Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Rev Goes Home

Rev. Jerry Falwell has died. Prayers and sympathy for his family and friends. He leaves behind an evangelical community that had already left him behind and a bevy of disappointed columnists who will never again get to use his bombast to cry 'Theocracy!' Our public life is better for his going.

This isn't to pass judgment on Rev. Falwell as a man. God has already done that, and I'd imagine Jerry's earning his wings as we speak (on a purple triangular cloud if God has any sense of humor). From any number of tributes by friends and colleagues, it is clear that Rev. Falwell brought real love and generosity to those around him and many unfortunate folks over the years.

It is to pass judgment on his poisonous impact on our public discourse. He may not have much liked Catholics, but he had his own high rituals that developed over the years. Make an outrageous comment. Preferably attack both a Democrat and a vulnerable minority in the process. Receive criticism for said comment. Get yet more airtime by issuing a clarification that really doesn't change anything you've said. Repeat.

Slate has a listing of some of Falwell's all time greats. Ironically enough, my last post before the hiatus was on one of his more harmless comments.

This pattern damaged all involved. It convinced non-evangelicals that our evangelical countrymen are a bunch of ignorant blowhards who want theocracy. It did damage to any number of groups, particularly the homosexual community. It stunted the theological growth of the evangelical community.

Luckily on this last point even Falwell's huge personality could not prevail. The evangelical community was never what Falwell was allowed to present it as. Thanks to the work of folks like Rich Cizik, Joel Hunter, and Dave Gushee, evangelicals are now leading voices for human rights, creation care, and combating genocide. These courageous folks took on Falwell and his hard right associates, and have been winning for more years than most folks realize.

Rest in peace, Rev. Jerry, and enjoy your new perch. Our politics won't be the same without you.

Dusting off the Grill

There's no doubt that the necessary personal dedication is the most difficult aspect of blogging. That's been a bit, em, lacking in recent months, for which I apologize. The grill has gone untended through the cold winter, but with warmer days upon us (and suitable prompting from a loyal reader), the Grillmaster is back at the helm.

A substantive post will follow momentarily. For now, to break this back in gently, check out this piece from yesterday's Washington Post. A very exciting first trip into legitimate media outlet publishing. Ok, so it was only on the website, but it WAS actually on the front page of the website until Jerry decided to up and die. More on that later. Thoughts on the piece more than welcome.

Another Abortion Debate Takes Off?

Monday, September 25, 2006

What's Next, Putin as Old Scratch?

Not to be outdone by a populist dictator like Chavez, Jerry Falwell upped the ante in the devil wars by saying this about the possible presidential run of Hillary Clinton:
''I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate,'' Falwell said at a breakfast session Friday in Washington. ''I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton,'' he said. ''If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't.''
Interesting sentiment. For the record, while Chavez apparently referred to our dear President simply as the devil, the Good Rev. Falwell makes use of Lucifer, the angelic name given to the Prince of Darkness before his fall from grace, when he was still, ironically enough, the Prince of Light. Interesting note on the origins of the name to refer to the Christian Devil:
Jerome, with the Septuagint close at hand and a general familiarity with the pagan poetic traditions, translated Heylel as Lucifer. This may also have been done as a pointed jab at a bishop named Lucifer, a contemporary of Jerome who argued to forgive those condemned of the Arian heresy.
That Jerome played for keeps!

Aside from its historical and humorous features, this incident may make a potent political point. The right wing HATES Hillary. Probably worse than her husband, which is entirely unfair, but hey, politics isn't about being fair. If she runs, the GOP will run mad and hard against her.

But, and stay with me on this, perhaps so mad that they'll alienate the moderate (especially female) voters that they NEED to win any national election? By running on anger would Republicans risk the Dem Curse of '04: Big attacks, little substance to offer in return? And would Americans sympathize with Hillary after months of what are sure to be dirty attacks? Not sure, but with Falwell already comparing her to the devil, the Grillmaster thinks that it's worth keeping this point in mind.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Oh Hugo, You Charmer

Just when you thought that Iran's president was the biggest showman-dictator in the world, good old Hugo Chavez steps up to the plate yesterday with one of the great moments of un-statesmanship in recent memory. Calling a fellow head of state the devil...class.

Not that one feels particularly sorry for Bush. His cowboy-diplomacy has never ventured into declaring opponents literal devils, but he's been loose and fast enough with calling folks evil that Chavez can legitimately say, 'Senor Jorge started it."

The real point once again is that the past five years have been such an unmitigated diplomatic disaster that clowns with guns like Chavez and Ahmedinajad (spelling from memory, so go easy on me) can embarass us a subway ride from Ground Zero while all we can do is unconvincingly pretend not to listen. Torture, a war of choice, a disastrous recovery and the total neglect of Israel-Palestine have characterized a foreign policy that's growing impotent before the midterms even take place.

Blogger Runs Beta

Hey All,
Blogger is apparently upgrading its services, so you'll notice some minor changes to the site in the near future. Let me know if anything bugs out on you.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Madeleine Gets God

The Grillmaster has been making his way through Secretary Albright’s newest book with great interest. It’s not every day that someone of such stature spends a whole book talking directly about one’s research interest. The work, “The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs,” is the kind of wide-ranging and smart effort that one would expect from someone with such a distinguished pedigree.

