Monday, December 31, 2007

It's almost 2008!

2007 is quickly coming to a close. In some ways, none too soon. One more year with the Bush-Cheney regime at the helm! I'm pretty optimistic, so I expect we'll survive this final year of their reign. 2007 was marked by scandal, death, and destruction. The War in Iraq has settled into a constant if not always eventful roar. The Presidential campaigns have gone non-stop (got to see Obama this summer). Lindsay and Brittany grabbed many a headline -- not for their acting skills or music, but for their inability to keep their heads on straight.

A New Year may be a good thing after all. This being 2008 (in a couple of hours), I begin my quest for the number 50. Yes, 2008 will mark the completion of 5 decades of life on this earth. During the coming year my son will turn 18 and graduate from high school. Cheryl and I will celebrate 25 years of wedded bliss (well not always bliss, but it's been a good run). I will discern my longer term future as I end my transitional ministry in Lompoc either as the called pastor there or as pastor of another church elsewhere. For the first time since I finished my Ph.D. I'll be looking for a job and not be looking for an academic position. While I don't rule out an academic position at some point, financially even if I could get a position, I couldn't afford to take it.

2008 will be an eventful year, a year that will include the election of a new President. My hope and prayer is that America will elect a Democrat and hopefully that Democrat will be Barack Obama. Thursday's caucus in Iowa could be the key to that. A win in Iowa could propel Obama to a win in New Hampshire and then in South Carolina. Wins in those three states should take the wind out of Hillary's sails, and let Californians know that they needn't vote for her simply because she's the inevitable nominee.

Yes, 2008 will be an eventful year. My hope is that it will be a good one!

So, with this little note I bring to a close a years worth of blogging. It's been fun. I've gained a number of new and regular readers. I thank you for your patronage! I've enjoyed the conversation and look forward to future conversations in the coming year, not only hear but at Faithfully Liberal and occasionally at Theolog and SoMA Review. So, Happy New Year!

News Press Loses Big Time!!!

I doubt you'll be reading this in the new Press, which never publishes bad news about itself. Because it is now a vanity press that must keep it's owner always in a good light, you will only read stories of how it has won a court battle. Well, apparently, as 2007 runs out, word comes from Craig Smith's blog that the Administrative Law Judge for the National Labor Relations Board has handed down its judgment and what a judgement it is.

Whether or not they'll want to return, eight reporters that were fired for protected union activities (that's not what the News Press claimed) have been ordered to be rehired. Others who were inappropriately given poor performance reviews and then denied bonuses were also given justice.

Whether or not this makes any difference in the long run as to how Wendy runs her paper, hopefully the people of Santa Barbara who continue to patronize her rag will see it for what it is. Now there are still good people working for the paper and they deserve our support and respect for sticking it out under difficult circumstances.

But three cheers for justice! It just goes to show you that money doesn't always win.

Huckabee's Faith "Lens"

Mike Huckabee is the "Christian candidate." He made that clear in his "Christian leader" ad and later in his video Christmas card, which called on America to to get on board with the "reason for the season" -- the birth of our lord. Mike is a bright and charismatic guy. I think he probably was a pretty lively preacher and he seems to be a true "compassionate conservative," something George Bush pledged to be but never delivered on. Now, I believe that one's faith can and should influence our political views and actions. It can and should give moral foundation (as long as it doesn't verge into dogmatism and self-righteousness). The question is, can it be a hindrance to good governance?

Well it can if it so hardens a persons position that he or she is unable to see things differently. You believe you're right because it seems true to you faith position, and therefore any other way must be wrong. It is black and white, either/0r.

With this in mind I came across a front page LA Times story about Huckabee's days as governor. There was one incident that while in a sense harmless, gives us a window into how he might govern.

It goes like this -- a tornado hit Arkansas, devastating the city of Arkadelphia (the location of his alma mater). The legislature passed a bill that would make sure that insurance companies couldn't wiggle out of their obligations. In this brief piece of legislation that received overwhelming "bi-partisan" support, the legislators used that old term "act of God" to describe what happened. Now, i don't believe that a tornado is an act of God, but that is standard insurance language. Well Rev. Mike objected to the use of the phrase and held up the legislation for 3 weeks. In the end they used the language "natural causes," but the point was the fact that he got caught up in the minutiae of language that could have delayed services (which in this case didn't).

One thing that stood out in this article was a statement about Huckabee's "pettiness." Apparently he had a tendency to turn minor issues into big ones.

" 'Petty' is the best word to describe him," said Dennis R. Young, a state representative at the time who sponsored the relief measure and had been an early Huckabee supporter. "In these kinds of things, he'd make mountains out of molehills."

Presidents need to be above such pettiness (though GW has shown his own penchant for pettiness). In times of crisis one can't get caught up in "language." And if a person gets hung up on that phrase what will he do with foreseeable crises in the middle east and elsewhere?
At the end of the day, I think Mike is a nice guy, a good Christian conservative who has shown an ability to be compassionate, but there are other signs that should bother us as we look at electing a President. Now I admit every candidate has stumbled and every candidate has his or her (yes we can say that) blindspots and weaknesses. But I do think this is something needing to be considered in Huckabee's case. Is his faith actually a handicap?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christianity's Image Problem -- SoMA Review

I earlier posted a review of the David Kinnaman book -- "Unchristian," a book I found quite disappointing. A revised version of that review has been published at SoMA Review. Here is a clip from it -- but read the whole thing.

Part of the problem with “unChristian” is the authors’ penchant for equating “Christian” with “conservative evangelical.” While they observe that only 9 percent of Americans are evangelical, no other position is recognized as legitimate. Kinnaman and Lyons worry that the church will respond to its disaffected youth by “hijacking Jesus” and “promoting a less offensive faith.” They’re concerned about balancing a “kindler, gentler” Christianity with one that remains staunchly true to their understanding of the “biblical worldview.” That worldview is narrowly evangelical, fixated on things like the absolute accuracy of the Bible, the perfection of Jesus, and the existence of a personal Satan. Nothing in this definition speaks of God’s love or how we treat one another.

I would be interested in hearing from others who have read the book and their thoughts.

Huckabee's "Umbrella" of Authority

I've been fascinated by Mike Huckabee's rise in popularity in Iowa. I was actually surprised that this didn't happen sooner as he's the one "true believer" in the GOP presidential fold. He has a lot of fans -- people who see him as a true moral leader who will be both President and Pastor to the nation.

So, it was with great interest that I read a piece by Bob Allen at Ethics Daily about Huck's connections to Bill Gothard and his "Institute of Basic Youth Principles." If you don't know about Bill Gothard, you might be interested in knowing that he advocates an extreme version of patriarchalism. One of his favorite illustrations is that of the father as the "umbrella" of protection over the family. Like Robert Filmer's patriarchalism of another era -- all authority is familial and goes back to Adam. Thus, the President is the umbrella of protection over the nation. Filmer's 17th century theories, were, of course used to buttress divine right monarchy.
Back in the 1970s he was very popular -- I went twice to his "Basic Seminar," which filled the University of Oregon's Mac Court. Bill wasn't there in person -- we watched it on video feed. I also attended a Pastor's Seminar in Portland in 1981. I was youth minister then in a very conservative congregation whose pastor was a firm believer in Gothard's message (though he lacked the hard edge of some Gothardites). I have long since tossed by big red notebook, but I'm one of they millions of alumni -- just an apostate one!

According to Allen Huckabee is a big fan and has incorporated Gothard programs in Arkansas.

"As a person who has actually been through the Basic Seminar, I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people," Huckabee wrote in a letter promoting Gothard's prison ministry. Arkansas prisons had been using Gothard seminars and materials since 1996.

