Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Cliff

When Mitt Romney suspended his campaign earlier this week, he gave a speech that was so ludicrous, so asinine, so unbelievable that I thought The Onion had started speech-writing. And that gave me an idea. So I wrote a news article. Believe it or not, the Romney quotes are real...everything else is a tad bit exaggerated.

Democrats form coalition of cowardice

Yesterday afternoon in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mitt Romney suspended his presidential campaign.

“Today we are a nation at war.” Romney said, “And Barack and Hillary have made their intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror: They would retreat, declare defeat…Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror.” Mr. Romney’s decision to accept defeat in his campaign while denying defeat in Iraq was widely praised by conservative pundits. Some applauded Romney’s selfless departure from the race and many more were simply relieved that the former Massachusetts governor could now stop wasting his money and their time.

For their part, the Democratic candidates spent much of Thursday afternoon offering responses to Romney’s assertions about their patriotism.

Barack Obama held a town hall meeting to address Romney’s accusations. “Mitt Romney stated today that I had made my intentions clear regarding Iraq and the war on terror. Perhaps I have not been clear enough. I am not only in favor of diplomacy, but I also have every intention of retreating, declaring defeat and bowing down to the fanatical terrorists in Iraq and throughout the world. That is my dream for these United States of America. In fact, today I will release a plan for converting the White House into a golden domed mosque, complete with signs in Arabic proclaiming America’s identity as the Great Satan. We have waited long enough for a leader with the courage to retreat. Our time has come. We are the cowardice that we have been waiting for. Allah akhbar. Yes we can.” The crowds in Nebraska cheered raucously as Obama completed his inspirational speech, chanting “Yes. We. Can…Yes. We. Can.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton frantically scheduled a press conference, attempting to establish her credentials as a fearful traitor in her own right. “My opponent talks of surrendering. Well, I have been surrendering for 35 years, and I believe I represent the kind of experience this country needs as it begins ceding territories to terrorists throughout the world. It’s fine and good to talk about changing the White House, but the question is who’s most prepared to yield to foreign threats from day one. I am that candidate.” Senator Clinton then started to cry.

When asked about her comments, Clinton responded, “A lot of people have been under the impression that we simply disagree with conservatives. I believe they have missed the point: we are cowardly traitors and they are brave warriors for democracy. As the primary season draws to a close, we need to highlight those differences. Without getting personal, of course.”

Despite Romney’s accusations, voters continue clamoring for change. When asked about the Democratic candidates’ newly announced surrender initiatives, many voters applauded, as citizens appear inexplicably eager to vote for traitors and donate to weak-willed liberals. An AP Poll asked likely voters for their thoughts regarding Obama’s White House Mosque plan. While 16 percent of voters stated they always knew Obama was a Muslim extremist, 62 percent thought cowardice deserved a try given how poorly eight years of imperialistic patriotism had turned out. Interestingly, the other 22 percent assumed the quotes were manufactured by Bill Clinton. No matter their opinions, voters were universally in favor of Romney’s withdrawal. Chicago-area voter Joseph Gruber commented, “I don’t mind retreating, so long as we won’t have to listen to him anymore.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Lenten Meditation from Cliff

I shared my first post-college apartment with six recovering drug addicts and a roommate whose naiveté was matched only by my own inexperience. Emmaus Ministries recruited us both to live in community and serve as staff members for a newly opened residential recovery home: Emmaus House. Our compensation was room, board, medical insurance, a CTA card and $20 a week. At first, it seemed like we had very little to offer. Neither of us could draw from our experiences living on the streets. We lacked clinical training. And the apartment that was supposed to provide shelter and hope and transformation struck us as meager at best. The carpet was worn and threadbare. Our off-white walls were completely bare. Bunk beds had been constructed, but the bedrooms lacked any semblance of privacy. The only furniture was donated, and the only full bathroom still seemed dirty after hours of scrubbing and scouring. HGTV could have spent an entire season on that single apartment. We had come together to offer a home to men who desperately needed someplace warm, inviting, and safe. Looking around that battered first floor flat in Uptown, I feared that our little community would seem woefully inadequate to future housemates.

