"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
To overcome dangers in our world, we must also take the offensive by encouraging economic progress, fighting disease and spreading hope in hopeless lands. Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need. We show compassion abroad because Americans believe in the God-given dignity and worth of a villager with HIV/AIDS, or an infant with malaria, or a refugee fleeing genocide, or a young girl sold into slavery. We also show compassion abroad because regions overwhelmed by poverty, corruption and despair are sources of terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking and the drug trade.
In recent years, you and I have taken unprecedented action to fight AIDS and malaria, expand the education of girls, and reward developing nations that are moving forward with economic and political reform. For people everywhere, the United States is a partner for a better life. Shortchanging these efforts would increase the suffering and chaos of our world, undercut our long-term security and dull the conscience of our country. I urge members of Congress to serve the interests of America by showing the compassion of America.
They were good because they drew a clear link between poverty and terrorism -- a link that is far more evident and real than the imagined link that justified a war in Iraq. They were good words because it bound our future together with those in extreme poverty -- both for our security and for our moral future.
They were good words. And good words are something to build on -- particularly when the 2007 federal budget hits the Hill.
But they were only 191 words. One hundred ninety-one words out of 5,304. That's roughly 3.6 percent or 1/28th of the speech. Compare that to 2,074 words about the war in Iraq and what could be viewed as a warmup to conflicts in places like Iran and Syria. 2074/5304 = 39 percent of the speech.
A little is better than nothing. Those 191 words were good words. Fine words. Words to be proud of. Words that, one hopes, will lead to prophetic and powerful action.
But I can't help but long for a day when our President spends 2074 words talking about our historic ability to eradicate extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, malaria and the like from our planet. About our ability to provide univeral primary education, empower women and ensure clean drinking water for every person ... and 191 words about war.
I can't help but long for a day when I listen to a State of the Union speech and am stirred, inspired. When I feel the promise of great possibility gnawing at the base of my spine. The promise of our nation fulfilling the greatness it truly has in it ... and me being a part of it.
I read a document today that began to make me feel that way. It was called "State of the Faithful" and it was put out by the National Council of Churches. Here's a sample:
In little more than two centuries, the United States of America has grown from a band of fledgling colonies to one of the grandest nations in the history of the world.
Much has been said of the wisdom that has guided this great nation across the centuries; the wisdom of its founders, its constitution, and, at a few pivotal times, it's elected leaders.
Yet thousands of years before there was a United States of America, the Hebrew Prophet Micah proclaimed in just a few words what would be a moral standard for persons of faith and the nations they build. He declared, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”
In light of these words, the state of our Union is troubled indeed. As persons of faith and conscience we hold ourselves to a standard that measures more than our economic wealth and military might. We recognize that we are more than consumers, voters in red or blue states, taxpayers, polling numbers, demographics, target markets and all the rest. As human beings living together on this planet we know that we are, as the Judeo-Christian tradition reminds us – our brother's and our sister's keepers. We are, as Native American Tradition teaches, guests of this planet – not its owners. We are, as Jesus taught us, the “light of the world.”
We are also the living agents of Micah's prophetic call. So let us examine just how we are doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly.
Read the rest here. It's actually lighter on global opportunity than I would like, but it uses the right lens. The lens of justice, mercy and humility.
And as much as people are abusing Corretta Scott King and her husband for political capital today, that's what they really stood for.
| Mike at 1/31/2006 09:38:00 PM
Thursday, January 12, 2006 Did you even READ the book?
That's my question for all the people who are acting as if the revelation that James Frey either embellished or plain made up pieces of his bestselling book, A Million Little Pieces, is the most shocking coverup this side of Gordon Liddy.
I've read the book. I stayed up 'till nearly 2 am Monday night reading it because a friend of Robin's needed to borrow it for her bookclub. I loved it. It's a great read, incredibly entertaining, riveting, wildly intense and powerful. It's one of those books that gives you weird dreams if you read it before bed. The prose is so pervasively unique that you find yourself thinking like he writes. There are parts of it through which you cringe so hard that you get muscle cramps.
For those of you who don't know, it's a first-person story of someone who is addicted to about everything except Pop Rocks who goes through drug rehab. He is a self-confessed "alcoholic, drug addict and a criminal" and it is his story of what it was like to return from that abyss.