Huckabee also
endorsed Gothard's "Character Cities" program. Gothard described a meeting in Little Rock as laying groundwork for "the most exciting opportunity I can imagine" to merge his institute's teachings with government programs.

Now I don't think Mike can win in the end, but this alliance should be troubling to Americans. It is not an egalitarian program and it runs counter to what I believe is the American spirit. It will be interesting if this begins to come out and what Mike has to say in this regard.

Homecoming -- From the Holidays -- and Thoughts on the World

When you travel -- unless I suppose you're equipped with wireless and laptop -- blogging can be a problem. Indeed, even keeping up with the world can be difficult. My last post was a brief notice about Benazir Bhutto's assassination. That tragic event is still unfolding and makes Pakistan an even more unstable place.
We worry about places like Iran, but Pakistan already has nuclear weapons that it can deliver. In the wrong hands great destruction can be meted out. India and Pakistan have a long simmering feud that is always on the edge of getting hot. Pakistan is on the border of Afghanistan and a number of other nations. We have made our bed with Pervez Musharraf, and such a decision can easily come back to haunt us. I would say it is already coming back to haunt us.
So, I'm back from my road trip and now must dig out from things before I can comment on anything with any degree of competency!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassination

The continuing violence in Pakistan and elsewhere continues unabated. We watch in horror as lives are taken -- innocent lives -- as a society descends into chaos. While Benazir Bhutto isn't a sainted leader of her people -- there have been many accusations of corruption -- she has stood as a symbol of possible change.

Her death -- a shooting accompanied by a suicide bomb -- places her nation in a difficult place.

I would ask you to join me in prayers for the nation of Pakistan, that justice will of course make its way felt, but also that the nation will remain calm. Perhaps the silver lining will be such horror that the people will choose to sit down and find a way toward peace.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Fashion Update for an Ancient Book

Back in the day -- back when I was a lowly seminary student (early 1980s) I worked in a Christian bookstore selling Bibles. Back then there were quite a few options, but nothing like today. The NIV was brand new and I was still a fan of the NASB. But as far as editions it was pretty much hardback, leather, paper or imitation leather -- color choices ran from black to burgundy. There were a few study bibles, but not that many. Even then making a decision could take some time.

Well how things have changed. Not only are there many more translations available -- I'm partial to the NRSV (see my bookstore in the sidebar) -- but there are many other choices. Stephanie Simon wrote a Column One piece yesterday (Christmas Day) entitled: "Selling the Good Book by its cover." The focus was primarily on Zondervan, which has sought to bring the Bible up-to-date with all numbers of fabrics and colors, as well as niched bibles for every age and interest (personally I'm waiting for a Hugh Hefner edition).

There are Magna bibles and teen fashion themed one. Why all this effort --- well, how else to you get people to buy Bibles (still the number one selling book) to an American populace -- 91% of whose households already own one? The question is how far is too far? And when does the Bible get lost in its wrappings?

One last thing -- there seem to be so many choices out there that half the buyers go home empty handed -- confused. My suggestion is go to my bookstore and buy one of the NRSV's listed!

So, if you've been wondering about all of this -- read the article here and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Night and all through the house are creatures trying to stay awake after eating turkey and the trimmings. Nothing more needs to be eaten lest we burst.

Each of us celebrate or choose not to celebrate in our own way. We're with family this year -- last year we went to Vegas. My brother stayed home alone -- his only day off in 2 weeks -- and enjoyed the quiet.

I'm learning that it's more and more difficult to buy gifts - especially for my wife. But you try your best.

So to everyone I say -- Merry Christmas -- and as you consider the day that is ponder the one we honor. Of course we know not the date or time of his birth nor the manner either. We don't even know the place. Tradition says Bethlehem while logic suggests Nazareth. Whatever the case, we celebrate the one in whom God's light is present to us.

A Renegade Bishop in California's Central Valley

The smallish Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin has gotten plenty of press recently -- largely because it is the first diocese to officially split with the national church. The split is largely the work of its 69 year old bishop, John David Schofield.

The LA Times has published today (Christmas Eve of all days) an interesting profile of this bishop. Having been bishop for two decades he has taken this already conservative diocese further to the right, or at least a recent diocesan convention vote would lead one to that observation. It will take time to discern the degree to which this is true. That is, how many congregations will actually leave with him. Word is that at least six will stay with the national church with others not yet sure. I still find it hard to believe that all but six of 47 congregations would be that conservative that they would break from the national church and align with a province in South America.

As expected the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will declare the bishopric vacant and move to appoint a new bishop. In response Schofield has, according to Rebecca Trounson's article --

On Friday he replied that he considered the alignment with the Southern Cone temporary, "until such time as the Episcopal Church repents."

That sounds a lot like the Nonjurors of old -- a group of hard line Divine Right Monarchists who declared that they would keep the first burning until the larger church returned to its senses and joined them. I doubt that this will happen any time soon. That is in large part because it's unlikely that the larger church will repent of its decisions to ordain women or pull back from ordaining gays and lesbians. Both of those barriers have been broken.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Competing Visions for the Present World

Our vision of the World influences to a great degree how it operates. Walter Russell Mead, in his God and Gold, a book I've been blogging about, speaks of three competing visions.

1. Reason

Reason is advocated by those "who believe that universal logic, principles, and law are the only suitable or even feasible basis for an international system." (p. 405). This vision of the world has its advocates especially in Western Europe and America. They believe that systems need to be developed, which can enforce "the global rule of law." Advocates see things in a very universal way -- focusing on universal human rights and "universally valid legal principles." This is the Enlightenment perspective.

2. Religion

Many in the world believe that religion must be the "foundation for any just international order." You can find advocates among Wahabi Islam, Shi'a, certain Roman Catholics, and many Protestants and Pentecostals. These groups may disagree on the details, but they agree that order in the world will only come by way of revealed religion. Some may accept aspects of Enlightenment ideals, but religion "will have the last word." (p. 405)

3. Tradition

Tradition has its place, but what we're talking about here deals with what Mead refers to as "cultural and identity politics." This is the view of the populist nationalists who "believe that their own values and culture ought to be the basis for international life or at least that they must be protected from the soulless internationalism of others." (p. 405) The later is very prominent in large parts of Latin America and Africa.

Ultimately, Mead says that none of these visions can or will win out. The future then is to be found in what he calls the "anglican" vision, one that is able to bring these three seemingly competing visions into a whole.

That is, they will be limited in power, they will proceed from sometimes contradictory assumptions; they will be built in such a way that they can be interpreted and justified from opposed points of view. It will require of us a willingness to think broadly and listen to one another..

Competing Visions for the Present World

The world we live in is defined in large part by the visions that we have of it. Walter Russell Mead, whose book God and Gold I've been blogging about, speaks of three competing visions.

1. Reason

Reason involves universal logic, science, the rule of law, concerns about human rights. It's guided by the Enlightenment values. You could say it is very Western and it has numerous advocates in Europe and in America as well.

A Christmas Message

Tonight I will share in our Christmas Eve service. It is this little service that draws us all close to the true meaning of Christmas -- one that ultimately can't be overshadowed by the commercialism that surrounds it.

My sermon this evening is entitled: "Emmanuel -- God With us." I take it from Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25. These are actually the texts for yesterday -- but I think they fit Christmas Eve even better.

Here is how things begin. Then click here and read the rest at Words of Welcome!

Merry Christmas.


The wait is over. If you’re not finished with your Christmas shopping, it’s too late. By the time we’re finished singing the last carol, the stores will all be closed. In fact, even Starbucks will be closed. And so it’s time to put aside the hustle and bustle of a season that starts earlier every year.

