Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jerry Falwell

In 1981, as a university freshman, I wrote a paper on Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority. For the most part it was a positive assessment—you have to put yourself back in time to understand why. In the late-70s conservative groups in the US were fractured, impotent and directionless (think Democrats now). They'd been out of the White House since Nixon (and Ford) and the Democrats ran everything. The Democrats in the US back then were bloated, cynical and insufferable (think Republicans now), and so an opposing voice with a marginally religious emphasis was, believe it or not, a welcome change of pace.

My positive critique stemmed from Falwell's ability to transcend some old enmities and form a coalition across faith lines that was based on issues rather than doctrine. To bring conservative evangelicals into a working group with Roman Catholics, Jews and Mormons was no mean feat in 1979—Falwell's strongest critics then were on his right, not his left. I didn't care about some of the issues he promoted—I still think that state-mandated prayer in schools is a ridiculous idea—but what mattered was a united faith-based voice in a political climate that completely ignored Americans of faith.

Like most people who get drunk on power, Falwell descended into a Pope-like role, ‘excommunicating’ those with whom he disagreed and making pronouncements about who should and should not be elected to public office. At times he sounded as though what he really wanted to do was issue a fatwa—an Islamic death sentence—against his enemies, real and perceived. By his later years he was a parody of himself, as Pat Robertson continues to be, ignoring the commands of the Bible in the name of the American Jesus. What a shame.

In the end, what I thought in the beginning was the achievement of the Moral Majority—building coalitions around issues rather than doctrine—turned out to be the foundation for the heresies of the Religious Right. By focusing on issues rather than the essentials of the faith, Falwell made winning the end goal rather than living as a witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that emphasis on winning led many conservative evangelicals into unholy alliances with people who used them cynically to accumulate votes.

What was lost in the process was an opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of Christ's message to a culture just coming out of the Cold War, getting fabulously wealthy on technology investments, and finding itself as the richest and most powerful nation on Earth. If there is any judgment ahead for how we have lived our lives in these crucial times, we might as well start repenting now for how we have behaved—on both sides of the various theological and political lines—during the last quarter-century.

I'm sorry, as we all should be, for the loss to the Falwell family of a husband, father and grandfather. But on the other hand I'm long past ready for a new generation of Christian leaders to be our ambassadors in the public eye. May God raise them up and give them wisdom—and also the ability to learn from the mistakes of the recent past.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A fun visit and a birthday wish

We had a lot of fun with my Mom and Aunt Rose. Just as with previous visitors, we played a lot and got to see more of London. Mom and Rose are what baseball players call 'gamers'. They rose to every occasion, were up for anything (even when it was nothing), and always had a laugh and a smile. Here are some pictures from our time with them.

At the ambassador's residence they got in line with the kids and had their faces painted.
Here we are at Covent Garden, listening to some classical musicians and having a cappuccino.
Rose and Mom with Ian at a restaurant toward the end of their time with us.
It's a blessing to be able to sit with your mom and have a pint...and to thoroughly enjoy every minute of it. Here's to you, Mom. Happy Birthday and Happy Mothers Day. I love you.

Some Birthdays

We celebrated some birthdays over here.

Ian turned 7 on April 11th, which I still can't believe. Weren't we just bringing him home from the hospital? Geez. Here he is mugging it up before diving into the cake.

We also had an early birthday cake for my Mom just before she went home.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Springtime for London

Spring has sprung.

Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, people are leaving their homes without coats, and the pollen index is virtually unbearable for hay fever sufferers.

What a great time of year.

These flowers are exploding all over our back garden.

For those of us who grew up in Southern California, this worship of spring is a new experience. We wore short sleeves to our Christmas celebration, and I have friends at home who have been going to the beach regularly for most of this year. But it’s not just the temperature, it’s the balance of light and darkness. Los Angeles is much farther south than London, and so the length of days doesn’t vary as much there as here. We’re loving these long days—even the cool ones—as we prepare for the summer season.

The difference between winter and summer here makes springtime worth celebrating. That difference reminds us that something new is happening—that a window of time has opened up during which we can enjoy things that we can’t really do during the rest of the year. Ian and I have been playing baseball and kicking a football around. I’m getting off the bus a few stops early to enjoy a walk in the sunshine. Julie and I have been talking about firing up the grill and eating some dinners outside.

