I’m one of those people that go through episodes of the Christmas funk each year. Aspects of the season piss me off and, yeah, just downright depress me: commercialism, the so-called “war on Christmas,” the pressure, the rush, the crowds, the bad music, the trite and obvious sentimentality and mindless traditionalism, etc. etc. blah blah barf.

Maybe more than anything it comes down to expectations and ideals that translate to mostly unmitigated crap in the real world. And let me be clear: the high lords of low culture, corporations, churches, the media–they’re all responsible for the shitty translation, but so are you, my friend, and so am I.

But there’s always something about the season that pulls me back, brings me joy and makes me feel good about not only the holidays, but about life, my life, us, all of us, the world.

So it was that the other day as I ventured into Silence and re-centering that I realized what it is that I so love and so hate about Christmas: it’s the humanity.

Of course for Jesus folk, that Christmas is human is eminently and immanently true. Christmas is when we choose to celebrate the singular miracle of Incarnation.

Atheist, pagans, etc., hang on, it’s yours too–I like to think there’s something here for all of us, whatever we do or don’t believe. As many of you smart asses are fond of pointing out, there are myths of incarnation in most every religion. That’s awesome; there you go. And obviously if you’re a godless humanist (sincerely, no derogation intended), the very need for incarnation is an absurd superfluity; so then why not take this opportunity to rejoice in the fact that for at least one moment–albeit each in his own goofy way–the rest of us are on board.

By my reckoning, at Christmas–if we do it right–we’re all Humanists.

And, now, forgive me, I’m going to indulge the peculiarities of the myth I believe. Please feel free to insert the greatness of your choice (“Greatness” itself, if you wish) where I’ve got Jesus below. That seems right to me.

Jesus was born.

Theists, soak in that for several minutes. If that’s not a disruptive thought, you’re not really thinking it.

Jesus came to the world an adorable–fragile, helpless, occasionally annoying–infant. He had to have his diapers changed. He cried and needed comfort. Let’s face it, unless you’re one of those people who just gets off on the whole baby thing (and, bless your hearts, there’s something wrong with you folks), for practical purposes, Jesus was worthless.

Dear Lord Baby Jesus . . .

 

But there is something inexplicably and inexpressibly beautiful about a baby, isn’t there (damnit)–even in all of its worthlessness?

And there is value in loving what can’t really do much in return (not crying–the cessation of an activity it might not have started in the first place–or those sweet little smiles and giggles and snuggles, well, rationally speaking, those hardly count). And of course there’s all of that as yet unrealized potential–greatness we somehow innately perceive, despite the scarcity (or outright absence) of evidence.

As we age, most of us get gradually less cute, perhaps until that day we begin the regression into old age. We nevertheless continue to be human, to some degree at least.

I guess what I’m saying is that in some sick way, all of the politics, contention, cloying nostalgia, mediocrity–yes, even the awful music, disgusting commercialism and desperate, doomed attempts at things lovely and/or sacred–all of that failure and inadequacy and general brokenness and mess is inextricably human. Not to mention–but not merely–those times when by some act of Grace we actually get it right, when the song doesn’t suck, the food doesn’t make you sick, the gift isn’t a disappointment, the experience is ecstatic, the soul transcends nonsense to arrive at the sublime.

So as you’re putting up with people’s shit, imagine that you’re changing Jesus’ diaper. As you comfort that person whose problems and pain seem either trivial (at least exaggerated) or incomprehensible or, let’s face it, just their own damn fault, consider that you are in a sense (that I consider very real) holding a crying baby Jesus. How cool is that?

Those of you who are parents should especially understand this. My child was born on this very day, with Christmas looming. And I have never ceased to be startled and to wonder at how miraculous she is, even when I was changing those diapers, and even when I was never quite sure what the heck she was or was doing. She has always been beautiful and glorious, never stopped changing the world for the better. She started with her mother’s life and mine–even when her existence was little more than abstraction, then a protruding belly, then a bloody, gooey mess, through colic and on to many more obviously marvelous things.

She moves the world now, not merely with her kindness and wit, but in secret ways that most of you probably wouldn’t begin to understand and in ways that maybe only a father can see.

If you love anyone, are glad for or hope in anyone–even yourself, but especially some other–Christmas is for you.

Merry Christmas. Or, for Christ’s sake (for your own sake, really), find something and someone to celebrate, find some way that makes sense to you to make the days holy. Happy Humanity.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.

The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?

Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.

Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.

We don’t want your “White” America.

