Saturday, April 29, 2006

Higher Than an Eagle

I recently had a class where I was teaching writing. The assignment was to go through and first brainstorm all these people that were important to your life. Then we were to narrow it down to one and just write about that one. The book gave us three key points to focus on and then how moving those parts around gave the essay a different direction. Anyway I thought it sounded like fun and in lieu of sitting there watching my students write, I decided to join them! And here's what I ended up writing....

As far back as I can remember my cousin has always been in my life. She was the daughter of my favorite uncle until he left their family for his secretary. After that happened, our relationship grew into more of friends than just family. We loved to see each other each time I was there on vacation and we would write letters to fill in the spaces when we were not together. When I say letters, I mean short novellas that started when we were 14 and we kept as a way to chronicle the highs and lows of our lives.

I learned so much from her. She is caring and honest and I can be real and authentic with her and be accepted for that. She is also very interesting and creative and always is telling me about new things she has heard, seen, read or done. I am constantly inspired by her outlook on life. Most of all she is funny and her laughter over something I've said or written is by far the greatest reward and motivation I've ever had.

One pivotal incident that demonstrates how much she is important to me happened one night in a college dorm room in Kansas. A scared, freaked-out freshman/sophmore called long-distance to his cousin in Oregon with the concern that he might possibly not end up with the All-American dream of a wife and family, a two car garage and a white picket fence. The ending of his story looked like a great, giant, dark unknown and he didn't know anyone who had a story like his. She was the one who told him that his story would turn out fine.

And looking back ten years later, she was right. She still continues to encourage me to be the best I can be. I am grateful that God has blessed me by putting her in my life!

Happy Birthday J!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Happy Belated Birthday Danifesto!

I just noticed that I've been blogging for over a YEAR now! As I read and reflect over this blog, I can see that I've grown so much as a writer. It's been really good for me to share my thoughts and self with friends and family.
First of all, I want to thank all of you who take time to read Danifesto's drivel! Thanks to all of those comments that encouraged me or challenged me to see things in a new way. Thanks to friends who meet me for coffee or drinks and allow me to verbally process my ideas with them. The product of these conversations often appears on Danifesto in one way or another. Special thanks to recordstoregeek for giving me this domain. That was a wonderful gift that has just kept on giving! Thanks of course to God for giving me the ability and talent to use words to express myself. Without the gifts of words and ideas, my life would be so much less rewarding.

In the new year to come I will try to share more interesting topics and issues and hopefully make you smile, laugh, cry and look both within and without!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Times of Passion

The word "passion" has been rolling around in my head for awhile now and I've had several conversations about it with my friends. Is passion a good or bad thing? Is passion permanent or fleeting? Do we have to have passion and finally can we trust passion?

My immediate thought when it comes to this topic has to do with the steamy rip-off-the-clothes sort of passion. "That's hot," as Paris Hilton would say. It's exciting sexual desire and there is even a soap opera named after it.

Passion also can mean being enthusiastic. A friend departing Korea recently wrote something to me in a farewell letter that really was really meaningful. He wrote "You inspire me to be passionate at whatever I do." My brother has often made heart-felt, empassioned arguments about issues facing our nation today. Ethusiastic translates into interest as well. For example, my cousin has a passion for both creating and nurturing beauty, whereas I have no passion whatsoever in mathematics.

However passion isn't always so positive. Passion can lead to an affair and the break up of a marriage. Crimes of passion, albeit spur of the moment, still are murder no matter how much one tries to justify it. Passion can often turn into a mania, "an irrational but irresistable motive for action." Examples of this sort of passion are endless (Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, Jim Jones, KKK lynchings to name a few).

Perhaps the most interesting incarnation of this word for me is the fact that passion originally meant suffering. We hear this especially often this time of year when we commemorate the suffering of Christ in passion plays (like the one I saw in Eureka Springs, Arkansas), in music (Bach's St. Matthew's Passion) and more recently a blockbuster movie. Christ's passion was not something he was enthusiatic about nor went into impulsively. Nor did it have anything to do with sexual desire or an irrational obsession. At the heart of Christ's suffering was love. Love He had not only for his dear friends and family but also for complete strangers, hardened criminals and even those who wished him ill. I suppose this love Christ shows us is really a kind of passion as well- compassion if you will, an empathy for the suffering of others.

