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Showing posts from November, 2007

Theology: Our Common Task

I have been reading Alister McGrath's history of Protestantism -- Christianity's Dangerous Idea(HarperOne, 2007). I'll speak more of the book itself at a later time -- when I'm finished. But as I was reading through this book that explores the "democratization of faith" that at least in principle Protestantism is, I came across this quotation from Karl Barth's God in Action. McGrath writes: Barth stressed the importance of theology in safeguarding the vision and identity of the church. Positive, yet critical, theology serves the church and keeps it faithful to its calling. And who is authorized to "do" theology? Barth had no hesitation in reaffirming the great Protestant theme of the democratization of the faith. (McGrath, p. 239). From there he moves to the quote, which stems from a 1934 lecture in Paris: In conclusion, theology is not a private subject for theologians only. Nor is it a private subject for professors. Fortunately, ther…

Osamaing Obama?

Rumors, Rumors, they're everywhere. I get this little ditties sent to me all the time. With the advent of the net and email, scurrilous rumors get passed on with the greatest of ease. And it would seem that seniors are most prone to this -- at least so it seems. I'm constantly telling my mother that the information in her post is untrue -- just go check snopes.com. With good old Rush and his buddies liking to confuse Barack Obama's name with America's most wanted villain, Osama Bin Laden, it's no wonder. It's unfortunate that a newspaper of the caliber of the Washington Post sees the necessity to take up the issue of Barack Obama's faith. The idea that Obama converted to Christianity as a cover for his "secret" adherence to Islam would be ridiculous, if it didn't provide fodder for anti-Obama efforts. With America fearful of anything Muslim, to tar someone as a Muslim goes a long way to undermining their credibility. You would think tha…

Accents -- Just another Quiz

I can't help myself, but when I see a quiz, I've got to try it out.

No surprise here -- I'm from the West Coast and as far as I know we don't have an accent out here!

What American accent do you have?Your Result: The Midland "You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.North Central The West Boston The Inland North Philadelphia The South The Northeast What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Thanks to Richard at his Connections blog for this helpful quiz! My question -- how does one from Wales have an American accent -- even a Northeast one?

Baptism by Torture -- Sightings

The issue of whether waterboarding is torture continues to be with us. Michael Mukasey, the new AG, wasn't quite sure if it is. Nor do some of the current presidential candidates. Rudy seems to think it might have it's place -- but I think he's been watching too much 24. Last night it seems that Mitt and John got into it as well. Mitt doesn't seem to know if it is or not and doesn't think it's the place of a presidential candidate to make that call. Fortunately John McCain, who knows better than most what torture is, challenged that premise. But William Schweiker, writing today in Sightings, offers a unique perspective, a challenge to we who believe in and follow Jesus. He calls on us to consider the sacramental use of water -- that is baptism -- and the way water has been used in the past to in a sense purge and purify or extract conversion. It was used in the Inquisition and in witch trials for just that reason. Anabaptists, those who believe that …

Does the Mainline have a Future?

I got involved in a little dialog/debate on the blog of Emergent leader Tony Jones about Mainline Protestantism. I was commenting on a report of a session at the recent AAR meeting in nearby San Diego (I couldn’t go) that featured Tony, Diana Butler Bass, and Scot McKnight. Apparently the exchange between Diana and Tony got a bit heated as to the future of the mainline churches.

I jumped into the conversation and suggested maybe things aren’t so bad for us, maybe we’re on the road forward. Now, at least one commenter seemed to disagree with my assessment. I get the impression that Mainliners keep waiting for their left of center, open-ended stance to attract the surrounding culture. And yet, the opposite continues to happen.

I would argue that it is the lack of a strong theology of the Holy Spirit that has led, and is continuing to lead a decline in mainline numbers and vitality. Now, I disagree with this apparently young evangelical pastor who believes that Mainliners have been w…

Diversity as a Christian Practice

When I look around my congregation, it's not all that diverse. It's not intentional, it's just the way things are. We're kind of older and pretty much white. We'd like to be more diverse and at times we've been more diverse. It's just that right now the population of this small congregation is sort of older and sort of white. But we've been singing in Spanish if that counts for anything! My friend Diana Butler Bass wrote about her experiences at a United Methodist Conference. Gathered were representatives of various churches from across Northern California and Nevada. Among those gathered were representatives of the congregations of peoples from the Global South. She shares the joys of the conversations as people explored together what it means to be church in this new globalized context. It was mentioned that some of our philosophical analysis (postmodern vs. modern) is a rather western phenomenon. She speaks here of diversity as practice rathe…

