Monday, June 30, 2008

Congratulations Gabi and Helen!

This weekend, the last of the Fibbs kids was married off.

On Saturday, my sister Gabrielle and her girlfriend Helen took advantage of California’s recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and together with thousands of other couples, joined their lives together.

How do I feel about it? I suppose, given the environment in which I was raised, that I should be horrified and saddened. And yet I’m thrilled for them both.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve come to terms with my religion and its judgments on my sister’s sexual orientation. I certainly take issue with how the church responds to my sister and other homosexuals, though my brief thoughts here are far more utilitarian than theological. I am coming at this less as a Christian who happens to be my sister’s brother and more as my sister’s brother who happens to be a Christian.

Believe me, there is no need to bombard my inbox or the comments section of this post with chapter and verse from Leviticus or the dictates of St. Paul illuminating Gabi and I to the error of our ways. We know well what the Bible says, as well as the feelings of many of our friends and family.

Frankly, I am tired of Christians decrying gay marriage as a blight on the sanctity of marriage when, according to numerous reputable studies, more than half of heterosexual Christian marriages end in divorce. Perhaps I’d feel differently about the integrity of the institution if those who called themselves believers in holy matrimony weren’t as bedeviled by relational implosions as “the world” they rail against. Perhaps I’d feel differently if being a Christian seemed to make the least bit of difference in marital longevity. I find it ironic that so many Christians are loath to accept two homosexuals who decide to pledge their lives to one another in monogamous exclusivity, the very thing modeled by Christ and His church.

I feel comfortable ignoring the bureaucratic and economic reasons why extending marriage to same sex couples is problematic if for no other reason than such issues are nowhere near the heart of why Christians cannot accept gay marriage. For Christians, it is a moral issue. And while they are free to take that stance, I have yet to meet one Christian who can give me even one example of how Gabi and Helen’s union affects the sanctity of his or her marriage.

Destroy the sanctity of marriage? What does that even mean? The government could null and void my marriage and while it might create an avalanche of red tape, it would not…could not…possibly touch the mysterious, symbolic, spiritual, sacred core of what my wife and I share. If marriage is nothing more than a binding contract in the eyes of the State, that is one thing. But if a Christian union is an act done before God, then nothing, apart from internal cancers, can ever hope to touch it.

Is my marriage somehow tainted by the heterosexual couple who recently married after living together “in sin” for years? Is it soiled by the heterosexual couple marrying because of a pregnancy, or against a family member’s wishes, etc? Of course not. So why is this any different? Besides, it’s not as if homosexual marriage somehow changes or magnifies the alleged sin. If God doesn’t approve of homosexuality, an empty, Godless ceremony won’t alter the gravity of their sin. Nothing has changed except for the symbol.

Homosexual marriage doesn’t harm my marriage or yours, no matter how theologically into the weeds you want to go.

I am still amazed that Christians feel the need to police the lives of others instead of being satisfied with working out their own personal holiness with fear and trembling. Why the constant need to tell others how they must live? Christians are to be the salt and light of the world by their behavior and good works, not the world’s spiritual policemen.

In a few short days I will finally meet Helen for the very first time. Heretofore a voice over the phone or a pixilated image on Skype, a trip to Portland for the 4th of July holiday will finally allow us to meet in person. I am not concerned that I won’t love her. If my sister is smitten, I have no doubt I will be too. I am, however, worried about the enormous elephant in the room these recent events (and my now public reaction to them) will create.

Someone has to be happy for Gabi and Helen, has to celebrate with them, has to stand up for them. And I am happy to be that person.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why I am Pro-Life and Pro-Obama

Recently, a friend asked me to write a post on how I could be a supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign while, simultaneously, be an advocate of the pro-life position. Allow me a few words to address his request — I know he is not alone in asking the question.

The truth is, with some exceptions during the first, pro-life Bush Administration, abortion has been on a steady decline over the past nearly 30 years. Rather than high rates during the Clinton Administration, which enforced liberal abortion policies, and low rates during the time of George W. Bush, whose administration has taken a hard, pro-life line, the trend appears to move independent of Washington’s policy fluctuations.