By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.

Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.

1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.

2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.

3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.

4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.

5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.

Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.

A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.

This is not your “White” America.

This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.

As you probably suspect, I am sure we fight far too many wars and depend far too much on weapons and the sacrifice of human life for our national “security.” But I am deeply and unequivocally grateful to those who have put–and are now putting–their lives on the line to protect us, including both of my fathers, my father-in-law, a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, uncles, cousins, a nephew and countless other relatives farther removed, as well as some of my dearest friends.

I am particularly grateful because I know that their sacrifice comes from a place of honor, duty and genuine concern for the people and country that they love and from a commitment to enduring and noble principles that they hold dear.

As I reflect on the idea of “ultimate” sacrifice, I tend to think that that phrase properly describes the price paid not only by those whose lives are lost but perhaps more so by those whose lives are irrevocably changed–who are forced to take life on our behalf, to witness first-hand the horrific brutality of war, to grow intimate with their brothers and sisters in arms and then see those brothers and sisters torn apart or taken away, to experience civilian casualty and “collateral damage” in a way far more real and disturbing than the abstraction of Pentagon briefings and media reports.

Even those who prepare for and face the prospect of such sacrifice are worthy of our respect–not to mention those who are actually thrust into battle.

Our soldiers offer up not only their lives but their innocence. And they bear the burden of our security and liberty not merely in blood, sweat, broken flesh and severed limbs, but in a mental and emotional currency I don’t even desire to imagine and know that I could not comprehend even if I dared.

To all of you veterans and active-duty military personnel: thank you. May God extravagantly bless you. And may this nation truly honor you for your service.

Three years ago today I received what I think of as a rebirth certificate. We had a nice ceremony. There was food, music, a gathering of witnesses and celebrants, poetry, prayer, some hip ritual, other assorted words etc. Jonathan Reuel actually wrote an awesome song for us that borrowed from one of my all-time favorites of his previous songs.

But most of what I remember from that day is how beautiful she looked and how much joy and love she radiated–the woman who had saved my life and was making the commitment to continue pulling me back into the land of the living.

Her middle name actually means “reborn.”

I’ve thought of several ways to try to describe her beauty and her genius and none of them seems adequate. I hope to finish and post them later (another day: I’m typing this on my phone as I wait to testify in court [and now on the train]; I have two major reports to complete before the week is done; and I’m leaving early today so that I can be with my baby). I even have a political take; bet you’re sorry I didn’t go through with that. Take heart, it may still happen. ;-p

I’m blessed with amazing family and friends and I’ve met and received and received prophetic-level truth (which, despite what some of you are thinking, is actually a very good thing; but I digress) from near and absolute strangers. I’m not sure I could have been better loved, supported and encouraged after the loss of my first wife.

But in those months and years after Deb died I experienced an emptiness that I wasn’t sure could ever be filled. We’d been together for 25 years; I just didn’t think it was possible to be as intimate and as in love with anyone as I had been with her.

And it’s not that I was desperate. I despaired, yes, but there’s a difference between despairing and being “desperate.” Ultimately I’m picky.

What’s worse, most people really don’t get me. And imagine if you will what it must be like to have to listen to me babble day-after-day. I’m even worse in person than on Facebook. You probably can’t imagine. Frankly I don’t think most of you have the stomach for regular undiluted doses of me.

To cut to the chase–that one impossible someone appeared. In the words of that corny old song, “I’ll never know just what she sees in me,” but, yeah, she’s convinced me that there’s something.

She’s nothing less than a miracle and a savior. Her perfection and the way that she brings me life and joy–unlocks my inner child and affirms my wildest dreams, restores my hopes and renews my sense of wonder–are among the chief reasons that I still believe in and trust God.

Every value I cherish most and every ideal I aspire to is displayed to me in her smile, given form in her embrace and expressed in her actions.

And it’s only gotten better. I have a good friend who harasses me about still being on the honeymoon. I guess I’m not sure that it needs to stop or why I should believe that whatever might be after the honeymoon should be any less wonderful as long as we’re together.

Thank you, Chrissy, for being who you are. Thank you for choosing me and, every day, with fresh energy, sincerity, exuberance, purity, intensity and generosity, choosing me again.

Here’s what I love about the video of Abby Evans, the little girl who’s upset by the supersaturation of campaign ads and election coverage: just like most Republicans, the Democratic president she’s sick of hearing about–”Bronco Bama”–doesn’t really exist. Bronco might in fact be a good name for a character in one of Dinesh D’Souza’s historicized paranoid fictions.

