Saturday, January 30, 2010

Barack Obama | Here's Your Transparency

Yesterday, Mr. Obama answered unfiltered questions from House Republicans for an hour and seven minutes.

No one has to agree with the president, but between this exchange with members of Congress and last Wednesday's State of the Union Address, I don't believe anyone needs a political analyst from [insert-your-channel-here] to tell them where the man is coming from.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Health Care Reform | A Letter to the President + Democratic Leaders

Dear Mr. President, Speaker Pelosi, Senator Reid,

We sent you from the Senate to the White House, Mr. President—and from the minority in Congress to the majority, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Reid—to lead change. That commission was not based on vague and viral discontent but on a focused agenda for renewing this nation's committed exercise of the rule of law and the common good.

Today, I value truth-telling and fairness as much as ever but I could hardly care less about gestures of empty bipartisanship toward your elected colleagues who have made it clear that truth-telling and fairness are in their eyes signs of weakness.

We need thorough and robust health care reform and we need it now if we are to be competitive in the 21st century—let alone find our way back to the path of liberty and justice for all.

Be fair in your dealings; tell the truth to your colleagues and the American people; and lead the change we need with clarity and integrity. Let your opponents know it's time to push or pull or get out of the way, because we are going forward.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A letter to Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts

I know Senator-elect Brown has and will have a full plate the next few weeks before things get really busy. At a time when I expect Mr. Brown is hearing from a great many people who want more of one thing or another, I've written today asking for less...

Dear Senator-elect Brown

One of the issues you will be addressing in your new office is the treatment of US-held detainees. Joining other members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I urge you to carve out time to re-think your position on waterboarding and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques. I am convinced, as most Americans are, that these techniques constitute torture and are patently illegal. Further, as a person of faith, I believe torture is immoral and inexcusable.

Please sir, before you swear your oath before God and your fellow citizens, consider the moral values of this nation and your own spiritual beliefs and oppose the use of waterboarding and all interrogation techniques that you would call abusive, inhumane or a shock to the conscience if they were perpetrated on you, your family, or any American.


Jim Hancock

For more on the case against torture by the US and US surrogates, see David Cole's remarkable piece in the January 14 issue of New York Review of Books. You can read it here.

[Senator-elect Brown photo by James Wellman]

Monday, January 18, 2010

True Stories | Martin E. Marty | 01.18.10

I don't know how to say this any better, even if I were deep and wide enough to see what Martin Marty sees.

You know the old joke: When someone absolutely diabolical died, the rabbi asked if anyone wanted to say anything about him at the funeral. No one dared, as there was nothing nice to say. Eventually one stood up and said, “His brother was even worse.” Was anyone worse than Pat Robertson, who credited the earthquake in Haiti to “true story” of the Haitians having “made a pact with the devil”? Say something nice about Robertson now?

As of this writing, Google turns up 363,000 links to “Pat Robertson” and “pact with the devil.” Mr. Robertson seems to occasion such an outpouring of responses every time there is a natural disaster, for his words about what God had in mind in selecting subjects for destruction. So many commentators had something bad to say that Sightings might well have skipped comment. Still, saying nothing evokes so much curiosity – “Come on, Sightings, don’t you keep up on the news?” – that we will comment.

Some of the 363,000 references were from Bible-believers who defended Robertson, not noticing that the “pact with the devil” phrase and charge did not come from the Bible. Most commentators simply heaped on poor Mr. Robertson. The only relative refuge he could find was, indeed, “his brother is even worse.” Many did charge that Robertson’s brother-on-the-right Rush Limbaugh was “even worse.” Robertson at least raised funds for the suffering, accursed Haitians, while Limbaugh spoke against giving them aid in their hour of suffering.

Still, the idea that someone was “even worse” than he was amounted to praising with faint damns. More should be said by anyone who wants to put in a positive word, and here is mine: The incident shows development and expansiveness in Robertson, who has been one of the most consistent critics of secular humanism in all its forms. Yet for this – his televised revelation of the meaning of the catastrophe – the evangelist drew not on the Bible but on secular humanist sources.

You won’t find “pact with the devil” in your biblical concordance, as the phrase did not enter our culture from the Bible. Mention a “pact with the devil” and you will immediately be dredging up the explicit language of the Faust legend, whether from Marlowe or Goethe or Thomas Mann, who told classic versions of Dr. Faust’s famed contract. Search the literature and you will find secular humanists touting the greatest, Goethe’s Faust, as a “secular humanist manifesto.” Something good to say about Robertson, then? Yes: We like to document popular evangelicalism’s enlarging scope; here is an instance. Could Robertson have been courting secular humanists with this turn to non-Biblical sources?

Goethe’s Faust is big in college curricula and Great Books clubs and among opera goers; but the story of a pact with the devil also shows up in less elite circles, including one most explicit source. Guy Endore’s Babouk (1934) is a fictionalized version of the incident Robertson used to explain the curse on the Haitian people, who, in his estimation, deserved the earthquake because of an ancestral pact with the devil. Stalinist Endore did his research in Haiti, and came back to tell the story of Babouk, his version of Duffy Boukman, believed to have been the agent of the Haitian revolution against the French. Could Endore’s bad Communist novel have been Robertson’s source? If so, then we see the scope of sources that Robertson takes to be “true stories.”

reprinted by kind permission of the author from Sightings, published weekly by the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School

[Al Sharpton + Pat Robertson, The Alliance for Climate Protection]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Between the Click of the Light + the Start of the Dream

I launched a new blog today—Between the Click of the Light + the Start of the Dream [h/t Arcade Fire]—to explore spiritual lessons I believe I mis-learned from an early age.

I'm not separating those posts from what I write here because they're disconnected from politics, society and the common good, but because I see a thread weaving through certain reflections that I think may be worth considering in the narrower context of my spiritual formation and practice.

With the occasional odd exception while traveling or working against a deadline, I'll post there once or twice a week for...a while.

Let me know if you read something there that intersects with your experience.