Friday, August 31, 2007

The Way to War

As I continued my reading in Dom Crossan's God and Empire, a book that suggests that empire, civilization, and violence have historically run together, I came across this haunting recounting of a conversation with Herman Goering, Hitler's partner, during his time in a Nuremberg Jail. US intelligence psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert records these words of the former German leader:

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russian nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country that determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship . . . . The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. (Crossan, God and Empire, pp. 35-36).

These words are truly haunting, because they are so true. And propagandists have always known how to stir the people up and lead them into war -- then as now. To oppose the war in Iraq is to not support the troops, which means you're unpatriotic and you don't love America, and of course you must be naive as well. For surely we must fight for what's right. Or at least that's what we're told, and if we're made to be afraid we buy into the rhetoric of war.

Peace Through Victory

I'm just getting started with John Dominic Crossan's God and Empire (Harper SanFrancisco, 2007). I will admit I've not read as much Crossan as I've read Borg, but I find this to be a very intriguing and poignant read. The parallels are explicit here between the Rome of Old and the New Rome. We're reminded here, early on, that the U.S., like Rome of old, is an empire -- an empire of bases rather than territories but an empire nonetheless.
As Crossan writes as a biblical scholar it's not surprising that he does lift up the role of religion in this story -- what he calls Roman Imperial Theology (rather than Roman mythology or Emperor cult). He does this to set up the contrast between Augustus and Jesus (and the opposing theologies of Roman state and early church).
What is interesting is the comment about Roman imperial theology being summarized in the phrase "peace through victory." During the Cold War we often heard the phrase "Peace through Strength," a phrase that has its parallel here. That ideology -- indeed -- that theology of strength is at work now in our defenses of the "War on Terror." It is for many a war of strength between the Christian West and the Muslim East/Middle East.
The four prongs of this Roman imperial theology as laid out in a work called The Acts of Divine Augustus are:
  • Religion: Symbolized by the temples Augustus had built or restored.
  • War: Accounts of his victories in both civil and foreign wars.
  • Victory: The expansion of the empire by conquest.
  • Peace: Peace comes as a result of victory -- for Augustus's campaigns pacify the now Roman world. (Crossan, p. 24-25).
Is not this an expression of our own imperial theology -- the idea that we are called by God to bring democracy and peace to the world -- by diplomacy if possible, with military strength if necessary!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Out of the Closet?

My friend Steve Kindle -- at Open Hearts, Affirming Pages -- has posted an important statement on the Larry Craig situation. He speaks of the closet, which heterosexuals have created to essentially ghettoize gays. The result of this are risky, even self-destructive behaviors essentially imposed on them.

Some effects of the closet on GLBTs include:
Clandestine sexual practices
Anonymous sexual practices
Inappropriate marriages
Self-loathing (internalized homophobia)
Magnet for disease (STD and otherwise)
Truncated sense of wholeness (disempowerment)
Superficial relationships with straights and gays
Imposed hypocrisy
Sheer pain of not being oneself
Intense loneliness of not being wholly possessed by or possessing a life companion

What should we do?

Senator Craig and Ted Haggard are the victims, not of hypocrisy, but of the closet—a closet of our making. This is a true case of blaming the victim when the finger should be pointing at us.

A corollary is at work here. Just as the closet makes this behavior inevitable, the elimination of the closet makes it go away. So, if you find the behavior of certain people reprehensible, instead of punishing them in the closet, allow them to live their lives in the full light of day. They and you will be all the better for it.

Do you find this compelling? Why? Why not?
For the whole article, click here:

Your Calling as a Christian -- Review

Timothy L. Carson. Your Calling as a Christian. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007. 88 pages.

What does it mean to be a Christian? There are many answers to that question, many of which are narrow in scope. Timothy Carson, pastor of University Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Fort Worth, offers in brief scope an outline of Christian faith from a progressive Protestant perspective. This is a sort of Mere Christianity for the 21st Century, and it should prove valuable to many seekers as well as long term Christians seeking a primer of their faith.

While this is written by a Disciples of Christ pastor and represents a Disciples of Christ perspective, its use will extend well beyond these denominational boundaries. Carson has sought to address the questioner/seeker that is interested in the Christian faith but is uncomfortable with the typical presentation that focuses on a narrow but expansive creed and a moralism focused on sexuality. In an opening chapter entitled “Why Should I Care?” Carson engages in a conversation with a person who claims not to be a religious person. Here is a person who wants to believe, is disillusioned by science and modern human behavior, is interested in the spiritual dimension, but doesn’t believe in the “supernatural stuff.” As for the seeker’s ideas of God – it’s the deity of the TV evangelist and the football players, the Old Man in the Sky, Divine Puppeteer, and tribal God who uses hocus-pocus to make sure one side wins over the other. Carson responds, correctly, that he doesn’t believe in this God either. From there he takes the seeker on a tour of a different way of seeing God.

From this invitation to take a journey toward faith in God, Carson addresses the question of how we can know – and here he explores in brief the role of science, and offers us a look at a variety of ways of discerning knowledge of God – from Aquinas’ Unmoved Mover to Calvin’s distrust of reason, from Wesley’s Quadrilateral to Campbell’s marriage of scripture and reason. As Carson lays it out, none of these approaches fully answers the questions, but all have something to offer – though he does naturally have a proclivity toward Campbell.

From there he takes us a journey toward a winsome, gracious, and yes reasonable faith. He recognizes the challenges to faith and recognizes that others have suggested other paths to faith, but in this book he lays out the “unique” path that is Christianity. Christian faith has its own integrity that must be lived to be understood. He challenges the “spiritual but not religious” crowd who believe it’s possible to pick and choose from different religious traditions and come up with a hybrid that works. Without saying that other traditions are wrong or evil, he does say that each religious tradition is a unique path that has its own endpoint. We can learn from each other, but merging paths is likely unworkable.

Taking then this unique path that is Christianity, and Carson invites us to dive in and experience the journey not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. And at the center of this journey is Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith. He insists that the starting point is not the church, as important as the church is, but Jesus, for as Christians we proclaim not the church, but Jesus. To understand Jesus, you must understand the message of the kingdom, a message that Carson focuses in on. He defines the basic titles in ways that are understandable and to the point. He doesn’t try to push definitions beyond their original understandings, and so we have a Jesus who will challenge us as well as comfort us. To know Christianity, is, to follow it, by following Jesus.

With Jesus as the foundation, we are led further into the faith. In a chapter entitled “Taking the Plunge,” the author shows how we can make our confession and join in the body of Christ. Being the he’s Disciple, it’s not surprising that baptism has its place in this journey. We’re called to join Jesus at the river and share in the watery grave. From there we grow in faith and service. While the church isn’t the starting point, we dare not take this journey alone. We are free, but we’re not autonomous – “I am not captive to myself, but free to love God and neighbor” (p. 52). As free members of the body of Christ we gather together, work together, and worship together. And again, showing his Disciples’ roots, the Table of the Lord stands at the center of worship.

To live this faith, we must be nourished, and so Carson speaks of the central practices of faith – Sabbath (not in a narrow way, but an intentional way nonetheless), prayer, use of spiritual gifts, study (a life long commitment to learning the faith). As we make use of these practices, we discover our purpose in life -- to share our faith, to share compassion, and to speak prophetically to our times.