That’s not fair to Abby. Hers was just a youthful mispronunciation. Clint Eastwood and Dinesh D’Souza et al. are ostensibly adults. They’ve less excuse for conjuring a foul-mouthed bogeyman in an empty chair and a racist, anti-American, Marxist antichrist with debilitating daddy issues and trying to insert those perjured nightmares into our imaginations.

If half of the stories floating about Obama were true–if a quarter of the paranoid fantasies about our so-called “socialist” president had anything other than the thinnest thread of relationship to reality–I’d be concerned too. And it’s telling that the Obama conservatives want us to be afraid of is the one they’ve made up. It suggests that the real Obama is a more formidable candidate for reelection and maybe not such a bad guy or feckless leader.

And, no, I don’t think Democrats have done the same–and certainly not with anything close to the same volume or anything close to the same degree of distortion.

We haven’t had to.

Romney’s dismissals of large chunks of the citizenry–including seniors and the working poor–are clear and startling frequent. His arrogance and sense of entitlement are manifest. So are his lies about the auto industry. His flip-flops on nearly every major issue in this election are in the public record–for anyone who’s paying attention and cares to see.

What we can’t see are full disclosures of his tax returns. What he doesn’t want us to look at and doesn’t want to take credit for is his actual record at Bain Capital. What he wants us to forget is that though he claims to be morally opposed to federal pork, as chairman of the 2002 Olympics, he bragged about gaming the federal government out of at least an unprecedented $400 million and by some accounts up to $1.5 billion; that’s out of a $1.3 billion budget.

A young man we know told us he would be voting for Romney. I had to ask, “which one?”

Romney says that he can create 12 million jobs if we elect him (never mind that he also says government doesn’t create jobs), but his record of job growth as governor of Massachusetts is no better (proportionally) than Obama’s. And I think it’s safe to say that Obama has faced a tougher challenge.

You may have good reasons for voting for Romney. But, frankly, I haven’t heard any from him–not any that were reflected in his record or even consistent with his previous rhetoric.

His campaign has made a point of letting us know that they won’t be “dictated by fact-checkers.” From what I’ve seen of the facts and what they say of their man, I can understand why.

President Obama has tried repeatedly to work with Republicans in Congress even when they openly stated that their primary objective was to make sure he only served one term, even as they stonewalled and filibustered at every turn. Republicans notably refused to participate in landmark healthcare reform legislation, even as he packed it with Republican ideas–Republican ideas that all-of-a-sudden became bad once he championed them, ideas like those pioneered in Massachusetts but that the former governor of Massachusetts now says he opposes and will act to repeal on his first day in office if he were elected.

I’m proud of what my president has accomplished. Among those accomplishments: far-reaching healthcare reform, helping to save the American auto industry, restoring stability to the financial sector and leading us out of our country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. I’m proud of my president’s stand against bigotry in all of its forms. I’m proud that he ended the war in Iraq and is on track to end the war in Afghanistan. I’m proud that he restored our reputation among the world’s nations.

I’m thankful that Obama is fighting for all Americans and not just a few.

I was excited to vote for Barack Obama in 2008. I’m even more excited for what we can accomplish as a nation if we re-elect him in 2012. I remember Bill Clinton, the man who helped bring us out of debt–a man who, you may recall, left our last Republican president with a budget surplus. I remember that after throwing $10 million dollars trying to dig up an excuse to throw Clinton out of office, Republicans in Congress finally decided to start working with him. I’m convinced that that can happen again. I don’t think Obama is the obstacle and I dare to believe that with the threat of another term removed, Republicans will move to cooperate and act responsibly.

Romney’s approach is at best a return to the failed policies of deregulation and trickle-down economics that led to a profusion of greedy opportunism and the crash of 2008.

At worst, I’m concerned that Romney and his colleagues on the Right will widen the gap between the already-obscenely-wealthy and the working poor, turn back the clock on the last century’s hard-won advancements in civil rights and gender equality, plunder our planet’s resources with no regard for long-term environmental consequences, restore our Bush-era status as international pariah, further explode our bloated Pentagon budget, harden our posture of aggression and militarism, disenfranchise minorities, let the sick die, leave the weak unprotected, exploit the poor, under-educate our children, under-fund and subvert the sciences, Goebbels the arts, cast aside our inheritance as a people of religious and cultural tolerance and work to wholly vacate the principles of pluralism.

And that’s just based on his promises.

