My Inaugural Prayer Discomfort: An Analysis of Rick Warren’s Invocation

•January 22, 2009 • 3 Comments

Well, hello and welcome back!

I have been gone for quite some time, and the only excuse I can reasonably muster at the moment is that I was frantically working on the end of my last semester of my undergrad, and had no time to blog, although such a claim is basically a lie, as I have had plenty of time, and have just not had the motivation. However, public confessions are neither important nor prudent in the world of blogging, and as such, I will cease and desist. Rather, I have a more inclusive plan. I will begin my journey out of the blogging wilderness and into the paradise the online community by posting articles I come across that mirror my feelings on a particular subject, thereby re-infusing my desire to blog, while mitigating the effort it takes for me to actually pen a posting myself.

So where do I begin? How about at the most recent occasion of wonder and confusion? Two days ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. While I understand that the pomp and ceremony of the inauguration is steeped in religious significance, I am still slightly uncomfortable with the invocation and benedictions associated with State affairs. I know, I know, I am a godless heathen, but while the principles of a society may be based upon Judeo-Christian Principles, this does not mean we still subscribe to the traditions of Religiously run states, as was the traditional practice several hundred years ago. Nevertheless, I am not opposed to confessions of faith either. Just slightly uncomfortable. With this said though, I was initially quite put out by the choice of Rick Warren as the individual to present the invocation, as his policies and statements have traditionally been far from the beliefs and conceptions of Jesus Christ, and Divinity as a whole, of the vast majority of the population. However, I was not prepared for the drivel that poured from his pretentious mouth when he began to “pray”, so much so that I eventually got up and left the room. I was confused by the choice, and although did not question Obama for the order, was still left feeling somewhat revolted. This afternoon, while resting before a bite of lunch, I came across a wonderfully concise and pointed article by Maryscott O’Connor that placed the entire ordeal in perspective. I am much happier now, and can eat my lunch in peace. You can find the full text of her observations here. Enjoy. Until next time.


The Uncultured Project: Unique Approach to Global Awareness

•November 25, 2008 • 5 Comments

I am always fascinated with legitimate projects designed with an activist spirit in mind, most likely based upon the fact that I am an activist at heart. I find it impossible to witness the atrocities of the modern world, and not feel emotion. I cannot read or witness the poverty of developing nations and individuals alike, and not have guilt register upon my conscious immediately. I often turn inward and introspectively ask myself, what am I doing? How have I contributed to the alleviation of suffering? Why haven’t I done more?

While a variety of excuses will unavoidably inundate my mind, a nagging doubt always persists, reminding me of my own failings as a globally minded activist. From time to time though, I come across individuals who have taken initiative upon themselves to affect as much good as possible within their sphere of influence. But upon that, they also seek to extend their sphere of influence as much as possible, therefore extending the possibility of change, development and advancement. Today, upon coming across The Uncultured Project, I found one such individual, the kind that allows me to revisit my goals, dreams and aspirations, and recognize that anything is possible.

The Uncultured Project is not a charity, foundation or an organization. It is a tool, developed specifically to increase awareness, and motivate others to work within their own sphere. Shawn, the Canadian former University of Notre Dame grad student, who dropped his scholarship in search of an increased responsibility within the global community, developed the project. I would have never found this wonderful vision without the incredibly uplifting and amusing video he posted on YouTube several days ago, regarding a water filtration system designed for poor rural areas, that is so effective, the demonstration of its use is enough to make your stomach churn. Take a look.

Take a few moments to check it out. It may reignite some of your own goals as well, and thus motivate a society towards greater good.

