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March 2005

Reflections on Both Political Parties

Episcopal minister, former Senator, former UN Ambassador, and the man who came in second in the VP search in 2000 has written an op-ed piece in the NYTimes complaining about the current state of the GOP. Here is an excerpt:

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.
The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.

Former Senator and presidential candidate Bill Bradley also wrote a NYTimes op-ed. This one lays out a long-term strategy for the Democrats and criticizes their reliance on charismatic leaders instead of having a long term strategy. Here's an excerpt:

A party based on charisma has no long-term impact. Think of our last charismatic leader, Bill Clinton. He was president for eight years. He was the first Democrat to be re-elected since Franklin Roosevelt. He was smart, skilled and possessed great energy. But what happened? At the end of his tenure in the most powerful office in the world, there were fewer Democratic governors, fewer Democratic senators, members of Congress and state legislators and a national party that was deep in debt. The president did well. The party did not. Charisma didn't translate into structure.
If Democrats are serious about preparing for the next election or the next election after that, some influential Democrats will have to resist entrusting their dreams to individual candidates and instead make a commitment to build a stable pyramid from the base up. It will take at least a decade's commitment, and it won't come cheap. But there really is no other choice.


If you have time, get down to the Dallas Arboretum this week for Dallas Blooms! Today probably was the best day. Sunny, warm but after days of rain. The flowers were amazing! So many tulips, which are my favourite anyway (and also Jackson Maddoxes favourite, ran into the Maddi while there). It was a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the morning.

Now I'm going to clean house and paint and stuff!

One Year: The Blog Itself

I'm so glad that Matt Maddox wanted me to blog. I have LOVED it. I've become addicted to it.

The thing I have liked best about it is making all sorts of new friends. I never dreamed when I began that I'd make friends like the McCartys and Hortons. It has also been a place to get back in contact with old friends who have found me on google or through links. I knew it would be a good way to keep up with my friends and let them know what is going on with me, and it has done that.

The main reason I started was because I wanted to get my opinion out there in the marketplace of ideas. And it is exciting how blogging has this year become this mass thing that has democratized media, politics, etc.

I thought I'd do a little list (as Garrett Vickrey says, my life is a VH-1 special) of some of the posts that were my favourites or were noteworthy.

A Former Republican Against Bush This was only my second post, but was my original motivating factor for the blog. It got a lot of hits and was sometimes at the top of the google search "former republican." I discovered an on-line chat group discussing it. I found links to it all sorts of places, sometimes many months after it was written. It still gets hit pretty regularly.

The Mythos of a Gen-X Male My third post. Many of my favourites are in the first month or so. They feel like old friends now. To be honest I had written this essay a couple of months before, but felt it was begging to be blogged.

Hey! We Made Time Magazine This was my first use of story about my past and hometown. I enjoyed this one so much that I kept wanting to do more like it, though I didn't really until the fall when I began to do more narrative-based posts. I've enjoyed these the most I think, plus they fit with my theme of MyQuest: My Thoughts on Life's Journey.

A Culture of Sadists? One thing I've done is write commentary not just on political issues, but sort of cultural commentary. I felt pretty proud of this one.

I finally got to develop my film review system that Laura Picazo and I invented back in college. The popcorn kernels judge entertainment value and the film reels judge overall quality as a film. So that way you can give a great fun film like Independence Day a five without having to compare it to Citizen Kane. They are different standards. I also liked developing a style of writing reviews that demonstrated how the film connects with my own personal life. I did this a few times, but felt it was best done in Eternal Sunshine and Prisoner of Azkaban.