Politics, Religion, and Compromise

It has been fun watching the Religious Right try to get a handle around the current crop of GOP candidates. The only "pure" candidate left in the mix is Mike Huckabee, who most Religious conservatives seem to like but don't think he can live -- though there is the charge that he's a big government liberal with conservative social positions (the real Compassionate Conservative). The question is, what to make of the decision of religious conservatives to back other candidates -- including the most unlikely of all -- Rudy Giuliani. Both Huckabee and Jim Wallis cried shame when Pat Robertson offered his support to Rudy. Now, I'm not a fan of any of these GOP candidates, but I find Dan Gilgoff's thoughts on this interesting. He suggests that maybe this is a good thing, a sign that religious conservatives have finally begun to understand that politics requires compromise. Huckabee might cry shame and call for purity -- to back those who use the language of Zi…

Torture Then and Now -- Sightings

There are two questions that arise when we talk about torture. The first is: Is it moral? From a religious perspective it is really difficult to say yes. I mean, if we say we are pro-life or believe in any way, shape, or form that we are created in the image of God, how can we condone the inhumane treatment of another, no matter the reason? The other question is practical: Does it work? The answer, when it comes to torture seems to be no. Martin Marty focuses today on a piece written by a historian of the Renaissance, who demonstrates quite clearly from records of that by gone era that people will say just about anything to get the pain to stop. That the CIA has gotten lucky, well that luck doesn't support the cause. So, here's what Marty says:
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Sightings 11/26/07


Torture Then and Now
-- Martin E. Marty


Torture, including torture by Americans: Who could have predicted that this would be a live topic here in the twenty-first century? …

Why Obama?

I've not posted much lately on the candidacy of Barack Obama. But reading Andrew Sullivan's piece from the Atlantic Monthly reminded me why I was attracted to him early on. Yes, I was attracted by his faith, but it was something else, something that made him different from everyone else. Of those running for President, everyone else is older than me. He's about the age of my younger brother, at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation and in many ways not part of it. Like me he didn't come of age in the 1960s. Like me he may have watched the 60's on the TV, but the formative experiences came in the 1970s and maybe early 1980s. Sullivan says that we may be at a time and place in history when Obama is the necessary candidate. It's not so much his policies or his governmental experience. Instead it's his life experience, part of which is not caught up in Vietnam. We talk about the current war, but in many ways it is that other war that we continue to …

Stereotype and Hysteria Lead to Discrimination

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 24, 2007

Recently a Muslim woman went to a local bank, hoping to open an account. That didn't happen, in part due to misunderstanding but also due to the hysteria that seems to be running rampant in our society. Like the McCarthyites of an earlier age, today's harbingers of fear see Islamic terrorists under every rock. With such a mindset it's not surprising that a woman wearing a hejabwas singled out for exclusion. Yes, others of us have been turned down for accounts, but this episode reeks of prejudice built upon stereotype.
I don't know the bank employee's heart, but with the exception of the letter by Matt Hughes, most of the responses from the community have not only been unsympathetic to the woman, but downright hostile. The woman is blamed for her plight because she apparently wears “7th century clothing” and didn't declare clearly enough her rejection of “Islamo-fascist” terrorist aspirations when she put in…

No Turning Back -- A Review

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Gurdon Brewster. No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007. xiv + 233 pp.


There is book-learning and then there is experience. Both are important, but it’s experience that usually transforms lives. This is especially true of the Rev. Gurdon Brewster, an Episcopal Priest and the retired chaplain at Cornell University. In the summer of 1961 he served as an intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This was early on in the Civil Right’s movement and Jim Crow continued to reign in the South. As summer intern he would live and work with Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., better known to his congregation as Daddy King. He went to Atlanta from New York’s Union Theological Seminary as part of a program sponsored by the seminary’s Student Interracial Ministry that was designed to introduce young students to this movement of change in America. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that he would return to New York a much different person from the one who set out for …

Rapture Song

Perhaps you're old enough to remember Larry Norman and his song "I Wish I Were Ready." Or maybe you were reading Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s and realized that time was short because a biblical generation was 40 years and since Israel had been established in 1948, we could look forward to the end somewhere around 1988. That was about 20 years ago, so either God has changed the definition or things have been postponed. Anyway, rapture fever remains with us. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have made it to the big time penning end times novels. So from Mike Leaptrott's Progression of Faithblog I present Randy Bonifield's "Rapture Song." Enjoy!