In a way, it’s the writing of the book that’s as interesting as the content. Madeleine Albright is a progressive A-lister, as close a thing as Democrats have to an elder international stateswoman. And she’s writing about God! Decently well! As the barely intelligible Bob Dylan rasped when I saw him in concert Saturday night, ‘The times, they are a-changing.’ Another sign that progressives at the highest levels are taking religion seriously as a force for social change and academic study.

This is good news for the world (when we get back into the White House), and smart politically. Talking about a foreign policy that works with religious partners for the common good is a massive opportunity for progressives to distinguish themselves from their neo-con opponents and give a strong-headed ethical grounding to their international vision.

Make no mistake that Madame Albright is strong-headed. She reminds you about it every five pages or so. It’s a little much sometimes, like that football player who tried out for the high school play and constantly told his friends he wasn’t turning weird or anything, but it’s honest as well. Albright demonstrates real understanding of faith traditions and a personal candor about her own faith that comes across as genuine, but clearly remains a realist at heart, one who is interested in religion because of the pragmatic advantages it can offer to policy-makers. The Grillmaster thinks that theology risks being all smoke no fire, but it’s still an important imprimatur to secular foreign policy makers that they need to take religion seriously.

I was particularly pleasantly surprised to see Albright explicitly call for the creation of religious affairs liasons at the State Department. Doug Johnston has been calling for those for about a decade over at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, and we’d be better for them. Would be great if this book convinced some Congressman to make it a pet cause.

This all has the Grillmaster missing his days of reading and writing about this stuff as a day job. Which is probably a sign that I ought to get back to that someday not too far in the future…

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

You Done Me Wrong

On March 4th of this past year, the Grillmaster sat down with two old friends in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Well, three friends if you count the bottle of whiskey. Actually, if you count all the bottles, it was four, but that’s another story. We spent a good part of the night doing what old friends should do, catching up on girlfriends, families, and football. Then, perhaps because I’ve caught the DC disease of talking work everywhere I go, we committed a double party foul: debating religion AND politics.

And somehow, against all odds, we’re still friends. The three of us disagree on many things and agree on others, but because of the bonds we’ve built over time, we can yell and swear and laugh about it in the end. Probably most importantly, we respect each other as honest and honorable men (at least about important things that is).

The Grillmaster couldn’t help but think of that long blurry night while reading through Commonweal and First Things yesterday morning. These are two of the leading journals of Catholicism and public life (at fairly opposite ends of the Catholic political spectrum), and both have launched blogs in the past year. Over the past few days, a conversation has developed on those blogs that lacks the charity and respect of our global summit in Chapel Hill.

A snarky but interesting post at First Things by Charlotte Allen, was followed by an adept reply from Commonweal, and then a round of sometimes-witty, sometimes-offensive comments from Commonweal’s blog commenters. Jodi Bottum of First Things then climbed to the summit of victimization to declare that Commonweal readers hate First Things readers. That’s a quote folks. Such melodramatics were simply the last political power play in the exchange, albeit of the passive aggressive variety. Commonweal editors have taken the real high ground, apologizing for the comments while reminding Mr. Bottum that his over-reaction was distinctly uncharitable to the Commonweal editors.

At the heart of both the offending comments and Mr. Bottum’s reply lurked a need for victim-status that requires one portray debating partners as hateful hellions. This need to play the victim may be a distinctly Catholic thing (redirection of our deep down urge to self-flagellate, etc etc), but the use and abuse of victim language by evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, and atheists makes me think something larger is at work: that distinctly human need to feel right in our cause, and the instinct that those who are victims must have right on their side.

Old friends and good Catholics realize that the victim narrative is never as clear-cut as we’d like to make it. Christ crucified is the only pure victim; we followers are at our BEST a blend of that perfect sacrifice and the crowds who called for his crucifixion. What is it about friendship and whiskey that makes this truth more apparent?

Monday, August 14, 2006

First Things First

To say that the Grill has gone a bit untended recently may be a bit of an understatement. As with everything else in DC, this little piece of work has been a bit neglected during the dog days of summer. I plead vacation and moving, and throw myself on the mercy of you the reader (or perhaps readers if I’m lucky).

There’s been just a bit of interest going on since I last wrote. As this Sunday’s Washington Post pointed out, August has a habit of turning up big events even though the President is off bushwhacking. The Grillmaster could return with a post on Israel getting bogged down in Lebanon, the real pain of the ‘birth pangs of democracy,’ the fall of Ralph Reed, the head butt of Zissou or the salvific appearance of Air McNair in the Ravens’ backfield to call plays and lead us back to Super Bowl glory.

But first, a major announcement from the Grillmaster family. As of about a month ago, the Grillmistress has been promoted to Grill-fiancée. May the coals of our love burn ever bright, or some such over-extended metaphor. In a classic move of misdirection, the Grillmaster’s procrastination in this matter led the artist formerly known as the Grillmistress to give up all hope and despair that the question would never be popped. She was pleasantly surprised to the contrary in Charlottesville on the balcony of Pavilion VII overlooking the Lawn. The big day will be just under 11 months from now, so set your calendars.

The Official Fiancée of the Grill (still experimenting with names) departed Virginia this morning for the company of her grad school compatriots and better ice cream and cheddar cheese in Vermont. It’s the first time since summer started that the Grillmaster has been alone in the newly unpacked house without the immediate prospect of company. Grillin’ for one just ain’t as much fun.

Will be back with more regular posts (I promise), now that the summer is coming to an end...