Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
To my recollection, we have never endorsed a political candidate on the Bosque Boys. However, I received word today that one of my old schoolmates and good friend, Jamie Johnson, is running for a seat in the Iowa House of Representatives. This development makes me optimistic about the future of our political system.

I know Jamie to be a person of exemplary character and a stalwart patriot with a heart for public service. He personifies the best traditions of citizen-driven democracy. I wish him success in his campaign and call on friends of the Bosque Boys to extend their prayers and support to him and his family during this campaign.

His campaign website here.

God speed.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Important Prefatory Admission: I am a community college history teacher by day.

Making use of his line-item veto power, Texas governor, Rick Perry unilaterally struck from the budget over $126 million in Legislature-appropriated revenue designated for health benefits for community college employees.

Why? According to Governor Perry, community colleges falsified their appropriations requests (relevant portion of Perry's veto message here).

Sounds like a case for the Attorney General. Is this a scandal? Should we expect indictments, trials and jail sentences?

Not likely.

First Perry asserted, "institutions come to expect pork as a permanent way to support operations. They rely on pork to sustain operations above levels they can safely expect from equitable formula funding...appropriate to maintain an academic program or physical facility."

Perhaps. I suppose reasonable people might disagree on that proposition--but, then, Perry aimed his veto pen at health benefits for community college personnel (not exactly the "bridge to nowhere").

Perry, evidently, is shocked to find that "community colleges have [been] using millions of state dollars annually to pay the benefits of non-state paid employees."

Perry is reinterpreting the long-established status of community college personnel and applying a budget rider prohibiting expenditure of General Revenue funds for non-state employees. But this action completely ignores a long history of partnership between the state and the community colleges. In other words, we have all done business this way for decades. As the percentage of Texans attending community colleges continues to rise, the governor is suddenly and arbitrarily turning his back on the premise that we are all in this together.

As Representative Warren Chisum, Republican from Pampa and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee points out, "[community colleges serve] over half of the higher education enrollment and [receive] not even a third of the higher education budget."

My other beef with Perry:

This line item veto, applied after the conclusion of the legislative session, denies our duly elected representatives the opportunity to right this wrong. The Texas legislature will not be back in session until the spring of 2009. This is a cheap shot and a dirty trick, and it violates the principles of balanced government. Unfortunately Governor Perry's edict is the final word.

Moreover, I resent the accusation in the fine print. If, indeed, community colleges practiced malfeasance, Governor Perry could have asserted his charges in an open and honest way, instead of obfuscating his real purposes (whatever they may be). Let facts be submitted to a candid world. But, instead, the governor fired off a shot from his perch and then ran for cover, not returning calls or offering further comment to subsequent queries.

Again, for those of you who don't read italics (above), I am personally invested in this dispute. And for those of you who don't read between the lines, I am livid. Having said that, and admitting my emotional attachment, I am very disappointed in my Republican governor for whom I voted.

As for the bigger picture, all of this points to the problem with conservative government. We are all for cutting spending until our ox is gored. More on this greater dilemma in the days to come.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dear Friends,

Just a note to inform you that I have been on the road lately (last week in Austin; this weekend in Southern California). I have had plenty of political thoughts during this stretch of silence, but due to my travel schedule, I have found difficulty in conveying them via this outlet.

However, my hat is off to the Okie Gardener, who has picked up my slack with several especially insightful pieces as of late.

One quick obvious thought on Austin:

My trips to Austin with our student government leaders have become a great source of pleasure for me. The more I see the Capitol, the more I find myself in awe. I have always loved Texas courthouses (the McLennan County Courthouse in Waco is a beauty). Courthouses built Texas-style (at the center of town on the square) and the Capitol in Austin are great examples of meaningful political architecture; they are in fact “cathedrals of democracy.”

Much more than merely functional venues to do the business of the people, these monuments are symbols of the American commitment to the rule of law. Moreover, they are consciously designed to inspire citizens to sacrifice and subordination of personal interest. Like the cathedrals of our ancient past built all over the Western world to embody Christian theology, our modern temples to our civil religion of republican self government stand as dramatic physical statements to our America creed.

One programming note:

I will post a few re-mixes and rewinds over the weekend on the assumption that everything old is new again.

