We need to re-familiarize ourselves with the fact that the point of the constitution's explicitly giving the president the title of commander-in-chief was not to make him into a quasi-military figure. It was precisely the opposite -- to create no doubt that the armed forces answered not to a chief of staff or senior general or even a Secretary of Defense (originally, Secretaries of War and Navy) but to a civilian elected officeholder who operates with the constrained and limited power of that world rather than the unbound authority of military command.
We've gotten the relationship seriously out of whack
One can understand how it is that we've gotten so used to this formulation over the last several years, especially given that Bush almost exclusively refers to himself with this title, but as others have noted, the President is not the "commander-in-chief" of the American people. He is the commander-in-chief of the U.S. military. It is one aspect of his office among others. To the degree that we elevate it to the exclusive qualification for President, we dangerously ignore the fullness of the President's responsibilities.
Apparently, the ever-in-dispute provenance of the Serenity prayer continues to be in dispute:
Generations of recovering alcoholics, soldiers, weary parents, exploited workers and just about anybody feeling beaten down by life have found solace in a short prayer that begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Now the Serenity Prayer is about to endure a controversy over its authorship that is likely to be anything but serene.
For more than 70 years, the composer of the prayer was thought to be the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of modern Christianity’s towering figures. Niebuhr, who died in 1971, said he was quite sure he had written it, and his wife, Ursula, also a prominent theologian, dated its composition to the early 1940s.
Apparently, a librarian at Yale University has found some close parallels to the prayer dating from the 1930s. This, needless to say, has upset Niebuhr's daughter, Elisabeth Sifton.
His daughter Elisabeth Sifton, a book editor and publisher, wrote a book about the prayer in 2003 in which she described her father first using it in 1943 in an “ordinary Sunday service” at a church in the bucolic Massachusetts town of Heath, where the Niebuhr family spent summers.
Ms. Sifton faults Mr. Shapiro’s approach as computer-driven and deprived of historical and theological context. In an interview, she said her father traveled widely in the 1930s, preaching in college chapels and to church groups — especially Y.M.C.A.’s and Y.W.C.A.’s — and could have used the prayer then. She said she fixed the date of its composition to 1943 in her book, “The Serenity Prayer: Faith and Politics in Times of Peace and War” (W. W. Norton, 2003), because she had relied on her parents’ recollections.
Ms. Sifton said the newly unearthed quotations were merely evidence that her father’s spellbinding preaching had had a broad impact. And she said she took greatest umbrage at Mr. Shapiro’s notion that the prayer was so simple that it could have been written by almost anyone in any era.
“There is a kind of austerity and humility about this prayer,” Ms. Sifton said, “that is very characteristic of him and was in striking contrast to the conventional sound of the American pastorate in the 1930s, who were by and large optimistic, affirmative, hopeful.”
In her book, Sifton does an excellent job relating the prayer to her father's theological and ethical point of view, demonstrating that Niebuhr's particular wording (which is different from the well-known AA version of the prayer), places its emphasis on the grace to accept with serenity that which cannot be changed, and the courage to change, not simply those things that can be changed, but precisely those things that should be changed, and the wisdom to tell the one from the other. That particular wording is an important element of Sifton's argument, so even if there are some versions that are similar, it doesn't take away from the particular contribution of Niebuhr's authorship.
However, whether Sifton is right that these earlier versions reflect the influence of her father's preaching, and his use of similar prayers before the 1940s, I think what Gary Dorrien says at the end of the article may also be true:
“What has the ring of truth to me is that some of the phrases in it, the gist of it, he heard or came into contact with in some way that he wouldn’t have remembered, since he’s not a scholarly, bookwormish person with habits of scholarly exactitude anyway.”
“He is a preacher. He is coming into contact with things and blending them,” Professor Dorrien said, adding that for preachers, “it’s an occupational hazard.”
From Slate, reporting on Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side:
With al-Qaida back in business in Pakistan and terrorist incidents proliferating around the world, this is no time to ignore that grim risk. A coup by the executive branch would be especially devastating at a time at which Democrats control the House. In the scenario I'm envisioning, Nancy Pelosi would assert her claim as acting president under existing statutes while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or some other executive official, would simultaneously assert her competing authority under the executive order.
When confronting these competing claims, it would be the military that would call the shots. As the Washington Post reported three years ago, the Pentagon has "devised its first-ever war plans for guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning 15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around the country." In acting on these plans, would the Joint Chiefs choose to recognize the constitutional authority of Pelosi as commander in chief? Or would they respond to the commands of the executive official presiding over the "doomsday" crisis center at some "undisclosed location"? To ask the question is to answer it: The whole point of these "doomsday" exercises is to assure instant obedience to the will of the executive on the other side of the hot line. We are staring at a clear and present danger to the republic.
