Archive for April, 2008

“God Bless America” and other political tricks

April 28, 2008

What follows is an article from the Newsweek website (orig posted 3/28/08.)

It is an interesting article, dealing with the various tests that political candidates are put through– tests that somehow have been given meaning and importance but are really worthless and shallow. Although the article focus’ on Barack Obama and the tests— I encourage you to look beyond that, to the idea of these tests, and the importance that has been given to them, in our political landscape.

(Emphasis are mine.)

written by David Domke and Kevin Coe

For Barack Obama, campaign 2008 has been a series of absurd but consequential tests.

First, there was the faith test: Profess publicly that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. Each candidate faced this test, but the stakes were higher for Obama because of the whisper campaign that he was (gasp!) a Muslim. He passed this test by often beginning speeches with “Giving all praise and honor to God” and noticeably ratcheting up his Christian references in key contexts.

Then there was the patriotism test: Observe the Pledge of Allegiance and wear an American flag lapel pin. Some falsely said that Obama hasn’t always done the former, whereas it is the case that Obama has not always done the latter, and he offered this response: “I’m less concerned about what you’re wearing on your lapel than what’s in your heart.” This comment was lauded on the left and jeered on the right. Given that the left matters more for Obama in the primary season, he cleared the bar.

Having passed the God test and the country test, Obama in the last two weeks has been subjected to the God and country test: embrace the nation’s beloved slogan, “God bless America.”

When Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s remix of this political favorite began to hit the airwaves earlier this month, Obama appeared on several cable news programs to attempt damage control. In a CNN interview, Anderson Cooper put this question to Obama: “Just for the record, you have no problem singing ‘God Bless America’”? Obama laughed the question off, joking that his lack of vocal ability wouldn’t allow it.

Three days later, though, Obama concluded a speech in Pennsylvania by saying “God bless America.” The Chicago Tribune noted it was a departure from the norm, calling the closing “uncharacteristic.” For the candidate perhaps, but certainly not for U.S. politicians.

Whether Obama’s speech on March 18 and his explanations of his view on God and country (and race, it should be noted) will be sufficient to earn a passing grade on this crucial third test remains to be seen. But the fact that Obama—or any other candidate—must face such a test points to the deterioration of the American political environment.

Consider this reality: The omnipresence of “God bless America” as a political slogan is an entirely recent phenomenon. We know because we’ve run the numbers. Analysis of more than 15,000 public communications by political leaders from Franklin Roosevelt’s election in 1932 — the beginning of the modern presidency — through six years of George W. Bush’s administration revealed that prior to Ronald Reagan taking office in 1981, the phrase had passed a modern president’s lips only once in a major address: Richard Nixon used it to conclude a 1973 speech about Watergate.

But Reagan brought God bless America into the mainstream by regularly using it to conclude his speeches. Since then, presidents and other politicians have used it nearly to death. Like Nike’s “Just Do It” or any other ubiquitous catchphrase, the words eventually lose their meaning. God bless America has become the Pennsylvania Avenue equivalent to consumerized Madison Avenue staples.

That’s the problem with the God Bless America Test: like most of the other tests that constitute modern political discourse, it doesn’t mean anything.

If a willingness to profess one’s faith and patriotism and to conclude speeches with God bless America were accurate indicators of presidential prowess, the Bush family would have long ago secured their places among the nation’s greatest leaders. Both George H.W. and George W. used it to conclude more than 80% of their major addresses, with the son often offering this important twist: “May God continue to bless America.”

Asking candidates to demonstrate their God and country bona fides by parroting a political catchphrase is insulting and unnecessary. Journalists’ and pundits’ time would be far better spent interrogating the actual beliefs of those candidates so willing to ask God to bless America. After all, had the phrase not been rendered all but meaningless through overuse, “God bless America” would have to be taken as a serious theological proposition.

Today it’s just more of the noise that passes for serious political matters.

