Showing posts from March, 2008

Conversion -- Sightings

Conversion is a topic that many steer clear of, especially in the context of interfaith conversations. Christianity and Islam aren't the only conversionist religions, but they are the most active. In the West, especially among Christians, conversion has become something like switching brands, but for others conversion is deeply problematic (that is especially true if you are the religion being left behind. In light of the much discussed "conversion" and baptism of the former Muslim journalist Magdi Allam by Benedict XVI, Martin Marty broaches this topic. He does so with reference to a couple of other conversations about conversion, which can be unsettling to many. I am a believer in sharing my faith with others. I don't believe that one will go to hell if one doesn't convert, but I do believe it's appropriate to share my faith and invite others to join in the community of Jesus. That being said, I respect the beliefs of others. I also understand why those left…

Race and American Life

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
March 30, 2008

Rarely do we, as a nation, acknowledge the presence of racism and prejudice in our midst. At least we don't do it very publicly. We want to believe that racism is part of our past, but not our present. Unfortunately, there are signs that it remains with us. Consider the whispers that America isn't ready for a black president or a Hispanic president. Is this simply realism, or is it incipient racism? The issue of sexism and whether we're ready for a woman president is related, but somewhat different - and thus fodder for a another conversation.Due to a combination of a black candidate for the presidency and the much publicized statements by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright - statements that concern White America and its suppression of black aspirations - the issue of race in America has been brought out into the open. And, from what I can tell, we're not very uncomfortable with the discussion. Wright's statements are r…

The Adventure Begins

We're on our big trip to Michigan. Yesterday we made an offer on a house! Today we meet the congregation. We wonder what we're doing at times, but that is the way the faith journey goes. You don't always get to have all the info you want, but you go anyway. And so here we are!!

Brett Favre, Catholic Hero

My son's name is Brett, but we didn't name him after Brett Favre. No that honor was due to a then San Francisco Giants player, Brett Butler. I can't say I was ever a Brett Favre fan; his Packers were a nemesis to my 49ers of old. But Brett has proven himself to be a determined and professional quarterback. What I didn't know was that he was also a person of faith, a Catholic, but not one who displayed his faith on his sleeve.

Well, with Favre retiring after this past season, Joseph Kip Kosek, a professor at George Washington University, reflects on his legacy and his faith. Interesting piece, especially if you're a Packers fan (which I'm not). But, nonetheless . . .

Brett Favre, Catholic Hero -- Joseph Kip KosekEarlier this month, legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre announced his retirement after seventeen years in the NFL.He walked away holding most of the major records at his position, and as much as…

A Pillow for McCain?

Did you hear the gaffe recently that John McCain made, the one that Joe Lieberman had to correct? Did you hear many questions in the press as to whether this was a sign that maybe he doesn't know as much as he leads us to believe? If you saw the first, you probably didn't hear much about the latter. Although he has flip-flopped with the best of them, you don't hear much about him being a panderer -- that straight talk express keeps going, with nary a question. It would seem that John McCain and the press are pals. They love him because he gives such great access. They hang out with him on the bus and join him for BBQ's at his Sedona Ranch. They seem to think that his recent "conservative" streak is simply a primary necessity and that the Maverick will emerge in November. We'll see, but in the mean time, maybe a few questions. If the press was treating Obama with kid gloves as SNL seemed to suggest, what about McCain? Is he being vetted. Now, I…

W.E.B. DuBois: An American Prophet -- A Review

With all the ruckus about Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama, it might be a good idea to take a look into the lives and views of earlier Black leaders, some who would look radical even today. W.E.B. DuBois was a person of faith, even if unorthodox, a Socialist, and an important voice in the wilderness for much of the first half of the 20th Century.
Dr. Edward J. Blum has written an excellent literary biography -- W.E.B. DuBois: An American Prophet (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). It's not your traditional biography, in that it uses the various genres used by DuBois, to explore his ideas. It's a most important book. My review of the book appears this week in the Christian Century.
You may check the review out here.
You may purchase it here.