What a great time year.

Springtime is also the Easter season for Christians. As I’ve said in the services in April and May, this is a season when we celebrate a truly miraculous part of our Christian faith. There’s no smoothing over the resurrection with modern language and sophisticated reasoning. This is one of those times of year when we have to acknowledge that our faith has its roots in a dramatically supernatural event—He is risen...He is risen indeed!

When we allow the complete other-ness of Easter to wash over us, we’re a little more attuned to God’s call on our lives to be his disciples. I know that’s hard. This is one of those things that just doesn’t make sense to our modern minds, or put a different way, it’s one of those things that we have to know in way that is completely different from the way we know other things. That’s a challenge. But the blessing of it is that when it happens for us our lives as disciples are warmer, brighter and more productive.

And so I’m enjoying this springtime in a way that I never have. I haven’t experienced the stark difference between winter and spring before, and it’s wonderful. I’m looking forward to summer, and also, in a strange way, to starting the whole cycle over again.

Oops. I just heard that there’s some rain coming. That’s OK—all those flowers in the garden needed some watering.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Little Trip to Florence

So we took a little trip to Florence with my Mom and my aunt Rose. It wasn’t really planned, but at dinner one night we started talking about a trip, and, well, one thing led to another and the next thing I knew we were buying tickets online. The flight was only two hours, but we might as well have gone to a different world.

I hadn’t been in Florence since I was five years old, and it was wonderful. My Italian came back on the first day—I was having conversations with people, using words I hadn’t even thought of for years. Julie and Ian enjoyed their first visit to Italy, and both learned some of the language.

We walked around for most of the time. It was warm and relaxed, and we saw a lot of the city on foot. It between we ate amazing food, drank some great wine, and enjoyed gelato every chance we could. We saw some of the great works of sculpture in the museums and public areas of the city, and spent a fair amount of time in the Galleria dell’Accademia, where Michaelangelo’s David is housed. None of us are art experts by any stretch, but we were all moved when we were in the presence of David. It was one of those rare things that comes with a lot of hype and buildup, and yet doesn’t disappoint.

Ian continues to be a great little traveler. He got up at 4am with us to catch our cab to the airport, then walked around all day with us when we arrived. He rode buses, looked at great works of art (even if he spent most of the time looking at, er, butts), and ate in restaurants. He even asked for our room key in Italian. As you’ll see in the pictures below, Ian is a trooper, and wants to go back to Florence as soon as we can go.

This is us on the flight to Pisa (no visit to the Tower, alas).

When Ian handed over his passport when we arrived in Italy, the guard asked him if his father was Italian. When we said we were originally from LA, he started telling us about Kobe Bryant's years in Italy. He posed for a snap with us.

That's Ian at the train station in Pisa, right outside the door of the airport, while we were waiting for a train through the Tuscan countryside to Florence.
This is Ian in our hotel room.
The same room from a different angle.
Ian with Grandma Marian and Aunt Rose, hanging out in the hotel.

This is a typical corner in Florence. Some locals, some tourists, and some art.
That's us on a bridge called Ponte Vecchio, which has been the home of Florence's gold and jewelry market since the 1400s. So many narrow streets, so little time...
Ian in front of the main Cathedral and the Duomo (peeking out in the back).
More dramatic art, just laying around the town.
This is Neptune, God of the sea. One of many naked men in Florence.
My sister has been keeping secrets from us... I mentioned to the host here that I had a sister named Gina in the States, and he gave me a menu from the restaurant.
Ian continues to fall afoul of the authorities.

More art...Ian and I taking in some of the sights.
Rose and Ian on top of a sightseeing bus in the village of Fiesole, in the hills above Florence.
He is risen indeed!
Ian carries that bag everywhere we go. He keeps papers, games and a journal of his travels.
He also rides merry-go-rounds...
This is the spot where Savonarola was burned as a punishment for burning the early books of the Renaissance age. My sister Angie was on this site when she was 11 or 12.
Ian really wanted a picture in front, um, I mean in back of the statue of Neptune. So here it is: Ian and Neptune's rear end.

On the train leaving Florence, Ian and I caught a little nap.

Ian was first in line to board our flight back to London. He walked across the runway with the entire passenger group behind him.