Thursday, March 29, 2012

American Fascists

So I read this book in less than 24 hours.

“American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America”

It was a great and entertaining read. I certainly don’t agree with all of the author’s conclusions or presuppositions, but he makes some great points. One thing we would both agree upon, the methods and attitudes of the American Religious Right stands in stark opposition to the Kingdom of God as taught and modeled by Jesus. For a great treatise on how politics tend to subvert the Kingdom, read “The Myth of a Christian Nation” by Greg Boyd, still the most influential book I have ever read.

“America is a nation where we all have a voice in how we live and how we are governed. We have never fully adhered to these values – indeed, probably never will – but our health as a country is determined by our steadfastness in striving to attain them. And there are times when taking a moral stance, perhaps the highest form of patriotism, means facing down the community, even the nation. Our loyatly to our community and our nation, Reinhold Niebhur wrote, ‘is therefore morally tolerable only if it included values wider than those of the community.”

“Most revolutionary movements, from those in Latin America to those shaped by Islamic militancy in the Middle East, root their radical ideas in what they claim are older, purer traditions.”

“’Hope has two beautiful daughters,’ Augustine wrote. ‘Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.’Anger, when directed against movements that would abuse the weak, preach bigotry and in justice, trample the poor, crush dissent and impose a religious tyranny, is a blessing. Read the biblical prophets in First and Second Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Amos. Liberal institutions seeing tolerance as the highest virtue, tolerate the intolerant. They swallow the hate talk that calls for the destruction of nonbelievers. Mainstream believers have often come to the comfortable concession that any form of announced religiosity is acceptable, that heretics do not exist.”

“The ecstatic expectation of the Rapture, in which the elect are raised up into heaven, while the damned suffer unspeakable torments below, creates, for the despairing, a dramatic and miraculous reversal of roles. This belief comforts those thrust aside in America, and in an age of greater and greater inequality, allows people to privatize their morality. They are told that people who suffer are responsible for their suffering; they must not be right with God. These believers can ignore their own social responsibility for inadequate inner-city schools, for the 18 percent of American children who don’t get enough to eat each day, for the homeless, for the mentally ill. They accept the curtailing of federal assistance programs and turn inward, assisting only those within their exclusive Christian community and damning the world outside. This social concern is replaced by tiny, more manageable acts of personal charity, such as giving food packages to a family in the church or teaching young girls about abstinence. [A lady being interviewed] like many in the movement, has little time for those who depend on the state . Goodness has become, in the new creed of the Christian Right, a question of judgment and carries with it condemnation. The movement allows marginalized people the pleasure of denouncing others, of condemning those they fear becoming. The condemnations give them the illusion of distance, as if by denouncing the indigent they are protected from becoming indigent. But this road also leads to a disastrous disengagement with the larger, more complicated systems and imbalances that fuels poverty and injustice.”

“’Freud had not compunction in calling the relationship that crowds forge with an absolute leader an erotic one,’ wrote Mark Edmundson. ‘In this [Freud] was seconded by Hitler, who suggested that in this speeches he made love to the German masses. What happens when members of the crowd are ‘hypnotized’ (that is the word Freud uses) by a tyrant? The tyrant takes the place of the over-I, and for a variety of reasons he stays there. What he offers to individual superego is inconsistent and often inaccessible because it is unconscious, the collective superego, the leader, is clear and absolute in his values. By promulgating one code – one fundamental way of being – he wipes away the differences between different people, with different codes and different values, which are a source of anxiety to the psyche.’”__

“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared the never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda – before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world – lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.” – Hannah Arendt, in “The Origins of Totalitarianism”

[On the creation museum in Petersburg, KY] “When facts are treated as if they were opinions, when there is no universal standard by which to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in the reporting of the events of the day, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe, where there is no possibility of reaching any conclusion not predetermined by those who interpret the official, divinely inspired text.”

