Wednesday, October 31, 2007

When's Torture not Torture?

Do you remember the day when Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey unequivocally denounced the use of torture and said that an earlier DOJ memo suggesting that the President could get around the law on torture was a mistake? I was fairly excited when I heard that. But as with previous Bush appointments, things aren't what they seem.
It seems that someone got to him and told him that President Bush is against "torture," but the President wants to be free to decide what is torture and what isn't torture. This has led the candidate to backtrack and take up the Administration line. As detailed in an article carrying the inauspicious headline "Mukasey Punts on Torture," we learn that Mukasey won't say whether waterboarding is torture.

The conflict between Bush and Congress put Mukasey in a bind. A refusal by him to condemn the practice as torture, makes greater Democratic opposition to his nomination inevitable. But if he were to have given Democrats the unambiguous statement they sought, he would have stripped the U.S. intelligence agents of an interrogation technique that the Bush administration says is necessary in the war on terrorism.

Mukasey informed senators that his legal opinion on waterboarding would depend on the facts and circumstances of the program and reminded them that he had not been briefed on the government’s interrogation program and techniques.

You know with something like this, either it is or it isn't. Too bad -- but he doesn't seem fit to be AG! But Michael Westmoreland-White had warned me this would happen.

A Halloween Reminder

What better message for a Halloween preceding an election cycle. For more scary thoughts see my posting at Faithfully Liberal!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Importance of Intentionality and Christian Practices

Diana Butler Bass has uncovered a significant issue for churches of all sizes and shapes -- programs don't shape you or form you, practices do. Programs lead to dependence, practices to growth. We know this, but so often we fail to practice it.
Diana notes that Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and guru of the Seeker-Oriented Church movement has recognized that they had missed the ball on this themselves. It isn't a slight on them, it's a recognition that we all falter. The fact that biblical illiteracy (Stephen Prothero) is so prevalent in this supposedly Christian nation is proof in the pudding.
As I look at my own ministry and where it may take me, I have to ask -- where is the intentionality? Where is the Practice? Where is the Vitality? Clergy themselves enjoy dependent relationships -- I do believe -- but the church isn't healthy as a result. Instead, if we teach folk to grow in faith and practice, good things will happen.

Mormon Studies in California

With Mitt Romney running for President and Harry Reid the top guy in the Senate, Mormons are definitely making themselves felt in the mainstream. The Church of Jesus of Christ of Latter Day Saints has been with us for sometime -- it's not a new religion -- but until recently it was largely marginal to American life.
But growing up in the West, the LDS church has had at least a degree of prominence. I've had my share of Mormon friends and while I'm not at all inclined to be a Mormon, nor do I find its theology at all compelling, the people as a whole are in my experience genuinely good folk.
But, they aren't well understood. That Claremont Graduate University is launching a Mormon Studies program -- the first in California and the 2nd at a secular university -- is a good sign. That is, there is an effort underway to bring the study of Mormonism into the center of the academy. According to an LA Times report, the first person to hold the new chair (a visiting position) is Columbia University historian, Richard Bushman. Bushman is both a distinguished American historian, he is also a devout Mormon. Having written more broadly on American religious history, he is the author of two biographies of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. I read the first one, published in 1984 years ago while a graduate student.
Whatever your feelings about this religious faith, it is essential that we understand it. Hopefully, this program will be a start!

Why Rudy?

Nancy Kruh surveys a group of pundits -- mostly conservative -- on why Rudy Giuliani maintains his lead, despite statements from Dobson and others that they will not support him. The question that is bandied about concerns whether the Social Conservatives have lost their clout -- some of that is true of course. The newer crop of leaders has a broader agenda, or at least they're open to a broader agenda. They're also seeing that the political stridency of the fading generation has not worked well among younger folks. All of this is true.

Still the question is: Why Rudy? His positions on abortion, homosexuality, and other social issues, together with his own past "indiscretions," make him a most unusual candidate for the trending rightward GOP. Romney has had his flip-flops, McCain his maverick streaks, and Thompson just doesn't seem to have the drive. The only other GOP candidates that have raised any excitement value are two very different souls -- Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. Paul is the libertarian who opposes the war and the social agenda of the Right. Huckabee supports the war but is up front a social conservative. They draw excitement -- but they remain, at least for now, on the margins.

So, back to Rudy. I do believe the issue is war and fear. People are afraid. They don't like the way GW has handled things -- they see him as at best incompetent. But Rudy offers for some at least the sense of a sure hand. But what he offers most is a sense of authoritarianism that is attractive to many. Hitler, Stalin, Mao -- they were despicable characters, but they had their followers, many of whom saw in them a savior and a protector. I do think that many in this country are willing to exchange their freedoms for protection. Rudy promises them that -- though in the long run that could be more dangerous to the world and to the nation.

But Rudy isn't the first to use fear to gain the nation's attention. GW did it, Ronnie did it, indeed LBJ did it.


Monday, October 29, 2007

The Joys of Subbing

Today is an interesting day for me. I'm teaching 4th graders -- at my wife's Catholic school. Not sure why I volunteer to do this -- the pay isn't that great. But I do get to experience "the classroom," which pleases my longsuffering teacher-wife.

We all have our gifts -- teaching young children isn't part of my gift mix, but as they say, this is good for me.

Having posted about the myth of the good old days, when I sub I do wonder whether we were as squirrelly as these kids are. They just can't keep still and they all seem to be such social butterflies. So much fun!

I think I'll stick to my day job.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leave it to the Beav

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
October 28, 2007

Theodore Cleaver, better known to the world as “The Beaver,” turns 50 this fall. Although I was too young to watch it when it came out - I was born during the first season of the series - I've been watching reruns since I can remember.

For some reason I've always liked this show, especially when the Beaver was younger. There were so many great characters - Wally, Lumpy, Eddie Haskell, Gilbert, Whitey, Larry Mondello, and the rest of the gang. Beaver could get into mischief, but nothing too devious or destructive. By the time the episode ended everything had worked out, often because Ward, the Beaver's Dad, resolved the problems.

Ah, those were “the good old days,” back when “things were simple.” Dad worked and Mom stayed home. While Ward would come home and change from his suit coat into his sweater, June always wore a dress - even when she was gardening. Yes, those were the days!
Of course that was a mythical world - a world dominated by middle-class WASPish values. As you think back to the show, remember how white and middle class it was. In this portrayal, life was simple and the streets were safe. Watching the reruns on TV Land, we're tempted to think how nice it would be to return to the “Good Old Days.” Back to the 1950s, back when Ike was president.

But is this picture an authentic one, or is the camera aimed too narrowly?
Living as we do in troubled times, it's not surprising that many want to take refuge in such a mythical golden age. It offers an escape from the realities of daily life and offers a retreat into a state of innocence. As attractive as this picture might be, there's a reason why the 1960s happened.

Without a doubt, the 1960s was a time of change. During this tumultuous decade, the stifling rules of American life were questioned and in many cases thrown out. This was especially true in regard to issues such as gender roles (June would be freed from her dress), race (a more colorful world emerged from the shadows), and war (it became OK to question). Myths of a national consensus were revealed to be just that - myths.

I thought about these myths as I recently watched the wonderful movie musical “Hairspray.” This movie, which features wonderful performances by John Travolta as Edna Turnblad and Nikki Blonsky as her daughter Tracy, uses humor, song, and dance to remind us that the good old days might have been “peaceful,” but they weren't necessarily just. The walls that divided remained in place and could prove difficult to scale.

