Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bitter Irony

Skimming over the "Iraq" photo tag on Flickr, I came upon this compelling juxtaposition (and insightful commentary, pasted below).

New photos of the tortured were apparently picked up by the Australian press in the last week or so, and they're making their way around the world.

The photo on the cover is an insane prisoner in Abu Ghraib, covered in feces, screaming at the ceiling.

Am I just out of touch, or has America ignored these photos? I wondered.

So I checked, googling "torture photographs" under Google News. No major American newspaper had covered the photos. had run an article. Newspapers in Italy, Iraq, Germany, and Australia had covered them as well. Foreign reporters called the photos "worse than Guantanamo".

How cold to human suffering have we become?

American news admits no coverage of torture in our prisons. The news is washed out in dreary proceedings of he-said-she-said testimony in courts, wherein the White House denies that torture has ever happened in US prisons. Googling "Torture Pictures" in American newspapers only returns only purple journalism from Florida on how hard it is to sell Real Estate where a sex offender tortured his victims. The American attention span pleads for the most gruesome details. It simply can't handle the international truth.

From the Flickr blog of horncologne:

"Der Spiegel" landed in my mailbox as usual this week- cover photo: victim of American torture in Iraq.

The headline and subhead on the cover say "America's Disgrace - Torture in the Name of Freedom."

Trying not to look too hard at the nauseating cover photo, I flipped the magazine over to carry it into the house ...

... to find a full page ad from Cisco Systems with the header/lead text/largest word "GEDANKENFREIHEIT" - that is "Freedom of Thought" in English ... ouch.

For me, this goes way past irony. Consider Cisco's role in the "Gang of Four" stuff in China (Cisco Yahoo, Microsoft and Google actively assisting in Chinese censorship of the Internet).

In Cisco's case, as I understand it, they have provided China with the technology to make an efficient and effective internal filter/firewall system for the Chinese internet, thereby aiding the government's ability to monitor users and control what content is available.

listening device

listening device
Originally uploaded by Survivor GG.
"Such devices were intended for communication with subterranean species."

In the Annales of Flickr, "Survival" is a tag used by humorists, whackos, agitprop specialists, collectors, and surrealists. The surrealists are my favorites.

See the rest of the series at Survivor GG's flickr page.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Feeding the Hungry in the Age of Mass Media

(This essay is cross-posted at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, where I am this week's guest-blogger)

Witnessing in a crowd has a particular role to play. As when Jesus dispensed the five loaves and two fishes that fed the crowd of hundreds, sharing actually proliferates and foments grace among individuals until it affects the people around them. The miracle is that in sharing, good things actually multiply until they fill every hungry mouth.

If you believe an active group can accomplish more than individuals in isolation, that it can build up individual courage, and allow individual talents to shine, then you believe in aggregated witness.

So I'd like to share two examples from my own work.

The first has to do with bloggers and readers, just like the guest blog you're now reading. The Internet allows a special kind of witness, making it possible for you, the reader, to create your own witness in response to mine, instantly.

The second has to do with activities afoot right now among Progressive Christian activists, by which I mean both those concerned about addressing issues like poverty from within church congregations, and those who would prevail upon Christians to make issues like poverty matter once more in American politics. Their witness intends to begin direct and tangible appearances in American society within the next year.

For the hunger that haunts America is at once physical hunger in the shape of the 37 million Americans who live in poverty, the one million added each year, those who live down the very street each of us live on who by some accident, injury, or mistake will be unable to feed their families -- and a spiritual hunger, in the form of fake religion, fake compassion, fake values, fake diplomacy, and fake dialogue.

Both hungers are worsened in the age of mass media, where it has been, until recently, all but impossible for voices of compassion to break through the white noise of fake Christians, empty values, and the politics of blind-eye-turning to human cruelty.

Witnessing on the Internet

When witnesses come to town, souls wake up. The Internet brings witness to everyone's town. Bloggers serve a role that itinerant ministers played in the age of John Wesley.

Wesley's Methodist circuit riders took the gospel by horseback to poor miners and farmers who never before had the opportunity to engage Christian teachings. The long-term result of their work was what we call the Progressive Era of politics, a sudden boom of concern for the poor. Progressive politicians got poor children out of the mines and into schools; they passed acts to protect divorced and abused women; they legalized unions, and laid the foundations for Civil Rights.