David Domke is Professor of Communication and Head of Journalism at the University of Washington. Kevin Coe is a doctoral candidate in Speech Communication at the University of Illinois. online source

Call me jaded… but I do not put much importance to any of these so-called tests. Instead these so-called tests raise some questions:

–A candidate can say and wear whatever they want– does that truly express their heart; or is it a political marketing scheme?
–When a candidate says that they are a “Christian,” just how is that candidate defining their Christian Faith?
–In the case of Barack Obama, if his name sounded Jewish, instead of Muslim, would there still be a “whisper campaign….”?
–What significance does wearing a ‘made in China’ American flag lapel pen have?
I have seen pictures of the KKK holding American flags– should I listen to them?
–What does a candidate mean when they say: “God bless America?” How is the candidate defining what God blessing America looks like, and at what cost to the citizens of the country… at what cost to the people of other countries?



April 27, 2008

Today is Pascha– the day that the Orthodox Christian Church celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is Risen!

After Services and a Church potluck brunch I finished planting my garden. I added to what I planted last week:
Cherry and yellow pear tomatos. Snap peas. Kale. Swiss chard. Bell peppers. And some more flowers.

I also found some corn seeds in a can in our shed, so planted them in a corner– we will see if they take or not. And I put a couple of sunflower seeds that I found in the can in too.

Now we wait.

The downside of the way I have done this garden is that I will probably have to wait until the end of July before I get to start eating anything… maybe not.

a word to the newly illumined

April 26, 2008

This past week many have become a part of the Orthodox Church through baptism and/or Chrismation.

This morning I read the words that a woman posted to an e.list that I am a part of. The post read:

I was received into Orthodoxy by standup and pour type rebaptism and chrismation on Apr. 22, AD 2008 in the OCA. My new name is Justina, in honor of some events that showed God is stronger than the devil and all sorcerors.

First communion was the next day. This was the first lent I was able to keep entirely, with a blessing from the priest to use eggs if I got too weak. When I first got interested in Orthodoxy, and started keeping some core traditional practices I figured I would never manage more than Wednesdays, Fridays, and Holy Week. But over the past three years I have gotten stronger and more able to do without meat.

But I am still not strong enough or able to avoid the interfering insomnia to attend all services. I was 26 or 27 hours at least no sleep by the time I got baptized. And when I venerated the Burial Shroud, I had been 31 hours I think maybe more, no sleep, in addition to fasting from midnight except for a drink of water to stop some heartburn a little after midnight before the veneration, and I ate immediately after and still had things to do that day. So I will be recovering through Bright Week and probably not doing anything more.

A convert’s enthusiasm… in one fashion or another many of us have been there.

After reading her words I felt the desire to respond.

What follows is the response that I shared with her, and the list.
I also share it with the readers of this blog… especially to the newly Illumined:

Congratulations to you my sister.
May God grant you many years!

I am not a Priest.
I am just a struggler following Christ. It is from this perspective that I write you.

My wife, children and I are Orthodox Christians who are a part of the St. Silouan Orthodox Church community in Walla Walla, WA. We were baptized in July of 2000.

Your zeal to participate in the life and Services of the Church is wonderful– may God fan that flame into a fire that burns deep within you. With that said, I want to encourage you my sister to participate in Services as you are able; if you need to sleep– sleep. We are not monastics, we are not made of the same stuff that the Saints, righteous ones, and monastics that we love were (and are) made of.

Even when you read some of the writings or lives of modern day Elders they comment how things have changed. Our Priest was recently telling us how Elder Arsenios (co-struggler with Elder Joseph on Mt. Athos) after the repose of Elder Joseph and he began to have monks live with him had to change for the sake of the new monks. Whereas he and Elder Joseph would eat meagerly, the new monks would need two meals a day– and he would need to eat with them to set the example.