Finally, there is the Christian hope – the eschaton – the future that lies before us. It is here that he speaks finally of salvation, not in an escapist fashion, but in a hopeful one. Salvation is understood broadly – to include freedom from ignorance, healing of brokenness, liberation from sin’s hold on us, and the threat of death. Without going into great depth, he does affirm the promise of the resurrection – however it occurs, he affirm the hope that in death we pass into the presence of God. He challenges the pessimism of the Left Behind Theology, but affirms the certain victory that is in Christ.

Each chapter is accompanied by a selection of texts that invite us into further reflection. This is a book that we can hand to the seeker, the new Christian, or the one who is transitioning from a more conservative to a more progressive faith. This is a gentle guidebook. It’s not the end point, but it is the best small guide I’ve seen. Read it, reflect upon it, and share it with others who wish to take the journey of faith. Faith, as we see has its particularities, and to take the journey faithfully, we must inhabit those particularities. Christianity is, as some have said, a path that is narrow at points, it is a path that in many ways few have chosen to faithfully follow, but here in Your Calling as a Christian is an invitation to take the journey together with other faithful pilgrims.

To purchase a copy from Pastor Bob's Bookstore (An Amazon Associate's program) click here.

Is Spong's Jesus Radical Enough?

I know that a lot of progressives love John Spong and I hear he's a nice guy, but I must confess I find him to be just a bit silly. He lacks the sophistication of a Marcus Borg and makes claims about the Bible that on one hand seem extreme and yet seem to reflect what was radical in the 19th century. His scholarship is outdated and more in line with Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris, both of whom show little awareneness of the full spectrum of Christian scholarship.
Ben Meyers at Faith and Theology has written a review of Spong's latest -- Jesus for the Non-believer. I've not read the book but trust Meyers' judgment here, so I think I'll pass. What I find interesting is Meyers' judgment that Spong's interpretatin of Jesus isn't radical enough. What we have here is a Jesus who is the champion of Western values of inclusiveness and tolerance -- a sort of PC guide. Now I'm for inclusiveness and tolerance -- but the Jesus of the Gospels -- texts that Spong seems to place no trust in -- was deemed a radical in his own day.
Meyers writes:

The function of Spong’s Jesus is thus simply to maintain the social and political status quo. He takes our own most cherished and self-evident Western values, and he provides them with a theological justification. Thus our own values are made absolute and unimpeachable – they are elevated to the status of ideology. Simply put, Spong tells us that political correctness is correct, since even Jesus was politically correct.

This should give pause to any reader of the Gospels. After all, the Gospels consistently depict a Jesus who is radical and confronting and unsettling – aJesus who challenges the status quo, who hangs out with the wrong people and antagonises the establishment, who resists every attempt to domesticate his message, refusing to allow his actions to be calmly assimilated into any existing religious framework. And for just this reason, the Jesus of the Gospels is finally executed. In contrast, however, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldbe offended by Bishop Spong’s politically correct Jesus. A Jesus whose sole commitment is to tolerant inclusiveness is simply not the kind of Jesus whom anyone would want to crucify.

So in spite of Spong’s characterisation of his own book as radical, “shocking” and “audacious” (pp. 10, 290), the real problem is that this book is not radical enough. The Jesus who emerges from these pages is ultimately indistinguishable from any other respectably innocuous, politically correct member of the Western middle classes.

To read the whole review -- which I suggest you do --click here.
If you go down to the comments section you'll note the anecdotes by Kim Fabricius -- of a conversation with Spong who termed Walter Brueggemann a Fundamentalist. That should say what needs to be said.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Reclaiming the Bible

I am at once a liberal and an evangelical, catholic and a particulist (I'm Disciples of Christ). I, like most Christians, live on a continuum of understanding, and I've been moving along that continuum leftward for some time. Since Tom Wright and Marcus Borg are friends and dialog partners and former students of G.B. Caird, I can safely say that I'm somewhere in between the two of them. I sense I've grown closer to Marcus Borg's "historical-metaphorical" position, and yet I still want to hang on to some of the supernaturalism of the biblical story -- parts of the story that Tom Wright seeks to defend in his books.

Marcus Borg speaks in the video clip below of reclaiming the Bible for Mainline Protestants -- which he sees as responding to the issue of biblical literalism -- both in its hard and soft forms. It is the soft form that Wright represents, I think, and it's the form that I've been content with over the recent path.

As Borg speaks here of a Scripture that is human and not divine, and yet a collection of books and stories through whom God is self-disclosed -- his "historical-metaphorical" interpretation I hear a voice that makes sense. The truth of Scripture need not be found in the factuality of its stories but in the pertinence of them to our hearts and minds and lives.

Watch, listen, comment if you wish -- and thanks to Mike Leaptrott for the link.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Leaving Public Schools?

School is back in session for many young people across the country. If not this week then surely in the next few weeks. Once again we're hearing attacks on our public school system, with the Southern Baptists taking charge of things.
Al Mohler of SBTS and Daniel Akin of Southeastern Baptist Seminary are calling for exit strategies and the formation of Christian schools -- because apparently without them our children will become secularized. Akin and others in the SBC are charging the public schools with being hostile to religion. Now I live out here in the West and not the South, but I really don't think the schools are hostile to religion. Unless of course, you mean, that schools can't indoctrinate children with Christian theology and practices. That is, after all, our job as the church. I don't send my kid to school to learn what he should learn in church.
I do think there's a place for teaching about religion in school -- but with an eye to breadth of knowledge not conversion.
But, what it would seem some proponents want is an education where creationism is taught rather than evolution, that George Washington was a pious Christian and that the Founders intended us to be a Christian nation, and sex will not be discussed -- unless I suppose it's to dismiss homosexuality as evil. If that's the case -- I'll stick with public education.
Bob Allen has written a very good piece for Ethics Daily.

Religious Right Retirement Party

When you oversee an empire it's hard to let go. Pope's don't retire, they just die. Succession is determined later. Protestant mega-church pastors are usually entities unto themselves and they more often than not determine their own successions. Bob Schuller passed his aging empire on to his son. Jerry Falwell died in office, but the keys to the kingdom are being shared by his sons. Pat Robertson is hanging on, but his son is taking a great role in the "TV Ministry." Fortunately I'm not a mega-church pastor because my son has no interest in the family business!

But then there's D. James Kennedy, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church -- proponent of the ever precarious idea that America is and was and shall be (if he can help it) be a Christian nation. When I first heard of James Kennedy it wasn't in relationship to conservative politics. His was the Evangelism Explosion of the 1970s. We watched a film about how his church evangelized the community in chapel. But that was before politics became the burden. I expect Evangelism Explosion is still being used, but it's not what we equate James Kennedy with any more. It's politics, and a particularly narrow version -- one focused on homosexuality and abortion -- with a glance toward making American Christian again.

But he's giving up the reins and retiring at age 76. That's well past normal retirement age, but when you run an empire, it's hard to give it up.

The question is, what's next. There's evidence that some younger conservative evangelicals want to go in a different direction -- one that's broader in focus, but also less politically charged. That would be welcome -- at least in my mind. It's not that we shouldn't engage the public square, but we need to do it with more humility and less triumphalism. We need to be a bit more circumspect about where God fits into this conversation. Too often we speak as if we're God's chosen mouthpieces. Perhaps this isn't the best way to enter the public square.

So I say to James Kennedy -- happy retirement -- enjoy playing golf. My hope is that this will mark a new day for the church, one that is less divisive, more humble.

For more on Kennedy and his retirement from the Coral Ridge Church check out this article in the Miami Herald.