And so at the end of it all, I have realize all passion begins with God. In the famous Jonn 3:16 it empathically states "For God so loved the world...." God loves us passionately enough to give us not only life but life everlasting and eternal. Consequently perhaps we should use this gift of life in the same way. I believe that the message of the Gospel is to be passionate in all that we do: loving ourselves and the world around us, embracing the good and bad that life have to offer in thankfulness to God, and finally using our gifts and talents to make this world a better place.
Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Your Own Personal Jesus

This article was in today's New York Times. I really enjoyed it and thought this Easter season would be a good time to post it on this site.-D.
Christ Among the Partisans
THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.
This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.
Those who want the state to engage in public worship, or even to have prayer in schools, are defying his injunction: "When you pray, be not like the pretenders, who prefer to pray in the synagogues and in the public square, in the sight of others. In truth I tell you, that is all the profit they will have. But you, when you pray, go into your inner chamber and, locking the door, pray there in hiding to your Father, and your Father who sees you in hiding will reward you" (Matthew 6:5-6). He shocked people by his repeated violation of the external holiness code of his time, emphasizing that his religion was an internal matter of the heart.
But doesn't Jesus say to care for the poor? Repeatedly and insistently, but what he says goes far beyond politics and is of a different order. He declares that only one test will determine who will come into his reign: whether one has treated the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned as one would Jesus himself. "Whenever you did these things to the lowliest of my brothers, you were doing it to me" (Matthew 25:40). No government can propose that as its program. Theocracy itself never went so far, nor could it.
The state cannot indulge in self-sacrifice. If it is to treat the poor well, it must do so on grounds of justice, appealing to arguments that will convince people who are not followers of Jesus or of any other religion. The norms of justice will fall short of the demands of love that Jesus imposes. A Christian may adopt just political measures from his or her own motive of love, but that is not the argument that will define justice for state purposes.
To claim that the state's burden of justice, which falls short of the supreme test Jesus imposes, is actually what he wills — that would be to substitute some lesser and false religion for what Jesus brought from the Father. Of course, Christians who do not meet the lower standard of state justice to the poor will, a fortiori, fail to pass the higher test.
The Romans did not believe Jesus when he said he had no political ambitions. That is why the soldiers mocked him as a failed king, giving him a robe and scepter and bowing in fake obedience (John 19:1-3). Those who today say that they are creating or following a "Christian politics" continue the work of those soldiers, disregarding the words of Jesus that his reign is not of this order.
Some people want to display and honor the Ten Commandments as a political commitment enjoined by the religion of Jesus. That very act is a violation of the First and Second Commandments. By erecting a false religion — imposing a reign of Jesus in this order — they are worshiping a false god. They commit idolatry. They also take the Lord's name in vain.
Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan "What would Jesus do?"
That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him "Satan." He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.
The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father's judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs — accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.
He is more a higher Nietzsche, beyond good and evil, than a higher Socrates. No politician is going to tell the lustful that they must pluck out their right eye. We cannot do what Jesus would do because we are not divine.
It was blasphemous to say, as the deputy under secretary of defense, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, repeatedly did, that God made George Bush president in 2000, when a majority of Americans did not vote for him. It would not remove the blasphemy for Democrats to imply that God wants Bush not to be president. Jesus should not be recruited as a campaign aide. To trivialize the mystery of Jesus is not to serve the Gospels.
The Gospels are scary, dark and demanding. It is not surprising that people want to tame them, dilute them, make them into generic encouragements to be loving and peaceful and fair. If that is all they are, then we may as well make Socrates our redeemer.
It is true that the tamed Gospels can be put to humanitarian purposes, and religious institutions have long done this, in defiance of what Jesus said in the Gospels.
Jesus was the victim of every institutional authority in his life and death. He said: "Do not be called Rabbi, since you have only one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no one on earth your father, since you have only one Father, the one in heaven. And do not be called leaders, since you have only one leader, the Messiah" (Matthew 23:8-10).
If Democrats want to fight Republicans for the support of an institutional Jesus, they will have to give up the person who said those words. They will have to turn away from what Flannery O'Connor described as "the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus" and "a wild ragged figure" who flits "from tree to tree in the back" of the mind.
He was never that thing that all politicians wish to be esteemed — respectable. At various times in the Gospels, Jesus is called a devil, the devil's agent, irreligious, unclean, a mocker of Jewish law, a drunkard, a glutton, a promoter of immorality.
The institutional Jesus of the Republicans has no similarity to the Gospel figure. Neither will any institutional Jesus of the Democrats.
Garry Wills is professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of "What Jesus Meant."