“This is the apotheosis of capitalism, the divine sanction of the free market, of unhindered profit and the most rapacious cruelties of globalization. Corporations, rapidly turning American into an oligarchy, have little interest in Christian ethics, or anybody’s ethics. They know what they have to do, as the titans of the industry remind us, for their stockholders. They are content to increase profit at the expense of those who demand fair wages, health benefits, safe working conditions and pensions. This new oligarchic class is creating a global marketplace where all workers, to compete, will have to become like workers in dictatorships such as China: denied rights, their wages dictated to them by the state, and forbidden from organizing or striking. America once attempted to pull workers abroad up to American levels, to foster the building of foreign labor unions, to challenge the abuse of workers in factories that flood the American market with cheap goods. But this new class seeks to reduce the American working class to the levels of this global serfdom. After all, anything that drains corporate coffers is a loss of freedom – the God-given American freedom to exploit other human beings to make money. The marriage of this gospel of prosperity with raw, global capitalism, and the flaunting of the wealth and privilege it brings, are supposedly blessed and championed by Jesus Christ. Compassion is relegated to private, individual acts of charity or left to churches. The callousness of the ideology, the notion that it in any way reflects the message of the gospels, which were preoccupied with the poor and the outcasts, illustrates how the new class [of certain groups of evangelicals] has twisted Christian scripture to serve America’s god of capitalism and discredited the Enlightenment values we once prized.”

“I don’t think it is wrong to want to see political change, especially in places like Latin America. Something has to happen in politics. But it has to be based on convictions. We have to overcome the sense of despair. I worked in Latin America in the days when almost every country had a dictator. I dreamed, especially as a kid, of change, of freedom and justice. But I believe that change comes from personal conviction, from leading a more biblical lifestyle, not by Christianizing a nation. If we become called to Christ, we will build an effective nation through personal ethics. When you lead a life of purity, when you respect your wife and are good to your family, when you don’t waste money gambling and womanizing [I would add on other things, too], you begin to work for better schools, for more protection and safety for your community. All change, historically, comes from the bottom up. And this means changing the masses from within.” – Luis Palau

“One of the most striking traits of the inner life of a crowd is the feeling of being persecuted, a peculiar angry sensitiveness and irritability directed against those it has once and forever nominated as enemies. These can behave in any manner, harsh or conciliatory, cold or sympathetic, sever or mild – whatever they do will be interpreted as springing from an unshakable malevolence, a premeditated intention to destroy the crowd, openly or by stealth.” – Elias Canetti, in “Crowds and Power”

In rallies like those of [Russel] Johnson’s Ohio tour, friends, neighbors, colleagues and family members who do not conform to the ideology are gradually dehumanized. They are tained with the despised characteristics inherent in the godless. This attack is waged in highly abstract terms, to negate the reality of concrete, specific and unique human characteristics, to deny the polsiliby of goodness in those who do not conform. Some human beings, the message goes, are no longer human beings. They are types. This new, exclusive community fosters rigidity, conformity and intolerance. In this new binary world segments of the human race are disqualified from moral and ethical consideration. And because fundamentalist followers live in a binary universe, they are incapable of seeing others as anything more than inverted reflections of themselves. If they seek to destroy nonbelievers to create a Christian America, then nonbelievers must be seeking to destroy them. This belief system negates the possibilitiy of theethical life. It fails to grasp that goodness must be sought outside the self and that the best defense against evil is to seek it within. When people come to believe that they are immune from evil, that there is no semblance between themselves and those they define as the enemy, they will inevitably grow to embody the evil they claim to fight. It is only by grasping our own capacity for evil, our own darkness, that we hold our own capacity for evil at bay. When evil is always external, then moral purification always entails the eradication of others.”