You probably wouldn't have heard of it except Oprah annointed it a month or so back, which is the literary equivalent of the miracle of the loaves and fishes for book sales. Now TheSmokingGun.com has done some background checking and it seems that some of the legal problems he describes as him getting into might not be true at all.
To the people who are getting all sanctimonious about this, I have just one question:
Did you even READ the book?
In addition to being an "alcoholic, drug addict and criminal" (and, perhaps most damning, a former Hollywood screenwriter), if the description of himself in his book is even half-true, he is also a belligerent, self-serving, egotistical, stubborn, damn-everyone-else-and-screw-the-world-I'll-do-what-I want-to-do asshole.
It doesn't exactly stretch the limits of human imagination that he might be a liar, too.
Think about it. You're this kind of guy to begin with. You're trying to get a novel published and the publishing house says it would sell better as a memoir (which in many ways it already is) and asks you to truth it up and resubmit it. Do you:
A-- tell the absolute truth and make the book a lot less attractive B -- say "$@*#^$& off, this is my art, I'll find someone who will appreciate it." C -- change a few things that really don't matter and give it back to the publishing house and get a fat check!
Hmmmm ... which one of these would James Frey do. Well, it wouldn't be out of character to do B -- but he obviously didn't do that -- so it's between A and C. Which is the more likely ... let me see. Which would be more in character for this guy ... let me see.
Now, admittedly, that it purports to be a true story (names changed to protect whomever he felt like protecting) makes it more powerful -- so I'm not going to say that it absolutely doesn't matter. And yeah, people might feel somewhat embarrassed if they, like I did, told people that they had to read this book "and the best thing about it is ... it's true!" But get over it!
My point is that why are people acting like this is a big surprise. James Frey is laughing all the way to the bank ... and the only reason I imagine he is trying to cover his ass at all instead of saying "gotcha suckers!" is that he's got a movie deal coming, another book deal and he's playing the PR game so the gravy train doesn't stop.
Of course, the most hysterical -- and most pathetic -- thing about it is WHO is making the big stink. The 24-hour pseudonews networks and infotainment industry -- an industry that LIVES on half-truths and notruths -- is acting as judge, jury and executioner. Yes, the industry that gives us the "True Hollywood Story" and "Geraldo Rivera Presents..." is acting like a sacrilege the level of someone peeing on the Mona Lisa has taken place.
I'm shocked! Shocked that there is gambling here at Rick's!
Here are your winnings, sir.
I still think people should read A Million Little Pieces. It's a great read, and odds are that it is a pretty accurate picture of what some really hard-core people go through in rehab. At worst, it would scare me away from anything I might get addicted to.
But to everyone who is offended and outraged...
Seriously, did you even READ the book? And if you did ... can you really say you're surprised?
| Mike at 1/12/2006 05:26:00 PM
Wednesday, January 11, 2006 It's a Transition Stage
For the past two months as I was wrapping things up with ECM, stuff would come up for EGR and I would have to say about a lot of it "I'll get to that in January when I'm full-time."
Well, that day has come ... and man is there a lot to do!
The first and most obvious would seem to be setting up my office. I really hope it is in a transition phase right now -- because I really hope it doesn't stay in this state permanently! It's a hybrid of Rockwell House office/old home office -- only to make everything fit, I had to pack up a whole bunch of stuff into boxes and put it in the basement (much to Robin's chagrin when she was looking for a book of hers tonight) and haven't put all the new stuff away yet. But, that's OK ... it's in a transition phase.
My biggest job right now is fundraising. I'm excited because fundraising really is giving people a chance to do something with their money that is really going to make a difference in the world and in the church. The people who have given to us are really excited about EGR and excited about being a part of it. That said, if we don't get gifts, we close up shop. We've only got enough cash in the bank to cover about 6-8 weeks of expenses, and though we have more than that in pledges that total only covers about six months. Our budget is less than $200K a year (which is really small for an organization like ours), and I want to raise 3 years worth of operating pretty quickly so I don't have to spend all my time fundraising. That's big task one right now!
Next is the EGR website ... which is in pretty big need of updating/redesign. We've found a really good webdesigner and I just turned in a site plan that I hope isn't way too ambitious. We'll see. The target is having the basic framework of the new site up in three weeks. If that happens it will be fantastic.
