Thursday, March 30, 2006


From Whence We've Come

Thirty years ago this June, I walked across the stage and received my high school diploma from Klamath Union High School (Klamath Falls, Oregon). That fateful evening marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. These thirty years have witnessed many twists and turns. I get to attend my reunion this July. I will see old friends and acquaintances. We'll remember old times and I expect I'll experience my share of embarrassing moments.

It's been 30 years and well more than 30 pounds. I was pretty skinny back then, but no longer. I sang in the choirs and was active in my church. I was conservative back then, not so much anymore. I thought it would be fun to be a youth minister, but discovered that wasn't my thing. Funny, but of my friends who thought they'd be a "pastor," I seem to have been the only one who chose the road and it chose me perhaps more than I chose it. I thought I'd be a professor, but ended up with a congregation.

So, thirty years hence, life has taken its twists and turns. I'm married now for almost 23 years and have a 16 year old (well he'll be 16 on Monday). We got his wisdom teeth taken out as a present -- aren't we kind? The journey has been long, but it is far from over. Won't you join me on the trail!

Note -- the logo is for our reunion -- a bicentennial year. I believe the art was created by the brother of fellow grad -- Joe Faught.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Opening Eyes -- an Interfaith Journey

Learning to live faithfully in a world of multiple faith traditions isn't easy. Most of us shy away from such entanglements. We know we are right and to engage in conversation with those who are different, well, that will only confuse the issue. We may share our faith, that's okay, but to truly listen to another, that's a dubious proposition.

I write this because today was our monthly Interfaith meeting in Lompoc. We're a small and fledgling group. Just a few mainline Protestants, a Mormon, a couple of Bahais and now a Jew. But even this little group helps challenge the idea that the community of Lompoc, California is conservative, evangelical, and Christian. And so the conversation begins, the relations are built, and the fear is overcome! That is the goal -- opening our eyes to the beliefs of our neighbors, in the hope that fear will be erased. When that happens, perhaps we can begin the road to peace. It's not an easy journey, but it is a necessary one.

The picture above is of students involved in the University Religious Center at UCSB Interfaith Student group. I have the privilege of serving on the URC's board -- this year as its president. These students are at the vanguard of the journey.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Migrations then and now

Immigration is the issue du juor. It is an issue that divides Americans (and many other countries as well). The House passed a bill that would criminalize (as a felony) illegal immigration, criminalize hiring of illegals, authorize the building of a wall to separate the US from Mexico, and then most distressing of all, it would criminalize charitable actions on the part of religious and non-profits to provide humanitarian assistance to undocumented persons.

The nation seems evenly divided -- which shouldn't surprise us -- on this issue. I think it's a good place to start, to consider that we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. My ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and Holland to start a new life. There is no one in America, not even Native Americans, who are not descendants of migrants. It may have been 1000's of years ago or yesterday, but that's the lay of the land.

I do believe that something must be done to deal with the influx of undocumented persons -- but I'm not sure building more walls (remember the Berlin Wall) and criminalizing charity is the way to go. At base it's important to remember that our economy depends on this segment of the population to work our farms, clean our hotels, cook our food, and clean the dishes. They mow our lawns and clean our houses. Eleven million are in the country illegally. Most work hard in the hope that they can live a better life -- and wasn't that the goal of my ancestors.

Finally, it's good to remember that the Bible continually speaks of caring for the alien -- the foreigner.

"When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not
oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the
citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in
the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 19:33-34).

I think that's a good thing to remember. The picture above is of a water station in the Arizona desert provided by Humane Borders --http://www.humaneborders.org/

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Home Coming

I've been away from home these past few days, my home in Santa Barbara that is. I attended the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Conference of British Studies meeting in Newport Beach. It was a good meeting, all in all. Best of all was the opportunity to be with good friends like Bill Gibson from England and make new friends like Bill Watson, Martin Grieg, and Albert Tevanyan. I enjoyed the opportunity to reengage my academic pursuits and to be reminded that when you're not actively involved in the field you can get a bit overwhelmed! But again, it was a great time.

