"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

7.31.2006

your flag decal won't get you into heaven anymore

My head's been buried in news from the Congo all weekend, but in the middle of all that, there have been some really interesting pieces on the church-state separation issue lately. The piece about Gregory Boyd in the Sunday New York Times was really interesting. Boyd is a pastor at a Baptist General Conference megachurch in Minnesota who preached a sermon series called "The Cross and the Sword" (that title is so remiscent of Cub Rutenber's The Dagger and the Cross). He argues that politics don't bring about the kingdom of God and that too many American Christians have made idols out of patriotism and political partisanship. He has a book out that's based on the sermons and that I'm trying to get ahold of a copy of.

I found the accompanying video about Boyd (and the church to which 1,000 of his members decamped after he told them Jesus wasn't a politician) especially interesting - to link to it, click here, then choose "Politics and the Pulpit" (the one next to it, about the Congo, is pretty interesting, too).

The CSM had an editorial last week on the related topic of the Democrats' attempt to inject more piety into this fall's campaigns. Boyd's sermons should be a warning to them - the problem is not that the Christian faith is more compatible with Democratic views than Republican ones. It's that it's wrong for the followers of someone who systematically rejected the assumption of political power to assume that Christians are supposed to take over a government. The point is not that your faith shouldn't inform your political views, just that the church and the state are inherently concerned with different goals, and it's going to be a mess anytime you mix up those two goals. Theocracy never works.

(Okay, this is hilarious. The coffee shop I'm at is currently playing Jenny Lewis's "Born Secular." What timing!)

Someone who hasn't figured that out, however, had his hearing in court today. Well, to be more accurate, the Texas Republican Party had its day in court to settle Tom DeLay's residency problem. Burka attended the arguments and thinks the D's will win. I'm sure they'll accuse the 5th circuit panel (with two Clinton-appointees hearing the case) of bias. Whatever. It's going to be very difficult to get the Supreme Court to settle this far enough before election day for it to matter. As always, Juanita's has the most entertaining commentary on the whole mess.

Back to trying to get something done/trying to find Sleater-Kinney tickets...

deuce gets evicted

Good luck, Emily!

blah, blah, blah

Pretty much from the day I got back to the states, this summer has been full of surprises. One of the most unexpected events happened just a few days after I got back. The director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, which publishes Ethics Daily, called to chat and asked if I would write columns for the site on a semi-regular basis. The first of those columns is out today. It's about the CLC Summer Public Policy Institute, hopefully the piece will give you an idea of what we do and what our goals are. If you know a high school student who'd be interested in participating in next summer's institute, please let me know.

I still haven't taken the time to write about the institute here. There were some pretty amazing conversations that took place. Hopefully I'll get to that later this week. Later today I will definitely get to some interesting church-state stuff that came out over the weekend. Assuming my fingers don't freeze off in the LOC.

baby watch (#8)

Welcome to the world, Connor! Born Friday at 2 o'clock in the morning. Your mom was my closest friend at Yale. Can't wait to see your picture!

7.30.2006

to the limit, to the walls

Check out the Congolese election ballots. All of those pages are one ballot. The pink page on the left is all the candidates for president; the white sheets are the 9,000 parliamentary candidates. They're double-sided. You can see how hard it was for people to get them into the ballot boxes here. (Photo: BBC Africa)

It seems to have gone okay. There are some beautiful stories about old men dancing, and the usual cynicism on les terraces in Kinshasa. Anyone who says that Congolese voters aren't rational needs to meet this man, interviewed by the New York Times:

"Mr. Mabuisi, the 80-year-old voter who has lived through it all, said he voted for Mr. Bemba because he was worried what would happen if Mr. Bemba lost.

“'This is democracy,' he said, as he slipped his precious voting card in his pocket and walked away."

Mr. Mabuisi is exactly right - he's seen enough to know that Bemba (one of the vice-presidents and a former war belligerant) has the greatest capacity to cause trouble if he doesn't win. It's cynical and sad and entirely rational.

But today was a good day for Congo. The only real trouble was in Mbuji-Mayi, which is the stronghold of an opposition leader who boycotted the elections.

In Goma, things went just fine. I wish I could have been there.

7.29.2006

this is really happening

This is it. My Congolese friends are just waking up to go stand in line to vote. For the first time in their lives. It's been 46 years since the country had an election (Lumumba won). And since the war has reduced life expectancy to 46, there's hardly anyone who remembers the last election. This picture, from MONUC's Bernard Kalume pretty much sums it up.

The challenge of pulling off these elections is a logistical nightmare. And that's putting it mildly. Some of the polling stations are 10 days' march from the nearest town with a road or landing strip. There are so many things that can go wrong, and so many people who don't want peace, much less democracy. Or else they don't understand that democracy means not resorting to violence when your side loses. There are five million extra ballots, the ballots are six pages long, you have to find your district and find the picture of your candidate to check off - the opportunities for fraud and confusion are everywhere. There are more than 8500 polling stations in Kinshasa alone. That means there are 8500 places where violence could break out in a heartbeat. 25,000 Congolese who live in Burundi are crossing the border just to vote.

