Monday, September 29, 2008

Edmund Morris and Theodore Roosevelt

You may have heard of Edmund Morris. He was the official biographer of Ronald Reagan, hired by Ron and Nancy after writing the Pullitzer Prize winning The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. His eventual biography of Reagan, Dutch, was a controversial, some say reprehensible, flop. He was criticized by liberals and conservatives alike and himself confessed that he never really understood Reagan at all--this after having spent fourteen years with him and having complete access to all his papers, files, and correspondence. His style was a self-described post-modern new style of biography where he made up a fictional narrator (himself) and apparently made up a lot of other stuff too. In short, the book was horrid. Others have done much better with Reagan's life and presidency.

Yeah, that Edmund Morris.

I absolutely loved The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and hope that some of you might read it too. You will fall in love with Teddy's character as the quintessential American and gain an appreciation for him even when rolling your eyes at some of his ideas and actions. The book paints a stunning portrait, stroke by stroke, of TR the man. While reading I wondered if TR wasn't a bit manic, but those eccentricities which led me to think that are also the bits that endeared me to him. Roosevelt comes off as a compelling contradiction, being on one hand an intellectual snob and on the other a leader and companion of the "rough riders."

I am now a few chapters into Theodore Rex, published twenty-two years after the first, but it feels like I have picked right up where I left off. The Rise gives us the story of TR from birth until right before his ascension to the presidency in 1901. Rex chronicles his two terms as President. If anything, the writing style has improved in the sequel (I wish I could write that well) and, though my reading time is limited these days, I plan to finish off its 600+ pages by Christmas. There is a planned third volume which will complete the "trilogy" and I hope Mr. Morris is working on it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

A Prayer of St. Augustine

Passing time each morning (most mornings) with St. Augustine has been a joy for me this year and, I hope, a benefit. Augustine is probably not the typical Baptist's cup of tea, but I like going outside the norm in my reading. Augustine takes me back to the dawn of Christianity and allows me to delve into the thinking of the early disciples. I view The Confessions of St. Augustine as an archaeologist might view an ancient ruin. It beckons with hidden promise of rich discovery.

Two things stand out to me in Augustine's Confessions. One is humility, the other is faith. I know that I could use more of both.

This morning I read this:

Let me know Thee, O lord, who knowest me: let me know Thee, as I am known. Power of my soul, enter into it, and fit it for Thee, that Thou mayest have and hold it without spot or wrinkle. This is my hope, therefore do I speak; and in this hope do I rejoice, when I rejoice healthfully. Other things of this life are the less to be wept for, the more they are wept for; and the more to be wept for, the less men weep for them. For behold, Thou lovest the truth and he that doth it, cometh to the light. This would I do in my heart before Thee in confession: and in my writing, before many witnesses.--Confessions of St. Augustine, Book Ten, chapter 1.

(Scriptures referenced: 1 Cor. 13:12; Eph. 5:27; Ps. 116:10; Ps. 51:6; John 3:20)

There is meat in that.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Liberal Coffee

I feel so good about myself today. You see, I start off each morning with coffee--good coffee--usually Distant Lands coffee purchased at my local grocer and brewed from whole beans. Coffee is important to me. I enjoy it. I thank God for it (and that goat-herder in northern Africa who discovered it). It gets me going.

I usually maintain a strict "don't ask, don't tell" policy when it comes to the politics of my coffee. I find it easier to drink it this way. Just like with my favorite Hollywood actors, I would prefer not to know or hear their political leanings because, well, sometimes it can be scary. I like to remain blissfully naive on these things. Who wants to learn that their favorite character in a movie was portrayed by some marxist sympathizer who thinks, for example, that America should be more like Fidel Castro's Cuba? No, I'd rather just like the guy and not know anything about him.

The same goes with my coffee. I don't ask it what it thinks about capitalism and it doesn't try to raise my taxes or put me on the government dole. We just enjoy each other's company.

But this morning when I went for the coffee beans I remembered that the bag was empty. The poverty I felt at that moment had a Dickens-like character . . . enough to make a good capitalist's blood run cold.

So I made my way to work without my morning brew, vowing to stop somewhere where I could get something with some strength and fortitude, some flavor, some substance.

Something real.

Have I mentioned that typical American coffee like, say, Folgers or Maxwell House is embarassingly weak? Drinking that meager fare is akin to pouring food coloring in hot water. Seriously. American coffee, for the most part, is like half-coffee. I could not settle for that.

So I stopped at Starbucks.

I got a grande Sumatran blend and a bag of whole bean Ethiopia Sidamo. Oh, and a coffee mug for the road--liberal coffee.

I feel so good about myself now. I've probably saved a rainforest, done my part to encourage fair trading practices, helped put a long-hair through Berkeley, and, oh yeah, even built a bridge in Ethiopia to help farmers get their beans to market.

Man, what a guy I am!

I feel like Sean Connery in Medicine Man, like I'm making a difference in the world.

I bet Bush doesn't even drink coffee. The Nazi!

So if you really care about the earth, the poor, saving the rainforest, curing AIDS, fair trade, and making the world into a worker's paradise and all that, start your morning off right . . . like I do . . . with some liberal coffee!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Theology of Atheism

Random, unorganized thoughts on a rainy morning while I drink my coffee.

Atheism is a theological position.

I thought it wouldn't hurt to take a break from politics for at least one post and this thought has been in the back of my head for some time now so we'll see if I can manage to spit it out this morning in a coherent way.

Again, atheism is a theological position. I feel like it has to be said because many of the atheists I have come in contact with seem to be in denial of this. They think of themselves as a-theological or supra-theological.

"Theology?" they say. "That's for children. I believe in science and facts. I don't need theology." When challenged on the fact that they are theologically ignorant their trite response is usually something like "Why would I need to study theology to tell you I don't believe in God? Do I have to read all the books on fairies to tell you I don't believe in them? Or do I have to study Santa Claus to legitimately claim that there is none?"

Sounds cute, but it is woefully ignorant. To say that one is an atheist is to take a theological position. Everyone is a theologian. Any statement about God is a theological statement. For example, to state "I am an atheist and Christians are fools" is to make a theological statement. So when individuals choose to make theological statements but then refuse to back them up with theological arguments or at least to give themselves a cursory education in the field they are being stubbornly ignorant. They don't want to be challenged.

Oh, they may not mind making a sport of drive-by rhetorical sniping. They may enjoy strong verbal salvos aimed at those they deem ignorant. But many times those they deem ignorant at least have some knowledge of the topic at hand . . . theology.

All of this reminds me that I have a discussion to get back to with a fine gentleman from Scotland on the fundamentalist forums, a gentleman who by now is probably thinking the same about me (about the drive-by rhetorical sniping).

It also reminds me that I was reading a book by Professor Richard Dawkins, a quite interesting book that I need to get back to. I was enjoying it and I'm not sure what happened. I think I got more interested in my Teddy Roosevelt biography and laid the other aside.