Thursday, February 28, 2008

William F. Buckley, RIP

I observed, with much sadness, the passing of Bill Buckley yesterday. I hesitated, briefly, about whether to post something about this or not. Mr. Buckley was among the greatest conservatives of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction among many of those with whom I interact will be that being conservative equals being a republican equals all sorts of unpleasant –isms.

I certainly didn’t agree with everything Mr. Buckley espoused – he held several views with which I would squabble. His (albeit with some reservations) support of Joe McCarthy, his late conversion to support for civil rights, and his support for southern whites seeking to retain their culture come to mind.

I remain, however, in awe of his intelligence, wit, vocabulary, and debating skills. Even those with whom he disagreed came to admire him for these same qualities, except, perhaps, for Gore Vidal and Ayn Rand.

I feel my inferior command of the English language surfacing even as I write this – as I somehow wish to rise to a level which befits him. I am not alone. His writing style was well known for its wit, erudition, and use of an immense vocabulary. He inspired others to seek (as if it were possible) the high plain from which he spoke. Here, for example, is a letter written to Mr. Buckley when his was editor of National Review from Julian Schmidt: "Dear Mr. Buckley: You can call off the hunt for the elusive "encephalophonic." I have it cornered in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, where the noun "encephalophone" is defined as "an apparatus that emits a continuous hum whose pitch is changed by interference of brain waves transmitted through oscillators from electrodes attached to the scalp and that is used to diagnose abnormal brain functioning." I knew right where to look, because you provoked my search for that word a generation ago, when I first (and not last) encountered it in one of your books. If it was used derisively about you, I can only infer that the reviewer's brain was set a-humming by a) his failure to follow your illaqueating (ensnaring) logic, b) his dizzied awe at your manifold talents, and/or c) his inability to distinguish lexiphanicism (the use of pretentious words) from lectio divina. I say, keep it up. We could all do with more brain vibrations."

Bill was, without a doubt, a child of privilege. But, unlike many born with a silver spoon, he went on to accomplish much: founder of National Review; host of Firing Line; newspaper columnist; author of more than 40 books; a sailor; an accomplished musician; and the standard bearer for the conservative movement of the latter half of the 20th century. Recently, he gave grudging, lukewarm support for George W. Bush and spoke out about the war in Iraq, of which he said the war was: "…anything but conservative. The reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous." He added: "This isn't to say that the Iraq war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events.”

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Buckley, you can find many videos of him on either Google or Youtube.

A commentator on the National Review website yesterday said that today Heaven was a little more heavenly, and rest assured that God has sent an angel for a dictionary, knowing Bill was coming.



Monday, February 25, 2008

Winter in Vermont. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Alright, back to lighter fare. One of my (supposed) friends from the southern United States asked me if we had much snow this winter. I’m not sure (it’s always difficult to discern sarcasm in an email) if he was being facetious or not, but thought I’d go snap a couple pictures of what it look like outside and share them with everyone. These were all taken a couple of days ago. And we’re no where near done yet. A winter storm warning has just been posted to Tuesday-Wednesday, expecting another 10-15 inches. Hooray!

Here’s the front of the house. You almost can’t see out the kitchen windows.

This is the north side of the house. The snow is over four feet deep here. For reference, our camping trailer (under the green tarp) is 11 feet tall.

I have to keep finding the mailbox after the plow goes through. Even on the road the snow is a foot deep.

The old chicken coop. We use it as a storage shed. Glad I don’t need anything in there right now.

The front door. We don’t actually use it, but the fill pipe for the oil tank is against the house to the right of the door, so I have to keep it clear.

Well, you get the idea. It had been a very snowy winter. And we’re no where near done. Some years March is our snowiest month. Yippee!

One more picture before I go. The last few weeks we’ve had an owl hanging around. He comes at dusk and stays a couple of hours each night. He has seriously reduced the squirrel/chipmunk/mole population. He has been as close as sitting on the pole which holds the birdfeeder, less than 2 feet from the front porch. He’s hard to get a picture of, but Friday night I caught him. It’s not a great picture, but the best I could do.