I happily and proudly vote for Barack Obama–for the real Barack Obama–not the Obama imagined in propagandist cinema, or conjured in demonstrably false (and repeatedly independently demonstrated false) Tea Party email forwards, conservative memes, or birther conspiracy theories. I vote for the man who has courageously led this nation through singular difficulties and in the face of unprecedented obstructionism and a monstrous conservative campaign of disinformation and slander.

I vote for Barack Obama, not because he is perfect and certainly not–as reactionaries with little else to say like to chortle–because I think he’s the Messiah. I vote for Barack Obama because he’s a decent, articulate and intelligent man who’s spent his political career–including the last four years–fighting for regular Americans like you and me, fighting for this country and for the values and virtues that make us great. I vote for Barack Obama because he’s restored my faith in this nation and its people.

I vote for Barack Obama because he thinks it’s okay to make and have a lot of money, but he doesn’t think it’s okay that many of those who work hard and play by the rules cannot afford food, shelter, healthcare or an adequate education while the wealthiest Americans get richer and richer on the labor of the underpaid poor.

I vote for Barack Obama, yes, because he speaks well and his rhetoric resonates with our highest ideals, but, more importantly, because that rhetoric reflects the principles that guide his behavior and characterize his leadership.

I vote for Barack Obama because he understands that we are in this together–and he has a consistent track record to prove that that’s not only what he says, but what he believes and how he works.

I vote for Barack Obama because his campaign is not merely about what he will do–it’s not about what Government or Capital or Big Business can do; it’s about what you and I and all of us will do together.

One of my favorite bits in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. He uses the metaphor of a body to describe the community of the faithful. And I would argue that this theme–even when not always in the same language–is pervasive in the Jewish and Christian canons.

Each body part tends to think it’s the only one that matters and has a hard time seeing past its own ways of looking at and interacting with the world. Or, um, that’s the way the eyeball would say it. The eye wants everyone to think and act like an eye. The reality is that we’d look (damn, there’s that bias again) pretty ridiculous and be completely dysfunctional if we were all just eyeballs. Or ears. And even the lowly sphincter, toenail or intestinal villus is important–vital even.

I have rarely felt that folks fully comprehended the truth and profundity of either the passage or broader analogy or the depth and breadth of its proper application, let alone the extent to which most of our behavior belies it.

That we should fight against discrimination in all of its forms–gender, race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc.–should go without saying. And yet it must be said.

Too many operate under the illusion, for instance, that we live in some kinda of “post-racial” society. However sincerely they might believe it and however much I wish they were right, I know that they are wrong. And the most telling rebuttal is the experience of racial minorities. One need look no further than the morning news to see bigotry rampant–in everyday life, in popular culture, in public policy.

Discrimination–including both extreme manifestations such as apartheid (which exist in essence in parts of this country), hate crimes, genocide, blatant economic and political oppression and lesser but still dangerous forms such as hiring, social and consumer biases and bigoted speech–is in itself an issue of justice and social responsibility. It is, in other words, a moral imperative.

So-called “affirmative action” policies may or may not be situationally effective and their inclusion in specific solutions would therefore be conditional. Deliberately, proactively–indeed, aggressively–attacking the problem is not. Action is necessary and it must be targeted and strategic. Simply ignoring the problem, thinking wishful thoughts against it or even rhetorically opposing it won’t make it go away.

As with any issue of this enormity and importance, action most be taken individually and collectively. The solution must be part of how we live but it must also be institutionalized both in corporate and governmental policy.

But my point extends beyond issues of discrimination, oppression, inequality of opportunity and disenfranchisement. Returning to the body metaphor, overcoming bigotry and xenophobia and practicing inclusion are acts of enlightened self-interest. We are stronger, smarter, more effective, more whole–indeed we can only be complete and we can only ever hope to overcome our challenges and achieve our potential–to the extent that we not only tolerate and respect, but seek out and embrace diversity.

The principle of diversity applies to religion. While we may in some sense be called a “Christian” nation, those who cling to that identity must acknowledge that “Christians” themselves fundamentally and broadly disagree about both core values and practice. More importantly, what has allowed this nation to survive and thrive is not an arbitrary “Christian” dogma but pluralism and an appropriate separation of Church and State.

Religious freedom does not mean–as some seem to think it does–that I have a right to impose my personal religious convictions on others–either to compel or restrict their behavior. As a person of faith–yea, as a person of passions and conviction–I cannot separate my beliefs and religious values from my public and political participation, but as a citizen, I must exercise and express those values in a way that respects the beliefs and values others.

