Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Telling the Truth about the Gas Tax

John and Hillary want to give you a couple of dollars -- if the gas companies don't take it back first.

Here's Obama's ad that tells some truth about the situation!

Gas Tax Holidays and Energy Policies

John and Hillary are in agreement on one thing -- we should give Americans a break this summer from the gas tax. As I said earlier, I think that this is a really stupid idea. The point of the gas tax, besides paying for roads and bridges, is to spur us toward changing our energy usage. Hillary goes to a gas station in an F-250 truck and says, wow, look how expensive gas is. Remember that the last time Hillary drove to the pump was probably 1992. Yeah, its expensive, which is why I drive a Ford Focus and not an F-250 truck. Obama has taken some grief for his position, but really it's the only responsible one.
I realize that many progressives don't like Tom Friedman, but I do. I may not always agree with him, but he understands the world we live in and often makes very important comments. On energy he's been preaching for some time the need to raise gas taxes and use them to support development of alternative energy sources -- like solar and wind. Today he calls the Gas Tax Holiday a pretty dumb idea. Why? Because it doesn't deal with the real cause of the increase in gas prices -- our demand. We keep driving big cars and wonder why the prices go up. Hillary talks about breaking up OPEC -- how is she going to do that? As long as we're buyers they're going to sell to us at prices they determine.
Friedman's NYT's post is really needed. So, just to get you started, read:

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.

When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.

Lois Capps Endorses Obama

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA), my congressional representative, has announced her support for Barack Obama today. Obama won Santa Barbara County and her congressional district by a sizable margin back on Super Tuesday. Here is her announcement as published by KEYT-- TV in Santa Barbara.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-23rd District) has announced she is endorsing Senator Barack Obama for President.Earlier this week Capps told KEY News as a Super Delegate to the Democratic convention she was going to wait until the voters made their decision in the primary elections. In a statement just released, Capps said,"Today, I am announcing my endorsement of Barack Obama for President.
"This wasn't an easy decision for me. Democrats were blessed this year with many talented and capable candidates, and I believe both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama would make fine presidents. But Sen. Obama's proven judgment, his hopeful vision for America, and his unmatched ability to motivate millions of Americans eager for change made the choice for me.
"I have enormous respect for Sen. Clinton. She is smart, dedicated and a champion of those often underserved and forgotten. She has a remarkable record of achievement that inspires us all. And her election would fulfill a life long dream for so many of us who have been fighting for women's rights. She would make a great president. "But for me, Barack Obama is the best choice.
"There are a number of reasons I could cite. He has promoted smart policies to address our nation's greatest challenges. He was right on Iraq when so many were wrong. He speaks with an eloquence that most public officials can only dream of and is inspiring millions of Americans to reconnect with politics or connect for the first time. And he can win in November.
"These are all true and good reasons, but I also believe Barack Obama is the better choice because of something larger and perhaps more important. Simply put, he has made a call to the better angels of our nature. He is challenging us to lift ourselves out of the ugliness that increasingly consumes Washington, where the heat of your argument counts for more than the light it should bring. He is asking us to stand together as Americans and transcend the traditional lines that have so often divided us by party affiliation, economic status, gender, or race. He is calling on us to rethink our approach to problem solving in the face of the enormous challenges facing our country, like Iraq, economic recession, global warming, record energy prices, and 47 million Americans without health insurance, to name just a few. I believe in his effort to put our country on a new path and want to help him make that happen.
"I came to Washington 10 years ago after winning the seat my husband Walter held. In office for a mere 10 months before he died, he had lost none of the idealism and faith in American democracy that propelled his life. Quite frankly, I don't believe he ever would have and I know that I have tried to keep that fire burning. But I'll admit it's hard, when so much of what's going on around you is less about meeting our country's challenges and more about demonizing your political opponents.
"Walter once said that "we are strongest as people when we are directed by that which unites us, rather than giving into the fears, suspicions, innuendos and paranoias that divide." For years I have been waiting for a President that speaks to that vision. I believe Barack Obama may very well be that rare leader."

Who is Really Out of Touch? Gas Tax Shenanigans

First it was John McCain and then it was Hillary Clinton. Both called for a gas tax moratorium for the summer. The Federal Gas tax is at about 18 cents per gallon. The moment I heard it, I said that's really a stupid idea. What is that going to accomplish. We have a spiraling federal debt and we're at war. Tax cut ideas during election campaigns are in most cases pure pandering. It's like the hardware store commercial that says they'll pay the sales tax. Great -- That's a 7.875 discount. If you gave me a 10% discount or so, wouldn't that be the same thing. It's just a bite of sleight of hand.
Well guess what, one of the Presidential candidates came out against that tax cut -- you guessed it, Barack Obama. He pointed out that this moratorium would rob money from the Highway fund that fixes roads and bridges. And for what? 25 to 30 dollars over the course of a summer. The rise in gas prices doesn't have anything to do with the gas tax. It has to do with the amount we use and the lack of refineries to produce more.
Funny thing too, many economists agree with Barack Obama. This is a sign that he gets what it means to be President. It's just like this tax rebate we're getting. I'm glad to have it, but will it really resurrect the economy? Pandering is all that it really is.
So, who gets it? Not Hillary and Not John! The one who gets it is Barack Obama!

A New America

This is an unofficial Obama YouTube video produced by Obama backer Sal Laroche.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Obama's Running Mate

From the Daily Dish --

Here is a fired up 82 year-old woman in North Carolina who's backing Obama. He invites her to be his running mate. Great video

Jeremiah Wright's legacy

We have to face it, for the next few days or so, Jeremiah Wright will be the topic of conversation. People will be asking about Obama's relationship to him and what influence Wright has had on him. Everything that Obama has said or done prior to this election cycle suggests that Wright helped lead him to faith in Jesus Christ and that Wright taught him that following Jesus meant serving others. He came to faith, by his own admission, because he discovered that it was the church that was making the difference on the South side of Chicago, churches like Trinity UCC. But Obama is of a different generation than Wright. He also has a different story. He went to Trinity to discover that side of him that is Black and it is from within that community that his political career was born. What Obama didn't take from Wright was the anger of the earlier civil right's struggle. It is interesting that in his own response to questions about Wright's embrace of James Cone and the Black Liberationist theology, that Obama spoke of the Social Gospel -- an older and broader attempt to bring theology and social justice together.
The question that we will have to wrestle with is what led us to this point. Amy Sullivan has written a piece for Time that helps us make sense of Monday. It is entitled "Jeremiah Wright Goes to War," a piece that roots Monday's outburst in Wright's own frustrations at being attacked. Instead of waiting for another, less politically charged time, he struck. Sullivan recounts that Wright is a theologian, teacher, and pastor, but like any preacher he's a performer. After schooling a mostly receptive audience of black religious leaders -- with the press sitting in the balcony -- when they got to the Q and A Wright struck.
But while Wright is a theologian, a teacher and a pastor, he is ultimately a performer. In front of a cheering crowd of supporters that included a whistling Cornel
West, he gave into temptation and lustily went after his critics. As soon as the questions began, Wright transformed into a defiant, derisive figure, snapping one-liners at the unfortunate moderator tasked with reading the questions and stepping back with a grin on his face after each one, clearly enjoying himself.
As Sullivan points out, while some damage may have been done to Obama's candidacy, Wright's message is what will get lost in the midst of this turmoil.

The combative pose that Wright chose to strike is perhaps most damaging not to Obama's candidacy — although the candidate will surely endure yet another round of scrutiny regarding his relationship to the minister and his positions on Wright's views — but to Wright's own message. Because he is right when he says that most Americans don't understand the black church and that their resulting confusion and fear contributes to a racial divide.

This is what Obama seems to be saying when he suggests that Wright's tirade will give aid and comfort to those who would manipulate hate for their own ends. It is because I believe that Wright is correct about the continuing presence of a racial divide that I have defended him. It is because his inability to control himself in this situation (and I'm not sure I could have done it either if in his shoes) that we must raise questions.