More soon!


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Can a Muslim be a Good American, part 2

I'll admit that this has at least a hint of propaganda to it, but I think it's worth watching anyway.

Want to know what American Muslims want you to know?

Watch this...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Can a Muslim be a Good American?

I recently received an email which asked the question, “Can a Muslim be a Good American?” The sender asked that I answer the question in my own way.

I had hoped to keep my blog light for a while, only dipping my toes into blogdom and avoiding the hard stuff, at least until I was sure no one was actually reading it!

But, as is often the case in my life, things are put before me in their own time, not mine.

I’ve posted the unedited email over on my personal website. You can read it by clicking here. You can also navigate to the other pages on my site from there if you like.

The email presumes to say that the answer to the title question is no, and offers some selective quoting, thin logic, and outright untruths to support the claim. I should start by saying that quoting the Quran out of context is a fun exercise, and you can do it with our Hebrew and Christian Bible as well. Wanna play? OK, here are a couple of examples.

2 Kings 2:23-24
He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

That’s one of my favorites. Kids giving you a hard time? Call down a curse, and bears will eat them. No? My children never bought that one.

Exodus 21:15
Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.


Exodus 21:17
Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.

My kids claimed I couldn’t follow this Bible rule either, although I wanted to a couple of times.

Ok, I think I’ve made my point as far as quoting scripture goes. I have enough examples like this to make your head spin. (All quoted passages above from the New Revised Standard Version of the bible)

So, does being a Muslim preclude someone from being a good citizen? I hope not. There are about 2 million of them living in the US now. That’s an estimate, of course. The US Census is not allowed to ask religious preference, so varying estimates exist
(see )

This argument reminds me of the questions which dogged JFK in 1960. “We can’t elect him president!” “He’s Catholic!” “He’ll have to follow the Pope’s orders!” More recently, Mitt Romney was forced to answer questions about his faith this election cycle, with some afraid that Mitt was hiding some sort of dark agenda that he would then prosecute once in the Oval Office.

Well, I’m not sure I’m up to debunking every item in this inflammatory email, but I’ll take a stab at a few.

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

Umm, ever heard of Turkey?

And our efforts are certainly trying to support a democratic government in Iraq. And Pakistan.

I would argue that many Middle Eastern countries would have come to democracy on their own, and sooner, if not for the long history of imperial rule in the region by Briton, France, and the Ottoman Empire. They were taught about imperial rule, and dictatorship, by supposedly superior European countries. Whether you support the war in Iraq or not, democracy seems a better example to demonstrate for self rule.

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare 'one nation under God,' the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.

Hmm, not quite. I’ll set aside whether our Old Testament God could be referred to as a loving and kind God (don’t make me quote the bible to you again), but here are a few of the 99 names of God in the Quran.

The Loving, The Kind One

And here are a few that are also used for our Christian God:

The Creator

The Judge, The Arbitrator

The Giver of Life

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.

Would not our country be better if we all prayed 5 times a day?

One more:

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)

Well, that’s weird. They want people to adhere to Islam? That’s so different from us Christians. We don’t want everyone to be Christians, of course. Oops. Wait. I forgot about the Great Commission:

Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the
eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."(NIV)

I admit, that as a pastor of a Christian church, it is a somewhat uncomfortable position to be in, defending Islam. But they have been unfairly painted with a broad stroke of a brush that lumps the vast majority of peaceful people in with a small minority that is extreme and violent. You wouldn’t do the same to Christians. Or would we? As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I would imagine that my beliefs and traditions would cause some of my more conservative and fundamental brothers and sisters in Christ to recoil in horror. Within Facebook, there is an add-on called MyChurch. They refused to list my congregation, because we didn’t meet their ‘belief system’. After some dialog, they admitted it was because my church is Open and Affirming. They stated that they didn’t consider my church to be Christian. Nice, huh? There is a wide spectrum of Christians, just as there is in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Hating all of Islam because of the acts of a small minority would be the same as hating all Italian Americans after watching The Godfather.