Dangers of Hypocrisy

Let me say up front -- we all engage in hypocrisy. Our walk doesn't always coincide with our talk, which is why Jesus warns us about taking care of the log in our own eye before we go to work on the splinter in our neighbor's eye (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:41-43).

This warning about taking care of yourself before focusing on others has an interesting corollary in the relationship of verbiage by Religious and Political conservatives about matters relating to sex with the spate of scandals emanating from within the Republican Party. Remember Mark Foley and the pages scandal? Then more recently David Vitters, the Louisiana conservative Senator whose name appeared on madame's list of contacts, and now Larry Craig of Idaho. Foley had been a strong opponent of homosexuality in the House, but it appears that he had for some time been living a double life, but took such strong positions as a cover -- in order to remain in good stead with GOP leaders.

Larry Craig is an even more interesting case. Apparently there have been rumors dogging him for years, but he's always denied them and there was no substantive evidence. As I say with Barry Bonds -- no evidence no charge -- and so it has been. This recent incident in which he was arrested and then pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct -- stemming from allegedly lewd behavior -- could simply be something misconstrued. But why plead guilty? He claims he shouldn't have done so, that he should have sought counsel, and that he was simply trying to be expeditious seems a bit odd. At best this suggests a lack of thoughtfulness on the part of one who is voting on major pieces of legislation. Now we all make mistakes, but why plead guilty?
What this case does though is bring out into the open the question of homosexuality. We are in a period of transition, where this issue is being debated. We are as a society becoming much more open and accepting -- but at the same time there is deep resistance and discomfort. We've yet to come to terms with it --either in the church or in the political community. Neither political party has come to terms with it, though the Democrats seem to have a better handle on it.

So, at this point we don't know all the answers, but what it does suggest is that as with Ted Haggard and others, we must ask the question -- is the decibel level of your statements covering up something on the inside? In the case of Ted Haggard and Mark Foley, this was true -- is it the same with Larry Craig? This remains to be seen, but the question is in front of us.

The humanness of a saint

In life Mother Teresa was one whose very life breathed holiness. When you thought of Jesus and his ministry, you thought of her. In death, even Protestants acclaim her one of the great saints of the church. Her willingness to give totally of herself remains a challenge to us all.

That she struggled with her faith, that the ecstasies she once experienced gave way to silence and dryness seems at first odd, and yet there's something quite compelling in this story. Even as she gave herself to a ministry of care to the least of God's children, she took on their pain and experienced their aloneness. That she longed to hear the voice of Christ, is understandable. We do long to hear God's voice speak to us.

The blogosphere is of course abuzz at the news of her "dark night of the soul" as it's revealed in a most important Time Magazine cover story. In her letters to her superiors and to her confessors she revealed a side of herself that none of the rest of us had access to.

And so we read words such as these:

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them -- because of the blasphemy -- If there be God -- please forgive me -- When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven -- there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. -- I am told God loves me -- and yet the reality of darkness& coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart? (Undated prayer to Jesus).

I await the book of her letters -- Come Be My Light -- to read more and to have my own heart touched. Yes, there are those like Christopher Hitchens who find confirmation of their skepticism, and it's understandable, but I hear something different. I hear a word of hope for those of us who also experience the spiritual deserts -- our own "dark night of the soul," a night that essentially lasted for a half century never to be lifted. But perhaps she drew so close to Jesus in her service that it would be humanly impossible to hear. I don't know, but I commend her for her faithfulness in the midst of her doubts.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Rip City -- what a shot

Watch as Barack Obama has some fun -- and then makes a brief comment about investing in school construction across the country.

Hat tip to Aaron Krager at Faithfully Liberal for this clip.

Good Bye Alberto Gonzalez!!

First it was Karl and now it's Alberto. Yes, finally, for the good of the country, one of the most partisan and ineffective Attorney Generals ever will leave. Gonzalez makes you long for John Ashcroft and maybe even John Mitchell -- oh well maybe not Mitchell.

He leaves an AG office that had turned partisan politics into an art form -- the most visible example being the firing of the US Attorneys -- but it also involved things like the wire tapping, surveillance, his apparent support for what appears to be torture, the hiring of people simply for political reasons. This is good news and may open things up for more transparency -- depending on who GW chooses as a replacement. The name being bandied about so far is Michael Chertoff -- Homeland Security Secretary. To my mind that's not a good choice. Besides, he already has a job that needs tending to. Pull someone in from the outside, someone with integrity and independence. At one time a suggested replacement was John Danforth -- I think that would be a wise choice if Danforth is willing to serve.

So, thank goodness that Alberto Gonzalez did the right thing. Now hopefully he'll do here as he did with replacing Rumsfeld and get a qualified person to run this department for the next fifteen months or so.

Senior Year Arrives

Today my son headed off to school to begin his senior year at Santa Barbara High School. My how time has flown since we walked him down to Marlatt Elementary School in Manhattan, KS to start kindergarten. Since then he's spent time (doesn't that sound like prison language) at Peabody Elementary, Santa Barbara JHS, and now three years at SBHS. A senior year is like no other -- full of promise, much uncertainty. College beckons for Brett -- wants to be a film maker -- but where is yet to be decided.

This Fall is heavy on band and the social sciences -- Black studies, AP US Government, Senior English, and Film -- besides 3 band classes. I'm excited about this year -- a bit emotional I suppose -- but excited to see what will come of things. And, as I've been reminded, senior years go by fast.

So, while I'm a Mighty Pelican of 1976 (Klamath Union High School), Brett is a Don of 2008 -- the slogan for the school is this: "Once a Don, always a Don." So hurrah for the Don's of 2008!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Is America a Christian Nation?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 26, 2007

Is America a Christian nation?

If by that question one means, “Which religion is dominant in America?” then, yes, America is a predominantly Christian nation - indeed it has a decidedly Protestant cast.
But that's not the way the question is usually asked. To put it more precisely: “Is America a Christian nation the way Saudi Arabia is a Muslim one?” That may be putting it a bit too starkly, but the way the question is usually asked concerns the role Christianity should play in determining the cultural, legal, and political dimensions of American life.

There are a great many Americans who believe that Christianity should have a privileged place in American society and that it should set the tone for American life. Others would disagree vehemently, even suggesting that religion should have no place in public life.
This debate has become increasingly bitter as we move into a hotly contested presidential election cycle. In the course of these debates, there is a tendency to look to the founding generation for precedents. Were the founders believers? Did they believe in the separation of church and state or not?

Just as Christians left and right seek to defend their own positions with biblical references, partisans left and right seek out historical proof texts that would support their viewpoints. For some, George Washington is the epitome of Christian piety, while for others the Founders not only were skeptics, they despised Christianity.
Much of what we hear and read, unfortunately, is more myth and legend than facts of history, and these myths are told and retold largely for political benefit. The truth, like America itself, is complex.

Fortunately there are resources that set the story straight. Among the more recent works are two books. Jon Meacham's “American Gospel” (Random House, 2006) and David Holmes's “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers” (Oxford University Press, 2006) tell a much more nuanced story, one that recognizes the contributions of Christianity to the nation's history, but which also acknowledge other important contributors such as the Enlightenment. While Meacham's book lays out the broader story of America's religious life, Holmes deals specifically with the founding generation, especially the first five presidents.