My Theological Response to Prop Number Eight

•November 8, 2008 • 19 Comments

What follows is a response to the many socially minded LDS members in California who have supported proposition number eight, the amendment on gay and lesbian marriage in the state. It is not meant as a blanket proclamation, but rather my own personal interpretation of the theological position members of the LDS church should consider. This was originally written as a response to a friend’s blog posting, but I thought it could be useful for a wider audience.
I have been really struggling with the concepts of Prop number eight. I have spoken to ecclesiastical leaders about the issues, read the documents issued by Church officials, as well as official Church documents to the saints in California. I have watched the live leadership conference that was for Californian saints. And after all of my research, I was very torn.
The language of the proposition was what initially tore my decision. I felt that both sides of the argument utilized language that was highly polemic, and designed to place people into one of two camps, a difficult idea, since most people have a range of emotions regarding such issues. Therefore, polarizing the debate seems disingenuous.
However, as I looked at the debate in more detail, I realized that there was something dramatically wrong, theologically and constitutionally with the “yes” side. First, theologically, The LDS doctrine is very clear on the issue of marriage, and the definition of the word. There can be no grey area in this issue. Nevertheless, two points of doctrine supersede the issue of homosexuality; charity and agency. The first law of the gospel is love the lord, while the second is love ones neighbor as oneself. This includes all manner of respect. The second issue of agency plays an even more important role in the debate, as LDS theology dictates that a war was waged in the eternities before the temporal existence of man, over the divine theophany of agency, as the only possible method for exaltation. Regardless of the relative value that would exist if man were unable to enact his own free will, the divine chose to exercise a plan which guaranteed a sphere of unlimited choice. Not choice without consequence, but choice in all matters.
Proposition number eight is similar in language and intended meaning as many of the old Jim Crow laws of segregation. Equal rights in theory, but discrimination and limitation in practice. Mormons have a responsibility to be vocal on the theological stance of the church regarding homosexuality and transexuality, as well as the divine origin of marriage, while still guaranteeing the free exercise of agency and peace among all of the lords children. For this purpose, one must choose between two poorly written sides of a proposition, and follow the path of the savior. The divine plan, as outlined in the theology of the LDS church guarantees freedom of choice, as well as the defense, to the point of taking up arms, of that freedom. The language of prop 8 restricts freedom and choice. Therefore, one must by necessity support no, while still being valiant to their religious beliefs.
The “traditional” definition of marriage has been challenged in the past, although unsuccessfully, by some of the most vocal opponents to the challenge today, the LDS church. I understand the cultural divide and theological problems of such a situation, but one must examine history and theology to be able to make informed decisions. Although the issue is passed now, it is not too late to speak up for the rights of others. The prop still has to go up against the supreme courts, and the voices of individuals, specifically individuals who are tied to the issues and proponents in some way, are heard. No on prop 8.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Animating Our Rights

•October 24, 2008 • 2 Comments

In one of my plentiful attempts to avoid work this afternoon, I came across something truly inspiring. Please take the time to watch this video. All information bellow comes from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is something we must be both aware of, and actively attempt to propagate.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Seth Brau made the above below. View in larger size and higher definition on the Human Rights Action Center website: Created by Seth Brau, produced by Amy Poncher, music by Rumspringa courtesy Cantora Records. (Source: Boing Boing, Cool Hunting)

The Palin Influence

•October 16, 2008 • 10 Comments

Any rational viewer of the so-called “final debate” between McCain and Obama would have come to the same conclusion as myself; the debate format has descended to the level of choreographed mating rituals, stroking the egos of the supporters on both sides of the political divide, and enticing none to cross the floor. This is neither a revelation nor an accusation. Instead, I am merely commenting on the reality of the modern American political reality. The system, and specifically those orchestrating the dance, has increasingly become a Manichean dichotomy, without rational thought or legitimate prudence.
Who is to blame in such a situation? Do we assume the political elite should shoulder such a responsibility? Or do we turn our accusatory focus on the partisan media? There is more then enough validity to either thesis. However, as any cognitive scientist will tell you, behavior does not change on the collective level, but rather at the individual level. Therefore, the problem lies not in the hands of the elite in their ivory towers, but rather in the individual hands of the profane members of society, be them American or some other foreign national. However, before we change, we must recognize the root of the problem.
Behavior is not unique to each individual. Rather, individuals develop patterns of behavior through socialization, through the influences of language, religious and political ideologies, familiar patterns and class structure. As these patterns become ingrained within individuals, it is notoriously difficult to remove them and instill new patterns of thought. However, once these patterns become institutionalized within the national paradigm, the critical mass is much more frightening. Nowhere is this pattern more evident then through the campaigning of Gov. Palin, although both sides of the political spectrum have successfully utilized such methods, and unfortunately, unless there is a drastic change at the individual level, with continue with greater frequency and severity.
Palin has successfully (although some political strategists would say foolishly due to short term losses) stoked the dormant ideologies of millions of American. Here is a video provided and produced by al Jazeera. Say what you will for political leanings, there is no doubt the opinions expressed are neither localized nor limited.