To be clear, we are stronger as a nation in part because of our cultural, philosophical and religious heterogeneity.

The principle of diversity applies not only domestically but to our engagement internationally. Our foreign policy must fully respect not only the humanity but the cultural legitimacy of both our allies and those we label as “enemies.” Of course we shouldn’t embrace what is immoral or amoral, but we should be circumspect enough to recognize that many times these judgments are wholly subjective and that often it is our behavior and/or the behavior of our allies that is repugnant.

Being American doesn’t make us right. Being American doesn’t elevate us above or excuse us from accountability to the rest of humanity or to the court of nations.

Our foreign policy should be free of imperialism and it must not subordinate the rights and interests of other states. We should be cooperative participants in the international community and guardians of the ideals that unite, protect and advance all of our planet’s citizens.

Much of the greatness of our identity is that we are a nation of many peoples and that our cultural and intellectual inheritance is international, global and encompassing.

We are an immigrant nation. Indiscriminately locking down our borders or tolerating a subordinate, essentially slave class of disenfranchised laborers is inconsistent with our national achievements and the nobility of our ideals and aspirations; and it is a tragic waste of the costly lessons of our national history.

Our immigration policy must be merciful and rational and it must recognize the contributions of our undocumented residents and acknowledge and accept our responsibility to humanity beyond our circumscribed–geographically or otherwise–borders. The pathway to citizenship must be open and not unduly arduous. Our treatment of immigrants–documented or otherwise–has to respect their human rights and their basic human needs.

Again, a humane immigration policy is enlightened self-interest, appreciating and facilitating the continued infusion of vitality, innovation and productivity from our newest residents, workers and citizens.

Money, like Time, strikes me as an over-rated, arbitrary, grossly erroneous, frequently disastrous quantification of things that quite often might otherwise be holy. Money–whether intrinsically or just practically doesn’t really matter–reduces “value” to a number and renders all things fungible.

I’m not altogether convinced that it’s ultimately helpful, though I acknowledge that it works after a fashion. I’m not at all convinced that it’s good, let alone necessary.

So, yaknow, just a warning, that’s the kind of guy you’re dealing with.

I don’t find myself particularly “entrepreneurial” and past a point I don’t find the mechanisms of capitalism especially motivational. Even where it works, it too often feels dirty. I don’t mean that to be offensive; that’s just how it feels to me. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

I admit that I like stuff–indeed, I like my stuff–and I’m a bit of a consumer. At this point in my life, I’ve come to realize that I might have difficulty transitioning to a system without private property; I’m not proud of that but I readily confess that it’s true. Moreover I do well enough as a capitalist; maybe better than I deserve. That being said: though I tend to be a passionate guy, there’s little in the Free Market that gets me positively hot and bothered (and, yeah, there are many things elsewhere that do).

What’s more, I know plenty of folks who work exceptionally hard and are incredibly smart but the Free Market is not their friend. It’s no good telling me that they’re not the right kind of smart, because that’s my point exactly. Capitalism favors a few forms of intelligence and effort and is either indifferent or disrespectful toward most others. We take that for granted and make all sorts of rationalizations for it. But it’s not right. Even a man like Warren Buffet admits as much (I didn’t need Warren to point out the obvious though I appreciate that he did).

I don’t have to accept it and I won’t.

I’ve seen no evidence that persuades me that the Market on its own distributes wealth equitably or that a supposedly “freer” market would do better. By no means do I believe that people are paid what they’re worth or that we’ve any hope of achieving such a fantasy with laissez faire capitalism.

It probably goes without saying but just in case it’s not obvious: I think trickle-down economics is madness.

I should clarify that I know and respect several legitimate entrepreneurs. Many of them are among the finest folks I know. And to a great extent their character is proportional to their success. We need people like them and I’m thankful that they’re my friends. But frankly I feel that much of their talent is wasted in the convolutions of a pointless game.

I’m not an economist. It’s something I considered studying way back when I was just a lad, but I leaned another direction.

I’m not an economist but it seems to me that Capitalism is mostly broke. I’m not suggesting that it has no value or that we should completely abandon it. And even if we should, I’m not sure within what time frame or by what method we could.

I certainly don’t advocate Stalinist or Maoist communism. And, though some will surely disagree, I’m not a big fan of statism.