A noted historian and an Episcopalian, Holmes demonstrates that the first five presidents, along with Benjamin Franklin, were Christian deists. That is, they belonged to their respective Protestant churches but weren't orthodox in their beliefs or practices. Their God was largely disinterested in our personal daily lives, but this creator did guide the broad currents of history (providence). They believed in life after death and revered Jesus as a teacher, but they weren't Trinitarians nor did they believe in the divinity of Jesus. Their wives and daughters, on the other hand, tended to be quite pious - the exceptions being Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison. Still, this deism was balanced by other very orthodox expressions of Christian faith on the part of people like Samuel Adams (cousin to John), John Jay, and Patrick Henry.

Whether in their orthodoxy or in their skepticism, the founding generation recognized the need for religious freedom, and they also understood something that seems lost today - we can work together to accomplish great things, whether spurred on by faith or not, and our differences needn't get in the way. I'm a person of faith and my faith is the driving force in my life and in my political convictions, but I know that there are people of good faith who differ from me in their religious perspectives and their political perspectives. I should be able to work with them when and where it's appropriate.
So, is America a Christian nation? Only in the sense that Christianity is and has been the dominant form of religious expression, at least among European Americans, from the earliest days of settlement. David Holmes makes the point that contemporary American authors needn't “revise history to align the founder's beliefs with their own.” Rather we must tell the story, “warts and all,” for to do otherwise is to “be untrue not only to history but also to the founders themselves” (Holmes, p. 164).
America is, in my mind, bigger than these attempts to manipulate our history for political gain. We will be better off if we're willing and able to hear and abide the truth of our own history.

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.

Torture's Usefulness?

I saw this at Levellers -- Michael Westmoreland-White's site. I think it speaks for itself!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Obama Gets it Right on Cuba

Whatever your opinion of Barack Obama, you have to admit that he's not afraid to ruffle feathers or suggest a new direction.
On Cuba he's the first candidate in a long time to have the courage to say that this 50 year embargo doesn't work. Fidel Castro is in poor health and the country is being run by his brother. Because the Cuban American community won't be happy until they're back in power, we're about the only nation in the world to have little or no contact with Cuba. Our efforts have failed and its time to admit it. Fidel Castro has outlasted 10 US presidents, half of whom are long dead.
The LA Times agrees with Obama but rightfully says he doesn't go far enough.
Here's their opinion:

Regardless of the political implications, Obama is clearly right -- the only problem is, his proposal doesn't go far enough. The travel ban should be lifted for everybody, not just Cuban immigrants. It is the height of irony that Americans can freely travel to countries such as Venezuela and Iran, which represent genuine threats to our security and economic interests, but not to Cuba, whose government is a threat only to its own people.The ban has done nothing to weaken Castro, but it does keep U.S. tourist dollars out of the hands of Cubans, who might be less inclined to heed their regime's anti-U.S. propaganda if Americans were helping to raise their standard of living.

The U.S. shouldn't lift all economic sanctions on Cuba until the island's regime makes progress on democracy and human rights, but policies such as the travel ban and limits on remittances are simply counterproductive. Score one for Obama.

Indeed, let's begin the process of reconciliation!!! And think what it would do for Major League Baseball!!

What's with those Imprecatory Prayers

The recent episode involving SBC pastor and VP Wiley Drake's call for imprecatory prayers -- cursings -- of a couple of leaders of the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has raised a number of issues about how we should pray for those who we might disagree with or those who obstruct what we think is right. I've been tempted on occasion to pray some nasty things about certain people, but never took that step.
In an LA Times article written by Connie Kang, this question of "imprecatory prayers" is addressed. Apparently, as I suspected, he's not gotten a lot of support in his call to prayer or in his interpretation of Scripture.
Drake used Psalm 109 as his guide to prayer, a psalm that asks that God leave certain people fatherless and widowed. But such use of the Psalms is inappropriate -- he was using it in a prescriptive way, but in reality the Psalm is simply an example of a prayer of frustration and anger.
I appreciate what Fuller Seminary's Kurt Fredrickson had to say:

"They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings," said Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Pasadena school. "Normally when we think about praying, we're thinking about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone we're concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or those sort of prayers for ourselves -- not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus."

And further:

Scripture, especially the psalms, gives humans "permission," in the worst of times, just to be human, as David is in Psalm 109, he said. That's the wonderful thing about the psalms, he said.

Rabbi Stephen Stein of the Wilshire Temple said:

"We ask God certainly to do justice and to bring those who are errant to justice, but what I would consider an imprecatory prayer is not normative in Judaism," he said. "There is a difference between saying, 'May the wicked be brought to justice,' and 'May John Smith be cursed.' When we start naming names, that takes 'prayer' to an entirely different level."

It is appropriate to pray for justice and it's okay to get angry, but to pray that harm should come to another simply is not appropriate.

Friday, August 24, 2007

God's Christian Warriors

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

I remember singing that song with gusto back in the day. It's quite stirring, really, but what's the message? What's the mentality? Isn't it that crusading spirit that merges imperialistic pretensions with a gospel cover? Fortunately it's not in our Disciples Hymnal (Chalice Hymnal), but it's still a favorite of a lot of people.
As I think about last night's episode of Christiane Amanpour's God's Warriors, which focused on militant forms of American Christianity, this hymn comes to mind. We hear a lot these days about culture wars, about taking America for Jesus, about defending the faith. One of the sections of last night's show focused on Ron Luce and his organization -- This is a semi-militant group focused on teens. The purpose of the group is to disciple teens -- which isn't a bad thing -- but the means smacks of demagoguery. The rallies, as we saw from the clip, seeks to whip up the kids into a frenzy, making them more susceptible to the pitch from Luce. In the case of this rally, it takes place in San Francisco and includes a pretty public face off between the teens on one side and anti-Luce demonstrators on the others.
Other examples of Christian militancy included John Haggee's Christian Zionism, anti-evolutionism -- but that was largely handled in the context of the withdrawal of home schoolers from public school life.
We heard from Ralph Reed about attempts to organize Christians politically -- aligning them with the GOP by and large. As a politically active pastor myself, I saw the conservative side of things in people like Russell Johnson of Ohio and Texas Baptist Rick Scarborough. Scarborough -- as my son said -- is a bit creepy. Johnson on the other hand has a much quieter demeanor, but he's quite successful as a political organizers.
On the other side of the conversation were people like Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals who has taken a strong environmentalist tack and Greg Boyd, a theologically trained pastor, who got into hot water for calling into question the idea that Christians should back the war effort. Boyd is on the opposite side of things from a Scarborough, counseling not withdrawal from politics, but at least from a church perspective staying out of things. Boyd is a NT professor himself, but I would disagree with his statement that Jesus avoided politics -- to some degree at least it was politics that put him on the cross.
Amanpour did a nice job introducing us to this segment of American Christianity. We were reminded that Evangelicalism isn't monolithic, but there is strong conservative political sentiment centered around sexual issues -- abortion, homosexuality, chastity, modesty.
But the issue here really concerns how we live in a pluralistic world -- are we God's Christian warriors demanding our rights and our place of rule? In this I agree with Greg Boyd, that is not in line with Jesus' teachings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Obama -- the Pragmatic Foreign Policy Guy

I've not said much recently about my guy Barack Obama. Although he's let a fairly large gap develop between himself and Hillary, I still think that this gap will narrow considerably before the Primary season gets up and running. He's still the best candidate to take on the GOP and he's learning how to lay out his message.
I did find interesting a Washington Post op-ed piece that suggests that Obama is setting the foreign policy debate and getting the better of his critics. David Ignatius writes:

Indeed, you can argue that over the past month, Obama has been shaping the foreign policy debate for the Democrats -- and getting the best of the arguments. By last Sunday's televised debate in Iowa, nobody else seemed eager to challenge Obama's postulate that "strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries." And there was little repetition, either, of the tut-tutting that greeted his statement that he would be prepared to go after al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, with or without President Pervez Musharraf's blessing.