The place is apparently crawling with American reporters. My friend Eddie wrote a good story about how complicated it is - about the unintegrated army and the lack of a democratic mentality. I've seen stories about violence, and read dispatches from the east. The BBC reports are great. My friends from here who care about Congo are there, and from what I gather it's a little crazy, but fine, just the normal Congolese drama and rumor mills and attempts to stir up bored people to riot in the streets. And the bigwigs, who are wrong about a lot of things with Congo, are right that if this doesn't go okay, it will set off regional instability like we can't comprehend.

I want so much to hope. I want to hope that they'll figure out a way to make it work. I want to hope, like so many Congolese do, that having an election will bring democracy and prosperity and peace. I want to hope for Congo.

And I think about my friends. About Aime and her sisters, who want to get married and raise families in Goma like their mother did. About Bosco, who wants his children to have better nutrition so they have a chance of growing up healthy. About Chantal, who wants to travel outside of Congo - just once. About John, who traveled from Lumbumbashi to Kinshasa in 1974 to see Foreman and Ali fight and stayed to drive a taxi and learn English by listening to the BBC world service. About Dr. Lusi, who will probably decide that this is worth skipping church for. About C and E, who've watched Americans and Belgians vote all their lives but have never had the chance themselves. About Junior, who got married last week and won't leave for the U.S. to start graduate school quite yet. He can't miss this day. About Roger, who wanted me to ship him a car in which to drive around Goma and who needs more job security than a moto-taxi provides. About Mama Helene, who's sick of the fighting and wants to raise her four sons in peace, and who gave me a snapshot of her with those boys so I wouldn't forget her.

And I think about people like Musa's mama, at the hospital in the next big town north of Goma, which is its own private hell. Her child was one of the children who die every two minutes in Congo. 120 per hour. 2,880 per day. Even on election day.

All of them will stand in line for hours and hours today under the hot equatorial sun to do something we take for granted. To do something that half of us don't even bother to do when our country chooses a president. They have lived the realities of oppression and chaos for most of the last 46 years. They've watched four million of their brothers and sisters and neighbors and friends die. They've been held at gunpoint, had their homes destroyed, and nearly starved. This is their last, best chance for something better.

And so, in spite of there being every reason not to, I feel like I owe it to them to hope today. This is it.

a gold-plated door won't keep out the Lord's burnin' rain

Amy Butler has this really spectacular picture of Jesus at the United Nations up on her blog today. Is it apparently entitled, "Prince of Peace"? Not sure. Words fail. Wow.

what I need is a good defense

It just goes to prove: bad taste in music never pays.

7.28.2006

the humidity's probably lower, too

I want to go here.

i hate to go and leave this pretty sight

It's week 3 already and I have yet to comment on the new season of Project Runway, the only reality show I watch (besides Laguna Beach. At least I admit it. Stop laughing. I bet you watch Pimp My Ride. Or worse.). Some thoughts:
  • I have to say, as much as I love this show, I'm really disappointed that they've moved to a twice-a-year format. It was fun because it was kindof rare and something to look forward to in winter. Now the contestants know what to expect and, much like The Real World after Puck, it's just not that interesting anymore.
  • Vincent is annoying. And not that talented.
  • He does, however, have significantly more talent than Angela. Oh, my gosh. Did you see that outfit in episode 3? Ivanka Trump said, "She [the model] looks like a streetwalker." I'm pretty sure this represents the one and only time that Ivanka Trump and I were thinking the exact same thing.
  • I love Laura. She's a scream. Putting the puppy into her Expensive Handbag so she wouldn't "have to touch him" was so funny. But her statement in the first episode (something along the lines of, "I never dress down. When you're 42 years old and a mother of 5, it's a slippery slope to sweatpants and a pony tail. I just don't go there.") was to die for. Here's hoping she can stop making the same jacket-with-a-fur-collar and come up with some creative designs that are better than good-enough.
  • The Manolo is so right about Vera Wang. I can't stand Michael Kors, but I want him and his snarky comments back. Soon.
  • Nina Garcia, however, continues to be annoying. Why would you put Bradley's outfit in Elle? It was hideous.
  • Who's getting kicked off next week? Not a clue, but there are lots of theories at BPR.

that's French vanilla

Stephen Colbert's interview with Eleanor Holmes Norton last night is one of the funniest political interviews I've ever seen. Got home late last night and laughed for about ten minutes. I just can't decide who won.

7.26.2006

yuck, yuck, yuck

Emily is 100% right - I saw this commercial last night and it's totally disgusting. Unless you live in a frat house. Maybe. Ew.

sevens

Seven things I can’t do:

  • snap my fingers
  • change the oil in my car
  • make red velvet cake like my sister can
  • drive a stick shift
  • speak Spanish
  • understand why anyone cares about Paris Hilton
  • appear again on the Price is Right

Seven things I can do:

  • throw a great Derby Day party
  • make really good cheese grits souffle
  • stay awake while reading academic journals
  • navigate unfamiliar subway systems
  • talk swahili
  • judge a cd by the first track
  • stop drinking caffeine

Seven things I want to do before I die:

The Seven dwarves are (google is cheating!):

  • Dopey
  • Happy
  • Grumpy
  • Sleepy
  • Doc
  • Lazy?
  • Chirpy

Seven things I say most often:

  • unbelievable
  • it's a long story
  • please use formal language for a college-level paper
  • not that kind of Baptist
  • please stand to the right
  • you didn't get an "a" because this isn't an "a"-level paper
  • I'm done.