I suppose if one were inclined to trust the Bush administration and its motives, this would sound crazy. But after eight years, is there any sane person who still trusts the Bush administration and its motives?
I told the surgeon I would call back with the insurance information, which forced me to call the transferring doctor. I can't remember if the child was underinsured, uninsured or was insured by the state, but it didn't matter. When I called the surgeon back, he refused to come in. His group didn't cover "those kinds" of patients.
So there we were -- me, my intern, a nurse -- somewhere between late at night and early in the morning, alone. A broken child and his parents were on their way in an ambulance. We had promised to provide "a higher level of care," but the only doctor who could give that care just killed it. What was my plan? I was the doctor, after all. I had no idea.
In the end, all we could do was give the child morphine (a lot of it) and antibiotics, hoping we could keep him comfortable. Still, every time he moved just a little, he howled in pain. We hoped he wouldn't lose his leg to some flesh-and-bone-eating infection. And so we waited until morning, when we would ask our teaching attendants to delicately negotiate with the surgical group to please come in and take a look.
What did I learn that night? Certainly nothing about the preoperative and postoperative management of children with femur fractures. No, I learned how even in the dead of night, in the presence of a child suffering, the bottom line can override the Hippocratic Oath.
In case you missed it, Quinn, who's somewhere between an atheist and an agnostic, decided to take Communion at Tim Russert's funeral last month. She said she did it to "get closer" to Russert. Most Catholics would say one takes Communion to get closer to God. But I digress. Quinn wrote:
"I had only taken communion once in my life, at an evangelical church. It was soon after I had started "On Faith" and I wanted to see what it was like. Oddly I had a slightly nauseated sensation after I took it, knowing that in some way it represented the body and blood of Jesus Christ."
The utterly predictable uproar ensued. Most found Quinn's actions disrepectful, ingorant or just plain tacky. My problem with the whole affair was that Quinn is billing herself as a newly minted arbiter of all things religious, but anyone who knows even a scintilla of Catholic doctrine would know that it's an absolute no-no to take Communion in a Catholic Church if you're not Catholic. You don't need a Ph.D. in theology for that, and frankly, she should have known better. Granted, her intentions may have been innocent, but that doesn't quite cut it for someone in Quinn's job.
The reality is a bit more complex than the writer would let on. On the one hand, it's certainly part of Catholic doctrine that non-catholics should not partake of communion, on the other hand, depending on where you attend, that is a requirement that is often honored more in the breach than in the observance.
I had a professor at Andover Newton that insisted on taking communion in Catholic churches whenever he attended (he was protestant), and argued on the basis of Catholic canon law that he was permitted to do so and could not be prevented. Not being a scholar of canon law myself, I have no idea if he's right.
But I've also taken communion in Catholic churches, administered by Catholic priests who were fully aware of my non-Catholic status. Since my own understanding of the nature of communion is that it is not something that the Church (big "C") has the right to withhold from me (or anyone), I've never had a problem with it. But last summer, at the Collegium conference -- a conference for faculty at Catholic colleges -- we were informed that the host institution asked that non-Catholics refrain from taking communion. Although I was hurt and appalled, I ultimately decided to accede to their wishes, so as not to be a "stumbling block" for others. But that didn't mean that I though they were right.
I'm going to try to flesh this out some more and write a bit on the theology of communion in the coming days, but the key point from my perspective is that, regardless of one's theology of the eucharist, insofar as it is the central sacrament of the Chrisitan community, and insofar as the community is defined, not by adherence to a particular understanding of ecclesial authority but by one's faith in Christ, one's status as "Catholic" (big "C"), is not relevant to one's fitness to partake of it.
An Oklahoma church canceled a controversial gun giveaway for teenagers at a weekend youth conference.
Windsor Hills Baptist had planned to give away a semiautomatic assault rifle until one of the event's organizers was unable to attend.
The church’s youth pastor, Bob Ross, said it’s a way of trying to encourage young people to attend the event. The church expected hundreds of teenagers from as far away as Canada.
“We have 21 hours of preaching and teaching throughout the week,” Ross said.
Well, thank goodness they have preaching and teaching in addition to the firing of live rounds of ammunition at this gathering! Otherwise I might begin to worry.
Look, on the one hand, I suppose this is no different than organizing a preaching event around skateboarding, or rock music, or whatever. But it reminds me of just how different my conception of what is appropriate to Christianity is from others in other parts of the country. It would never, in a million years dawn on me to offer to give away guns to people coming to hear a sermon. And furthermore, if someone proposed the idea, I would laugh hysterically at them and then kick them out of my office!
So then, does this say more about me, or about the people who think this is a good idea?