Now that the day is here and the children are eagerly eyeing the presents under the tree, hoping that their every wish will be fulfilled, it’s time to stop and consider the true meaning of Christmas. It’s the kind of question Charlie Brown was asking. He didn’t find it in the pageant or in hunting for Christmas trees. Finally in desperation he cried out, begging for someone to give him an answer that made sense. It is at this point that Linus steps out and tells the story of the First Christmas from the perspective of St. Luke.

We have come here tonight because, like Charlie Brown, we need to hear that Christmas is more than food, aluminum trees, and bright lights.

A Carol for the Day -- I Wonder as I Wander

I wonder as a I wander, out under the sky,
how Jesus the Savior did come for to die,
but poor ordinary people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.

Appalachian Carol (1934)

Sung here by Vanessa Williams

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bush's Blunders -- How Not to Get Along in the World

On September 12, 2007 the world was pretty much one -- in support of the United States. We had more friends than we knew we had. That good will was quickly squandered by a President who not only carried a big stick but liked to stomp with a swagger. Now we live in an increasingly global world where it is important for nations/peoples to get along.

Walter Russell Mead in a chapter near the end of his book God and Gold -- which I'm almost finished with -- takes up the sticky issues of living together as nations. That is -- the issues that make for problems and the resistance that is present on the part of those who aren't fans of a nation as powerful as the US. Here is comment on the Bush administration and the ways in which it has alienated not only foe but friend.

The first four years of the administration of George W. Bush were almost a textbook example of the dangers that American foreign policy faces when it ignores the enduring importance of collective recognition in international life. Its European policy trampled openly on the sensibilities of Cold War allies, raising questions about the structure of the Atlantic alliance in ways that seriously reduced public support for that alliance in much of Europe. At times the Bush administration seemed to glory in its relative isolation and its capacity for unilateral action, and it was only too happy to remind countries like Germany and France that they were not the great powers they had once been.

Then, regarding the war in Iraq and its effects:

What proved to be an unnecessary and poorly planned war in Iraq reminded America's allies of the limits on America's wisdom. With gratuitous slights and grandiose posturing, men like former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld made American power odious in much of the world. This was not wise; it risked waking old memories and disturbing old ghosts best left to slumber in peace. The chief European allies of the United States are to a large degree former foes: Satans or aspiring Satans brought low by the crushing power of the maritime system." (Mead, God and Gold, p. 378)

Whether you thought or think the Iraq War was a good idea, things are a mess today largely because of the ineptness and the callous disregard for the ideas and beliefs of those who once were allies. What Mead writes should cause us to consider carefully who we would elect President. Should we not be listening carefully for evidence of an arrogance that would further isolate us in the world?

Love Made Visible

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 23, 2007

Today, with my church, I will light the fourth candle of Advent. Like the candles that I and many other Christians have lit in the preceding weeks (candles of hope, peace, and joy), this candle brings with it an important message. The message this candle brings is one of love.

It is said in the Christian Scriptures that love is the greatest of the virtues, and that without love even martyrdom is without any value (1 Corinthians 13). These same Scriptures declare that God is love, and that if one does not love, one does not know God (1 John 4:7-8). It is a sad truth that we who claim to be people of God so often fail to heed this message.

For the majority of Christians who celebrate Christmas a few days from now, the season's message is one of love. If, as Christians believe, Jesus is God in the flesh (incarnate), then those who would truly celebrate his birth and life will be a person who loves. A person, however, doesn't have to be a Christian to understand the principle of love. It is a principle found in some form in just about every major religion. The Jewish Scriptures speak of two great commandments - love of God and love of neighbor (Deuteronomy 6:4; Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:3- 32). And from the Baha'i tradition we hear that: “In the world of existence there is indeed no greater power than the power of love” (Abdu'l-Baha).
But what is love? Too often our definitions are limited by romantic notions, but love is much more than simply romance. Love is defined by words such as charity and compassion. Indeed, the Latin word for love is caritas, from which the word charity is derived. Charity is, in fact, the word used to translate the Greek agape in the King James Version (1 Corinthians 13). Unfortunately, because our definitions of love seem limited to romance, we limit the idea of charity to a mere handout to one in need. But if charity is love in action, then it is more than a mere hand out. It is instead the embodiment of the principle of love of neighbor. And so to give charity or to receive it is to experience love.
It is, then, no wonder that the principle of charity is insisted upon by most major religions. The Prophet Muhammad said that the best in Islam “is to feed the hungry and to give the greeting of peace both to those one knows and to those one does not know” (Hadith of Bukarhi). And from Jainism: “Charity - to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable, and to offer relief to them out of pity - is the spring of virtue.”

What is true of charity is true of compassion. This statement from within the Hindu tradition says it all: “What sort of religion can it be without compassion? You need to show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is the root of all religious faith” (Basavanna).
We may not perfectly live out the call to love God and neighbor or fully embody the principles of charity and compassion, but the future depends on our putting these principles into practice. And so as I look toward Christmas Day and the message that it brings - that God is love and that this love has inhabited our planet - I will stop and consider my own life and how I live it. I seek to consider the needs of my neighbor in everything I do - from voting to praying.
I invite you to join me in lighting the candle of love on this fourth Sunday of Advent. As we consider the meaning of the love symbolized by this candle, the identity of the neighbor remains with us. If we remain satisfied with loving the one who is nearest at hand and the most like us, then we'll missed the point of the candle.

Jesus spoke of not only loving one's neighbor, but also of one's enemy. To embrace such a principle won't be easy, but that is what this candle we're lighting symbolizes. So, won't you join me in lighting the candle of love and make love visible by working to break down the social and cultural barriers of our world that seek to divide us?
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.
December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Christmas Song

After hearing an Obama Carol, we have to listen to a real classic --Nat King Cole singing Mel Torme's The Christmas Song. Enjoy:

Merry Christmas!

An Obama Carol!

Barack's given us his holiday card and now one of his supporters offers us a song: "It's looking a lot like ... Obama will win in Iowa." It's a nice take off and something I'm hopeful for as the New Year begins.

Now the singing is at times a bit off key, but the words are right on.

Take a look:

Friday, December 21, 2007

The News on the News Press

I don't get the local paper anymore, which means I'm often at a loss to know what's going on. It's too bad, I used to enjoy reading the News Press. Now I have to take solace in reading about the News Press. Fortunately much is written about the former award winning paper, just little that's positive.

With NP watcher Craig Smith in China, we're not getting as much news on the NP as usual. But Craig did let his loyal readers know that the LA Magazine had an article about Wendy McCaw and her fight with the paper and the community. And, I must say that while Wendy doesn't speak in it (she didn't return the calls apparently), we learn much about her.

The question raised here and really in much of the coverage has to do with the issue of public trust. Is the News Paper a public trust? As the article makes clear, in a town like Santa Barbara, which is fairly small, the community does put great trust in its paper. It is the vehicle by which we keep tabs on our community. I don't read the paper anymore, but from all that I hear and from what I've seen when I've picked up a copy -- the amount of local news continues to decrease as time goes on. When we had the big fires this past summer, the paper was publishing wire stories. That's simply bizarre.

But, what we now have is a vanity publication that is expressive of the eccentric views of its owner. Unfortunately that isn't what this community needs.

So, if you have a bit of time and a little interest, take a look at this excellent article by R.J. Smith. ---

"Inside the Santa Barbara News Press Mess" And don't you love the illustration from the magazine?

