Some Thoughts From the Morning After

There are few days in a person’s life that will leave them totally speechless.  For a loquacious jackass like me there are even fewer.  One can always hope that these will be days of joy.  Yet in my short life there have been two that will always be tied to tragedy and heartache, September 11, 2001 and April 15, 2013.  But after time and processing, I feel the need to get some thoughts out.

There will be lots of words in the coming weeks about the events of yesterday.  Some of the words will be poignant, thoughtful, and measured.  Some are sure to be idiotic.  Indeed some already have been.  These words will shape how we act, how we react, in the coming days.  It will be a test of exactly who we are, not as Bostonians, not as Americans, but as human beings.

There are already countless stories emerging of runners who kept running to the hospitals to donate blood, of finishers pulling IVs out of their arms to make them available for the injured, of countless people running toward the danger to help.  I truly hope that if I had been on Boylston Street yesterday that I would have had the character to be one of those people, but who knows.

What I do know is that I refuse to be cowed by what ever gutless, asshole bastard set those bombs.  I am an overweight 29 year old who has been saying for years that I want to start running. I don’t know if I will ever run in the Boston Marathon, but I am going to step out my front door in a little bit and go for a run.  I am going to donate blood in the coming days (the Red Cross is asking people to hold off for a few days).  I am going to make sure that I get re-certified in CPR and First Aid.

As has been pointed on countless times, yesterday was Patriots Day in Massachusetts, a day that commemorates the events of Lexington and Concord in 1775.  It is a day that commemorates the birth of this crazy, messed up, foolish endeavor known as the United States of America.  I am lucky enough to live in another place that is closely tied to the birth of that Great Dream.

And so later today I am going to pull on my Red Sox hat and walk the mile of Duke of Gloucester Street from the Wren Building to the old Colonial Capitol here in Williamsburg, a section of street that was walked by Jefferson, Washington, Randolph, and Henry.  And I will hold my head high.  And I will not be afraid. And I will be proud.  Not simply because I am an American but because I am a human being and these bastards will never, ever break the human spirit.

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Bob Woodward’s Regret

Much has been, and will continue to be made, about Woodward’s claim that the White House “threatened” him.

I was raised in a household where Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were near holy figures: endless crusaders for truth who started down the beast and brought order back to the galaxy (I also had a very Star Wars heavy childhood).

As evidence comes out (like the Woodward email that Andrew Sullivan just published) that shows that Woodward is, well, lying through his teeth, it is just making Woodward look bad.

I don’t think that there can be a denial that this constant narrative about the WH “threatening” people (& the know ludicrous notion that they had Breitbart killed) is a simple play of too many white, male conservative’s fear of the Black Other.  Black man is running for office?  Well of course the New Black Panther Party is intimidating white voters at the candidate’s request.  WH is trying to pass a healthcare reform.  The scary Black Man wants to kill grandma.  WH wants to address the orgy of gun violence in this country (that disproportionately affects young men of color)?  The Black Man is trying to disarm you so that he can put you in FEMA concentration camps.

That a man like Woodward, a man who stared down real abuse of power in the person of Richard Milhous Nixon, would trade on this cultural bias, this demagoguery, to sell more books/newspapers/public appearances is sickening.

I think that Woodward is certainly going to regret that he picked this fight.  Because there is no way he comes out look like anything other than a dried up bitter old hack.

And its a shame.

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Just a Quick Update

The last few days this really annoying thing called “life” has gotten in the way of me trying to get a lot of work done. It’s annoying.  But it is the way it is.

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Tony Jones had a great post up Monday that was an all around housekeeping sort of post.  It is good to know that if Tony can find it hard to sit down on right every day, describing blogging as “a grind.”

Gives me hope that I’m not a total slacker.