A theme runs through the movie: that it's good to question conventional wisdom. It's appropriate to protest and remove the walls that divide us. Stereotypes need to be challenged, and roles assigned by society that are unjust should be overturned. The 1960s might have been an age of chaos and rebellion, but do we really want to go back to the time before this transitional era to a time when everyone had their place and knew it? Do we really want to go back to a time when we trusted our leaders to such an extent that we allowed them to lead us blindly into places we'd be better off not going? As I reflect on that last question, I wonder how far we've come in that regard!

The present has its issues, and the future is full of uncertainty. It's easy to take refuge in the past. But it's the future that stands before us. It's the future that will ultimately mold us. As a parent of a young man who is soon to graduate from high school and take his place in the world, I'm just a bit anxious about his future - that's normal parental concern - but my hope is that the world he will enter is a better place than the one I was born into 50 years ago!
To dwell in the past is to live in fear of the present or the future, but to live in hope is to put away fear and embrace the life of faith. As a person of faith in the God revealed in Jesus, I choose to live with my eyes and my heart pointed forward into the future, for that is where God is truly present.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is Pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
October 28, 2007

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tending to the Spiritually Homeless

In reading the excellent new book by Eric Elnes, Asphalt Jesus (Jossey Bass, 2007), I came across his discussion of the issue of spiritual homelessness. I find this an intriguing idea. Diana Butler Bass speaks of tourists/nomads and pilgrims, but this concept is more troubling. Eric Elnes writes in the context of his walk across America -- a trek that essentially put him and his compatriots in a position of being without their normal abodes for a time.
Noting that the polls say that somewhere around 90% of Americans speak of themselves as being Christian, but on any given Sunday maybe 20 to 30% participate. There is, then, a tremendous disparity between those considering themselves to be Christian and those actually participating. He then writes:

Apparently two-thirds of all Christians in America feel so alienated or so indifferent or see church as so irrelevant that they aren't showing up. I call these Christians the "spiritually homeless." Many of those we met on our walk across America told us they have faith but had found no spiritual community in which they felt at home practicing it. They felt spiritually disconnected and alone. (Asphalt Jesus, p. 105)

The question is -- how interested are we as church in reaching out to the spiritually homeless?

Oregon Ducks Win!!!

I may live in Southern California -- have for much of the last 25 years of my life -- but ultimately I'm an Oregon Ducks fan. And today the #5 Ducks beat USC. It was a tough game, but all I can say is. We won!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Troubling Rhetoric On Iran

Every day, it seems, the rhetoric about Iran gets ratcheted up. There was that Congressional resolution about the Republican Guard. There were statements from the Veep on making sure Iran doesn't get its hands on nuclear weaponry (stated in ways reminiscent of statements made about Iraq prior to an earlier unwarranted invasion), and then the President's eerie warnings about preventing WW III -- ironically by starting it, if we read between the lines correctly -- then there were the statements of policy most recently by the Secretary of State.
Taken together the statements are ominous. Hopefully Congress is awake and not asleep at the wheel. "Pre-emptive" war against Iran will only inflame the region and drive a wedge more fully between the US and any allies it has left. That "coalition of the willing" will be indeed small.
Brian McLaren writes a strongly worded response in God's Politics, that needs a good hearing. He writes:

I am disgusted, concerned, appalled, and furious about the current saber-rattling of our government - so reminiscent of the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. My feelings intensify in many of our presidential candidates' forums, where each candidate seems to be in a hissing contest, declaring that he or she is the loudest hisser against terrorism - as if the only danger in the world is posed by an evil "them" and not by evil resident within us. Our Congress' bipartisan vote last month, which labeled the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, seems to me to be handing our president a "go to war free" card, another rather frightening development.

He writes further:

On top of these fears, I suspect that many of my fellow Christians will, in the name of God and Jesus and Christianity and the Bible, support and justify a preemptive war on Iran before and after it happens - no matter how unprovoked, no matter how brutal, and no matter how foolish and costly, both financially and morally.

As the church we must say no and do so on the basis of a faith committed to peace.

Politically we must also say no to a President out of control. I think I'm in agreement with the assessment of LA Times columnist Rosa Brooks, Bush and Cheney shouldn't be impeached, they need to be committed for they are acting as if they're MAD. To expand the war, which we don't have resources enough now to complete, is insane.
The poster is from Sojonet.

The Cautious Radical

Previously published at Faithfully Liberal: The Cautious Radical
By Pastor Bob Cornwall

I was talking to a friend of mine who had concluded that I am by nature cautious. I think that’s a fair statement. I’m pretty analytical and I weigh my options carefully.

My son, who is taking the AP US Government class brought home one of those self-analysis pieces. This one focused on political identity. He asked me a couple of questions and then plotted the answers. To no one’s surprise I came out as moderately liberal. Alas, not only am I “faithfully liberal” – why else would I write for this blog – but I’m also “moderately liberal.” And you know the curse of the moderate – they get run over in the middle of the road!

Cautious people tend to be pragmatic. They often try to split the difference; take what they can get; knowing that it’s better to get something than nothing. That’s the tactic being taken on the ENDA legislation – better to get something for gays and lesbians now, and then go back later and take care of transgender people later. The compromisers are getting hammered. I think Barack Obama is a cautious liberal. He is strongly supportive of gay rights, but he’s not willing to dump a black gospel singer who happens to take anti-gay views. Barack is getting hammered.

My son discovered that he is a radical liberal – but he’s only 17 and time will tell. Many radicals have become more moderate and even conservative as they age. Now, I’ve gone the other direction. I’ve become more liberal as I’ve aged, but I’ve done this gradually, which is maybe because I’m a cautious sort of guy.
Radicalness is for youth – I’m in middle age. But I do believe that change is necessary in this nation and in this world. Sometimes that requires that we do something radical – and radical of course means “going to the root.” We need, it would seem, to get to the root of the things that keep us from being the people we’re meant to be!

A Hunger for a Positive Faith

Cross posted at Faithfully Liberal: A Hunger for a Positive Faith

I’m bewildered sometimes by the anger I see coming from so many sectors of American society. You find it on the left and on the right and maybe even in the middle. The polarization is seemingly at an all time high – I doubt its true, but it feels that way. I wonder how we might do things differently. How we might make a difference.
I’m at the halfway point in reading Eric Elnes’ Asphalt Jesus, and I’ve found reading the book to be spiritually moving event. The book, which tells the story of a group of progressive Christians led by progressive UCC the pastor from Scottsdale, AZ, offers a different take on what’s really happening. We discover along the way that while many churches and their leaders are closed to conversation there are whole sectors of the community that are hungry to hear of a new way of being human and even being Christian. This group CrossWalk America sought to bear testimony to the Phoenix Affirmations, which I won’t go into now. But there’s a quote from the book that is illustrative of a war forward. Eric comments on his encounter with a church group in Hereford, TX. They weren’t all on board with the Affirmations, but they were willing to have a conversation. And in the course of conversation a new openness was forged. He writes:

It may have been the asphalt that stuck to our shoes as we entered Hereford on Saturday, but we left on Monday with something else stuck to us that we would not be able to shake for the rest of the walk: an awareness that one of the great forces of change in our country will not come through the power of rhetoric or even through the power of “superior” beliefs but through people following Jesus crossing lines, and becoming friends. (Asphalt Jesus, Jossey Bass, 2007, p. 83).

Going this route toward change will take time, because it’s a gradualist approach. But in the long run it is likely to be more effective, and it will respond to a deep hunger for a positive faith and values.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Just Proofread!!

Being that I'm an editor myself -- and hate to proofread -- here is a too funny comedy routine that speaks to the problems of not proofreading and then depending on the spell checker!
So, have a laugh -- while you head off to proofread!

Oh, I hope I didn't mess anything up!