Seven movies I love:

  • High Fidelity
  • Say Anything
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • Much Ado About Nothing
  • The Muppets Take Manhattan
  • Raising Arizona
  • Bottle Rocket
Seven friends who are getting memed:
  • Emily
  • Ayesha
  • Jess
  • Kirstin
  • Angela
  • The College Mom
  • Melissa

7.25.2006

when you moved they cut down the maple tree

God bless Molly Ivins. I am reading Kingdom Coming on the bus/subway every day (Stupid commute. Living in the suburbs stinks.) and am getting really depressed about the extremist Christian Nationalists the author describes. A Moyers presidency sounds too good to be true. And he's too good of a person to even consider it.

funny how they say that some things never change

So Congo is having an election on Sunday. Just about everyone I know who "does Africa" is there, and I'm wishing I were, too. Kindof. You read stories like this and think, hmm, maybe not. I'm not too optimistic about the elections. The elections will happen, they won't be free or fair, but the U.S. and everyone else have pre-determined that they will be good enough. And there's something to be said for that. You don't get democracy overnight anywhere in the world.

And then there's the aftermath, which is way more important than what happens on Sunday (when Kabila will win). Everyone who has something to lose from elections, a real transition to democracy, and an end to the violence has kept an army. It doesn't take an Africa expert to tell you what that means.

and no band was cooler than the 13th Floor Elevators

Ahh, there's nothing like questionable theology on a Tuesday afternoon:

we're from texas

I wish this were my dissertation. There's a PhD candidate in California writing about the Texas diaspora and she's looking for subjects to answer her questions. They're posted here - if you're a native Texan or someone who wasn't born there but loves the state anyway, send her an email and help her out.

Also, she's looking for academics with Texas connections, whether you are a native or went to college or grad school in the Lone Star State. For that, you just need to email her.

the cotton ain't growin this year

And may I add: well.

roses are red

Well.

7.24.2006

it starts with an earthquake

These people were on the plane out of Austin last week. Yikes! Unlike certain other members of our party, I didn't have to sit next to their Marble Falls contingent. They seemed like nice people. Anyway, check out the link above. The author misdefines "eschatology," but asks some very interesting questions. I can't believe I didn't see any of the 3,000 participants in their lobbying week last week. We must not have been eating at the same restaurants.

last night in live music: ryan adams

My weekend was some kind of crazy. And busy. On Friday night, I got taken out to a Very Nice Restaurant for a Very Nice Dinner. It was fun; the restaurant has a Silk Road theme and both the food and the company were excellent. Saturday I started moving my stuff to the house in the burbs, where I'm housesitting for the next month or so, and then ran a whole bunch of errands. Then Sunday, after church (with some fine preachin' from Rob "Jeopardy!" Marus), lunch, and more hectic moving-stuff-to-the-edge-of-the-earth (more on that later), I met up with some friends to see Ryan Adams at the Charlottesville Pavillion.

It was a great show. I'd only seen Adams in a festival set, so it was pretty cool to see the real deal. They played 25 songs straight through, then a one-song encore. (Presumably the encore would have been longer, but someone thought it would be funny to throw a beer at one of the techies onstage, so they stopped after "This is It." Oh, well.) The venue is fantastic. You're outside and it's about 20 degrees cooler at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains than it is in the city. Such a pretty evening for a show.

The set featured a LOT of songs from Cold Roses (the title track was amazing) and Jacksonville City Nights (which I've thought was a little cheesy, but "The End" and "A Kiss Before I Go" sounded great live), but he got a couple from Heartbreaker and Love is Hell in there, too. Adams may be slightly unstable, but there's no question that he is a fantastic songwriter and musician. "I See Monsters" alone was worth the drive. As was the very cool breakdown of "To Be Young." The heartbreaking "Meadowlake Street" was just gorgeous. It's the perfect year-after-a-breakup song and last night's rendition was beautiful.

I don't have many complaints, other than that he didn't play a couple of my favorite songs. It was a rowdy crowd, so mournful ballads probably weren't a good choice. "Streets of Baltimore" was a little flat, but then again I just saw Fallen Angel, so nobody seems good enough to cover Gram Parsons right now. And we probably would've been okay with one Dead cover instead of three, but it was a Cold Roses show.

I was really disappointed that there wasn't as much crazy on this year's tour as on last year's, which I missed due to youth camp. Adams talked in funny voices and made fun of blog reviews of his shows, but there weren't any of the playing-records-on-a-turntable antics of the past. Maybe next time.