Every time conservatives anoint a new Republican president, they do so under the illusion that, once sworn in, he will magically snap his executive fingers and toss abortion overboard. This, of course, never happens. In fact, aside from some give and take on the issue of partial birth abortion, little progress has been made in this country since the Supreme Court made abortion legal in 1973.

George W. Bush, for all his religious rhetoric, hasn’t exactly stamped the blight of abortion from the planet. In fact, his administration’s puritanical war on sex education may have actually exacerbated unwanted pregnancies. To his credit with conservatives, he did appoint two very conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, a ramification that is sure to endure long after he is gone — a ramification that will reverberate no matter which party takes the White House in November.

If Bush is a pro-life president, explain to me the more than 4,000 dead and tens of thousands of wounded U.S. servicemen and women mauled in an illegitimate war. Explain to me the more than 92,000 dead Iraqi civilians. Explain to me the government’s criminally lethargic response to one of this country’s most devastating natural disasters, Hurricane Katrina. Explain to me policies that put the interests of global polluters ahead of caring for creation. Explain to me to the economic policies that rest heaviest on the widow and the orphan while filling the pocket of the rich and the well heeled. And this is the man evangelicals herald as their champion? Never have I seen a worse pro-life leader.

While John McCain, pandering to the elusive religious conservatives he so desperately needs, pretends to be a pro-life candidate, his record shows a legislator who has blocked conservative judges from being appointed to the bench on numerous occasions and feels that abortion is a matter than should be handled at the state, rather than the federal level. How very Republican of him. If Clinton was proactively for and Bush proactively against, McCain may be more of a status quo kind of guy when it comes to abortion.

I believe being pro-life is a holistically endeavor. That is why, for me, pro-life means being not simply anti-abortion, but anti-death penalty, anti-torture, pro-human rights and pro-the poor. To embrace one and exclude the rest is to invalidate the stance entire. Yes, I may sound like a walking Amnesty International ad, but forgive me for thinking that all Christians should.

This country needs a more holistic vision toward life, just as pro-life advocates require a big picture view, not a here-and-now myopia. Abortion has to be dealt with strategically, not tactically. The tactical voter says, “Abortion is wrong, therefore anyone one who supports it is automatically denied my vote — no ifs, ands or buts.” The strategic voter says, “I have to take the long view on this and go with what gains me the most ground in the long run — not simply empty, symbolic victories.”

So then, if Washington’s specific policies toward abortion have little effect on the trends, what can make a difference toward obliterating the loss of innocent life in America?

We can start with Barack Obama.

I oppose abortion, but I feel that Obama’s policies will do a better job of preventing abortion than another four years of half-hearted, counter-productive positions by Republicans that actually make it more difficult for a woman to chose life.

No, I don’t see Obama as some sort of savior. He is a charismatic leader who engenders hope, who plays to America’s strengths and inspires promise where others sow only fear and loathing. It is not the man, but what the man believes that so inspires me and millions of others.

Obama’s policies reverberate with a holistic, pro-life agenda. He understands, at a macro level given his experiences in Chicago’s inner city, that poverty is the true blight on America and that a disproportionate amount of this country’s abortions occur among its poorest citizens. He understands that we must revamp our country’s laws so that the marginalized, the weak and the least among us are cared for with the same fervor and energy as our most affluent. He understands the intrinsic worth of the individual and celebrates that worth, not just with words but also with actions. He understands that if you pull a woman out of poverty and set her feet on a path toward being a productive citizen and a fulfilled individual, you deal abortion a cataclysmic blow.

This country must realign its vision, remember its common destiny and begin to care lavishly for all its citizens, no matter their race, creed, gender, religion, sexual orientation or economic position. Then and only then will the American experiment be a success.

Contrary to what most pro-lifers believe, I rarely ever meet a pro-choice advocate who sings the praises of abortion. Almost every one of them detests the practice, and while they may feel individual freedom trumps the morality of others, they too deeply yearn for a day when abortion is eradicated. Pro-lifers and pro-choicers must meet on this common ground and find, within this plurality, a synergistic purpose to realize both their goals.

