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Archive for May 2010

Doesn’t diversity mean Protestants, too?

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If Elena Kagan is confirmed, it will be the first time three women have served on the Supreme Court. She will be the third Jew to join six Catholic Justices on a Protestant-free Court. What does that mean for President Obama’s pledge to diversify the federal government?

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, has some penetrating thoughts on that and other implications of Kagan’s choice — and the selection process in general.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, president, National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Hirschfield is the author of You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right. He’s also a blogger for the Huffington Post and the Washington Post “On Faith” column.

Here are his bullet points:

The religious background and/or affiliation of the justices ought to be irrelevant, but the decision to create a Protestant-free court may violate the president’s own principles. If not, it sends a clear message about the relative unimportance of religion, at least compared to gender identity.

President Obama made it clear that personal life experience and the awareness it creates should be factors in determining who is best suited to serve as a Justice (for instance, his selection of Justice Sotomayor, who cited the value of her experiences as a Latina.)

The idea that justices interpret the law in some abstract way, uninfluenced by all their previous experiences, is inane. But if life experience matters, then a Protestant-free court is not unimportant.

Why is gender experience relevant, but religious experience not important? Why is it important to have a court with which more American can identify in terms of gender, but not a court with which they can identify in terms of faith?

It’s time for conservatives to give up the naïve notion of judicial neutrality. And it’s time for liberals to give up the claim that they are the inclusive ones. People include what they like and exclude what they don’t. The sooner we are honest about that, the healthier the process of appointing and confirming judges will be.

The issue should be brilliance, not balance. We should save political battles for elections and accept that officials will appoint judges who reflect their understanding of the law, and stop worrying about a judge’s identity ─ religious, gender or otherwise.

Written by Jim Davis

May 12, 2010 at 4:37 am

Networking for Earth

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Green is good. That’s the simple idea behind Climatarians.org. Instead of majoring on philosophy and theology, this site helps people link up for “sustainable goods and services.”

Founded by Dutch entrepreneur Joost Hoogstrate, Climatarians has blogs, events, job openings, message boards and other tools for joining forces. With links on organic farming, solar power, desalination, natural cosmetics, environmental politics and much more, this site could keep you occupied for weeks. (The text could be a bit sharper, though.)

Some of the concepts are pretty advanced. One is “agroforestry,” integrating farming and forestry for healthier land use. Another considers using ocean waves and tides as renewable energy. Still another brings up “garden offices”: workspaces in open, leafy settings to make workers more relaxed and productive.

Warning: Companies pay to get in the directory. Some want customers. Others appear to be seeking investors. Judge their pitches accordingly.

But the site is still unfinished, even though it was founded in July 2009. Many of the headings, like “Social Ecology,” have a short introductory paragraph, but no links.

The “news” section isn’t so great: Most of the articles seem to be opinion columns by members of the site. Among the less-than-brilliant remarks: Possessions don’t make you happy; oil companies should not be trusted; and some climatologists are frauds.

Like many good sites, Climatarians connects with social sites like Facebook. Login there, and you’re logged in here.

Written by Jim Davis

May 10, 2010 at 12:18 am

DVD Review: ‘The Imposter’

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Prodigal son stories are always popular with Christians — the sinner who sees the error of his ways and returns to the fold — and the theme has been done to exhaustion in books and films. So The Imposter starts out handicapped.

And the filmmakers know it. At the start of this Pure Flix release, a voiceover says, “Yeah, this is a Christian story, and I know what you’re thinking: ‘Let’s just skip to where our hero hurtles down the aisle and falls to his knees, cries, then stands up a problem-free man’ . . . But God’s more interested in our hero going through a process than zapping him with spiritual morphine.” Nice try, but that doesn’t safeguard it from triteness.

Johnny C (Kevin Max, formerly of the Christian rap-pop group DC Talk) is a rising star as lead singer of a Christian rock group called Grand Design. They pack out auditoriums with fans who seem to scream for Johnny as much as Jesus. Worse, Johnny flirts with girls onstage, fools around with them offstage, and won’t admit to being hooked on pills.

None of that sits well with his wife, who leaves him, taking their young daughter with her. The head of Grand Design also doesn’t like it: He kicks him off the group.

Johnny divides his time between more pills, more babes and calls to his wife telling her he’s shaping up. After a failed attempt to restart his career — including a beating from loan sharks — he thumbs rides cross-country to try and reconcile with his wife. But she won’t take him back even after he cleans up.

His mentor, Proff, backs her up, but offers him a job cleaning toilets at a church. And he gets occasional words of wisdom from a crazy-but-wise homeless man (Tom Wright from World Trade Center) who has somehow befriended him.

It may not spoil any surprises to reveal that Johnny doesn’t get his family back or return to the rock group, at least at the end of the film. But he does end up humbled and hopeful.

The Imposter does have its moments. Proff is the film’s conscience, challenging everyone to examine their motives. He asks Grand Design’s head, James (a credible Jeff Deyo), if he really wants Johnny to get better, or just wants to make himself feel better.

Also good is Johnny’s evangelist father, who raises eyebrows in a counseling session. “They fired you for doing a little hound-dogging?” he says. “I taught you never to get caught.” Dad even confesses he’s stepped out a few times himself.

Casting is fair, with obvious attempts to cash in on bits of renown. Kevin Max projects a good mix of sincerity and sleaziness. Also good are his piercing voice and confident delivery, though he’s a bit pudgy these days to be a leading man. Proff’s casting is a major disappointment. He’s played by Kerry Livgren, a veteran of the secular rock group Kansas and the Christian rock group A.D. But apart from the closing credits, he doesn’t perform onscreen at all.

There’s some tension with Johnny’s lies and relapses. And the film has a few mediocre music videos, which don’t add much to the mood or message.

It’s hard to tell who is the intended audience for this film. It isn’t graphic enough for secular viewers in showing Johnny’s infidelity. That would leave church audiences. Will they face the depiction of sin in pulpits as well as Christian rock groups? Nice thought. I wonder.

If you’re still interested in the film, check out its website.

Written by Jim Davis

May 7, 2010 at 4:05 am

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