Then there is General Convention -- that every three years gathering of all things Episcopal. EGR is going to have a huge presence there ... mostly because it is the one time that people from all over the church are gathered and are (almost literally) a captive audience. We've got a great group gathering to work on that, so it's exciting work ... but it's a big job.
Finally, there is mobilizing the board so that I'm not the only one doing the work. Great thing is that we've got a great board that is eager to roll up their sleeves. Had a great conversation today with Lallie Lloyd, who is the head of our Communications/Education/Advocacy committee and she's ready to roll and has already started mobilizing the troops. Last week a really cool younger priest from Lubbock, Texas (sorry, Katy, he doesn't know you) emailed me excited about EGR. He's got publications and web experience (AND he's a Mizzou grad!) so he's joining the C/E/A team, too.
Things are starting to fall together ... but it still seems really overwhelming. Just got back from six days in New York. Next week, it's 3 days in Atlanta meeting with board member Debbie Shew, a colleague of hers who is going to give us input (and maybe more) on logo/branding stuff, and hopefully the Bishop of Atlanta and some people who might want to write checks to us!
In the meantime, I'm still doing the stuff I really love. Looking at traveling back to Yale Divinity School in February to work with students on the MDGs. Setting up a time to help a woman in Alexandria, VA who is leading a congregational forum on the MDGs in a couple weeks. That kind of stuff.
My brother, Ian, has caught the blog infection and has started one of his own. He calls it "A Good World?" Here's why:
So why ‘A Good World?’ My brother, Mike, has a blog named after a quote from C. S. Lewis ("Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.") and I felt that to complete the family circle, naming my blog after a quote from Bertrand Russell seemed a good fit. As for the specific quote, it is the longer version of what an English Teacher in my high school had emblazoned on his classroom wall, towering over us in black and white like some Bauhaus version of Times Square.
The quote comes from a talk that Bertrand Russell gave in 1927 at Battersea Town Hall, and subsequently became the title essay of ‘Why I am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects’. The quote is the concluding sentence of the talk and follows a consideration of a number of logical arguments about the existence of God: “Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.” I agree with this sentiment, although obviously having one’s belief in God motivated by fear does not logically prove that God doesn’t exist.
My first thought is that if Ian's English teacher had a quote from the Gospel of Matthew on his classroom wall there probably would have been a lawsuit ... but a quote from Bertrand Russell that essentially calls religion the refuge of the insecure and terrified is somehow OK. I could go into a rant here about how ideas should not be discriminated against because they are religiously-based or connected ... but I won't.
My second thought was to answer this in a comment on Ian's blog. My next was to just wait until I saw him this weekend. But then I thought the real fun would be to answer him in mine (Hi, Ian) ... and that might lead others to read his blog, which is predictably quite intelligent, quick-witted and entertaining (and that's only after three posts!).
It's tough to answer this without seeming knee-jerk defensive. To be fair, I think Russell has a point. I think religion owes a great deal of its development to the tendencies he outlines. No one wants to be alone in the universe (even the people I know who believe they are aren't particularly overjoyed at the prospect). Most people like a sense of security and meaning in their lives. Religion conveniently can provide those things.
And for many people, I think that's what religion is. And I don't think that's a bad thing. Hey, life is tough ... and if I experience it as tough sometimes, then imagine how the 95% of the world's population with lives tougher than mine feel. There is kind of a Lennonesque "whatever gets you through the night" about it that's not all that bad.
But as Ian points out, just because the belief in God can be motivated by fear doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. It also doesn't mean that's the only thing that can motivate that belief.
I hadn't thought about that Russell quote in a long time. I had to read Why I am Not a Christianin my high school philosophy class, and that's probably the last time I considered it. But I've thought of the converse -- why am I a Christian -- quite a bit. I've had students go through crises of faith and I've gone through them myself. It's really an excellent question.
I am a Christian not because I have an absolute 100% belief in God. I am a Christian not because I have an absolute 100% belief in anything! I think certitude is a pretty dangerous thing ... it tends to carve a path in the opposite direction from humility -- the lack of which tends to be one of our larger problems.
