Category Archives: The Intersection with Chuck Redfern

Olympic Fool’s Gold and Our Own Sinister Shadow

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

So let me get this straight: That cheerful gold medalist traded in her family for a despotic coach, ran the gauntlet of a grueling training regimen for a crippling sport, mugged for television cameras and cut carrots with Mom for the up-close-and-personal NBC portrayal of family intimacy — complete with violins — and threaded quirky rules and judges for … what? The elusive moment on the stand? The shining trinket? The chance at the Wheaties box?

Can anyone say: “It’s only a game”?

Forgive my ambivalence. Forgive my heretical thoughts even while I oooo and ahhhh over all the results of the hard-work, determination and dedication: Maybe the Olympic Games — especially summer’s gymnastics and winter’s figure skating — don’t only emblemize the sea-to-shining-sea America of our dreams. Maybe they reveal our dark side as well: relationships are trashed in a mad rush for “the gold.” Mary Lou Retton swings on uneven bars before amoral Wall Street brokers and Dorothy Hamill does a pirouette at AIG. It’s all about fame and glory and glory and fame: focus, concentrate and visualize. Think pedestal … and gold … and gold and pedestal and pedestal and gold…

Yet I vacillate. Those contortions and leaps transform the human body into momentary, living art — and the athletes smile so innocently between doping tests. Besides, how can you argue against the joy of McKayla Marooney, Kyla Ross, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber? Line them up with the young figure skaters and the case is closed: Anyone daring to say “yeah but” is the curmudgeon’s love child. They’re kids. Don’t you like kids?

Read full post here.

What Would Happen if Environmentalists Learned to Laugh and Play Cards?

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

A question for the eco-friendly: Can we see those outreached hands? They’re there, waiting for us, just beyond the fog of our prim, finger-wagging islands.Surveys show that three out of four U.S. voters favor regulating carbon dioxide emissions; some conservatives are reminding their kin of the word, “conserve”; and faith leaders are framing climate change as a moral issue: the first chapters in Genesis call us to nurture the Earth, not destroy it.

Can we schmooze and trade business cards and crack jokes and slap backs and form partnerships? Or will we keep alienating potential collaborators with a brand of green fundamentalism that anathematizes hunters, fishermen, Bible-believers and meat-and-potatoes lovers, driving them into the fold of the Rev. Jack Hibbs, pastor of the Calvary Chapel in Chino Hills, Calif.: “Environmentalism is nothing more than a pagan worship system”?

I saw the outreached hands during the week of April 22 at a conference in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care. Matthew Sleeth, an evangelical physician and co-founder of Blessed Earth, spoke during the Sunday service at the National Cathedral, where representatives from several prominent seminaries signed a “stewardship alliance” pledging ecological education. We then walked through the rain to an award lunch for writer and activist Wendell Berry. Author Bill McKibben and NASA scientist James Hanson gave plenary remarks on Monday at nearby Saint Sophia, with breakout sessions offering perspectives from Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, Baptists, Jews, as well as scientists and policy makers — and there was Mitch Hescox, CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, freely announcing his GOP affiliation, and Retired Brigadier General Steven Anderson, who organized logistics for General David Petraeus in Afghanistan and saw the military harm of oil-dependence. Anderson echoed his Feb. 3 statements before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee, where he praised our chief executive for not approving the Keystone Pipeline: “Frankly, as a political conservative and as a long-time registered Republican, I don’t often agree with President Obama, but on this matter he absolutely got it right. I strongly oppose the Keystone XL pipeline because it will degrade our national security.” The pipeline would only deepen our nation’s addiction to oil and intensify CO2 emissions.

 Read full post here.

Election 2012: No Absolute Positions

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

Cue the off-key organ grinder monkey music. The postmodern circus has come to town, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich enrolled as the unlikely ring leaders. Step right up and watch them assert “traditional values” while twisting and bending the truth until it snaps. The political Left tries to join the circus but is no good at it, and journalists, truth’s supposed watch dogs, sleep at the door.