All that to say that the word “socialist” doesn’t bother me. Its usage does. It’s overused and misused with wild abandon by demagogues, ignorant mobs, parrots, xenophobes and alarmists. It’s overused especially by folks whose view of the world fits comfortably within a scarily narrow bandwidth. Which is not to say–I feel compelled to clarify–that one can’t or shouldn’t use the word or that one can’t be intelligent and do so. Hell, intelligent people misuse and overuse all of the time ;-p–and of course they also use rightly.

I’m not so much offended if you call me a socialist, because in my heart I might be closer to that than to any other easy economic label. I don’t so much like facile labels but I recognize their inevitability.

I am a little offended when you call Democrats who are clearly not socialists “socialists” (a grammatical note that I’m sure will be lost on most: I did not say “Democrats, who are not socialists,” even though I think most Democrats, particularly our president, are not) both because I think it completely misrepresents them and, as many have been forced to point out over the last four years (as a result of all of that overuse, donchaknow), because it’s a bit of an insult to the actual Socialists and a trivialization of socialism proper.

I don’t honestly know the solution for our economic woes or for the economic injustice endemic to, well, most every modern culture. I think we’re stuck with capitalism for the foreseeable future–at least for my lifetime (and I do see that it has its benefits, though I honestly feel little urge to enumerate them, given the ubiquity, loudness and persistence, on both sides of the aisle and in the media, of those who will do that for me). But at the very least I’m convinced that it needs to be well-regulated–far better than it is or has been.

Welfare capitalism is certainly not the worst we could do.

I’m quite comfortable sidestepping capitalism completely when necessary.

What I particularly don’t tolerate well is this notion that Capitalism is some godlike primary force to whom we owe obeisance and whose principles are inviolable.

My inclination is to say that the Market and the profit motive should be subordinate and subservient to everything of value. I think in fact that that’s what good men and women who call themselves capitalists do but then when it comes to policy they too often confuse the servant with its master. Values such as honesty and integrity, the pursuit of excellence, the desire to do good and make a difference in the world–these are all things, thank God, that I sometimes find working in the Free Market, but I don’t see that they are especially at home there. And, on the other hand, I see several less noble impulses that are.

We have a social responsibility. I am my brother’s keeper.

We need each other. We have a moral obligation to one another.

Government is one of the ways that we exercise that mutual responsibility.

I can agree that Government–in general and in each specific instance–is flawed, corrupt, inadequate, inefficient. But so is every other human institution or system–including any organization, business or corporation, including the Free Market itself, including the Church. I would argue that government–depending of course on the specific context–can be more effective, more representative, more just than any and all of these other institutions. Yes, sometimes it is less effective.

I don’t think that Government is the Answer or Savior. But I don’t think it’s the Enemy. At least it doesn’t have to be. We as a nation, acting through the agency of our government have accomplished a great many good and significant things. I think it both foolish and irresponsible to abandon that effort, least of all to suggest–as many on the Right have done–dismantling, crippling or inhibiting one of our most powerful means to the common good. Even our financial success can be largely attributed to the political environment that allowed it. We are great not in spite of government, but to a large degree because of it.

To be very clear, I do not believe (and see little evidence for and much to the contrary of) the assertion that the Private Sector or the “Free” Market is intrinsically able to overcome the challenges we face better than or without a larger framework of cooperation.

Each institution is subject to its own unique weaknesses and each has its own strengths. I don’t suggest subverting or eradicating any of them, but I am emphatically opposed to tendencies I see in our society to lean on Capitalism, Commerce, Privatization as the panacea for everything that ails us. That capitalism exploits the selfish urge is perhaps its genius, but that urge is also its great weakness and what profoundly limits and distorts it’s progress toward the good.

Perhaps just as importantly, each man or woman acting on his or her own is intrinsically inferior to our acting together.

Individualism is one of the most lethal and insidious cancerous lies infecting our contemporary culture, especially Conservatism and especially the Church.

That’s certainly not to deny the absolute requirement of individual responsibility or the vital necessity of protecting individual liberties. Indeed one of the things that I believe our particular form of government is relatively (v. Business, v. the Market, v. Church, v. anarchy) well-equipped to do is to secure the rights of individuals and minorities and to prevent a tyranny of the masses or a reduction of all its citizens to a bland anonymity.

It is imperative that we protect the variously vulnerable members of our society against oppression and reckless indifference or abuse that they might otherwise suffer whether by racial animus, individual prejudice, emotionalism, consumerism, greed, dogma, ignorance, etc.