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Peter Rollins has a great post on his “Atheism for Lent” project, written as a response to Micah Bales.  While it is typical Rollins in a lot of ways (meaning take your Advil before you read), the conclusion is about as succinct as I have seen Rollins be in writing:

In Atheism for Lent we encourage people to face their doubts, to consider how the idea of God functions in their life and discover that faith is not connected with affirming some particular thing but rather of being taken up in the depth of life, a commitment that transcends theistic/atheistic distinctions and that results in real, material commitment to political transformation (through the valuation of life itself).

This reminds me, I am still planning on doing a blog through on Insurrection prior to Easter.  I will post a schedule soon. (If you are interested in following along, get a copy of Insurrection here)

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Speaking of blog throughs, Bo Sanders over at Homebrewed Christianity is doing a Lenten blog for Tony Kriz’s book Neighbors and Wisemen.  As is a running theme these days, I am already behind.  However, I hope to catch up over the next few days.

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One final bit of book news: I awoke this morning to an email that I had one a free copy of Jay Bakker’s new book Faith, Doubt, and Other Lines I’ve Crossed: Walking With the Unknown God.  Not sure when it is supposed to arrive, but when it does I will probably do a blog through of it as well.  Jay’s previous book, Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society was a great book.  It would be even better if I could find my copy.

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I am still working on processing all that came with Rachel Held Evans‘s visit here to Williamsburg.  What is clear is that my commitment to women in ministry has been reaffirmed.  This is one of the more important issues facing the church.  Let me point in the direction of two groups that are doing great work on the issue.  First is Christians for Biblical Equality.  Coming from a slightly more Evangelical slant, they are a great resouce if you find yourself doing textual battle with “Biblical” Patriarchy folks.  Second is Baptist Women in Ministry.  If you are a Baptist and affirm women in ministry (which you should) this organization needs your support.  As an added note, we are in the middle of Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, an effort by BWiM to encourage congregations to have female guest preachers.  Also, if you live in a state with an active CBF presence, you might have a state BWiM as well.

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I have applied to be a part of the Amazon Associate program.  I point to a lot of books and this is a way for me to get a little back.  At this point I am not trying to make money, but just break even.  I am hoping to transition the site from a free site to a full feature hosted site in the near future.  However, that takes money.  If I am approved for the program, you will see a little widget appear.  If you feel generous, please use it for your Amazon shopping needs.  Won’t cost you a dime and might net me a few!

Of course, my goal is to eventually allow this and other writing that I do become a part of my income stream.  It is just one way for me to try and “live the dream.”

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That’s about it.  I hope to get a lot of content cranked out over the next few days and schedule it to be posted over the next week or so.  I feel like if I can ever get ahead of the curve on some of these things, I would be doing all right.

Edited to include links that I forgot to include the first time. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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On Rubio, Water, and National Conversations

 It was the sip seen around the world.  A sitting US senator places his water bottle a little too far from himself while on national TV, makes a lunge for it, and now has a permanent place in political lore as an Awkward Turtle.

Rubio Lunge

It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the guy.

I’ll admit, I saw it live, but I was a whole lot more interested in the fact that it was Mardi Gras and that the next day was Ash Wednesday than in the State of the Union and the Opposition Response.  I saw it while I was sitting in the bar, but I was enjoying a nice pint of English bitter too much to really notice or care.

And then it hit the social media fan, and well, went everywhere.

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Wednesday morning I posted this comment to my Facebook account:

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And then I walked out the door to go to work.  I didn’t think much about it.  (For the record, as of right now 13 people have “liked” this comment, 9 of them women)

But then my buddy asked me a question:

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This resulted in an exchange that was limited by the fact that I was (a) at work and (b) on my phone (I’m still not really comfortable typing long responses on my phone).

Here is the thing, I think that Rob has asked a good question, one that deserves an answer.

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While I am disgusted that Rubio voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that wasn’t the frustration behind my post.  I muddied the water with my comment that his vote was heinous, but the primary frustration was (and is) aimed at the news media and all those that are talking about how Senator Rubio drinks his water, not how he voted on VAWA.

