Monday, September 30, 2013

When It Comes to Governing, Will The Crazies Win?

Filibuster (noun) 1.the use of irregular or obstructive tactics by a member of a legislative assembly to prevent the adoption of a measure generally favored; to force a decision against the will of the majority.           --Random House Dictionary

Just in case you missed it, last week United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) secured his place in American history by speaking on the floor of that august legislative body for 21 hours and 19 minutes straight, the fourth longest filibuster ever. No stops. No breaks. No interruptions, though it makes me wonder just how and if he went to the bathroom. But that’s another column.

Why Cruz’s tireless tirade? He wants to defund, stop, halt, do all he can, anything he can, to derail “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (PPACA), passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2010.  You know, the healthcare law, the most significant overhaul of our country’s healthcare system since Medicare and Medicaid passed in 1965. 

PPACA’s goals are pretty simple and good: to ensure access to affordable health insurance and health care for the 48.6 million Americans who lack coverage. Minimum wage workers, young adults, day laborers, independent contractors, the unemployed, folks who work for companies that either cannot or do not provide insurance, eight million children.

The law seeks to bring a measure of security and peace of mind to every last American citizen, anyone who gets sick, anyone who worries about whether a trip to the doctor or hospital spells doom, and not just for the body but also for the wallet. But apparently, in Cruz’s opinion “ObamaCare” (as he calls it) will instead lead to the downfall of the republic, the bankruptcy of the federal government, and the apocalypse.    

As Cruz said in his filibuster, “I rise today in opposition to ObamaCare…to speak for 26 million Texans and for 300 million Americans. All across this country Americans are suffering because of ObamaCare….By any measure ObamaCare is a far less intimidating foe than those I have discussed (Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, etc.), with the possible exception of the Moon.  The Moon might be as intimidating.”  Hmmm. The moon?

He continued, in no particular order: “Duck Dynasty is one of the most popular shows on TV. It is about a God-fearing family of successful entrepreneurs who love guns, who love to hunt and believe in the American dream.” And, “I am a big fan of eating White Castle burgers.” Cruz also read "Green Eggs and Ham".  Guess when you have 1,279 minutes to fill, you wing it.

Did I mention he also held up some other rather important government business? Funding the government so it won’t shut down. Raising the debt limit so Uncle Sam won’t default on trillions of dollars in debt, which could rock the markets and even destabilize the entire world economy.

Cruz’s filibuster did fail.  The Senate finally voted to get back to business.   But the sideshow plays on and Cruz and his apostles—who just as rabidly also want to trash health care for all—they are still in the game.  Even though the health care law is the law already. Even though a government shut down won’t derail the PPACA—it is exempt from defunding. Even though the President has made it clear he will veto any bill killing or altering the law. Most ironic of all is that Cruz represents the state with the absolute worst record of caring for the uninsured, Texas, where 24 percent of his constituents lack any coverage, including almost 1.4 million kids.  (Massachusetts’ coverage rate is 96 percent.)

So here’s my unadulterated take on the honorable Senator from the Lone Star state and his historic histrionics. Cruz is crazy. Crazy, as in willing to crash down an entire government and the largest economy in the world all to make a point—or perhaps more important for him, to win an election, to get on the TV news shows, to light up Twitter, and to be the darling of his equally rabid disciples.

The most ominous thing of all is that there is crazy funny and then there’s crazy scary.  Cruz may have finally stopped talking but his act, his shtick, his performance, he and his ilk? They are still standing, spoiling for a fight.  For there is much more at stake in the health care debate than just whether or not we as a society can care for the least among us: the vulnerable, the young, the economically exposed, the sick. Call me crazy but as a person of faith I want to see every last American cared for. 

The craziest thing of all is that Cruz and those of his political stripe do not seem to care one bit about the fundamental question of whether or not we as a nation can even govern ourselves anymore.  The answer to that challenge, more than any one law, is what really needs to be debated. 

Will the crazies win? God help us all.

The Reverend John F. Hudson is Senior Pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (  If you have a word or idea you’d like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to or in care of The Dover-Sherborn Press (

Monday, September 23, 2013

One Dead Computer. One Hard Life Lesson.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  --Arthur C. Clarke


That’s the absolute worst message I’ve ever received as a writer, this blinking missive which appeared on the ominous black screen of my computer last week when I turned it on.  After a working life of a little more than just three months, my sleek, brand new, ultraportable, cutting edge, touch screen notebook died, taking with it, I feared, the book I had worked on all summer, some 30,000 words. And my last ten newspaper columns. And several sermons. And my vacation photos too. 

No, NO, NO, NOOOO!!!!!!

So first I prayed.  Then almost wept.  Turned the computer on and off a bunch of times.  Spoke soothingly, then desperately to it. “Come on...please…pretty please. COME ON!!! WORK!!! PLEASE!!!!!!”  But there was nothing, just one damning sentence: “hard drive not recognized”. Through careful retrieval by other means, I’ve been able to find most of what was lost and yet I’m still confronted with a technology train wreck, this binary betrayal.

