Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Farewell William F. Buckley, Jr.

God bless William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008).

William F. Buckley, Jr. died this morning, at his desk, in his study, at his home in Stamford, Connecticut. Buckley was one of the most fascinating political figures of the 20th century, and he is largely responsible for founding the "modern conservative movement". His work, along with Russell Kirk's brilliant 1953 book The Conservative Mind, gave political conservatism in America an intellectual foundation which had been largely lacking previously. Buckley's impact on American politics simply cannot be overstated.

I first encountered Buckley's work in college, reading his brief 1961 book Up from Liberalism. I found the book intriguing not only because of Buckley's famed masterful use of the English language, but because he engaged the political opinions held by Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the patron saints of 20th century American liberalism, without attacking her personally. It occurred to me that Buckley was a true rarity in today's world; he was a gentleman.

Through books (like 1951's God and Man at Yale, a prophetic indictment of American higher education which has only been proven more correct in the ensuing years), magazine commentaries (he founded National Review in 1955), and television appearances (such as PBS' Firing Line and frequent guest spots on The Tonight Show with his friend Johnny Carson), Buckley spread his brand of political conservatism from coast to coast, becoming a tremendous influence on important figures such as Irving Kristol, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Rush Limbaugh, among others. He believed in giving as much power as possible to people rather than the state, and that in every meaningful area of life, one's character and personal integrity matters.

Four things have always impressed me about William F. Buckley, Jr.

First, I was always dazzled by his eloquence, both onscreen and in print.

Second, he was apparently a devoted Roman Catholic who faithfully attended Mass, and whose political beliefs sprung from his faith, not simply from his own experience. I wish we had more Americans who took their faith as seriously.

Third, his basic political opinions helped form my own. I believe wholeheartedly in having "checks" on institutions in order to prevent too much concentrated power, and keeping taxes low and people of integrity in place seem excellent ways of doing just that.

Fourth, he was a real "renaissance man". Though best known as a political philosopher, he was a talented musician, a best selling novelist, CIA agent, and a first rate celebrity, who was always able to laugh at himself. I love the idea of being involved in - and perhaps even good at - several things.

America is better for having had William F. Buckley, Jr. as a citizen; the Church is better for having him as a servant and a model of piety. His legacy will last for decades to come.

Farewell Myron Cope

God bless Myron Cope (1929-2008).

Myron Cope died this morning in Mt. Lebanon, PA. Western Pennsylvanians will surely know Myron as the longtime radio "voice of the Steelers", the man who created the "Terrible Towel", and a man who was as much a fixture of the "Steelers Nation" as the Rooney family and the old steel mills.

Myron was an award-winning journalist for Sports Illustrated but really rose to fame announcing Steelers games in the 1970s. He was an integral part of the Steelers mythos as they won four Super Bowls in that era, becoming the greatest dynasty in NFL history. He is as important to the pride of Pittsburgh as Gene Kelly, Fred Rogers, Andy Warhol, and August Wilson, and (almost) as important a figure in Pittsburgh sports as Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Greene, Chuck Noll, Roberto Clemente, and Mario Lemieux. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2005, the same year he received the Pete Rozelle Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game.

"He doesn't play, he doesn't put on a pair of pads, but he's revered probably as much or more in Pittsburgh than Franco, all the guys," said Jerome Bettis. "Everybody probably remembers Myron more than the greatest players, and that's an incredible compliment."

Like many Steelers fans, I often watched the TV broadcast of the games with the volume turned down, turning to Myron on the radio to get a more "authentic" Steelers experience. His retirement a few years ago was a sad day. I'm glad my kids got to hear Myron a bit before he retired; his voice, antics, and personality are a part of my childhood I'll treasure. Hearing his voice still takes me back. Today is a sad day for the Steelers Nation.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

New Banner by Kate

On the left of my image:
Marvin Gaye, Martin Luther King, Johnny Cash, Chewbacca, John Wesley, Thomas Oden, John Howard Yoder, Jack Ham, Hawkman, The Beatles, Albert Outler, Theodore Roosevelt, Athanasius, William Shatner

On the right of my image:
Richard Allen, Augustine, Fanny Crosby, Charles Wesley, Bob Zilhaver, The Monkees, Bob Dylan, Cornelius, Bono, Francis Asbury, Hugo Grotius, John Wayne, Thomas Coke, Marva Dawn, N.T. Wright, William Willimon, Thomas Cranmer, Ronald Reagan, Stanley Hauerwas

Thanks, Kate. Nice Sunday afternoon project.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Valentine

"An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life...
She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy...
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness
is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.'
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates."
- from Proverbs 31:10-31 (ESV)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

One Kind of Folks

I have been disturbed by some of the political coverage regarding the Democrat presidential nomination. I haven't followed it all very intently, but as I write this, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem to be in a "virtual tie", with Sen. Obama holding a slight edge in the number of delegates needed to claim the nomination.

Sen. Obama is a decent man with a sincere faith in Christ; he also overflows with charisma and is one of the most inspiring American politicians perhaps since Ronald Reagan. I disagree with his stated positions on several issues, but I think he might make a fine national leader (as I've posted before, a candidate's personal character ought to be a key reason for support or non-support, and Sen. Obama seems be a man of integrity). I may well end up voting for him in November (I haven't yet decided; November's a long way off).

What bothers me is the way in which "the race issue" has been portrayed in the media.

Some analysts have said that many are voting for Sen. Obama because of his race; some may be rejecting him for the same reason. Some analysts have been echoing familiar words, saying that people are (or should be) voting for the Illinois senator because "it's time" to have an African-American president.