“[Tim] LaHaye and [Jerry] Jenkins had to distort the Bible to make all this [the events of their “Left Behind” series] fit – the Rapture, along with the graphic details of the end of the world and the fantastic time line, is never articulated in the Bible = but all this is solved by picking out obscure and highly figurative passages and turning them into fuzzy allegory to fit the apocalyptic vision. This stygian nightmare is, rather, a visceral and disturbing expression of how believers feel about themselves and the world. The horror of apocalyptic violence – the final aesthetic of the movement – at once frightens and thrills followers. It feeds fantasies of revenge and empowerment. It is an ominous reminder that failing to follow God’s commands will ensure their own eternal damnation. LaHaye has a checkered past that includes years of working for the John Birch Society and many more peddling quack theories such as ‘temperment analysis,’ which purports to be a system to identify predominant characteristics, strengths and weaknesses to help people make vocational, personal and marital decisions… In short, before becoming the champion of a Christian America and the apocalypse he madehis living as a fortune-teller. LaHaye has helped found and lead numerous right-wing groups, including the Council for National Policy, and he is not only the nation’s best-selling author, but also one of the dominionists’ most powerful propagandists.”

“Cardinal Roger Mahony, the head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest, has called on Catholics to be prepared to defy the laws now being considered in Congress and backed by the Christian Right that make it a felony to shield or protect or offer support to illegal immigrants. Such civil disobedience would be an act of faith… Programs to protest or establish community, to direct federal and state assistance to those truly left behind, those trapped in America’s urban ghettos and blighted former manufacturing towns, are acts of faith.”

“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning.

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.” – Russian novelist Vasily Grossman in “Life and Fate.”

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies.” – Walter Lippmann

Chris Hedges also goes after the other side in his book, “When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists”

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why We Fight - Part II

The documentary "Why We Fight" followed the story of a retired New York police officer whose son
died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. This grieving father wanted to get back at those who killed his son, "if the President said Iraq was behind it, let's get them." This father eventually had his son's name written on a bomb dropped by the marines. After all of that, however, this father
was shocked to hear Bush's sheepish acknowledgement that Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 attacks. "I'm old school, I trust my President. But if the President lied and we can't trust our President, who can we trust. The government exploited my feelings of patriotism, my feelings of a deep desire for revenge, for what happened to my son. But I was so insane with wanting to get even, I was willing to believe anything." Another person disullisioned in our national leadership and the "Wartime President."

Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski spent 20 years in the military and is recently retired from the intelligence departament of the Pentegan. She started to become disullisioned when she realized that Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush were quoting 10 year old UN intelligence to 'prove' that Iraq was amassing weapons of mass destruction. I don't know if there's a more powerful quote on the
Iraq war than this, "I have two sons and I will allow none of them to serve in the US military. If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy makers persue an Imperial Agenda."

Lt. Col Kwiatkowski is likely referring to former VP Cheney, who mislead us into Iraq and whose company Halliburton became exponentially more profitable as they were paid to rebuild all the buildings we bombed in Iraq. The US amases 2 trillion in debt from the Iraq war but Cheney's net worth multiplies several times over.

One scene in this documentary brought me to tears; it was the sight of children not much older than my own son being taken into Baghdad hospitals while screaming and bleeding from all over their bodies. One Iraqi doctor said this, "Honestly, what we saw the first day of the war astonished us. And most of us doctors were in a state of anger. There were shrapnel injuries to women and children, civilians all of them were civilians. In the first days of the war, we didn't recieve any soldiers, the first group was from Dora. The wounded were civilians who were at their houses at dawn when an explosion happened."

0 out of 50 of the smart bombs dropped in the first few days of "Shock and Awe" actually hit their intended targets, despite Rumsfeld's posturing in his statement, "there is no doubt that initial strikes upon the leadership was successful. We have photographs of what took place."

A morgue director on Baghad saw it differently. He kept records of every single casualty from US bombs. He stated that 90% of the casualties were civilians, including children.

Are Iraqi children somehow worth less than American children? I don't think most good hearted Americans would think so, but we aren't aware of what happens as a result of our wars. To quote Michael D. Higgins, ?"The difference between [the generous common people of the United States] and the tiny elite who are in charge of the war-mongering foreign policy of the United States is just enormous."

Why We Fight - Part I

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gore Vidal, "Imperial America: Reflections on the United States of Amnesia."