What I failed to realize then was that our apartment was something special. Our guests slept on clean mattresses beside dressers and night stands. We ate dinner around a small table, but we broke bread together as family. My roommate and I were staff members, but we were also community members and our tiny hovel of a room was the smallest in the apartment. When my housemates walked in the front door after a long day of meetings and job interviews, they did not notice the carpet…or walls…or furniture. Music played in the family room. Smells wafted from the tiny kitchen. Laughter echoed from the front porch where our guys smoked together. I cannot deny that we had very little to offer those men, but I came to realize that a home was more than a physical place. Home meant being more than a statistic. Home meant having housemates that wept with you. Home meant shelter from not only rain but from the constant weariness of the streets.

Finding my way home involves fairly little struggle: I have a loving family, a double income household and every demographic advantage imaginable. Living at Emmaus House taught me that sometimes finding the way home is a lifelong struggle against all odds where one day offers respite and the next day another setback. Each and every man who called that apartment home was simply stopping through along a much longer journey. But for a while, at least, they knew a home whose chief attribute was not skylights or wall hangings but grace. Our little house hosted many residents and screaming matches and heartbreaks and lessons. But two years later (yes, my roommate and I stayed around for two years) I knew that we had provided a place where weary travelers could find their way home. And when you have been homeless, the color of the walls means far less than knowing someone will leave a light on for you. Every single night.

- Clifton Johnson

A Lenten Meditation from Amber

One should not take one’s theology from the pages of Women’s Health magazine. In general, this is a good (and perhaps obvious) rule to live by. Strange, then, how an article from this magazine has given me a new look at Lent.

When we face temptation, we tend to avoid admitting we’re tempted, said an article in the magazine. We look the other way. We say, I don’t really need that. Sometimes we try the sour grapes approach: I’m sure it’s not as good as it looks. What we rarely do, when faced with a temptation, is look at it dead-on and say, I want it. I really want it. And I will not have it.

Women’s Health may have been talking about avoiding chocolate cake, but for me this observation was pure theology. It reminded me that giving something up at Lent should not just be about the act of making a sacrifice: it’s also about the act of identifying that which tempts us. What I had been missing in my Lenten sacrifice was the admission of my temptations.

When I first began to observe Lent, I was careful in the selection of what I would give up, making sure I chose something that would really pinch - something that, on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, required me to examine some aspect of my life. The choice felt solemn to me, as it was a way – however small – to know the sacrifice of Christ.

But as I grew more accustomed to the idea of Lent, my motives became more about self-improvement than sacrifice. (Perhaps I’m not the only one who has given up desserts for Lent as a religiously-enforced diet plan.) My choices of what to give up were cheapened because my motives were questionable. When I stopped to think about my motives, I found that my choices seemed unbearably deficient compared to the sacrifice of Christ.

Women’s Health reminded me that a sacrifice is as much about facing temptation as it is about going without. Desires are strongest when the possibility of fulfilling them is tangibly close. Knowing what tempts us tells us a lot about our spiritual state and the unmet needs in our lives. The Devil tempted Christ with food, safety and power: Christ faced these temptations and sacrificed immediate gratification.

This year, my Lenten commitment is to give up every unnecessary purchase. Sure, it will be a sacrifice to go without the occasional vanilla latte, but I think I’ll feel a greater pinch in the grocery store aisles as I hold a carton of ice cream and attempt to determine if it qualifies as a necessary item. Will I redefine “necessary” to make the ice cream permissible? I think facing my temptations will reveal a lot about my relationship to money, and about how I spend money to comfort myself or show love to others.

My sacrifices will still be petty compared to those of Christ, but that comparison is unfair. What I can ask of myself is an unflinching honesty to face the pinch of Lent – both the temptation and the sacrifice – and emerge stronger 40 days later.

– Amber Johnson