But as for the homecoming, that had to do with my return to Harbor Christian Church in Newport Beach. I served as associate pastor there some 18 years ago. It was good to be back in a place that gave me an opportunity to test my wings. One member -- an elder then and an elder now -- recalled my youthful idealism. I think that idealism has been tempered over the years. The world looks different to a 28 or 29 year old than it does to someone closing in on his 50th birthday and has a teenage son! But the years do not diminish relationships forged in the service of our Lord, and so we came together again and celebrated God's steadfast love that endures forever (Psalm 107). So, blessings to all as I return to my family home!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Openness -- A Virtue: A Guest Column
Black and white universes can be dangerous. If either I'm right or you're right and there is no middle ground, then it's likely we'll come to blows -- literally or figuratively. My good friend Steve Kindle asked me to post this statement of a journey of faith. It's a recognition of a post-modern way of looking at the world. Post a comment -- have a conversation!
“This I Believe”
by Rev. Steven F. Kindle


I’m a Protestant clergy person; have been for over 30 years. My study of the Bible and other related interests have captured my imagination and my life for what is now a lifetime. As a young pastor, I was full of myself and my authority. That is to say, I KNEW. I knew the secrets of the universe vouchsafed in the doctrines of my church. As ONE WHO KNEW, I was only too quick to share this knowledge with any and all who came near. These were the easy days when Enlightenment notions still held sway and one could still be confident of the existence of, even the appropriation of, Absolute Truth.

I don’t remember the day or even the year that it happened, but I found myself, dare I admit it...unsure. Unsure of my surety. Maybe it had to do with pluralism, for I found myself engaged in the lives of Muslims, Buddhists, sectarians of all sorts, even atheists. What amazed me most about these so different from me is, in the case of many, may I say, their Christ-likeness? Perhaps I should say their Buddha-likeness or their Mohammed-likeness, and their Gandhi-likeness.

One of the cherished doctrines of Protestant Christianity is that we are saved by grace. In other words, there is nothing humans can do to deserve God’s love and salvation. It is a given to those to whom it is given. Those other, seemingly righteous persons, whose lives evidence all the grace and love of God, but are not of our particular fold, are surely condemned to Perdition. Yet, there they are, so many not of my fold, yet showing forth daily a much more abundant love of neighbor and charity toward all than I would ever muster, God on my side or not.

Perhaps it was relativism that undermined my surety. A Jewish neighbor of mine taught her children that religion, even Judaism, is, finally, an opinion. Consequently one should not become haughty or overbearing in dealing with those who differ. I applaud that, and to it I would add just this: One’s religion is also an accident of birth: of where, of when, and to whom. Any one of us could just as easily be another person quite different from ourselves. Would we wish to condemn us then?

I am convinced of this one thing. I am convinced that honorable religions are here for one purpose: to produce a certain kind of person; in short, a person who acts much the same way as their original teachers acted, who, each in their own way, want us to love and care for our neighbor. As long as religions are concerned with what people need to believe rather than what they need to become, we will continue to be each other’s enemies. When we finally discover our shared purpose as one people, with the same mission, we will no longer be strangers, but friends. This I surely believe.
Empty Bowls

A bowl of soup, a piece of bread, a glass of water -- that is the typical meal of a poor person in America. The Food Bank of Santa Barbara County had its Empty Bowl event today in Lompoc and I had the opportunity to participate. I don't think that the average poor person gets to eat gourmet soups, as we did today. It's easy to forget, as we endulge in wonderfully delicious soups from local restaurants, that even Campbells is gourmet for many people in America. We raised money yes and for a good cause, but the reminder is -- look how many go hungry every day.

I should be grateful for the bounty that is mine -- too often I look at the plenty of another and wish for more. Still, it is time to give thanks with grateful hearts.