The Ending drags on

Everyone seems to know that Barack Obama will be the nominee, everyone except, it would seem, Hillary Clinton and friends. I don't normally look to David Brooks for insight, but in a piece today he notes that Obama endured his worst period of the campaign, and didn't get taken down. There is no way she'll catch him in delegates, and the Super Delegates seem to be coming around to the position that the leader in pledged delegates should be the nominee. As in November, you don't get to pick which states count. You go with what you have, and Obama has the numbers. But, and as a Democrat, this is the problem. If Hillary continues this Quiotic quest, she won't win but she''ll so poisoin the waters that she could seriously damage the party's nominee without getting any closer to her goal. I wish someone could get through to her. It's time to give it up. She had a good ride, did her best, but the numbers are against her. Brooks writes -- No wond…

Public Preaching -- Sightings

Without mentioning the name, you can tell that Jeremiah Wright's presence lies behind today's edition of Sightings. Martin Marty writes about those preachers, all famous, who dealt with difficult public issues, and in which their parishioners likely didn't always agree. For instance, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was a strong supporter of Walter Rauschenbush, even though their politics surely didn't mesh. Take a read and offer your thoughts.

Sightings 3/24/08

Public Preaching
-- Martin E. Marty

Public Pulpits by friend Steven M. Tipton of Emory is a timely, historically-informed analysis of "Methodists and Mainline Churches in the Moral Argument of Public Life." The "pulpit" is largely metaphoric here, because Tipton's accent is on policy-making and headquarters' involvements in politics, but these inform preachers. The book will provide background for discussions of the role of preachers and, yes, pulpits, in the political s…

Not Everyone Ready to talk about Race

BarackObama's speech, which everyone except right wingers like Sean Hannity, who for some reason has a special animus toward BarackObama, felt was an important statement about race in America, called for the beginning of a conversation on the topic. Many of us believe it is a conversation we need to have. My denomination has made this an important part of its identity -- we are an "anti-racism, pro-reconciliation denomination." But, as an LA Times article entitled: "Talking about Race: You first" points out, not everyone is ready for the conversation. Many want the issue to go away. They, mostly whites, wonder why minorities don't get beyond old slights and get on with things. Minorities, on the other hand, still feeling that a glass ceiling is present, feel that they're not being heard, nor will they be heard. There is deep seated resentment and bitterness in every community. There is a willingness for all of us to act upon stereotype, to bel…

Easter, Preaching, the Racial Divide

I was in Starbucks this morning before heading out for church. I noticed the NY Times headline "Obama's Talk Fuels Easter Sermons." I will admit that I didn't address the controversy this morning. I spoke on Jeremiah 31:1-6 and Jeremiah's vision of restoration that calls forth celebration. But I was intrigued by the idea that some would use Easter, a Sunday that usually has high attendance, to address this most important issue. What ever one did today in the pulpit, the article is interesting for laying bare our differing understandings of race, the pulpit, and politics. A number of Black preachers sympathized with Wright. The pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a church that has has had as members both the Doles and the Clintons, noted that the focus of his congregants was not on White racism but the Wright remarks. He noted that most Whites seem to have no idea about the Black struggle in our society. Leith Anderson, a leading White evangeli…


A word for Barack Obama on his vision for America.

An Easter Sunday Reflection

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
March 23, 2008

By calling, or vocation, I am a Protestant pastor who just happens to write a weekly op-ed column. I try not to preach here; instead I try to wrestle with broader public issues from a faith perspective. I will admit that some columns are more “religious” than others, but I'm quite aware that this column isn't found on the religion page. Instead, it's on the Sunday op-ed page, which means the expectations are a bit different. Having said that, I'm going to make an exception today - oh don't worry, I'm not planning on sneaking in a sermon. Because today is Easter Sunday (at least for Western Christians - the Eastern Church follows a different calendar), I'd like to offer a spiritual reflection on the day.
Easter is, for Christians, one of the holiest and most joyous days of the year. There is, of course, another Easter, the public holiday, which is about egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and brunch. That holiday…