Instead of asking questions and having a meaningful national dialogue about why the Senator, and 21 of his (male) colleagues voted against the VAWA, or any of the other policy points that Senator Rubio talked about in his rebuttal, we are being bombarded with jokes and comments about a single awkward moment, a moment that did nothing to let into the mind of this man who has been deemed by those both inside and outside the GOP and being the savior of that party.

The State of the Union address should be a time where we have a national dialogue about weighty matters. It should be a time where the two parties lay out agendas for the coming congress.  It should be a time of thoughtful conversation and respectful argument and disagreement.

Instead, Senator Rubio has gone into the water bottle business.

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People love a simple narrative, an easy story to tell.  They love a good guy and a bad guy, a guy in a white hat and a guy in a black hat.  They want someone for whom to cheer.  Someone with whom they can identify.

Simple narratives are easy to enter.  It is much easier to understand a problem when there is a right and wrong, a correct answer and an incorrect answer.  This ease makes these narratives prime candidates for quick consumption, and quick consumption can mean big ratings and big ad revenue.

This is a driving factor for the rise of celebrity news and the gossip industry.  Rich people living outlandish lives is an easy narrative.  It isn’t complicated.  It isn’t nuanced.  It’s blunt.  It’s simple.  And it sells. Like hotcakes.

And simple narratives are fine, as far as they go.  I’ve been known to read an Us magazine and goodness knows I love my sports talk radio.*  But when I get more nuance about a football game or a baseball trade or what Singer X wore to the Grammys than I do about a vote on Capitol Hill, there is a problem.

Political issues aren’t, for the most part, simple and uncomplicated.  They are complex and nuanced.  They defy simple story telling and narrative building.  They require details and time and can be, to be honest, boring.  And boring doesn’t sell.

But the problem is we need the boring, nuanced, complicated, messy details to see the full picture.  Our system of Government can only work when we have an educated and engaged electorate.  It is our responsibility to demand these details.

When we allow our political system to become just one more sport, just one more game we watch to be entertained, we run the risk of allowing whoever has the most polish, the most palatable narrative, the most money to be the author of what should be our collective political story.

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It isn’t just the political narratives in our cultural that are overly simplified.  Many of our narratives about religion are as well.  If you were to listen to the dominate narrative told in the media, there are two groups in this country: the Conservative “Evangelicals” and Liberal Secularists, with a few Jews, Muslims, Others, and Nones thrown in.

But the religious landscape in America is much more nuanced than this.  Sure there are “Evangelicals” that are conservative, both theologically and politically, but then there are those that aren’t.  Just as there are secularists that are conservative politically and socially.

Just as a disservice is done to the national dialogue when we aren’t given the full picture politically, so to when we are given a warped picture of the American religious landscape.  If you have ever spent significant time with me in person, this subject has probably come up.  And I am sure it will again.

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But what about Rob’s question?  Is there is there a reason that I would find acceptable for a no vote on the VAWA?  And do I do understand Rubio’s stated rationale?

In these two questions Rob got to the center of what I am talking about.  These are the questions that need to be raised in the public square.  And I fell into the same trap that I am critical of others for falling into.  Well, let’s engage these questions.

First, there is no reason that I can think of to vote against the VAWA as it is currently written.  I think that it is a great bill.  And 23 of Senator Rubio Republican colleagues agree, including some of the most conservative members of the Senate.  If you are keeping score, it means that Rubio is actually in the (bare) minority on this vote in his own party’s caucus.

That said, I am aware that the legislative process is often akin to the sausage industry.  Sometimes things are put into bills that ruins the whole bill.  Amendments happen.  This leads to the “I voted for it before I voted against it” phenomena.  And sometimes perfectly good policy goals are simply the victim of bad bill writing or bad policy specifics.  So in the abstract, I could see a situation where there is a VAWA that it would be acceptable to vote against, it just isn’t this version.

Second, I feel that what I stated above rules out Rubio’s rationale: if there was a significant problem, even one of ideology, with this bill, Rubio wouldn’t be in the minority of his own party.