Monday, March 20, 2006

On Eagles Wings

When all seems dark, when it seems as if we are falling, God lifts us up.

I was just listening to John Michael Talbot's rendering of "On Eagles Wings" and it stirred in my heart and mind this powerful promise:

"And I will raise you up on eagle's wings,
bear you on the breath of dawn,
make you to shine like the sun,
and to hold you in the palm of my hand."

(by Michael Joncas, in Chalice Hymnal, 77)

May we find our strength for the journey -- this Lenten journey -- in the strength of the Lord.


Sunday, March 19, 2006

A Questionable Anniversary

Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the start of the Second Gulf War. At the time we were told that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an imminent threat to the security and safety of the United States. Saddam, we were told, possessed weapons of mass destruction and he needed to be stopped before he either used them himself or passed them on to terrorist organizations. That rationale has long since been abandoned and in its place was the need to free the Iraqi people from a horrible despot. That Saddam was a despot is incontestable. He was despicable, but then so have a lot of other tyrants. Now we watch as our military suffers regular humiliation, is stretched to the limit, and Iraq is no closer to peace than it was 2 and 1/2 years ago. Civil War of some sort is currently going on -- sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite has claimed hundreds if not thousands of lives. Under Saddam regime opponents were surely in danger, but the streets were fairly safe. That's no longer true.

This litany of problems raises an important issue for the Christian community. Though I'm not a pacifist, I opposed the war at its start. Pre-emptive war does not fit any just war category. War may be necessary, but only as a last resort. This time we entered war before all the facts were known and without a plan for reconstruction. The burden that paying for the war puts on our nation's financial situation is another issue. Every dollar spent on military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan (a somewhat more defensible, but still suspect action) takes away from funds that could be spent on social welfare, infrastructure and education. Almost 10 billion is spent in Iraq every month and there is no end in sight. In the mean time we are falling further behind the rest of the developed world in almost every academic category. We were once the home of the inventor, but that is less and less true. Maybe we could spend the money on freeing ourselves from dependence on oil -- now that would be an idea!

So, I pray for an end! I pray for our young men and women to return home safely. I pray that peace will come to the Iraqi people. I pray that we might have a world respite!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

An Open Table

Disciples of Christ President and General Minister, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins and her husband the Rev. Dr. Rick Lowery (OT Prof at Phillips Seminary) were with us today at Chapman University's Founder's Day celebration. They shared their experiences at the recent World Council of Churches General Assembly in Brazil.

Sharon and Rick both reminded us of the centrality of the table and how the Disciples' theology of an Open Table has such a powerful witness. Rick reminded us as well that Jesus ate with every body. This is a difficult place to be at, having to eat with people with whom you may have great disagreement. It is a difficult but wonderful place to be at. May we as we gather at the Table give witness to Jesus' welcome -- All who are thirsty, please come and drink!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Gospel According to Neil Young

Neil Young is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. His music has always touched upon the realities of life. There is also a spirituality attendant to much of what he writes. I'm especially taken by the final track on his most recent album, Prairie Wind -- check it out on-line: http://www.neilyoung.com/prairiewind.html

Consider these words and let them speak to you. Do they challenge our self-concern/self-centeredness? Don't they challenge our civil religions and exclusiveness.

"When God Made Me"
Was He thinking about my country
or the color of my skin
Was He thinkin' about my religion
and the way I worship Him?
Did he create just me in His image
or every living thing?
When God made me -- When God made me.
Was He planning only for believers
or for those who just had faith?
Did He envision all the wars
That were fought in His Name?
Did He think there was only one way
to be close to Him?
When God made me -- When God made me.
Did He give us the Gift of Love
to say who we could choose?
When God made me -- When God made me.
When God made me -- When God made me.
Did He give me the gift of voice
so some could silence me?
Did He give me the gift of vision
Not knowin' what I might see?
Did He give me the gift of compassion
To help my fellow man?
When God made me --- When God made me.
When God made me -- When God made me.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Preparation for the Future

Yesterday our Regional Minister, Don Shelton, spoke at our church on the topic: "Are You Ready?" He took as his text Joshua 3:7-17. He meditated on the wilderness wanderings and the passing of the generation that new slavery. We were asked the question about our own wanderings and how they might prepare us for the future. The Hebrews, he suggested, weren't ready to enter the land until that point. Are we ready to enter the land we're called to inhabit?