Barack Obama is leading the way to just such a goal.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Play’s version of Springs is not all ‘Beautiful’

Special to The Gazette
Photos by Harlan Taylor and Tom Kimmell
June 14, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Colorado Springs, or one version of it, took the national stage this week, as a documentary-style musical about the city's evangelical movement premiered in the Studio Theatre.

Turns out, for many Washington theatergoers, "This Beautiful City" was a comedy and a horror show.

Chloe West, whose unabashed laughter filled the theater throughout the night, summed up many people's feelings.

"I knew Colorado Springs was a gorgeous place, but that's pretty much all I knew," she said. "After seeing the show, yeah, I am a little scared. Would I ever want to live there? Probably not."

That version of Colorado Springs came compliments of The Civilians, a New York City-based theater company that attempted to take a snapshot of American evangelicalism, using Colorado Springs as a microcosm of the nation.

"The Civilians specialize in doing work about real-life subjects, and I wanted to do a play about evangelical Christianity," said Steven Cosson, the show's director and co-writer. "I thought our method and the subject matter would be a good match. We were interested in Colorado Springs in particular because the story there is so unique. The city has changed so much over a period of 25 years with the influx of so many churches and evangelical organizations."

In 2006, the cast and crew spent seven months in the Springs interviewing more than 100 residents.

"We were trying to listen to the voices that were most alien to us - the evangelicals," co-writer Jim Lewis said. "We knew we could pull off (the liberals). We know them. We get that sensibility. So we really made an effort to get the evangelical argument out there and see if we could capture their point of view. The biggest challenge is juggling that balance."

While they were in Colorado Springs, New Life Church's senior pastor, Ted Haggard, became embroiled in a sex scandal involving methamphetamines and a male prostitute. Little did the company know at the time, but that incident would set the tone for its production.

"By reflecting on what happened with Ted, we are trying to get back to the larger questions of how a community heals and finds a way to get along," Lewis said.

The current rendition of the play - cast and crew say that the production is in a constant state of flux - draws nearly every word of its dialogue from interviews, media reports and local texts. There is no traditional plot to speak of, but rather a narrative represented by a series of talking heads sharing historical and cultural snapshots.

Embedded within the documentary form is music. One might be tempted to think this fusion of documentary sensibilities and cabaret gives the play a bad Broadway musical vibe. But the musical element is crucial, as its use is essential in the praise and worship services of the churches the production highlights.

The first half of "This Beautiful City" elicited the loudest guffaws as the D.C. audience was exposed to Colorado Springs' religious subculture.

They experienced a New Life church service in which the line between church and state was almost nonexistent, met local religious leaders, were serenaded by the Flying W Wranglers, chatted with Air Force Academy cadets and were introduced to prayer warriors who saw demonic forces around every corner. The principally liberal audience found the people and situations ripe for mockery.

Later, when asked of their impressions, audience members were happy to share. While some admitted to having never heard of Colorado Springs, a surprising number revealed connections to the Centennial State.

The smorgasbord of opinions represented a startling and insightful glimpse into how the city is viewed from afar.

Joyce Prashar, whose son lives in Colorado Springs, didn't realize the scope of the evangelical movement in the city.

"That was a complete mystery," she said. "The whole Christian right thing is slightly frightening to me. It reminded me of Jim Jones and Guyana."

Elizabeth Kramer found the play "truthful and terrifying at the same time." She was offended by what she saw as an evangelical invasion. "If they want to do what they want to do, that's fine. But stay out of politics."

"Before the play, I always thought of Colorado Springs as a pretty place - healthy, you know, with no religious connotations," Susan Janney said. "Now, I'm like, whoa. I think I'd research the place before I'd ever even visit. It sounds like a scary place to be."

Janney's comments caught the ear of Ben Weitz. "What's scary?" he asked, incredulously. "Colorado Springs? It's the nicest place in the United States that I have ever visited."

"I wouldn't want to judge Colorado Springs from this one show," said West, adamantly insisting that a play was not a fair snapshot of the makeup of any city. "I'd definitely want to visit, check it out. It's not as if there aren't churches just like that out here, too."

Elaine Chan has a unique perspective given that both of her sons attended Colorado College. "The play was very amusing for me because so many things were exactly as my sons have told me," she said.

However, she was also quick to point out that she thought the play was "a caricature of what people on the outside would think of Colorado Springs."