Spreading information to people who don't have access to it creates the possibility for working together among people who have hitherto been suppressed by powerful, entrenched interests.

Bloggers write because they've been transformed. People respond because they're moved by witnessing such a transformation. Street Prophets, the major discussion board for progressive religion, regularly gets fifty comments to a single post, of which there may be twenty a day. The newspapers of America regularly report on the expansion of bloggers and blog-readers -- getting and sharing information this way is becoming part of everyday life for many people. The bloggers at Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and throughout the Progressive Christian Bloggers Network are actively testifying to the power of witness, so much so that the stranger who googles the phrase "Christian Blogger" learns first about Progressive Christians at work, not about Pat Robertson. As the patterns of reading and sharing on the Internet expand, the power of this form of witness will continue to expand.

Aggregating the Witnesses

Sneaking links into this information is powerful: it means that if you find one blog, soon you know that there's a movement, whether or not the blog explicitly tells you so. Information in the same place is also good for encyclopedia-like power to search under topics -- that's what Google did for all the information on the Net, but also what Progressive Christians could do for Progressive Christian sermons and blogs.

Finally, shared information means helping collaborate in the most basic senses -- at the moment, the National Council of Churches and Sojourners only know about each other's events, lobbying, press releases, and mailing lists haphazardly. To plan for greater numbers at their turnouts, greater participation in their conferences, and greater effect behind their important lobbies, they, as well as smaller groups and tiny blogging communities and Sunday School clubs, need to share. is one example of an aggregator that seeks to network Progressive Christian work. CrossLeft newsstreams pull together hundreds of Progressive Christian blog headlines into a dozen different streams (clergy's personal stories, just politics, mostly theology, etc.), so that after an event like the horrible bombings in Samara, you can literally watch as reactions spread through the Progressive Christian community: prayers are posted, political Jeremiads are delivered, proposals for relief mooted, all by bloggers and their readers.

Aggregation is powerful because it enables individuals to feel that they're not alone, and shows strangers that we inhabit a neighborhood of other people with similar experiences.

CrossLeft is only one form of aggregation. Co-blogging, like the Sollicitudo Rei Socialis guest blog and the regular Progressive Faith Blog Carnival, is another way. This form of aggregation brings strong voices into the same room, and offers real quality to readers. Discussion boards like StreetProphets are yet another way of showing numbers and solidarity. Linking to each other's sites is also a good way for people with weblogs to testify to the fact thay they're in community with other people whose work they value.

For people who run organizations, conference calls are another way of sharing. Live conferences for denominations is another.

Individuals can also share information, wisdom, and experience, just by letting others know what they're up to. Even without a blog, you can share sites and articles you found valuable, by noting what you've been looking at with the tag PROCHRIST (PROgressive CHRISTian) on information sharing sites like and Flickr, which let individuals tell the world which websites or pictures they're looking at. Going to a local church where there are people you feel comfortable with is another great way to share. There's no one way to share, but the sharing is vital to our life as a community.

In the faces of other members of the church, we see Christ's own features; in the charitable works of their hands, in every loving word or comment exchanged, we feel the loving touch of Christ's own hands.

From Aggregation to Agenda: The Progressive Christian Leadership Summit, Feb. 4-5, 2006

In the name of aggregation, CrossLeft recently held a summit of activist leadership in San Francisco.

We had fifty leaders of Progressive Christian organizations; new groups in Nevada and Oregon; solid think tanks from the Washington, D.C. beltway; ninety-year-old crowds like the million-person California Council of Churches.

Our goal was to put on the table the values, issues, and actions that Progressive Christians are working toward. We wanted to find the political issues and cultural ideas that had the greatest purchase in American culture.

We wanted to review what everyone was doing, and to choose a couple of big actions for collaboration that represented issues everyone cared about. We wanted to get as many organizations as possible to sign up to help participate in these actions.

You can read an overview of the values, issues, and actions we talked about on the CrossLeft site. You will eventually be able to access a database of groups' strengths, weaknesses, and contact information.