Hope as a Tactic for Change

The former President and hopeful "First Husband" has become quite pointed about Barack Obama's lack of experience and the apparent experience of his wife. Now Hillary has strong abilities, but her claims to experience stretch things just a bit. She has been in the Senate 4 years longer than Barack. That's not a huge number. While it is true that she knows her way around the White House, I still can't figure out how being First Lady is qualifies her to be President. If being First Lady is sufficient experience, then why not elect Laura or Barbara or even Nancy? So, we're really left discussing their time in the Senate and his other political experience in Illinois.
The continued statements that Barack is inexperienced leads to the further insinuation that his talk about hope is a sign of naivete. But is it?
Mark Schmitt in an American Prospect article talks about three theories of change as exemplified by the three leading Democratic candidates. One candidate demands change, the second hopes for it, and the third pledges to work for it. The first candidate is John Edwards and the third is Hillary. The second theory is seen as naive, but is it?
Schmitt sees Obama's method being quite useful in the likelihood that the Senate doesn't have 60 Democratic Senators. Obama's ideas of bipartisanship and willingness to see the value of some aspects of the Conservative side could have value in enticing moderate Republicans to join him in his ventures. Hillary, on the other hand, will need 60 committed Democrats to get anything done.
Schmitt writes:

The reason the conservative power structure has been so dangerous, and is especially dangerous in opposition, is that it can operate almost entirely on bad faith. It thrives on protest, complaint, fear: higher taxes, you won't be able to choose your doctor, liberals coddle terrorists, etc. One way to deal with that kind of bad-faith opposition is to draw the person in, treat them as if they were operating in good faith, and draw them into a conversation about how they actually would solve the problem. If they have nothing, it shows. And that's not a tactic of bipartisan Washington idealists -- it's a hard-nosed tactic of community organizers, who are acutely aware of power and conflict. It's how you deal with people with intractable demands -- put ‘em on a committee. Then define the committee's mission your way.

Perhaps I'm making assumptions about the degree to which Obama is conscious that his pitch is a tactic of change. But his speeches show all the passion of Edwards or Clinton, his history is as a community organizer and aggressive reformer (I first heard his name 10 years ago because he was on the board of the Joyce Foundation in Chicago, which was the leading supporter of real campaign finance reform at the time), and he has shown extraordinary political skill in drawing Senator Clinton into a clumsy overreaction. If we understand Obama's approach as a means, and not the limit of what he understands about American politics, it has great promise as a theory of change, probably greater promise than either "work for it" or "demand it," although we'll need a large dose of hard work and an engaged social movement as well.

The more I hear Obama the more convinced I am that he knows what he's doing. Yes, he's young and "inexperienced," but what about another candidate from Illinois? He had a term or so of service in Congress and he is considered one of our greatest Presidents.
I think Obama understands the nature of politics and will rise to the occasion and could be just the person who can draw together people and persuade them to do the things they need to do for the betterment of the country and the world. Now, I may be naive, but I do think that he is best equipped to help our nation change course. The other candidates seem to me to be proponents of the status quo.

Interview with Congresswoman Lois Capps

Interview originally published at Faithfully Liberal

Living on California’s Central Coast I had the pleasure of being represented in Congress by Lois Capps (D-23rd District). Lois came to Congress in March 1998 after her husband Walter, a long-time member of the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) religion faculty, died in office. That was not long before my arrival in Santa Barbara. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to be in different events and forums and conversations with her, and I’ve come to know her as a genuinely committed person, whose faith has formed a compassionate and gracious person. I’ve also been impressed by her willingness to meet with and listen to religious leaders of the community.

As you’ll discover in the interview, before serving in Congress, Lois was a nurse — or better yet she remains a nurse to this day — one of three serving in Congress. A RN, she was for many years a school nurse in the Santa Barbara School District (and for part of that tenure she was the Director of the County’s Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Project). I think that this experience – in addition to her faith – has contributed to the compassionate spirit she brings to her work.

Because Aaron has interviewed a number of people in political life, I decided to invite readers of this site to hear from my Congressional representative. I appreciate her willingness to engage in the conversation and I hope you’ll enjoy her responses.

As a pastor living in your Congressional District, I have heard you speak openly about your faith. I’d like to begin by asking you a couple of questions about how your faith and its relationship to the political realm.

• First, how has your faith formed you as a person?

My father was a Lutheran minister so I grew up in a family where faith was an integral part of our daily lives. I learned at a young age that I derive great personal strength from my faith. Over the course of my life, my deep convictions have seen me through many joyous times, and also times of great difficulty. Personally, my faith reminds me of my priorities and keeps me grounded and grateful for the opportunities I have had in life.

• Following on that question, how has your faith formed you as a politician?

As public servants, Members of Congress are constantly making decisions based on our values, and our faith plays an important role in setting priorities that reflect these ideals. For this reason, I recently held a “Faith Day” in Washington, D.C. and invited leaders of all faiths from my district to participate in a day-long conference focusing on the role of faith and politics. It was truly a rewarding day, filled with much political discourse and ruminations about the role of faith as a uniting, not dividing, force. Unfortunately, I know how divisive political discourse can be on Capitol Hill. I have seen, however, how faith can bring together Members with differing political views to help find common ground. Drawing on America’s diverse religious teaching we find our nation’s common core values and strengths. While it is critical that we maintain a clear institutional separation of church and state as dictated by our Constitution, it is also clear that there is an important place for the voices of people of faith in the public square.

• Much is being made of the leading Democratic candidates God talk. What do you make of this and what does it say about the role of faith in the Democratic Party?

I think my Democratic colleagues running for President are sincere when discussing their personal faith. Each candidate brings unique and significant personal experiences and perspectives on faith into their candidacy. From my experience in Congress, I think faith has always played a large role in the lives of my Democratic and Republican colleagues. At the same time, I do believe Democrats have become much more comfortable in recent years discussing our faith in the public forum.

• In recent years we’ve been told that “values voters” vote Republican, what are the values that Democrats uphold that might change the way that question is answered?

I like to think that we all share certain intrinsic values that transcend partisan politics. Growing up my parents taught me, just as I tried to teach my own children, that we should all work hard and treat others with kindness and respect. I believe these values belong to both political parties. I reject the characterization of “values voters” as a group reflecting a necessarily conservative perspective. I have always found “values voters” on all sides of political debates.

I realize that Iraq and national security are important issues but I know that health care is a matter close to your heart, and so I’d like to focus the remainder of my questions on that issue.

• I guess the place to start is to ask why health care is such an important issue to you?

I think access to quality health care is a basic human right. I’ve devoted my life to providing health care services to others as a hospital nurse, school nurse, public health educator and now on the Health Subcommittee in Congress. From my perspective as a policy maker, I think health care is up there with global warming as the single-most important domestic issue we face as a nation. That is why the issue is close to my heart, and also why I have devoted my life to the cause.

• Is health care a moral issue?


• Several Democratic candidates have proposed health care plans that would cover most if not all Americans. Do you see any plan out there that is not only workable but fair?

I think there are a variety of good plans to improve health care. And I look forward to working with the Democratic nominee for President to produce the most effective health care plan possible.

• Recently the President vetoed the S-CHIP program that carried broad bipartisan support. Despite that shadow hanging over us, what immediate steps could we take that could garner broad support and would help bridge some of the gaps that exist in the system?

We are so fortunate to have an active community that steps in where gaps exist. The most important thing we can do is improve our preventive health care services. The promotion of healthy behaviors from an early age greatly improves the wellbeing of both individuals and families. Our Federally Qualified Health Centers do an excellent job of serving our local population who otherwise would lack access to health care. In San Luis Obispo County, they’ve adopted the Nurse Family Partnership model which provides outreach, education and a series of home visits to at-risk moms lasting from prenatal care through a child’s 2nd birthday. Supporting programs like these is the best way to help.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, now I’d like to end this interview by giving you the opportunity to briefly address one issue of your choice.