In short, their data suggests that some people are voting for Sen. Obama just because of race.

Hearing that, I was reminded of Annual Conference last year. As we were getting near the end of the voting for General Conference delegates, it occurred to some attentive folks that our delegation was - so far - all white. It seemed that clergy were voting for representatives largely based on theology, rather than race. More than once, I heard well meaning sisters and brothers say, "We need to have a person of color on our delegation."

While I certainly support diversity, the questions in my mind became:

"What if the only candidates of color have theological commitments with which I'm uncomfortable?"

"What if we have no appropriate candidates of color?"

"Should we vote for someone just because of their race?"

"Is inclusiveness now such an important theological issue that it may even trump historic Wesleyan doctrines such as, for example, Incarnation or holiness?"

I posted these words last June:
"If we fail to be racially inclusive, we fail to be the Church. This is not a political matter; it is a spiritual and theological matter. But, is inclusivity a greater concern than, say, doctrinal faithfulness, or effective leadership, or relational gifts? Inclusiveness is a part of orthopraxy; it surely does not comprise the totality of orthopraxy."
Mind you, the sisters and brothers who were concerned about race are good people. They are fine pastors who do excellent work. But, I still wondered if it was appropriate to vote for someone just because of race.

Isn't that the same sin as rejection because of race?

"Racism: Discrimination or prejudice based on race."
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
So, to discriminate based on race is, by definition, racism.
"Discrimination: Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit."
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
The problem becomes obvious. In our well-meaning efforts to fight institutional racism, which is very real, and exists both in secular government and in the Church, we may sometimes act in ways that could be deemed racist.

In our efforts to fight this sin, in both Church and society, have we made the mistake of practicing the sin?

That's my fear.

I often think about and refer to the great words of Martin Luther King:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Do we dishonor King's legacy when we judge someone - well or poorly - by the color of their skin? Shouldn't character (and, in the Church, theology) have more to do with it?

One of Robyn's favorite books (and it's a favorite for our son Christian, as well) is the classic To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. There's a quote in the book that sticks with me as I think about judging or voting based on race:

“I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.”
A beautiful statement. How true it is. Can we get past the politics of race and judge by character (and, in the Church, theological commitments)? Should we? Or does the notion of "inclusiveness", which isn't bad or incorrect, eclipse the imperative to judge based on merit, character, and, when appropriate, policy or theology?

My prayer is that Americans ask themselves these questions throughout this election year. I'd like the next president to be elected because he or she is viewed by the people as having the highest integrity and best ideas of all the candidates in the field. I'd like our Conference in the future to vote openly, without anonymous letters crafted out of fear of bureaucratic reprisals, without "discernment processes" designed to elect any particular delegation. I'd like us to have the confidence and assurance and love to openly talk about "hot button issues" like theology and sex, trusting one another to practice prayerful discernment when we cast our votes.

My prayer is that we can celebrate race without fear. I am proud of my Scottish heritage; I am certain that Sen. Obama is equally proud of his own heritage.

I remember the words of Bishop Thomas Bickerton at our Annual Conference last June:
"I love you. I love you when I like you, and when I don’t like you. I love you when I agree with you and when I don’t. I love you when you lift me up and when you make me hurt. This is at the center of my theology.”
May these words resonate in the Church in 2008, regarding race and other equally difficult issues. And, through love, may we finally come to the place where we recognize that there is truly only "one kind of folks".

Monday, February 04, 2008

It Don't Mean a Thing If You Ain't Got That Ring

For weeks - no, months - football fans and analysts have been trying to determine the place in history held by the 2007 Patriots, who earned an undefeated regular season, as well as the legacy of the current Patriots dynasty.

Quarterback Tom Brady, the best football player in the world this season, needed one more Super Bowl ring to tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana and be considered probably one of the two or three best ever to play the game.

Head Coach Bill Belichick, the Darth Vader of football, needed one more ring to tie Chuck Noll for most all-time Super Bowl victories.

Wide receiver Randy Moss needed a ring to finally claim the mantle of undisputed best of his generation.

Nearly everyone predicted a Patriots victory; my guess was 42-13.

What a pointless waste.

God bless the New York Giants, who came to play, and really shocked the sports world. It was the greatest upset in the history of professional sports. Peyton Manning's little brother Eli deserved MVP honors, and could have shared it with the phenomenal Giants defense, which kept Brady and Moss from making any big plays.

A few thoughts:

* I'm so tired of a lip synced national anthem. Boo, hiss. Shame on Jordin Sparks (and her handlers).

* Belichick's red hoodie didn't bother me as much as his continual bad attitude. I agree with one analyst who said that no matter what Belichick does, he always seems to be giving the NFL the middle finger.

* The Giants coaching staff called one heck of a game.

* Troy Aikman has become one of the best analysts out there. Working with Joe Buck, who always calls a good game, it was one of the more bearable Super Bowls in terms of broadcasting.

* Alicia Keys gave a terrific pre-game show; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers ROCKED at halftime. I've seen Tom Petty live, and he always gives a great show. He'll be in Pittsburgh on June 10, just before Annual Conference. Anyone else want to go?

* It was great to see Peyton at the game, cheering on Eli. A true match-up of the NFL's best would mean that for most of this decade, we'd have been watching Brady vs. Manning. This is as close as we'll ever get to seeing that Super Bowl.

* Tom Brady is still one of the all-time best, and the Patriots may yet win another Super Bowl or two. But the opportunity for them to go 19-0 won't happen again; they choked, and got beaten up by a Giants team with way less talent, but way more heart.