My Most Personal Fear was one of the most important posts of the year. It ministered to some people. It was important to me to write it. Then in October it took on a completely different life when one of my enemies attacked me for how I choose to express the grief over the death of my father. Talk about cruelty. It was my darkest professional moment now connected to my darkest personal moment and then cutting across numerous other very deep and personal issues. Just goes to show how some folk miss the point of community -- sharing of yourself in order to create relationships -- and take advantage of the vulnerability. That episode led to so much in the blogworld and the real world. I began the series of personal narratives as my defense of myself. But I ended up liking those narratives and want the blog to be more like that. It also led to my deciding that I was going to leave ministry. Which was a wise choice, because it freed me. And in the months of this winter I have fallen back in love with my job. The post was originally written as I began therapy last August. The episode in October led to the most cry-filled session. And at the end of my therapy, we got back to talking about Dad's death and my grief, which led to the post The Source of So Much, which should be seen as a companion to My Most Personal Fear.

As the campaign heated up, I increased my political commentary. My hits jumped the week of the Republican Convention, folk were reading my debate commentaries, and the day after the election I loved being a part of the early blog-response. I like many of my campaign posts. One in particular that stands out is What More Must This Administration Do for People to Wake Up? I thought that the NYTimes article I wrote about was the most important news item of the fall (I still have a copy of it sitting beside my computer). I thought that if people paid attention to this then they would realize that the administration's credibility had been completely undermined.

With Why I Became Minister I began my favourite series of posts, my religious/spiritual narrative. I love what I wrote here. Probably my favourite post of all of these was Her Name Was Ruth Robinson.

Recent fun ones have included Soundtracks and My Nicknames.

Okay, that took hours. I was IMing while doing it, so that always takes longer. Plus looking back up all the archives and the links and all took forever.

One Year: Easter

I started blogging on Palm Sunday last year. That was April 4. So, my liturgical anniversary is past and my secular anniversary is coming up in just over a week. And since I'm a pretty reflective person, I've decided to spend some time reflecting upon the year for me and also upon the first year of blogging.

Today is Easter, and it has been a good Easter. Mom & Revis were here for the weekend to help me with various projects around the house. It is so hard to keep up with everything when you live alone. In just a few hours they helped me knock out half my list. The major project was to be fixing the neighbors fence that fell some time ago and they never fixed (no one lives there, but they do come to mow the lawn now and then). When I awakened Saturday morn it was raining. And it didn't stop till this afternoon. So, we didn't get the fence fixed.

The worship services this Holy Week were wonderful as always. Palm Sunday is consistently one of my favourite Sundays. I love the color and the chaos with kids skipping the aisles with palms and such. Performing in our concert of Dubois' Seven Last Words was a profound experience for me. Our youth Seder Supper was the best we've had. The Stations of the Cross meditations were touching. Good Friday is one of Royal Lane's best services, and this year was no exception -- it may have been the best of the three I've experienced. And Easter Sunday was full of all the festivity and joy, despite the heavy rain and cold temperatures.

Last year I wrote this on Easter Sunday night:

There is a God and that God is great. I've had an incredible evening. This weekend I had something of my own personal Good Friday, but I've ended up with my own personal Easter. The amazing thing is how all in one thing you can realize mistakes you've made, feel contrite, feel humble, feel hope, and feel great joy and celebration, and know that you have become a better person and will be a better person in the years to come. Alleluia!

Oh! that all those words and the sentiment that they expressed had been true.

Tim Youmans has often spoken of the liturgical seasons mapping our own psychological states -- that we have periods of our life that are Lenten, season of life that are full of Easter celebration or Advent anticipation, etc.

Last year on Maundy Thursday my life took the turn that the liturgy takes on that day. And I didn't feel very much like Easter that Sunday morning. In fact, despite wonderful Easter-moments, I didn't feel fully resurrected again until November. Today I celebrated Easter with great joy. I awoke with the sun (because of Mom being noisy in the kitchen) and thanked God for the day and God's love. Quickly I realized how much in an Easter/resurrection mood I am right now in my life and that this was my day of days to celebrate.

And, you know what, those words expressed last Easter evening, this year I am more restrained in my expression, but I think they are even more true than they were.

On Scary Movies

John and I got into a LONG talk on Tuesday night about scary movies. There is a lot to say about scary movies.

I remember seeing a small bit of Poltergeist when I was a kid -- the scene where the clown doll attacks from under the bed. That frigtened me for years when I would think about it while trying to go to sleep.