Hillary Clinton's stance has been more cautious, seeking to convey a general but vaguely defined sense that her toughness and experience would make her a strong president. Obama is taking the opposite tack.

Obama added some new (and potentially controversial) foreign policy details in an interview Tuesday afternoon, before he hopped a plane for his next stop, in
New Hampshire. He said he expects there will still be U.S. troops in Iraq when the next president takes office, and he is discussing with his advisers how this residual force should be used. "For getting out in an orderly way, withdrawing one to two brigades a month is realistic," he said. With 20 combat brigades in Iraq, that would imply a withdrawal schedule of at least a year.

His mix of idealism and pragmatism seems to be a good one -- if only the current leader had such a mix then we wouldn't be in such a mess. He's been opposed to the war from the beginning, but recognizes that we can't just "pull out" over night. It must be done "decently and in order" (to quote those Presbyterians).
If he continues to set the agenda for the conversation then he'll make the necessary inroads as people actually make up their minds!

George Bush Still Doesn't Get It!

Yesterday's speech by the President that compared a withdrawal from Iraq to the ending of the Vietnam War demonstrates that he hasn't a clue of what's going on. The South Vietnamese government fell not because American troops had left (as agreed upon in a peace deal) but because the South Vietnamese government was corrupt and incompetent and had failed to command the loyalty of its people -- in that there is a good analogy to the current situation. But if I hear the President correctly we should have remained in Vietnam indefinitely -- and thus we must remain in Iraq indefinitely.

He is wrong about the idea we should have stayed in Vietnam, and even more wrong about the current situation. It's possible we could have stayed longer in Southeast Asia -- we had a draft that allowed the government to replenish the troops regularly. In the current situation we don't have such a thing and right now our troops are spread increasingly thin and are serving increasingly longer stays. If GW wants to extend the surge and expand the presence of our troops there is only one way to do it -- he has to reintroduce the draft. But such a step is a nonstarter because it would counter to his belief that this war should simply be a minor inconvenience to the American people. That idea has long since lost its credibility as is seen in the increasing number of young Americans losing their lives in an ill-conceived and poorly planned war.

That there are people seriously considering expanding this to Iran is asinine. We're already fighting in Afghanistan (6 years on) and Iraq. To expand this conflagration will simply lead to more American deaths without accomplishing anything but further inflame the Islamic World.

It's no wonder that sane Republicans such as John Warner are saying it's time to come home. It's only George and Dick and others who found ways of evading Vietnam who continue the go, go war rhetoric.

As a follower of Jesus, my discomfort with this war is only increased. And that fellow believers are among the strongest supporters of this effort is simply mind - boggling. Let's build bridges to peace rather than tear them down.

What is a Hate Crime?

Geoffrey Stone has written an important op-ed piece today for the LA Times. He responds to those conservative Christians who oppose pending hate crimes legislation because they think it will preclude them from speaking out against homosexuality. Now, I don't think there's any reason why we need to be preaching against gays from our pulpits, but needless to say this legislation won't ban preachers from speaking against homosexuality.
Stone mentions 3 reasons why anti-gay preachers need not fear this legislation:
1. The "Matthew Shepherd Act" doesn't prohibit "attempts to incite" -- only infliction of bodily harm.
2. It is settled 1st Amendment Law that unless "an individual cannot constitutionally be punished for attempting to incite others to commit crimes unless the speaker expressly incites unlawful conduct and such conduct is likely to occur imminently." If you're leading a mob intent on doing bodily harm because a person is gay, then well, that's not protected speech.
3. The legislation expressly prohibits any protected infringement of one's 1st Amendment Rights. Thus:

In other words -- indeed, in the most explicit words possible -- the act could not be applied to the pastors unless their sermons are unprotected by the 1st Amendment, a concept that is impossible to imagine.

So don't worry about your preaching being banned -- though you might listen for the Spirit's voice, a voice I believe is calling us to welcome our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Taking the Bible Seriously?

The other day I had a phone call from a man who asked which Bible I preached from. I said the NRSV, but that we had the Good News Bible in the pews. He didn't seem to know about either of them, but what he was looking for was a church that preached the KJV only. I guess it's that old idea that if it was good enough for Paul, it's good enough for me. But seriously, the KJV was a good translation in its own day, but this is the 21st century and not the 17th (and even the KJV has been revised over the years). So, is reading the KJV only taking the Bible more seriously?
Marcus Borg speaks of taking the "Bible seriously but not literally." I kind of like the modification made to that phrase by my friend David Matson, "Taking the Bible seriously, but not necessarily literally." There are at least a few passages that I take more literally than does the distinguished scholar from Oregon State University.
With that said, I find interesting the review Elizabeth Palmberg has given of the Left Behind series. Now, I'll admit, I've not had the stomach for the series, but I've read in the genre -- back in the day I read voraciously Hal Lindsey's stuff (mid 70s). What Palmberg does is show how the claim to take the Bible "literally" can lead one to not take it seriously. And I agree!
She writes in a God's Politics posting:

Where Revelation was written to reassure genuinely oppressed believers that God was more powerful than the state and culture that persecuted them, Left Behind appears to be written to relieve its audience, which enjoys immense wealth and civil
liberties by world standards, of the burden of having
faith in things unseen, or of connecting to others who have a different worldview. Forget all that stuff about people knowing you are Christians by your love – about which, more in the second installment of this review.

And so the question is: What does it mean to take the Bible seriously?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Pentagon's Next Crusade

Quite a bit has been made about "Operation Straight UP" (OSU), a fundamentalist organization that seeks to send Christian goodies like Josh McDowell books, bibles and of course the infamous "Left Behind" game. Apparently the group, which features bad boy actor turned evangelist Stephen Baldwin, was going to do a little Christian entertainment gig in Iraq called "Military Crusade."
As Michael Weinstein and Reza Aslan point out in an LA Times piece today entitled "Not So Fast, Christian Soldiers," Muslims kind of "bristle" at the word Crusade. Fortunately the Pentagon at the last hour came to its senses and realized that baptizing the Iraq War as a Christian holy war wouldn't do much for winning the peace. The problem is that in our volunteer army fundamentalist Christians are both big supporters and eager volunteers, making an already problematic war even more problematic.
The authors of this op-ed piece write:

American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?

It's time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.

If we hope to come out of this with a modicum of decency and order, then we must listen to this advice and stop speaking in cosmic terms. As the authors point out such a strategy only emboldens those who wish to wage such a war against the West.

Armenian Genocide Recognized by ADL

Word comes that the Anti-Defamation League will officially (albeit somewhat reluctantly) recognize the Armenian Genocide as Genocide. The ADL, which provides a great service to many communities regarding issues of hate crimes and its prevention, has had a hard time dealing with the Armenian Genocide -- in large part because Turkey won't recognize it as a genocide and Turkey is one of Israel's few friends in the Muslim world. A rebellion in the Boston office pushed the ADL to do this, but such recognition is long overdue.
Apparently this issue has been a divisive one within the Jewish community, whose own experience of genocide is and should be a reminder of what humans can do to each other. This is step in the right direction and hopefully the Turks will eventually recognize that they will be better off accepting rather than denying the complicity in this action of nearly a century ago.
Here is the ADL statement by it's president, Abe Foxman:

In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.
We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.
I have consulted with my friend and mentor Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other respected historians who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey's friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history.
Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.
Jewish organizations have opposed US legislation to recognize the genocide, believing it would hurt Turkish Jews and Israeli-Turkish relations. But, as reported in the article, the legislation's proponent, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), says that this becomes a Turkish-Israel issue of groups like the ADL make it an issue.
In any case, this is a step in the right direction.
More information can be found at the JTA website -- though registration is required.