Hat tip to Tony Jones

A Church Recovers From Fire

The good news is that the winds have died down and the firefighters are better able to get a handle on the many fires raging across Southern California. The other good news is that the estimated number of displaced persons is much lower than the earlier estimate of a million. It's still rather warm but the conditions are improving.

One of the stories of this fire has focused on Malibu Presbyterian Church, a congregation my wife attended while a Pepperdine student back in the late 1970s. It was one of the first buildings to go, and as a pastor I know how important the building is to the life of a congregation. Yes, it's the people and not the building, but as is true here, the building has its own life. There are mementos that are irreplaceable, records lost, pictures, resources, books, of all kinds. But the good news in this is the spirit of the congregation to reemerge like a phoenix from the fire, more committed than ever to mission and outreach.

The LA Times quotes UCLA Religion professor -- a former professor of mine while in seminary, Scott Bartchy:

The strength of any church is the sense of mutual support and common mission," said S. Scott Bartchy, director of UCLA's Center for the Study of Religion.

"If anything, when the building is lost for any reason, that sense of mutuality and common purpose is not at all weakened. Rather . . . adversity tends to strengthen those values," he said.

And so it is, in spite of the importance of the building and all that it holds, it is the people after all, their support of one another and the witness they bring to the community, that is the essence of the church.
So, we watch the recovery. Yes, the Malibu church is affluent, but as the story notes, they are planning to keep their commitment to give a half a million to an outreach ministry in urban LA. May we take heart in their example!

The Public Face of Buddhism -- Sightings

The pictures of Burmese Buddhist monks marching peacefully through the streets of Rangoon, protesting a brutal military dictatorship, caught the world's attention. When the military struck violently back at the peaceful protesters we were horrified. John C. Holt writes in today's Sightings contribution from the Martin Marty Center a piece that helps us understand the context of this protest. He helps define in brief, the public face of Buddhism as seen in these protesters. He also notes that the junta has in essence declared war on Burmese culture. For those of us not all that familiar with Buddhism, this is a very helpful essay.


Sightings 10/25/07

The Public Face of Buddhism
-- John C. Holt

When most of us in North America think about Buddhist monks, the image we are likely to conjure is one of ochre-robed contemplatives engaged in the quietude of meditation. But in fact, there has been a debate within the Buddhist sangha (monastic community) over the past two millennia regarding the question of how the Buddhist monastic vocation might best be realized. This debate has been especially apparent in the Theravada tradition that has been dominant in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. On the one hand, vipassanadhura monks epitomize the Buddhist monastic ideal as a quest for enlightenment or nirvana through the reclusive practice of meditation, usually within remote forest hermitages. These are the monks who seem to have most captured the Western imagination. On the other hand, granthadhura monks, inspired by the Buddha's summons to "wander for the welfare of the many" in order to assuage the existential condition of dukkha ("unsatisfactoriness," "suffering") in this world of samsara, are far more likely to be encountered within the context of South and Southeast Asian Buddhist societies. These monks, involved as they are in a variety of social issues and activities within their communities, are the public face of Buddhism.
Monks of both persuasions continue to be supported by the Buddhist laity, as they have been throughout history. And there are cogent scriptural warrants for each found within Buddhist sutras. But it is the latter model that has gained increasing prominence in the twentieth century, as various members of the sangha have aligned themselves with political movements throughout South and Southeast Asia. Indeed, one of the arresting images I still remember vividly from the 1960s during the years of the Vietnam War, one that originally piqued my own curiosity about Buddhism, was the self-immolation of a protesting Buddhist monk in the streets of Saigon.
In these last few weeks of September and early October, Burmese Theravada monks have dared to express publicly their profound disapproval with the manner in which Myanmar's military junta has been the source of great dukkha for the people of Burma. While the images of violence that reached us here in the West were very disturbing, the actual violence that occurred in Yangon (Rangoon) and in other cities across the country, especially violence against monks, has been even more disturbing to most Burmese; for, while monks are symbols of the Buddha's dhamma (teaching, truth, law), they are also regarded as embodiments of what is valued most in Theravada societies.
In times of great social, economic and political change, monks are often seen as the defenders of the country's indigenous moral and cultural traditions. This is certainly why some Sinhalese voters recently elected nine Buddhist monks to parliament in Sri Lanka. It is also why, during the Second Indo-China War, Pathet Lao leaders in Laos sought to infiltrate the sangha to convince its respected monks of its cause in fighting the Americans. Indeed, enlisting the support of the sangha has become a political sine qua non for all aspiring political players in this region of the world. Before colonialism, the sangha legitimated Buddhist kingship in these countries, as it does still in Thailand today. Contemporary politicos always seek, in one manner or another, to gain a similar legitimacy by winning support from members of the sangha. By attacking peacefully demonstrating members of the sangha violently in public, the Burmese political junta has crossed a threshold, one that has evaporated any modicum of legitimacy that it may have previously enjoyed. Were Burma democratic, then the military junta would have committed political suicide by its dastardly acts.
Aside from the military, the sangha is the only other nation-wide institution in Burma. While it is unlikely that the sangha will join with armed resistance groups representing other ethnic minorities in Burma, it is now clear from these recent events that the Burmese junta is isolated from the rest of Burmese society. It can only hold on to power by means of naked aggression against its own people, and against the moral and cultural values that the sangha embodies. By its actions, the junta has declared that it is now at war with Burmese culture itself.

John C. Holt (Ph.D. 1977) is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the Humanities in Religion and Asian Studies at Bowdoin College. He has been named the Divinity School's 2007 Alumnus of the Year. The Alumnus of the Year Address, in which Dr. Holt will lecture on "The Spirit(s) of the Place: Buddhism and the Religious Culture of Laos," will be held next Thursday, November 1, at 4pm in the Swift Lecture Hall.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Beyond the Atheism-Religion Divide

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris -- they continue to make the bestseller lists with their strident critiques of religion, which they consider to be both insipid and dangerous. Harvey Cox, a theologian and author of one of the 1960s biggest sellers -- The Secular City -- offers a different view.
Cox appears on Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith and shares his view of the current state of the religious world. Back in the 60's, when he wrote The Secular City conventional wisdom on the part of sociologists and other observers was that religion was heading for the margins. The secular city was on the road to dominance. Science not religion would be the dominant voice. Four decades later religion is still very much with us. While the New Atheists seem to have tapped into the angst of many observers of the bad side of religion, their critique isn't anything new nor is it especially sophisticated.
Cox finds a more cogent conversation partner in the late Stephen Jay Gould, his late Harvard colleague, who wrote of the religion-science conversation in his book Rock of Ages. This selection from Gould's book was read for the audience. I think it speaks well of the possibilities:
Reader: I'm not a believer. I am an agnostic in the wise sense of T.H. Huxley, who coined the word in identifying such open-minded skepticism as the only rational position because, truly, one cannot know. Nonetheless … I have a great respect for religion. The subject has always fascinated me, beyond almost all others (with a few exceptions, like evolution, paleontology, and baseball). Much of this fascination lies in the stunning historical paradox that organized religion has fostered throughout Western history, both the most unspeakable horrors and the most heartrending examples of human goodness in the face of personal danger.
I believe with all my heart in a respectful, even loving, concordat between the magisteria of science and religion … on moral and intellectual grounds, not a merely diplomatic solution. [This] also cuts both ways. If religion can no longer dictate the nature of factual conclusions residing properly within the magisterium of science, then scientists cannot claim higher insight into moral truth from any superior knowledge of the world's empirical constitution. This mutual humility leads to important practical consequences in a world of such diverse passions. We would do well to embrace the principle and enjoy the consequences.
Note the highlighted portion of Gould's statement. I find that very helpful and enlightening.
This conversation with Cox, which I've listened to twice already, is worth attending to. It suggests fruitful areas of dialogue between religion and science and many other fields. Cox talks about how at Harvard there are important conversations going on between scientists and religious studies people. Harvard has introduced a moral/ethical component to their undergraduate curriculum -- which has led to Cox's teaching a course on Jesus that attracts hundreds of students every year.
One thing that Cox said that stuck with me was the fact that there is this sacred/secular pendulum that seems to swing back and forth -- correcting one over reaching moment or another. Where we're at right now is what is interesting to consider. Have we become tired out by religion -- especially the strident sort? Only time will tell. In the meantime -- listen to the conversation here.

The Outing of Dumbledore

Sexual identity has become a more complex and intriguing concept. Even in children's books, or at least children's books that become more mature, we find it important to understand the sexual dynamics of a character.

Word is out that Albus Dumbledore, the late headmaster of Hogwarts (He dies in volume 6) was gay. The object of his attraction was his arch-nemesis -- Gellert Grindlewald -- a sort of precursor to Voldemort. Grindlewald had been his closest friend and then an enemy he was forced to defeat.

I'm pretty dense so I didn't recognize the sexual tension in the books, but apparently other had and they'd speculated, so J.K. Rowling chose to make the revelation.

So, what do we do with the news? I expect conservative Christians who already see it as a devilish series in support of witchcraft will see this as further proof of its Satanic nature. Others will be confused and wonder about his time spent with young boys. Still others perhaps will see this as an opportunity to celebrate tolerance! After all, part of the series purpose seems to have been just that. It espouses a philosophy of respect of those who are different -- Mudbloods, Muggles, Purebloods, etc.

John Cloud, writing in Time, calls for Dumbledore to go back into the proverbial closet and wonders how beneficial his character is for the gay community.
But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That's pathetic, and a little creepy. It's also a throwback to an era of pop culture when the only gay characters were those who committed suicide or were murdered. As Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) points out, in film after film of the mid-century—Rebel Without a Cause; Rebecca; Suddenly, Last Summer—the gay characters must pay for their existence with death. Like a lisping weakling, Dumbledore is a painfully selfless, celibate, dead gay man, so forgive me if I don't see Rowling's revelation as great progress.

There is some truth to what Cloud has to say. So in the end I'm still not sure what to make of the revelation -- in part because I'm not sure how it fills out Dumbledore's character. But even if it's not the perfect characterization, if it offers the opportunity to empower young people who are gay and lesbian to see themselves as people of value. If it leads others to embrace a principle of respect, then this could have good benefits.

I'm wondering what you think?

SoCal Fires and Week of Compassion

Week of Compassion is the Disciples outreach ministry. I received an update as to what Week of Compassion will be doing -- with a link to donate. Week of Compassion works through Church World Service to bring aid and comfort to those in need. The overhead is very low and the accountability is very high.

Firestorms Rage Across Southern California

Firestorms continue to rage across southern California. A million people have been evacuated. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been engulfed, and more than a thousand homes and other structures destroyed. Fierce Santa Ana winds continue to fuel the flames, and many of the fires remain zero percent contained.

Week of Compassion is in regular and frequent contact with the regional office of the Christian Church in the Pacific Southwest and as many local pastors as we can contact. We have learned that numerous Disciples families, especially in the San Diego area, have been evacuated. WOC is also in contact with Church World Service in assessing needs and possibilities for long-term recovery responses.

WOC has begun to garner resources to respond promptly to Disciples families affected, as well as support larger church-related community responses that will develop. Designated gifts can be made to WOC and will be used in their entirety for relief and recovery efforts from the wildfires. Gifts can be made via the WOC website: or sent to WOC, attn: Elaine Cleveland, P.O. Box 1986, Indpls, IN 46206.

WOC will continue to post Updates as we gather additional information over the next few days. Donate Online to California Wildfires

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

SoCal Inferno

We're far enough north of the fires in Santa Barbara and in Lompoc (I pastor in the latter, live in the former) so that we're in no danger (at least for now), but the skies are full of smoke from the fires burning across the region. It's hot and windy -- more so to the south of us.
This isn't anything new. Santa Ana winds blow every year and given the right conditions can unleash fire storms. This past summer we experienced the effects of the massive Zaca Fire here in the Santa Barbara area, but that fire was confined largely to the back country. But if that same fire had been alive during Santa Ana winds it could have blown right into Santa Barbara. That is the problem with this situation. Fires have started right in the middle of highly populated areas. Our thoughts and prayers are with those caught in the middle of what is best termed an inferno.
It would seem that the Federal Response is once again belated. It is now Tuesday, major resources won't get here perhaps until tomorrow, but the fires started Sunday. We need to find out how to act more quickly to such events. Earlier today I heard that about a half a million people have been evacuated, mostly in San Diego County. That's almost on a Katrina scale. Now the aftermath probably won't be Katrina like, but it is still massive.
I have already had conversation with Week of Compassion, the Disciples relief arm. They will likely be seeking to work ecumenically as the week goes on to provide resources, as they did with Katrina and other disasters. The call will be issued, may we respond with compassion.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Choosing Freedom in a Time of Fear

I contributed a commentary to Disciples World on Galatians, which was published this month. I'm posting the first paragraph and then invite you to follow the link to the Disciples World web site, where you can finish reading the piece.
Why would anyone trade freedom for slavery? Although we’d like to think we’d never do such a thing, fear can be a compelling reason to choose slavery over freedom. Fear isn’t rational, and it can overwhelm our best instincts. Freedom involves a degree of uncertainty and insecurity, making it a bit unsettling to our spirits. Slavery, on the other hand, while abhorrent to us, involves its own sense of security — the security of not having to take responsibility for one’s self. Click here to continue reading.

"For the Bible Tells Me So" in Santa Barbara

At long last I will have the opportunity to see the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So." It is being featured at the 2007 LBGT Film Festival in Santa Barbara. As you can see, I'll be making a somewhat official appearance. Once I've seen the film, I'll give you all a report and a review.
Saturday, November 3, Metro Four Theatre
2:15 pm ---
For the Bible Tells Me So Dan Karslake's provocative, entertaining documentary brilliantly reconciles homosexuality and Biblical scripture, and in the process reveals that Church-sanctioned anti-gay bias is based almost solely upon a significant (and often malicious) misinterpretation of the Bible. Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families—including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson—we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard's Peter Gomes, and Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg, For the Bible Tells Me So offers healing, clarity, and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity. Winner of Audience Award at Outfest 2007, Nominee for Grand Jury Prize Sundance 2007, and winner of awards at the Seattle and Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Film Festivals. Dir. Dan Karslake/USA 2006/97 min.Invited guests: Executive Producers Keith Lewis and Robin Voss, Rev. Steve Kindle, Rev. Mark Asman, Dr. Bob Cornwall.
This movie will be followed by a discussion with the above invited guests.

On Wuthnow -- Sightings

There are statistics and then the interpretation of statistics. America remains a largely religious nation, especially in comparison to Europe. But there are alarming trends, especially among younger Americans. Religious life isn't what it used to be, or at least that's the trend. Martin Marty takes a look at the alarm set off by Robert Wuthnow's new book After the Baby Boomers and Brian McLaren's review.

It would appear that we must open our eyes to the realities swirling around us! Read on:


Sightings 10/22/07

On Wuthnow
-- Martin E. Marty

Demographers, statisticians, sociologists, and some theologians serve the culture and the religious institutions within it by measuring the stated beliefs and observable religious behavior of citizens. Church attendance is one of the most conspicuous and measurable of these behaviors. Yes, we know that counting church members and attendees only measures church membership and attendance. We know, and the social scientists know, that in a time when individualized "spirituality" has its vogue, we are to remember that there are all kinds of ways to be in touch with the transcendent, to be in tune with the infinite, and to reach for the moral life.

We know that, but by observing other cultures, especially those of Western Europe, we also know that the desertion of the Catholic church in former strongholds such as Ireland and Spain, the emptying of Lutheran churches in historic bastions like Scandinavia and eastern Germany, or the bleak attendance at Anglican or almost all other churches in England, even on Easter morning, changes more than church statistics. Such cultures can "coast," for a while, with the memory of a faith that did shape society and culture, for better and for worse. But as generations pass and distance grows, so do the values which issued from the body of believers gathered in communities called, for example, "the church."

"As generations pass." A review in the October 16th Christian Century by Brian D. McLaren, a leader in "the emerging church," of Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow's important new book After the Baby Boomers: How Twenty- and Thirty-Sometings are Shaping the Future of American Religion is a potential wake-up signal, an alarm blast. Those who think that Sightings does not frequently enough isolate and treat that generation might conclude after reading McClaren and Wuthnow that one reason we do not treat the topic often enough is because people aged twenty-one to forty-five are hard to find among church members and regular attendees.

Wuthnow writes, "If I were a religious leader, I would be troubled by the facts and figures currently describing the lives of young Americans, their involvement in congregations, and their spiritual practice." He advises: Don't draw conclusions "from where the action is," but on the basis of "a full consideration of where the action is not." He wants religious leaders to do more than strategize how to help congregations survive, but instead to work for their vitality.

Wuthnow's main conclusion is that "young adults are marrying later, having fewer children and having them later, moving more often, going to college in higher numbers, living with more immigrant neighbors and therefore more ethnic and religious diversity, and living in the suburbs even more than their baby boomer parents." Changes like these (more than TV, the Internet, "secular humanism," or "relativism") give rise to the startling trends and statistics that Wuthnow uncovers in interviews. He finds find that this generation talks about religion more than any other, and that their core beliefs remain stable—except beliefs about how the spiritual life and God-talk are to be related to communal life, worship, and common action. Wuthnow's advice? Have babies, and much more. McLaren's advice: "Listen to young adults," and then reform and act.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Power of Forgiveness

Faith in the Public Square
October 21, 2007

Nearly a century ago, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died in Turkey. By any measure, this example of ethnic cleansing deserves to be called genocide, but unfortunately Turkey continues to deny that genocide occurred during the final years of the Ottoman Empire. Even as discussion of this event is taboo in Turkey, geopolitics has left much of the world silent as well. It's not surprising - Turkey is an important American ally and is in general considered moderate and western in its policies. So, there is a conspiracy of silence regarding the Armenian genocide.
When the House of Representatives recently voted in committee to send a non-binding resolution to the full House, Turkey recalled its ambassador and the Bush administration tried to distance itself from the resolution.
Everyone here seems to agree that something horrible happened nearly a century ago - even the Turks recognize that the Armenian people suffered during this period. But it is argued that now is not the time. Turkey is too important an ally in the war on terror and central to the Iraq war effort to offend them.
But when will it be a good time? A similar resolution was pulled from a House vote in the 1990s at the insistence of the Clinton administration because of Turkish sensitivities - and there was no war being fought at the time.
This particular resolution does little more than recognize that genocide occurred - the Turks can deny it, but we need not abet their denial. I understand the embarrassment that the Turks must feel, embarrassment that has led them to engage in nearly a century of denial. However, the time has come for them to set aside their embarrassment and acknowledge the truth of this matter. This will be painful, but it can lead to healing.
The United States has had to do much the same thing over the years. In recent years, Congress voted to apologize for and make reparations for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Then there's the Trail of Tears - certainly that qualifies as genocide and needs to be acknowledged as such. Various statements of apology have been made concerning the legacy of slavery. Some have said that these events lay far in the past and apologies and such are of little value - or are they?
Confession is good for the soul. In the Christian faith, we speak of repentance, of turning away from our sins and embracing the ways of God. Such confession leads, we're told, to reconciliation with God and with the one's offended (2 Corinthians 5).

Questions have been raised about the timing of the legislation, but perhaps the most important reason for taking this step is that our continued silence not only adds to the anguish of our nation's Armenian community, but it undermines our moral voice when speaking on other genocidal actions - such as Darfur or Zimbabwe.
It is said that when Hitler was poised to invade Poland, he said: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” That silence not only encouraged his invasion of Poland, it also set in motion the Holocaust. When the Iranian president questioned the historicity of the Holocaust, and even hosted a Holocaust Denial Convention, we, as we should have, recoiled in horror. To deny that this act of inhumanity perpetrated against the Jews occurred is unconscionable, and must be strenuously opposed. If this is true, then why are we timid when it comes to the Armenian genocide?

I have a good friend, a retired Methodist pastor, who is Armenian. He has told me of the suffering that continues to haunt the Armenian people. That pain cannot be lifted, he tells me, until the truth is told.I believe in the power of forgiveness. It stands at the center of my faith. Paul the Apostle speaks clearly about the possibilities of reconciliation. He speaks of all things being reconciled in Christ, so that all things might be made new. This is my hope and my prayer, that confession by the Turks will bring reconciliation with the Armenian people. May victim and victimizer show us the way forward so that genocide will become a term of history and not a description of present day realities.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 92438.

October 21, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Celebrating a New Ministry

Today we gathered -- we being the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) -- to formally elect (in the morning) and then install (in the afternoon) Don and Susan Gonzales Dewey as Co-Regional Ministers of our region. It was a grand day, one presided over by our General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins.
Don and Susan are good friends and I'm excited about their new ministry. This is both a challenging and an exciting time to be in church leadership. I'm confident that Don and Susan are the kind of visionary leaders we need, just as Sharon has shown herself to be with the General church.
Because we're not a hierarchical church, Don and Susan can only do as much as the churches allow them to do. They have a vision of empowering and releasing people to do ministry. They believe that the gifts are there, to be released. Because of the diversity present within this region -- both in the churches and even more so in the broader community, Sharon told us that the church at large is looking to us to be the example. It always seems to be that way, Southern California always leads the way, and again we shall do so. Our churches may not be grand -- no megachurches in our region -- but the seeds of hope are present.
If you know Don and Susan or if you're a friend of this region, pray for our new leaders, even as I will be in prayer for them.
I close this with a prayer for those who minister, especially Don and Susan, from Chalice Worship (Chalice Press, 1997).
We thank you, O God, for those whom you have called through the centuries to serve in the ministry of the church. Pour your blessings on those whom you have called today and especially on your servants Don and Susan whom we now remember; that by word and deed they may bear witness to your saving love and power and enable your people to grow up into him who is the Head, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and honor forever. Amen.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Radical Welcome -- A Review

Stephanie Spellers. Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other, and the Spirit of Transformation. New York: Church Publishing, 2006. xi + 180 pages.

Every church wants to be known as the “friendly church” or the “welcoming church,” even if they are neither friendly nor welcoming. Many a time a person has entered the doors of a congregation to find the welcome mat withdrawn or at least absent. Even churches that seek to live out their slogan of friendliness and welcome can fall short of expectations. Stephanie Spellers, an African-American woman Episcopal priest offers churches that seek to be truly welcoming an important resource and a strong challenge. It is a challenge to become more than an inviting and inclusive community faith to become one that is “radically welcoming.”

Radical Welcome is, according to our author, a spiritual practice. It’s not merely a means to an end; it is a fundamental aspect of being Christian and church. Radical Welcome “combines the universal Christian ministry of welcome and hospitality with a clear awareness of power and patters of inclusion and exclusion” (p. 11). In the course of writing this small book Spellers emphasizes the issue of power, or more specifically the willingness to cede power in the process of creating a space where “the Other” might find a home. It is an attempt to create a space for mutuality, and for this to happen, it must be done intentionally.

Radical Welcome involves conversion – on the part of the church itself. It is rooted in a theology that assumes that God is seeking our transformation and seeking to be in relationship with us. Our call to welcome “the Other” is rooted in God’s identity as the God of Welcome. God we learn is one who reaches out to all and not just to us. God is the one who seeks out the Prodigal – this is not a passive God, but one who actively loves.

This isn’t a along book, but it covers a lot of ground. It deals with matters of theology and practice. It illuminates our points of resistance – that is our fear of change and fear of “the Other.” It shines light on our discomfort with letting go of power. Radical Welcome moves beyond inviting, which seeks to bring others in through assimilation. “The Other” is invited in, but the expectation is that they will change, not us. They will, in the end become us. It also moves beyond inclusion, which Spellers defines as “incorporation.” A place is offered to the other to dwell safely, but the institution doesn’t change. Radical Welcome, on the other hand, is best defined by the term “incarnation.” It is a process where we enter into mutually transforming relationships. This is the goal of Radical Welcome.

To accomplish this goal, a church must be clear in its mission and vision, it must understand it’s identity, and discern not only what it is, but who is missing. Ministries must be designed so that they aren’t paternalistic. While leadership issues center on power, questions of worship will focus on finding ways to exhibit the diversity present.

Becoming a church such as the one described by Stephanie Spellers will require much of a church. She recognizes that such a community won’t emerge over night. In fact, it will likely come in stages, moving from inviting to inclusive and finally to radically welcoming others. There are important obstacles that range from tradition to power structures. The most important obstacle, however, is fear. Our fears are natural, even instinctive. In a world of constant change, many look to the church as a point of stability, and so change is not welcomed.

There is another fear that Spellers names and its one we tend to skirt, and that is the “fear of ‘the Other’.” The answer that many of us propose is relational. If we get to know each other we discover that we’re more alike than different. Spellers challenges that assumption. It is true that underneath we may be all the same, but in many ways we are all very different. Our cultures, languages, expectations, are very different, and these differences have to be accounted for. To accomplish we must create what she calls a “holding environment” – places that allow us to build trust and contain the stresses of change.

The book begins with theory, moves to identifying the issues, and then offers guidelines for accomplishing the goal of creating churches that are radically welcoming. The book is rooted in a project launched by Spellers in conjunction with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, which she serves as Minister of Welcome at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston. The objects of her study are Episcopal congregations around the United States that have sought to become “radically welcoming.” Their stories and their struggles are chronicled here, and they give depth to her words of wisdom.

In the closing pages of the book, the reader will find a lengthy list of online resources – resources the author has created for the purpose of taking the journey. These resources include questionnaires, workshop outlines, bible studies, lists of practices, and assessment tools. Following that is a significant bibliography. Everything, it seems, that’s needed, is provided. It only requires of us a commitment to follow God’s leading and become the body of Christ.

To read the book is to hear a call of God on the church to become more than it is. If you’re like me, you will discover that while you’re on the way, you’re a long ways from the finish line. But this resource will spur you on and it will help you discern the path. If you are white and part of a predominantly white church – as I am – then you will be challenged by the call to give up power, to share power, all of which requires us to take risks that can be painful. But, the end result will be worth taking the journey.

If you are seeking to become a truly welcoming congregation then this book is essential reading. It was recommended to me while I was attending the Disciples of Christ General Assembly. I had visited the booth of the “Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples” (GLAD) and when I asked what I needed to read, this was the book that was suggested. It’s not just about issues of homosexuality, though inclusion of gays and lesbians is part of the conversation, but it is bigger than that. It is a process of broadening and diversifying the church so that all voices are authentically welcomed and all who participate in the community are transformed by the encounter. Essential reading, that’s the conclusion.
Cross published at Faithfully Liberal.

Entering Uncharted Waters

I love the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland. It gives you a taste of adventure without having any risks involved. You get to see the back side of water, a safari group climb a pole at the tip of rhino's horn. Trader Sam will trade you two of his heads for one of yours. The best thing about the ride is that you can check out how the operators modify the script. Adventure without risk -- all waters charted, because, well you're riding on a track. That's the D-Land offering.
But life isn't quite the same. It has a lot more risk involved! We don't know where the road will lead.
Last night I submitted my ministry profile to the national office. I'm doing this not because I'm unhappy with my current congregation, but because it's part of my covenant with the congregation and with my region. When I began my current ministry -- after a year of interiming in Lompoc -- as "transitional pastor" it was agreed that I could submit my name for consideration, but the church would have to do a real search when the transition ended. Well, we've reached that point in time where decisions have to be made. I've been in Lompoc for three plus years. When my current relationship with them ends in July of 2008, I will have been there 4 years -- which is a pretty normal tenure for a pastor.
So the journey enters uncharted waters. We don't know where the road will lead. It could lead back to Lompoc or it could elsewhere. Everyone is a bit anxious -- the family, the congregation, the preacher. Whatever happens in July, all of our lives will be different. But then that's the way life is -- because it doesn't run on a track operated by a computer. We're free agents, able to choose, able to go our own way. It's not always easy or fun, but it is a real adventure.
The key it would seem is to keep close to God -- to keep things in prayer. Sunday the lectionary text is Luke 18:1-8. It's the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. In Luke Jesus uses the parable to teach us to pray unceasingly. And so we do, as we head out on the journey.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Then Sam was gone

Apparently it's official, that doyen of the Right, that voice of Conservative Christianity, Sam Brownback, is calling it quits. I'm kind of surprised that Sam never caught on with the Religious Right. Remember back when he and Barack appeared at Rick Warren's church to talk about AIDs or something like that? He seemed on his way to becoming a voice for the Values voter. And yet, he flamed out royally. Boy was I wrong about his chances -- then again I never thought Hillary would run.

When you see the Religious Right leadership scrambling to find a candidate who will carry their standard, you'd think either Sam or Mike would be a great choice. But faced with Rudy, Mitt, and Fred, they could never rally behind the ones who were most in line with their values.

Now I'm no Brownback fan -- haven't been since I first ran into him living in Kansas -- but I'm interested in what this portends for the future of the presidential race. his support might be small, but he had a group of loyal followers. So, we wait to see if his followers will now move over to Huckabee or even McCain, giving one of them a boost. Only time will tell.
The other question is, does this portend more dropouts in the weeks to come? That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

SHAME!! -- S-Chip Veto Override Falls Short

It is a shame that in a nation spending some $200 billion a year to fight a war we shouldn't be in can't find $35 billion to cover 10 million children in the US with health insurance. As reported in the NY Times the override fell 13 votes short. It already had sufficient support in the Senate.
The arguments about coverage of middle class kids or adults is bogus. The idea that it doesn't have support nationally is bogus. I mean if you have Charles Grassley and Orrin Hatch as supporters, a bill like this isn't a Democratic proposal. I mean if %70 of Republicans support this, as reported by the NY Times, then hey the Republicans who voted with the President need to have their heads examined.
Here's my response. If you voted with the President, expect to be booted out of office. I'm fortunate that my representative -- Lois Capps -- voted correctly, but there are 156 people who chose the wrong direction.
This bill, however, will be back and next time those 13 votes will be going the other way!

TV's Leap of Faith -- Sightings

We often bemoan the absence of religion on TV -- or if not the absence of respect for religion on TV. Not that religion has ever had a major role on TV -- though the Beaver occasionally went to church, as did Tim the Tool Man. But interestingly enough religion has become a staple of prime time cartoons -- such as The Simpsons and South Park. Mark Pinsky, a highly regarded religion writer, and author himself of a book on religion and The Simpsons, speaks to this issue in today's edition of Sightings. I think you will find it intriguing. By the way, I'm sorry to say I can't figure out how to keep the King of the Hill video from starting up. Just click the play button and it'll stop -- but be sure to check it out anyway, as it fits today's subject.


Sightings 10/18/07

TV's Leap of Faith
-- Mark I. Pinsky

Imagine the Hollywood pitch meeting: Producers try to convince cable television executives to green light a new series about a burned out Oklahoma City homicide detective named Grace. She smokes, drinks, swears, looks for love in all the wrong places, and is played by Holly Hunter. So far, so good, the money guys say, but what's the gimmick? Well, there's this cantankerous but folksy angel named Earl who tries – without much success – to save her from herself (and hell). Hence the show's title, Saving Grace. Hmm, an angel of redemption who sounds like a Southern Baptist, having no luck convincing a lapsed Catholic to mend her ways.

Where do we communicate most effectively to young people about faith? Certainly not in the sanctuary or the classroom. "More theology is conveyed in, and probably retained from, one hour of popular television, than from all the sermons that are delivered on any given weekend in America's synagogues, churches and mosques," Phyllis Tickle writes in God Talk in America.

After decades of avoiding religion for fear of alienating viewers and sponsors, prime time television discovered an audience for faith-related shows. That is, as long as the series were upbeat, inspirational, and rarely (if ever) used the word "Jesus." Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven begat Touched by an Angel and 7th Heaven; all enjoyed ratings and commercial success. But for shows taking a more complex look at faith – Nothing Sacred, The Book of Daniel and Joan of Arcadia – the outlook has been bleak. So far, Saving Grace has survived its first season on TNT (next season, writers say, the title character will date a Jew), but students I spoke with recently at Southern Nazarene University in Oklahoma City were barely aware of it.

However, the real breakthrough in fostering grassroots discussion of religion hasn't come in TV programs premised on religion, but in the growing number of shows about people in whose lives faith plays a part. Increasingly in dramas and comedies, the "Christian character" is becoming as ubiquitous as the "gay character" (and, before that, the Hispanic and African American character). The "Muslim character" may not be far behind – a new CBS comedy, "Aliens in America ," has at its center a Pakistani exchange student.

Viewers seem to accept light-hearted treatments of serious religious issues in animated sitcoms even more readily than in live action shows. A chief example is The Simpsons, now in its 19th season and just off its first feature film (which earned over half a billion dollars in theaters worldwide). This smart show features a family that is incidentally (rather than centrally) praying, church-going, grace-saying and Bible-reading. With sophistication and sympathy, The Simpsons has portrayed mainline, evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism; Catholicism; Judaism; Hinduism; Buddhism; religious cults; and Western missionaries in the Third World. Bible stories, the Ten Commandments' relevance, gay marriage, the soul's nature, and the tension between science and religion have also been front and center. Less obviously, dozens of other episodes include jokes and images about faith's role in characters' lives, especially in the evangelical next door neighbor, Ned Flanders.

Other animated shows have waltzed through the door that The Simpsons shouldered open. Futurama, also from The Simpsons' creator Matt Groening, had an award-winning episode focusing on God's nature and divine intervention. King of the Hill has considered women ministers, "extreme Christianity," and mega-churches. Even the cruel, harder-edged Family Guy, which gleefully crosses the line into blasphemy and sacrilege, says some serious things about issues like Catholic prejudice toward Protestants.

No show has been more fearless than Comedy Central's South Park, which regularly mines the territory between scatology and eschatology. The show has tackled radioactive topics like clergy sex abuse, Scientology, and portrayals of Islam by Western television. An episode dealing with Mormonism was simultaneously satiric and respectful, without once mentioning polygamy. South Park has produced devastating critiques of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ and Christian "reparative therapy" programs for gays. Naughty, nasty and nihilistic, the show's pint-sized potty-mouths have literally eviscerated Bill Donohue, the show's tormenter from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

These shows matter because they reach millions of viewers weekly – where they are. Lounging around living rooms or dorms, younger viewers tend to drop their customary veils of skepticism as the small screen entertains them. In an age of evaporating attention spans and the dumbing down of serious discourse, at least someone is talking about religion.

Mark I. Pinsky, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, is author of The Gospel According to The Simpsons: BIGGER and Possibly Even BETTER! Edition (Westminster John Knox, 2007).

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mukasey says no to torture

Although GW's pal Al Gonzalez thought it okay for the President to authorize torture and the President dances around the issue -- while the Veep is all for doing whatever in undisclosed locations -- it's good to know that there will be at least a bit of sanity in the Bush administration. Michael Mukasey seems very adamant that we're not above international law nor is the memo suggesting that the President was free to disregard rules on torture appropriate. He calls it a mistake -- and it is a mistake in the most serious of senses.

The new AG will likely be conservative, but he seems like he's the kind of guy who will do what's right. Too bad GW took so long to turn to the grownups!

Watch the testimony in the hearings.

Inviting, Inclusive, Radically Welcome!

Words describe realities and when it comes to the way churches live, we need to pay attention to the words that describe us. I've posted earlier about Stephanie Speller's intriguing book, Radical Welcome. I'm moving through it, along with a couple of other pieces, so it's taking time.
As I was reading I came to a chapter describing three ways of being church. In one sense all three are positive, but two of these fall short of what we're called to be.
Inviting: For Mainline Protestants, inviting someone to church is a big step. We're pretty excited when we get up the nerve, but while it's a start, Spellers suggests that more often than not we stop here. To be an inviting church is to be focused on assimilation. We want people to come, but we wish them to become like us. Thus, our inviting tends to focus on the ones most like us -- those who assimilate the most easily. Being transformed by the encounter with the other isn't on the menu.
Inclusive: Now, I'm for being inclusive. That's how we defined ourselves as a congregation -- we see ourselves as welcoming others -- even the stranger. But, according to Spellers, the key word here is incorporate. The inclusive church welcomes the marginalized into the midst of the community -- "but still on terms that allow the hosting institution's power structures and identity to remain unchanged" (p. 68). To be inclusive is take a step beyond merely inviting, but it too falls short. Mutual transformation hasn't yet happened.
Radically Welcoming: This is the next step in the journey, we begin by inviting others into our midst, we welcome them as they are, but now we take the next step and that is to be open to the transforming presence of God in the other. It is to be changed. Spellers applies the word incarnation here. "Radical welcome calls us to surrender and openness to the culture and perspective of the other" (p. 73).
Each step along the way requires us to risk something, but this takes it to the next level. It is to risk one's identity in the hope of being mutually transformed by that encounter with the other. As I look at myself and at our church, we're probably still at stage 1. So far to go, but a journey it would seem that's well worth taking.

King of the Hill Goes to a New Church

I'm not a fan of King of the Hill, but I found this video intriguing. It was recommended by Pomomusings. It's full of stereotype, but it's a humorous look at church --- especially it's megachurch forms. To get a sense of what's going on in the megachurch, you might check out Beyond Megachurch Myths, which is reviewed here.

In the meantime, watch and add your thoughts!

Courtesy of

Colbert 08!

With Hillary seemingly running away with things, perhaps it's time to change my loyalties -- not to Hillary, but to Stephen Colbert!! Yes, why not? We need a bit of laughter. Stephen will make promises he intends to break, and will admit it --- which is refreshing isn't it?

So, take a look!

Time to Override the S-CHIP Veto

If you have listened to the President talk lately, he seems to be emulating old Chicken Little -- for surely the sky must be falling!!!
If we spend that extra $35 Billion then surely we're headed to that dreaded socialized medicine. Surely if we pass this measure than millions of middle class folks -- like me -- will abandon their private insurance and go on the public dole. And as we know, private is better than public. That's why GW and his friends send their kids to nice private schools -- right!!!
But the reality is likely far different from the scary scenario painted for us by our "Dear Leader." The reality is, without an override tomorrow, a whole lot of kids will go uninsured. That in my mind isn't wise. His solution -- tax credits -- is just fine, if you make enough money so tax credits make a difference.
So, Congress please tell President Bush that you will not be bullied by his scare tactics and do the right thing!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

W. E. B. Du Bois's "Credo"

I am reading to review elsewhere -- I'll let you know where when it's published -- Edward Blum's W. E. B. Du Bois: American Prophet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). In the book, which focuses on Du Bois' religious beliefs and values, he mentions Du Bois' "Credo" published first in 1904. I went looking for it to share, for it is an important statement of faith, race, and human unity.


Originally published in Independent 57 (Oct. 6, 1904): 787

I BELIEVE in God who made of one blood all races that dwell on earth. I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying, through Time and Opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and in the possibility of infinite development.

Especially do I believe in the Negro Race; in the beauty of its genius, the sweetness of its soul, and its strength in that meekness which shall yet inherit this turbulent earth.
I believe in pride of race and lineage and self; in pride of self so deep as to scorn injustice to other selves; in pride of lineage so great as to despise no man's father; in pride of race so chivalrous as neither to offer bastardy to the weak nor beg wedlock of the strong, knowing that men may be brothers in Christ, even tho they be not brothers-in-law.
I believe in Service -- humble reverent service, from the blackening of boots to the whitening of souls; for Work is Heaven, Idleness Hell, and Wage is the "Well done!" of the Master who summoned all them that labor and are heavy laden, making no distinction between the black sweating cotton-hands of Georgia and the First Families of Virginia, since all distinction not based on deed is devilish and not divine.
I believe in the Devil and his angels, who wantonly work to narrow the opportunity of struggling human beings, especially if they be black; who spit in the faces of the fallen, strike them that cannot strike again, believe the worst and work to prove it, hating the image which their Maker stamped on a brother's soul.
I believe in the Prince of Peace. I believe that War is Murder. I believe that armies and navies are at bottom the tinsel and braggadocio of oppression and wrong; and I believe that the wicked conquest of weaker and darker nations by nations whiter and stronger but foreshadows the death of that strength.
I believe in Liberty for all men; the space to stretch their arms and their souls; the right to breathe and the right to vote, the freedom to choose their friends, enjoy the sunshine and ride on the railroads, uncursed by color; thinking, dreaming, working as they will in a kingdom of God and love.

I believe in the training of children black even as white; the leading out of little souls into the green pastures and beside the still waters, not for pelf or peace, but for Life lit by some large vision of beauty and goodness and truth; lest we forget, and the sons of the fathers, like Esau, for mere meat barter their birthright in a mighty nation.

Finally, I believe in Patience -- patience with the weakness of the Weak and the strength of the Strong, the prejudice of the Ignorant and the ignorance of the Blind; patience with the tardy triumph of Joy and the mad chastening of Sorrow -- patience with God.
Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA.

To Change the World

Previously posted at Faithfully Liberal --- To Change the World -->

Evan Almighty, recently released on DVD, is really a silly movie — but it’s still fun and it has a nice message. Steve Carell is local anchor man who becomes a congressman who is sucked into the seductiveness of power politics who prays and is visited by God – played so well by Morgan Freeman. I think that says it all – at least it sets things up. At the heart of the movie is Evan’s campaign slogan – “To Change the World,” or at least something like that.

To change the world, that is a tall order. It is something that sounds good, and yet is difficult to pull off. In the movie, which I finally watched with the family on Saturday evening, the Noah story is recast as a kind of anti-development/pro-environment story. I think most readers of this site can get on board with something like this. But to change the world requires something that is mentioned often in the movie – at least through the lips of God (Morgan Freeman) – and that’s patience.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m nearly 50. I’ve had my ups and downs. My earlier idealism has been balanced with a bit of “realism” – read pragmatism. As a follower of Jesus, I hear a call to change the world, but life seems to get in the way – or at least my choices often do.

But back to Evan and his calling – he had no choice – his beard continued to grow and his clothing wouldn’t stay on – at least his non-Noah-like clothing. The animals gathered in his yard, waiting to go on board. The ark is completed just in time and Evan saves the day – because he finally gave in and did what God required of him (along with help from his family and some of the animals!)

Life doesn’t work that way, of course. But, the fact is, changing the world, which is the heart of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5) requires much of us. Sometimes more than we wish to give. Isn’t that part of the message of the cross – being agents of reconciliation may require everything of us. Being a bit of a pragmatist and now more realist than idealist at times, I hear the word of encouragement, take it one step at time and be patient. Perhaps that is the course we must take, lest we give up in frustration. What do you think?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Paul, the Law, Identity

The Ann Coulter interview, which I've posted on a bit, raises a number of questions. Coulter is not a good theologian, in fact, she has no clue as to the meaning of the Christian faith. In her mind Jews seek to earn their salvation by carrying the heavy burden of the Law. This is similar to the charge that Catholics seek to earn/merit salvation. Protestant Christians, are different, they don't have to obey any laws, they just have to say -- I believe and then everything is groovy. Or at least that's the way it's told sometimes.
What Coulter espoused is what Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." It is a kind of grace that doesn't seek transformation. The problem, of course, is understanding what Paul means by the law. Biblical scholars are still arguing about this, and likely will for some time to come. So, I don't profess to have any final answers. But because the issue has come up, and I'd like to post on the issue of the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, having some idea of what Paul was getting at is helpful.
Clark Williamson is a Disciples of Christ theologian, a student of Tillich and Process Theology -- now retired from Christian Theological Seminary. He writes theology self-consciously from a post-holocaust perspective. Here is a piece from his book A Guest in the House of Israel (WJK, 1993).

Yet, what did Paul mean when he denied (three times) in this passage [Gal. 215-16] that justification comes "by works of the Law"? The context of the passage makes clear that the concerns were circumcision (at Jerusalem) and the dietary laws (at Antioch); it is these that Paul has in mind. [James] Dunn and Alan Segal make it clear that when we find negative statements about the law in Paul, the context is always one in which "membership requirements" are under discussion. Paul's positive statements about the law, on the other hand, reflect contexts where questions of behavior are raised. Circumcision and the dietary laws were widely looked upon as peculiar to Jews. To Gentile outsiders they functioned as "identity markers," identifying their practitioners as Jews; to Jews they worked in the same way, function as "badges of covenant membership." Their role was similar to that of Baptism and the Eucharist in the church today; it is almost impossible to think of the church without them ("almost" because there is the
Society of Friends). In any case, this is what Paul attacks: "the idea that God's acknowledgment of covenant status is bound up with , even dependent upon, observing of these particular
(Williamson, p. 95 -- final quote from JDG Dunn).

Williams, following Dunn and Segal, clearly states that while Paul might get see the identity badges as an unnecessary sign of distinction, he wasn't in any way abandoning the moral Torah. The point of the Torah, of course, is to be the sign of transformation.