Barack Obama's Response to the Wright Affair

One of the hardest things for anyone to do is sever a relationship. When the issue with Jeremiah Wright first broke, Barack Obama delivered a wonderful speech on race and the need to overcome our divisions. In that speech, Obama distanced himself from Wright's words but not from his long time pastor and friend. Despite that address, and Wright's absence, the sniping remained. Over the weekend, as we've been discussing, Jeremiah Wright stepped forward to defend himself. That is understandable, and as I've posted before, I had hoped that this would help clarify things. There is, of course, always the difficulty of translating one's theological convictions for others, and Wright has had difficulty helping a largely white audience understand Black theology and liberation theology. It sounded to many as being separatist and even hateful. It's not designed to be either, but is instead a call to action on behalf of justice.
But ultimately we are in the midst of a hard fought campaign with historic consequences. Wright has become for Obama excess baggage -- the kind of baggage that simply won't go away. Each candidate has their own baggage to deal with. Hillary has Bill; McCain has Bush. Obama it seems has Jeremiah Wright -- and what happened yesterday ultimately broke a relationship. I hope in time it can be repaired, but for now there is a complete break.
Obama spoke much more forcefully today -- having taken in the full scene -- and essentially broke free of Wright.

His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church. They certainly don't portray accurately my values and beliefs. And if Reverend Wright thinks that that's political posturing, as he put it, then he doesn't know me very well. And based on his remarks yesterday, well, I may not know him as well as I thought either.

In today's press conference, a transcript of which can be found on Lynn Sweet's Chicago-Sun Times blog , Obama spoke highly of his church home and its new pastor. He hopes to continue his relationship with the church, but he also understands that things are strained. It is never easy to be in this position -- to walk away from friends and loved ones. But here is a situation that unfortunately required that action.
It saddens me that things have come to this. This was the conclusion that Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson made as well.

The reality of the African American church, of course, is as diverse as the African American community. I grew up in the Methodist church with pastors -- often active on the front lines of the civil rights movement -- whose sermons were rarely exciting enough to elicit more than a muttered "Amen." They were excitement itself, however, compared with the dry lectures delivered by the priest at the Catholic church around the corner. And what I heard every Sunday was nothing at all like the Bible-thumping, hellfire-and-damnation perorations that filled my Baptist friends with the Holy Ghost -- and even less like the spellbinding, singsong, jump-and-shout sermonizing that raised the roofs of Pentecostal sanctuaries across town.

Wright claims to represent all these traditions and more, but he does not. He also claims universality for the political aspect of his ministry. It is true that the black church, writ large, has been an instrument of social and political change. But most black churches are far less political than Wright's -- and many concern themselves exclusively with salvation.

I point all this out not to say that one tradition is better than another; as Wright said, different doesn't mean deficient. But what Wright did was to try to frame the issue in such a way that to question him or anything he has ever said was to question the long, storied tradition of African American religion.

Historically and theologically, he was inflating his importance in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kind of way. Politically, by surfacing now, he was throwing Barack Obama under the bus.

Sadly, it's time for Obama to return the favor.

And today there is great sadness -- in the Obama household, in the Trinity UCC household, and likely in the Wright household. Obama refused to throw his friend under the bus, but now he had no choice. Saddest of all is the fact that much of what Wright said has merit -- but in making his case he undermined the person committed to taking us in a new direction.

Finding One's Calling in Ministry

I finally took a look at Richard Lischer's Wall Street Journal article mentioned yesterday in Martin Marty's Sightings article. Lischer, who teaches preaching at Duke Divinity School, writes of the present situation for pastors in America. With 50% of church goers being ministered to by 10% of the clergy -- in mega churches -- the rest of us, who are ministering with the other 50%, are finding it more and more difficult to find positions in churches large enough to pay a full time salary. I'm fortunate that my new position will afford me a full time salary, but many, especially rural congregations are having to rely more and more on part time/bi-vocational pastors. This fact, as Lischer notes, can be demoralizing. Yet, people continue to answer the call. In the article he points to the Lilly funded program providing money for clergy sabbaticals -- a resource that enables clergy to find that rest and resourcement to empower ministry.
The future of ministry in America is uncertain. We see some seminary's struggle to survive, while others thrive by drawing in students who aren't so much considering ministry as they are exploring their faith. I've taught some of these students, students eager to learn but not looking for vocational ministry. Without salaries and pensions and health care, will they rely more on bi-vocational pastors? If so, will congregants be willing to fill the gaps?
Something to consider.

Obama Speaks Out on Wright Affair

Yesterday I wrote in support of Jeremiah Wright. I did so as one pastor in support of another. I stand by what I said, but the more I have thought about what was said and how it was said, I must say it was not a good show. The Moyer's interview was great. The NAACP speech was fine. Yesterday, a pastor went into a place a pastor should not go -- a gathering of press. He handled the questions poorly and it has hit Barack Obama.
Obama, who did not throw his pastor under the bus, when asked to do so, now finds himself having to distance himself further from his pastor and really from his church. It is unfortunate that this has happend, and if Obama's campaign implodes because of this, America will be the loser.
I feel that Obama is a candidate for this time in history. He offers us an opportunity to get beyond partisanship and embrace the future. He's not wrapped up in the fights of yesteryear -- whether Vietnam or even the 1990s.
With his back against the wall, he has spoken out today. He has declared himself appalled at what has been said, repeated that these comments don't reflect his views, and is saddened that his pastor has ended up in this situation. He has stated that criticism of Wright isn't an attack on the Black Church, but criticism of Wright's views. I think Obama is correct, but much of the vitriol is rooted in misunderstandings of the Black church.
The key here is to make clear that Jeremiah Wright isn't part of the Obama campaign. He has no role and whatever role he once had has long been severed. But with all the issues in front of us, let us not get sidetracked.
If you look at what he has said, and how he comports himself, Barack Obama isn't a radical. He's not a communist. He's not a terrorist. He has demonstrated himself able to reach across divides and work with those who are different from him.
Let us now move on -- please -- for the sake of the country.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jeff Bingaman endorses Obama

I've not been keeping up with the super-delegate endorsements, but Barack Obama has scored another big one -- Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico. Mountain West states like New Mexico and Colorado will be important battle grounds in the Fall. That Obama has already scored the support of Governor Bill Richardson and Senator Jeff Bingaman is important.
Add these to recent endorsers -- Brad Henry, Governor of Oklahoma and former Clinton fund raiser and Ambassador to Chile Gabriel Guerra-Mondragon. Yes Hillary has gotten some as well, but Obama continues to cut into her lead.

More on Jeremiah Wright

Just a little surfing of comments on Jeremiah Wright's appearance at the National Press Club confirmed my suspicions that this wouldn't be a very good venue. Being that he's not a politician, he probably didn't know when to take a pass on a question. As a prophetic preacher, he hears the question and offers the answer. I think too that the press still can't understand the religious dynamic, and so even when nuanced Wright's statements pass them by -- and in search of soundbites that will fit their articles, they listen for the "statement" that has the most political impact. But if his remarks are tied to Barack Obama, let us remember that Obama didn't have any control over his former pastor nor did he ask Wright to speak at this forum.
In any case, I think that Diana Butler Bass has some fruitful words to say on this topic in a post at God's Politics. Diana writes:

Over the last several days, I watched Rev. Jeremiah Wright in discussions of faith, theology, history, and culture on television. The three-plus hours I devoted to PBS and CNN amounted to some of the most sophisticated and thoughtful programming on American culture and racial issues that any news station has offered in recent years. And, for those who really listened to Rev. Wright, he moved from being a political liability in the current presidential campaign to demonstrating why he is one of the nation's most compelling spokespersons of the African-American community and of progressive Christianity.

I do think he is incisive as well as provocative -- and that's something the church needs. I also think its something the broader community isn't always able to take in. In large part that is due to the fact that the church hasn't done a very good job of passing on the tradition.