"Certain of our rights, such as freedom of speech, were said to be inalienable. But a significant minority has never accepted the idea of so much freedom for so many. That is why, from 1791 to the present day, the ongoing drama of our Republic has been the relentless attack of the prosperous few upon the rights of the restless many - often masked as the righteous will of the minority against the deviant few. The current Supreme Court is clearly dedicated to the removal or alienation
of as many of our inalienable rights as possible on the specious ground that what the founders did not spell out as a 'right' was not a right at all, but some sort of unpatriotic, unAmerican activity."

"For thirty years I have made the same proposal to correct the great corruption. No candidate or party may buy time or space in the media. Give free media time and space to all candidates. Limit national election campaigns to four or six of eight weeks, which is more or less, what the other First World countries do. A single act of Congress could make our elections unbuyable. However, those who have been elected by the present system are not about to change it."

"When Japan surrendered, the United States was faced with a choice: Either disarm, as we had done in the past, and enjoy the prosperity that comes from releasing so much wealth and energy to the private sector, or maintain ourseles on a full military basis, which would mean a tight control not only over our allies and such conquered provinces as West Germany, Italy, and Japan but over the economic - which is to say the political - lives of the American people. As Charles
E. Wilson, a businessman and politician of hte day day, said as early as 1944'Instead of looking to disarmament and unpreparedness as a safeguard against war, a thoroughly discredited doctrine, let us try the opposite: full preparedness according to a continuing plan.'

The accidental president, Harry Truman, bought this notion. Although Truman campaigned in 1948 as an heir to Rossevelt's New Deal, he had a 'continuing plan.' Henry Wallace was onto it, as early as: 'Yesterday, March 12, 1947, marked a turning point in American history, for it is not a Greek crisis that we face, it is an American crisis. Yesterday, President Truman... proposed, in effect, American police Russia's every border. There is no regime too reactionary for us
provided it stands in Russia's expansionist past. There is no country too remote to serve as the scene of a context which may widen until it becomes a world war.' But how to impose this? The Republican leadership did not like the state to be hte master of the country's economic life while, of the Democrats, only a few geopoliticians, like Dean Acheson, found thrilling the prospects
of a military state, to be justified in the name of a holy war against something called communism in general and Russia in particular. The fact that the Soviet Union was no military or economic threat to us was immaterial. It must be made to appear threatening so that the continuing plan could be set in motion in order to create the National Security State in which we have been living
for the past forty years."

"The business of our third republic is war, or defense, as it's been euphemistically called since 1949. As a result, of the thirty five years since the end of WWII, the United States has managed to be at war (hot and cold) for thirty; and if the Bank has its way, we shall soon be at war again, this time on a really large scale. But then, as Banksman Grover Cleveland observed so presciently almost a century ago, 'the United States is not a country to which peace is necessary.'"

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father,in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." - Thomas Jefferson

"Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out. 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it.'" - John Adams

"As Ben Franklin observed brightly, sooner or later,every republic becomes a tyranny. They liked reading history, the Framers."

"With the surrender of Japan in 1945, thelast official war ended. But the undeclared wars - or "police actions" - now began with a vengeance, and our presidents are very much on the march. Through secret organizations like the CIA, they subvert foreign governments, organize invasions of countries they do not like, kill or try to kill foreign leaders while spying, illegally, on American
Citizens. The Presidents have fought two major wars - in Korea and Vietnma - without any declaration of war on the part of Congress."

"Thomas Jefferson thought that there should be a contsitutional convention at least
once a generation because 'laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him as a boy, as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.'"

"The fact that the country is so much larger than it was makes for an appearance of variety. But the substance of the two-party system or non-system is unchanged. Those with large amounts of property control the parties which control the state which takes through taxes the people's money and gives
a certain amount of it back in order to keep the populace docile while reserving a sizable part of tax revenue for the oligarchy's use in the form of 'purchases' for the defense department, which is the unnumbered, as it were, bank accounts of the rulers."

"The welfare system is the price that the white majority pays in order to exclude the black minority from the general society."