God's Warriors

Episode 1 of Christiane Amanpour's God's Warriors appeared last night on CNN. This is a six hour, three night event, which highlights militancy in Judaism (last night), Islam (tonight), and Christianity (tomorrow).
Last night's episode focusing on Judaism, and more specifically the Settlement movement, was enlightening. Although I had heard and seen aspects of this story, Amanpour did a great job of showing the whole story. What we learn is that the settlement movement has had tacit support from within the Israeli government, that it continues unabated despite official US opposition (but opposition that is muted by political pressure placed on Congress), and that is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
We hear from settlers, some who have engaged in violence, others who have been victims of violence. We learn how the law is circumvented -- both Israeli and international. We learn that from the beginning there have been people within the Israeli government -- for instance Theodore Meron -- who have determined that the settlements contravene the 4th Geneva Convention. But that ruling/analysis has been ignored.
Others who contribute to the conversation include Jimmy Carter, who has been unfairly vilified for his perspective and Gershom Gorenberg, the author of the Accidental Empire (Times Books, 2006). Gorenberg makes important contributions to this conversation and helps understand the complexity of the issues at hand.
There is also a somewhat frightening conversation with Christian Zionists, whose support for the Settlements and a complete takeover of the region by Israel is dangerously provocative. The pastor of the Assemblies of God church in Tampa (I believe) sees Islam as pagan and Satanic.
Tonight, as a I said, is Islam. For most Americans, Islam is seen as militant, so we're not surprised that it's included, but we don't like thinking of ourselves (Christians) as militants or of Jews as militants -- and yet all of us have distinct minorities who are of this persuasion.
I hope to see the rest, but if part 1 is any indication this is worth seeing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

America's Islam -- with a female face

In this world of fear, a large swathe of Americans fear Islam -- both the Islam residing in the Middle East and the one(s) found here. Politicians, of course, make great gains by emphasizing the threat and certain Christian groups find Islam a convenient enemy (sells lots of "prophecy" books.

But Islam isn't of necessity a threat, nor need it be an enemy of Christians or Jews. Historically we've gotten along at times and not so well at others. The modern era, with a combination of colonialism and Western secularism a seeming threat to the Islamic world that ability to get along has been challenged.

But America offers an opportunity for something different. My experiences with Muslims has been, by and large, positive. Many of them live with one foot in American life and the other foot in the Muslim World. They're being tugged in two directions and only time will tell how this interaction will influence not just American Islamic society, but the Islamic world as a whole. Great numbers of young Muslims from across the globe are studying in American Universities. The question is, what will they take with them when they return home. If the message they take home is one of an imperialistic Christianity that wishes to crush Islam, that message will indeed be dark. If, on the other hand, they are greeted with grace and with hospitality, then perhaps another message will be taken home.

One of the interesting facets of American Islam is the varieties of expressions and how they are melded together. Another is the current leader of the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mattson, of Hartford Seminary. Mattson is a convert, a scholar, and a timely representative. Her voice is calm and her message is one of stability. She won't rock the boat, it's said, especially on some aspects of women's roles. But still, simply her role model is important.

There is a USA Today article that highlights her life and the beginning of her second year in office. As we consider the role of religion in society, we can work to build bridges or we can dig deeper canyons. I'd like to build bridges, and it would seem that Mattson is one who seeks to do the same!

Rudy the Strongman and the Religious Right

GOP Evangelicals face a dilemma -- the most "evangelical" candidate is Mike Huckabee and he's shown little life, has little money, and little Internet presence. As one pundit said, Sam Brownback is doing little more than tearing down similar opponents and should get out of the race -- but he's the other Religious Right candidate.
Politically conservative Evangelicals aren't comfortable with Rudy Giuliani, whose views on abortion and gay rights, plus a less than stellar family life, stand at odds with their typical litmus tests. But the issue that draws them to Rudy is fear -- specifically fear of Islam and Islamic based terrorism. Rudy talks like an old style strongman. He's a "Decider" like the current president (and as I've heard -- if you like GW you'll love Rudy). In this age of anxiety, many Americans are willing to give up their freedoms for a sense of security and Rudy promises to provide that. I think that one reason why conservative Evangelicals are attracted to GW and Rudy is that there is built into many of the recent conservative churches a hierarchical sensibility.
Back in my Pentecostal Days I heard the message constantly: "Submit the Pastor;" "submit the the governing authorities." "Touch not God's anointed." That message makes one passive and receptive to those who pledge to be strongmen.
That is coupled with the "Crusade-like" belief that Islam is our enemy. Religious Right pundit Marvin Olasky, an important influence on GW, makes this clear:

But he said the war on terrorism also resonates as a values issue, especially for Christian evangelicals.

"Among evangelical voters, there is a strong sense that Islam is evil," said Olasky. "They are going to see it more as a major struggle of our era. So there is the secret of Giuliani's appeal to evangelicals.

"It's not that evangelicals are more frightened by terrorism than other people. But they are much more likely to look upon Islam as a long-term enemy," he said.

This fear of Islam, of course, is fed by End Times teachings that see Islam in apocalyptic terms, especially now that the USSR no longer exists.
So it really does make sense that when push comes to shove the Religious Right will give up their "values" for security.
For more on this topic, check this article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune.

Monday, August 20, 2007

When Welcoming is More than Toleration

An article by Steve Kindle, first published in Sharing the Practice -- the journal that I edit for the Academy of Parish Clergy -- is reprinted on Steve's blog -- Open Hearts -- Affirming Pages.
He writes:

Pastors are well aware of the courage it takes for many first-time visitors to find their way into our sanctuaries. They often have to deal with poor signage, lack of a welcoming face, and even hostility over where they choose to sit. In many ways visitors are as much a threat to a congregation as promise.

Imagine then what it takes for a gay person to show up for worship. All the above is compounded by a real or perceived sense of animosity toward who they are, even if it is not obvious at first sight. After all, the church’s reputation in the gay community as a hostile environment for them is well deserved.

I often attend P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and have spoken quite often. My congregation was officially “Open and Affirming,” and I was well known as a gay advocate in the community. After a period of many months and a lot of exposure, gays began to see that even though I was straight, I was for real. Surely, I thought, some of them will attend my church, and when they do, they will find a warm and affirming welcome. Several years of regular contact went by and not a single gay person came to worship with us. So, I shared my frustration with a gay friend who knew the situation well. His response hit me like an arrow through the heart. “Oh, they trust you alright, but because of their horrific experiences in their own churches, they are unwilling to trust strangers, no matter how sincerely they are approached.”

For more of this insightful article click here: Steve raises important issues for clergy who wish to take their congregations in a direction that is open to and even affirming of all who would come, especially gays and lesbians, bi and transgender.

A Night of Jazz

As passionate as I am about the music of Neil Young, I'm equally passionate about Jazz. Last night my wife and I spent the evening at the Santa Barbara Bowl, an outdoor venue with hard metal bench seats, but a great opportunity to hear the best in the business.