Speaking Up for Jeremiah Wright

I will confess to being a Barack Obama supporter, but that's not the reason why I feel it necessary to speak up for Jeremiah Wright. I''m not averse to criticizing a fellow pastor, when I deem it necessary (consider my criticism's of Rod Parsley and Ted Haggard on this blog). I'm not averse to saying that some of what Jeremiah Wright has said, I find deeply problematic -- especially his statements about the government's role in spreading HIV into the Black community.

I know that the Obama campaign isn't all that happy that Jeremiah Wright is speaking up at this time, I think in the long run it will be helpful. As long as the Sean Hannity's of the world are allowed to demonize Jeremiah Wright and then try to link him to Obama, the issue won't go away. The important thing, therefore, is to let us see the real Jeremiah Wright. Let us come to know the man who has pastored Trinity UCC for more than 35 years, who grew it from 87 people to more than 5,000, who has been an important force in the city of Chicago, and who is widely respected within his own denomination and beyond.

What has bothered me from the very beginning of this controversy is the way in which the Black church in America has been misrepresented and even vilified. I am a white pastor. The traditions in the white church tend to be different from the black church. Our services tend to be quieter and the music tends to be different. But, as Jeremiah Wright so eloquently stated last night in his Detroit NAACP speech, difference doesn't mean deficient. White European theology and practice isn't normative for the church as a whole.

As postmodern theologians are pointing out, all theology is local. All church practice is local. Jeremiah Wright's preaching emerges from his experience ministering on the South Side of Chicago. It emerges from being Black. It emerges from coming into ministry during the 1960s. As Barack Obama has pointed out things have changed and his own experience is different. But let us not say that because Wright's experience is different that it's deficient. He is, warts and all, part of the body of Christ. He is, warts and all, a colleague in ministry. He is, warts and all, a fellow citizen of God's kingdom. He may say the same of me!

Decline -- Sightings

One could label Martin Marty's piece -- "Religion is the News." He points to a number of recent articles in major papers that deal with religion -- from declining numbers within the Southern Baptist Convention to the Pope's recent visit. He doesn't even talk about the reappearance of Jeremiah Wright -- which will likely dominate the news for a few days.
Take a look -- and do some further looking for religion in the news.


Sightings 4/28/08

-- Martin E. Marty

Papal trips, presidential campaigns, polygamist-raids, and other events that warrant billboard-sized headlines are easy enough to sight for Sightings, but they block out the vision of smaller-appearing events that, taken together, add up to portentous or promising trends. The portentous were most apparent this week, as headlines like these on Friday, April 25, drew notice: "In Financial Crisis, Seminary Stops Admitting Students" in the Chicago Tribune; "Ministering Angels" (I'll elaborate) in the Wall Street Journal; "Ranks of Southern Baptists Are Still Growing Thinner" and "Gay Bishop Plans His Civil Union Rite" in the New York Times.

The story in that fourth item dealt with the strains on the self-sundering Episcopal Church, which is distracted from mission during debates over homosexuality. The "Seminary" story on our list tells how Seabury-Western Seminary, once an anchor in Midwest Episcopalianism, is not admitting any new students and is serving notice to tenured faculty that they will be jobless in fall, thanks to money woes in the (probably) over-seminaried Episcopal Church. One of the other two stories is subtler, one bolder and more clearly outlined.

The subtle one is by Richard S. Lischer, a splendid writer and professor at Duke Divinity School. Every cleric should clip it and post it, since it gives a touching, even moving, portrait of parish clergy, whose "job is never done." From Lischer's account one can see why considerable numbers of men and women are ready for seminary and parish vocations, despite over-work and low pay. The problem: As megachurches and mobility hit and hurt smaller parishes, there are fewer posts which can afford a pastor of their own.

The Southern Baptist piece gives statistics, highlighting the fact that for the third straight year the number of baptisms in this largest Protestant body kept declining, while total membership dropped 40,000 in one year. Being conservative and mega-minded does not serve as a figurative wall against exiting members. Parents having fewer children each year, long a factor in "mainline" Protestant decline, also accounts for Baptist losses.
Leftover stories about the recent papal visit indicate signs of Catholic life, but insider trend-watchers discount much of the attention to celebrity coverage, and offer their own versions of the obituaries for the late Pope John Paul II after European visits: "He filled the streets. He did not fill the pews." Let's watch mass attendance for a year in America.

Most important is to observe cultural shifts: "Seekers" stay isolated in "spirituality;" the impulse to make commitments wanes, and sacrifices for life in community appeal less than in earlier cultural turns; denominations lose some of their attractive hold, while suggesed replacements for them—networks of independent and often competitive congregations-on-their-own, mega or mini—do not play quite the role that parishes in denominations did. The future of loyalty and participation is uncertain.

Within one or two generations the pews emptied in former Catholic bastions like Quebec and Ireland. The case of each nation and region differs from all others; the clerical abuse crisis hits harder at some places than others. Yet the Irelands and Quebecs serve as reminders to church and culture not to take church participation for granted anywhere.

Lischer's piece in the Wall Street Journal can be found at

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

This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by William Schweiker of the University of Chicago: "What Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem: Location and the Origin of Ethics." Commentary from Douglas Anderson (Loyola University), William Burrows (Orbis Books), Terry Clark (University of Chicago), Arthur E. Farnsley II (IUPUI), and Rev. Laura Sumner Truax (LaSalle Street Church, Chicago) will be posted on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also leave responses.

Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jeremiah Wright Speaks

It took a while, but Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ has begun speaking. The first instance was Friday's Bill Moyer's interview. I've only seen parts of it, but as I understand it he gave context and background to his statements. He made it clear that he speaks from within and to the church, and not as a politician. He explained his roots in the Black Theology of James Cone.

In this interview -- which I'm watching/listening to as I blog -- he explains with it means to be "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian." He explains his theology and its roots as being an indigenous theology -- it is one that those who understand contemporary missions theory should understand.

They come to church to be prepared to transform the world the live in -- not to escape the world but to be encouraged as one lives in the world. Good stuff!

Then last night he addressed 10,000 people at the Detroit NAACP Dinner. According to the report in the Detroit paper, he was greeted with a standing ovation -- and "thundering applause." That response should serve as an important reminder that Jeremiah Wright is not a marginal figure, but very much in the center of the African American community. Attempts to marginalize him, essentially marginalize great numbers of African Americans in this country. He speaks for those who see themselves as voiceless. But as he makes clear in his speech to the NAACP, he's not running for political office. He simply is attempting to speak prophetically. And as Jesus pointed out, we have a tendency to reject the words of our prophets. From the report in the paper, he contrasted white and black marching bands -- as to their style -- and then pointed to the differences between black and white churches. He pointed out that they are simply different. One is not normal and the other abnormal. I think that is an important point to make. We have a tendency to use our own experience as the starting point to determine normalcy. What is different must then be abnormal. The truth is that there is more than one style of normal!

Another thing to point out -- Michigan's Democratic Governor, Jennifer Granholm also addressed the gathering. She didn't stay away because of his presence. I think that should say something!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kite Runner -- Movie Review

Kite Runner isn't a blockbuster action film -- though there is plenty of action in the movie -- but it's a movie worth seeing. I've not read the book, so I can't say how closely the movie adheres to the book, or whether in this case it matters. In any case, I was able to view it last evening on DVD.

Kite Runner is the story of two boys growing up in Afghanistan on the eve of the Soviet invasion. Amir is a Pashtun boy and son of a fairly well to do Afghan. His mother died in childhood, and he feels as if his father blames him for this. His best friend is the son of a servant -- Hassan. While Amir has a tendency to duck any conflict, Hassan is willing to step in and do anything for his friend. Their friendship comes to an end after they win a kite flying contest and Hassan is beaten and raped by a group of older boys -- because unlike them he's Hazara. Amir breaks off the relationship because of his shame and guilt at not stepping in and rescuing his friend.