But I didn't watch many true horror films when I was a kid or teenager. When I was REALLY young Dad and I would stay up late on Friday nights watching "Freaky Friday" when one of our local stations would weekly show one of the OLD classic horror films -- Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy, etc. I loved Hitchcock films and suspense thrillers, especially something like Silence of the Lambs. Scorsese's Cape Fear put me in a fetal position in the theatre. But except for the occasional -- Pet Cemetary, The Shining, etc., I didn't watch horror films.

Not really until living in the Dorothy house. Scream had been such a sensation, and I watched that and loved it. It made me want to go watch all the 70's & 80's horror films I hadn't seen when younger. The late-Jason McNerney and I would rent them and watch them. Halloween is such an well-done film. Children of the Corn scared the crap out of me because the kids in black walking through the corn is just frightening. But so many horror films are so campy that they are more silly than scary.

The films that usually get me are the simpler ones, without lots of effects. The ones where you can imagine yourself being involved.

Have you ever seen the VERY creepy Robert Mitchum/Lillian Gish film The Night of the Hunter? Watched that one with Marty & Arlene about 5 years ago and we were creeped out.

There is also a huge difference between being scared and being startled. I hate it when I jump in a movie and someone says, "That scared you." "No, it startled me." There is a difference. To be scared, to be afraid is more an enduring state of mind. It is apprehensive, anxious. At its extreme end you feel terrorized or horrified.

John and I were talking about The Grudge. He said that it had done a great job of building one startling moment after another. I said that it had so many startles that I had become completely anxious, therefore that film moved over into the arena of scary.

Now then. There are TWO types of people in this world. And these two groups are completely prejudiced against one another. The two types speak completely different languages and cannot even begin to understand where folk in the other group are coming from. Group One are those who found The Blair Witch Project the most horrifying thing they'd ever seen. And Group Two are those who found it silly and not scary in the least. I am in Group One, and I think you Group Two people must be an alien species, lacking some important brain function, or something.

I have only seen The Blair Witch Project once and only need to see it that one time. I liked it as a movie, but will never see it again because I don't want to be that frightened again. I saw it with Marty at Quail Springs Mall the first week it was out. We had all been anticipating it for weeks as we had read about it and seen things about it. The audience was packed. This was Marty's second time to see it. He thought if he saw it a second time he'd be able to convince himself it was a movie and the nightmares he was having would end. No such luck.

We were both so frightened driving home that when an American flag waved in the wind on the side of the road we jumped out of fear. Just driving was itself an act of courage. I went home alone and didn't sleep hardly at all that night. I hardly got any sleep for the next week. And for weeks everytime I brought the final image to my mind, I shuddered in fear. It still bothers me to this day. And if I'm home alone and it's dark, I can't think about that image at all.

Why is this film so horrifying? Because it was so realistic. Because you could picture yourself being terrorized in such a manner. That there is never any explanation adds to the fear. I don't imagine it is ghosts at all, but sickos who are terrorizing these kids. And it feels like something that could happen to me.

Okay, there are my musings on scary films. Any thoughts?

My Aunt Muriel

Last night I got in late from bar hopping and had a message from my mother on the answering macine. My great aunt Muriel died on Friday. I cried a little.

Muriel Adams Gaines was the last surviving sibling of my grandmother. I'm pretty sure John Nim has died, but we were never much in contact with his branch of the family. I can't find a full obituary on-line from the hometown newspaper to let me know who the survivors are. But Muriel was the youngest and was 86 and John Nim was frail in 1993 (when I last saw him, at my grandmother's funeral). So, I'm reasoning that Muriel is the last.

I always find that significant, when the last of a group of siblings goes. An era ends. A link to the past is no more.

It has been six years since I've seen Muriel. And before that it had been a number of years. There was a falling out around the time of my grandmother's death; I don't care to go into it, but you know how families can be. I'm choosing to consider all that irrelevant at the current moment.