Life is full of fits and starts, ups and downs. We have our good days, but have many days that aren't so good. But we learn from them and we grow from these experiences. My previous pastorate was a difficult one, especially near the end. But in many ways those experiences helped mold the person I am today. I'm a much different person and pastor than I was in that previous congregation. I guess I've come to the fullness of time!

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Fear

Anxiety and fear, they continue to be at a premium these days. Terrorists, immigrants, homosexuals, homeless persons, you name it and we're afraid of it. We give our apparent assent to "warrantless surveillance" and opposed the recent Dubai Ports deal, largely out of fear.

As a person of faith, I'm supposed to live in love not fear. I John suggests that love and fear are incompatible. So how should I live my life? Preparedness is a virtue, but if totally driven by fear then we will close ourselves off to life and even to God - no that's something to fear.

Friday, March 10, 2006


Is their life out there?

This morning's paper brought colorful pictures of Saturn's moon Enceladus and its watery geyser. To this point the only life in the universe that we know of for sure is on earth. Water and heat are considered important building blocks to life, and the likely discovery of liquid water on Enceladus and the likelihood of heat -- as the means of propelling the water into the air -- suggest the possibility. Of course we don't have evidence yet, but the presence of strange creatures around thermal vents in the ocean suggest the possibility. Light itself isn't as necessary as heat and water.

As a Christian who believes both in evolution and God the creator, this news is intriguing. If there is life on Enceladus, does this put an end to challenges to evolution? We will see, but this is the first evidence we have of water on another planetary object -- so we must stay tuned. My faith is not damaged, because in the end, it is the big picture that matters.

Take a look at the story --
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11736311/

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Downfall of Barry Bonds

It likely comes as no surprise but a new book appears to document Barry Bonds' use of steroids to accomplish his recent baseball feats -- including 73 home runs, eclipsing Mark McGuire's equally suspect 70 home runs. As an avid Giants fan who has a Barry Bonds bobble head doll on his desk, I will be expected to defend him. I must confess my conflicted soul! I can't excuse him and yet I must. I must find a way to excuse his petty chase of glory, his hubris at thinking he could get away with it, I must point fingers towards others -- they did it, why make Barry the scape goat. Of course, Barry isn't a friendly kind of guy. He's surly and self-centered. McGuire is nicer and he's also white. So, we'll wade through the season, wondering if Barry can pass first the Babe and then Hank. I doubt he passes Hank. Of course the point of all this is this -- with our consumer driven society -- we want to see big scores and big hits. Ichiro doesn't get the same attention as McGuire or Bonds because he hits singles not home runs. We got what we paid for and now we want to call for a pure game (as if that ever did exist -- I mean the Babe, Cobb, were not saints). Let's hear it for Shoeless Joe!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Burying our Heads in the Sand

Reading in the Washington Post today I read of increased efforts to "plug leaks" that supposedly jeopardize national security. Now I'm not for jeopardizing national security, but it does concern me that we would criminalize efforts to alert the American public to government misdeeds or problematic actions. Secret prisons, illegal surveillance, prisoner abuse -- do we really want to remain in the dark about such things? In the 1940s the German populace claimed ignorance of the Nazi program of genocide -- they didn't want to know and the government was only too eager to oblige them.