We must end the war in Iraq. While we have made progress in the Democratically-controlled 110th Congress, we are far from our goal of ending this war and responsibly bringing our troops home. One of my proudest moments in Congress was voting against the war in October 2002. Since then, I have been an outspoken critic of this war and the Administration’s complete mismanagement of it. I believe the best way to support our troops is to bring them home as soon as is safely possible.

An Obama Christmas!

I confess I'm biased here, but i find the Obama video Chrsitmas card much less calculating than Mike Huckabee's. Huckabee seems desinged to trade on the "War on Christmas" mentality and send a message to his would be followers that he's not only running for President but that Jesus is the Master. It's a message not of unity but one designed to set him apart as the truly Christian candidate.

Obama on the other hand has a nice sentiment expressed focused on what unites us as a people. It brings in the whole family as well. Nice touch. Like I said, I'm biased, but I like the video -- check it out:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Scrooge in Reverse

There are certain Christmas specials that have passed the test of time -- Scrooge (in its many forms), the original Grinch, but perhaps best of all is Charlie Brown's Christmas. Greg Ruehlmann has written a wonderful piece at SoMA Review about the power of this simple story. He entitles it "Scrooge in Reverse," hence the title of this post.
Ruehlmann confesses his oncoming "Scrooginess" because of the over commercialization of the season (which now begins as he says " before teenagers have time to vandalize my Halloween decorations." His season is, however, saved by Charlie Brown's journey to understanding of the season.
He writes:

While “A Charlie Brown Christmas” gently scolds America for its exploitation of the season, it really centers on the education of its main character. By letting commercialism spoil his Christmas, Charlie Brown becomes the prototypical “Scrooge in reverse.” As Linus wisely tells him, “You’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” Charlie must learn how to prevent these annoyances from blinding him to the true meaning of Christmas. And this holiday special stands alone by actually stating what that true meaning is.

And of course Linus recounts from the KJV the Christmas story as told by Luke. It is told in such a way that as Ruehlmann notes no one else could. And he continues:

There’s no radical transformation in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Our bald little hero doesn’t grow a heart three sizes too big. He doesn’t buy a Christmas goose for Bob Cratchett. Charlie walks home with his head down, carrying his pathetic tree. The Peanuts gang follows him, and while he’s not looking, they spruce up his sad, little tree with some of Snoopy’s ornaments, a symbol of their own unabashed Christmas cheer. “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” they shout. Charlie quietly sheds his cynicism, and joins them in a chorus of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” The end.

It is simple, but powerful. Again -- to read the whole piece click here and enjoy.

Why Do They Hate Us?

The Ugly American is a phrase heard around the world. Americans wonder -- why do they hate us so? George Bush suggested that the world hates us because we believe in freedom and democracy, but the reality is -- things are a bit more complicated.
Walter Russell Mead in his book God and Gold uses the term "Waspophobe" to describe an overarching feeling that has been around for a very long time. Before the Americans became the focus, it was the Brits. We're seen by many as vulgar, brutish, uncouth, arrogant . . . . And the list goes on. What is interesting is that the world's people seem to be talking at rather than to, and no one seems to understand the other.
So, for the past 400 years, Mead says, two discourse have emerged.
The Anglophones [English speaking countries] have seen themselves as defending and sometimes advancing liberty, protecting the weak, providing opportunity to the poor, introducing the principles of morality and democracy into international life, and creating more egalitarian and more just societies at home and abroad. Their enemies have looked at the same set of facts and seen a ruthless assault on every kind of social and moral decency.
As you can see these two perspectives have nothing in common with each other. These clashing perspectives may also be a cause of the frequent conflicts between these two different societies. Mead says, that in a very real way this is a religious conflict. Quoting Cromwell:
Our enemies are all the wicked me of the world, whether abroad or at home, that are the enemies to the very being of this nation. . . from that very enmity that is in them against whatsoever should serve the glory of God and the interest of his people; which they see to be more eminently, yea most eminently patronized and professed in this nation -- we will speak it not with vanity -- above all nations in this world.
The enemies see it differently -- they "worship God by loathing America" -- the Great Satan.
As Mead suggests both perspectives can't be right (Mead, God and Gold, p. 78-79).
What do you think?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Axis of Evil and Evil Empires

George W. Bush set us on our current political course by announcing that as a nation we faced an axis of evil -- Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. That pronouncement of course led to war in Iraq and current stand offs with Iran and North Korea (one hot war, 2 cold ones).

Ronald Reagan, of course, had his "Evil Empire." That empire fell, but seems to be reconstituting itself.

The point of these pronouncements is that there is evil in the world and we are on the side of right.

Of course, this is nothing new. Walter Russell Mead, in his book God and Gold, which I'm currently reading, suggests that the Anglo-American self-understanding posits our being on the side of God.

For Elizabeth I that evil was Spain and the Catholics. Oliver Cromwell had a similar axis of evil -- but his included royalists, Catholics, and their Continental supporters.

England's enemies, he said, are all the wicked men of the world, whether
abroad or at home . . . "


"Truly," said Cromwell, your great enemy is the Spaniard . . . through that
enmity that is in him against all that is of God that is in you."

It was a battle between the children of Light and the children of Darkness. In time the enemy would shift from Spain to France and on through history. There has been in our psyche, inherited as a culture, to see ourselves as on the side of right. But fighting the good fight requires the building of alliances. (Mead, God and Gold, pp. 21-23).

As they say -- you're either with us or against us! And of course, beware of the 5th column -- the enemy within. So, as much as things change, the more they stay the same -- or at least it seems that way

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Cry from the Cross

It is Christmas shopping season, but it's never too soon to do your Lenten-Easter shopping. With that in mind I'm pleased to announce that my book: A Cry from the Cross: Sermons on the Seven Last Words of Christ (CSS, 2008) is now available direct from the publisher. If you're interested you can go to the site by clicking here.

About the book:

A series of seven sermons, A Cry from the Cross explores each of the last seven statements given by Jesus as recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As each statement is explored, Robert Cornwall offers deeper insights into the meaning and significance of the cross as it relates to the Christian faith.
I'll be posting more about this soon. But, hey, it's never too soon do some shopping!

Open and Dynamic Societies

I'm reading Walter Russell Mead's fascinating book God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (Knopf, 2007). I'll be writing a review for Congregations, so a full review here will have to wait till that is published. However, the book is full of interesting ideas that warrant comment.
Mead believes there are certain characteristics that mark the Anglo-American identity that has fueled their rise to dominance in the modern world. Part of this is rooted in an adoption of capitalism, but there are other elements to this. These characteristics haven't always made either the Brits or us very popular -- "Why do they hate us?
However the world might look at us, there are social/psychological factors within our culture that have made our adoption and use of capitalism so easy. Borrowing from Henri Bergson and Karl Popper, Mead speaks of open/closed societies and static/dynamic societies.
Britain and the US have, since the turn of the 18th century, essentially been open/dynamic societies.
  • In a closed society, people know their place. Custom, morality, law reinforce this sensibility. There is an instinctual nature to religion.
  • In an open society, tradition and custom have lost some of their force. The human drive for change fuels life. Women, for instance, have greater opportunities and latitudes. (pp. 192-193)
Now, every society has a mixture of both, but when openness dominates society moves forward -- on the road west according to Mead. The history of Anglo-American society describes the ebb and flow of this westward journey.
The other side of things is the contrast between static and dynamic society. Here religion is key. There are essentially two kinds of religion -- static and dynamic.
  • Static religion is "the call of instinct, is the force that holds the member of a closed society fast to its precepts and traditions. Socrates was executed for subverting religion; organized religion frequently led the ideological and political resistance to capitalism and democracy in modern European history. In much of the world we can still see static religion seeking to enforce conformity on societies increasingly stirred by capitalist influence" (p. 195).
  • Dynamic religion is that force that calls people forward to embrace change and open society. It involves "a feeling of restlessness and unease, a yearning for new experiences, a voice in the head shouting warnings or commands, visions, dreams, or ideas." Expressions of dynamic religion include mysticism and tends to be visionary. It can even carry people beyond traditional religious structures. (pp. 195-198)
Dynamic religion has it's dangers, but according to Mead it is this dynamic religion, not always orthodox, that has driven/fueled modernization rather than secularism.