In time Amir and his father flee to America, where they make a new life. Amir continues with his story writing, marries the daughter of a former Afghan general, and watches as his father dies. Having published a book of stories, Amir receives a call from a family friend, telling him he must come to Pakistan. There he discovers two things. First Hassan is his brother -- the son of his father and Hassan's mother. Hassan is now dead, executed by the Taliban, but Hassan leaves behind a son -- whom Amir must rescue from an orphanage, though in time he learns that Sohrab, his nephew, has been taken by the Taliban. As he tries to get the boy back, he discovers that the one who has taken custody of him and is now sexually abusing the boy is none other than the older boy who brutalized Hassan. They will escape -- as Sohrab rescues Amir -- the irony of the film -- and return to America.

The film ends with a kite flying scene.

That in essence is the film -- a look into the fragility of friendship, the brutality of a hierarchical world order, the brutality of religious extremism, and the impact of invasion and flight. We see the impact of betrayal and of prejudice (Amir's father-in-law looks down on Sohrab because of his tribal status -- even as did the boys who brutalized his father). We see an Afghanistan that in 1978 was in some aspects fairly modern and open. It was a place where young boys could enjoy a kite flying contest. There were of course, Mullah's preaching a strident Islamism, but there was freedom to chose one's path. At the same time, there was Communist activism, that would lead to the invasion. We see how difficult it can be to make a new life in a new country -- where a once prosperous community leader ends up working in a convenience store. later, we see a Kabul that is devastated and violent, without freedom of any kind. In his return there is sadness both at the loss of a home and a friendship.

The movie ends before 2000, so we don't move on into the present. It is a movie worth seeing, contemplating, and discussing. If you've seen the film or read the book, I'd be interested in your thoughts. If you've not seen it, I hope you'll do so (even if I've given away the plot).

Prognostications while following the money

I'm not given to predictions -- largely because I'm often wrong. I didn't think Hillary Clinton would run in the first place, and yet here she is, duking it out, hoping audaciously that somehow she's going to be the nominee, even though she's behind in delegates, votes, and money. But I think I can bet that the Super delegates won't overturn an Obama lead and give it to her. To do so would likely destroy the party. Indeed, if her plan is to so weaken Obama that he loses in November so she can run in 2012, she will also likely be mistaken.
Her message at this point seems to be -- I alone can get white working class voters (he's been taking in about 35-40%, so you can't say he's not winning over some or that he can't win over others), the reverse side of this message is being heard in the African American community -- we don't count. That message would be disastrous in the fall. So, I don't think the super delegates are going in that route.
The other key is money. Where is it going. We've heard about Obama's fundraising prowess -- heck I've even given some. What is interesting is that former Clinton donors -- the ones that give big amounts -- are starting to migrate to Obama. In fact, in March, the Washington Post reports, 73 former Clinton backers gave the maximum to Obama, while no Obama funders did the reverse. Add to that the report that one of Clinton's "Hill-Raisers" and a Clinton appointed ambassador, has switched sides:

Donors are not the only ones who have made the leap. Gabriel Guerra-Mondragón served as an ambassador to Chile during Bill Clinton's presidency, considered himself a close friend of Sen. Clinton, and became a "Hill-raiser" by bringing in about $500,000 for her presidential bid.

But he had a fitful few weeks as the battle between Clinton and Obama turned increasingly negative. Last week, he decided he had seen enough.

"We're just bleeding each other out," Guerra-Mondragón said when asked why he had decided to join Obama's finance committee. "Looking at it as coldly as I can, I just don't see how Senator Clinton can overcome Senator Obama with delegates and popular votes. I want this fight to be over -- the quicker, the better."

I don't know yet if Indiana and North Carolina will send a message. I hope they do, but we'll have to wait until May 6.

Friday, April 25, 2008

McCain's Bush Problem

Much has been made of John McCain's recent rise in the polls, even as many Democrats wring their hands about a wounded Barack Obama being unable to compete with McCain. I think the first thing to point out here is that the November election is a long way off. Hillary has made things difficult and the GOP hit squads will go after him -- even if John McCain asks them not to.

What John McCain has to worry about is the chain that binds him to the most unpopular President in recent memory. Bush's negatives are worse than Richard Nixon's just before he resigned -- that' s not good. Although McCain will castigate the Bush Administration from time to time (as he did in New Orleans the other day), he has embraced the Bush war plan and the Bush economic policies.

Ron Brownstein writes of McCain's dilemma -- one that I think will hurt him in the long run.

Despite Bush’s collapse, McCain has continued to run competitively in general election polls against both Obama and Clinton. Yet Bush’s epic descent leaves McCain juggling unpalatable options.

In this environment, embracing Bush—even as gingerly as McCain did in his first Bloomberg answer—is like hugging an anchor. “Anybody who could say that first statement, given the mood people are in now,” says Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux, “almost undermines his credibility in saying anything else about the economy.”

But rejecting Bush, as McCain did in his second Bloomberg response, is dangerous, too. That’s partly because it risks further depressing the Republican base. More fundamentally, because McCain, like Bush, has built his economic plan around big tax cuts, portraying Bush’s approach as a failure risks invalidating McCain’s own agenda.

McCain is trying to separate himself from Bush by promising less spending. But the larger message is convergence: McCain has pledged not only to extend the Bush tax cuts but to expand them with about $300 billion annually in further reductions, mostly for corporations. What’s the case for doubling down with more tax cuts if McCain concedes that the Bush strategy hasn’t benefited average families? That admission, as one senior GOP strategist says, “would seem to repudiate much of what you stand for, because you still don’t have a clear demarcation between McCain economics and Bush economics.”

The problem with McCain's message is its math. He's promising to resolve the current financial mess by extending the Bush tax cuts and then cutting taxes even further -- mostly by cutting corporate taxes. Then, to help keep the deficit from spiraling out of control, he talks of spending cuts. What can he cut -- yes there is plenty of excessive spending -- but what will get cut? Promises to cut spending aren't new -- Ronald Reagan talked about it, s did GW, but both spent much more than they took in. Ironically the person who cut spending the most was Bill Clinton. That was then, this is now.

The biggest challenge to McCain economics -- as it is for Bush's -- is the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither war is being financed by taxes. Instead, we're borrowing from future generations -- because this war of choice was designed not to cost current tax payers anything. Well, McCain plans on pursuing the Bush war effort indefinitely, and thus continue to drain the national coffers. Yes, McCain economics are pretty close to those of George Bush, and you know how well that's going.

Is that a plan that will sell in November? We'll see!

Huckabee and Torture -- A Question from Aaron Krager

I post regularly at another blog --- Faithfully Liberal. This blog was started by a couple of Chicago Theological Seminary students who have since graduated. Aaron Krager, one of those two students, asked me some time back to write for the blog, which I've been doing.
As a poltical activist and community organizer, Aaron has been asking difficult political questions, and has raised the issue of where Mike Huckabee's new Political Action Committee is going to move. Huckabee, who didn't win his party's nomination, has of late become a leading voice within the politcally conservative religous community -- one that is tied to the Republican Party. His voice is different, it seems from the more strident forms of yesterday, but where is he going? That is the question that Aaron has been asking. The issue that he'd like Huckabee to answer concerns torture. The current administration, though it often uses semantic dodges to stay clear of an endorsement of torture, has enaged in actions that look a lot like torture. So, Aaron asks the former governor -- where do you as a religiously guided politician stand on the issue?
With this in mind, Aaron asked two faith leaders to respond on this matter -- as to how Huckabee should proceed. Here is Aaron's article in full:


As you have undoubtedly noticed we have been putting pressure (here, here and here) on former Governor Mike Huckabee to come out strongly against torture with two simple questions for him. We still await an answer but I want to emphasis how important it is for Mr. Huckabee to publicly state his position on the moral/value issue.