But beyond that, is this idea of “local control.”  Local control sounds great, on paper.  However, our history has taught us that, unfortunately, local control often fails to protect the most vulnerable in society.  If local control were an effective way of fighting this problem, a federal bill wouldn’t be need, and by Senator Rubio’s own admission, this bill, or one if its kind, is needed.

So no, I don’t see Senator Rubio’s rationale.  I find his argument weak and unconvincing.  And I think the citizens of the State of Florida deserve a better answer as to why he voted against the VAWA.  And if Senator Rubio wants to be the standard bearer for the GOP, he needs to find a better answer.

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Complicated narratives are hard.  Hard not just to sell, but also to own.

Because complex stories tell us that we may not be right.

That we may not have the full picture.

That we may not have a monopoly on Truth.

That other people’s experience, no matter how different from our own, may be valid as well.

We must embrace the complicated narratives in our lives.  These complex stories are a more true depiction of the reality of our lives and world.  While these complex narratives may not be complete and may still mislead us, it is much easier for a simplified narrative to do so, because in its construction it is already false as it denies our complexity.

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*Rob Brown, the inspiration behind this post, is the host of hands down the best radio sports talk show in the country.  Forget Jim Rome or whoever else you are listening to, you need to stream Rob’s show [weekdays from 6-9PM CST]. It streams off the website linked above.  Seriously, if you are into sports, especially in the South, you deserve to listen to this show.  You’ll be glad you did.


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On Joining a Church and Finding a Place

Sometimes we have days that just make us feel that we are in the right place doing the right thing.  Yesterday was that sort of day for me.

Since leaving North Carolina over a year ago, I have struggled to find a place where I felt I truly fit.  I thought that returning home to the Florida Panhandle would do it, but it failed in that regard, spectacularly.  Which is why I started looking for ways out and places to go, finally settling on Williamsburg.  Sure, it helped that I had good friends here (and they are certainly the primary reason that I chose this area), but there were lots of other things to recommend Williamsburg in particular and Virginia in general.

First, Williamsburg is a college town.  While Colonial Williamsburg is central, the College of William and Mary is just as central, and more so in some ways.  These two places are so central that it is almost impossible to drive anywhere in town without driving through the grounds of either, and normally both.

Second, Williamsburg is really close to Richmond and Norfolk, both towns that have decent music venues that bring through musicians that I care about seeing, even if I haven’t gotten out to a concert yet.  Also, I would really like to finish my MDiv and my proximity to Richmond means a proximity to Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond where I can finish my degree.

Third, Virginia, like North Carolina, is a center for moderate Baptist life and Williamsburg is home to two CBF affiliated congregations.

It was always a plan of mine that after getting here and getting somewhat settled in, I would begin to go out into the community, get involved in a congregation and participate in events that happen on campus.  Yesterday, I got more than my feet wet.  I jumped straight into the deep end.

When I first came to Williamsburg, I attended one of the churches for a few services.  While the people were lovely, I never really felt that it was a place that I could settle into.  So a few weeks ago, I decided that I would give Walnut Hills Baptist Church a try.  Almost from the start I knew that it was the place that I needed to be.  In some very important ways, it reminded me of my congregation in Winston-Salem, Knollwood Baptist.

All this to say that yesterday morning I joined Walnut Hills as a member.  It was special in a number of ways.  There were five baptisms yesterday.  When I met with Dr. Tony Neal, the Pastor, last week to speak with him about joining the church, I expressed my trepidation about joining on a Sunday with so many Baptisms.  I especially didn’t want to take away from the young people who were Baptized.  Dr. Neal made a good point though: if I joined on that Sunday, it would serve as a significant reminder to people that there are so many different ways to bring people into the church.  And I think that he was right.  The end result of the Baptisms and my joining the church was that the front of the sanctuary was lined with the “receiving” line after the service, the young people and their families and me, all lined up to be welcomed into the church.  It was so refreshing to be welcomed into a Christian community and have people mean it!  Every “we are so glad that you have joined us” every “I am thankful that you found Walnut Hills” every handshake and every hug (and you know I don’t like hugs!) felt real and heart felt.