Moreover anyone who lacks food, shelter, education, healthcare, justice, economic opportunity, access to culture, represents our moral failure as a species.

I’ve wrestled for a while with whether I should go all political here. I mean, yaknow, I could lose my one faithful reader.

In the end I decided that this is who I am.

What I don’t want is for this to degenerate into one of those idiotic flame wars. So I’m enabling comment approval. I’ll probably approve your comment even if it is stupid. If I don’t, I encourage you to write your own damned blog and post a link here.

The following started as a status update on Facebook. It’s too long. I’m posting something FB digestible there and on Twitter with a link to here. There are several references to occurrences on FB but nothing overly specific, and the gist easily stands alone. Here then:

So maybe I’ve been a little obnoxious lately. I’ll grant at the very least that I’ve been vocal.

I’m not going to issue a blanket apology, because that would be neither honest nor productive, but I readily admit that I’ve said a few things (or at least said some things in a way that) I regret. I do apologize for any time I have strayed from the truth or said something gratuitously hurtful.

“Gratuitously hurtful” sounds a little overqualified, but I’m of the opinion that change is a painful process and I hope to be a catalyst for change; as such, I kinda want to cause some pain. Think of me as that asshole trainer who you know really likes you even though he pushes you in ways that you don’t think he should. Yeah, that’s maybe a bit self-aggrandizing but it’s more a statement of aspiration than belief.

I care about politics. I was thinking about it yesterday as I was driving with my honey. Just at that moment I saw someone with a Dallas Cowboys bumper sticker and I thought of all of the excesses people go to for their favorite sports teams and all of the noise they make about those teams (sometimes even more about the ones they despise) . . . or cute little kitties . . . or TV shows . . . or mediocre pop music . . . or wornout sayings that used to be clever turned into shoddy looking graphics, etc. Anyway, I feel alright talking about politics.

A few folks I respect have recently confronted me about my partisan posts. While I might disagree with them about various particulars, I want them to know that I’m listening thoughtfully and praying. And for the most part I agree with their concerns–if not necessarily how they apply to me. ;-p Even in that I’m willing to admit that I might be wrong.

I vet the things that I post on my timeline (less so but to some degree still with things that I “like”) and I pretty much stand by them without qualification. If I make a mistake I think I’m willing to own it. In my defense I usually find that I have gone to some pains to say things precisely and that precision is completely ignored for a quick and sloppy misinterpretation. To my discredit, that’s just the way language works and I maybe need to get over it. I make a point of being honest and I try to be fair but I am unapologetic about being partisan. I’m not going to promise to stop or cut back, but I’m going to try to slow down a little.

A couple of recent remarks about “sound bites” have motivated me to do something I’d been thinking of for quite a while.

So much of our conversations about politics amount to talking past each other as we twist the facts to conform to our preconceptions. I admit that I’ve done that. Of course like everyone I like to think that my biases naturally flow from the facts.

Another thing we do is assume agreement over the values behind our political choices. While I like to believe that we’re ultimately all on the same team, I’m increasingly convinced that we’re not all on the same page or even in the same play book.

Here’s what I want to do. Instead of arguing over “Truth,” factoids, sound bites, lies, accusations and innuendo, I’d like to try to articulate as clearly as I can what motivates my peculiar political enthusiasms, loyalties and inclinations. Since this is more of an internal, reflective sort of thing, I’m mostly going to try to avoid proof-texting or citing statistics, editorials or news articles, etc. I believe that my values fit nicely with the facts, with the texts that I consider holy, with sound reasoning. But as I said, that’s everyone’s bias. And it’s far too easy to lose sight of one in the process of uncovering the other. I’d rather try to be clear about the motivating values and get to arguing over the “facts” or even establishing sources later.

As I said, this is something I’ve thought of doing for a long time. Part of what’s kept me back was a desire to be complete, accurate and compelling. Screw all that. I’m just gonna start doing this. I’ll ramble. I’ll miss some things. I’ll misrepresent myself.

I would love to have your help. There’s a kind of help I’d rather not have, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it. For the sake of this exercise, I’ll try to be blunt in letting you know when you do it. Someone is sure to.

[I think this is actually my first post about 9-11, but, yaknow, other people blog about it all of the time.]

I usually listen to NPR on the way in to work. I wasn’t listening to the radio 11 years ago today. I think I was in the middle of a media fast.

Of course everyone was talking about it when I got in to work.

I was content to not see any of the now-famous images for weeks.