I posed a quick question in that regard to a couple of different faith leaders and received two very well thought-out responses from Faith in Public Life Executive Director Jennifer Butler and from United Church of Christ President Rev. John Thomas.
Here’s the question that I posed to them:
As a faith leader yourself, and someone who has adamantly opposed torture, what do you believe former Governor Mike Huckabee’s role in condoning or opposing torture is in regards to his newfound leadership in the religious right?

And their responses:
Rev. Butler -

Governor Huckabee is a different type of conservative religious leader. He may be a bridge between the old guard and new guard. The old guard was led by Pat Robertson, James Dobson and Tony Perkins. The new guard is lead by Joel Hunter, David Gushee and Rick Warren. The emerging evangelical center, including this younger generation of evangelicals and those coming up behind them, opposes torture. They represent the future of American evangelicalism. Look for instance at this new organization, Evangelicals for Human Rights. In the coming year we will see evangelicals as well other people of faith holding Huckabee and the presidential candidates accountable on this issue—there can be no compromise. (See here for video of Dr. Gushee asking Obama about torture)

Rev. Thomas -

While Governor Huckabee represents a conservative point of view, often at odds with my own, he has demonstrated a refreshing commitment to engaging his Biblical faith with a broad array of issues, not limiting himself to a narrow “moral values” agenda. I have particularly appreciated his sensitivity to issues of poverty and the strong Biblical mandates to address poverty in our world. Although I don’t know his personal views on the current debates regarding torture, I would anticipate that he would approach this issue as he does others, namely, through his Biblical interpretive lens. In my mind, it would be hard to take the Bible seriously and find any justification for condoning torture. Were Governor Huckabee to articulate a strong Biblical case against torture, it would be enormously helpful as a means of gathering broad support from Christians across the theological and political spectrum for a ban on the use of torture.

It’s a simple concept – we should never torture and a strong coalition of faith leaders on both sides of the theological and political aisle can help end its practice.
But I would like to throw it out to you as well. Why is ending the use of torture or pressuring leaders on the issue important to you?

Young Voters and Faith Profession

There is a sea change taking place in America. It will take time for it to be felt, but young adults -- the "future" of the nation is looking in new directions. While the Gen-Xers which came of age during the Reagan era have tended in a more conservative direction, that is not true of the upcoming generation. Especially among young religious folk, there appears to be a broadening of the agenda. There is no one issue grabbing them. And issues like sexuality and race don't have the same cache with them. It's no wonder that Barack Obama is doing so well. Even though Hillary Clinton and John McCain have been able to gain a greater number of older voters -- and older folk do vote in greater numbers, they are not the future. A Generational shift is about to take place. If not in 2008, certainly by 2012 or 2016.
Social justice is again part of the religious conversation -- not just among mainline liberals, but also among evangelicals (think of Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Brian McLaren). An interesting look into this issue is a conversation Krista Tippett had with Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne. The latter is a young evangelical/emergent/new monastic movement leader and pastor. That conversation, which you can find here, is illuminating.
In my new pastorate -- the one I take up in July -- there is a group of young adults who are wrestling with justice and faith issues -- it's this group that really attracted me to the church. They may be small in number, but they are a sign of great hope.
Well, as I was perusing different news sources this morning, I happened upon this article in the Tulsa World. I went there looking for something else, but an article entitled "Some Young Religious Voters focus on Social Justice" caught my eye. One of the reasons it caught my eye is that it featured a young Disciples of Christ divinity student -- Beau Underwood. I've not met Beau, but I've been in contact with him. He's a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School and a leader among Disciples young adults -- and from what I can see on the vanguard of Disciple leadership in the coming years.
The article connects Underwood's statements with those of Jim Wallis.

Wallis, an evangelical Christian who also runs Sojourners, a social justice community, said these young adults "want their faith to make a difference. They're asking the question of vocation more than of career."This resonates with Underwood, who hopes to use his divinity school studies and political involvement as a vehicle for social change.

"The one thing that I do think that I'm called to do is to help bridge the gap between the moral voices coming from the church and the moral decisions being made by those running the government," Underwood said. "Faith can unite people across party lines."

That may help explain the strong following Sen. Barack Obama maintains with young faith-based voters of different denominations.

We live in a moment of transition -- from one generation to another. Baby Boomers, a generation of which I am a member, have been at the helm the past 15 years. A McCain victory would be step back from Baby Boomer leadership, a Clinton one would continue it, but an Obama victory points us in a new direction. He may have been born at the tail end of the Boomer generation, but like many late Boomers (including myself) we are bridges to a younger community.
So, what does the future hold? Young leaders like Disciple divinity student Beau Underwood may provide us with important insight into that question. What Underwood and others seem to be telling us is that when faith influences politics, it won't be a narrow focus on one or two issues. It will be more holistic and less likely to be manipulated by one party or another.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Flag Pins and Patriotism

I’ve been meaning to speak to this much ballyhooed issue of wearing flag lapel pins. Apparently this accessory to one’s clothing is a sign of one’s patriotism. If you choose not to wear one, well there most be wrong with you.

That judgment has been made by many upon Barack Obama. Obama generally doesn’t wear one – though when present one by a Gulf War Vet he gladly received it and put it on his jacket. He didn’t turn it down, didn’t put it in his pocket, he gladly accepted it as a gift from one who had served his nation.

But his general practice is not to wear one – in part apparently because he saw so many wearing flags and yet acting inappropriately – it’s kind of why I don’t put Jesus stickers on my car. But for some reason this decision is deemed unpatriotic and un-American. But if he’s unpatriotic, I guess the same is true for me as well – I’ve never worn a flag pin (if I were to wear a lapel pin I expect it would be a denominational symbol).

The question of flag pins came up in last week’s despicable ABC debate. The moderators, neither of whom was wearing a flag pin, addressed the question to Obama. Interestingly enough, Hillary wasn’t wearing one either. In fact, I’ve not seen a picture of her with one on her lapel. That maybe due to the fact that it would clash with that yellow suit she so often wears. But knowing that this won’t go away, I thought I’d find out if John McCain wears one – and apparently he doesn’t generally wear one either. So, really the only person for whom this is an issue is Barack Obama. Everyone else is a patriot, but for some reason he’s not.

And why is this an issue? Well, it has to do with an extended attempt to belittle his patriotism. It is part and parcel with the attempts to smear him as a covert Muslim extremist, a racist Black separatist, and friends with 1960s terrorists. Now, I don’t question the patriotism of either Hillary or John – both have served their country (McCain sacrificing several years of his life to imprisonment in Vietnam). So, let’s let Barack Obama’s words of allegiance and appreciation for his country stand on their own. He has made it very clear that he loves this country and that it’s that love of country (and a desire to make it better) that compels him to run for the nation’s highest office.

Flying flags on your car, wearing a flag bikini, or wearing a flag pin is not the symbol of one’s love of the country. Rather it’s the willingness to work to make this country a better place, one that is more democratic, more egalitarian, and more respectful. That is Obama’s cause.

Monkey Girl -- Review

With the recent release of Ben Stein's Expelled -- and seeing that James McGrath has reposted his own review of Monkey Girl -- here is a reposting of my review from last year of Edward Humes' Monkey Girl. The book has now been released in a paperback edition (you can buy it here by clicking on the link!). This is a helpful look at the Dover, PA case that revealed to America some of the shenanigans that lay behind the attempts by Fundamentalists to slip creationism into the schools under the banner of Intelligent Design.


Edward Humes. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle forAmerica’s Soul. New York: Ecco, 2007. xix + 380. $25.95.

In 1925 America was caught up in the frenzy that was the famed “Scope’s Monkey Trial.” In 2005 “Scopes Monkey Trial II” broke out in Dover, PA. In both cases the ACLU was involved, but the outcome was different. In 1925 Evolution lost in the courts, in 2005 it received its reprieve. The first trial marked the apex of the long fought Modernist-Fundamentalist battle, while the second trial marked one more battle in the ongoing Culture Wars.