An enlightened modernity did not overcome entrenched customary religion in the Anglophone world. Rather dynamic religion infiltrated and supplemented static religion in the religious life of the Anglophones. Goldilocks was able to follow her westward path through dark and threatening woods because, like the Magi before her, she was following a star." (p. 199)

I know that for many religious progressives there is a love/hate relationship with capitalism and even with the Anglo-American ideals. And yet . . .

Merry Christmas from Mike Huckabee

When you're running for President there is no such thing as standing back from politics or that there's no political calculus in a statement or ad. So, when Mike put out his little Christmas ad on the eve of the Iowa Caucuses, the question has to be raised -- who is his audience? The answer has to be -- conservative Christians who want one of their own in office. It's understandable, really, but the question is: what's the message?
Here's what Mike had to say in his own defense:
"If we are so politically correct in this country that a person can't say enough of the nonsense with the political attack ads could we pause for a few days and say Merry Christmas to each other then we're really, really in trouble as a country," Huckabee said.
Well, the problem Mike is that you are playing on those "Bill O'Reilly" inflamed "Christmas warriors" who want their President to be not just commander-in-chief but pastor-in-chief. It's not political correctness to question this, but then I'll let you watch and respond.

Crossan Speaks About Christmas and More

There was a time when biblical scholars lived in ivory towers and talked to themselves but rarely to the general public. Preachers were supposed to carry the news from study to pulpit, but rarely did you get it right from the horses mouth. Well things have changed.

On the Evangelical side there's Tom Wright, the scholarly Bishop of Durham. On the more liberal/progressive side Marcus Borg and Dom Crossan are the most recognizable voices. And now, through a magnificent interview with John Spalding at SoMA Review, we hear directly from Crossan (I must say here that I'm amazed with John does as an editor and an interviewer. When he's published pieces I've written they look so much better than what I sent him I wonder who the author is!).

I had long steered clear of Crossan, even as I dipped into Borg (you know how it is with Borg: "Resistance is Futile"). But lately -- I think it was the jointly written book The Last Week that got me more interested in Crossan. Then I read God and Empire and was even more intrigued. Although I found The First Christmas -- the most recent Borg/Crossan book less riveting that their first book and somewhat derivative in message from God and Empire I remain intrigued both by his interpretation and by his willingness to engage the general public. This is wholesaling of the information -- no clergy middleman (person).

Well, you will enjoy this interview that ranges across the new book, talks about the parabolic nature of the infancy narratives, and more. It's the more that you might find most interesting. He talks about the difficulties in making Jesus movies and offering some suggestions as to what might make a good one -- including the possibility of a film based on The Last Week.

And it’s not that Gibson just went straight to the end of the story. He went right to the most brutal part of the end of the story. He didn’t even cover the final week in the life of Jesus, which Marcus and I examined in our book, “The Last Week.” Now, you really could make a great movie based on our book because it raises the whole question of whether the authorities are going to be able to get Jesus away from the crowd. As long as the crowd is Jesus’ protective screen, they can’t get him without causing a riot. Even though we know how it’s going to end, you really could make a story out of it—one that takes Mark’s account seriously. Here, Jesus goes up to the temple to make a double protestation, and he’s protected by his crowd. And the question the authorities ask is, “Can we get him?”

They also talk about the long rumored possibility that Showgirls and Robocop director Paul Verhoeven (long a participant himself in the Jesus Seminar with Crossan) would make a Jesus movie. Crossan said he'd not heard anything new, but that Verhoeven was thinking of an action film, sort of like Harrison Ford in the Fugitive.

When I asked you about Verhoeven’s Jesus film last year, you mentioned you were surprised to finally learn the direction he wanted to take it.

Yeah. Basically his whole idea was that Jesus had his conflict at the temple early in his ministry, not at the end, and for the rest of the story he’s running from the authorities, like Harrison Ford in “The Fugitive.”

So he envisioned a thriller, an action film.

I think so—a pursuit movie in which Jesus is the odd man out. Verhoeven once told me that Jesus preached “Blessed are the poor” because he himself was poor, and he was poor because he was on the run. But I suggested to him that a great movie could be made by simply using the Rashomon effect with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, collapsing their four visions and having them interplay with each other. And Verhoeven wrote back saying that, yeah, that’d be very interesting.

Check out the interview, come back if you like and we can chat about it, about Jesus, the books, whatever. You can read my reviews of God and Empire here and First Christmas here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Huckabee -- Clergy and the Declaration of Independence

Myths of our Christian origins as a nation have proven important to those, who like Governor Mike Huckabee, wish to grab the "Christian vote." There is great fear in certain sectors of the nation that the Protestant (Judeo-Christian) hegemony is threatened with extinction. In response they retell the myths of a golden age when all were Christians.

Well, apparently in the recent GOP Debate Mike Huckabee made a bit of a goof the other day. In establishing his opposition to Abortion, he recounted the "Christian origins" of the nation -- insisting that that many of the Declaration's signers were clergy.

HUCKABEE: There are some real issues out there in this country we need to be fighting for on behalf of the people. Now, one of them, quite frankly, I do believe, is the sanctity of human life...


... because I do believe that it is one of the defining issues of our culture and civilization in that it expresses our understanding that every single human being in this society has intrinsic value and worth. When our founding fathers put their signatures on the Declaration of Independence, those 56 brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen, they said that we have certain inalienable rights given to us by our creator, and among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, life being one of them. I still believe that.


The truth is only Princeton President John Witherspoon was an ordained member of the clergy.
This little historical indiscretion is addressed in some detail at the Boston 1775 blog, which traces this statement to our friend David Barton (a truly self-proclaimed historian), who wrote in a piece for the CBN website (and likely elsewhere):

The Declaration of Independence was the birth certificate for this nation, but the men who signed it knew it could be their death warrant. The closing paragraph states, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance of the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." The 56 Founding Fathers, 27 of whom were trained as ministers, took their pledge seriously. On the morning of the signing, there was silence and gloom as each man was called up to the table of the President of Congress to sign the document, knowing that it could mean their death by hanging.

Again the truth is the colleges at the time were church related and theology would have been studied -- but that doesn't make one a member of the clergy!
My advice to Mike -- instead of reading David Barton read John Meacham's American Gospel or David Holmes The Faiths of the Founding Fathers.
Hat tip to John Fea and Religion in American History

Torture is a Moral Issue

With Congress arguing with the White House and with the Justice Department about destroyed tapes that allegedly showed CIA Agents using waterboarding to gain information, it is important to state categorically that "torture is a moral issue." If it is being practiced by this nation, then something evil is eating at the nation's soul.

Watch this video from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and sign the statement.