It is also educational to watch this short documentary on the ideologies of Palin’s hometown to better grasp the dangers and difficulties of such opinions. You can access the documentary here.
So what are we to do? How do we combat the increasingly polarized worldview of so many around us? First, we must become informed. When simplistic dualities are hurled in front of us, we must expend the time, effort and honor necessary to discover the validity of said accusations. Secondly, we must examine our own ideologies, examining the development and merit of each opinion. As a byproduct of that exercise, we will often notice a stark difference between our worldviews and the stated ideologies of political parties. As such chasms of difference reveal themselves, it is imperative we exercise our democratic right, and choose to extricate ourselves from adhering blindly to institutionalized ideologies. Third, we must vocalize the discrepancies, with all whom we come in contact with. “You support the Green Party/Conservative Party/New Democratic Party/Liberal Party/Republican Party/Democratic Party? Why? What elements of their platforms do you recognize as valid and practical? What parts are just pandering? How do you reconcile this differences?” Partisanship leads to a Manichean split, often with Machiavellian results. The change begins with one.

Gen. Petraeus’ Paradigm Examined: A Look Inside of the Mind of a Soldier

•September 29, 2008 • Leave a Comment

How often do we forget about the actual individuals on the ground in the hotbeds of Iraq and Afghanistan, the civilians, the soldiers, the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters? How often does the debate about the validity of the cause enable our attention to be turned from the human stories? More often then not I find myself focusing on the problems of the rhetoric, and ignoring the solutions in practice.

Gen. David Petraeus, until recently commander of the American forces in Iraq, recently discussed, with an international paper, the role of the forces stationed overseas, and the precarious changes that have come about recently, with his characteristic tones of realism and caution. Gen. Petraeus, who now assumes the head of US Central Command, the strategic military leadership of all US military forces, also turned his attention toward the future role the NATO soldiers and charity workers stationed in Afghanistan. His insights, as a professional soldier and diplomat offer a rare glimpse behind the bi-polar political rhetoric of our leaders, and displayed a strong awareness of the realities on the ground. Furthermore, Gen. Petraeus discussed, with surprising empathy, of the strength and resilience of the individuals on the ground, without resorting to dichotomous language designed to frighten or rally. Instead, he spoke measurably, as one who understands the consequence of each phrase uttered.

This interview is one that must be read, as to remind us of the realities on the ground overseas, without the political language of right or wrong. Instead, one can be immersed in the worldview of accomplishment and trials, of legitimate battles for survival and humanity. Regardless of personal preference or agreement, such a candid interview allows a rare glimpse into the practices of the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is a fascinating read. You can access it here.

Bush’s Latest Shock Treatment

•September 26, 2008 • 8 Comments

Last night, as I watched a familiar sketch outline on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, I found myself sadly nodding along rather then laughing at the absurdity of the material provided by the Daily staff. Stewart provided side-by-side clips of President Bush’s addresses to the nation prior to the invasion of Iraq and an attempted push of the financial aid package through congress. Both addresses had common themes, comically pointed out by Stewart, that highlighted the desperate need to “act now” and avoid the lengthily process of receiving a “permission slip”, as to heroically save the nation from a disastrous evil. (I wish I could provide clips for you here, but due to Viacom lawsuits I am unable. However, if you are willing, you can access the clips here in Canada, and here in the USA.)
While I wanted to laugh along with the rest at the hypocritical and pedantic addresses, I was instead struck with a sense of concern and foreboding. Roughly a year ago, I purchased an academic/activist novel by Naomi Klein entitled “The Shock Doctrine” which highlighted the policies of the current administration, policies that are based on Milton Freedman’s Chicago School of Economics. The concept itself was frightening, specifically as it could be seen to have been utilized in every major disaster over which the Republican Party has presided over the last quarter century. However, to witness the doctrine in motion as the events of destruction and shock were underway was another experience entirely. Here is a short film released with the book, by independent filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón explaining the basic principle of the Shock Doctrine.

We are currently undergoing shock treatment. The disaster of the day is the impending crash of the stock market, a problem brought about in no small measure by runaway free market capitalism ideology, from which the administration is now seeking to utilize shock principles to accomplish their aims. There is a prescription to shock therapy. The prescription is information. Get informed.

Here is an interesting article by Naomi Klein regarding the Wall Street Shock. Take the time to read it.