Essentially, the summit allowed us to point to what, to the best of our knowledge, represents the five big actions the Progressive Christian Movement will be working on in 2006. These are:

  • To elect Progressive Christians to office, principally through the distribution of Christian Values Voting Guides;

  • To oppose the Iraq War, especially through church school programs and adult study toolkits;

  • To map moderate-to-progressive churches and Progressive Christian organizations;

  • To establish a national network of Progressive Christian groups on college campuses;

  • To engage in protests and lobbying focusing on the budget as a moral document.

CrossLeft suggested, and will promote, a very straight-forward plan for accountability. On top of each action is one coordinator, a representative from some activist group. The coordinator's job is to keep calling and writing all groups, from Sojourners to the local church, who are involved with the coordinator's particular project. The coordinator will ask them to brainstorm together, share resources, think about areas where their work is redundant, and think about what still needs to be done.

Our disorganization and isolation is the single biggest factor working against the Progressive Christian Movement. Collaboration across organizations is difficult, and it's never really been tried before in the Progressive Christian Movement, where Methodists work with Methodists and not Episcopalians, and peace activists work with peace activists and not homeless advocates.

The reason we're so dispersed is a throwback to the sudden way we came to meet each other: many participants in the summit confessed that they had an "aha" moment on or around 9/11. Thus, many of the organizations that showed up are only a year old or less, although some are already powerhouses like the above-mentioned California Council of Churches. The flourishing of a new generation of activists is a testament to the times, and a witness to growing interest in the movement and its work.

The new generation needs to learn how to work together. Only when we understand who's out there and what they're working on will these attempts to put together large movement-wide collaboration come together.

Only with the best and brightest of all backgrounds can we really begin to develop strategies to win cultural battles, to break through the fortress of the media, to defeat the idiom of right-wing pseudo-Christian politics for good, and to win back real territory for Christian values.

That's why we need you to read and to witness, in whatever form your calling takes you. Witnessing is the work that brings the broken pieces of God's body together.

Let that witness be about sharing information, spreading the loaves and fishes through the entire crowd, until so great a multitude is transformed that the faith will last another thousand years.

A Call to Witness: Lent

The last month's several shared blogs and the San Francisco summit both set the course for an experiment in movement that will be taking off in the next several weeks, even while the church invites Christians to participate in one of the great religious rituals of collective discernment through Lent.

Lent is an invitation for the individual to take some comfort and offer it up to God. That action, in its act of pure, arbitrary will, makes room for the individual to change according to a greater plan.

There are many individual readers who feel discouraged and isolated, fed up with American politics and the culture of the self, hungry for political change, and unsure of where to give their talents. Even among bloggers and organizers, there is legitimate concern about how to best strategize with each other, that our poor, solitary efforts should amount to more than a futile series of protests.

Let me therefore offer, in the spirit of sharing and inspiration, a very small spiritual practice in the form of a meditation, which may be engaged as part of a Lenten discipline.

  1. What issues do I personally feel most moved about?

  2. What is it that the movement itself needs to succeed, regardless of where my own talents or inclinations lie?

  3. What form of working with others allows me to share the most good?

The first question is extremely personal, the innate emotional pull of where an individual is at the moment. The second is detached and political, even theoretical -- what form of action would produce the desired change, by any means, at any cost? The last question, of where the individual fits, moves back to what the individual in question can do to change at this very moment.

This is a circular movement, from the personal to the selfless and back to the personal. It mirrors a form of Lenten practice in confession, self-denial, waiting for discernment, and final return to a re-awakened everyday practice.

Sharing relies on noting the self and leaving the self, then leaving the strategy to return back to life. This is a form of witness to which the Progressive Christian Movement, on the Internet and in the board room, immediately aspires.

May we enter then, together, into this season of Lent, conscious of the great multitude which waits to be fed, conscious of our own hunger, as of our talents, and of the miracle of sharing, manifesting even now among us.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


I was Googling the words "fish emblem," hoping to find a nice seventeenth-century emblem of Jesus feeding the multitude with the five loaves and fishes for an illustration to an essay.

Google found me a few scholarly pictures of manuscripts amidst the multitude of chrome fishes for sale, to be affixed to the cars of well-meaning evangelicals across America.