In Monkey Girl Pulitzer-winning author Edward Humes explores the Dover, PA trial in its Culture Wars context. Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, James Kennedy, Dr. Dino (Kent Hovind) all appear, along with the major figures in the Intelligent Design movement – Philip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, Michael Behe, and William Dembski. Although Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District is the centerpiece of this story, and its story is told in great detail, what sets this book out as special is the way Humes weaves the trial into the broader debate about religion and science.

In the course of the book we visit Dr. Dino’s seminars, the Institute of Creation Research in San Diego, and Kansas, where a state school board sought to introduce an Intelligent Design related curriculum (“critical analysis”). We learn about how Intelligent Design evolved from its creationism base – beginning with straight Genesis style creationism to scientific creationism and then on to Intelligent Design. What marks ID from its predecessors is its supposed non-religious identity. While the proponents of ID are almost to a person Christian (conservative evangelical at that), the argument put forward by Behe, Dembski, Johnson, and the rest, is that the nature of the designer (not creator) is undetermined. But through strategies such as “teach the controversy” – though mainstream science is wondering where the controversy lies – and a principle of “irreducible complexity” we are left with supposed gaps that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is unable to resolve.

What we learn in this story is that there is a reason why so many Americans do not believe in evolution. Most of us have never even studied it in any depth. Conventional wisdom suggests that evolution won the day in 1925, but the truth is that across the nation anti-evolution laws remained on the books for decades afterward, especially in the South. Additionally, school boards not wanting to court controversy and text book companies wanting to sell the most books possible essentially conspired to eliminate evolution from science classes for the next half century. Evolution did not become an issue until the late 1950s, when America fearing that it would be left behind by the Soviets put science on the front burner and new science standards were developed that put evolution back into the national conversation. Thus, a new generation of activists was born who were left to believe that Darwin’s theories conspired to undermine America’s religious identity. And once again evolution went underground.

In Monkey Girl we go behind the scenes in Dover to see how all of this works. We see how a conservative Christian led school board seeking to bring creationist ideas into the schools confronted a science faculty insistent on teaching evolution as state standards dictated. It was in this context that the Thomas More Center, a conservative Catholic legal group entered the conversation. They convinced the board to adopt Intelligent Design and offered to support them should they get sued – which as they hoped, happened. This was going to be the test case that would hopefully go to the Supreme Court. That hope, however, was undone by the shenanigans of the board members who had made too many creationist statements, so much so that Intelligent Design’s leading proponents – the Discover Institute – essentially stepped away leaving the District without it’s supposed experts.

The plaintiffs on the other hand not only gained the support of the ACLU, but one of the region’s top legal firms, plus the support of some of the leading scientists in the country, including Kenneth Miller of Brown University. In the end the powerful testimony of the scientists, legal minds, philosophers of science overwhelmed the defense’s team. Michael Behe and other ID proponents withered under the critique, and the judge was left to decide that the science behind ID was sorely lacking. This debacle was compounded by a school board that essentially lied its way through the trial. The judge, a good Republican and George W. Bush appointee was left to decide without question for the plaintiffs. Once again the crossing of the religion-state divide was thwarted.

Although Humes tries to humanize the opposition to evolution and treat them fairly, there is no doubt where his sympathies lie. This isn’t a dispassionate journalistic treatment; this is rightfully a treatise on the dangers to America’s intellectual and cultural life presented by Intelligent Design and its related entities. It is not, however, an anti- religious treatise. Humes recognizes that there are many who seek to bring both evolution and religion together, noting in several places that the biggest enemy of ID is not secularist materialism, but theistic evolution, with Kenneth Miller a star example. What we discover is that Intelligent Design is more religion than science and that even if it is science it is a science that leads to a dead end. For if the gaps are filled with a designer, whey pursue natural explanations – which is what science is, natural explanations for natural phenomenon.

The book is extremely readable, at times reading almost like a novel. We are drawn into the human stories on both sides. We discover what is at stake at the personal level for people of science and people of faith. Overall it is fair in its approach and worthy of a close read.

This is not to say that there are no problems with the book. Indeed, the most glaring error here is the linkage of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly to CNN, not once but twice. Such a glaring mistake stands out because you would think that someone would have caught it. There are of course other grammatical issues that at times confuse the conversation, but they are minor. As a person of faith (a theistic evolutionist) I never found my faith under attack. That was true until the end of the book, when in an epilogue he addresses the odd and error filled attacks made after the trial on Judge John Jones’ decision, the most blatant being that of Ann Coulter, he makes what this reviewer considers an unnecessary and I think ill-informed set of judgments on the bible and the historical statements about Jesus (at least there is a controversy here, unlike in the scientific community).

That being said, they are really incidental and not inherent to the argument. Thus, this is a book of great importance to the debate over the relationship of science and religion.

Reviewed by:

Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall

Ponderings on a Faith

JourneyApril 17, 2007

Jeremiah Wright Speaks

Much has been made of Jeremiah Wright's statements, most of which are taken out of context, and which show little understanding of either the Black Church or Black Theology. For the most part, Wright has stayed out of the limelight since the controversy broke, one that has seemingly tarred Barack Obama and has brought into the open the racial divide in this country. That a significant number of White Democrats seem unable to pull the lever for a Black candidate is problematic. I know that this is being exploited and will be exploited, and if Jeremiah Wright can be demonized (as is happening) this helps that cause. It also sets back the advances in this country in this regard.

It will be interesting to see how this plays as Jeremiah Wright speaks to the National Press Club next Monday. Here is part of the announcement.

The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., senior pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, will discuss the role of faith in the public square in a presentation entitled, The African American Religious Experience; Theology & Practice, at a National Press Club breakfast on April

Dr. Wright will also talk about his pastorate, his development as a theologian and teacher, and the how the issues of social justice and global inequities have shaped his faith and his fight for those who are most marginalized in society. He will address the legacy and tradition of education in his family. And Dr. Wright will put into perspective theologically, historically and politically, his ministry and public service that has been so widely discussed in the media.

Dr. Wright will retire from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in June, where he served the 8,000-member congregation for 36 years. While at Trinity he developed nearly 100 active ministries/outreach programs and seven separate corporations that continue to serve the greater Chicago community. He is a sought after lecturer and teacher and speaks at some of the nation's most prestigious universities and seminaries.

Wright will also appear on Bill Moyers Journal. Moyers should do a good job with this as he understands better than most what is happening in America's churches.
Kudos to Melissa Rogers for the heads up.

The Case of the Missing Matzo -- Sightings

Being that we are in the midst of Passover, that preeminent Jewish celebration that forms the basis of the Christian celebration of the Lord's Supper/Eucharist, it is appropriate that we have an essay on this subject from Sightings. Reflecting on a lack of Tam Tam's, a mini-matzo cracker, Nora Rubel speaks to the importance of Passover in contemporary Judaism. And to my Jewish friends -- Have a Blessed Passover.


Sightings 4/24/08

The Case of the Missing Matzo
-- Nora Rubel

"Are you ready for Christmas?" This seasonal query used to be one of my mother's pet peeves. The idea that from the day after Thanksgiving—and sometimes as early as the day after Halloween—shops would be stocked with yuletide treasures. How long does it take these gentiles to get ready for a holiday, we mused. But really, anyone who frequents a supermarket in a town with any notable Jewish population is bound to notice a certain amount of re-shelving in mid-March, and I'm not talking about chocolate Easter Bunnies and candy eggs. Kosher-for-Passover matzos replace regular matzos, and a whole array of other Kosher-for-Passover goods appear. In fact, no other holiday in the Jewish liturgical calendar takes so much forethought and preparation as Passover. Much of this anticipation is due to the time-consuming practice of clearing one's house of chametz, leavened products such as bread or pasta, as well as leavening agents, like yeast and baking soda. Additionally, observant Jews will replace their everyday dishes, flatware, and pots with those used exclusively for Passover.