This was I think my third time at a Diana Krall concert. She took us through her standards of Nat King Cole, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin pieces, all done with perfection. She shared some humorous comments about her recent birthing of twin boys. All in all, a typical Diana Krall night. Great music from one of the best in the business.

The night began with a powerful hour of music by trumpeter Chris Botti and his band. In some ways the contrast between Botti's high energy, driving jazz and Diana's laid back ballads can't be more different, and yet it made for a great night. I first heard Chris a couple of years back when he came to town with Dave Koz's Christmas tour. Then he was part of a smooth jazz all star line up, but tonight I got to watch him cut loose. And not only does he have the chops to play this stuff, but he has put together a band composed of people that are each in their own right great jazz players. This simply amazing group includes: pianist Peter Martin, the bassist James Genus (plays with the Saturday Night Live Band), drummer Billy Kilson, and guitarist Mark Whitfield and his fire engine red guitar, offers an opportunity for Botti to do pure jazz jamming.

Of course when he shared his Oregonian origins that only clinched the deal. He hails from that jazz capital of the world -- Corvallis, Oregon. Corvallis, for those who don't know it, is the home of Oregon State University (home of Marcus Borg). Chris shared that the first time he heard Miles Davis he knew he was going to play jazz in New York City.

He announced that he has a new album due out on September 25th -- entitled Italia. That should be interesting!

So, if you have a chance to hear Christ Botti play, do so, because it will be a real treat! Of course Diana isn't bad either!!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dick got it right -- In 1994

Who knew that Dick Cheney got things right about Iraq -- in 1994! Back then he asked: "If you take Saddam's regime down, who are you going to replace him with." If he'd listened to himself the world would be just a bit safer.

Here Jon Stewart's reminisces:

Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for this most insightful piece of video!

Sexualizing Girlhood

I don't know if it started with the Barbie dolls or not, but it seems that little girls are looking more and more like 20 something young women every year. Even as women have fought to break the glass ceiling and a woman has a serious chance of being the next President of the US, women are increasingly allowing themselves to be objectified as sex objects.

Blogger and Psychologist Richard Beck reports from the APA meeting in San Francisco some interesting information. He writes:

Later in the symposium, Sharon Lamb, author of the book Packaging Girlhood, spoke of how in the media childhood, particularly girlhood, is becoming sexualized. Girl models in the media are made to look like sexy adults and adult models are often dressed like little girls. The total effect is a sexualizing of childhood and innocence. Much of this can be read by downloading the report from the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. One disturbing trend they found: Apparently thong underwear is being made for young girls. (I think the APA report is very worthy of discussion in our churches.)

And not only is this true, but the color pink has become sexualized -- as it moves from pink to hot pink.

As a parent I don't have to deal with this directly -- I've got a son. But it would seem to me that parents need to step in and say no to those who would sexually objectify their daughters. Yes, we need to get manufacturers to stop -- but it's going to take a bit of parental responsibility as well.

Muggles, Mudbloods, and other objects of bigotry

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 19, 2007

No one likes to think of themselves as bigots, but unfortunately bigotry remains a present challenge to our society. Discussions of immigration policy, national security, even marriage often contain veiled and not so veiled statements about “them.” “Them” is code for those we deem undesirable; those who would steal our jobs, pollute our culture, waste our tax payer dollars, or undermine our morality. Yes, bigotry remains a problem in our day.
I happen to be a big Harry Potter fan, having just finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and as I read I couldn't help but hear the book's author speaking to this very issue that plagues our world today. Supposedly this is a series of children's books, but they are much more, for many adults have found not just hours of enjoyment, but deep meaning in this increasingly mature series of books. The books offer insight into such virtues as friendship, loyalty, being true to one's self, and the importance of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
J.K. Rowling seems to have understood the old adage that truth must be caught rather than taught, and therefore it's quite possible to read these books, especially the final volume, as a protest against the rising tide of bigotry in our world today.
In the case of Harry Potter's world, the bigotry comes from the wizarding world's “Purebloods,” and it's directed against “Muggles” (non-wizards) and “Muggle-borns” or “Mudbloods,” as radical “Purebloods” love to call them. “Mud-bloods” are wizards like Hermione Granger and Harry's mother, Lily, who're without any apparent “wizarding” ancestry. Their “powers” are therefore seen as somehow illegitimate - even stolen.
This bigotry among wizards might be traced to the fact that they must live in the shadows, something many resent. But it's also born of a sense of superiority, and as we all know - “might makes right.” Their desire to keep things pure leads some radicalized “Purebloods” to engage in a policy of oppression and even murder. And those “purebloods” who sympathize with these “lower beings” are seen as traitors - “blood-traitors” - who must be marginalized for their love of “Muggles” and “Mudbloods.” But even our heroes must learn something about bigotry, and it's the “Muggle-born” Hermione Granger who is their teacher. She helps her friends see other non-human beings - like the house-elves who are essentially slaves - as having dignity and honor in their own right.
If any of this sounds familiar, it should for this morality-play sheds light on our own histories and experiences. A fanatical concern for racial purity stood at the heart of the Nazi's Aryan ideology, but they're not alone in history. Consider our own American legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Trail of Tears, just to give a few examples.
Yes, this isn't just a series of fantasy stories meant for children (indeed this is a series of books that has matured with the original readers of the series). It is a word of wisdom that we can learn from as we deal with a world that's becoming increasingly diverse and yet increasingly intolerant. Indeed, it can be said that bigotry is on the rise everywhere in the world today. Here in America the traditional recipients of bigotry - African-Americans, Roman Catholics, Asians, and Jews - have been joined by Latinos, gays, Muslims, and immigrants of all stripes, but especially those who hail from Mexico and Central America.
It seems that we regularly read and hear laments about the threats to American security and culture from those who are different. Despite the fact - with the possible exception of Native Americans - that there is no such thing as a truly “blue-blooded American” - we all stem from immigrant stock - some believe themselves to be more American than others.

But such bigotry is never right and is often a pretext to discrimination and to violence. It is, in fact, repugnant to what's right and honorable and decent, and contrary to the teachings of my own faith tradition. Which is why, of course, we should heed Harry's message and stand up for what is right!
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.

August 19, 2007

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Getting Clarity on Climate Change

I found this video at Real Live Preacher. It is deceptively simple and amazingly helpful as it lays out the possibilities of doing nothing or doing something about Global Climate Change. We're encouraged to move from row thinking (is it true or false) to column thinking (consider the consequences of doing nothing versus doing something).

I think you'll find this profound. And if you find it compelling then pass the word.

Neil Young -- "Let's Impeach the President"

As I've said earlier -- I'm not sure impeachment will work and at this late hour likely isn't the proper course of action. That being said, GW has taken us down a dangerous path that is impeachable. So, let's just sit back and let us listen as Neil Young tells us why we should do it!

Ernst Bloch -- A vision of Hope

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens all say that religion is a delusion and a dangerous one at that. None of these folk seem able to distinguish between fundamentalism and progressive versions of faith. But German Marxist Ernst Bloch was different. He not only recognized the difference, but his idea of hope proved to be influential in Jurgen Moltmann's development of a theology of Hope.
Peter Thompson, of the University of Sheffield and an atheist himself, writing in the Guardian points to Bloch as a more nuanced understanding of religion, one that sees progressive faith as pointing forward -- toward home.
Thompson writes:

Enlightenment does not mean merely shining a light into the darker recesses of the world but must also mean a liberation of people out of darkness into the light. What progressive religious thought has to contribute to that process of liberation in an age of tumultuous social change is the preservation of human dignity against both reactionary religious obscurantism and value-free scientistic rationalism. To label all forms of religion as part of a general delusion, therefore, does a disservice to both progress and reason. Where we are offers us no home. That is why we constantly feel it is time to move on. As long as that is the case there will be the need for religion. The point, however, is to make it a religion which will be happily complicit in its own earthly fulfilment. And I say that as a good atheist.