And then I saw it.

The "Sinner Fish."

It took my breath away. Every Christian should have one, I thought.

The Sinner Fish, a reminder that Christ loves all of us, Christian and not. That the Christian is no different than the non-Christian with regards to his morality, for every Christian is a sinner as well. That the sinning Christian comes closest to God when he loves his fellow sinners and gives them the shirt off of his back.

I immediately betook myself to the website and wondered if I could buy a few dozen sinner fish for friends at church.

But immediately, visions of confrontations in parking lots began to race through my mind, and I began to feel a little queasy about how public I want my witness to be...

("Are you callin' Jesus a SINNER?" "No, man, I just know that the Lord came to SAVE sinners, all of us!")

Anyway, I'm not even sure what the intention of the Sinner Fish maker was. There on the Darwin Fish website you can find some pretty darn offensive material for your automobile, including an Evolution Fish humping an Ichthus Fish, a Satan Fish, an Isis Fish, and a Flying Spaghetti Monster Fish.

I was, however, mercifully spared the decision to witness, this once.

The Sinner Fish is temporarily out of stock.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bombings in Samarra

Al Askari Mosque - Wikipedia
87 dead, the Guardian counted last night. On NPR, American soldiers are interviewed as being shocked that grenades were being thrown at them from the Samarra police station. So civil war rattles into being in Iraq, even as America builds its nuclear reserve. A sad day for the world. Christ, have mercy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Education and the masses

Bernard Mandeville writes in 1723:

Few children make any progress at school, but t the same time are capable of being employed in some business or other, so that every Hour of those poor people spent at their books is so much time lost to society.

Going to school in comparison to working is idleness, and the longer boys continue in this easy sort of life, the more unfit they’ll be, when grown up for downright labour, both as to strength and inclination.

Men who are to remain and end their days in a laborious, tiresome, and painful station of life, the sooner they are to put upon it at first, the more patiently they’ll submit to it for ever after.

-- "An Essay on the Charity Schools"

Schools discipline their students for certain forms of engagement: tedium, activity, leisure. Our own system has been described as a "forced system of prolonged adolescence" for the manufacture of "peons".

Progressive politics (in nineteenth-century American and Britain) was among the most trenchant advocates of extended mandatory schooling (so as to save the children from the mines and to provide a rationale for universal suffrage).

On the other side, liberation theology has traditionally stood on the side of informal education instead of formalized top-down education dictated from a national level.

In our era of mass distraction among pupils, of limited success with universal testing programs, and the least common denominator of educational ambition, Mandeville, Progressive politics, and Liberation Theology provide the three models most likely to be taken by argument.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Not speaking to strangers

Back on campus today, writing in the grad student lounge whilst hammering out serious notes on the bureaucracy and civil service (from John Brewer's masterpiece, The Sinews of Power (1989)).

As always, the company of grad students on campus causes me a strange reaction. I've seen myself here so many times.

In my mind's eye I can imagine (and recall) the happy conversations, the rapid exchanges of ideas. The fantasy is so vivid that every betrayal of it sacks me in the gut and leaves me feeling loose, unhinged, disconnected.

Like today, and like every day, when I write in their company too often -- I find myself looking up from my work, studying the blond hipster in a faded check shirt (the blue fades to white with wear around his cuffs), the girl flipping through notes by her laptop and the next table.

I both want to speak and am afraid -- afraid because, in reality, no grad student strikes up conversation with a stranger in the library or the study room or the cafe. It happens only in film. Strangers talk to each other in the Mission District of San Francisco, amidst the homeless and the starving musicians, but never in the Berkeley library.

Speaking to loose acquaintances is liable, all grad students know, to prompt hysteric displays of insecurities: lavish boasting on the one hand and asinine whining about unsolvable dilemmas on the other.

In the company of grad students I always want to approach strangers and find myself choking in my inability to connect.

Words from T.S.Eliot come back to me: "She would like someone to speak to her / and is almost afraid that someone may commit the indiscretion."

And so another scene comes back to me, from Lars von Trier's film work of genius, "The 5 Obstructions," a 2004 collaboration (or act of sadism) between Lars von Trier and his own mentor, Dutch filmmaker Jorgen Leth.

