Friday, January 21, 2005

Spongebob at the Inauguration

As Ronald Reagan might have said, "now there you go again." You would think that right-wing evangelicals might have learned something when Jerry Falwell went after the teletubbies a few years back, but now James Dobson of Focus on the Family has targeted Spongebob. Apparently Mr. Squarepants is promoting acceptance of diversity, and Dobson fears the cartoon figure is part of a vast conspiracy to force the "homosexual agenda" onto Mainstreet U.S.A.
Don't the people at Focus on the Family have more important things to worry about? Whew ... as Forest Gump would put it, "that's all I've got to say about that."
So, with this abiding fear of animated liberals as the backdrop, President Bush took the oath of office again yesterday. I'll give the man his props here: it was an eloquent speech. It might even be one for the ages, that could be widely quoted in the future. The problem is, for a president to be considered worth quoting by future generations, he must achieve something worth remembering and celebrating in future generations.
Perhaps President Bush would achieve the greatness that his rhetoric aims for if he truly believed what he says and understood its full implications. It would be nice to believe that we will stand on the side of indigenous movements for freedom rather than on the side of military dictators, but our history in Latin America and Africa leave room for plenty of doubt.
Moreover, for all his bold claims about American support for freedom and opposition to tyranny --"
Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery. Liberty will come to those who love it." -- for all that, the president continues to ignore the tyranny of the concentrated power of wealth both here at home and abroad.
At home just two words should raise all kinds of questions: Enron, Walmart. Abroad, well surely American military power is respected and feared and loathed in various measures around the world, but America's economic power inspires equal amounts of respect, fear and loathing. Certainly that economic power is also admired, and attracts millions to the "land of opportunity," but the powerlessness of local economies in the face of concentrated power identified with the United States must certainly feel akin to slavery to many. Bush is right, eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. The question for the president now is how to answer that call when he presides over power that many find enslaving.
I think most of us have more to fear from the concentrated power of unchecked economic forces than we do from the concentrated power of cartoons. I wonder which one will get more attention in the next four years.

Monday, January 17, 2005


A couple of lines from Dr. King have been stirring around my thoughts during the past few days. The first comes from a speech that King delivered at the Riverside Church in New York in April, 1967, when he spoke out publicly against the war in Vietnam for the first time. If you read that speech today, A Time to Break Silence rings just as true about Iraq now as it did about Vietnam four decades ago -- just substitute "Iraq" for "Vietnam" and "terrorism" for "communism."
Here's the line that's been bugging me:
"A country that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
Now it's not so much the truth of this observation by itself that is bugging me these days -- after all, it's been true for decades no matter how you slice and spin the federal budget. What's aggitating me in January, 2005, is the continued truth of the second line:
"There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . . But the judgment of God is upon the church [today] as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century."
There is a deep and profound connection between these two lines, and the continued silence of the mainline church with respect to the war in Iraq and the so-called war on terror damns it as much as its silence in Birmingham. I know that many denominational bodies have written letters that opposed the invasion 18 months ago, but too few congregations are preaching peace and pressing for it. Until the middle of America becomes disgusted with what is disgusting, it will continue. The church's voice could make a difference.