Whether the executive branch is in Republican or Democratic hands, the press provides an important check on unconstrained political power. The current administration is more concerned about secrecy than most, but it's not the first to be so concerned. But secrecy, though needed in certain areas, must always be kept in proper bounds. Prosecuting journalists for sharing stories like Abu Graib would be not only unjust but counterproductive. Besides, the BBC will not be under any constraints. Do we want to be relegated to getting our news from foreign sources. Let's pull our heads out of the sand and remember why we are Americans!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Distorted Views?

A letter to the editor in the Lompoc Record raises questions about my weekly column -- why does it have such a prominent place in the paper? Favoritism is the suggested reason. But that's neither here nor there. The charge made there suggests that I distort the truth. This is an interesting charge. I wonder what truths I've distorted. Is it my rejection of biblical literalism and scientific creationism? Is it my challenge to intelligent design (as commonly described)? Is it my challenge to the death penalty on theological grounds? Or maybe its my openness to people of other religions. I will plead guilty on all counts! But whether these views distort truth is a different ball game. It would appear that I distort truth as my interlocutor defines it. This is what makes public debate so interesting and dangerous. We don't seem to start at the same place. So, I'll continue sharing my ideas and in the eyes of some I will continue distorting the truth!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Saying No!

Lent has begun and we hear the call to examine our lives. Lent is sort of a spring cleaning season. At the same time we begin Lent with Jesus' forty day fast and temptation. In this story Jesus faces temptation from Satan. He is weak with hunger and thirst, but he says no. As I shared in my sermon this morning, saying no is not as easy as we'd like to think. It's not simply a matter of knowing better (I know quite well that I take in more food than I burn off in a day) nor is it a matter of will power (I would that I said no to those extra calories). Saying no requires much of us. As I begin Lent I hear the reminder to stop and reexamine my commitments and involvements. I already have overshadowed myself, so there isn't much room left to fill. Saying no though remains a tough sell! But as the Spirit fills me (us) perhaps I will find the strength Jesus found and live by the word of God!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Commitment to the Team

Today my son's jazz band played in a competition. Because some of the band members had other commitments or chose not to show up, the band was short about 5 or so players. This meant they couldn't play all their songs nor did the sound their best. The ones who showed, they gave their all, but you could tell they were disappointed. So, it just goes to show you, when the team is short, it takes greater effort, and even that can't cover for all the absences. Just a thought!

Friday, March 03, 2006

It's My Birthday, so there!

Today I turn 48, yes that's 2 years shy of a half a century. My son turns 16 a month from today. Milestones galore!! As I near that half-century mark, I begin to realize that I've probably lived more than half my life. I'm not a kid anymore. The dreams, they become more realistic. The aches and pains a bit greater. But then I think of some of my parishioners -- in their 70s and 80s and even 90s -- who keep on trucking. Life is a journey and milestones remind us from whence we came. Life is different than I had expected, but that's true of us all. But in the end, life is what we make of it. I'm glad I've not traveled this road alone. God has been with me, most often in the persons of church people who have encouraged me and supported me. I think of Sunday School teachers and youth pastors, college profs and seminary profs, friends and companions -- Paul Sabo and John Harmon, Ray Wheeler and Del Ford, Dennis Helsabeck and Herb Works, Jim Bradley and Keith Watkins, Tom, Patty, Kari, Peggy and Jan, my mom Bev and my wife, Cheryl. It is good to know that we don't walkt this path alone! And now it is my church in Lompoc. Everyone of them is a blessing to me!!

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ashes!

It is now Ash Wednesday and the Lenten journey has begun. Lent calls us to reflect upon Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. He fasted and prayed and he faced temptation -- temptation to take the easy road to success. Be flashy, the tempter said. But Jesus chose a different route, one that led to the cross. By any "worldly" measure, Jesus was in his earthly life at least, an abject failure. And yet!

The ashes they are the marker of death and the marker of grief. We come today to receive the mark of death, knowing that in the process we return to life. This is the path Jesus took and he invites us to follow upon it.