It was so nice to see a great live show again. I missed live music so much in Congo. And there was a total absence thereof, unless you count the night I stepped out onto the balcony of a hotel room in Rwanda to see what that noise was and discovered that it was a band covering "City of New Orleans." In French. Ryan Adams, you've never subjected us to that. So you can be as crazy as you want to be.

let's dance all night

Ryan Adams. Charlottesville. It was so good. 2 in the morning. Just got home. Must get lots of work done in the morning. So sleepy. A picture for now. Review tomorrow.

7.23.2006

i love the rolling hills

If indeed "You Are How You Camped," well, let's see:

  1. I loved camp. Actually, I guess I really, really, really loved camp, seeing as I 1) went back to be a counselor, 2) occasionally voluntarily go back to the alumnae clean-up weekends (It's fun. Really.), and 3) darn right will be sending my children to camp. Just because I have been known to revert to singing "I Love the Mountains" to the GA's when they're misbehaving does not mean that "cultist" is a fair description of how much I loved camp.
  2. Air-conditioning is what actually defines a camp. It's character-building to do without, even in August. Period.
  3. Useful life skills for Baptist girls I learned at camp (officially and otherwise): hostessing the dinner table, how to fire a 12-gauge, kayaking, tennis, communicating with boys' camp (inconveniently located on the other side of I-40), backpacking, teaching musical coreography, eyebrow maintenance, lighting a campfire in a rainstorm, playing sophisticated pranks on one's junior counselor, and how to be victorious in a campwide game of capture the flag.
  4. Camp made me who I am. It gave me an adventurous spirit and a sense of independence. Plus I learned lots of nonsensical (and admittedly questionably appropriate) chants, learned to get along with all different kinds of people, and made lifelong friends.

If that's what's going to define us now, well, fine. Those capture-the-flag skills come in handy more than you might guess.

7.22.2006

in my ragged company

This would be cool. And not even scheduled against a home game. Sounds too good to be true. Then again, I could see them charging $100 a pop to breathe in the dust at Zilker.

too late to care

I'm too tired to write about the battles for control of Baptist institutions of higher learning. But the NYT isn't. I attended the panel that discussed Godsey's speech in Atlanta last month. David Key is right. The basic underlying problem is that fundamentalism in its purest form is antithetical to the search for truth in higher education. And if the state associations want places that are dedicated to presenting truth rather than pursuing it, they should be in the business of opening Bible colleges. It's a different goal, and it would save everyone a lot of trouble if we'd just acknowledge the fact. But why would we make it that easy?

7.21.2006

mirror, mirror on the wall

I've been meaning to share this picture for over a week now. It was taken at El Buen Samaritano, an center for immigrants run by the Episcopal diocese of Austin. El Buen is led by the amazing Father Ed Gomez. They provide education, ESL, and computer classes, a food pantry, exercise and nutrition classes, child care and preschool, and health care for families who lack health insurance. Their goal is to provide recent immigrants to our city with the tools and skills they need to assimilate into middle class life. It is one of the only programs of its kind in the country, and it is one of the most incredible programs I know. I first visited El Buen in the summer of 2004 and am continually impressed by how they develop and expand programs to meet the needs of their clients to love each one and to give them a better chance.
This mosaic was created by a high school senior. It depicts the story of the good samaritan, which is what "el buen samaritano" means. She intentionally created the face of both the Samaritan and the injured Jewish man as mirrors, to remind each of us that we should see ourselves in both faces. The question is not, "should we help?" The question is whether we're willing to look past the racial, economic, and situational barriers that divide us to love one another. We can choose simple, easy acts of charity, as Father Ed told our group last week, or we can choose to do what is inconvenient and expensive to reintegrate the wounded into life. We can choose, as he put it, to bandage the guy and leave him in the ditch, or we can choose to bandage him, give him a place to sleep, and help him to heal.

when we stand together as one

This is pretty much my dream. Except with more Africa. And maybe Russia. (Oh, wait, he went to both places on his first trip.) Definietly watch the video.

i'm tellin' you, no way

This city is so weird. Yesterday I was sitting in a coffee shop on the Hill, writing letters, and along come these two people who just have to sit down next to me and start talking really loudly. And name-dropping. Something about movies with Paul Giamatti. Janet-this, and Janet-that. His phone kept ringing, he couldn't figure out how to get to the Mandrin Oriental hotel, meet-and-greet from 6-8, blah, blah, blah. So this, apparently, is his fault.

Add that to being on a plane from Austin with Karen Hughes and then randomly seeing Barak Obama on the way home the other night (I've dreamed of meeting Obama. Just not in 100-degree heat after a run.), and it's been a pretty good celebrity-spotting week.

There's a joke around this city that D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people. If you think about it, it's not too far off. Spoiled people are followed around by an entourage, try to get good press, and act like children when they don't get their way. The difference, of course, is that our politicians make decisions that actually affect people's lives. It really doesn't matter to me that celebrities waste millions of dollars on things they don't need, then believe that their talent and good looks somehow mean the rest of us should listen to them. They're pretty easy to ignore. And mock. It does bother me that politicians get it in their heads that they are somehow special and then proceed to make bad decisions on behalf of our country.