Our Easter Vigil

We come this night to remember Christ, laid in the tomb. We come in the hope that his call on us to live lives of justice, mercy, love, and grace is not at an end, but that God has justified and vindicated him. We come laying our lives before God, seeking to be made one in Christ. We wait hereby his tomb, with a sense of expectancy, hoping that we might in just a few hours, shout: Christ is Risen! Alleluia. Image by He Qi

Math and Myths

If the nominating process was like a college basketball conference tournament, a team could go on a winning streak at the end of the season, get hot, and even though they don't have enough wins to win the conference, with a little luck and hard work, they could win the tournament. Georgia did that recently -- they didn't have a winning record in the conference, but got hot in the tournament and made it into the Big Dance.

The nominating process isn't however like that. Hillary Clinton may be getting hot and there may be some buyers remorse among some white Obama supporters due to the Wright affair, but the math says that it's almost impossible for Clinton overcome Obama's lead in delegates. She would have to take every contest from here on out by sizable margins. She may indeed win Pennsylvania and a few other states, but can she win enough by enough of a margin? No. Even here advisers privately concede as much. At the end of the day, Obama will be ahead in states w…

Richardson Endorsement Video

Bill Richardson gave a rousing and at times humorous and affectionate endorsement today of Barack Obama. The event was held in Portland, OR -- a state in which I grew up. Listen, watch, and enjoy!

Richardson Endorses Obama

Sometimes endorsements come at just the right time. Barack Obama has had a tough couple of weeks as the Wright issue emerged and Hillary Clinton began to regain some momentum that was lost in February. Today, however, as we observe Good Friday, good news came to the Obama campaign.

Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a friend of the Clintons, a member of the Clinton administration, a person of experience and well regarded around the world, gave his blessing to the candidacy of Barack Obama. This is an important embrace, for Richardson brings his gravitas as foreign policy expert to the fold. He is likely a top candidate for VP (I was thinking Kathleen Sebelius, but considering recent events, Richardson is likely the leading candidate because of the foreign policy angle). Richardson is also Hispanic, which gives Obama a sense of credibility in that key area of the country. Besides, in the Fall, New Mexico will be a battle ground and Richardson will be an important voice in the Mount…

Reflections for Good Friday

The idea of "Good Friday" is a paradox. In reality there is nothing good about the day. It is a day of desolation, despair, and death. We hear the cries of dereliction -- "My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?" (Mk. 15:34-35). We also hear words of forgiveness (Lk:23:32-34) and concern for the other (Jn 19:26-27). We watch as those closest to Jesus, his friends and followers disappear (though a few, mostly women, remain nearby).

So, what is good about this day? The good of the days must be seen with hindsight. It is the perspective of Easter that makes it good, for we know that God had not abandoned Jesus, that his message of liberty, love, and grace was vindicated. We could argue about the "nature" of the resurrection, whether it's a historical event or metaphor, but to argue the point misses the point (there is a place for scholarly discussion) but not on this weekend. We come today to consider a life given, hoping to find in this event the prese…

The Perils of Publicity -- Sightings

The adage is that all publicity is good publicity -- but sometimes the issue is more complex. This is especially true for two denominations put in the spotlight by their affiliation to Presidential Candidates. Both the Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) and the United Church of Christ have been in the news and exposed to more attention than usual. Mitt Romney's candidacy is over, so the attention is off him, but the same is not true of the United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has membership. You all should know about his pastor by now -- so the question is -- what is the effect? That is the question Daniel Sack, a UCC pastor and staff member at the University of Chicago Divinity School asks in today's edition of Sightings.

Sightings 3/20/08

The Perils of Publicity
-- Daniel Sack

They say in this age of celebrity that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Thanks to the current presidential campaign, two American religious groups will fi…

Strength for the Journey -- Review

Diana Butler Bass. Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community. Foreword by Phyllis Tickle. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2002. xix + 293.