In the film, the two intellectuals are trying together to remake Jorgen's 1967 short, The Perfect Human. They boast, they brawl. They over-perform. They get self-conscious. Amidst their bizarre, intellectual jousting is spliced scenes from the original 1967 shot (in its ultra-modern white-screen space-age black-and-white glory) and its animated, Indian, and Cuban remakes.

And in each remake, the character main character, the perfect human, pauses from his shaving and dining and other lonely, perfect, activities, to recite, resignedly, as he did in 1967, the following line:

"Today, also, I saw something that I hope to understand in a couple of days."

A line gesturing past fear to some place where insecure individuals moving through the world may meet each other.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Freemason spire in Mendocino, California

The angel of time with his scythe braids the hair of a maiden repairing the toppled columns of the temple.

Just back from a weekend in Mendocino, staying at the Sweetwater Inn and hiking around the headlines with my parents.

This spire now stands atop the current Mendocino Savings Bank, the former Freemason Temple for the region.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Meditation on Joy

For many months now I have been praying for the peculiar blessings of constantly-experienced joy.

In the shower this morning three exquisite joys came to me and I held them for fifteen minutes, as if savoring the flavor of some rare coffee that had to be turned over in the mouth:

- The rare love of daughters that is given to certain fathers. My roommate's father is staying with us, and while he went to sleep in the guest room before I got home last night, I thought that I would surely meet him and see him smile on his daughter today.

- The special love of God for the depressed. I thought of those whose depressions have been cured by love, and those who go into depression because they sense a special need for some kind of love nowhere expressed in their every-day life.

- God's special love of monks. I thought of the smiles of monks, their modest and courageous self-discipline, downplaying themselves in order to pursue certain aims of education and activism.

I felt each of these loves like a hand soft around my heart.

Yesterday the tag on the tea-bag of Yogi Dong Quai Tea in my mug read, "Make yourself so happy that when others see you they become happy too."

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Women and Reality

All of my life, since fourteen or so, I've read myself into the pursuer's role in love. I've never thought of myself as a hunter or exploiter, but I *did* identify with Dante and Abelard themselves, rather than Beatrice or Heloise.

Most of all, I identified with Shakespeare's Viola of Twelfth Night: the cross-dressing heroine, who becomes a page in order to win the affections of her long-suffering Sebastian, mad for love for the proud heiress Olivia: all of the long-suffering, long-waiting, sweet-speaking single heroes who waited to be recognized by their objects of desire.

I understand Viola, waiting for Sebastian. Comfortable as his companion, I wait while he pursues harlots and harpies, Cleopatras and shepherdesses. I do not understand why Sebastian goes where he goes; nor do I resent it; nor do I understand why he doesn't think of me as an object of desire. Nor do I understand those who think that I should turn to them simply because of my being the object of their own desire.

Viola is the prototype of another age: as historians of sexuality like Tom Laqueur have pointed out, the Violas who love silently at a distance and woo and win like men belong a Renaissance mentality more susceptible than ours to the concept that gender is a performance, a dance put on, not the simple DNA of birth and life and death into which we are born.

There is surely no real feminism or belief in the freedom and individuality of a woman's soul until we have room for Viola.

It's been quite a week. I've just been through a breakup with my best friend of 2005, and it may be a while until we speak again; my best friend of 2004 isn't speaking to me because I wouldn't go out with him and had the stupidity to argue with him about why; one of the men I admire most right now wants to woo me, and, less interested by far, I foresee it ending in tears; I've just gone out for a drink with the man whom I admire most in the world, and he is brilliant and lovely and yet more interested in someone whom he himself deems mostly unsuitable. God bless us all.

I dislike the 90's addiction to dragging one's personal life into political discourse. I hesitate to even bring up this constellation of sordid events. But it reminds me of something long in my heart, something longing for a voice. I'm sitting in the middle of warring egos and warring loves: every character in this bizarre drama is an intelligent, loving creature, begging the universe for his or her own just deserts in the form of another human being. None of us are getting what we truly want. All of us are reaching some grim reconciliation: some by yelling at God, some in anger, some by not speaking to someone else, some by pining wistfully, some by existential incertitude, some by accepting Providence.