But it's kindof a kick to see people. I've always thought it isn't the same if you see a politician in Congress. Once I saw Hillary Clinton in the tunnel on the Senate side. But that's like saying, hey, I was on the sound stage of this Wes Anderson shoot and I saw Owen Wilson. It's where they work. They're always there. It doesn't count. Now Bono in the Senate, that's a different story.

things are gonna change, i can feel it

Whatever. I've yet to see Rhett Bomar's receivers catch a pass, but then again none of us have seen Colt McCoy throw a pass. 43 days (!) to the start of what could be a long season. At least we can wear our national champs shirts to Dallas.

7.20.2006

justice for all

Good-bye, ARMPAC! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.

walk through the valley where the shadow of death is

Why this would surprise anyone is beyond me. The Bush Administration's so-called efforts to help the poor have been mediocre at best, and harmful at worst. It doesn't really help to "raise work levels" when minimum wage is $5.15 an hour. It doesn't help much to promote marriage when the poverty threshold for a family of four is still defined at an unrealistic annual household income of $20,000 (The estimated actual living expenses for a family of four in Austin is around $45,000. Imagine what the real cost of living in DC or New York is. $20,000 defines it wherever you are in the lower 48 states.).

I don't think the president is a bad man. I do think that he has almost no grasp of what it's like for working poor families in this country - how hard they work, how much they suffer, and how little they have to show for it. If he were serious about ending poverty in our country, he'd familiarize himself with the issue in a way that's personal, not abstract. Until he does that, whatever he says to the NAACP today or anyone else tomorrow won't really matter. The same goes for the rest of us.

7.19.2006

the best that we can do

More on the politics of stem cell research. Very interesting.

And... he vetoed it.

life is most definitely a gift

Today the president plans to veto the stem cell bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday. Five years ago when I was a Senate intern, this was the big issue. The right brought out its experts to say that using stem cells for medical purposes is tantamount to murder, while the left argued that it was better to use frozen embroyos for something than to throw them away. A whole mess of celebrities and scientists and cute, sick children came in to testify about the potential benefits of the research at this hearing, which was long and sad.

The one thing we all learned that summer is that it's complicated. Any time you mess with life, it's complicated. There are people of good faith on both sides of the issue. The president, because he had the political capital to do so at the time, decided to not really make a decision. He allowed federally-funded research only on existing stem cell lines, which didn't make much sense to me then (either you're for using stem cells or not, right?) , but was an easy political compromise that let him seem to be friendly to both the pro-life and pro-science constituencies in this country.

Problem was, it wasn't that easy. The existing stem cell lines aren't doing so well. And, like the scientists told us that summer, embryonic stem cells are more malleable than adult stem cells and therefore the best for research.

And there are the lingering questions about our society's willingness to create embryos that won't become babies, and about using those embryos for other purposes. And then there's another science question: is it better to fund the research and therefore let the government have control over most of the research through grant provision, rather than letting private grants do whatever they want in this delicate area?

I don't know what the right answer on this is. I think the president is making a big political mistake, because so many Americans support increasing federal funding for stem cell research. I know that Senator Orrin Hatch, who is about as conservative and pro-life as they come, supports stem cell research. I also know that there's a lot to be said for sticking up for a conviction, especially when it deals with setting a precedent on issues having to do with science and the beginnings of life.

Here's what I do know: The scientists who do work on type I diabetes are so close to finding a cure for this nasty disease that is taking its toll on my body. Embryonic stem cells can probably be grown into insulin-producing cells. Without the stem cells, there aren't nearly enough transplantable cells from donors to go around. I don't want embryos created for the sole purpose of a cure. I would be so grateful if there were one sooner rather than later. I wouldn't choose to benefit from it lightly. I hope I have the chance to make that choice.

7.18.2006

you make it easy

I just downloaded the new Golden Smog, which came out this morning but was not on iTunes until about an hour ago (why? WHY?). It rocks my world. If you don't believe me, you can listen to some tracks on their myspace page. The title track is fantastic, as is the "5-22-02" single, which has to be the most definitive "this-is-what-happens-when-you-merge-Wilco-and-the-Jayhawks" track ever.

As for their touring schedule, it's kindof, um, limited, so oh well for that. At least I get to see Wilco soon. And perhaps next time the Golden Smog won't make us wait EIGHT YEARS for a new album.

7.17.2006

world on fire

I keep meaning to write about last week's public policy camp, about the amazing kids and their questions and comments and stories, about the speakers who brought us all to tears and the ones who made some of us really angry. But I've been pretty much exhausted for the last 48 hours, I have to write two columns and move to a different house this week, and was thinking when I sat down to write this that the thought-provoking reflections will have to wait.