We read memoirs for two reasons. We read them so as to get to know an author better. Indeed, memoirs take us deep into the psyche and experiences of an individual. We’re especially intrigued by famous figures or authors we’ve been reading. We also read them as a way of getting to know ourselves better. Sometimes as we read another person’s story, we see a mirror image of our own, and that mirror enlightens us as to who we are and where we’ve been.

Diana’s husband, Richard, told me that of all her books, his favorite was her memoir, Strength for the Journey. It’s possible that is because he figures into the story, but I think there is more to it than that. This isn’t the newest of her works – it was published in 2002 – but on Richard’s recommendation I purchased a copy and put it on the “to do” shelf. Finally, feeling the need to read s…

The Rhetoric of Jeremiah Wright in Historical Perspective

Ed Blum, a professor at San Diego State University and author of the recently published book -- W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet(2007), of which I have written a review for the March 15 issue of the Christian Century -- addresses the historical pedigree of Wright's speech. Over the course of the last two centuries, Black writers and activists from Frederick Douglass to W.E.B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King, have issued prophetic denunciations of racism, using the idea of America's Christian nationalism as a lever in the conversation. Blum sees Wright in this long tradition. It's not a word we like to hear, but it is a word that has a history and a context. I think you'll find this analysis intriguing! Click here to read.

Responses to the Obama Speech

How you view yesterday's speech will depend on how you view Barack Obama. If you don't like him; if you're uncomfortable with a person of color as President; if you just can't get beyond Jeremiah Wright; then probably yesterday's speech won't go far with you. If you like him, if you think the time is ripe for a non-white President, or if you are able to separate him from Wright, then you probably heard the speech differently.

My sense is that the American people are all over the place. I also recognize in comments in the news and in personal conversations that race remains an issue for this nation. Many people want to think that we got beyond race in the 1960s, but that's not true. We may bury it, suppress it, etc., but it's still there and Obama's candidacy has surfaced this issue. White America didn't care much one way or another about Jeremiah Wright or his church until Obama came along. Now its an issue.

In the interest of furthering the conve…

Hillary's Days as First Lady

Hillary released her White House schedules, which total about 11,000+ pages. That's a lot of paper, but what they reveal is that she probably was more active than your typical First Lady, but most of her activities, after the failure of the Health Care Initiative, were largely ceremonial. It's not that she didn't do anything, but to say that these 8 years make her the "experienced" candidate may be stretching things. The truly "experienced" candidates -- Dodd, Biden, and Richardson -- never got out of single digits. For more -- read here.

Anger and the Black Community

The thing that put off so many whites about Jeremiah Wright's sermons was the anger they expressed. Whites aren't used to hearing such things expressed, especially when they see the words addressed to them. They don't understand why things like slavery and Jim Crow keep getting brought up. In an essay today in the LA Times, an African American woman named Erin Aubry Kaplan addresses these very questions and helps us understand, if we're willing to listen, why Blacks are angry and why they feel the need to express it. She confesses to being "black and mad" and that this anger is part of her heritage, passed down generation to generation. Watching all this unfold, my blood started boiling. What I think Wright's critics really don't like is the fact that he is mad. Although I don't necessarily share all of his analyses or his stridency, I recognize his rage as a general anger about the conditions of black Americans, who he says still deal cons…

Obama's Lincoln Moment

That is the title given to a column in today's LA Times written by media columnist Tim Rutten. He compares favorable Obama's speech to Lincoln's "House Divided" speech during the 1858 Senatorial campaign. Rutten makes a number of excellent points in this must read column. One of those points concerns the stature of a speech that could have been merely damage control, but which may become a speech of a lifetime. In this speech, as Rutten points out, Obama speaks of the divide between black and white and the need to move forward. He also notes Obama's theological interpretation of America's original sin that stained the Constitution, a document he has taught and loves. Obama did what he had to do, unequivocally repudiating Wright's extreme rhetoric. But what was truly radical about his analysis was his implicit demand that black and white Americans accept the imperfection of each other's views on race. Embedded in such acceptance is the seed of…