Postmodernism is a vague, multi-layered worldview born in the rubble of World War II and nurtured in the iconoclasm of the 1960s. Many of its adherents shun labels — including “postmodernism” — before arguing that our cultural and personal biases so cloud our vision that we cannot see reality. Our concept of “logic” is tethered to a Western-centered saga, or “meta-narrative,” and is really an excuse for our quest for world domination. Objective truth, if it exists at all, is unknowable. We grope with psychological and cultural cataracts. We’re like Clint Eastwood wandering through Alice’s Wonderland while reading the script for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly written on an Etch A Sketch. We can’t even interpret our interpretations — so please, let’s do away with religion’s moral absolutes. As Stanley Fish once said, “The trouble with principle is, first, it does not exist, and second, that nowadays many bad things are done in its name.”

Apparently, principled leaders like Frederick Douglass, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi and Desmond Tutu don’t count.

We can thank the postmodernists for dismantling some of the Enlightenment’s arrogance and applaud them for underscoring our intellectual and cultural hubris, but the baby howls as we lob the bath water: Rendering truth unknowable leaves us with nothing but pretense and posturing. Statements are not measured on their accuracy but on their marketability. We’re peddler’s pawns. The organ grinder drones as the ring leaders portray themselves as awe-shucking, wholesome, home-town boys: we loathe the clowns and lion tamers and acrobats. Trust us. We’re sincere.

Take Rick Santorum, the most unlikely living portrayal of Postmodernism’s flaw. The avid Catholic characterized President Obama as a “snob” because he supposedly wants “everybody in America to go to college.” But Obama actually said this: “Regardless of educational path after high school, all Americans should be prepared to enroll in at least one year of higher education or job training to better prepare our workforce for a 21st-century economy.” Santorum’s remedy to Obama’s “snobbery:” all should “have the opportunity to go to college or any other higher level of training skills.”

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Let’s Grovel in an Old-Time Lent

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

I feel awkward; gauche, even. I’m unqualified for my task: I’m calling for an old-fashioned Lent, a Lent gone viral, a mother of all Lents, a nation-wide Lent in which we marinate in mind-bending guilt and covenant in a vow of silence punctuated with mournful wails. Viking-besieged abbots will view us from the past and envy us.

But that weight of ineligibility: I can feel it. I’ve rarely observed a genuine Lent.

It’s my parents’ fault. They practiced the season with mischievous austerity. There was the pervasive aura of dank fish, of course — and the obligatory Lenten suppers, and the faded purple altar cloths, and the penitence and the remorse — but it was all needled with giggles and snickers. We just couldn’t feel bad. Maybe it was the cheery Southern California weather; maybe it was my mother’s wit (imagine your own mother whispering jokes, then telling you not to laugh in church); or maybe it was my family’s mere Episcopalianism: We were the “almost Catholics,” inept at the high art of pre-Vatican II guilt. We snuck Hershey kisses during our fasts. I was totally ruined when I became a teenaged born-again Christian and a Baptist. Lenten asceticism dwindled into the ethereal past of chalices, robed priests, acolytes and a teasing Mom.

And yet, here I am, begging us to soak in extravagant gloom. No one can talk. Not one word but for those doleful wails.

The need for silence is obvious. Listen to the words of Senator James. M. Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who has been braying unsubstantiated charges ever since 2003: “Climate alarmists see an opportunity here to tax the American people” … “It’s also important to question whether global warming is even a problem for human existence. Thus far no one has seriously demonstrated any scientific proof that increased global warming temperatures would lead to catastrophes predicted by alarmists. In fact, it appears that just the opposite is true: that increases in global temperatures may have a beneficial effect on how we live our lives.” And on he rants. Hear him in 2010: “I don’t think anyone disagrees with the fact that we actually are in a cold period that started about nine years ago.”

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The Far-Right Fringe Embarrasses the Pro-Life Movement — Again

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

I can’t help but wonder: Are some pro-life advocates hermetically sealed in a ghettoized world of circular logic? They must be. It’s the only explanation. No one else would spoon-feed the opposition with ready-made quotes for their publicity brochures. Sweet-smiling pro-choice convention receptionists can now hand out pamphlets featuring pictures of frowning, stereotypical finger-waggers. Captions blare: “We’ve always said they don’t care about babies once they’re born. Now we know they’re not exactly charitable about fetuses.”