As a slight aside (although it certainly didn’t feel like an aside) I heard words yesterday welcoming me into a congregation that I never thought I would hear again.  I still hold myself to the standard that is laid out in the United Methodist membership liturgy: “Do you pledge to support this congregation with your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service so that in everything God may be glorified?”  While I have been out of the United Methodist fold for over a decade now, I heard that phrase so much as a child that I will never be able to forget it.  It has worked its way down into my soul.  This will always be my “standard” for congregational membership.  I mentioned this to Dr. Neal last week when we met and yesterday he welcomed me into Walnut Hills with those words, words, I thought I would never hear welcome me into a congregation again.  I got a little weepy.

There was more to the day yesterday, not the least of which was getting to hear and meet Rachel Held Evans.  However, some of these things I am still processing.  I am going to have the chance to meet with and hear Rachel two more times today, so expect at least one “RHE-centric” post this week and possibly more.

Yesterday was a significant day.  I’m going to be unpacking it for quite a while.

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Initial Thoughts About the Papal Resignation

Well, that was a shock.  In a totally unprecedented move (at least in modern times) we are faced with a Papal resignation.  Of course it would be announced on the day that I choose to sleep in, so I feel like I am playing catch up on the news.  It seems clear at this point that there isn’t much known about his reasons, other than he claims his age and infirmities are making it hard for him to be an effective head of the Roman Catholic Church.

And this may very well be the case.  However, it would be wrong to forget the controversies that have faced this Pope in his relatively short tenure of almost eight years.  A global priest abuse scandal, controversial statements about other faiths and even Christians outside of the Roman Church, the role back of certain reforms, an increasingly political Conference of US Bishops, not to mention the controversies that followed Ratzinger into the Papacy as a legacy from his time as the Chief Enforcer Prefect of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

We are likely to never know the full truth about Ratzinger’s decisions to step down.  There isn’t enough transparency in the Vatican for the whole truth to be illuminated.  What is clear is that this election of a new Pope, much more so than the election in 2005, will tell us about the direction of the Roman Catholic Church moving forward.  Will the Conclave acknowledge changing reality of changing Demographic and Theological realities within the Roman Catholic Church?  And if they do acknowledge these shifts, how will that acknowledgement manifest itself?

A Papal resignation that may lead to the first non-Western Pope.  We truly live in interesting times.

As these events continue to move forward, I can promise you that I will continue to cover them and let you know how I see them (at least through my interested, Baptist eyes).

Also, if you are a Roman Catholic, how are you greeting this news?  Are you intrigued? Hopeful? Saddened?  And if you aren’t a Roman Catholic, what about you?  And how do you think the selection of a Pope still effects all of (western and possibly global) Christianity?

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In Which I Get All Meta and Whiney.

Today has just been one of those days.

No matter what I did, it didn’t seem good enough.  In fact, I am drafting this in Pages because I have doubts that it’ll even actually make the Happy Fool.

I am not sure if it is lack of sleep, lack of focus, lack of drive (although I don’t think that is it), lack of energy, or some wicked combination of all the above, but nothing that got written today felt like it was any good.

I am working on two or three things that I hope to post here, at least at some point, and maybe continue to fiddle with them and get them somewhere else.  But it wasn’t happening today.

Which sucks.

I mean I have basically all week off to get stuff done, and I am getting none of it done.  I was even thwarted in getting my VA driver’s license (I don’t have something that I need.  Requested, but how long will it take?).  I was hoping for a real burst of productivity this week, get a lot of stuff in the bag.  But it seems that if anything I am less productive than I have been.

I don’t think that it is my nasty little perfectionist side coming out.  I don’t think that I am being unreasonable with myself and my expectations.  But maybe I am.  I was reminded today that I can be pretty hard on myself.