I do not know if your Church was having Services all night, or if you were keeping Vigil in your home or what the circumstance was; but my encouragement is in the future to pursue these things after talking with your Priest. If your Church has Services going on late, and you need to sleep or etc –talk to him about it, get his counsel; it does not make you any less Orthodox to need rest.

Since this is a Fr. Seraphim Rose elist, allow me to share a story that was told to me that falls into this same idea of not doing something without guidance:
Two laymen (who are both now Abbots of Monasteries) arrived at St. Herman’s Monastery. In the course of their time there they shared with Fr. Seraphim how they wanted to create a hesychast monastery. Yes a noble idea. But what was Fr. Seraphim’s comment? He said to them that they should read St. Ignatius’ chapter on prelest (spiritual deception.) Fr. Seraphim saw the danger of attempting great spiritual feats, even noble ones, on our own.

Our Lord knows our heart. He also knows we are human, with our weaknesses.

I write these things timidly, because I do not know you and because I do not want to discourage you. But I also write these things because I do not want to see you get burned out and the flame within you get extinguished.

I would encourage you (after you regain your strength) to talk with your Priest about your Holy Week experience. And also share with him the different responses you have received to your email.

A blessed Feast to you!

In Christ,

in the process of weeding out… literally

April 22, 2008

I could not hold out any longer… despite recent cold (for Spring) temperatures and even a flake of snow dropping here or there I had to get some seeds into the ground of the garden.

The garden has begun. Andrew planted some carrots. Becket planted some radishes. I planted some mache (a type of lettuce), some disco flame marigolds (you gotta love the name.) Along with some Romano garden beans and Nasturtiums.

Still to come are a couple of other types of lettuce, some bell peppers, cherry and yellow pear tomatos, kale, swiss chard, sugar snap peas, and some pumpkins.

So after I finished planting the beans and nasturtiums I look up to see our youngest child running around the front yard in a t-shirt…. just a t-shirt. “Andrew get your pants and underwear on!” I exclaim.

Maybe it is warmer than I think????


April 21, 2008

The beauty of this whole blog thing is that a person gets a forum to air their gripes and grievances…


1. Dogs that are overly needy. –That would be our dog. I am not really a dog person, I do not require a dog to follow me aroud the house, watch me put my shoes on, and other daily activities that our dog wants to watch. Just because I seem to be the only person who takes the dog for a walk, and play with him… he thinks we are buddies or something. Actually, I think I am a cat person; the 0.07seconds of daily interaction between the cat and I seem to serve us both just fine.

2. When radio stations follow Queen’s song “We Will Rock You” with “We Are the Champions.” –I like Queen’s music; but the only thing worse than their overplayed song “We Are the Champions” is when it is preceeded by their other overplayed song “We Will Rock You.” Why can’t radio stations play their song “Sheer Heart Attack” instead?

3. When people preface a comment with, “No offense but…” –If you think what you are about to say might offend me, and you don’t want to offend me… don’t say it.

I am sure I will think of other things.
But then, if I can only think of 3 things for right now I must be doing pretty good.

new normal

April 1, 2008

It has been just over two months since my Dad died. I did not know that losing a parent can hurt so much.

Many years ago I worked for a local Episcopal Church.

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was working in the office. I noticed a man at the front door and so I went to let him in.

He asked if he could go inside of the church. I told him “yes” and let him go inside by himself.

When he came out he shared that he and his wife had been married in this church. He then went on to tell me that his wife had died a couple of years prior. And then he said something to me… “They say it will get better” he told me refering to life after his wife’s death, “it doesn’t get better; it just gets different.”

I never forgot those words.

In my current job, working in a prison, when various events/things happen we refer to the “new normal” that occurs sometime afterwards. In other words, after a major event things don’t go back to just like they were before the event; but rather we get a new way that things go and this becomes our new normal.

The loss of a loved one is like that, moving from what we knew before into what is now the new normal. It is not the same, it is just different.

I am still on my journey towards getting there.