The most recent wave of circuitous reasoning came in reaction to the sound arguments of Mitch Hescox, President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, who testified before the House Energy and Power Subcommittee on the merits of Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at reducing mercury pollution from coal-fired plants (research indicates that one in six children are born with threatening mercury levels). Essentially, Hescox stood on a solid “Consistent Life” foundation, which places the protection of the unborn within a broader pro-life context: All human life is sacred, from conception to the grave which means curbing mercury levels is a pro-life issue: “Let’s not endanger our children with a substance we can control,” said Hescox. “We must protect the weakest in our society, the unborn, from mercury poisoning.”

The spigot of ghettoized logic broke and the rush flowed. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), who has previously speculated that we live on a planet starved of carbon dioxide, quoted from a statement on the Cornwall Alliance website: “The life in pro-life denotes not quality of life but life itself” and only refers to “opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies.” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) scoured for straw men: “I find it extremely ironic that Rev. Michell Hescox and the Evangelical Environmental Network think that the pro-life agenda is best aligned with a movement that believes there are too many people in the world, actively promotes population control, and sees humans principally as polluters.”

Read the attachments to Hescox’s testimony, Senator. See the announcement from the US Conference on Catholic Bishops, which quotes Bishop Stephen Blaire. He and his colleagues “welcome” the new EPA standards: “In the end it just makes good sense to want to have clean air for our children and families to breathe and for future generations.”

Last I checked, the good bishops still frowned on population control.

Read full post here.

A Pre-fab Candidate With Pre-fab Pronouncements for a Pre-fab Country

By Blogger Chuck Redfern

Let’s wag our fingers while we howl our hollow laughs: Mitt Romney is the focus group’s love child, the marketer’s political pin-up, the self-proclaimed experienced “leader” who displays mere salesmanship. He transforms like a shape-shifter on abortion and global warming and mouths opinion-poll platitudes: Obama is an appeaser, a socialist, a failed CEO. Romney, the contemporary synthetic candidate, trashes substantial and crucial argument like so many wads of waste paper. Who knows? He may ply his way into the White House like Jack Kennedy, who won the 1960 election because of a better make-up artist (lucky for us, he made a decent president).

Pin a polka-dot tie on him and put him in a used car lot.

Easy targets like Romney blind us to our murky secret: We, the supposedly innocent electorate, made him. The American character has sunk to such nihilistic depths that we prefer the marketer over the leader. We repeatedly vote in the dealers and peddlers and negative campaigners. We claim we want the truth but reward professional presidential candidates like Mitt Romney. We’ve laid the lot on which they hawk their jalopies, then complain they’ve sold us lemons.

Not to drill the point home or anything, but we get the people we vote for. We’re the problem. Romney is a symptom, not the disease.

We’d cultivate Joshua 1:6 if we wanted true leadership. God counsels Joshua: “Be strong and courageous” and repeats the call in verses 7, 9, and 18. Think of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader who walked alone in the face of soldiers aiming guns with shoot-to-kill orders in 1989. A major countermanded the order at the last moment and she lived – only to spend many subsequent years under house arrest. Think of Nelson Mandela and his 27-year prison stint or Mother Theresa in Calcutta’s slums. Or think of the heritage in Romney’s own party: Theodore Roosevelt bucked the special interests, busted huge trusts, and befriended the infant labor movement while cultivating a business-friendly environment; Thomas Dewey, who would eventually become one of the New York’s greatest governors, boldly walked through the city streets when he was a prosecutor, knowing mobsters had ordered a hit on him. Dewey lost the 1948 presidential election when he uncharacteristically withheld his views and tried to coast into the White House, but his influence played a crucial role in the formation of the moderate Eisenhower Republican.