But not all was lost, though.  There were two things that have sort of salvaged the day.  The first is that a friend from undergrad has started a new project: The Millennial Empowerment Project.  There is a lot of promise in it.  The idea is to be “a blog and online resource dedicated to Millennials (or Generation Y), we 18-30-year-olds attempting to make sense of, and discern our identity and place within, a tremendously chaotic, ever-evolving world.”  Rick, the founder of this little idea (and it is JUST getting off the ground), has asked me to come on board as a religion/faith voice, which is just exciting.

The second thing happened first thing this morning.  Peter Rollins was giving Jay Bakker a hard time over twitter for the special breed of crazy that can be released any timed Jay’s name is said.  I tweeted at Rollins, who responded.  And Bakker retweeted me.  If you understand what a theo-nerd I am, this is huge.  Makes me think that I might actually have something to say, even if it is only 140 characters!

Well I think that is about it for me today.  I think that I am just going to curl up with a nice fluffy book and zone out for the rest of the night.  Hopefully I will be back to 100% tomorrow and knock a bunch of stuff out that I want to get done.

Which reminds me, Ι am going to start a series of posts where I walk through various theological type books.  Not sure what it is going to look like yet, but I thought that the exercise might help me (a) keep all my thoughts in order and (b) keep certain writing chops up for my (eventual) return to grad school.  Well the first book I am going to leave up to you.  I know that these are two books that have been out for a while, but I am just getting to them.  Would you prefer that I start with Insurrection by Peter Rollins or The Wisdom of Stability by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove?  Never fear, dear readers, both will be done, but which would you like to see done first?

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Some housekeeping and updates.

So I have some housekeeping and updates connected to my 2013 goals.

It has been pointed out to me that 2000 words a day is NaNoWriMo levels of writing.  I know that I said the goals couldn’t/shouldn’t be revised downwards, but I am really afraid that 2000 words a day is so unattainable that I simply won’t be able to do it, will get so far off target that I will get frustrated and will give up.  So I revising that number down to 1000 words a day.

I have also chosen to give myself a total day off on Sundays.  There will be no blog posts at all on Sunday.  And precious little writing at all.  We all deserve a Sabbath, and as I am trying to make this into my career, I feel that this is a good time to start setting reasonable limits.

However, both of these mean that I will definitely be doing to NaNoWriMo events this year: at least one Camp and the main event in November.

Finally, there was something that I forgot to include in my goals.  There is a book project idea that I have been kicking around for about a year.  It would be an edited volume that I hope to put together.  That is all that I am going to say about it at this point.  But I am adding it to my goals of 2013.  By the end of the year I really want to have it to a point that it is close to being done and being shopped to publishers if one isn’t secured prior to that point.  As things become more clear and concrete I will post more about it.  Suffice it to say, it is something that I am really excited and passionate about and am really excited that I am adding it to my list of goals for the year.

With these changes it means that my goals for 2013 now look like this:

Carter’s 2013 Goals:
1) Read 52 books by the end of the year (for an ongoing count look to the right tool bar.  I am using Goodreads to help me keep track)
2) Write at least 1000 words a day (This can be across platforms)
3) Participate in, and complete, at least two NaNoWriMo event in 2013
4) Publish to this blog at least three times a week (Preferably, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but possibly more often)
5) By December have at least one short story in the process of being published
6) By December have at least one non-fiction piece published (either online or off, but with a minimum readership to be determined later)
7) Create a video for WheezyWaiter’s origin project (Due by the end of February)
8) Begin to leverage the power of video sharing communities (like youtube) and other online tools to share my passion for history, philosophy, the humanities, and/or theology
9) Loose 40 pounds
10) By the end of the year, have a definite plan on how to finish my Masters
11) Book project

These goals can be revised upwards (i.e. more blog posts, more words, more books) but not downwards.  They also can be revised for clarity (i.e. if all my words are going towards one thing ) but not in a way that would lower the standard.  If it looks like that I am going to fail, so be it.  Failure, while not optimal, is better than cheating myself by making things too easy.

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