But it affected me. In particular the man who had been my best male friend up to that point in my life was working in one of the towers. We looked for him frantically for a while. He’s fine and has a beautiful family now.

I won’t walk you through the process of arriving at my current emotional response to 9-11. Much of it was immediate. Some of it evolved slowly over time.

Obviously it’s tragic that so many lives were lost. My friend might have died that day.

Ultimately it’s that feeling of personal loss that makes the most sense to me. I’m sad for those who lost someone–many lost multiple someones. Death is always, in many ways, difficult and wrong. Whatever else I say, I want to be clear about that.

But other than the numbers, and aside from the horrible personal reality that many experienced (which, again, I don’t at all mean to dismiss or diminish), I don’t find the incident particularly tragic or unjust.

It was unjust and tragic, no question. 9-11 reminds me that the world is a wicked place, full of death and meaningless destruction.

And here’s where I start to have problems with–and depart from–the national response. Honestly I don’t think our nation or our people have suffered particularly. People talked about feeling violated that day. Maybe that’s true. Maybe we were violated. But our innocence was already lost.

Typically we don’t even think of the tens of thousands across the planet who die daily, not just of famine and disease, but from bullets and bombs–children and other innocents among them. We especially don’t want to think of the part that we play in that, both directly and, in multiple ways, indirectly.

We spend more on death in the name of defense than any other nation by far, more than several of the next biggest spenders combined. And we export weapons to our friends, however unfriendly they might be to their neighbors.

We’re at war right now. There’s national outrage over the soldiers killed in those battles–as there should be. But there’s noticeably less outrage over the children and other foreign civilians who get caught in the crossfire, let alone the soldiers we kill. Those foreign soldiers have families too. They believe they’re fighting for their loved ones, for their country, for their God; they believe that they’re fighting to survive, fighting because they have to. You’re sure that we’re right and they’re wrong just as they’re sure that they’re right and we’re wrong.

Then there’s the fact that we feel entitled to more of the planet’s resources, energy and prosperity than anyone else. And we don’t even think about how that affects everyone else, how much more difficult it makes their “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” I wonder if we truly believe that those endowments are for them too or just for us.

Some folks stirred controversy by saying that 9-11 was God’s judgment. I’m not going to join them. But I will say that if you look at the death and tragedy across the globe and either ignore it, rationalize it or, indeed, claim in any way that it is God’s judgment, you have no right protesting when others speculate the same about 9-11.

I don’t know for sure what God’s judgment looks like. I don’t claim to be able to distinguish which deaths are divinely sanctioned and which are not. I’m pretty sure that one way or another they all are. So then it becomes a matter of which ones He really means. Yeah, you can think about that if you want. When I think about it, it just pisses me off.

I don’t begrudge folks their grieving over 9-11. It’s totally appropriate to grieve. In some way I think we all lost something that day.

What I don’t approve is the need for blood. It’s bad enough that we started a war in the name of vengeance. We can argue about whether the war in Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror” actually improve our national security or accomplish some other meaningful thing. Lots of folks seem to think (or seem to have thought) that they do. And their position is at least understandable.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not also motivated out of the “need,” as even its supporters have put it, to go kick someone’s ass. I don’t consider that patriotic. And if you want to call it patriotism, I don’t mind saying that I see no nobility in that kind of patriotism.

But we started another war in the wake of 9-11 on pretext and because we could put a villain’s face on it.

And though many Americans, I’m proud to say, have learned and/or exercised tolerance in the last eleven years and have grown in their appreciation for those different from them, far too many others have used 9-11 as an excuse to hate Muslims, Arabs, people of color, foreigners of any kind, anyone who’s different.

I started to say that that’s the thing that disgusts me most. It’s close.

Probably what disgusts me most is the upsurge of folks crying out “God Bless America.” Don’t get me wrong, I long for God’s blessing and grace upon us. But I notice that He’s blessed us plenty and we’re not much thankful for it. One of my favorite bumper stickers suggests what’s long overdue: “America Bless God.”

I also notice that we’re more than happy to sing “God Bless America” even as we’re whispering under our breath, “and to hell with those other bastards.”

We didn’t want God after 9-11; we wanted protection, we wanted to add His might to our acts of violence, we wanted to feel better about ourselves.

I don’t think Americans are especially evil; I just don’t think we’re especially good. I think we’re human. And I am sick to death of all of the talk of late about American Exceptionalism. I mind it a lot less when it’s a call to action, to sacrifice and hard work. I mind it more when it justifies our arrogance, indifference and sense of entitlement.

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