I think that Thompson, following Bloch, has a point!
Hat tip to Simon Barrow.

Oh, My, I'm addicted

80%How Addicted to Blogging Are You?

Mingle2 - Dating Site

News Press Union Certified!

For a little local news -- I do that once in a while:
It's a year in the making, but the NLRB has overturned the objections of the Santa Barbara News Press. The union is recognized and the News Press must negotiate with it. Now, it's likely they'll not do so in good faith -- it's interesting that the judge in the case pointed out the lack of truthfulness in the testimonies given by Travis Armstrong (the editorial page editor who rules the news -- making this nothing more than a gossip rag) and the associate editor Scott Steepleton. It's telling that the NP can't hire an editor.
The story is told in full by the Santa Maria Times -- and as I hear it, nothing is said in the News Press, which continues to live in denial of reality.
While this is going on, there is another hearing in Santa Barbara that deals with the issues faced by those who were unfairly fired for their union activities. Although the NP has its supporters, it's no longer a paper worthy of this community.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Faiths of the Founding Fathers -- A Review

David L. Holmes. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 225 pages.

There is great debate about the piety of the nation’s founders. There are those who claim that ours is a Christian nation and that the founders – with perhaps the exception of Thomas Jefferson -- were pious Christians. On the other side of the coin there are those who insist that the nation was as pluralist as today and that the Founders were to the man (yes they were men) non-Christian Deists. In large part this debate has political implications, for it is a debate about how great a separation there is between church and state.

Historian David L. Holmes, himself an Episcopalian, takes on the task of faithfully laying out the views and practices of the Founding Generation of Americans. He begins with a survey of the state of religion in America circa 1770. We learn that New England is Congregationalist, the Middle Colonies more mixed, and the South having originally a more Episcopal establishment. The educational establishments were by and large religious, from the Congregationalist Harvard and Yale to the Episcopal William and Mary and King’s College (Columbia), from Presbyterian Princeton to Baptist oriented Brown. It is in these institutions that most of the Founding Fathers were educated, but as we read we discover that there were other influences, influences of the Enlightenment such as Free Masonry that also proved influential.

The center-piece of the book is a series of chapters that explore the religious beliefs and practices of Benjamin Franklin and the first five presidents. All six of these figures valued religion, but were by any measure Deists. The stories of Washington’s piety were created whole-cloth following his death. What is interesting is that Monroe was the least religious of the early Presidents. He was by affiliation Episcopalian, but his writings and speeches say little religion. The wives, on the other hand, were for the most part much more pious than their husbands. The one major exception was Abigail Adams who shared her husband’s strong Unitarianism. But Martha Washington and other wives and first daughters tended toward orthodoxy – a reality explained in part by education, social circles, expectations, and the fact that there was no woman’s version of the Deist infused Freemasonry to be had.

That these leading figures were not orthodox does not mean that none of the Founding Generation was Orthodox. Indeed there were a number of leading patriots who were extremely orthodox, ranging from Patrick Henry to Samuel Adams. Holmes devotes one chapter to the lives and practices of three orthodox founders, Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay. Jay was especially conservative theologically, but this did not keep them from embracing the revolutionary spirit. Indeed, Samuel Adams was considered the “Father of the American Revolution.”

With these contrasting stories, the question is: How do we discern who is orthodox and who is not? In what is, I believe, the most important contribution of the book, Holmes offers four tests to distinguish a Deist from an Orthodox Christian. Holmes divides the Founders into three categories – non-Christian Deist, Christian Deist, and Orthodox Christian, and by considering these four tests we are better able to place the Founders in their proper category.

The four “tests” are as follows:
  1. Examine the actions of the founders in the area of religion. Do they belong to a church? Attend church? Serve on governing boards? By itself this criteria offers little help, for Jefferson and other Deistic founders held roles of importance in their churches. But, the more active, the more likely one was to be orthodox.
  2. Reception of “ordinances” or sacraments. While baptism is not a good marker – they likely did not have a choice in the matter (infant baptism being the predominant mode) and the baptism of children could have been done at the behest of wives, but other ordinances such as confirmation (which was available among Episcopalians in the colonies after the appointment of the first bishops in the 1780s), and reception of the Lord’s Supper were more telling. Deists tended to shy away from both sacraments, believing them expressions of superstition. Many Deists, such as Jefferson and Washington, would either avoid Eucharistic Sundays or leave prior to the celebration of the sacrament.
  3. Dimension of Religious Inactivity versus Activity. Few thorough-going Deists took an active role in Christian rituals, and Deistic Christians were less observant and active than orthodox ones. In other words, Deistic Christians would participate in more passive forms of Christian life such as listening to sermons, but tended to avoid active expressions such as being confirmed or receiving communion. It is noticeable that Jefferson left out the Last Supper from his retelling of the Gospels.
  4. The Use of Religious Language. The way God was referred to and the use of distinctly Christian language can be gauged from the writings and speeches of the Founders. Some like Monroe hardly even mention God or religion. It is almost totally absent from his public expressions. Words like Providence, Creator, and Nature’s God were used by non-Christian Deists like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen (though Allen was even more radical than Paine). Deistic Christians would make use of the same terms, but they tended to add modifiers such as “Merciful Providence” or “Divine Goodness,” and they were more likely to speak of Jesus – even if not in orthodox Christian ways. Positive references to the Trinity and use of terms such as savior and redeemer would be found only among the orthodox.
With these guidelines, we can discern that a Thomas Paine or an Ethan Allen was a non-Christian Deist (though Allen may have been an atheist). Franklin, Washington, and the other presidents considered, were Christian Deists. Among the orthodox were Henry, Adams, Martha Washington, and Jay. The lesson is that while Protestant Christianity was dominant, a goodly number of the Founding Generation – at least among the men – were not Orthodox partisans.

What we can say, Holmes insists, is that the Founding Generation as a rule did believe in divine providence and life after death, putting them in a different place from the more radical forms of Deism. But, they were by and large Deists of some form, and as Holmes writes, it would have been more surprising if they had become “evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Scandinavian Lutherans, or Orthodox Jews” (164). Deism was the dominant philosophical perspective among educated males of the day.

What is true of the Founders is not true today. From Gerald Ford to the present, a period surveyed in the “Epilogue” of the book, the Presidents have made their religious professions quite public. Indeed, many have courted the religious vote. That the current election cycle is so filled with religious rhetoric would have surprised the Founders, but it seems to be expected today – in spite of our supposed secularism. The religious beliefs and practices of each President beginning with Ford, is explored in this final chapter, That they might use religion for political ends is acknowledged, but for most the professions have been sincere.

With the religious rhetoric growing louder and more divisive, this relatively brief and very readable book is just the tonic we need to attend to. Note well that the title of this book is not “The Faith of the Founding Fathers,” but the “Faiths of the Founding Fathers.” There is not one faith perspective or style that covers them all – and in a time of religious turmoil that pluralism needs to be recognized. This tonic will then, if properly digested, offer an important perspective not just on the past, but on the present situation as well. This is then, a must read book for the upcoming election cycle.