Some of the characters may border on caricature, others concurred, but the stereotypes were hardly unfounded.

"It's hard to get offended when they use the people's real words and points of view," Ezra Kauffman said. "I think people actually listen to what they say more."

Writer Lewis said when those interviewed during The Civilians' research saw an early performance, the reaction was overwhelmingly favorable. The religious audience thought it had been accurately portrayed.

After the play's revelation of Haggard's fall from grace, laughter seemed to catch in the audiences' throat. Those once so easy to denounce are shown to be wounded, confused and all too human.

Lori Kauffman insists she will never set foot in Colorado Springs. Still, she hardly sees the Springs as unique.

"I think if we look deeper, Colorado Springs is a microcosm of many places," she said. "(Evangelicalism) is just more concentrated, more overt, more exaggerated there."

"The key to the play was one line: ‘This is America,'" Sandra Weiswasser said. "Colorado Springs is the microcosm."

Weiswasser, who calls herself an avid atheist, found herself moved by the story, particularly the zeal with which the Christians lived their lives.

"When you listen to believers, there are still kernels of truth which resonate - the need for redemption and the need for forgiveness and that we're not perfect," she said.

"I don't want other people telling me how to believe. But on the other hand, if you're a true believer, how can you not tell others?"

At first, actress Emily Ackerman was not excited about the project.

"I was scared to go there. It was the Hate State. Jesus Springs. I thought, ‘Whoa, this place is crawling with hateful, hurtful people,'" she said.

"And then I got there and found out that was not necessarily true. There certainly are elements that I, as a liberal, disagree with very strongly, but for the most part they were really welcoming and open and loving."

Many audience members believed the play did a fabulous job interpreting one group of people, but nonetheless plucked only the low-hanging evangelical fruit. Some of those interviewed said they yearned for a more balanced view.

Although the play features opposing voices - a gay man fighting discrimination, a transgendered city planner and a disgruntled native who hates how the city has changed around him - Lewis said that "if we get complaints, it's always that we bent over too far to give the evangelicals a voice at expense of other liberal, secular voices."

Ackerman was moved by those in Colorado Springs who consider themselves part of the liberal, secular resistance.

"The liberal community in Colorado Springs is very, very strong. They feel like they are fighting a war. They are a whole lot more liberal than we are. We have the luxury of being liberal New Yorkers where everyone agrees with us."

Audience member Kauffman said she sees "This Beautiful City" as an "important play for a jaded, political place like D.C., where we basically make fun of everyone."

Despite differences with the evangelicals who make up the play's subject matter, she said she feels that only good can come of the dialogue.

"There will be very few evangelicals who come to see this show and that is wrong; they really should come," she said.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert Has Died

One of this nation's finest journalists has died.

Just minutes ago, Tim Russert collapsed at his NBC office and died of a massive heart attack.

Anyone who knows me, knows I have a soft spot for journalists, and Russert chief among them. The 58-year-old host of "Meet the Press" and NBC's Washington Bureau Chief was a titanic giant in the industry.

I am heartbroken.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

As Beautiful As It Is Profound

The following video is a compilation of newspaper covers from every state in the Union and several from overseas proclaiming Obama's historic victory.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Empire Strikes Barack

Barack has cinched the nomination. History has been made. The general election is underway. The future is bright.

I know I should have something deep to say, but my busy schedule prevents me. Perhaps in a few days. For now, enjoy this...

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A Man Made Rising Sun


This past weekend was nothing short of a dream come true for me. I had the opportunity to join my wife at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida for the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery.

In ten short missions, the shuttle fleet will be permanently retired. This was one of my last chances to see America’s space program, as I had grown up with it, up close and personal.

The day before launch, I accompanied Stephanie’s twin sister, Patricia and some German friends on a VIP tour of the base facilities, visiting many of the sights I had the privilege of seeing two years ago when I came here for what, regrettably, turned out to be a scrubbed launch.

The biggest difference between the previous tour and this one was a spectacular night viewing. Flooded by Xenon spotlights, the shuttle appeared as a colossus, a technological marvel gleaming on the launch pad, poised hungrily for flight. It is beautiful enough to elicit gasps, slacken jaws and seduce even the most stoic tears.

