otto: there! pear! i'm going to a sleepover!

pear: where?

otto (with uber-enthusiasm and sparkly eyes): I DON'T KNOW! *sparkle* *sparkle*


Thanksgiving Radio

i just experienced a supreme moment i thought only possible in my dreams: my entire family gathered in the kitchen surrounded by thanksgiving meal prep, listening to David Sedaris do a Billie Holiday impression on This American Life.

the listening to radio stories together is the dream part.

but thanksgiving food is a pretty nice dream, too.


book thoughts: "the fourth political option"

In 2004, after a fantastically disappointing presidential campaign and election, the Reverend Jim Wallis--an evangelical christian, political activist, and editor of Sojourner's magazine--wrote a book which he titled God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It.

Not only do Br. Wallis and I see eye-to-eye on several key points, he has also managed to pinpoint for me at least part of the source of my political disgruntlement. With my populist, environmentalist, part-liberal, part-conservative, part-progressive, part-anarchist, part anti-capitalist, part anti-nationalist leanings and a extreme aversion to political labels (even tho i just threw out a zillion regarding myself), parties, and idealogues, it's no wonder I've had difficulty finding anything close to resembling a niche.

I know many people like me who don't subscribe to our current political options and ideologies. Many of them are also Mormons who don't fit in with the traditional christian conservative niche. For those of you who may put yourself in this category (but not necessarily all my part-this, anti-that categories) or for anyone else, you may find this excerpt from Wallis' book compelling.

(for a smoother read, please ignore the plethora of parentheticals)

There are now three major political options in our public life. The first political option in America today is conservative on everything--from cultural, moral, and family concerns to economic, environmental, and foreign policy issues. Differences emerge between aggressive nationalists and cautious isolationists, corporate apologists and principled fiscal conservatives, but this is the political option clearly on the ascendancy in America [remember, this is 4 years ago], with most of the dominant ideas in the public square coming from the political right.

The second political option in contemporary America is liberal on everything--both family/sexual/cultural questions and economic, environmental, and foreign policy matters. There are certainly differences among the liberals (from pragmatic centrists to green leftists), but the intellectual and ideological roots come from the Left side of the cultural and political spectrum--and today most from the liberal/Left find themselves on the defensive [not anymore, for those of you who heard the story on NPR today about how the Religious Right is back on the defensive and excited about it. !]

The third option in American politics is libertarian, meaning liberal on cultural/moral issues and conservative on fiscal/economic and foreign policy issues. The "just leave me alone and don't spend my money option" is growing quickly in American life.

I believe there is a "fourth option" for American politics, which follows from the prophetic religious tradition we have described. It is traditional or conservative on issues of family values, sexual integrity and personal responsibility, while being very progressive, populist, or even radical on issues like poverty [yes!] and racial justice [yes again!]. It affirms good stewardship of the earth and its resources, supports gender equality, and is more internationally minded than nationalist--looking first to peacemaking and conflict resolution when it comes to foreign policy questions [huzzah!!!!] The people it appeals to (many religious, but others not) are very strong on issues like marriage, raising kids, and individual ethics, but without being right-wing, reactionary, or mean-spirited or scapegoating against any group of people, such as homosexuals [yes!!]. They can be pro-life, pro-family, and pro-feminist, all at the same time. They think issues of "moral character" are very important, both in a politician's personal life and in his or her policy choices. Yet they are decidedly pro-poor [definitely me. possibly the most important work i've done to this point in my life is with low-income and homeless families who have shown me just what a blight poverty and homelessness really are], for racial reconciliations, critical of purely military solutions [oh man. so so so critical. check out Taxi to the Dark Side for the darkest side of military solutions], and defenders of the environment.

At the heart of the fourth option is the integral link between personal ethics and social justice. And it appeals to people who refuse to make the choice between the two.


From the Good Book: Election Day Thoughts on how the Book of Mormon blasts American Exceptionalism

american exceptionalism.

(you can read all about it in sarah vowell's new book)
(and in every US History text book)
(and in every reading assignment i had in college)

i don't like it.

(And in these last eight years the bush administration has taken this exceptionalism to new, alarming, and oh, so destructive heights.)

Nor do i like it when scripture--specifically the Book of Mormon--is invoked to justify and/or bolster american exceptionalism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism. Now don't get me wrong. this is an amazing country in many ways i don't need to write about here. but we're not perfect, and a capitalist republic is not the model for the kingdom of God (just like the 3-hour sunday meeting block probably isn't either).

In Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman forms compelling analysis of the Book of Mormon's content with regards to America and Israel (i.e. God's Kingdom). While I'd strongly recommend beginning on page 101 to get the entire context and insight, for the sake of keeping anyone awake who is reading this, I won't quote it all......

"The story of Israel [in the Book of Mormon] overshadowed the history of American liberty. Literal Israel stood at the center of history, not the United States. The book sacralized the land but condemned the people. The Indians were the chosen ones, not the European interlopers. The Book of Mormon was the seminal text, not the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. The gathering of lost Israel, not the establishment of liberty, was the great work. In the Book of Mormon, the biblical overwhelms the national.

Taken as a whole, the Book of Mormon can be read as a 'document of profound social protest' against the dominant culture of Joseph Smith's time. That may not have been most readers' first impression. Many converts said it confirmed their old beliefs. The book read like the Bible to them; its gospel was standard Christianity. The book patriotically honored America by giving it a biblical history. And yet on closer reading, the Book of Mormon contests the amalgam of Enlightenment, republican, Protestant, capitalist and nationlist values that constituted American culture. The combination is not working, the book says. America is too Gentile, too worldly, too hard-hearted. The Gentiles 'put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves, their own wisdom, and their own learning, that they may get gain, and grind upon the faces of the poor.' The nation must remember God and restore Israel--or be blasted.

The Book of Mormon proposes a new purpose for America: becoming a realm of righteousness rather than an empire of liberty. Against increasing wealth and inequality, the Book of Mormon advocates the cause of the poor. Against the subjection of the Indians, it promises the continent to the native people. Against republican government, it proposes righteous rule by judges and kings under God's law. Against a closed-canon Bible and nonmiraculous religion, the Book of Mormon stands for ongoing revelation, miracles, and revelation to all nations. Against skepticism, it promotes belief; against nationalism, a universal Israel. It foresees disaster for the nation if the love of riches, resistance to revelation, and Gentile civilization prevail over righteousness, revelation, and Israel. Herman Melville said of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 'He says NO! in thunder.' A NO can be heard in the Book of Mormon's condemnation of an America without righteousness."


It frustrates me when our scripture is wrongly used to uphold and justify certain aspects of our nation and culture as it exists now. What we are now is certainly not the paradigm or standard of all righteousness. Just a step along the way.

And when at times the Church feels so, so frustratingly westerncentric it is encouraging to me to remember these perspectives Bushman underscores that lie in the heart of the gospel's center of doctrine--the Book of Mormon. A paradigm shift is occurring, however. I have seen this very clearly as I've been working for the Church History Department these last four-and-a-half months. The shift is happening. Tho it may be slow (to be expected with a 13 million member organization), I am encouraged, hopeful, and excited.