13/04: Calvinism

Farmer brings up Calvinism in a recent post. I think he is both attracted and repelled by my Reformed (Calvinist) theology. While predestination is not the center of Reformed thought, it is the best known (or most notorious) single idea. A good, short introduction to the idea of predestination is found here on the Presbyterian Church (USA) web site.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
A few months back, I read with great interest the Okie Gardener's post and subsequent discussion concerning the "growth" of Calvinism and the future of American Protestantism.

The conversation made me wax nostalgic about my dear old church in Southern California and my all-time favorite pastor: John Calvin Powell.

John Powell has pastored Calvary Church in West Hills, California, for two decades. He earned his Masters in Divinity at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley. A native of Whitney, Texas, John Powell attended Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, and earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of Houston at Clear Lake before the call to ministry led him to the Golden State.

An aside: I am a native Texan, but I grew up in Southern California. Following my high school graduation, I returned to my Texas roots for a stint at Baylor University in Waco, after which I returned to the San Fernando Valley. After living and working in Southern California for a decade, I returned to Baylor to continue my education.

Texans are funny people. I heard Shelby Foote once say that he "found Texans much more likeable in Texas than out of it. When they are away from home, they brag about Texas. When you come visit them in Texas, they assume you can see for yourself." There is a Texas nationalism and pride unlike any other state in the Union. A Texan out of Texas truly is a Texas expatriate.

If you are in California, a good place to meet Texans (or Okies or Arkansans et al) is in a Southern Baptist Church, which are much more abundant than you might think. The great "Okie" migration of the middle twentieth century transported all kinds of cultural institutions westward; they were blown out there with the wind.

My friend John Powell is an evangelical, which means he believes in the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the importance of living out your faith, a high regard for the Bible as the inspired word of God and the necessity of conversion.

The historical John Calvin, however, exerts much more influence over Southern Baptists than they generally care to admit. Pastor John often discussed theology with another bright Texan on his staff (who considered himself a Calvinist); they would bat back and forth the ideas of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace.

Powell often ended the argument with this jewel: I will continue to preach the Gospel to as many people as I can, and I will trust that God will forgive me for saving the souls that I was not supposed to.

It is a good line and a good philosophy, which transcends theology.

You can find information on Calvary here, but don't look for any information on the site about John Powell; it just isn't there. Pastor John never went Hollywood.
Over Spring Break, I accompanied my family on a journey to attend a wedding in Searcy, Arkansas. Along the way, we visited the monument in Little Rock built to celebrate the life and contributions of an American president; from there, we spent two days and nights atop a mountain overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. And, finally, we traveled along the highways and back roads of the "Natural State" to witness and affirm the union of two young people dear to our hearts.

The Nuptials:

It was a classically simple but elegant church wedding in the heartland. The bride wore white, the men wore black tuxedos, and the bridesmaids wore tasteful strapless red dresses. The groom had known the minister for all of his remembered-life. The ceremony was personal and intimate--and traditional. The preacher, to no one's surprise, emphasized Paul's timeless expository essay on love written for the Church at Corinth nearly two millennia ago. They exchanged vows, lit a unity candle, and two became one.

None of this was new to me. I had seen and heard all of it many times before--but for some reason, this particular union of souls struck at my emotions in an extraordinary way.

Almost from the outset, and to my complete surprise, I felt my throat constrict and my eyes fill with tears. Struck by the gravity of the ceremony, I suddenly understood why so many religious traditions identify this ritual as a sacrament; it finally occurred to me why men and women go to the trouble and expense of standing up before God and man to make this commitment in such a purposefully public way.

My moment of clarity commenced as I watched my young cousin take a poignant moment to say goodbye to his mother, step back, and stand upright at the end of a church aisle waiting for his new life to begin. For the remainder of the ceremony, I was never able to fully regain my placidity.

Why do we cry at weddings?

Perhaps it is a combination of loss, anxiety, joy, and a momentary realization of how fragile we are.

Loss: A boy is gone. A man with new priorities takes his place. For the parents of that boy, they enter an entirely new stage of life. They cease to be primary caretakers. They are no longer the most important person in the life of the person who is most important to them. This must be a bone-shattering blow.

Marriage for the participants exists as a moment of surrender. Two become one, which must necessarily mean that individuality is submerged into union, just as full independence is forever sacrificed for the good of the new amalgamation.

Anxiety: Marriage is a leap of faith. One person places his life in the hands of another person about whom he knows very little. This is the most important decision in life, and, at the climactic moment of no-return, there is absolutely no way to know with certainty the wisdom of the choice.

The preacher spoke of love as a decision--not a feeling. The question is not whether they love one another, he said. Of course, they do. The question is whether they will love each other.