I don't want to preach about the faults of romantic love, or the valor of suffering through long denial. I don't want to draw a lesson about longing or my imperilment as a woman from this. All of these points seem equally artificial, and equally mute to the dumb, worthless, stupid suffering of us all -- creatures who admire each other and yet look past each other at something else.

And yet: something in my heart is saying that if ever there was a lesson about gender, a lesson is here. How often we've watched movies about heroes longing eternally for heroines who turn them down. I watched one last night: The Fisher King, seen for at least showing number six in my short life; my roommates quoting every line of the movie as the film rolled on:

The much longing homeless Latin teacher Parry at last has his chance with the frigid Lydia. Lydia freaks. Parry persists:

We just met, made love and broke up,
all in the space of seconds.

I don't remember the first kiss,
which is the best part.

The audience swoons. He understands that the object of his desire is hesitant! He grants her that liberty! What a kind and understanding man! See how much he deserves her? The audience, from this very moment, knows that Parry will win in the end. From this one blossom of generosity, it is clear to us all that he has, in every way, deserved, and therefore, won her.

A meditation on the limits of gender in contemporary discourse long overdue, and yet so irrelevant to so many things in politics today. And yet: here's where I am. How many stories have we heard where the hero pines for the heroine, and after long discernment or frustration, he at last says the right thing, and she breaks down? How few stories do we have when the itinerant heroine, a stranger who knows herself and her mind, meets him, speaks sweet words, waits for the him, and he gives in at last?

The Fisher King offers a prototype more typical of our age. Anne, the long-suffering, lasagna-baking girlfriend, has nurtured Jack all along. She waits for his affection, rants to thin air, coaxes, coerces, and is left, before Jack eventually comes to his senses and returns to her. Woman in a relationship must wait. Man in a relationship leaves and then returns.

Lydia, the single woman, ambles like an inchoate doe through the labyrinth of New York skyscrapers. Single woman, blind in the world, waiting to be made a woman by the initiatory exercise of some man's affection. Single man, like a hunter, capturing woman and melding her to him. Dating woman, loyal to the core, employing innumerable tactics to keep her man's attention. Dating man, ever looking to see if he can do better.

In the twenty-first century, our love-stories are primitive stories of apish men wooing and conquering the strange woman, of the woman who cooks and makes love winning back her husband : they are not stories of the new and courageous woman who wins her equal by talking and wooing and feeling equally to him.

Until we have more such stories of Viola, I reckon glumly that I'm in trouble.

Smart women are doomed to be pursued by creatures who feel themselves worthy and will prove themselves until they're exhausted.

Smart women will be expected to prove themselves over and over again to the men who are ostensibly wedded to them.

And the equality of the sexes, the kind and equal relationship where woman and man both talk and love and struggle?

That waits for us in an alternative time, or, perhaps, in the seventeenth century, where we abandoned it for other things.

Man of my dreams: listen when I tell you my stranger's admiration of you. Don't reckon your own worth or passion enough to make you deserving of any other creature, even as I don't deserve any one by mere fact of admiration. Hold me when I'm crying. Let us both be honest and courageous and cheerful and loving, even when turned down, even when moving on. Man of my dreams: you have, you do. God bless you. Then accept and consider my stranger's admiration with all the weight you might give it if you were Beatrice and I Dante.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Antimanifesto II

I recently had the honor to be asked by Rev. Robb Moore to contribute to the weekly CrossLeft Podcast of Progressive Christian sermons.

Please consider having a listen to my Antimanifesto on where the parties are failing and how the progressive church could intervene to save American society.

The essay you are listening to is an anti-manifesto.

By antimanfesto I mean to convince you that no one – not the Neocons, not your amiable and seventy-year-old preacher, not the next Democratic candidate, not the religious right, not your college professor, and not me – no one has thought out the situation we face as a nation, and no one has an answer. I don’t mean to encourage you to join a march this afternoon, or to get arrested, or to vote a certain way. I mean to engage you in the beginning of an emerging conversation in which none of us understand what is moral or right.