Principles of Nonviolence

I have been reading a most interesting book. It is Gurdon Brewster's memoir of a summer spent as a seminary intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was 1961 and Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father Martin Luther King, Sr. were co-pastors, though it was the father who was the primary leader of the congregation because the son was engaged in ministries that took him often from Atlanta. Brewster was a white Episcopalian studying at Union Theological Seminary, but a special program brought him to Atlanta and his life wouldn't be the same. I will say more about the book later, but it is entitled: No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King, (Orbis Press, 2007). Brewster talks in the book about attending a conference on nonviolence, whose main speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr. This conference would prove to be difficult for him -- because it pushed him into uncomfortable positions. It also provided him a set of principles for non-violent action, principles I thought wou…

Let Us Give Thanks

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 22, 2007

It's an old hymn, but it says it well:

“Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
Who, from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.” (Martin Rinkart, 1636).
For people of most faith traditions, giving thanks is a foundational spiritual practice. Our songs and hymns and prayers are full of acknowledgments of God's gracious provision. We see this sentiment displayed in the 67th Psalm:
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
For you judge the peoples with equity
And guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
Let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, has blessed us. May God continue to bless us; Let all the ends of the earth revere him.” (Ps. 67:5-7, NRSV) Indeed, the invitation is there for all to give thanks, in their own way, to the one w…

A Thanksgiving Celebration

I have been feeling a bit discouraged about the state of interfaith activity. But last night we had our first, hopefully annual, Lompoc Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration. We didn’t have everyone there we’d have liked, but we did have Baha’i, Jewish, Methodist, LDS, Disciple, and what I’ll call other. We had readings from Scripture, the Qur’an, a Native American prayer, George Washington, William Bradford, and the Baha’i prayer book. We also had the Lompoc Master Chorale sharing sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria. All told, we have almost 150 in attendance. Not huge, but a remarkable turnout, and something powerful to build on for next year.

I share this because I do think it speaks to a hunger for conversation. It also points out the fact that some who were absent chose to be absent because they feel their Christian faith would be damaged if they shared in a service that crossed religious boundaries. While this service had a distinctly Christian outline it offered other faiths to speak to …

A Call to Thanksgiving

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider the 100th Psalm:


Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God It is he that made us, and we are his; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is Good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100 NRSV)

Where Were You the Day JFK Died?

I was reading Craig Smith's blog this afternoon and came across this piece on the 44th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's shooting -- Nov. 22, 1963.

Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it is also the 44th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

For baby boomers, like myself, and those who are older it always brings to mind the question, “where were you when you heard that Kennedy was shot?”

I was sitting in my third period art class at John Burroughs Junior High School in Los Angeles when the announcement came over the public address system. I was in the seventh grade at the time.

For many of us the “where-were-you-when-you-heard-the-news-question” is one you could always ask whenever a conversation lagged.

One of my favorite lines regarding this topic comes from comedian Billy Crystal who was talking about the difficulty of making conversation with a younger woman he was out on a first date with and attempted to ask her where she was when she heard the news that Ken…

Niebuhr and America's Place in God's "Plans"

Reinhold Niebuhr is back in vogue. Everyone is a Niebuhrian, from Obama to McCain. Left or right, it doesn't matter. So, Krista Tippett, sensing the pulse of the nation, focused her attention on this very subject a couple of weeks back on her show, Speaking of Faith. I of course, have taken my time downloading it and listening to the program as I drive to Lompoc. But today I did just that. A most interesting conversation with several interpreters of Niebuhr. Near the opening of this conversation, Tippett plays a section from Niebuhr focusing on the Puritan legacy and belief in America's specialness. Niebuhr sees this as an unfortunate legacy: Mr. Reinhold Niebuhr: (archival audio)Have you studied the history of our Puritan fathers in New England? I don't want to engage in the ordinary, rather cheap strictures against our Puritan fathers because here were some very great virtues and graces in their life. But I've become convinced as I read American history that t…