"I belong to a minority that is now one of hte smallest in the country and, with every day, grows smaller. I am a veteranof WWII. And I can recall thinking, when I got out of the Army in 1946, Well, that's that. We won. And those who come after us will never need to do this again. Then came the two mad wars of imperial vanity - Korea and Vietnam. They were bitter for us, not to mention for the so called enemy. Next we were enrolled in a perpetual war against what seemed
to be the enemy-of-the-month club. This war kept major revenues going to military procurement and secret police, while whitholding money fromus, the taxpayers, with our petty concerns for life,libery, and the pursuit of happiness.
But no matter how corrupt our system became over the last century - and I lived through three quarters of it - we still held on to the Constitution and, above all, to the Bill of Rights. No matter how bad things got, I never once believed that I would see a great part of the nation - of we the people, unconsulted and unrepresented in a matter of war and peace - demonstrating in such numbers against
an arbitrary and secret goverment, preparing and conducting wars for us, or at least for an army recruited from the unemployed to fight in. Sensibly, they now leave much of the fighting to the uneductated, to the excluded."

"[Ben] Franklin urged the [Constitutional] convention to accept the Constitution despite what he took to be its great faults, because it might, he said, provide good government in the short term. 'There is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and I believe farther that this is likley to be wll administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.'"

"We had promised to give the Filipinos their independence from Spain. Then we changed our mind, killing some 200,000 of them inthe process of Americanizing them."

"Last September Congress received from the [Bush] Administration a document called the the National Security Strategy of the United States. As the historian Joseph Stromberg observed, 'It must be read to be believed.' The doctrine preaches the desirability of the United States becoming - to use Adam's words - dictatress of the world. It also assumes that the President and his lieutenants
are morally entitled to govern the planet. It declares that our best defense is a good offense.' The doctrine of pre-emption is news declared: 'As a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.'

'To us it was an empire of incalculable value but it might have been obtained by other means. The Southern rebellion was largely the outgrowth of the Mexican war. Nations like individuals, are punished in the most sanguinary and expensive war in modern times.' - Ulyssses S. Grant, veteran of the Mexican war, speaking on that war.

"We have never had a left, or even much of a coherent right. We tend to divide between up and down. The downs may now be on the rise."

Saturday, March 24, 2012

An Odd People

Some more thoughts from Dan Boone’s book, “Seven Deadly Sins: the Uncomfortable Truth.”

“[Christians] are odd in a different sort of way. Odd like God.It is not an oddity that rages at the world and its wrongs.It is not an oddity that takes our marbles home in a sulking retreat into our private, protected, holy castles and away from the world.It is not an oddity that decides to get enough Christians to vote for the same guy or girl so we can take over the government and be in power.It is not an oddity that competes with the world for the most money, sex appeal, idol status, or fame in order to prove that we are just as good as them.

It is an oddity that we are rooted in likeness to Jesus. And this oddity cannot be reproduced by those given to a life of sin.

Take the seven deadly sins.
Anger is our response to loss or threat or hindrance.
Envy is a signal that we deserve as good as they got and won’t be happy until we gain or they lose.
Gluttony is filling our emptiness with whatever it takes to stuff and numb.
Sloth is our right to do or not to do as we please without being nagged.
Pride explains that your life is meant to be centered on me and I won’t settle for anything less.
Lust is routinely marketed and bodies do what bodies choose to do.
Greed is culturally expected in a consuming world.

What is impressive is holiness – because it is so rare, so odd, so uncommon in a world of sin.

Instead of anger, imagine a people who turn their passion into justice and peace-making.
Instead of envy, imagine a people who actually rejoice in another’s good fortune rather than being lessened by it.
Instead of gluttony, imagine a people who actually practice eating as a sacred act of community trust in God. Or who fast from consuming as an act of receiving life from God.
Instead of sloth, imagine a people who are zealous to do good works and who refuse sloppy thinking because it is an affront to the One who created them.
Instead of pride, imagine a people who humbly lay down their lives in service to others. Imagine a people who live selflessly with God at the center of their attention and put others in peripheral view.
Instead of lust, imagine a people who abstain from sexual intercourse until they are married, because they view the act as a sacred bonding of flesh to flesh, life to life.
Instead of greed, imagine a people who sit prayerfully with their checkbooks asking diving guidance on where the money should go. Imagine a people who stop working and accumulating once every seven days simply because their God told them to rest on Sabbath.