Muriel was my Grandma's younger sister and best friend. They went places together, especially when they were both widows. They had married best friends too -- both characters my Grandpa and Uncle Pete. It was Muriel who found Grandma the day she died. I always felt sorry for her for that. Grandma died outside picking flowers, which is a lovely way to die. It was lovely from Grandma's point-of-view. But from Muriel's point-of-view, I'm sure finding her that way wasn't the most ideal way to find your deceased sister.

They lived a half-mile from each other. Muriel lived in the big white house at the mile section (on an old original section of Route 66). Muriel had married well and was living in the old Gaines homestead. It is one of those imposing and somewhat austere white farmhouses that stand out from all the other houses around it. I always find it a fascinating place as a child and am letting my memory walk back through the place. Most of the memories are from the den where the aquarium was and Uncle Pete's pipes were kept.

She died on the fifteenth anniversary of my Dad's death. Strange. This was also the first time in many years that I took note of the anniversary. So, on the fifteenth anniversary of my Dad's death his family comes to an end. Sure there are hordes, veritable armies of cousins, many times removed. I think I'm related to half the county. But all the parents and aunts and uncles are gone. I feel the loss of something.

Berry and Ministry

My dear friend and mentor (and the person I want to be half the time), Kyle Childress has written a wonderful essay entitled "Good Work: Learning about Ministry from Wendell Berry" for Christian Century. If you are a Berry disciple, a minister, or a farmer, then you should read.

Green Space

One of the reasons I bought where I did when I moved to Dallas was because of all the green space in the area near my house -- parks, golf course, undeveloped land. In recent months one of the largest sections of green space, with lots and lots of trees, has been cleared to make way for office buildings (in our mostly residential neighborhood). The other day I saw a for sale sign in one of the parks and thought it was a funny prank. Today I drive by and there is a massive for sale sign where the small one was before. This is no prank. I guess the section for sell isn't part of the park, but just borders it? But it looks like the for sale sign is smack dab in the middle of the park. One of the ironies is that it advertises "Modernist Living."

Hurray for California! -- and much of the rest of the "Western" world

I was excited by the news out of California yesterday that a judge had ruled the ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The excerpts I read of the ruling sounded like some of the best legal reasoning on this issue to date.

But I'm afraid that Americans are going to be of the opinion that advances in gay equality are only being done by "radical" states like Massachusettes and California. The truth is that the debate over gay equality is sweeping the globe, with incredible advances being achieved in the last few months. If you look at what nations are taking legal measures to toughen their anti-gay stances the list includes Nigeria, Tanzania, Honduras, the Philippines, etc. (and far right American states). Throughout the "Western" world there have been stunning advances in just a short time. Here is a list of progress since September 2004.

* Gay marriage was already legal in the Netherlands and Belgium.
* Marriage is now legal in most Canadian provinces and will become legal nationwide this year.
* Spain is set to legalize marriage. The bill is currently in parliament and has 61% support from the Spanish population.
* The Israeli Supreme Court ruled 7-2 recognizing adoption rights. The Nazareth District Court ordered spousal rights for gays and lesbians.
* New Zealand has passed a civil unions law.
* In Switzerland a marriage law passed parliament and will go to a nationwide referendum on June 5.
* The parliament of the Czech Republic defeated a same-sex partnership bill, but the vote was a very close 83-82.
* The Russian Supreme Court refered the question to the legislature.
* The United Kingdom will grant full spousal civil rights and have a civil ceremony starting Dec. 5.
* In Brazil the Rio Grande do Sul state has legalized civil unions.
* France for the first time granted family status to a lesbian couple with three children.
* The United Nations offers same-sex spousal benefits.
* Colombia recognizes same-sex partners for the purposes of immigration.
* Germany expanded the rights of same-sex partners in October.
* In Peru the court overturned the ban on gays in the military.
* A partnership bill passed the Polish Senate on Dec. 3
* On Nov. 30 a South African court ruled for gay marriage.
* On Feb. 25 Greece's National Commission for Human Rights said the nation should pass a civil-union law. The ruling was referred to the Justice Ministry.
* Hungary is working on a partnership law that they plan to be in effect by 2007.

Hooray California! And much of the rest of the world.