was intimidated. He looked down on me. He was 6-feet something, and I was 4-foot nothing."

The Károlyis were the driving force behind the dominance of the "4-foot nothing gymnast", dramatically and irrevocably transforming their sport.

As Joan Ryan wrote in her harrowing book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes:

In 1956 the top two Olympic female gymnasts were 35 and 29 years old. In 1968 gold medalist Vera Caslavska of Czechoslovakia was 26-years-old, stood 5 feet 3 inches and weighed 121 pounds. Back then, gymnastics was truly a woman's sport....[In 1976] 14-year-old Nadia Comaneci clutched a baby doll after scoring the first perfect 10.0 in Olympic history. She was 5 feet tall and weighed 85 pounds. The decline in age among American gymnasts since Comaneci's victory is startling. In 1976 the six US Olympic gymnasts were, on average, 17 and a half years old, stood 5 feet three and a half inches and weighed 106 pounds. By the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the average US Olympic gymnast was 16-years-old, stood 4 feet 9 inches and weighed 83 pounds, a year younger, 6 inches shorter and 23 pounds lighter than her counterparts of 16 years before.

Béla Károlyi of course trained Comaneci and later defected, took his act to the states and hasn't looked back, making millions on the brittle backs of young women who bodies are misshapen on account of his ruthless pursuit of gold. Yes, women's gymnastics can make you queasy all right. And the thought of Béla Károlyi, bending his huge frame over to get in the face and scream at young girls, is enough to really make you sick.

So when you see Bela's girls doing their thing in the Olympics, what do you see?

What does God see?

Do you know, Christian, that if we are to be like him, if we are to enter with him into life and not perish, that we will have to come to see as he sees and to be blind as he is, too? Hear Isaiah again (Isaiah 42:18-19):

Hear you deaf; and look, you blind that you may see.
Who is blind but my servant, and deaf as my messenger whom I send?

You want to be blind like the servant of the Lord? To not see the beauty that the world sees? That's what it takes to see the kingdom of God. When you look at those little girls, do you want to see?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Lonnie Frisbee again

It's remarkable that the "Lonnie Frisbee" post of March 2007 keeps generating interest, after a year and a half. It seems to me that a couple of issues raised in the comments deserve a new post.

I agree that it would not have been right to let Frisbee continue in a place of leadership until his perversion was dealt with. To do so, among other points, would have been to exploit him for his gifts at the expense of truth - but that's exactly what the problem was anyway, both at the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel, and why he didn't get help, instead being squeezed like a lemon and then discarded.

I was in the Vineyard for a while, and what happened to Frisbee was consistently their way. If someone like Frisbee had a problem, or even when Wimber blundered down some wrong path, that person or booboo was just painted out of the picture like the disappearing commissars in their portraits with Stalin. They just became non-persons and non-events. There was never any contrition, any acknowledgment of a problem. Everybody just moved on, in total dissociation and denial. This happened much more than once or twice; indeed, was it ever done otherwise?

Debacles are intended by God to be instructive, so we always screw up when we contrive to hide from them. It's not only an indication of Wimber's moral turpitude that every bad thing or person would disappear into the Vineyard's memory hole in the manner of 1984. It also ensured that nothing could be learned, which is why that ministry in one way or another kept returning to its folly like a dog to its vomit. That's a lot more destructive than homosexuality or any other sexual problem, and indeed ensures an environment in which such problems, and many others, never get cured. Look no further for why healing didn't happen much there, whatever the theology. Healing is for people who face up to sickness instead of resolutely hiding from it in order to look good to men.

The Vineyard is a real poster child, but is it not the usual way of American culture in general, and of its churches, which are so completely conformed to it? Don't we all need to lay this to heart? If we want healing for ourselves and others, what say we take Malachi's advice and consider our ways?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tisha B'Av, Nagasaki

Today is Tisha B'Av, the 9th of Av, in the Jewish year. It commemorates the destruction of the two temples, the destruction of Betar due to Bar Kochba's revolt and the razing of Jerusalem on the same date the following year, and the decree of God that due to unbelief, the people could not enter Canaan for 40 years until that generation had all fallen in the wilderness.

It is also the date of the decree in 1492 expelling the Jews from Spain, which some Jewish theologians consider God's severe mercy by which the Jewish people were kept from participating in the genocide of the North American Indians that began that year.

As Rabbi Michael Lerner observed yesterday in his meditation on the meaning of Tisha B'Av, it is a reminder of the disasters that Jews have brought upon themselves through their own wrongdoings - or in the case of the expulsion from Spain, of what would have happened due to spiritual weakness.

Lerner points out that the Nazi slaughter of the Jews caused Jews to lose hope in what Abraham Joshua Heschel called the "cosmic bellhop," and the resulting emptiness made way for other idolatries. Lerner puts it like this:

In our own day we mourn the sad ethical state of the State of Israel. We can mourn the consciousness of the many within the Jewish people who have made worship of Israel their central religious doctrine. Go into any shul these days and you can deny God, the relevance of Torah, the value of observing mitzvot - and you'll find a benevolent response from the community, who will quietly and gently try to instruct you about the Jewish perspective on these questions. But question the validity of a secular state in the Middle East called The State of Israel, talk about its immoral behavior toward Palestinians, and you'll be labeled an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew, and you'll find yourself surrounded by anger and hostility sufficient to drive you out of that community. Why? Because Israel is the one thing that they believe in - it's their god, the center of their religious faith. The only close 2nd is the materialism and selfishness of the Western world which Jews have embraced with the same eagerness as most other people on the planet.

I disagree with Lerner about various things, but here - as in his Jewish Renewal - he is precisely describing the idolatry of American Christians, who in just the same way commonly worship the state of Israel along with the American empire, together with exactly "the only close 2nd" that Lerner describes.

Thus today we also commemorate the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, in which the drop point was Saint Mary's Cathedral, which the Christians of Nagasaki, the most Christian city in Japan, had built in 1917 when the 250 years of persecution of their community finally ended.

Why are American Christians wholly indifferent to this massacre of their fellow-believers, from that day to this? Why are they in no way offended by the blasphemy that on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August, which celebrates the occasion when Jesus was transfigured before his disciples and became too bright to look at,
their favorite empire chose to mock this glory with the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima - itself too bright to look at?

These are the same people, remember, who rose up in fury when the Beatles observed in perfect truth that they were more popular than Jesus. What was wrong with that? Jesus didn't get nailed on a cross by aiming to be popular. But to mock his glory with a nuclear bomb on a non-military target, on the very day in the liturgical year that celebrates his brightness, and killing hundreds of thousands of unarmed people - now that's a camel they can swallow!

When we adore idols we become blind, deaf, and wholly callous, just as Psalms 115 and 135 warn us. They become planks in our eyes, and from there it gets worse.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died Sunday.

Cancer Ward and First Circle are among my favorite novels. Gulag Archipelago is a great work of history, but within it "The Soul and Barbed Wire" is a great account of the value of suffering, properly handled. It is true: if we can't handle prison, or even camp, we don't really know how to handle life anywhere. That's a disturbing thought, but disturbing thoughts are good. It's good to keep in mind, if I think I have my life together in some way, "But is it good enough to work in camp?"

So far, it never is. And some day, soon maybe, it will need to be.