Episcopal Schisms

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It's been a busy day so I've not gotten to this until now. Earlier this morning I read an article in the LA Times discussing the disheartening problems afflicting the church of my birth -- the Episcopal Church. It focuses on the Presiding Bishop's visit to San Jose to ordain a new bishop -- the first woman bishop in California history. There you have history in the making -- Katherine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, ordaining Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves as California's first.
It is a most interesting article that talks about Schori's efforts to hold her province together and to stand firm against attempts to undermine her jurisdiction. What is most interesting here is that this ordination took place in the diocese abutting that of San Joaquin, whose bishop John David Schofield is trying to lead it out of the Episcopal Church and has placed himself under a conservative Chilean bishop. All of this is most unusual.
Jefferts S…

On "Golden Compass" -- Sightings

I know very little about Golden Compass -- either the books or the movie. I do know it's supposed to be geared to children and it's coming out soon. Martin Marty helpfully delineates the issues related to the movie this morning in his Sightings column. I had no idea that the author of the books is kind of a "Christopher Hitchens" for kids and that some are worried that if kids like the movie (which Marty notes has been detheologized so as not to offend) they'll read the books and all manner of human calamities will occur -- by that I mean they'll all say no to God and become atheists. Anyway, knowing this makes me more interested in seeing the movies and maybe even reading the books. Might be interesting. Anyone out there read the books? Can you comment? In the mean time, read Marty's take on the situation.
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Sightings 11/19/07


On The Golden Compass
-- Martin E. Marty


How can Sightings fail to sight a feature in the December Atlanti…

Rick and Kay Warren -- Bipartisan Invitation

As presidential candidates run around seeking the imprimatur of religious leaders (that is, looking for endorsements), I want to applaud the decision by Rick and Kay Warren to invite candidates from both parties to address their AIDs conference. In doing this they're giving some publicity to their cause, but not crossing the line into endorsements. The result is a bit of bipartisanship. Hopefully the six candidates invited will put their focus on the issue of AIDs and not get sidetracked on other political issues.

I may not always agree with Rick Warren, but on this he has shown us a better way. It is a model for political engagement without becoming beholden to the parties. We'll see how it all turns out.

There are several links on this -- but my discovery is via Melissa Rogers. The link to the conference website is found here.

Interfaith Burnout?

I've been involved for some time in ecumenical and interfaith activities -- at a local level. I've served as president of an interfaith clergy association; have been a board member and am currently board president of an interfaith center serving our local university. And finally, I've been trying to start up an interfaith group here in Lompoc. I'm not certain how my old clergy group is doing, but I'm finding that the other ventures I'm involved with are struggling to find themselves. So, I'm wondering: is there an interfaith burnout happening? Are we more focused on our own communities and less inclined to reach out across any so-called boundaries? There is a lot of competitiveness in the religious community, and I do find that the people most interested in getting involved in interfaith "stuff" are people who aren't involved in a distinctive community of faith. What I'd like to do is pose the question. What's happening in your c…

Like Scalia? Vote for Rudy! If you don't, well, you know what to do!

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If you like Antonin Scalia, then vote GOP. Even Rudy Giuliani -- probably to pacify his Rightist critics -- has jumped on the Scalia bandwagon. BW said he liked Sacalia and we got his clones. So, now we have a very conservative (and fairly young) majority on the Supreme Bench. GOP appointed judges also dominate the rest of the federal judiciary. With only one Democratic President in the last 27 years, that shouldn't be surprising.
I think it's kind of laughable that Republicans continually complain about activist judges, when they've been doing the appointing for much of the last quarter century. If we wish to have our freedoms respected, the environment protected, then put some balance into the judiciary in 2008 and don't vote for Rudy or his pals. And as for this idea of originalism: Giuliani said, "We need judges who embrace originalism," the view that the Constitution should be read in line with what it meant when it was adopted. "We believe in the Cons…

A Partisan Press?

Tim Rutten, the ever observant media columnist for the LA Times caught on to something I've not been paying attention to. We have long known that Fox News is the media outlet for the GOP. But what of the other cable news outlets? After watching the recent Democratic Debates, which I missed, Rutten noted something, that the show was right out of Barnum and Bailey. In fact, Rutten points out that our media outlets are all choosing up sides -- not for ideological reasons, but in search of the buck. With Fox taking in the GOP faithful, what of the other outlets. With Keith Olberman as its face, MSNBC has become the network of the Democrats. CNN, which is the original cable news network, Rutten suggests has become the voice of the "Independent" populist crowd. And who is its voice and face? Well Lou Dobbs. Dobbs, Rutten points out (because I don't watch him much) has taken up the anti-immigrant, anti-free trade populism, and gives hints he might enter the ring hims…

Pastor Dan's Response to Bible and Public Life

Wednesday I posted here and at Faithfully Liberal about the book Unchristian by David Kinnaman -- I picked up a quote from the book concerning the role of Christians in politics. Pastor Dan at Street Prophets picked it up and added some info to my critique.