On Global Warming -- Sightings

With Al Gore having received his Nobel Prize for his advocacy in the battle against Global Warming. There are still a few people out three who downplay the risks or who throw up their hands and say there's nothing we can do -- so let's drive those Hummers until the oil wells run dry!
Scientists give us any number of nightmare scenarios as to what might happen -- from drought to rising coastlines to a Big Freeze. All are complicated scenarios, but suggestive that things might get difficult in coming years. I might be dead by then, but what of my son and any possible grandchildren? What about them?
Well adding to our fears, martin Marty points to an article by historian Philip Jenkins, a researcher in touch with the church in the global south. According to Marty, Jenkins has written a scenario of nightmare proportions about what could happen -- from ethnic cleansing to interreligious warfare. Not bed time reading, it appears. But there is some hope and Jenkins suggests its Conservative Evangelicals awakening to the global crisis who are the key. Anyway, take a look:


Sightings 12/17/07

On Global Warming
-- Martin E. Marty

The images and prophecies connected with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the biblical book of Revelation seem horrifying enough. But in a "you-ain't-seen-nothing-yet" spirit, Philip Jenkins in December 10th's New Republic warns of disastrous implications for religious conflict after studying the results of climate-modeling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More than anyone else we read, Jenkins regularly writes about global Christianity for broad publics. He combines experiences of travel, research, and dialogues on Christianity "north" and "south." In "Burning at the Stake: How global warming will increase religious strife," Professor Jenkins ties projections of Christian growth to what the IPCC foresees. If you'd like to sleep easily tonight, don't read it at bedtime. Rather than occupying a mere four columns upfront in a magazine, it might merit a billboard. Jenkins, fortunately, does not waste readers' time debating whether or when or how global warming is coming about. Instead he anticipates the consequences and notices some new Christian addresses to the situation.

The case? Take only the instance of changes in the water supplies and who will control what's left. In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are self-segregated, they might "erupt in a violent tug-of-war over limited water supplies." Coptic Christians in Egypt might be sacrificed to ethnic cleansing as resources dwindle. Uganda and Kenya could reproduce scenes made vivid in Rwanda massacres. "The ramifications for the global warming-driven destruction of equatorial nations are frightening for everyone—but they should be especially frightening for Christians," whose numbers grow explosively, precisely there.

Historian Jenkins reaches back to the "Little Ice Age" between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to show the human devastations caused by climate changes. He may be a bit speculative here, but with creative guesses and some evidence he compares foreseen changes to those that helped bring on the Great Famine (after 1315) and the Black Death (1340s), when one-third of Eurasia's population was killed. Witchcraft trials became a murderous obsession. Bigots of all religions were sure that their God was legitimating their aggressive roles. Christians in revenge against Muslim advances turned murderous. Jenkins thinks that we are heading toward a future alike in violence and horror to centuries in our past.

He sees a glimmer of light and recognition in the West among "morally conservative churches in America [which] form relationships with like-minded churches in the South," and are growing more sensitive to the world's needs. Skipping past Roman Catholic and "World Council type" Protestant and Orthodox involvements, he turns to these conservatives, as in the National Association of Evangelicals, who are mobilizing people, forces, energies, and resources to begin to address the situation and call attention to it. He expects even greater involvement soon by such conservative Christians, who are "combining the themes of world stewardship and protecting Christian minorities," which could lead to new political action. But in the absence of such action, might global warming lead to "medieval levels of misery and doom for the majority of Christians worldwide?" We've been warned.

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


This month's Religion and Culture Web Forum features James K. A. Smith of Calvin College on "The Gospel of Freedom, or Another Gospel? Augustinian Reflections on American Foreign Policy." Throughout the month, commentary by Eric Gregory ( Princeton University ), David Schindler (Villanova University), and Paul Williams (Regent College) will be posted on the forum's discussion board.
Access the discussion board at:


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

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It's Time for a Little Joy!

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 9, 2007

December is rapidly moving to a close, and a new year is on the horizon. It is full of promise, and yet it's full of uncertainty. Uncertainty often breeds fear and timidity. We can even get a bit cranky - especially during a time as stressful as this current season (whatever you choose to call it).

For me this is still the season of Advent, a season of preparation and self-examination. To this point, I've lit candles of hope and peace, and this morning it's time to light a third candle, the candle of joy. Although the carol “Joy to the World” will be sung in many a church come Christmas Eve (and perhaps earlier), for many this season is anything but joyful. The times are serious and the challenges many. There's the war and the elections (Iowa caucuses just two days after New Year's). The economic situation in the nation distresses many, especially those who are being laid off or perhaps struggle to make ends meet. It is easy to turn into Ebenezer Scrooge at a time like this.
I would try to shatter the darkness of the hour by telling a joke, but jokes aren't my forte. Nonetheless, I do believe that we need some joy in our lives. Indeed, we really need to have a good laugh - and not just a little chuckle, but one of those great laughs that shake us down to our toes. It is the kind of laugh that Santa might offer - a good “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Even when times aren't difficult and the challenges many we have a tendency to take life and ourselves too seriously. Often religion, even my own religion, is a source of such seriousness - with constant reminders to “mind your p's and q's.” Every religion seems to have its dour side - which may be one reason why people get uncomfortable when I tell them what I do for a living!
That being said - about the dark side of faith - we all know that without a bit of joy and laughter life becomes unlivable. Without a sense of joy we find that disillusionment, pessimism, and cynicism take hold, coloring the way we live and relate to each other. We lose confidence in each other and instead of working together we fight one another. When this happens, no one really wins.
December is a season of holidays, which is why the phrase “Happy Holidays” is so appropriate this time of year. I know there has been a lot of uproar these past few years because businesses exchanged “Merry Christmas” for it, but there was no need for it. No one can take away the joy of Christmas for those who wish to celebrate it by saying “Happy Holidays.” Among the holidays celebrated this month is Hanukkah - the Jewish celebration of deliverance from tyranny - and Eid al Adha - the most sacred of Islamic feast days, which concludes the Muslim Hajj or Pilgrimage. There's the Winter Solstice and Kwanzaa, a rather recent addition to the December calendar that celebrates African and African-American heritage. Last but not least, there's Christmas.

Each celebration - to say nothing of the celebration of the New Year - has its own nuances and complexities, but at least part of each celebration is a sense of joy and happiness. Each has a party of some sort attached to it.

As we light the candle of joy, it's appropriate to step back from our normal routines to relax and rest. We don't do too much of that in our society, so we need to take advantage of our holidays. In fact, we need more of them so we can enjoy life more. “Stop,” they say, “and smell the roses” - indeed!
Finally, while it's possible to experience joy in solitude, especially if you're standing before something of great beauty, joy is most fully experienced in the context of community. As Mark Twain said:

“Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of Joy you must have somebody to divide it with.”

Indeed, it's difficult to have a party alone. It usually takes at least one more person, while it's quite likely that the more the merrier. Would you join me in community and light the candle of joy?

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and can be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA, 93438.

December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Contrast in Styles? Obama and Giuliani

For a moment I'm going to step out of Primary Mode and share these two contrasting pieces from the New York Times. One speaks to Obama's personality, background, and presence on the world stage. The other speaks of Giuliani's way of doing business.
On one hand we have a man whose own life story and background is unlike any other in the political field. He has an understanding of the world that is influenced by time spent in schools in Indonesia, Muslim relatives, and family in Kenya. Besides that, he has brown skin. Some might hold all this against him. But think about how differently he will be perceived by the broader world?
The question posed to Barack Obama concerned whether he was tough enough to be a world leader. His answer is yes. But listen to his definition of what it means to be tough enough:

“What I’ve always found is people who talk about how tough they are aren’t the tough ones. I’m less interested in beating my chest and rattling my saber and more in making decisions that build a safer and more secure world.”