But then I looked at today's papers. Saw this story on illegal immigrants' access to healthcare in Texas. And this one on the very likely prospect of a presidential veto on a bill that would allow more federal funding to go to stem cell research. And this oh-my-gosh-did-he-actually-say-that op-ed on the Middle East. And I remember that these discussions we get into about public policy and faith and statistics and Bible verses aren't just abstract issues for the people who have to live them. Our personal and political decisions - to vote, to call our Congressman, to pursue a policy - our day-to-day, run-of-the-mill decisions are sometimes literally the difference between life and death.

It's worth thinking about.

come a thousand miles from a guitar town

Um, yes, that totally was Karen Hughes talking about her son who goes to Stanford on the plane.

7.13.2006

'round here

Of all the unexpected things that have happened in my life, being interviewed by the Baylor Line's Between the Lines feature was quite a surprise. The link to the story is here. I'm still not comfortable with being the subject of an interview, but it was a nice way to be forced to synthesize some of what I saw and learned in the Congo, and I really appreciate Judy Prather's kind words in our interview and in the story.

For those of you who are first-time visitors to Texas in Africa via the Baylor story, here are some posts from the trip:

stupid acl

Can I just say it (again)? I hate the people who run the Austin City Limits Festival. Once again, they've scheduled all the good bands to play at the same time.

Calexico against Guy Clark?
Explosions in the Sky at the same time as WILLIE?!?
Son Volt against the NP's?

I hate them. I really do. Do they not realize that their audience is NOT made up of people who only like to see "rock" or "Americana" acts?

i'll hitch my wagon up to another star

I'm exhausted. Beyond exhausted really. And plus I think I bruised a rib when we wiped out on the Waverunner this afternoon. But what a week. Today was the day we talked about the environment. Some of the kids went to a hearing, some went to learn about water quality, and then we all met at Horseshoe Bay to enjoy an afternoon at the lake. Most of the adults were on the last boat ride of the evening. At sunset, the D.A. drove too fast back to the lake house and we listened to "Wave on Wave," which was the right song for sunset on the lake. We had dinner and talked and then went out on the deck for the closing reflection under the starry Texas sky.

Leading evening reflections is one of my jobs this week. The other one is being site director, which mostly stinks. I have to make sure we're on time for everything, introduce speakers, and make sure we have x number of sponsors with x number of kids at every moment of the day. It's not always fun.

But reflections are different. The students say things that are so moving and profound that sometimes I want to cry. Tonight we talked about what we learned today. Some of the girls learned to swim for the first time today - can you imagine? - but that wasn't what they talked about. They talked about learning to trust, learning to be grateful for creation, and learning to overcome fear and try new things. Other kids talked about how they got where they are now, how they aren't used to being treated like people who have something valuable to say, and how grateful they are to have found friends who are interested in the same things they are. I couldn't pray after that, so I said that we should just be silent for a little bit, and I sat there and looked at the stars like I've looked at the stars so many times in so many places around the world, and I thought about the heavens declaring the glory of God and the Southern Cross and the satellites whizzing by and about how I got to where I am. And all I could say was thanks.

7.12.2006

say what i wanna say

Oh, wow.

7.11.2006

day by day

Today was the day we were supposed to talk about campaigns and politics. And we did. We went to the pink dome, we met a legislator and staffers, and the kids went to work on campaigns in the afternoon. We watched the movie we like to show to talk about campaigns, and we talked about whether it's possible to be an ethical person and to win in politics.

But the thing that's going to stick with me from today was the Bible study, the very first thing we did this morning. The Chaplain, who is, well, our chaplain, talked about the passage where Jesus says to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow, that you have to lose your life to find it, and the "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" passage. And I figured something out that articulated what I actually believe in a way that I've never been able to say it, and I need to write it down, so here goes: A political party is not the church. The goal of a political party is to obtain, consolidate, and maintain power. Political parties are inextricably tied up with Caesar. There's nothing wrong with that. But the goal of the church, and of the individuals who make up the church, is supposed to be losing your life to find it. It's completely the opposite of power. And that's why the attempt to integrate a political party with a particular faith tradition is so troubling to me. It is, quite clearly, not what Jesus would do.

7.10.2006

condemned to die?

Amy Butler is seriously my new hero.

"institute" sure looks like "camp" from here

There's no time to blog this week. It's after midnight and sleep sounds really good right now. But. The kids and the speakers and the staff say things that are real and true and profound, and I want to share. So here's just a little bit: One of our speakers tonight, who talked about her long relationship with Texas politics and politicians, talked to the group about having a sense of calling, and about the right reasons for being involved in politics, and about what happens to too many people who stay in politics for too long. "You don't get excited about getting up in the morning and being a Democrat," she said. What makes it worth it is knowing that you can meet a need that day. That you can serve.

I keep thinking about calling and vocation this way: that the particular job you're doing isn't nearly as important as the person you're becoming. I hope the students will take that away from this week, that they will know that it doesn't necessarily matter that you have a certain internship in a certain year, or that you go to your dream law school, or that you get a six-figure job after being a brilliant summer associate. That may happen, and it will probably be nice, but it won't really be the life you always dreamed of if you're not becoming the person you're called to be - the particular person for a certain place and a unique time. Sometimes our dreams are so wrong. Sometimes our dreams are so small. And I get the feeling that letting go of our plans and risking to dream big has a lot to do with becoming who we're supposed to be.