Today, no one understands how to balance world poverty against free enterprise; no one knows how to balance the debts of third-world nations against the debts of first-world nations like America; no one knows how to negotiate peacemaking efforts with respect for sovereign nations in the Middle East with the need for a system of law and order.

All of us can name world leaders who we think have done a particularly foul job of their role – whose regimes are embroiled in corruption. But few of us can point to a philosophy or a political party that speaks to where we are as an entire nation – that relates to all the compromises and responsibilities -- the peacemaking agenda, the fear of big government, the hatred of corruption, the desire for local responsibility, the resolve to help the poor – that you will see, if you are honest with yourself, on both sides of the political party line. You will have heard liberals saying that Democrats are just better-educated and Republicans are just dumb. You will hear conservatives saying that Republicans just want to help people as individuals and Democrats just want the state to take over responsibility for everything. But we in the church have friends on both sides of the aisle. And beyond that, we know that many of the aims of both sides are pure: Americans believe in a responsible government abroad; they don’t like being lied to, and they hate corrupt government; Christians believe in caring for the poor, and they will endorse political regimes which do a decent job of educating, tending, and improving the lot of the poor, but they become appalled at inefficiencies, waste, nepotism, and bureaucracy.

By presenting you with an anti-manifesto, I mean to approach a conversation through what the Franciscans call “poverty” : poverty of spirit. That means being open minded. That means escaping the labels Democrat and Republican, and talking about what really matters, and who you might listen to next if you care.

When we talk about the Christian Progressive movement, our name is meant to signify unflinching allegiance to new ideas. We don’t call ourselves “liberal” because we don’t want anyone confused about whether we’re arguing for revisiting the Stalinist era or sliding toward ever larger government; it’s short-hand for the most cutting-edge ideas – the most socially aware, the most internationally engaged, the most concerned for the welfare of the poor and disenfranchised. It’s also shorthand for a long tradition of CrossLeft means the Liberty of the Cross: the liberty experienced by Christians to check out of a culture that emphasizes consumption, using other people and using purchases to make ourselves feel good, when the only real fulfillment offered to any of us mortals in this lifetime comes from engaging spiritual, not worldly, goods.

In the spirit of courageous engagement with the world as followers of Christ, it behooves us to pay attention to how the world around us is changing.

We live in a world of dangerous new ideologies. We live in a world where, after half a century of peace, the great nations are rallying against each other in competition for scarce resources – labor, money, and fuel. The engineer in Texas knows that his job could disappear to India overnight. The accountant in New York knows that the national debt has reached trillions, and that if American power falters, his purchasing power will be reduced to that of an accountant in Somalia. We live in a world where Americans have allowed their purchasing power to be backed up by peace-keeping missions around the world, some of which – take the Balkans – have ended genocides; other of which – take Afghanistan – have destabilized a foreign territory, and eliminating one power, handed rule over to a series of drug lords. Christians know that the state is a necessary evil. Christians know that military forces keep peace when directed by righteous leaders, but destabilize nations in the hands of wrong-headed agendas.

In an earlier anti-manifesto, I argued that it’s high time for progressives, pacifists, lovers of mercy, friends of the poor, and other Christians, to give up a naïve hatred of state, church, military, and school, and to instead to think hard about what the new organizations should look like. We don’t know that we want to return to FDR-style relief programs for the working class. We know that health care should be provided for all, but left and right alike have concerns about allocating great programs so that aid goes where aid is needed.

In 2006, whether you are a radical labor-activist or a NeoCon warhawks or a libertarian economist, you do believe that our system is broken. You believe that the poor in America are at a dead end, that a broken education system is a shame, that a prison system where half of black men under thirty go to jail is the sign that American civilization has used its wealth abusively.
Whether you are right or left in America, in 2006 you know that the papers that sent us in to Iraq were largely fibs, and that intelligence no longer exists as a free check on behalf of right thinking and good strategy. Whether you or right or left, you see that American corporations are expanding overseas into nations where political unrest and ethical abuses are rife, and you believe that a globalized economy requires new ethics.