STS-124, this mission’s designation, is delivering the Japanese KIBO (meaning “hope”) module, the largest experiment module yet installed on the International Space Station, and Japan’s first human-rated space facility. In the few days leading up to the launch, the station’s toilets malfunctioned, an unfortunate anomaly that stole the module's technological thunder thanks to the media’s incessant potty humor.

Usually, on the days leading up the a launch, NASA engineers are busy wrangling any number of potentially serious issues that crop up. This time around, there were no gremlins in the works and the lack of problems, rather than their presence, was making everyone uneasy. The weather too was more than cooperative; the skies the late afternoon of launch could not have been more beautiful.

The anticipation was palpable as we gathered at the Banana Creek viewing area. We claimed a small piece of grass right next to the water and waited, listening to Houston Mission Control chatter piped in over loud speakers. Stephanie, who has now seen four launches, was not with us. Busy working, she was viewing the launch from the Firing Room, the Cape’s version of Mission Control.

Indulge me, if you will, for a few technical paragraphs. I’ve chosen only the juiciest tidbits, I assure you.

The space shuttle has more than 2.5 million parts, making it the most complex machine ever built. It is made up of three components:

1. The External Fuel Tank
The external fuel tank which provides fuel to the space shuttle's main engines during launch, stands taller than a 15-story building, and when filled with propellant, weighs 1,668,5000 pounds.

2. The Solid Rocket Boosters
An individual Solid Rocket Booster is only two feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty, but weighs three times as much. The two SRBs generate a combined thrust of 6,600,000 pounds, equivalent to 14,700 six-axle diesel locomotives and provides 71% of the total launch thrust. Each booster burns five tons of propellant per second — two million times the rate at which your car consumes fuel. If their heat energy could be converted into electric power, the two boosters, firing for two minutes, would produce enough energy to supply the entire power demand of 87,000 homes for a full day. The speed of the gases exiting the nozzle is more than 6,000 mph, or five times the speed of sound and three times the speed of a high-power rifle bullet. The combustion gases in the booster burn at 6,100 degrees Fahrenheit, two-thirds the temperature of the surface of the Sun — hot enough to boil steel.

3. The Orbiter
The Orbiter launches like a rocket, orbits like a spacecraft and lands like a plane (or un-powered glider to be more specific). Its engines operate at a greater temperature than any mechanical system in use today. At -423F, the liquefied hydrogen fuel is the second coldest liquid on Earth. If the shuttle’s main engines pumped water instead of fuel, they would drain an average sized swimming pool in 25 seconds. When the hydrogen and liquid oxygen are combined, the temperature in the main combustion chamber flashes to 6,000 degree Fahrenheit, hotter than the boiling point of iron. Just one engine generates enough thrust for more than two Boeing 747s. In fact, the energy released by the three space shuttle main engines at full power is equivalent to the same amount of energy created by 23 Hoover Dams.

At times you could hear a pin drop at Banana Creek, such was our baited expectation. Other times, as when the “All systems go!” was announced, the crowd erupted into violent applause. Our eyes bounced between the clock beside us and the pad before us.

I was warned that I shouldn’t take pictures, that I should simply take it all in as best I could and let my memory sort it all out. And while I understood then (and even better now) why people said that, I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to capture such a magnificent experience on film. I set the camera for consecutive bursts, framed the pad, tried to keep my eyes on the real thing, and when the moment came, depressed the shutter and hoped for the best.

At T minus 16 seconds, the sound suppression system began drenching the platform and SRB trenches with 300,000 gallons of water. This is to protect the orbiter from the acoustical energy damage and rocket exhaust reflected from the flame trench during liftoff.

All of this is invisible to us, of course. But at T minus six seconds, the shuttle’s three main engines ignited. The gathered water from the sound suppression system flashed instantly into a massive plume of steam that was immediately visible. The crowd began to shriek.

At T minus 0 seconds, the solid rocket boosters ignited. There was no turning back now. The exhaust column exited the flame trench at near the speed of sound, causing a visible rippling of shockwaves along the flame and smoke ejection. Though the main engines had started, the vehicle didn’t immediately lift off. Extraordinarily, it is clamped to the pad with titanic bolts.