Not being the most stringent observer of Passover customs, my "getting ready for Passover" usually involves last minute shopping—picking up groceries for the seder meal, enough boxes of matzo to get my family through the week, a lot of wine, and a box or two of Tam Tams—small matzo crackers. Because this shopping is last minute, I would probably be disappointed but not surprised to go the well-stocked shelves at Wegmans and find these ubiquitous crackers missing. But this year, even those who shop well in advance may miss out on these mini matzos; Tam Tams, in existence since 1940, have become a rare commodity.
Due to production delays at Manischewitz's Newark plant, Tam Tams will not be available until after Passover this year. The response? Imagine if Cadbury announced that they had no crème eggs for Easter this year and you may get a sense. A March 27 New York Times article about the mishap led to a mile-long list of responses ranging from readers concerned about the catastrophic consequences of a Tam Tam-less Passover to those who wondered what the big deal was about. Couldn't you just break up regularly sized matzos? One respondent even suggested just eating the box, "it tastes the same." Mainly, however, the reactions suggested deep disappointment. "I am bereft," one despondent blogger wrote.
Why this intense dismay over a basically tasteless cracker? Perhaps because as far as American Jewish ritual goes in America, Passover is the big one. Almost 70 percent of American Jews attend or hold Passover seders, a number that overwhelmingly exceeds those who keep kosher, light Shabbat candles, or even who belong to synagogues. Why Passover? For starters, it's a domestic practice and therefore requires no formal affiliation. It is also a holiday that holds universal themes of liberation and therefore is relevant to most, regardless of level of religious observance. In recent decades, the Passover haggadah has led to intense flexibility and creativity on the part of seder participants, many of whom expand on the original Exodus theme in order to address a contemporary concern or injustice. Some topics that have made it into printed Passover discourse include the Soviet Jewry movement, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, feminism, and even vegetarianism (as seen in the 1988 Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb). And it's not just the written words that have changed. The new practice of placing an orange on the seder plate in order to symbolize opposition to sexism and homophobia has quickly caught on in many progressive Jewish households. But mainly, according to Steven Cohen and Arnold Eisen's 2000 The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America, "Jewish memories seem to revolve around Passover more than any other single Jewish observance." And frequently, memories tend to be linked to the nexus of family and food. The presence of the Tam Tams in Passover kitchens for generations, as a medium for cheese, hummus, or what-have-you, may be as socially symbolic a food for some as that roasted shank bone on the seder plate, which symbolizes the ancient Temple sacrifices, or that newly placed orange that stands for gender equity.
So, how desperate is this situation? Apparently, it's relatively regional. I stopped by my local kosher butcher shop yesterday, and I couldn't believe my eyes. A whole shelf stocked with the missing Tam Tams! It seems they got lucky and scored four cases of the beloved crackers. The butcher said that people have been coming in to his shop just for the Tam Tams. "People are going crazy in New Jersey," he said. "I think we should list these on Ebay."

Nora Rubel is Assistant Professor of Religion and Classics at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.


This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by William Schweiker of the University of Chicago: "What Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem: Location and the Origin of Ethics." Commentary from Douglas Anderson (Loyola University), William Burrows (Orbis Books), Terry Clark (University of Chicago), Arthur E. Farnsley II (IUPUI), and Rev. Laura Sumner Truax (LaSalle Street Church, Chicago) will be posted on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also leave responses.

Access this month's forum at:

Access the discussion board at:


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

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On to the Next Test

Am I disappointed about yesterday's primary results? Of course. I had hoped that the margin would be closer to six points. Ten points gave Hillary just enough room to crow and plot her next move. Will she ultimately prevail? Likely that will only happen should the Super Delegates decide to give her the nod. She made up some ground last night in delegates and votes, but at the end of the day Obama still leads in both categories by a sizable enough margin that Hillary will have to win out by significant margins. 55-45 isn't going to do it. Her only hope is that Obama implodes, and as nasty as the campaign has been he's not done that. He's had to use his financial resources to overcome her attacks and her built in advantages -- like the Pennsylvania political machine run by Governor Ed Rendell. Don't think that his efforts didn't match Obama's money -- it did and more.
In two weeks -- an electoral eternity -- we will watch as Indiana and North Carolina have their say. North Carolina seems to be fertile ground for an Obama win, and he has a significant lead there. The real "battleground" will be Indiana. Indiana is very similar to Pennsylvania and Ohio, and yet there are other factors at play. Although Evan Baye is backing Hillary, he's not Ed Rendell. In addition, Northwest Indiana is near Illinois, and that should be of help.
So, onward and upward!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I've Been Tagged

On this very tense day, as I await the Pennsylvania Returns, Haitian Ministries has tagged me and invited me to play a little game. So, here goes:

The rules are:
1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1. Ten years ago I was doing . . .

I was living in Manhattan, KS, having been dismissed from my position as theology prof at Manhattan Christian College, in the process of securing a new position -- which would be the pastorate of FCC, Santa Barbara.

2. 5 Things on Today's To Do List

1. Learn a new hymn for Sunday
2. Prepare Bible Study on James
3. Lead Bible study on James
4. Go through books and files in the office in preparation for move
5. Defend Barack Obama's honor on my blog.

3. Things I'd do if I were a billionare

I'd like to say I'd become a philantripist and help the poor of the world. I think I'd do that, but first I'd relax a bit, then I'd go to England to visit, before finishing my book on Spiritual gifts.

4. 3 Bad Habits

1. Keep a messy desk at home and at work
2. Procrastinate
3. Eat too much at the pizza buffet
5. Five Places I've lived

1. Santa Barbara, CA
2. Manhattan, Kansas,
3. Rancho Cucamonga, CA,
4. Klamath Falls, Oregon,
5. Mount Shasta, CA

6. Five Jobs I've had in life:

1. Pastor

2. Professor

3. Library Director

4. Ditch Rider,

5. Custodian

7. Tagged Ones

Mike Leaptrott

Rustin Smith

Michael Westmoreland-White

Danny Bradfield

Roy Donkin

The Whispers Continue

Hillary asks why Barack Obama can't close the deal and run her off into the sunset. One of the reasons has to do with race -- she has been able to play up her ethnicity and play on racist fears, which unfortunately are still with us. She doesn't have to try very hard at this. She doesn't have to be overtly racist. She just has to portray herself as the champion of white working folks.

But even more troublesome is the continued attempts to portray Obama as a Muslim. Here it's less a direct campaign tactic, though her surrogates have sowed seeds here and there. The Obama's a Muslim is similar to that long running Procter and Gamble story -- that the head of P&G went on the Donahue show and declared his allegiance to Satan. It's a story that's been passed on very years.

What is interesting is that this new "whisper campaign" benefits from the viral nature of emails. Just got one today. Maybe you've seen it, it's the one that suggests that Obama might be the anti-Christ -- as prophesied in the Bible. And of course, he's supposedly a Muslim, and here's the kicker -- if you don't believe me, proves it. The truth is otherwise, but how many people check out snopes. All you have to do is put that in and people assume it's true. These emails just keep getting passed on without much thought -- often by good Christians who would be horrified to learn that they're engaging not only in gossip but slander.

On the Obama as anti-Christ -- see here.

Let us deal with facts not fables, shall we not?