We don’t need a manifesto, because the blues and the reds are in agreement on all of these points, every one. Every clear-headed American has seen these problems and wonders what they mean. And yet, no leaders have emerged to deal with them. And yet, church leaders argue over whether the ten commandments can be displayed at a school, and whether the King James or the Revised Standard translation ought to be used if they are. So both the church and the state ignore these pressing issues. Conservative church leaders talk about an angry God smiting individuals who have lead faulty lives, but they don’t talk about what’s actually going to heal families who have no health care when no work exists for willing and diligent mothers and fathers.

So I say there is no Christian movement in the United States. I say that people who are Christians are aching to be involved, aching to see a better world than the one we live in. I say that we have been negligent in our conversations about politics. We’ve become distracted by arguing about whether one leader or another is less corrupt when no one can any longer point to a regime in which they’d like to live. We haven’t even begun a conversation about how the Christian engineer in Texas should feel towards the Christian engineer in India who is taking his job. We haven’t begun a conversation about middle class parents who work so hard that they’re not volunteering among their communities. We haven’t begun a conversation about what each of us has to do to grow the responsible institutions – for schooling, health, governance, and responsible checks on government information – the responsible institutions that our country dearly needs.

What we may need is an entirely new approach to civic involvement. It can only work if carried out in the name of service and care for others; it can only work if the voting Christians of America actually examine themselves against their Bibles and against an open debate about the new era into which America is going.

In order to spread that word, we need to share the message. In a civilization as wide and noisy as ours, that sharing will have to take the form of a concerted effort, and that effort will have to take several clear steps in the coming months and years as it launches:

1) publicize that there is such a thing as a "Progressive Christians", (emphasize that they are mainstream and represent a majority of Christians, in fact that they define Christianity except for a right minority fringe)

2) publicize that these "Progressive Christians" have a movement (which is represented by a variety of voices, publications, and organizations)

3) get Progressive Christians of many sorts in the media (on a range of issues: the culture wars, poverty, high politics, high theology, sexuality, race relations, international relations. Develop publicized Progressive Christians with specialties, and get them introduced as experts in these specialties)

4) publicize that the "Progressive Christians" are outraged at current government practices (enumerate pressure points, e.g.: corruption, lying regimes, corrupt intelligence regimes leading to a corrupt and worthless war on terror, corrupt science; the general decline of an active culture of institutional critique)

5) publicize that the Progressive Christian experts and organizations have alternatives to this kind of politics (enumerate points, e.g.: emphasize on open regimes? Theology of redemption not atonement?)

6) pair Progressive Christian experts, organizations, and grassroots movement with political action (one major action for each of these enumerated points).

7) publicize that the "Progressive Christians" are outraged at contemporary culture (enumerate points: abandonment of poor, punitive procedures rather than education, dead-ends for working class youth, social mismanagement of a wealthy society, consumption culture, parents who don't know their children, misallocation of time)

7) publicize that the Progressive Christian experts and organizations have alternatives to this kind of culture (enumerate point, e.g.: theology of redemption not atonement; strong social programs both charitable and tax-enriched; social pressure on corporation reform?)

8) pair Progressive Christian grassroots mobilization with overt agitation for each of these points (i.e. Church Walmart day? Church adopt-a-neighborhood day? Church day-off-work-so-you-can-find-out-what-your-church-does-for-society day?)

9) grow larger, more powerful publicity venues for Progressive Christians, or work on drawing more attention to the ones we have (i.e. CrossLeft, Zions Herald, Faith & Religion Resource Center, etc). Work on using them to generate buzz and release an interpretation before and after each of the large action items.

10) grow larger, more powerful grassroots organizations, and better network the ones we have (i.e. Beatitudes + chaplaincies + United Methodist Women + Sojo list...), involve them in each of the large action items

11) work on the networking, linking, and collaboration potentials of all organizations. Check in, collaborate

The movement will take all of us, all our churches, all our organizations, all our networks of friendship. But it will work because this is what Christians believe: they believe in truth telling, in working together to find solutions.

They don’t believe that you leave other nations to dissolve amongst warring tribes, while human rights are violated left and right. They don’t believe that you leave neighborhoods where no children go to college and half of the men go to jail. They don’t believe that you cut and run when an American city is destroyed, as New Orleans was. Christians don’t believe that you can leave America the way it is now. So Christians will be the ones to change it.