7.08.2006

area code 243

Read this story about cell phone use in Congo. It's fascinating, and 100% true. People sell time on their phones -- it's the Congo version of a phone booth. You can also pay to charge your phone at a booth off of someone's generator. The stuff about using mobile phones as a kindof debit card is amazing. I didn't see that, but it makes sense (You should note that the "cash points" aren't available anywhere I've been except Kinshasa as far as I know. Reporters tend not to do human interest stories in the east.). I am constantly amazed by the creativity you find in Congo - people do what they have to do. And it is exactly because the mobile networks are credible that the system works. They're huge employers, and they're not Congolese, so people trust them.

As for the competition, I'm a Vodacom customer, but thanks to my friend Junior, I have a bright red Celtel shirt, too!

do they really chase the hounds in virginia

Kelso's got a point.

wait a minute, it stopped hailing

I'm tired. Got up at 7 to make it to the airport by 9, only to discover at 10 that my flight in fact left at 11. Oops. I hate airports. Do everything possible to avoid being in airports any longer than absolutely necessary. On top of that the flight was full of sunburned tourists. The ones in my row (and the three adjoining rows. They were a group. Yeah.) all had matching "You Don't Know Me: Federal Witness Protection Program" backpacks. They took a lot of pictures from the airplane window. It was a long flight.

Finally made it through the three hours of that to arrive in ... Houston. Ugh. But that flight left early, and I was seated next to two guys who were reading "Brokeback Mountain" and wearing matching wedding rings, so I knew I was headed to Austin and it was all good. Got here, Suzii picked me up, we went to Target, and it's just been hanging out ever since. Which is good, because it was a long day.

The reason for this cross-country trek is that this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. It's time for Camp CLC. Except we're not allowed to call it a camp anymore because of some legal issues. "The Institute" just doesn't have the same ring; I'm lobbying to call it "Instacamp" but whatever. The point is, we pulled it off last year and now we get to do it again.

Maybe I should explain. Last spring, Suzii and I were talking about some research for the special session and she said, "what are you doing this summer?" Phil had an idea about getting Texas Baptist high school students interested in ethics, Suzii wanted to do something on public life, and we started dreaming, plotting, and planning. Four very short months later, nine teenagers came to Austin for a week to talk about the relationship between faith, public policy, campaigns, school finance, immigration, religious liberty, poverty, and prison reform. All in a non-partisan context, recognizing that faith has something to say to the political world, but that authentic faith isn't defined by, or in allegiance to, a political party or regime.

It was so cool. Amazing kids with diverse perspectives. A staff with varied and linked backgrounds in youth ministry and the policy world. Speakers who got what we were trying to do (and a few who didn't). Tours of facilities that do great work to help our state's most vulnerable. Fun hanging out in Austin, at the lake, and at the pool. Laughs about the somewhat, um, limited facilities at our camp site.

So here we are again. Starting tomorrow afternoon, we'll start over with a different group of students and the same goals in mind. We have a few more kids this year, our staff has changed some, and we have a much better location. We also had a whole year to plan, so we could keep what worked and cut out what didn't. I know it won't be the same, but I also believe that it won't be so different that we won't want to do it again next year. Whatever happens, it will definitely be worth 7 hours of flights, airports, and tourists. I can't wait.

7.07.2006

family matters

Today is my parents' anniversary! The older I get, the more grateful I am that my parents have stayed married to each other. We tease them about being stuck in a rut every now and then, but they have so much fun and are so obviously in love after thirty-three years of marriage. I am thankful for that! Happy anniversary, mama and daddy!

7.06.2006

oh what a beautiful morning

Oh what a beautiful day. Even back-and-forth, cloudy/sunny, hot-then-cold kinds of days are gorgeous when you have a ruling like this to smile about. May I quote?

"Political acumen, strategy, and manufactured evidence, even combined with a sound policy in mind, cannot override the Constitution."

Heavens to Betsy, that might even mean that the Texas Republican party won't be able to circumvent its own rules to fund a candidate who today suddenly decided to become an independent. Nor will they be able to find a way to get an independent on the ballot, seeing as that deadline passed two months ago. When you do the sneaky, wrong thing, it always comes back to bite you. Tom DeLay would have better served the citizens of Fort Bend County and environs (who are Republicans and deserve to have a Republican represent them if they so choose) by stepping out before the primary and letting someone else run the race, rather than proving that he could still win it and then stepping down.

Now because of his tacky decisions, they're stuck. It's going to be very amusing to see how they try to get the the ruling overturned (Hello? If a Bush I appointee calls it illegal, I don't know about his chances there. Maybe if he lucks out and gets a Baylor girl to hear the case...). (Can I also add that it's hysterical that Tom DeLay was ANSWERING HIS OWN DOOR in Sugarland (where he technically doesn't live!) this afternoon?)

I've got a beautiful feeling!

finally something sensible

Who's dancing a happy dance on the Hill today? Oh, that'd be me! DeLay didn't get away with it. Yay, justice! Yay, rule of law!