This is an odd people with odd practices in a world very unlike them. Are you open to being this odd?”

Monday, March 19, 2012

Inspired, Duped and then Guilted by Teach For America

This is going to be my last post on Teach For America. I’ve had this post in my mind for months, but wanted to put some more distance behind my experience before writing this post. While the title of this post includes the word “Inspired,” I’ll not be talking much about that part of my experience, all my inspired posts can be found under the TFA tag on this blog.

I’ve always had the impression that TFA is the Marine Corps of education, they put the strong and talented into the worst possible situations and expect them to grunt out victories. One can see the military approach all through TFA; the hierarchical no-questions-asked authority structure, the enforcement of uniform, the summer boot camp and even the title “Corps Members” given to their teachers.

My last meeting with my supervisor (Sergeant) and her supervisor (Lieutenant) was a meeting I won’t soon forget. The meeting started with my supervisor pulling out all the inspirational stops. She had me watch a 3 minute video in which I was actually able to get my students to place their work in the appropriate basket and prepare to transition to their next activity. In the teaching world, it was a very small task but considering how minimal of control I had as a teacher, it was a big deal for me. I was then told how great of a teacher I was and how much better I could become (I was suppressing some laughter at the fact that clip of my kids handing in papers without punching each other was proof of my educational prowess, but it was a high point for me).

After several attempt to communicate that I believe it was possible to become a good teacher and help some kids but that my first priority is to my family and that whatever good I could do was not worth the cost to my family, my supervisor finally understood I was serious about quitting. It was at this point that she turned the page on her notes (literally) and took a different approach – taking me on a guilt trip I’ve never experienced before and doubt I ever will again. This was a guilt trip that any religious leader who uses guilt to motive people would be wise to study. This was also the time in which my supervisor’s supervisor was brought into increase the emotional pressure on me, through intense stares and tears of grief for the children I was abandoning. Allow me to share the list of things I was accused of or promised during this final guilt trip.

- My son will have trouble ever respecting me
- I lack integrity
- In leaving, I am dooming the children of my classroom to academic failure and prison, but if I stayed, they could achieve great things
- I will NEVER find a job in which I can spend ALL of my time with my son
- I am outside of God’s will- I am the greatesdt thing in these kids’ lives
- If I can’t manage time in this job, how will I ever learn to do so and how will I ever accomplish anything in my life
- I will regret the decision to leave for the rest of my life
- I will bring my family to financial ruin- I am failing my country
- I needed to consider what it would be like if I became poor and had to move to urban KC and my son’s teacher walked out on him

I wrote those down the day after that final meeting and have finally decided to come public with the accusations. I think it’s worth sharing all of that. I’ve since found out that extreme guilt is a pretty common way TFA supervisors control their Corps Members. While the decision to quit certainly had some negative connotations for the students I had off and on for 7 weeks (the principal kept changing classes on us), it was nowhere what I was accused of, it’s just not possible.

The guilt comes out of a thought process often called, “TFA Arrogance,” that is, TFA teachers are better than other teachers. Now, among the 150 KC Corps Members (a number that has now dwindled closer to 100), there are some amazing teachers. I made some close friends during my short time and all of those who are still teaching are giving more than could be expected of anyone and some are even having some positive results. I’m not exaggerating in saying I think of those Corps Members as true “heroes.” TFA really does an incredible job recruiting the best of the best from America’s graduating college students and only 10% of the applicants actually get selected. So when one considers the incredible people they put into teaching roles, TFA is going to produce some rock-star teachers. The founder of TFA, Wendy Kopp however has recently admitted that across the board, TFA teachers don’t perform any better than non TFA teachers. My supervisors, however don’t ascribe to that belief, as they explained that if I quit my teaching position after 7 weeks, I would be condemning my students to subpar teaching (not really much different than what they were currently receiving) and a prison sentence. That would be TFA arrogance.