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Liberating Advent and escaping the mire

By Blogger Rev. Chuck Redfern

I feel the ground rumble as the panic-stricken advertisers stampede. Someone just told them we should rescue Advent from its kidnappers and let it roam all year. Advent was meant to be a season of prayer and fasting, with the look and feel of Lent. The shopping malls would open late and close early. We would slow down and dwell in Christ. Activists would join contemplatives in the ancient disciplines of stillness, meditation and contemplation — all of which would kindle a cool fire inflamed with resolve, conviction, compassion, and contentment. We’d be peaceful enthusiasts, free from the allure of gaudy knickknacks forged from the fossils’ ooze.

Thus the advertisers’ dread: Our sputtering economy will collapse; our malls will mutate into eerie ghost villages forever replaying Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” The advertisers bank on the kidnapping, with 25 to 40 percent of their sales hinging on a winter-time spending spree — so re-fasten the locks on the kidnap victim’s cage and form triage units for pepper spray sufferers. We feel for them, of course, but these are the days of collateral damage.

But deceleration is inevitable. We face a choice: Will we volunteer for a resurgent, spirit-enriching slow down or will we stumble into the Hobbesian mire? Our lubricant is running dry. Oil greases our entire economy. It’s the building block for the debris littering my desk, including my plastic fork and my salad’s polystyrene cup. We sweat oil – and indications are it will keep dripping off our nose: The International Energy Agency released a gloomy report showing that world-wide fuel demands “rebounded by a remarkable 5% in 2010, pushing CO2 emissions to a new high.” More developing countries demand oil as they leap into industrialization, erasing chances of significant price declines as the resource dries up. Even worse, the window for effective implementation of sound climate-change policy may soon slam shut: average global temperatures may rise by six degrees centigrade or more – far above the safer, agreed-upon goal of a 3.5-degree increase. A dim ray of hope sneaks in from a paper inScience suggesting the Earth is more resilient, but its writers warn against complacency. Andreas Schmitter, the lead author, said this: “Our study implies that we still have time to prevent (serious effects) from happening, if we make a concerted effort to change course soon” (emphasis added).

So which will it be? Advent’s cool fire or the searing explosion from the collision of our paramount issues?

The discipline of stillness is the fire’s hearth. The shopping season’s noise fades and we catch whispers of the Life behind all life, the one whom Augustine described as the “Absolute Is.” We’ll resonate with God’s assurance to the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). We slowly understand that Madison Avenue’s roar has veiled the truly significant; the ooze’s trinkets lure us from the real treasure.

Meditation — the Hebrew word means “mumbling” or “muttering” — is the hearth’s log. The ancients literally spoke under their breath when they repeated Psalm 1:2: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night,” or Psalm 119:15: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.” They muttered God’s instructions; they mumbled over God’s works (Psalm 143:5); they murmured over God’s wonders (Psalm 119:27). Mutterers strolled between synagogues instead of screaming between shopping malls

And then comes the fire itself: God meets us in contemplation’s “gaze of faith” and “silent love.” One Oriental Orthodox thinker describes contemplation as “the soul’s inward vision and the heart’s simple repose in God.” John of the Cross portrayed it this way: “The difference (between meditation and contemplation) … is like the difference between working, and enjoyment of the fruit of our work; between receiving the gift, and profiting by it; between the toil of traveling and the rest of our journey’s end.” We marinate in the Holy Spirit and emerge with Christ’s convictions and personality. He knew when to be firm and when to be soft. He healed lepers and railed against the Pharisees; he blessed Peter and called him Satan; he loved the rich young ruler and told him to give away all his money.

In his sobering book, Eaarth, Bill McKibben convincingly argues that we’ve already exhausted ourselves: The weather is already changing; our frenetic, oil-guzzling culture has already gobbled up entire species as it stumbles in the mire’s fringe. We must slow down. And there lies the opening: The world begs for an Advent people – a people willing to decelerate, soak in Christ, grasp his convictions and his nature, and bring his character into a hot, crowded, energy-starved world boiling in a noxious alchemy of uncompromising gridlock and indecisiveness.

So throw in the kindling and watch the cool fire glow. Free the original Advent from its cage. We can warm ourselves in its blaze and bring that warmth to the shopping malls. Who knows? We may even calm a hyperventilating advertiser.

 Chuck Redfern is Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church in Meriden.