An Unfortunate 5 year Anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. It really doesn't matter if things are going better now than a year ago, that security is better in Iraq than it was a year ago due to the surge, at least not in the fuller picture. Yes, violence is down from a year ago and life is returning to something nearing normal. But the real question isn't how are things now, but should we have gone in to Iraq in the first place. George Bush, of course, continues to defend this decision. John McCain, Dick Cheney, Joe Lieberman, and others continue to make the same claims. Where are we 5 years later? Saddam is out and that's a good thing. But, there still isn't a truly functioning government in Iraq. What we have is a government that is paralyzed by religious, ethnic, and tribal rivalries. We have an entrenched Al-Queda network that wasn't there before the war. We have ethnic and religious minorities under severe duress (Christians were protected by Sadda…

Obama's Speech on Race and Politics -- Video

I have added this You Tube version of the speech for your viewing and comment.

Obama's Speech on Race and Politics

Today Barack Obama gave a speech for the ages, a historic statement on the issue of race in America. It was a speech he had to make in large part because of incendiary statements in sermons given by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but also because the election cycle was in danger of becoming polarized along racial lines. It was a speech that has important political implications. The long term effects will not be known for sometime, but the speech has given the nation an opportunity to talk about race, something we'd rather not do. I only caught the final minutes of the speech this morning, but it was interesting to listen to the pundits discuss it. By and large people were impressed by its tone and substance. They saw it as a historic statement, perhaps the most important speech on race since Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream Speech" nearly a half century ago. There were a few that suggested that this wasn't enough, but what they were asking him to d…

Old Letters on Iraq

With our nation standing on the eve of the 5th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, I thought I would reprint the letter I sent to my Congressional Representatives. The same letter addressed here to Senator Feinstein went as well to Senator Barbara Boxer and Congresswoman Lois Capps. It is dated August of 2002. Notice that there was deep concern then about the direction of our foreign policy -- stated by GOP stalwarts. ****** August 20, 2002
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
U.S. Senate
11111 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 915
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Dear Ms. Feinstein:
I am writing to you out of a growing concern about the current direction of American foreign policy. I write as a citizen and as a local pastor to convey my concern about the President's rhetoric regarding a change of the regime in Iraq. We are already deeply engaged militarily in Afghanistan and pursuing other counter-terrorism projects here and abroad. We have virtually no support from our allies and experienced foreign p…

A New Leg in the Journey

Last night I waited four agonizing hours -- well, really just three. I knew that Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan was discussing my future. Troy is 3 hours ahead, so as the evening wore on, with my stomach tossing and turning -- yes I was anxious about my future. Would they hear the call or not. Just before 8 PM PDT, the phone rang and the word came, the church council had voted unanimously to call me as their pastor. I must still receive the approval of the congregation, which I will meet in a couple of weeks. And so a new adventure begins. I will leave behind a congregation I love to lead one I do not at this point truly know. I've been searching for biblical analogies for where I've been and for where I'm going. No analogy is perfect. But I'm picking both Moses and Joshua, knowing full well that both images have their problems. For nearly four years I've been pastor of the Lompoc church, leading them through the wilderness, and like M…

Jeremiah Wright in Context

Diana Butler Bass wrote last Friday on the God's Politicsblog a piece that helpfully puts some context into this controversy over Jeremiah Wright and his sermons, sermons that have in the minds of some, seriously wounded Barack Obama as a "post-racial" candidate. She writes: As MSNBC, CNN, and FOX endlessly play the tape of Rev. Wright's "radical" sermons today, I do not hear the words of a "dangerous" preacher (at least any more dangerous than any preacher who takes the Gospel seriously!) No, I hear the long tradition that Jeremiah Wright has inherited from his ancestors. I hear prophetic critique. I hear Frederick Douglass. And, mostly, I hear the Gospel slant—I hear it from an angle that is not natural to me. It is good to hear that

That is not, of course, comfortable for white people. Nor is it easily understood in sound bites. It does not easily fit in a contemporary political campaign. But it is a deep spiritual river in American faith an…