In her book, “A Chance to Make History,” Wendy Kopp also admitted that the mission of TFA has recently undergone its third revision. TFA started in the early 90’s with the mission of filling the teaching vacancies. As those vacancies disappeared, TFA’s mission changed to the noble idea that great teachers could change the trajectory of poor students in under-resourced schools. That’s the mission I was recruited, trained, inspired and guilted under. What I didn’t realize, however was that upon realizing TFA teachers were no more transformational than their counterparts, Wendy had recently given TFA its third vision revision; that TFA would recruit leaders who would spend two years in the nation’s worst schools and then join the political movement of education reform. I’ll admit, I don’t know enough to judge whether TFA’s philosophies can reform education. I do know, however, I didn’t sign up for a political movement, as noble as that movement may be.

My supervisor told me I would need to go through an interview process before officially being released from TFA. I told her some times that would work but was then was surprised to receive my release letter without ever having gone through the exit interview. So that guilt-ridden meeting was my final experience and left me with a bad taste in my mouth. What helps counter that bad taste is the Corps Members still working for TFA and some of the notes my students gave me on my final day. Oh yeah, the opportunity to live a healthy and balance life as a husband and father isn’t a bad feeling either.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Political "sides"

It is interesting to note that certain groups on American politics lump just about every enemy
to their way of thinking into one group; Communist = Socialist = Fascists = Leftists = Marxist =
Terrorist = Pacifist = the enemy of the month club.

Some of those groups ideas overlap but some, like Communists and Fascists, are completely opposite (see WWII). Why is this interesting to me? Because I love history (learning how different ideas develop) and I love to poke holes in shallow rhetoric (usually rhetoric meant to scare people into war).

So with that said, here's an interesting historical and biblical nugget from The Christian Left.

“The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.”

You can read the entire article here (and I'd recommend the time to read it)

I think they raise some interesting points. Jesus clearly was on the side of the outcast and oppressed. But I still see a few problems:

1) Rhetoric aside, the Democratic Party isn't for the poor and oppressed anymore than the Republican party really wants to end abortion. It's all rhetoric to buy votes.

2) We cannot expect a secular government to act according to the teachings of Jesus.
With that said, we can expect CHRISTIANS to act according to the teachings of Jesus. No matter what the government says, Christians are to be on the side of the poor and to be peacemakers who love their (and their government's) enemies.

And here's another interesting read on the rise of American Fascism as spurred on by the Religious Right. link

Monday, March 5, 2012

Biblical Justice

"The biblical notion of justice may be summed up in the principle: To each according to the measure of his real need, not because of anything human reason can discern inherent in the needy, but because his need alone is the measure of God's righteousness toward him. Such justice or righteousness is primarily neither 'corrective' nor 'distributive,' as in the Greek (and American political) view, but 'redemptive,' with special bias in favor of the helpless who can contribute nothing at all and are in fact 'due' nothing. Justice does not depend upon a person's stake in the community. To the contrary, his stake in the community, the very fact that, although an alien or a forgotten man, he comes in effect to belong or still belongs to the community, this depends upon 'justice' being done. Such righteousness does not derive its nature from some already existing proportionate connection individuals have with one another in view of some common good. There took place, of course, a good deal of corrective justice 'in the gate,' where justice was meted out in Israel. There was also much concern through laws regulating the inheritance of family property to maintain every family's stake in the community. Still biblical justice was never primarily concerned with devising some method or other for calculating what is man's 'due.'"

- Paul Ramsey in "Basic Christian Ethics"

Saturday, March 3, 2012


The other day, my Dad and I were grilling some meat for Dawson's third birthday party
when we noticed some cigarette butts sitting in a flower pot on my back deck. Knowing those cigarette butts were put there by an extended family member, we talked some about how insanely addictive nicotine is and how close my dad came to getting hooked on nicotine when he was in high school.

While grilling FDA approved cheap hamburgers and talking about the terrible effects of cigarettes, something awful dawned on me. I realized that the government is so careful about regulating some things while looking the other way when it comes to other things. The FDA (thankfully) keeps a close eye on the quality of meat put in our grocery stores but those same grocery stores sell cigarettes full of carcinogens wrapped up in the hardest-to-break addiction - nicotine. This realization caused me to go into a mini-tirade about how lobbyists can convince our elected officials to put the financial interests of a fiscal bottom line above the health interests
of our citizens.