This email really pushes a button for me. People forward emails around the net with impunity, never considering whether the drivel they forward is actually true. The immediacy of the medium and the ease with which it can be forwarded seems to have removed all logic and reason from people. The slander, untruths, and rants that fill my inbox daily are disheartening.

More another time (and a lighter topic, I promise)


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lincoln Park, the Prequel

My thanks to those of you that responded positively to my little essay on Lincoln Park. I hunted around, sure that I had some pictures of a visit that Lynn and I took to Lincoln Park in 1978, while we were still in high school. Well, I found them, and scanned them into my computer. They’re aren’t of great quality, but thought I would share them anyway. Lynn is a beautiful woman now, but as a teenager, she was a cutie!

This is the ferris wheel. To the right, were these cages you could shift your weight in and make swing back and forth. If you were very coordinated, you could make them go all the way around.

A picture of the Comet from the mini-golf course.

Lynn on the mini-golf course. I bought her a carnation on the way to the park, and she carried it with her all day. She still likes to get flowers.

Yeah, that’s me. Having a good conversation with a cowboy on a bench. Don’t ask. By the way, I think I’m wearing a Maynard Ferguson T shirt. We had recently attended a concert in Boston with Maynard and Miles Davis on the twin bill.

Lynn on the airplane ride. This picture still makes me smile. And the one that follows, as well.

Well, that’s all I have from that trip. There may be more pictures somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on them.

This whole thing about Lincoln Park is still simmering in my head and heart. I even managed to tie together the Transfiguration and roller coasters in my sermon a couiple of Sundays ago. Strangely enough, I think it worked.

More another day.


Lincoln Park, RIP...

A couple of weeks ago, in the email news headlines I get from the Boston Globe, was an article about a potential mixed use development in Dartmouth Massachusetts. The plan for The Village at Lincoln Park calls for 308 units of housing, including rental apartments and mixed commercial property, in a “traditional neighborhood development” approach.

The development site would be on the acreage that was once Lincoln Park, a smallish (by Six Flags standards) amusement park which had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, and which I visited many times growing up. The park closed in September 1987, after declining revenues caused by larger, newer amusement parks; a dubious safety record (including a death on the park’s roller coaster, the Comet; and indifference by the ownership.

In the twenty years since it closed, almost nothing has changed at Lincoln Park, meaning nearly everything that wasn't sold off, or burned or torn down by vandals is still there. And with lax security and fencing, it was/is fairly easy to get in. After reading the Globe article, I Google’d Lincoln Park, and found pictures people had posted of the park back when it was open, and others who have traveled through the park as it sits now, overgrown, rotting, and frankly, haunting. Here are some examples of how it looks now:

The Comet. The first hill collapsed under snow load in 2004

Pizza Snack Shack

Loading platform for the Comet

The Comet

I think this was the popcorn stand

The Comet, from the other side of the Park.

The building that covered the carousel.

Anyway, if you want more, there are hundred of photos on the web of Lincoln Park now, and in years past. You can Google it yourself, but, for example, here’s one site with over 100 photos:

Ok, one more picture:

Frankly, I’m not sure why this is so fascinating to me. Is it a reminder that you can’t go home again? Or a taste of my own mortality? Or perhaps just a morbid curiosity? It is hard to reconcile the pictures I see now with the memories I have of the Park, although I recognize, even among the damage and dilapidation, the Park I once knew. It’s also amazing to me that the town has let it sit like this for 20 years, and no one has gotten seriously hurt in there and sued the town.

By now, either I’ve piqued your curiosity, or you’re wondering whether I’ve lost my marbles. So, feel free to explore some more, or just delete.

More another time.