The manufacturer (who’ll remain nameless but whose initials, ironically, could stand for “Happy People”) promises to repair or replace the unit with a brand new one.  This hollow reassurance came from oh so polite and oh so unintelligible service reps, speaking to me on the phone from somewhere in the bowels of a call center in the wilds of Asia.  The technician actually tried to talk me through disassembling the unit and jiggling its hard drive (I can’t make this stuff up) but it was for naught. So now I await a pre-addressed Federal Express box, a computer coffin, to send my comatose machine back to Tennessee, where a nameless technician will try to resurrect it or pronounce it, finally, dead on arrival. 

Ah technology.  I’m kind of geeky and very dependent when it comes to my modern machines. Like many folks, I love my gadgets.  Love my laptop, for with it I can study and write anywhere. Love my cell phone for through it I can connect to others in seconds. Love the net for there in cyberspace I can “click” and rent a car or buy a plane ticket or purchase anything, all from the comfort of my easy chair.  Love my DVR for then I control what I watch, when I watch it.  Even love my GPS. I never get lost anymore. 

Yet the crash of my computer reminds me of one basic technology truth, a non-negotiable dogma when it comes to all of our flashy techno baubles. No matter how high tech we humans go, no matter how dependent we are upon our machines, finally these miracles of machination are soulless constructs.  Bunches of wire and silicon chips, held together by metal screws and drips of solder.

We may imagine, even experience machines as magic, yet the reality is that our devices are just tools, implements, no more alive or vital than a lawn mower or a screw driver or a toaster.  What matters is what we as thinking, breathing, living, sentient human beings bring, or do not bring, to all the technology we invite into this life.

So while the act of my writing is aided by a computer, the muse who inspires my words comes from God, from my soul, from my humanity, not the inanimate thing upon which I type.  The friends I claim on Facebook are not really “friends”—not in a true sense. Unless I connect authentically to them beyond a screen, they are computer code, a string of ones and zeroes. A text message connects me instantly to another but I must never forget that there is a real flesh and blood person on the receiving end of that communication.  

Machines do matter.  Machines are amazing in what they can help us do. Machines are radically transforming our human experience of the world. But eventually computers die. Phones seize up. The power goes out and our home entertainment behemoth becomes nothing more than dead weight.

So pass me a pencil and a sheet of paper. It’s time to do some writing. I’ll go back to my technology but will never again assume it is magic.  No. Give me a human touch instead. No hard drive needed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Think We're The Center of the Universe? Think Again.

Dateline: Monday, September 5th, 1977
Gasoline costs 62 cents a gallon. The top rated TV show is “Charlie’s Angels”. “Star Wars” breaks box office records. At the disco you can boogie down to “Keep It Comin’ Love” by K.C. and the Sunshine band and wear your powder blue leisure suit. Techies rave about Radio Shack’s new home computer, the TRS 80.  President Jimmy Carter signs a treaty to hand over control of the Panama Canal. Carl Yastrzemski leads the Sox over the Blue Jays 6-0. NASA launches the Voyager I spacecraft to study the outer solar system, hoping the ship will successfully send back information about the universe for the next four years.
Dateline, Monday, September 5th, 2013
Gasoline costs $3.65 a gallon.  The top rated TV show is Sunday Night Football.  Miley Cyrus’ twerking on MTV blasts her song “Wrecking Ball” up the charts.  “Iron Man III” total box office is $1.4 billion dollars. Google averages 388 million visits a day. The U.S. threatens to bomb Syria. Led by Stephen Drew, the first place Sox beat the Yankees 9-8 in extra innings.
Oh, and one more news flash from that day. NASA announces Voyager I has left our solar system, traveled 11.8 billion miles in thirty six years. Even more amazing, it is still transmitting discoveries about space back to those of us living here on little old earth. Kind of unbelievable. Kind of puts things in perspective. 
How far is 11.8 billion miles? 127 round trips to the sun.  Voyager is so far away now and still going, that its radio signals take 17 hours and 22 minutes just to get back to earth.  It is so “out there” in the vastness of creation that its next major encounter with a “known” star will be in 40,000 years. That long ago on planet earth our cave dwelling relatives shared the world with Neanderthals. In 120,000 human generations I wonder who might be around to “listen” if Voyager is still talking. 
The vast and dark and huge space which Voyager whirls through—just how big is it? No one knows for sure. The farthest distant point NASA scientists have been able to “see” is 14 billion light years away so light traveling from there, back to us, at 700 million miles per hour puts that star how far away? I don’t know. My calculator doesn’t work at that level. Let’s just say it’ll take more than a tank of gas to get there.
Trying to comprehend the cosmos that Voyager is still mapping is a humbling exercise. Yet still, we humans are an odd lot even in the face of such infinity. We can easily presume our diminutive planet is the center of all things.  That the limited time we claim on earth, our era, our epoch, our culture: it so important. So world changing. So significant. So one of a kind. Never been before. Never to be seen again. I guess that’s kind of natural for any species, to view itself as the big man on the cosmos campus. 
  To see ourselves as almighty, capable of taming nature, understanding existence, cracking the “God” gene, manipulating DNA, making machines intelligent, masters of the universe.  We are the champions!  The height of God’s Creation, even. Heck we twerk! That’s one for the ages, huh? 
And then a story like the Voyager tale comes along and it reminds us that humans are just tiny little participants, specks in a universe that is so big, so huge, and so unfathomable in size and mystery.  When we remember that truth, it can change, perhaps, how we see life, and ourselves. It can remind us to take our rightful place in all things. Maybe we are not the center of the universe after all.
Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, tells of how he felt while standing on the lunar surface in 1969, looking back at earth floating in a black sky. “It suddenly struck me that this tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” 
 Fellow citizens of the third rock from the sun. Here’s a hope. Let’s remember just who we are and where we stand in the universe.  Admit we are small, and the universe is all. We matter, yes, but no more and no less than any other of our fellow humans or fellow creatures or any other life which just might exist somewhere “out there”.  That’s a perspective we could all use.
So: GO VOYAGER GO! Keep on traveling. May your journey remind us to take our rightful place in God’s universe, on the tiny blue marble we all call home.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Prayer for September 11th