And the judge is a Republican appointee. Juanita has a great comment on the irony of the whole situation. Thank goodness reason prevailed. Nobody's above the law. Nobody.

7.05.2006

luke's waitin' on the judgment day

Well, my Fourth of July was lots of fun, but not nearly as eventful as it apparently was for this church in Memphis. Oh. My. Oh. My. My. My. This is so awful on so many levels I'm not sure where to start. Um, gold? Are those the Ten Commandments? (Oh. They are. Actually, they're just Roman numerals I-X. Which raises a whole 'nother set of questions.) Where is, "Give me your tired, your poor, your weary, yearning to be free"? (Oh. My. Gulp.) Why would a pastor's wife be called a First Lady? More importantly, how long will be before their store is online so I can buy Melissa the Missionary a birthday present?

But I digress. Seriously. This is funny, but it's also really disturbing, and not just on a church-state separation level. If you need a statue to prove "that Jesus Christ is Lord over America, he is Lord over Tennessee, he is Lord over Memphis," I'd say your faith has more pressing problems than whether or not you just wasted $260,000 that could have been given to the poor. At least some of the onlookers recognized that this ain't right.

I am so tired of this junk. I am so tired of David Barton's attempt to rewrite history. I am so tired of American Christians, "for whom," as Walter Shurden put it last week, "the adjective is more important than the noun." I am so tired of people claiming that the genius of these United States - the idea that all people should be free and that none should be preferred over others - that this is the thing that is destroying our country. I am so tired of people substituting the easy games of politics and power for the difficult choice of real discipleship.

I finally got around to reading this wonderful article today. It's a really interesting, accessible assessment of the actual history of the Founding Fathers and their beliefs and intentions about the relationship between church and state. But then I came home and saw that picture. And now I'm just tired.

(Photo from the New York Times)

7.04.2006

stakin' a claim on the world we found

Happy Independence Day! If this doesn't bring a tear to your eye, then I want to know why you hate America, freedom, and rock and roll. (Honestly. The Dead at a baseball game? Where's the apple pie?)

Here in Washington we're spending the day trying to dodge the tourists (oh. my. goodness. they. are. EVERYWHERE.), avoid thunderstorms (so far, so good), and getting ready for the evening's festivities, which involve the roof of the Willard. More on that tomorrow - y'all enjoy the holiday!

7.03.2006

hello, tehran!

So I just figured out how to use my site counter to figure out who's reading this blog. Since this whole thing started basically to be a travelogue for my time in Congo, it's fascinating that people read what strangers have to say. Not that I'm upset or anything, but it's a little disconcerting, really. At CBF, I met someone who was like, "Oh! I've heard of you." And someone else who said, "I'm reading your blog." These are people I either don't know or have no idea how they found out about it.

Anyway, the site counter tells you where someone's ISP is and how many times they've visited the site. No surprise that there are readers in Austin, Lubbock, Waco, Nashville, Washington, Lincoln, and Boise. Big surprise? TEHRAN. More specifically, "Tehran, Iran, Islamic Republic of." Via Intelsat. Now unless that's some kind of computer-operated censor or something, I have no idea who's reading in Tehran. But you are most welcome.

7.02.2006

if anyone can tell me what that thing on her arm is, i would really appreciate a clue

You only thought your prom dress was cool. And here it wasn't even for the fightin' Rebs of Franklin High! (But if you check out the rest of this Tennessean feature, you will see some pretty awesome tan lines. Oh, my, my, my.)

7.01.2006

will not go gently

The pastor of my church in Connecticut is leaving. There's a nice article here, even though they misquoted him on the money thing! I love that there's a picture of Bob with the stained glass windows in that old sanctuary. The church was built of stone, by Episcopalians, in the middle of the Civil War. Those windows are to the left and right of the chancel, and the light would play through the windows in different parts of the sanctuary through the seasons of the years. I always loved to watch the gold and brown and red light in the sanctuary on autumn days. We'd drive to church through the spectacular New England fall, and the light seemed to dance behind Bob as he preached.

And wow, can he preach. Bob is one of the best people I know at speaking the truth in love, real love, without anger, with a profound humility that made him the perfect person to bridge gaps in our community. Even on the scary Sunday after 9/11, when almost everyone in our congregation knew someone who'd disappeared. But Bob knew what to say, and so did Angie in the children's sermon. The sermon he preached a week later, a continuation of the series on Romans, was on Romans 12 ("Bless those who persecute you." "Do not repay evil for evil." "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."). It's one of the best sermons I've ever heard.

They will be missed.

all in the waiting

The NYT finally makes it to Goma.

"'What is my hope?' said Dorique Parambe, who lives with her six children in a slum in Bunia, a city in the Ituri district of eastern Congo that suffered through repeated massacres and assaults. 'I hope to vote. After that, I don't know.'"

A single mom living in a slum in one of the worst places in the world says it better than any of the academics or Carter Center election observers or UN officials ever could. Short-term hope means a lot. But you can't feed your children on it. And you can't build a country on it.