I am a Christian because I believe it is possible, even probable, that God exists -- and given that I am a Christian because I choose to be one. Because I have experiences in my life that perhaps others could explain other ways (none more probably than God's existence, IMO) but that I choose to explain as God. I am a Christian because I am moved to transcendence by the depth of beauty I see and experience all around me, a depth of beauty that seems to have a wisdom to it.
I am a Christian because the people in the world I have met and whom I have read and heard who are not the wisest, most centered, most insightful -- the people I most want to be like and consider the highest development of human being I know -- are believers in God and, often, followers of Christ.
I am a Christian, I choose to be a Christian because in the times in my life when I didn't believe in God and didn't follow Christ I was sure one selfish sonofabitch. I choose to be a Christian because I know following Christ makes me the best person I can be. I am a Christian because I need something to continually convict me and call me to a higher state (besides my wife, that is!). Russell acknowledged this ("it makes men virtuous," he said) and shot it down as a reason for believing in God. Well, I would agree it's not a proof for God's existence (nor is it a proof for God's nonexistence), but neither is it a bad reason to be a Christian!
Mostly, though, I am a Christian because of a deep sense ... a sense deeper than any I have ... that it is good, it is right and it is who I am. That's not the same as certitude. Maybe Kevin Smith had it right in Dogma.
I think it's better to have ideas (than beliefs). You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant. That was one thing the Man hated - still life. He wanted everyone to be as enthralled with living as He was. Maybe it had something to do with knowing when He was going to die. but Christ had this vitality that I've never encountered in another person since.
Maybe that's also why I'm an Episcopalian. As a priest, I took a vow that "I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation." I meant it then and I mean it now. I believe the living God is revealed in the living word of scripture.
And I also believe the living, evolving, revolutionary, transforming Word of God revealed in scripture and in the life and person of Christ is what we need for salvation -- to save us. Not to save us from some Southwest Airlines flight to hell with "Dude, Where's My Car" as the eternal inflight movie when we die. But to save us from the difference between what life can be in God and what life is without God.
So maybe I agree with Russell about the "Good World"
A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.
For me, Christianity is those things that Russell aspires for and is not those things of which he despairs. God created us for and calls us to a fearless outlook (aren't the angels and Jesus always saying "be not afraid!"?). God didn't make us the way we are to look back toward a dead past ... we must look for the living faith that still sings forward from the past and becoming with our voice the continuing song of a continuing creation that knows no bounds in beauty and joy.
You might notice some new things about this blog. First off, you'll notice that there's actually a new post on it! That's certainly a change. For the past 6-7 weeks, I've just been way too busy to sit down and write. I've been in transition from my former position as Episcopal Campus Missioner at Washington University in St. Louis to my new position as Executive Director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.
Really, the work is just beginning. We're a startup nonprofit and we've got big dreams -- changing the church to change the world. Can't get much bigger than that. But the time is right, the mission is right and the people we've got working with us are amazing ... and the number is growing every day. I always knew it would take something amazing to take me away from the best community of students I can ever imagine ... well this is it.
In a few weeks, I hope to have a new, improved and really great looking EGR website to direct you to. Keep watching.
You'll also notice that the borders of this blog are different. I've taken out the links to all the ECM bloggers (though I'll probably still be checking in on you!) and replaced it with links I hope a broader audience will find intruiging. Many of them are sites I've stumbled upon when looking to see who is doing what with the Millennium Development Goals. They'll be updated and change pretty regularly (at least that's the plan) so keep checking back.
On your right, you'll see a brief description of EGR. Saying I'm the executive director sounds a little self-important (much like the name of this blog). The truth is I'm the only employee (but we've got a great and active board). Mostly that's because we are an intentionally small organization resourcing a grassroots movement. We don't want to be another church bureaucracy. I really would love to talk with you more about it ... and to help you answer the "what can one do?" question for yourself.
For now, it's late. My new office (the international headquarters of EGR is at my house!) has pieces of my old office in laundry baskets on the floor. I've got two days in town before I'm off to NYC for a week of meetings and (yes) fundraising. The kids and Robin are in bed and it's time I went, too.
EGR resources and connects the church to embrace what one person, one congregation, one diocese and one church can do to make this mission of global reconciliation happen.
Want to find out more ... check our our website at www.e4gr.org.
"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."