After I came back down from my rant, as he often does, my dad just said, "I know. I know. It's
wrong but nothing is going to change it." This time, however, my dad added an extra bit of wisdom, an insight that has likely come from listening to many other similar rants. My dad warned, "Son, you're going to have to let some of that stuff go, the things you can't change, because if not, it's going to eat you alive."

I have to agree, he's right. It will eat me alive. But as I told my dad later, I don't think
I can let that stuff go, because I have a sense that the anger arising in my soul from injustices in our world is something God can work through to help make this world a slightly more just place.

A couple weeks later, while reading a book by a former NTS professor, Dan Boone entitled,
"Seven Deadly Sins: The Uncomfortable Truth," I read these words:

"Could it be that anger, yielded to God, shaped and directed by God, becomes the passion for
redeeming the world? Could it be that redeemed anger is the energy we need to do something
about a world gone wrong?

It makes me wonder if when we figure out what's in our craw, when we figoure out what makes
us angry, if we wouldn't be on the verge of discovering the passion for redemptive action. If
maybe our calling is connected to our anger.

If there was more redeemed anger in the world, there would be less poverty, less discrimination,
less character assination, less abuse, less divorce, less pain. If there was more redeemed
anger, there would be fewer battered wives, neglected children, religious frauds, power games,
liars and cheats.

Christians are too nice. We swallow our anger too often. It's time we took it to God and
figured out what to do with it. No need to waste things that can be recycles. Be angry -
don't sin."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Why We Fight

I just watched an interesting documentary entitled, "Why We Fight." The documentary traces the radical transformation between Eisenhower's warning about the "Military Industrial Complex"and the Bush era doctrine (actually developed in a think-tank that contained Chaney and Rumsfeld) of premptive strikes and a "We are the new Rome" American Empire.
First, we need to read Eisenhower's warning from his farewell speech regarding the Military Industrial Complex.

"A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.
Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

You can read the entire speech here,
In looking ahead to every succeeding President, Eisenhower warned, "God help our nation when someone becomes President who knows less about the military than I do." What he was saying is that there are forces more powerful than a Presidentthat, for their own financial preservation and even growth are constantly pressuringthe Federal Government to spend way more than necessary on the military budget and to even beginunnecessary wars.

Though he followed with other Presidents in using Christian rhetoric to describe the US's mission(a serious blasphemy that ought to offend every Christian who understands the role of the Christ's church)while himself not seeming to have much of a practiced faith, Eisenhower seemed to understand the moral need to avoid wars at all costs. It was likely his first-hand experience of the terrors of war that caused him to object to Truman's dropping of The Bomb and Kennedy's eventual engagement in Vietnam. But decades later, as we've invaded a country that never did us any harm to take about a leader that we put in place to fight Iran (Iraq) and while we're still in a nation that had a group of radicals kill almost 3,000 Americans and has itself suffered over 100,000civilian deaths (Afghanistan), Eisenhower's words are very timely.

Another great quote comes from Charles Johson, who was in the CIA from 1967-1973, "Blowback. It's a CIA term. Blowback does not mean simply unintended consequences of foreign operations. It means the unintended consequences of foreign operations that were deliberately kept secret from the American people. So that when the retaliation comes, the American public's not able to put into context cause and effect together. So that they come up with questions like,'Why do they hate us?'"

The documentary makes the assumption then that since the American public is mostly ignorant of the assinations, government overthrows and other things that if done to us we'd call "terrorism,"that results in blowback like the 9/11 attacks, those 9/11 attacks provided a group of people deeply committed to the expansion of the American Empire the opportunity to implement plans that they had been laying since 1992.

Iraq and Afghanistan - to the few who actually lead this country, our nation fights wars that expand our empire and fatten a few bank accounts. Iraq and Afghanistan - to most Americans, even those who risk their lives in these illegal wars,the wars are actually fought for freedom and righteousness.

Dang, they're good.