Our current president likes to show off his Texas swagger and swing his big stick. But look at the world in which we're living. We're at war in two places. Latin America is running from us and embracing a megalomaniac. Russia is going back to Cold War status. But George and Dick sure sound tough.
Rudy Giuliani, is much closer in style to the current denizens of the White House. His style is brash and even brazen. He's kind of like the cop who shoots first and asks questions later. It was his MO as a prosecutor and then as mayor. He was known as the Crime Buster (Elliot Ness incarnate). It is a style that supposedly gets things done -- but it also tends to alienate people.

On a frosty January day in 1989, with his first mayoral race looming, Mr. Giuliani assembled his staff in the library at the United States attorney’s office and offered a goodbye salute. The once-chubby prosecutor now was almost gaunt, a thinning shock of dark hair combed across his scalp.
Look, he said, here’s what I have to say about my time here. We may have made our mistakes along the way, but I don’t think we ever made mistakes for the wrong reason.

Mr. Giuliani has held tight to that image, the jaunty chieftain and his legal warriors, many of whom have remained admirers and, in some cases advisers. But those who battled him remember most of all his near-overwhelming moral certitude.

It still troubles some.

“The public wants to see tough prosecutors, but being tough is not always best,” said Mr. McDonald, the former prosecutor who led the Organized Crime Strike Force. “If you’re always concerned with looking tough, you’re not always looking to be fair. I wonder about that balance.”

Whether or not these will be the choices we see before us come November 2008, these are contrasts in style. Personally, I'd rather choose Obama and trust his "softer" form of toughness, over Rudy's knock his lights out form.
Does one have to "look tough" to be tough? If so, then let's bring back Edward G. Robinson. He sure looked tough! Or, can there be a "velvet gloved" toughness that enages people with respect and with honor?
Hat tip to Jesus Creed for the references.

The Next War -- On Christmas

You got a love it! This captures Bill and his cohorts to a T!
hat tip to DB and McQ

Friday, December 14, 2007

No More Waterboarding!

The House of Representatives in a near party-line vote (222-199) has passed a measure that would require the CIA to adhere to the same methods of interrogation of prisoners as used by the Military and would require them to adhere to the Geneva convention. The Senate must now pass a bill before it goes to President George "We don't Torture" Bush, who has threatened a veto.
The belief that torture and dehumanizing interrogation techniques will protect us (Ala Jack Bauer) is rooted in fear and stands contrary to the American ideal. We talk about holding others to a high standard of justice and let our own nation fall below international standards. This is simply not acceptable.
But perhaps Drew is write in a comment he made to an earlier posting on waterboarding:

I am getting the sense that the real issue here is that the Bush does not view the suspected terrorist as a fully human being. This makes the definition of torture technically not apply to them in that sense. It is kind of like the clear discrimination of African Americans under Jim Crow. It was justified because they were not defined as fully human of full citizens. I think this has to do with Bush's understanding that even suspected terrorists are intrinsically evil and this I think is why they are less than human.So in this view of what is fully human, Bush would not think it's torture. Something I think worth considering.

Speaking from Ignorance -- Huckabee and Mormons

We all do it -- we say things we probably shouldn't and do so out of ignorance. I know I do it -- I'm as guilty as the next person. So, I do have some empathy for Mike Huckabee's little blunder -- when he suggested he doesn't know much about the Mormonism of his key rival in Iowa -- Mitt Romney. But you still have to wonder about his question: "Don't they believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Gov/Rev Mike has since apologized for the remark, but you do have to wonder if the way it was posed didn't have just a bit of malice to it. I mean Jesus and the devil as brothers?
But this question whether meant pejoratively or not is symptomatic of a general lack of understanding of other faith traditions. Actually Stephen Prothero has suggested that believers don't know much about their own faiths, so it's no wonder they know little about others.
Mormonism is an enigmatic religion that leaves most Americans bewildered by seemingly odd practices (some of which are no longer countenanced -- like polygamy). The seeming secrecy of their Temple rites also adds to the mystery. Like I've said before in this blog, Mormon doctrines hold no attraction to me -- but it would be helpful to speak knowledgeably if one is to speak. And the reality is that whatever you make of their unique doctrines, Mormons are not a threat to the integrity of the American way of life. Indeed, I don't think that if Mitt Romney were to become President that this would lead to an influx of Americans into the LDS church -- any more so than Kennedy's Catholicism or Carter's Baptist faith.
I must commend Laurie Goodstein for a nice succinct NY Times article that lays out some of these distinctive beliefs. She lays them out in a way that is not condescending or judgmental -- but in doing so, she encourages us to check things out before we speak (good advice I need to heed)
And if you're interested -- I still think that Jan Shipp's Mormonism (University of Illinois Press) is still the best introduction to the Mormon church and faith.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

December Dilemma

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 4, 2005

(I am republishing here a column originally published in the Lompoc Record in 2005. It deals with the issues that confound so many and makes December a dilemma to those who are not Christian)

December poses a dilemma for some, though this may come as a surprise to many. I find December to be a joyous and blessed season. I may complain occasionally about the commercialization of Christmas, but I still enjoy the lights, the trees, and the music, especially the carols. I really have no complaints.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and it reminds me that God has drawn near to us in a baby born in a far off corner of the world. It is a festival that carries a message of peace and good will, of angel's songs and divine visits. Yes, for me, “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
As joyous as December may be for me, I know that Jesus is not the reason for the season for all. There are those in our community whose history includes stories of persecution and even death at the hands of those who claim the name of Jesus. There are memories of exclusion and marginalization, especially among those who went through public schools in an earlier age. For Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha'is, and people of no religion, December isn't necessarily a moment of joy. Simply throwing a Hanukkah song into a mix of explicitly religious Christmas carols only seems to make the discomfort more obvious. Putting Rudolph in the crèche on the court house lawn does not make the crèche any less religious and therefore appropriate for a public square shared by all.
My Jewish friends have helped me understand how painful December can be. Yes, Jews celebrate Hanukkah during December, but this festival does not receive the same attention as Christmas, nor does it play the role in Judaism as Christmas does in Christianity. It is difficult to put on the shoes of the other person, but we who comprise the “majority” religious culture need to recognize the possibilities for exclusion. It is easy to say, well that's the way it is, so get over it. Such sentiment is neither compassionate nor in keeping with the message of peace and good will that Christmas is supposed to represent.
I have no intention of abandoning my celebration of Christmas - it is too important to my faith. I draw comfort from its promise that God came to dwell among us in the person of Jesus. I believe I am a better person because of the ways of God that are revealed in the person and teachings of Jesus. But then I am a Christian and that is how it should be.
Christianity remains the dominant religious movement in the United States and so it will be nigh impossible for Christmas, including its religious foundations, not to impact the month of December. That being said, it is possible for Christians to be sensitive to those who do not share this religion. We who are Christians can also take the opportunity to learn about the celebrations and festivals of our neighbors - from Yom Kippur to Ramadan, to Kwanzaa and beyond. By doing this we not only show sensitivity, we offer respect to those who are different.

If we who are Christian have allowed Jesus to be crowded out of Christmas, then we should make every effort to reclaim him as the reason for our celebration. We can make it a point to attend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. There we will sing the great carols of Christmas and we will celebrate the wondrous message of salvation and grace that is present in Christmas. At the same time, as a Christian, I hope that I will show my neighbor the respect I would want shown to me. If Christmas is about peace and good will (Luke 2:14), then it is incumbent on we who are Christians to live accordingly. If the greeting is happy holiday instead of merry Christmas, I know what is meant, and by showing respect and honor to those who do not share my religious faith I can offer a worthy gift to our community. The public square need not be naked, but it needs to be shared by all.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc. You may contact him at

December 4, 2005