O God of all time…we find it hard to believe that it has been 4380 days, 12 years, since one day many of us will never forget, September 11, 2001.  A beautiful fall day with blues skies that seemed to go on forever, a day like any other, like this day, a day unlike any other.   Normal life was suddenly jolted into abnormality. Many truths we took for granted crumbled that morning when the planes came, the buildings shook and burned and crumbled and 2,980 of our fellow citizens died.  Stockbrokers and janitors, firefighters and police officers, the old and the young, people from our country and from 90 other countries.  And so this day we mourn, God, we remember our fallen.  We give thanks for their lives and trust that they are with you .  We pray for their loved ones who still are haunted by memory, hurt by loss, who grieve.  We pray God that we might not succumb to terror, then, now; that this fear would not, will not take us away from our work in life to always seek to love, even in the face of hate. To create with you a world where all people, all religions, all nations live in peace. To live lives of service to you and to our neighbors and to strangers.  Bless us God on this September 11th.  Help us to always remember, never forget.  All this we ask in the name of hope, mercy, sacrifice and love, in you, for you, with you.  Amen.   

Monday, September 9, 2013

There Is No Such Thing As a "Moral" War

“When Jesus said to ‘love our enemies’, I think he probably meant don’t kill them.”
--Linda K. Williams, Church of the Brethren

War is morally wrong. 

There it is: why I oppose the United States going to war against Syria. 

I suppose I could bury that declaration somewhere several lines down in this essay, maybe after a list of grim statistics about the real cost of going to war these days. Something about the thousands of civilian deaths which always result from war. A 2011 report from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies estimates at least 132,000 civilians have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. That’s a powerful anti-war argument.

Or perhaps I could talk about just how much the United States has spent on these two wars since 2001: $1.49 trillion dollars, according to the latest figures from Congress and the budget office of the President. Imagine what those funds could have been used for by Uncle Sam: education, health care, housing, help for the poor, infrastructure.  That’s a convincing anti-war stance.    

I could attempt to refute the hawks who push for war, the earnest, breathless cases for attack made by President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Speaker John Boehner and Senator John McCain. That bombing Syria will be “limited” to air strikes. That it won’t involve U.S. boots on the ground. That we must wage war as a nation to ensure the use of chemicals weapons is swiftly punished by the international “civilized” community. 

Has there ever really been any limited war?  Is war somehow “cleaner”, “better” if it only kills and injures non-Americans?  Is chemical warfare any more heinous than say, genocide or unmanned drone strikes or folks killed in the “collateral” damages of war—women, children, civilians in the wrong place when the bombs start dropping?  That’s a compelling way to mute the drums of war now beating across Washington, D.C.

Or how about arguing against war by just naming out loud that term itself, “war”.  Notice that all of the folks pushing for us to start hostilities don’t use the “war” word.  Obama and company’s mantra is “military action”. They know Americans are exhausted from twelve years of continuous war making. That Americans are very skeptical about the efficacy of any war actually “working”. That Americans are burnt out from being the sole policeman on the world stage.

So have no doubt. If we and other nations attack Syria, it will be an act of war, regardless of any euphemisms used to justify it.  War is war is war. That’s a powerful denial of going to war.   

But here’s my argument against this war, a case no one speaks of anymore, at least not our elected officials or the media. War itself is inherently immoral as a human act, always has been, always will be. We may think we are waging a “good war” and argue we do so to protect the innocent, prevent further attacks or topple some “evil” regime or person.

Yet war by its nature is always messy, bloody, violent, filled with death and suffering and unintended consequences. War takes down all who live in its path, the “guilty” and the innocent, the combatant and the bystander. War changes forever those who make war and those who experience war.  Ask any veteran about war: they’ll tell you the truth about its chaos, how it forces women and men to do things they’d never think they could do.  War represents the last desperate act of humanity.  War denies God’s vision and hope for Creation: peace on earth, goodwill to all.    

We may keep on returning to war as a species to solve our conflicts, but longevity and familiarity does not equal morality.  War was wrong. War is wrong. War will always be wrong. 

So let’s debate, yes. But this time, God help us to name the immorality of combat before once again unleashing the dogs of war.