Love is a euphoric excitation--but it must also be a long term act of will.

Joy: Love between a man and a woman truly is God's greatest gift. Marriage also signals the beginning of the process of parenthood, which is another of God's most sublime dispensations. Parents sincerely desire this kind of love for their children whom they love. Young people instinctively anticipate this blessing with great delight. Jubilation.

Sobering Realization: How fragile we are individually. We are so desperately in need of one another. We need community. We need caring neighbors, a family of faith, and blood kin. Without the love of God, family, and community, we are hopelessly lost.

The marriage ceremony brings together those diverse feelings of love, joy, fear, and gratitude. Life is a precious gift. Love is an intoxicant and a safety net and a miracle cure. Family is a shelter against the cruelties of life. Matrimony is the renewal of the incredibly powerful and necessary bulwark of family, while at the same time marriage is held together by the ever increasingly fragile threads of love, commitment, and fealty to tradition.

Why was this ceremony so powerful for me? Perhaps it was the fatigue of the journey. Perhaps it was the youth, promise, and earnestness of the couple. Perhaps it was the love of family so thick in the sanctuary. Perhaps it was maturity, having lived long enough and been married long enough to understand the miraculous transforming power of the institution. Or perhaps it was the full realization that I had stumbled on to the good, the true, and the beautiful in a church in Searcy, Arkansas. You can imagine my surprise at finding it there.
Bill Clinton, Mt. Nebo and the sacrament of marriage.

Dateline: Texarkana, Texas.

Dear Friends,

I am back in the Lone Star state (albeit by only a few yards).

For the last few days I have accompanied my family on a journey to attend the wedding of a cousin in Searcy, Arkansas. Along the way, we visited the great monument in Little Rock built to celebrate the life and contributions of Bill Clinton; from there, we spent two days and nights atop a mountain overlooking the Arkansas River valley. And, finally, we traveled along the highways and backroads of the "Natural State" to witness and affirm the union of two young people.

I intend to report on all these events separately--although I am surprised to find that all three experiences are connected in a perverse but profound way.

Stay tuned.
Category: Something Personal
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
The Accounting: Last week I was "on assignment." More precisely, my day job overcame my avocation.

For those of you who like to keep track of what I do, here are the highlights of the week that was:

Wednesday: In my capacity as student government advisor, I assisted in hosting a Civil Rights lecture in celebration of Black History Month. Baylor's James SoRelle brought a bit of gender equity to the study of the CRM with "Where Have All the Women Gone? Re-imaging the Civil Rights Movement, 1865-1965."

FYI: We are also hosting an African American Literature colloquium this week.

Thursday: I accompanied a dozen student leaders to Austin, where we met with our elected state representatives (Senator Kip Averett & Representatives Jim Dunnam and Charles "Doc" Anderson).

Friday: I once again made the 100-mile jaunt down I-35 to Austin, this time in the company of colleagues for the annual convention of Texas community college teachers. On that assignment, I was able to spend an immensely enjoyable day of conversation and conviviality with friends dedicated to perpetuating the American experiment.

We enjoyed a stimulating and intimate lunch with an emerging superstar in American scholarship: H.W. Brands.

Agenda: I intend to offer some thoughts on all of these events at some point.

But First. We also attended a discussion of the coming 2008 presidential race offered by Thomas Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I like Patterson. I heard him speak a few years ago at another convention. He is thoughtful and fair-minded. He has a great line: "the forecasting models indicate (insert prediction here) but I wouldn't bet my house on it." It is an important caveat. He sees this as a Democratic Party year, and I agree with him, but there is a reason we show up for the game even when the odds are prohibitive. On any given Sunday....

Why are the Democrats ahead? Patterson noted that 1952 and 1968 were historical parallels. Stuck in unpopular wars, the parties of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson suffered the consequences of presidential unpopularity. Looking at the job approval ratings of the President, the party of Bush groans with dread. The Democrats are currently running an 18-point lead in the generic canvass. There are potential pitfalls for the Dems (looking "anti-American" for one), but right now they have the better hand to play.

Even as there are many strongly persuasive indicators on general elections, the dynamics of the primaries make predictions on party nominations uncertain. Having said that, the nominations are now decided during the "invisible primary." That is, in the era of front-loading, the campaign prior to the first caucus and first primary generally determines the nominee. In a nutshell, this time next year, in all likelihood, we will know our two major party nominees.

Some things to watch:

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