It's Silly Time

Back on the night I graduated from High School, we stayed up all night. Now, we were the good Christian kids, so we didn't do anything illegal. But we did stay up all night, and at about 3 or 4 in the morning, watching TV (this was back before there was 24 hour cable channels) the programming was not top notch, but we sat there laughing at what we were watching. We were laughing because we were too tired to have a clue about what was going on.
Well, this Democratic campaign has gone on so long that we are definitely in silly time. Especially due to the bizarre decision to front load the primary season we've had this six week lull. And so the media, with nothing else to do, has managed to dissect everything said and done and given candidates plenty of room to "respond."
So, Barack Obama is being criticized for saying John McCain would be an improvement on George Bush -- what's the big deal. I'm not a McCain supporter, and he has significant liabilities, but he'd be an improvement. Just about anyone besides Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld would be an improvement. That doesn't mean Obama was endorsing him or even undercutting the contention that a McCain administration would continue Bush policies -- because he would. Of course, that Hillary would use this against Barack is odd, considering that she and Bill have made it clear that Hillary and McCain would be friendly rivals and that McCain is better equipped to be President that Barack.
The realities are clear. If Barack wins tonight -- which would be a significant upset considering that Hillary has had the backing of the Pennsylvania establishment (something that outweighs the money Obama has had to spend on advertising) -- it is likely that the Superdelegates will begin to migrate to him. If she wins by a small margin, which seem more likely, some will watch exit polls to see who voted for him and for her, but it she won't make much of a dent in his delegate lead nor really in terms of popular vote. But that being said, she likely will continue the fight for at least a couple more primaries. Her real hope to upend him is to win really big -- and by big I'd say take well more than 60%. A win is not a win here. She won Texas, but not by much and he ended up with more delegates.
Her strategy seems to be -- push this as long as possible, throw as much at him as possible, and hope that he makes a big blunder. He's made a few mistakes, but nothing earth shattering. But, there's that "audacity of hope" thing -- she really believes that if she has enough hope it'll happen. But, we'll see.
So, soon, hopefully, silly time will be over and we can begin planning for November!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Time to Vote

It's been a long time . . .. Since anyone voted in this very long nominating process. Six weeks of non-stop campaigning, and its not been pretty. Now, we're on the eve of the Pennsylvania Primary. Hillary Clinton has a narrow lead in a state that she once had a commanding lead. As with Ohio, where she tossed in that 3 AM ad, now at the last minute she throws in one that raises the specter of Osama Bin Laden. It is a classic ploy in a politics of fear. It is a ploy the Republicans used in 2004 to great effect, and Hillary, having learned the wrong lessons is invoking it.

And of course, by raising the name of Osama Bin Laden, she gets to feed those rampant rumors that Barack Obama is really a covert Muslim -- Osama Obama, as Rush and friends like to call him.

I hope the people of Pennsylvania will say no to this obviously desperate ploy. I can't vote tomorrow, but I encourage all Pennsylvania Democrats to say yes to Barack!

America, Race, and the Church

Julie Clawson has written a nice, tightly argued, piece for the e-letter Next Wave, in response to the ongoing controversy over Jeremiah Wright's comments. She helpfully picks up on the criticism of Barack Obama that he didn't leave the church. Julie suggests that its this attitude that's at the core of the problems with the church. If you don't agree with something, you either get a coup together to throw out the preacher, or you decide to leave. She asks the important question here about the nature of community, which in this case doesn't seem to matter. It would have been better -- Hillary says, among others -- if he'd raised a stink and stomped out.

But it’s the church issue that really got to me. Two thoughts kept surfacing in the things I read – the first being that Obama should have caused dissension and left his church community years ago. This assumption reveals the opinion of many Americans that this is how church should operate. If you don’t like something at church, you need to initiate a coup and/or leave the church for a better option. Community doesn’t matter as much as getting what you want from church. Apparently challenging words and honesty about issues in America are cause enough to destroy or abandon community. Church splits, gossip, backstabbing, and church-hopping are all apparently what America expects and wants from church. I know this is a complicated issue for many churches, but why has the first priority become leaving or kicking people out instead of building community and engaging in dialogue?

That he stayed suggests that Barack Obama found in that community of believers a source of spiritual strength and hope. It nourished his faith and undergirded his commitments to the poor and marginalized. Julie writes that while she might not agree with all that he has said, she does find him to be a prophetic preacher. I would agree! Thanks, for your reflections.

An Atheist with whom We Might Talk

Last week I posted the following at Faithfully Liberal. It's a discussion of an interesting conversation heard on Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith. A respondent to my post as originally p0sted raised an issue with my use of the word militant to describe the "New Atheist" movement. That word could be a bit too strong, but considering that George Marsden has described Protestant Fundamentalism as a militant version of evangelicalism, I think the word might be apt. I'm not suggesting here that Richard Dawkins is taking up arms against religion, but he seems to see himself in the midst of a war against the forces of religion, and at times the rhetoric is a kind of "take no prisoners" view.


We are very aware of the hard line, even militant atheist rants by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and others. They have made conversation between religious and nonreligious extremely difficult, because they won’t extend to the religious, especially those of us who are moderate to liberal any sense of respect. As Richard Dawkins is fond of saying that he needn’t extend any more respect to the academic study of theology than that of leprechauns. We who are religious find this not only disrespectful but an end to any fruitful conversation.
We religious have contributed to this problem, of course, for we have treated the atheist with the same sort of disrespect now being extended to us. The fact that the majority of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for an atheist, or that say that to be an atheist precludes one from having any moral bearing, are good examples of this attitude. That being said, it is also important to note that the ranks of the unbeliever and the unaffiliated are the fasted growing categories among America’s religious community (in this I extend the label to include the nonreligious). About 16% of Americans are unaffiliated/agnostic/atheist.
It was, therefore, refreshing to listen as Krista Tippett interviewed Harvard’s Humanist chaplain. Yes, Harvard has a Humanist chaplain. If this comes as news to you, it certainly did for me as well. Harvard’s chaplain is Greg Epstein, an atheist, a Humanist, and by ethnicity and tradition, Jewish. As Krista interviewed him, I heard a very different voice from that of Harris, et. al. He seeks conversation with the religious; indeed he has been a regular participant in interfaith conversations.
Epstein laments that some of the new atheists treat religious people in much the same way they have been treated, which is too bad. He, on the other hand seeks to model a different way of being Humanist. He’s an atheist, but chooses to see himself as a Humanist. He shares with Krista:

Mr. Epstein: Well, Godless communism was a canard that was exploited, I mean, to divide Americans and it’s carried over again, because one of the things that I’ve seen is that with this sort of resurgence of popular expressions of atheism, there’s this conflict that has been stirred up between let’s say progressive humanists and atheists and progressive people of other faiths,
Christianity, Judaism, et cetera. Right, so that some atheist authors have done a lot to sort of say, you know, ‘If you are a progressive believer in God —’

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Epstein: ‘— you’re the enemy.’ But most nonreligious people are not anti-religious and this is a key. Most nonreligious people are not anti-religious. All we ask is that we be treated just like anyone else and that our views be taken just as seriously in society and in culture as anyone else
and in politics as well in that it’s when we feel that this is not the case, that we’re still living, in terms of the treatment of atheists in this country, the way that we were living back in the times of McCarthyism and, you know, McCarthy parading around and insulting Godless communists as a way of sort of rallying support to his cause. It’s that point at which we say, you know, many
of us are angry.

However, I want to keep the focus, though, on the positive fact that there are most likely around a billion nonreligious people in the world, depending on how you count, between 30 and 40 or 50 million nonreligious people in this country. And the statistic is probably one in five young people in America, 18- to 25-year-olds, one in five of them in America is nonreligious. And what we’re saying is that we want to build the best possible world for all human beings and that the only thing that can make this world a better place is human effort, human caring, compassion, creativity, and human reason.

People don’t realize that there’s an organization like the Secular Student Alliance, which puts together groups of humanist and secular and atheist and agnostic students around the country and sponsors and supports them in doing community service, you know, in doing all kinds of wonderful activities. And so

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Mr. Epstein: — these are some of the voices that I think we need to hear from now. You know, religion doesn’t poison everything, and not everyone who believes in God is some kind of deluded fool.

The spirit that Epstein has (if I might say that) is one that allows for real conversation. It is a conversation that we must be willing to share in – if we’re to speak with a growing number of young Americans.

Although this is just a snippet of the conversation, it is one to which it is worth attending.