He points out information that I didn't have at my fingertips. As an age group 18-29 year olds (as a generational cohort) are less likely than earlier generations to age group is the least likely age group to "uphold the primacy of the Bible" there are other statistics even more interesting:

If you look at the original study, you'll see that for young people, the spread between "the Bible" and "the Will of the People" is 52 points (22/74). But look at the other groups showing a
bigger divide:
College grads, 55 points (20/75) Liberal Democrats, 58 points (19/77) White mainline Protestants, 62 points (16/78) White Catholics, 54 points (21/75) Secular, 84 points, (7/91) Those who attend church seldom …

Obama, Debates, the Future of Politics

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I've not commented much lately on the Democratic Race, in part because the GOP situation has been much more fun. You've got more candidates in the running ; you have a base that's not happy with its choices; you have Religious Conservatives unhappy; and you have a candidate leading the pack that's pretty much at odds with his party platform on social issues. So, I've commented more on that side than on the Democratic side.
I didn't watch the debate last night -- I watched a very unfortunate football game instead -- at least until CSI came on and then I was outvoted. From what I hear, Hillary made a nice comeback and that Obama stumbled a bit.
Here's my take on Obama and debates. They're not his strength. He likes to give detailed and expansive answers and kind of has wings clipped in debates. Hillary, on the other hand, is quick with the responses and retorts. Both are quick on their feet, but Hillary seems to do better at the rapid fire.
So, we see Obama…

Not a Good Day for Bob -- Yesterday!

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First came news of a Barry Bonds indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice -- something he now shares in common with Scooter Libby (though the issues were more important there) and Martha Stewart. Martha has come out okay! Of course now that the Giants have cut ties with Barry, I have less need to defend him. But, he's part of the family -- even if he's a kind of that sour puss cousin you're not always sure you want to defend.

Then last night -- rather than watch the debate -- which I'll comment on in a separate post -- Dennis Dixon, the star quarterback for the Oregon Ducks went down with a knee injury that might knock him out for the season and could jeopardize the rest of the Ducks season. They got upset by Arizona in a game they looked to be on their way to another big night -- that is until he went down and the game was put in the hands of gimpy legged and much slower Brady Leaf.

Just a warning to Kansas -- being #2 is a dangerous place to be. This is what …

Evangelical Retreat from Politics?

There is more and more evidence that the alliance between Religious conservatives and the GOP is fracturing. Part of it is a changing of the guard -- the deaths of James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell together with the aging of Pat Robertson and James Dobson has removed some of their clout. Ted Haggard who once boasted of his access to the White House had to resign amidst scandal. And many of those pastors who are emerging from their shadows are taking a much more wary position. Haggard's own successor is pulling back from politics and many of his parishioners are glad.
The GOP presidential candidates as we've seen have failed to catch fire with religious conservatives -- the one candidate most closely aligned with them -- Mike Huckabee -- is still fairly far behind and takes economic positions that are fairly -- shall we say -- "liberal."
Of course we know that Obama and Hillary and other Democrats are courting religious voters, but it's unlikely that we'll see so…

Advocacy and the Academy -- Sightings

The story broke a while back that the University of St. Thomas disinvited Desmond Tutu to address a conference because his equation of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians to apartheid seemingly made him unacceptable to many Jews -- even though no Jewish organization had complained. Well in the end he was re-invited -- though the location by that time had changed. Alain Epp Weaver, a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School offers her take on this issue and the danger of stifling debate. *****************

Sightings 11/15/07

Advocacy and the Academy -- Alain Epp Weaver


"University of St. Thomas stones Nobel Peace Prophet Desmond Tutu: Please Take Action!" So began an e-mail I received early this October from Friends of Sabeel-North America, an advocacy group working for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel. The dramatic headline evoked biblical punishment and the trope of the unwelcome, embattled prophet. I soon received a similar email from the Muzzlewatc…