The thrust from the main engines caused the entire launch stack (boosters, tank and shuttle) to pitch down about two meters (referred to in NASA jargon as the “nod”). Six seconds later the boosters flexed back into their original shape and the launch stack pitched upright. Once everything was entirely vertical, pyrotechnic nuts detonated, severing the bolts and releasing the stack.

Discovery lifted, slowly at first and then gathered speed as it cleared the tower. Almost immediately, it began a roll and pitch program to set its orbital inclination, turning its backside to the viewing area. The vehicle climbed in a progressively flattening arc, accelerating as the weight of the SRBs and main tank decreased. Although it weighs more than 4.5 million pounds at launch, the shuttle accelerates from zero to about nine times the speed of a rifle bullet to attain Earth orbit in less than nine minutes. It breaks the sound barrier only 52 seconds into flight. During this time, 3.5 million pounds of propellant are consumed.

Many people have claimed that their favorite part of a launch is the concussive vibrations you feel in your chest as the sound waves reach the onlookers. The sound takes a good 20 seconds or more to reach the viewing area, beginning softly before roaring to life. The combined blast from the five rockets is ferocious. It is a ravenous sound, angry and all consuming. If the heavens themselves could be consumed in flame, this is what it would sound like. Others love watching those same sound waves ripple visibly across the water. Sadly, I experienced neither.

The most memorable part for me was the shocking intensity of the exhaust. The orange luminosity was almost too bright to view, like looking at the sun and then finding yourself blinded to everything else around you.

The orbiter zeroed in on the ISS, 236 statute miles above the earth’s surface, and visibly altered its trajectory for the impending orbital insertion. Within a minute and a half, the orbiter had technically reached space, traveling in excess of 17,500 mph.

And still we could see it.

Two minutes after blast-off and at an altitude of 24 miles, the boosters separated. Soon parachutes would deploy and the tubes would be collected by waiting ships approximately 141 miles downrange, for refurbishment and reuse. The shuttle was now entirely on its own power. Amazingly, though it was nearly 30 miles away, the shuttle and the boosters were still visible, illuminated by their glowing exhausts.

The orbiter, external fuel tank still attached, was now little more than a bright star set against an azure blue sky. Then, in a blink, it pulled from view. Though we could not see it occur, explosive bolts detonated and released the external tank, which fell back to earth and burned up in the atmosphere.

The shuttle moves so fast you begin questioning whether you actually saw anything at all. Viewing a launch is a completely surreal experience, almost like a dream. Is that line of smoke, which mere moments before surged and undulated like a thing alive, an exhaust plume or merely clouds dissipating in the wind? Even now, as I try to recall the few moments it was in view, I have a hard time recollecting the visual details. Luckily, I have the pictures to fill in the blanks.

The launch was an awe-inspiring experience and one I would lustfully love to repeat. The space shuttle is the dream of human flight, somehow corralled into a sleek shape and held together within a metallic shell.

But it is also hopelessly earth-bound. The shuttle, as incredible as it is, was a technological step backward for this country specifically and human exploration in general. We had been sending men to another planetoid, but halted that program in favor of a vehicle incapable of leaving earth orbit.

Luckily, that time is nearly over.

NASA engineers are already hard at work developing The Constellation program, which is to herald humankind’s return to the moon after an almost 50 year absence. Borrowing on the fundamentals established with Apollo but endowed with exponentially advanced technology, the Constellation program returns America to the vanguard of interstellar exploration. But this time, the moon is not the final destination. It is merely an off-planet training ground where NASA can practice for the next step in our exploratory evolution — human footprints on the scarlet soil of Mars.

Had we not abandoned the moon 30 years ago, we might be on Mars already.

NASA represents power and promise, a tangible example of humankind’s thirst for exploration and discovery, a physical representation of our species’ yearning to break from our terrestrial bonds, push into an uncharted frontier and dare to become greater than we were born to be.

* * *

For many more pictures, click here for the Canaveral tour and here for the launch itself. For video of the launch, click here for the NASA feed and here for a far inferior video that will, nonetheless, give you some sort of idea of what it was like to be there and experience it first hand.
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus