Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Blessed are the Persecuted -- Desmond Tutu

I hope it's okay, but I'm reprinting Desmond Tutu's post at the On Faith blog. He tackles the issue of homosexuality in a way that is compassionate and straightforward. It is a very welcome comment from a man of great moral stature:

On race my faith told me that each of us is of inestimable worth since each is created in the image of God.

Thus this worth is intrinsic and not dependent on such irrelevancies as skin color or ethnicity. Thus it was totally unacceptable, just as a matter of justice, to penalize people about something they could nothing, a given, their ethnicity, their race.

Equally my faith convinced me that it was fundamentally unjust to penalize individuals for their gender and so sexism was as unacceptable as racism ever was.
It is being consistent to assert that I cannot condone penalizing someone for something about which she or he can do nothing. It would be bizarre in the extreme for a person to choose to be gay or lesbian in a set-up that is so homophobic.
I believe that sexual orientation is as much a given as ethnicity or gender. Thus the same principle would apply that ruled out racism and sexism as unjust.
In every instance that we have in the Gospels, Jesus sides with those who are discriminated against, who are persecuted. It seems a bizarre hermeneutics that would assert that in this one case, that of gay and lesbian persons, Jesus would join those who persecute, denigrate and oppress an already persecuted minority. That would be a Jesus I could not worship.

I would aver that the same standards of behaviour should be expected of gay and lesbian persons as apply to those who are sexually heterogeneous -- no promiscuity, fidelity to one partner in the relationship, that is all.
Why are we generating so much heat over this issue at a time when the world is groaning under the burden of dehumanizing poverty, when disease -- especially HIV/Aids -- is devastating whole communities, when conflicts are sowing mayhem and carnage?
God must be weeping.
Posted by Desmond Tutu on February 28, 2007 7:34 AM
Indeed, God must be weeping! Thank you.

U.S. Change of Heart on Iran and Syria

Good news in today's papers -- Condi Rice has announced to Congress that the US will participate in a couple of regional conferences to discuss the Iraq situation that will include Iran and Syria. The US unwillingness to talk with these neighbors is really self-defeating, but maybe we're on a new track that can bring some peace to the neighborhood.
According to Glen Kessler in the Washington Post:

The first meeting, at the ambassadorial level, will be held next month. Then Rice will sit down at the table with the foreign ministers from Damascus and Tehran at a second meeting in April elsewhere in the region, possibly in Istanbul.

And this in a quote from Leon Panetta in Kessler's article:

"Better late than never," said Leon E. Panetta, a onetime White House chief of staff who served on the panel, headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former congressman Lee H. Hamilton. Panetta said that the announcement is "an important step in trying to bring stability to Iraq" and that, combined with the recent nuclear agreement with North Korea and renewed efforts by Rice to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, "the administration is finally recognizing that part of its arsenal is strong diplomacy."

This idea of isolating interested parties simply won't work. You can't humiliate them to the table!

Prizing Holy Ignorance over Religious Certainty

I've finished Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, and I've found it to be a moving and wonderfully written book. Very much worth reading, so if you've not gotten it then click on the title and Amazon will welcome your order! I'm planning to include a review of the book in the upcoming issue of Sharing the Practice (of which I'm the new editor).

But back to the book and it's portrayal of life and death, faith and certainty. I came across the paragraph that will follow. It's worth considering (and of course reading in its full context). It is found in a description of her dealings with her father's death. In that time of waiting she writes: "I discovered that faith did not have the least thing to do with certainty. In so far as I had any faith at all, that faith consisted of trusting God in the face of my vastly painful ignorance, to gather up all the life in that room and to do with it what God alone knew how to do."

And here is the paragraph:

Since then, I have learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty and to seek companions who have arrived at the same place. We are a motley crew, distinguished not only by our inability to explain ourselves to those who are more certain of their beliefs than we are but in many cases by our distance from the centers of our faith communities as well. Like campers who have bonded over cook fires far from home, we remain grateful for the provisions that we have brought with us from those cupboards, but we also find them more delicious when we share them with one another under the stars.

Remember this describes her experience after leaving the church's active pastoral ministry. She is now a pilgrim whose life is rooted in the church but not contained by it. I'd be interested in your responses to this paragraph.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Inquiry and Sensitivity

I've posted here several times on Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith. Being a left of center Democrat I'm not planning to vote for Mitt, but that being said I don't find anything in his LDS faith that precludes him from being President of the United States. He will listen to his conscience, just like everyone else. It is difficult to check one's faith at the White House door, but at the same time I would hope any candidate would recognize (and I think Mr. Romney has) that this a diverse nation and that he or she must represent the whole of the nation. Remember that George W. Bush is a United Methodist!
Because we base so much of our viewpoints on stereotype, its not surprising that the LDS practice of sacred undergarments would come to the fore. I must confess I've always wondered about them. And yet, even though growing up I had good friends who were Mormons, I've never pursued it with them. But while many of us would find this an oddity, why? Is a Sikh practice of carrying a ceremonial dagger any different? Or a wearing a cross or a hijab or, you name it.
The recent debate about such things has sprung from somewhat insensitive statements on the God's Politics blog by Tony Jones, a key leader among the Emergent community. Ryan Beiler of Sojourners has attempted to put this into context, which is helpful. There are links as well to some critiques of Tony Jones' post, especially that from the Faithful Progressive.
I think we can all stand to consider how we view the other. I'm not at all convinced by LDS doctrine, but as people I've found them generous and gracious people (and good friends)!

"When Sensationalism and Faith Collide"

John Spalding of SoMA Review, offers a bit of "wisdom" about the alleged discovery of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem -- comparing it rightfully to Geraldo's opening of Capone's vault.

So--yippie!--this coming Sunday we've got Cameron's TV documentary, "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," to look forward to. Never mind that, for example, Professor Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who oversaw the work at the tomb in 1980, calls Cameron's claim "completely impossible. It's nonsense." Just ignore the naysayers and savor the excitement, even if you don't watch the show. Jesus' DNA--holy shit! The possibilities! Maybe they'll match it one day with the DNA of Nicole Brown Simpson's real killer! Or, as my priest friend Puck Purnell suggested, maybe the DNA will prove that Jesus was the real father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby!

I must confess, I doubt I'll watch the documentary. I think I've got a date with my wife to watch Desperate Housewives!

War in Iran --- "The Bible Tells Me So?"

Having heard Scott Ritter lay out his scenario for an American war with Iran, and its devastating effect, I was interested to read today at Ethics Daily, a Bob Allen piece, detailing Ed Hindson's belief that the Bible predicts such a war. Now, whether they are jumping for glee back at National Liberty Journal and Liberty University about such possibilities, the fatalistic reading of the bible that comes from such literalism must contain a bit of glee. If only they could be proven correct the Bible would be proven correct, except that the Bible isn't meant to be read in such fashion.
I'm continually amazed at what I read in these circles. To take prophesy seriously isn't to take it in some fatalistic and literalistic fashion, it is to respect its context and purpose.
Good essay though from Bob Allen. By the way, Mr. Hindson is assistant to the big cheese himself, Jerry Falwell. I'm sure that what Mr. Hindson wrote, Mr. Falwell supports.

Ten Propositions on Ecumenism

Maybe it's my own journey, but I've been interested in ecumenism since early in my seminary days, if not before. My attraction to the Disciples is in part explained by the movement's commitment to pursuing Christian unity. It is my concern for unity that causes much of my sadness for the broken state of the church today.
Kim Fabricius has outlined ten propositions that cover the basic ecumenical issues and is worth looking at. I'll give a couple, just to give you a taste, but I'd recommend checking them all out! Even if you don't accept everything here, it is thought provoking. I'll point especially to Prop 5, which lists a small but precise creed. I have no problem with it, but I know that some would feel excluded -- especially the point about the Trinity.
Propositions include (all are quotes):
1. To adapt a famous saying of Emil Brunner, the church exists by ecumenism as fire exists by burning. Church unity is not an optional extra, or AOB on the parish or presbytery agenda, or a responsibility that can be delegated to the ecumaniacs, it is integral to MOAB, the ministry of all believers. Ecumenism is not an ecclesial suggestion, it is a dominical command.
2. In the Farewell Discourse in John, Jesus asks the Father to sanctify his disciples in the truth as he sends them into the world. Then he prays: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one. As you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world will believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21). The ecumenical imperative is inherent in the missionary imperative. How can the church, with integrity, proclaim shalom to the world when we are not a truly catholic koinonia? And our catholicity must be recognisably visible; a merely “spiritual” unity is a form of ecclesial docetism.
5. We are called to be one because God is one. But the one God is Trinity: that is why unity cannot mean uniformity. The watchword of ecclesial diversity can sometimes give the impression that it is simply a tactical ploy to appease Christians who value freedom of conscience and fear centralised authority. On the contrary, it issues from the very nature of God. And scholars as denominationally diverse as Ernst Käsemann, James Dunn, and Raymond Brown confirm that “there is not just a narrow stream of faith in Jesus in the New Testament, but a great wide river of many currents” (Jean Mayland). There are, of course, limits to acceptable diversity, but I would suggest that they lie within the parameters of: (a) a common baptism, (b) a Trinitarian confession of faith, and (c) a belief in Christ crucified and risen as Lord and Saviour. All else, I suggest, is adiaphora – particularly matters of polity. Moreover, it would be unreasonable to expect more agreement between our churches than we accept within our churches.
9. In my view, perhaps the greatest obstacle to an ecumenical future is the refusal to acknowledge our anti-ecumenical pasts. Catholics have killed Protestants, and Protestants have killed Catholics – indeed Protestants have killed other Protestants. I submit that progress in unity will be a pseudo-progress, a movement in historical denial, unless we engage in specific, collective, and mutual acts of penitence, forgiveness, and pledges of “Never again!” Only with the healing of memories can the church proceed in a pilgrimage of hope and promise. And, of course, repentance, recognition, and reconciliation are only staging posts on the ecumenical journey: there is an elephant in the caravan and its name is Israel. And journey’s end is the whole οίκουμένη.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Discerning God's Presence

In Leaving Church, after she had left her parish and began to experience life after church, Barbara Brown Taylor records her new sense of God's presence:

Gradually I remember what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God's presence in this world. By offering people a place where they may engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up -- not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Communion but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church they no more leave God than God leaves them. They simply carry what they have learned into the wide, wide world, where there is a crying need for people who will recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God.

I believe that this is a word of wisdom worth hearing -- church isn't the end place, it's the starting place!

What Will the Religious Right Do with the GOP?

A most interesting article appears in US News online -- It tells about the divide within the GOP "religious" base. Mitt Romney has made a pilgrimage to Pope Jim Dobson to seek his blessing, but apparently Jim's not sure that Mitt's sound enough, and the 2nd tier of Brownback and Huckabee seem unable to get traction. Dobson's apparently definitely not supporting John or Rudy, so who is left?
Consider this:

The Christian right's consternation over Giuliani, McCain, and Romney is a remarkable turnabout from 2004, when the movement was united behind the re-election of George W. Bush. White evangelicals, who made up roughly a quarter of the electorate in 2004 and 2006, accounted for nearly 4 in every 10 Bush votes. "I don't think any of the three are remotely acceptable, and I don't think I'm an outlier," says Michael Farris, a top Christian activist who organized meetings between Bush and evangelical leaders for his first presidential run. "Giuliani holds the opposite view of the Republican platform on social issues, Romney has held both sides of those issues, and McCain picked fights with us the last time he ran for president." An early February meeting of the Council for National Policy, a club of powerful social conservatives whose members include Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and Left Behind author Tim LaHaye, was thick with fretting over '08. "I've never seen more disillusionment at this point in the election in 30 years," says a source close to the Council for National Policy, which prohibits members from discussing meetings with the media. "There's a revolt out there, a feeling these top three are being pushed on us by Republican leadership in D.C."

And then consider this:

If Giuliani winds up harnessing enough moderate Republican support to win the nomination, the GOP will have another problem on its hands: how to get evangelicals to the polls in the general election. "Evangelicals just won't vote" if Giuliani is the nominee, says the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land. "He'll lose Ohio, perhaps Tennessee-maybe even Texas." To Christian conservatives, it's a losing formula. But they still have to find a winning formula that includes them.

So, the upcoming election looks to be quite interesting, for it would appear that the GOP must give obeisance to this crew or they'll stay home. All of which should be good news for the Dems, unless they really blow it!!!

Obama's Numbers Looking Good

I know that polls are almost meaningless at this point, but I find this Zogby poll intriguing. Although Hillary leads Obama by a shrinking margin (35% to 29%) and Rudy leads the GOP field, Obama beats both Rudy and McCain.
Like I said this is early and likely meaningless. I'm still not convinced that Rudy can survive the primaries and if he does, I wonder if Christian Conservatives, for whom abortion and gays are the only issues, won't stay home or embrace a third party come November 08.

Go Barack!

Thanks to Daily Dish for this.

Resistance to an Iranian War

I mentioned in a previous post about attending a presentation by Scott Ritter warning of a likely attack on Iran. Today I read at the Daily Dish that there is growing concern about Dick Cheney's saber rattling. In a Sunday Times article (London), it appears that such a policy is strongly opposed by many in the military and that if ordered a number of upper echelon generals would resign in protest.
In the New Yorker Magazine Seymour Hersh writes about a Cheney led administration policy change that would abandon a pro-Shia policy and embrace one putting them on the side of the Saudis and the Sunnis in the region. Such a policy might lead to an attack on Iran.
I surely hope not! It's time to rein in the powers that be!

"Smearing Like 2003" -- E.J. Dionne

You would think that with the Scooter Libby trial in its final throes that Dick Cheney would be a bit more discreet about his attacks on the motives and values of others, but such isn't the case. E.J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post about just this problem of smearing others in the same way he and others bullied America into an ill-conceived war in Iraq.

It is also, as Dionne suggests, why the Bush administration has lost the respect of the American people:

The fabricate-and-smear cycle illustrated so dramatically during the case of I. Lewis "Scooter'' Libby explains why President Bush is failing to rally support for the latest iteration of his Iraq policy. The administration's willingness at the outset to say anything, no matter how questionable, to justify the war has destroyed its credibility. Its habit of attacking those who
expressed misgivings has destroyed any goodwill it might have enjoyed. Bush and Cheney have lost the benefit of the doubt.

We need a good debate about Iraq and the current verbiage from the White House and its surrogates doesn't portend well. Congress and the American people have been told it's of our business. I'm sorry but last I heard this wasn't a dictatorship, but perhaps George and Dick have forgotten that this is America and that they are accountable to us!

Another Da Vinci Code Mystery?

There is great fascination about the possibility that Jesus was married -- and married of course to Mary Magdalene. So, apparently there is a new documentary coming out entitled "The Lost Tomb." James Tabor of the University of North Carolina is involved.

The tale as it's told in a Toronto Star story is that during excavations in Jerusalem in 1980 a tomb with 10 ossuaries was found (though one is now missing -- supposedly the James Ossuary that was so talked about recently), the tomb carrying the names of Jesus, Mariamne, Maria, Matthew, Jude son of Jesus, etc. And supposedly this has been confirmed by DNA. That this may be true -- their relationships -- doesn't prove that this is the tomb of the Jesus Family. Let's just say I'm skeptical that a finding such as this -- 26 years old -- of a tomb containing a group of people whose names are familiar to the biblical story, but names that were also extremely common during that day, would lead back to the Jesus of the New Testament seems a bit fanciful, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

In the mean time I'll remain skeptical -- as any historian should be.

Picture is from the Toronto Star.

Why So Authoritarian? Conservative Christians

Martin Mary in today's sightings examines the question of Conservative Christianity -- as it has been laid out in a recent book by Andrew Greely and Michael Hout, as reviewed in the Church Times by John Whale -- in England.

Marty suggests that things may not be as the first appear. But I'll just let you read it for yourself.

Sightings 2/26/07
Baptists, Biblicists, and Beyond-- Martin E. Marty

"Myths of the Baptists" is the mis-worded headline above a story reporting from across the Atlantic that does not treat all Baptists, and that also deals with more than just Baptists. John Whale of the Church Times and the Sunday Times reviews Andrew Greeley and Michael Hout's survey-rich study The Truth about Conservative Christians: What They Think and What They Believe. A quote from the book: "Our findings confirm those of other academic researchers who continue to point out the glaring gap between religious and political conservatism." And from Whale: "At the polls, on this evidence, even the godly serve their economic interest first. The Republicans' real base is not the religious right but the affluent." Agreed -- but might the Republican party not make a two-base hit with affluence and religion?
Greeley, of the University of Arizona, and Hout, of Berkeley, are both Catholics, as Whale finds it important to note. In their study, these authors expound a three-fold distinction based on the General Social Survey. First and most numerous are conservative Protestants in largely white denominations, including Southern and other Baptists, Pentecostals, and Lutherans of the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods. Next are "mainline Protestants": Methodists, most Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. Third are African-American Protestants in their four or five main denominations. African-Americans do side with the first group in their hold on the Bible, born-again experience, and evangelism.
The conservatives vote Republican, the mainliners split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, but "the African-Americans plumped nine to one for Democratic presidential candidates since the 1960s." Nor are the biblicists found to be solid on the issues that inflame them. "Their marriage discipline wobbles: conservative Protestant men declare more sexual partners than do mainline Protestant men." Do the stuffy old squares need to get born again to play around? Yet the conservatives do tend to vote "family values." They don't just tramp to the polls "in lockstep."
Of most importance is that the impression of lockstep arises when the public hears "electoral threats from the religious Right's leaders directed at any politician who refused them backing, etc. .... That those leaders could deliver the votes of their rank and file was not disputed." But it should have been disputed, it is implied. "The explanation appears to be that conservative Protestantism has turned docile, at least in public. The pew lets the pulpit speak for it." The Southern Baptist Convention in 2000 adopted an "authoritarian system of decision-making" that evidently awes the two scholars who belong to that relaxed body called "Catholic." Why are the conservative Protestants so authoritarian?
Because, says Whale, the Bible, their supreme guide, is "a collection of books in which you can find at least two opinions about everything" -- so "you need a firm umpire." Half of conservative Protestants say they avoid alcohol on biblical literal grounds, yet "any biblical concordance shows 'wine' symbolizing everything from abject evil to ultimate good."
Whale goes on: "Without bossy interpreters to think for you, you would be lost. And such interpreters can overstate levels of conviction among conservative Christians on wider questions, it seems, and hear no protest from the pew." Half of them will drink to that!

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

America and its Iconic Bible

Robert Cornwall
Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 25, 2007
A controversy concerning the use of the Koran in Congressional oath-taking ceremonies raised the question of the Bible's place in American life. Radio host Dennis Prager laid down the gauntlet in a much publicized column when he said, “Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress.”

If the Bible is America's Holy Book, what exactly does that mean? It's true that the Bible is regularly used in a variety of public ceremonies, from swearing in of witnesses to oath-taking by public officials. It's believed that using the Bible in such a way guarantees truthfulness, although there's little evidence that such use prevents either corruption or perjury.

When we talk about the Bible as America's Holy Book, we're not talking about its content; we're talking about its symbolic status. Indeed, that's Prager's point. Therefore, since the Bible is essentially an object of veneration, we dutifully trot it out whenever we deem it appropriate. If necessary, we'll read it selectively in support of our pet projects. Take for instance the Ten Commandments: Many venerate them, but spend little time examining their meaning.

The Bible's iconic value is connected to America's mythical “Judeo-Christian” heritage, something that's apparently now under siege by pluralists and immigrants alike. Reference is often made to the nation's golden age when that heritage is assumed to have reigned supreme. However, a close reading of America's history suggests that the story is much more complicated than that. Besides, there are dark shadows that lay across our nation's religious heritage, from slavery to segregation. (To read the rest of the column, click here)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

First Freedom Project --- A caution from the NCC

I thought it appropriate to reprint the caution statement from the National Council of Churches concerning Alberto Gonzalez's announcement of a Justice Department effort to confront religious discrimination. We'll see where this goes.

NCC suggests Gonzales cast interfaith net on religious freedom plan

New York City, February 22, 2007 – The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA welcomed a new U.S. government initiative on religious discrimination but expressed concern at its narrow, single denominational introduction.

"We are pleased to see the Bush administration focus renewed interest on religious freedom," said the Rev. Bob Edgar, NCC's general secretary, in a statement issued today. Religious liberty is "a topic that has found deep and continuing concern within the National Council of Churches since its founding more than 50 years ago," he said.
"We do find it unsettling," says Edgar's statement, "that only a single denomination, representing a fraction of the rich diversity of religious life of America, was selected to receive the attorney general's personal presentation. It would seem more appropriate had he made such an appearance before an ecumenical or interfaith gathering, symbolically underlining the vision of a nation in which the law plays no favorites but sees all faiths as equal before the Constitution."
Attorney General Gonzales traveled to Nashville on Tuesday (Feb. 20) to unveil the "First Freedom Project," an initiative of the Department of Justice, to the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, a Christian denomination with fewer than 20 million members.
"The NCC, encompassing 45 million Protestant, Orthodox, and African-American Christians in 35 faith groups across America," said Edgar's statement, "is actively involved in multiple efforts to assure religious freedom and human rights in all parts of our society."
To assist the attorney general in broadening his new initiative, Edgar has sent an invitation to Mr. Gonzales to present his project to next month's regularly scheduled meeting in Washington of the NCC's Committee on Religious Liberty. In addition to NCC's constituent Christian denominations, several evangelical, Roman Catholic and Jewish faith communities are represented on the committee. Edgar's letter also recommended the attorney general present the new program to Muslim groups.
"No group enjoys religious freedom if any group is denied equal treatment under the law or the appearance of such equality," said Edgar's statement. "In that spirit of inclusiveness, the attorney general should make extraordinary efforts to demonstrate the broad intention of this federal initiative."

NCC News contact: Dan Webster, 212.870.2252, .

Updates on Anglican Conflict

Rebecca Trounson offers an insightful overview in today's LA Times of what's been happening in Dar-es-Salaam this past week as Anglican leaders gathered. The focus has been primarily on the American Episcopal church and the question of gays and lesbians in the church. Of course there are other issues, but apparently this is the most important one.
One interesting point in this article concerns the demand that the Episcopal church respond to the convocation's demands to cease ordaining gays and blessing homosexual unions. Trounson points out that the Episcopal Church in America is a fairly democratic organization (even if hierarchical in structure). The bishops really can't formulate a response, that would be left to the Convention and the next one isn't until 2009. A rock and a hard place, it would seem!
In the meantime, a sort of ceasefire has been declared. The Episcopal church is supposed to have a moratorium on ordaining homosexual bishops and blessing unions, while conservative bishops are supposed to stop interceding in the dioceses of other bishops (you know sheep stealing).
We'll see!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Eucharist -- Giving Thanks

The Lord's Supper has from the earliest days of the church been central to Christian worship. The understanding of that rite has evolved and changed and been debated down through the centuries. For me it is one of the most important if not the most important elements of worship. As I think about the Eucharist I think about the many nuances of this act. Yes, it has meanings that are difficult to reconcile with modern theology, but there is much to be gained by both the celebration and the reflections upon it.
Having said this, tonight's post offers a definition of the word Eucharist. Eucharist is an oft used term, but many people not know what it means or why its important to be used here. The simplest answer is that it reflects one of the actions/words that Jesus is said to have spoken at the Last Supper (I realize there is considerable debate as to whether this practice goes back to Jesus -- I've not been convinced that the essence of this celebration couldn't go back to Jesus, but that's for another post).
In the Words of Institution that I pronounce each Sunday, I say something to the effect that: "on the night when he was betrayed [Jesus] took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).
Jesus gave thanks, and the Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. My friend Keith Watkins writes that:

One use of eucharisteo was to give thanks to God for food. Another was to honor deity or to praise leaders of the people. It is the word used in instituting the Lord's supper; and during the early decades of the church's life this word, adapted into English as eucharist, became the most
widely used name for the distinctive act of Christian worship. When this word appears in New Testament passages like the third chapter of Colossians, it is not clear which of these meanings was the most prominent in the mind of the writer or of the hearers. Perhaps all of the meanings were intertwined so that the general meaning of thanksgiving and the specialized meanings of the Lord's supper interpenetrated each other. (Keith Watkins, The Great Thanksgiving: The Eucharistic Norm of Christian Worship, Chalice Press, 1995, pp. 3-4).

Keith writes that a good equivalent is "thankful praise." Too often the Lord's supper becomes somber and as Mike said in an earlier comment -- guilt producing -- but such need not be the case, if we understand that this is a feast of thanksgiving.

First Freedom Project

I first heard about the First Freedom Project from Melissa Rogers' blog -- and I'm waiting for her analysis. Today a report is given at Ethics Daily by Adelle Banks.

First announced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, this is supposedly a Bush Administration effort to combat "religious discrimination." That it's being hailed by the SBC, the Family Research Council, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and questioned by Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches (they're taking a wait and see and want more information) and Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State raises some red flags.

The question is who is being discriminated against and how? Is this just some red meat being thrown to the base or is it rectifying a real problem? I'm skeptical, to say the least.

On to Tehran?

As the war in Iraq goes badly and calls for the redeployment of troops is heard, what of Iran? Tonight I went to hear Scott Ritter, the former UN Weapons Inspector, Bush Critic, and author of Target Iran. He is convinced that the Bush administration is planning to attack Iran, and there is a possibility he's correct. The administration refuses to talk with Iran and it's made much of Iran's pursuit of nuclear something --whether power or weapons, remains unclear to most.

Iran is a major player and its major deterrent -- Iraq is in chaos. I'm not sure I buy the whole Iran gambit, but I think we need to be aware of what is going on and to hold our Congressional leaders accountable. The only real way of preventing an attack is to withhold the purse. I hope and pray that Congress will act appropriately to deter any precipitous act.

I found an interesting column that Scott Ritter wrote last year in the Nation about Iran. I think it's worth reading and considering. It's not exactly completely up-to-date, but it does give a sense of his position.

War with Iran can only go badly. Their military is in much better shape and stronger and larger than Iraq's. As Israel discovered in Lebanon, it's likely we would find out there. If anyone is considering a nuclear option, that would only exacerbate a bad situation. I remain optimistic and hopeful, but that's my nature. But it's good to be reminded so we remain watchful.

One thing Scott did say tonight that I take to heart is that this government belongs to We the People, and if out of our own ignorance or apathy we let this happen we can only blame ourselves.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

California's Prisons -- A travesty

California's prisons are severely overcrowded, making them dangerous and unhealthy. Recidivism is on a rise and there seem to be little hope for resolution -- except spending millions to build more prisons. The other answers, such as rethinking a failed 3 Strikes policy, which has compounded the problem, is politically unthinkable, though ultimately necessary.

Steve Lopez writes in his Column One essay in the LA Times about this problem and offers some possible solutions -- one has to do with dealing with the issue of mental health. With so many inhabiting the prison population suffering from mental illness, and with little effort to resolve these problems, it's no wonder that the prison population continues to rise. Take a look at the column!

Giving Up Lent for Lent

Diana Butler Bass has given a most poignant reflection on the power and weakness of the season of Lent. Just last evening I participated in a joint Ash Wednesday service that included four congregations (UCC, Disciples, UMC, and PCUSA) and six clergy (2 retired, 4 active). I find this a meaningful service and not at all morbid, but as Diana shares I too find it difficult to follow all the disciplines seemingly inherent in this tradition -- after all I had a burger and fries at lunch.
I leave you with these words from her contribution to the God's Politics blog:

When I gave up Lent for Lent, it become clear that I needed to give up the idea that certain religious disciplines would bring me closer to God. This belief had plagued me since I was an evangelical teenager struggling with my congregation’s expectation for a “daily quiet time.” Never able to maintain this program of spiritual rigor, I felt like a Christian failure. When I finally admitted that I could not do it, I experienced a new freedom in prayer. Giving up led me to a richer and deeper connection of God in prayer, and led me to practice prayer in ways that resonate with who God has made me to be – unique, meaningful, and transformative. Not a program, but a way of being.

Lent tempts Christians to try to fulfill other people’s expectations of what spirituality should look like, usually related to some sort of religious achievement or self-mortification. But Lent is neither success nor punishment. Ultimately, Lent urges us to let go of self-deception and pleasing others. These 40 days ask only one thing of us: to find our truest selves on a journey toward God.

Giving up Lent for Lent meant giving up guilt. Although I have been back to church for Ash Wednesday many times since I gave up Lent for Lent, that year freed me from spiritual tyranny and helped me understand Easter anew. The journey to Easter is not a mournful denial of our humanity. Rather, Lent embraces our humanity – our deepest fears, our doubts, our mistakes and sins, our grief, and our pain. Lent is also about joy, self-discovery, connecting with others, and doing justice. Lent is not morbid church services. It is about being fully human and knowing God’s presence in the crosshairs of blessing and bane. And it is about waiting, waiting in those crosshairs, for resurrection.

Can a religiously defined state be a democracy?

In the debate over the future of Israel and the Palestinian Territories the question of the status of Israel as a Jewish nation is always central to the conversation (and conflict). Israel is defined as being a democracy (and it is) that grants religious freedom to its citizens, but it also seeks to be a Jewish State. With 20% of its citizens being Arab, the question is how does this reality square religious and national identities. Richard Boudreaux's article in the LA Times entitled: "Arabs say Israel is not just for Jews" describes a manifesto written by mainstream Israeli-Arabs that call for power sharing, and by that create a bi national state.
These Arab leaders want more representation and a greater sharing of resources -- thereby ending what they see as a second class status within Israel. This has, as one would expect, created considerable angst within Israel's regnant Jewish community, both left and right.
What the article does is raise the difficult issues of how a modern democracy balances collective and individual rights, disburses resources, and allows representation by minority groups. Israel's Jewish community sees Israel as its one bulwark against disenfranchisement in the world -- a sense of disenfranchisement that led to pogroms and the Holocaust. Arabs and Palestinians, however, see the loss of identity and land. But what is true of Israel, is also true in other lands and places.
In Turkey, for instance, the Orthodox community isn't allowed to open seminaries to train priests for its church. In much of the Islamic world, Christians and Jews must keep to themselves and worship in private. Much of Europe still has state supported churches. For much of our history as a nation religious minorities have experienced at least a de facto status as second class citizens -- unless they were part of the Protestant mainstream.
So, how does one balance a state's religious identity and true democracy? I'd love to hear your thoughts, but first read the article!

Religion and Presidential Candidates

With all the questions swirling about concerning Mitt Romney's religious beliefs, I found this column from Rich Mayfield to be "spot on" to quote my British friends. Professions of belief or religious affiliations rarely have ultimate influence on one's public life. In many ways, that's too bad, but as Mayfield points out Luther preferred a competent pagan to an incompetent Christian as ruler. Mayfield seemingly gloats at the Lutheran's good fortune to never have had a president to claim as their own, for it has saved them from acute embarrassment.
Alas, for me that's not possible. The Disciples are small in numbers, but we've had three of our own -- and you'll have to decide whether that is to our embarrassment: James Garfield (the only preacher to have been elected President), Lyndon Baines Johnson, and to correct Mr. Mayfield (at least on a technicality) Ronald Reagan was one of ours as well. Although he worshipped with the Presbyterians in his later years, his formative religious training and as I understand it, his membership never left the Disciples. So, there you have it. Now, lets see what the wind blows!

From the Vail Trail: via: Faith in Public Life Daily News

When politics is a matter of faith

Guest Column
Rich Mayfield
February 21, 2007

I am fairly certain I won’t vote for Mitt Romney if he wins the Republican nomination for president. I don’t much care for his position on a plethora of issues both foreign and domestic. His recent pandering to the religious right has my stomach turning. And this week’s announcement that he will be the commencement speaker at Pat Robertson’s Regent University means he’s catering to the crazies, Christian or not.No, I probably won’t be voting for Mr. Romney for a whole host of reasons, but it won’t be because of his religion.
I’ll confess that his Mormon faith was initially off-putting with its history of golden tablets and angelic visitations, but a nanosecond of self-reflection on my own religious tradition reminded me that orthodox Christianity has its share of bizarre beliefs as well.
There is grousing about Romney’s recent and radical change of mind regarding gay and abortion rights. A more cynical mind than mine might suggest these alterations have less to do with questions of conscience and more with getting elected, but given the benefit of the doubt I like a politician willing to admit he or she was wrong. If only a particular politico in the White House would do the same thing we all might be spared the continuing miserable mess of Iraq. John Kenneth Galbraith’s famous remark is worth remembering here … “In the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there's no need to do so, most people get busy on the proof.”
In reflecting on the question of religion in regard to Mr. Romney’s candidacy, one can’t help but remember other political campaigns that cast similar shadows. John Kennedy’s Catholicism had people convinced that the Pope would rule the White House. Jimmy Carter’s outspoken evangelicalism certainly had some of us main-line Protestants apprehensive, but none of these previous religious concerns have been as vociferous or vicious as the alarms raised around Romney’s faith.
By all accounts, it isn’t just Democrats and liberals who are worried here. A recent survey showed that evangelicals harbored some of the severest reservations. After all, when you’re absolutely convinced that it’s your way or the highway, backing a non-believer may require a tad too much tolerance for some of America’s more convicted Christians.
A quick review of recent presidential tenures should alleviate any anxiety over religion’s real influence. Some of the most rigid regulations regarding sexual behavior belong to the Baptists, as does Bill Clinton. And Ronald Reagan’s Presbyterianism didn’t prevent him from playing fast and loose with the Contras. Richard Nixon was a Quaker after all, which probably was the greatest test Friends everywhere had to truly hold their tongues. Our current president claims Jesus is his top political guide. Is it any wonder atheism is on the rise?
There’s never been a Lutheran president, which may have saved us Lutherans some embarrassment. Founder Martin Luther once wrote he’d rather have a pagan prince who could rule well than a Christian one who couldn’t … which may have something to do with the Lutheran lack in presidential leadership. Still, such a pragmatic position might serve us all well as we look forward to someone, be he or she, believer or not, who can get us out of the fix one of the faithful got us into.

Rich Mayfield is former pastor of Lord of the Mountains church.

My Theological Worldview -- What's Yours

I took this quiz at Interesting results, though I wonder about this. As a mainline pastor I don't feel alienated from older forms of church. But still, it's interesting. Now, what's yours?

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Classical Liberal


Roman Catholic


Modern Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
created with

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope

I pass on this summation of a much longer document dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has continued to fester now for more than half-a-century with no end in sight. This letter was sent to President Bush and included the signature of the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins. I single her out because she is the leader of my denomination.

From Global Ministries:

In December 2006, 35 Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders urged the United States to make peace in the Middle East a top priority. You can help by contacting your Senators and Representative in support of this appeal.

Excerpts follow, full text at

Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope

As Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders, our shared Abrahamic faith compels us to work together for peace with justice for Israelis, Palestinians and all peoples in the Middle East. As Americans, we believe our nation has an inescapable responsibility and an indispensable role to provide creative, determined leadership for building a just peace for all in the Middle East.
The United States must make Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace an urgent priority. Achieving peace will have positive reverberations in the region and worldwide.

The crisis in and near Gaza and the war in Lebanon and northern Israel remind us that the status quo is unstable and untenable. Military action will not resolve the conflict. The only authentic way forward is a negotiated settlement built on difficult, but realistic, compromises and security arrangements with international guarantees. The path to peace requires a rejection of violence and an embrace of dialogue. Such a path could lead to a future of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace with security and dignity for both peoples and to a future of stability in the region with Israel living in peace and security with its Arab neighbors.
The six page consensus statement by 35 national religious leaders addresses key elements in the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict and calls on the United States to:

• Exercise persistent, determined leadership at the highest levels to secure a comprehensive and just resolution of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, and 1397.

• Work, in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., European Union, Russia, and the United Nations), to create conditions that bring about serious negotiations for a two-state solution following the lines of the Roadmap, earlier official negotiations, and civil society initiatives, e.g. the Geneva Accord and the People’s Voice:

• Support full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559 in relation to Lebanon; and

• Undertake diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese negotiations for peace.

As religious leaders we commit ourselves to working with the Administration and the Congress to support active, fair and firm U.S. leadership to help Israelis, Palestinians and Arab states achieve a just peace. With God’s help, we are confident that crisis can give way to hope for all God’s children in the Middle East.

January 2007

Believing or Beholding

With all the problems being experienced by the Episcopal Church, a divide being created by debates over biblical interpretation and doctrinal affirmations, I found this paragraph from Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church interesting and challenging.

"I had become an Episcopalian in the first place because the Anglican way cared more for common prayer than for right belief, but under stress even Episcopalians began vetting one another on the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, and his physical resurrection fro the dead. Both in Clarkesville and elsewhere, the poets began drifting away from churches as the jurists grew louder and more insistent. I began to feel like a defense attorney for those who could not square their love of God and neighbor with the terms of the Nicene Creed, while my flagging attempt to be all things to all people was turning into a bad case of amnesia about my own Christian identity. My role and my soul were eating each other alive. I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything." (Leaving Church, p. 111).

Barbara offers an important plea that may resonate with many who find themselves put off by calls for doctrinal certainty, and yet want to share in the presence of God. It is a call to recognize the presence of doubt and the need for space to walk through that doubt in safety. I'd be interested in hearing from readers how they feel about this statement.

Justice rooted in Faith -- William Wilberforce

With a new film coming out -- Amazing Grace -- attention is being given to the effort of one man, William Wilberforce, to rally a nation to the cause of justice -- in his case the abolition of the slave trade. For Wilberforce this was a 20 year ordeal, but one he never flagged in. Finally, he achieved his goal when Parliament voted overwhelmingly to abandon a lucrative but dehumanizing practice. Of course the slave trade and human trafficking remain with us today, as a stain upon humanity.
Joseph Loconte's essay in the LA Times ---"British Abolition's Faith-Based Roots," lifts up Wilberforce and offers him as an exemplar to a faith based advocacy for humanity.

Most important, he was unafraid to invoke the moral obligations of the Gospel to challenge the consciences of slavers and their supporters in Parliament. In his "Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade," published in January 1807, Wilberforce placed the brutish facts of human trafficking against the backdrop of Christian compassion and divine justice. "We must believe," he warned, "that a continued course of wickedness, oppression and cruelty, obstinately maintained in spite of the fullest knowledge and the loudest warnings, must infallibly bring down upon us the heaviest judgments of the Almighty." A month later, on Feb. 23, the House of Commons voted 283 to 16 to abolish the slave trade.

Loconte reminds us that in this post-9/11 age, when there is both "suspicion and antagonism toward religious belief, especially when it mixes with politics," that it was "people with deep Christian convictions about the dignity and freedom of every person made in the image of God" who fought this battle. He concludes "Surely we need more of Wilberforce's brand of faith today, not less." I would concur!

Ash Wednesday Reflections

Essay published originally February 26, 2006
Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record

Time of Reflection Marked with Ash

Mardi Gras gets bigger press than the day that follows. It's not surprising. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day Christian observance of fasting and penance in preparation for Easter. Penance and fasting don't sound as exciting as Mardi Gras parties and parades, but these acts of piety help us take an inward and backwards glance at our lives, allowing us the opportunity to take responsibility for our mistakes and misdeeds, while calling us to live differently in the future. Before forgiveness can happen, the deeds must be remembered, acknowledged, and dealt with. We would rather let bygones be bygones, but first we must take care of the past, lest we fall victim to arrogance and folly.

Sin isn't just the act of the individual; it can just as easily be corporate and systemic. The actions and choices of societies and nations can have a lasting impact on history. People ask: why should I take responsibility for things I didn't do? I didn't enslave anyone nor did I imprison Japanese-Americans, force the Cherokee to take the Trail of Tears, massacre Vietnamese women and children at My Lai, or abuse prisoners at Abu Graib. My lack of participation doesn't mean that I'm immune from their consequences to our nation's soul. To ignore or forget them is to deny their place in the collective conscience of our nation. There is an American myth of innocence that often keeps us from accepting responsibility for our nation's actions, a myth that causes us to be blind to our own propensity to self-interest, hypocrisy, and destructive actions (torture in the name of security?). So, just as the Germans must never forget the Holocaust, we must never forget our own nation's dark secrets. Why? If we refuse to learn the lessons of the past, we are destined to repeat them.
Christians spend 40 days in prayer and fasting preparing for Easter because we cannot taste the joys of Christ's victory over death until we first share in his earthly sufferings and horrific death. Lent reminds us that Jesus battled temptation and experienced the terror of a Roman cross. It also raises the difficult question of what Jesus would do if he were walking the streets of modern America.

This is a season marked by prayer and acts of sacrifice, like forgoing something enjoyable and delicious as a reminder that we are not self-sufficient. I admit to a lack of consistency in my Lenten observances, but the point is well taken. To give up something I enjoy, is to take the focus off me and place it where it belongs, on God and the needs of my neighbor.

We live in a land of abundance, a land seemingly “flowing with milk and honey.” This reality has drawn generations of immigrants from across the globe to these shores in search of new opportunities. But, today American society seems beholden to a cult of narcissism. We cry out: America first, California first, Lompoc first, my neighborhood first, my family first, and finally, and most importantly, me first! Ash Wednesday is an enigma to a society that values appearances above all else. And so, on Ash Wednesday this ideology is challenged as we allow our faces to be disfigured by soot and hear calls to grieve our misdeeds, poor choices, and self-centeredness.
Lent begins in ashes and ends in death. Beginning with a burial rite it concludes in a tomb. Sack cloth and ashes, these are the mourner's possessions. As we disfigure our faces in repentance for our contributions to the inequality, hatred, and violence that mark life in this world, we are reminded of other acts of history marked by ash, from the Nazi crematoriums to the falling ash from the Twin Towers, from burning crosses to burning churches.
Whether we are Christian or not (most religious traditions have something akin to the Lenten season), perhaps we can use these next 40 days to ponder our own contributions to the incivility and disillusionment of our day. As we do this, we can also choose to take a different life course, one that puts the other before one's own self. This is what Jesus did! The season of penance won't last forever, for soon enough the ash will give way to joyous celebration. But, first things first!

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( You may contact him at or by mail c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA, 93438.

February 26, 2006

Find this article at:

What effect -- Christian Community? -- Bonhoeffer

What effect does Christian community have on us as we venture from the safety of the Christian community and enter the broader world? Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides an important idea:

“Every day brings to the Christian many hours in which he will be alone in an unchristian environment. These are the times of testing. This is the test of true meditation and true Christian community. Has the fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependant? Has it taken him by the hand for a while in order that he may learn again to walk by himself, or has it made him uneasy and unsure? This is one of the most searching and critical questions that can be put to any Christian fellowship.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, (SCM Press), 67

From Intellectus Fidei -- thanks for the quote and the picture.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Eucharist and Mithraism

Mike asked about the Eucharist and its possible relationship to Mithraism. I have to be honest up front and say, I don’t have a lot of information on this question. But I’ll share my thoughts about the alleged connection. If you look at the web you’ll find many sites making claims that Christianity, and especially its practice of the Eucharist, originated in Mithraism. There is no denying the seeming parallels between these two religions, as well as with other Greek and Roman mysteries. Both grew to prominence within Imperial Roman culture at about the same time. It is also quite likely that the December 25th date for Christmas comes from Mithraism – Mithra was apparently born on December 25th from a rock. Ironically Mithraism essentially became the religion of the Empire (Sol Invictus) on the eve of Christianity’s ascendancy in the Roman Empire.

Mithraism was a Roman mystery religion with long roots in Ind-Aryan culture, and most especially in Iran, where it competed with Zoroastrianism. As a Roman religion, it was especially prominent among soldiers and even had a military like structure and initiated only males. Christianity, at least prior to Constantine, wasn’t popular with the military, and if you read closely the New Testament, this was a faith for both women and men.

Although there are parallels, I fail to see any real evidence of direct influence, especially regarding the New Testament descriptions of the Eucharist. Besides, there are sufficient resources within Judaism to explain the Eucharist, which in the New Testament is rooted in the Passover celebration and Jesus’ practice of table fellowship. That the mystery religions created a fertile soil for Christianity’s eventual success, is undeniable. It’s also possible that some later liturgical developments were influenced by a confluence of ideas with Mithraism. But I think you’ll find even greater foundations within Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy – especially regarding the church’s eventual understanding of the real presence.

So, did the Eucharist originate in Mithraism, I find that possibility to be quite unlikely. For, the differences are even greater than the similarities (I don’t think you’ll find any sacrifices of bulls or immersion in the blood of a bull in any of the Christian initiation rites).

Reference: Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament: History, Culture, and Religion of the Hellenistic Age, (Fortress Press, 1982), 1: 372-374.
John Koenig, The Feast of the World's Redemption, (Trinity Press Intl., 2000). [Koenig doesn't say anything about Mithraism, but he does give a historical account of the origins of the Eucharist].

Anglicans Haven't Split -- Yet!

Word comes, via the LA Times, that the meeting of Anglican Primates has concluded without schism -- yet. Not that everyone is happy that the schism hasn't been finalized. But the word that has come out suggests a solution that ultimately is untenable. It simply puts on hold for a short period what's inevitable. The American Episcopal church has already moved to far along the road to go back. To ask the American Church to not only stop (for now) offering services of blessing or to ordain gay priests simply isn't going to work. And to ask that they apologize -- that definitely won't work. Rowan Williams has done his best to bring the parties together, but the Archbishop of Canterbury lacks papal authority to bring the warring parties to the table. I don't envy him for this predicament. I know where he'd like it to go, but such is not possible at this time.

What does this mean for the future? I guess it means a divided Anglican communion, but in reality it's already divided. The Via Media is no longer a middle way, if it ever really was such an entity. This is unfortunate, but hopefully in time the schism will heal. They have done so in the past, but it's always easier to split than to reconcile.

Of course I comment on this as an interested by-stander, one who was once an Episcopalian, but no longer am. Still, I remain interested and concerned for the church of my childhood.

Time to Play Ball -- Giants Spring Training 2007

Ah, the scent is in the air! Springtime and Baseball!

As a die hard and life long San Francisco Giants fan -- I remember listening on the radio to games in the day of Mays, McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Gaylord Perry, and Juan Marichal. I can remember a late inning home run by Bobby Bonds to beat the Dodgers and more. I got to attend a game during the 1989 World Series at Candlestick and a grieved when the Giants seemed on the verge of taking their first World Series in 48 years (2002).

But as they say, there's always next year and next year has arrived, as position players arrive at Spring Training in Scottsdale, AZ. This is a big year, after two losing seasons, for the beloved Giants. There is a new manager -- Bruce Bochy and with Barry Zito and Matt Cain, the Giants have a star and a star in the making anchoring their pitching rotation. And yes, I'm excited about that! The starting rotation is definitely the strong suit of the team (especially if Matt Morris, Noah Lowry, and Russ Ortiz return to form.

But of course everyone knows who will be the centerpiece of the Giant's 2007 season. Though the All Star Game will be held at AT&T Park, the focus of this coming year will be Barry Bonds' attempt to eclipse Hank Aaron's home run mark. He is, I believe just 21 short of the record. Having hit 26 last year at less than peak condition that mark will likely fall, to the great chagrin to "purists." Whatever the case regarding Bonds and his use of "enhancers," the mark will likely fall and he will make this one last tour with the Giants. But the true heart of this club looks to be it's rotation -- which has another star in the wings -- Tim Linecum.
Now what does this have to do with a faith journey? Well, I've been waiting my entire life (49 years) to see them win a championship. If this isn't faith what is? Now, of course, I'm at least not a Cubs fan!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Public Christian or Public Church?

If we choose to reject an iconic faith where America and it's symbols are sacralized or a priestly faith that "confuses nation with church," but we still want to be engaged in the public square -- what are our choices? Mark Toulouse, writing in his book God in Public offers two possibilities, both of which have found representatives in the contemporary American situation. These are the Public Christian and the Public Church.
The Public Christian affirms the role of the Christian in public life, but deems it improper for the church itself to engage in political/social activism. It's theological roots can be found in Augustine's "Two Cities" and Luther's "Two Kingdoms." For both of these pre-eminent theologians of Christian history, the church is spiritual. The church's role is to provide pastoral care and seek to evangelize the world. In the contemporary world, Toulouse points to Carl F. H. Henry, a founding member of the Fuller faculty and founding editor of Christianity Today. To say that the church should remain above the fray, doesn't mean that the individual or a group of individuals can't engage in public life. Henry himself called for a transformed social conscience and he did believe that the church should serve as an example of social justice -- it can feed the hungry, but not engage in political action. Interestingly enough, Toulouse points to Jim Wallis as one who started with Henry, but who has begun to move from the Public Christian view to what he calls Public Church.
The Public Church sees the church itself taking a prophetic role in society. It doesn't engage in political life as an adjunct to the state, but as a community it stands as voice of conscience. Thus, the church's mission is more than evangelism, but takes seriously the breadth of the command to love. Rooted in a more realized eschatology, more of Calvin than Luther, it seeks to understand the ethical imperative of the Gospel (Albrecht Ritschl). This is the vision of the Social Gospel, with Walter Rauschenbusch as its formative thinker. It is also the perspective of a Martin Luther King, Jr. In this vision of church life, God is liberator and the church is the representative of this God in the world.
To take the step of becoming a Public Church is risky. It is quite possible for the church to become co-opted by political forces -- as history has so clearly demonstrated. Theology can become secondary and irrelevant to the social vision -- and this has happened as well. Still, if we understand church to be a covenant community living as God's people in the world, then perhaps we are better equipped to seek justice as a community than as individuals.
So, which is it? Public Christian or Public Church -- this is a difficult choice. My own experience is probably the former, but I understand the need for the church to become prophetic, so perhaps this is the better way. Much is here to be considered!!! For, as Mark Toulouse writes:

Martin Luther King spoke the language of faith, informed by the gospel, and connected it powerfully to a call for the reform of public life. he did so in very public ways. Christians must learn again to stand in the tradition of King.

Being A Radical Christian -- Simon Barrow

There are Conservative Christians and there are Liberal Christians (better known these days as Progressives), but Simon Barrow of Ekklesia offers another possibility -- Radical Christianity! I think if you read this through you'll find that the Gospel is quite radical and world transforming.

What is radical about Christianity? -Feb 19, 2007 -- by Simon Barrow.

My experience of being a Christian is that of a surprising, continual and contested process of reformation and rediscovery. In the events and narratives concerning Jesus, which remain central to my life, everything I thought I knew about the world, myself, God and humanity turns out to be nothing like what I expected, and indeed finds itself in need of ongoing transformation.
The social and political challenge of the Gospel flows, it seems to me, from its radical core. But ‘radical’ has become something of a dirty word, implying (for many) extremism, intolerance or violence; and (for others) an abandonment of historic commitments. These are distortions of its originating meaning.

By radical (radix, from the Latin) I mean something like ‘rooted-to-be-routed’ – a personal, communal and intellectual re-exploration and re-expression of a deep tradition of reading, reasoning and responding to the world which propels us to its most risky frontiers. That is what is at the heart of Christianity.
Whereas the conservative tends to be oriented to the past, and the liberal tends to regard tradition as baggage or inhibition, the radical seeks to live out of a wisdom which is malleable and resilient enough to go on changing without breaking, and which has a capacity to bring both surprise and coherence in a way that ‘starting from scratch’ cannot.

This is the journey I am on, and it is shaped and sustained not just by a company of the like-minded but by companions from other walks of life (people of faith, or just ‘good faith’), who remind me that isolation and guarantees of ‘correctness’ are not on. (click here to continue reading).

Ethical Implications of the Lord's Table

The Lord's Table is an open Table, but it also has ethical implications. Read closely 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 and you'll discern that something ethical is under consideration -- that is, the way treat each other in daily life is related to how we gather at the Lord's Table.
Having quoted from Clark Williamson in my previous post on the Lord's Supper, I return to him once more. Clark notes 2 specific ethical implications, which I'd like to highlight.

1. [P]eople may not be barred from participating in the Lord's supper because they are members of the wrong race, age, class, ethnic group, or denomination, or have the wrong sexual orientation. In the Lord's supper we share in God's gracious gift to us and practice the open hospitality of Jesus, welcoming the stranger. It is self-contradictory to allow such forms of discrimination to rule our social, political, and economic arrangements in "the world" or in the church.

This speaks clearly to the openness of the table and its influence on how we live together in society. If we're one at the table, then surely we're one in every other area of life.

2. [W]e cannot be content with "spiritually" feeding the hunger of the soul, while allowing people to suffer from physical hunger, as though such hunger were not itself deeply spiritual. We must not forget that a major feature of Jesus' ministry was feeding the hungry, and that our earliest testimony to the eucharist shows that it was not a symbolic supper but the "full meal deal." We who celebrate the breaking of bread must see to feeding the hungry.

In this Clark makes the point that there is no spiritual/physical distinction made here, as if the faith celebrated at the Table is spiritual only and doesn't have physical dimensions. We're physical bodies after all. Feeding the hungry and caring for the poor is a direct implication of sharing in Jesus' table fellowship.
Clark Williamson, Way of Blessing, Way of Life: A Christian Theology, Chalice Press, 1999, p. 289.

Mitt Romney's Religion -- Martin Marty's Perspective

Martin Marty in this Monday's Sightings post takes a look at religion and the presidency and how Mitt Romney's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is relevant to our conversation. Sightings is published by the Martin Marty Center (see below).

Sightings 2/19/07 Romney's Religion-- Martin E. Marty

We who began "sighting" religion in American public life a half-century ago had to open a file on "religion and presidential candidates" when "Ike" ran against "Adlai." Presidents Roosevelt and Truman were very religious, but Roosevelt's form of mainstream Protestantism was seen as inoffensive, and Truman disdained the "use" of religion in political contention. Then came Adlai Stevenson, who was controversial because he was a Unitarian -- and, of course, he was utterly dismissed by religious conservatives (pre-Reagan) because he had been divorced. Dwight Eisenhower ushered in the new era with what a critic called his "very fervent faith in a very vague religion." In 1960 religion came to the fore in the Kennedy-as-Catholic campaign, and it has stayed there ever since. One has to marvel at the naiveté or historical short-sightedness of communicators and analysts today who think that controversial religious identifications among candidates are new. The cast of characters changes; the stage is the same.

So the files bulge fatly and prematurely in this too-long campaign. Not a single candidate is discussed apart from her or his religious commitments. We can save comment on other candidates for future seasons until November 2008. First off, meanwhile, we have the Mormon context and involvement of new candidate Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. There is no hiding his Latter Day Saint identification, nor does he try to hide it. He did his three-year missionary stint, and is by all signs wholly engaged with his faith community. And that is controversial. We are told that though he is working his way into acceptability on hot-button issues among religious conservatives, they have more reservations than do other Americans about his being a Mormon.
Such reservations were better described as suspicious and hateful in the 1840s and for a century that followed. Almost nothing galvanized publics in that century more than the perceived threats by the Mormons. The practice of Church-sanctioned polygamy shocked non-Mormons in a time before the public accepted our serial polygamy of celebrities, stars, and sometimes neighbors. In case no one has noticed, except among fringe groups, all that is past. That Latter Day Saints theology differs radically from Christian orthodoxies is also obvious. That Mormons, especially in Utah, tend to be rather homogeneous in their expressions of right-wing Americanism is evident in polls and outcomes.
So we line things up. First, there is the U.S. Constitution, with its "no religious tests" clause. That settles things legally -- but it is in the ethos, mores, prejudices, and preferences of the public that this all has to be fought out. My own favorite among commentaries by Mormons is "Mormon President? No Problem: Have Faith," by Richard Lyman Bushman in the New Republic. Bushman is as notable and fair-minded an American historian as we have, and has written perceptively about Mormon history. His reassurances are well grounded. "Beliefs do matter. Romney's values, as he has said repeatedly, come from his Mormonism. But teasing out possible implications of theological positions can verge on fantasy. We should ask Romney what he believes, but it would be wrong to predict his future course."
In short: Let's keep the inquiry cool.

References: "Mormon President? No Problem: Have Faith," by Richard Lyman Bushman (New Republic, January 29, 2007), can be read by subscribers online at:

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "The Earth Charter as a New Covenant for Democracy" by J. Ronald Engel. To read this article, please visit:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Islam in America

Islam, like every religious tradition, has more than one face. This is especially true in America, where Muslims hail from many different nations, cultures, and contexts. Some are rabidly fundamentalists, while others are liberal, tolerant, and even secular in their orientation. Some Muslim Women cover themselves completely, others simply wear a scarf over their heads, and others dress just like every other American woman, which is to say, with great variety. It's politically expedient to create a monolithic picture, but once you get to know a few Muslims, you'll discover that the stereotypes don't fit very well.

The LA Times today runs a review by Marjorie Gellhorn Sa'adah of Paul M. Barrett's American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2006). I've not read the book, though I've thumbed through it on several occasions at Borders. From the review we learn that Paul Barrett tells the story of seven Muslims who range from a fundamentalist activist to a feminist writer. It appears that this new book will help shatter our stereotypes and perhaps help us build toward a greater understanding of one another.

The reviewer helps us understand the complexity of patriotic America:

What, for any of us, is patriotism?

In a Yuba City parking lot, a group of Muslims debates Fourth of July fireworks. One wants the bottle rockets and fireworks that would launch into a canopy of red, white and blue.

"Fireworks on Independence Day, yes, but not at mosque," disagrees another.

"Mosque is prayer, Quran," adds a Pakistani farmer.

One of the Muslim men turns to Barrett and asks, "Paul, what do you think? … Do churches have fireworks at the church?"Barrett's reply? "I said I was Jewish," he writes, "but for what it was worth, my mother always warned that fireworks could put your eye out."

"American Islam" does a lot to suspend the red, white and blue pyrotechnics that have, since Sept. 11, tended to put our eyes out. These seven lives, and all the others they represent, heighten my sense that we should be practicing a more complicated patriotism, one with a pluralistic gaze. What better way to see, then — as the Koran says — that "[w]herever you turn, there is the face of God." •