Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leaving Church

On a day when the DNC rules committee met to come up with a solomonic solution to the Michigan/Florida debacle, word came out that Barack and Michelle Obama had decided to leave Trinity UCC, the church they had been members of for some 16 years, a church in which they had been married and their children baptized. I'm sure this is an agonizing decision, but sometimes a relationship becomes untenable.
In many ways the Obama's membership not only hurt him, but hurt the church. They're own ministry was limited by the constant scrutiny. The recent unfortunate remarks mocking Hillary Clinton by Fr. Michael Pfleger didn't help. Pfleger has been essentially silenced by his bishop -- told to stay out of politics, and Obama was once again forced to dissacociate himself from the comments of a controversial pastor.
The decision, coming as it does now, may calm the waters some, but probably not completely. It will be interesting to see where they land church wise. Perhaps over among the Disciples!
All of this reminds us that faith and politics can be strange bedfellows. Faith can be an important factor in forming a person's political views, but they often mix as well as water and oil. I know that my own political statements on this blog at times push the line -- but I try to be careful about not crossing it. I want my own work of ministry to stand clear of partisanly political entanglements. Difficult that maybe, but something we must work on.
So, tonight I offer my prayers for the Obamas as they continue their spiritual journey and find a new home. I pray as well for Trinity UCC, which has been wracked by all kinds of unexpected attention.

Friday, May 30, 2008

More on Lost and Jeremy Bentham

The character Jeremy Bentham, whose identity was revealed last night as another name for John Locke, lies in a coffin at the end of the show -- see my earlier posting. The question that has been puzzling me is what to make of this revelation. Since John Locke's name sake is a late 17th century/early 18th century Moral Philosopher and Jeremy Bentham was a Moral Philosopher of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, this must not be coincidental. I don't think this is simply a made up name with no meaning.

Bentham, like Locke, put a great premium on reason, but as a moral philosopher he was much more radical than Locke. So what should we make of it.

In looking at the various dimensions of Bentham's possible relationship to the Island on Lost, the possibility was that it is a Panopticon, a sort of prison where the denizens are observed, but cannot tell that they're being observed. They may know and understand that they're being observed, they just don't know when and how. We saw this in force last season when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were imprisoned -- and observed. But is the island itself an panopticon, a prison of sorts, in which the keepers observe the denizens doing what Ben Linus calls last night silly experiments?

For the Panopticon and Bentham's part in developing such a prison check this out from Wikipedia.

The Politics of the GI Bill

Patriotic Americans are, we are told, to support the troops. By many accounts, to support the troops means supporting George Bush's view of the Iraq War. To disagree with either the handling of the war, or the war in general, is seen as being unsupportive. I disagree, of course. There is a difference between those who are members of the military, and as such, have chosen to serve the country, and the policies set by the civilians who set the agenda/mission.
When it comes to supporting the troops, the Iraq War has uncovered the dark side of American policy regarding both its troops and its veterans. Just mention Walter Reed Hospital, and images of malpractice and mistreatment of veterans should circle about in your minds.
So, here we have a new controversy. James Webb and Chuck Hagel, both Vietnam vets and anti-war Senators, have put together a new GI Bill that would provide financial support for college tuition to those who serve in the military for 3 years. GW and John McCain both have denounced the bill -- because they say it would hurt retention by offering overly generous benefits. Barack Obama (and Hillary Clinton) supports the bill (all told 75 senators from both parties supported this measure, but John McCain is adamant in his opposition and will brook no criticism on the part of Obama, whom he derisively notes never served in the military. McCain is an acknowledged war hero, but one need not serve in the military to know how to treat veterans.
Anyway, Ed Humes has offered up a most intriguing op-ed piece today in the LA Times. He suggests that McCain's opposition to this bill shouldn't come as a surprise, as McCain has a history of voting against bills that would aid Vets. In fact, Veteran's groups give him a 50% rating, while Obama has an 86% rating regarding veterans issues. So the question is, who is the real supporter of Veterans affairs. Humes points out several examples of McCain voting against bills that would support vets:

So let's take McCain up on his invitation. Here is how he has stood on recent legislation regarding vets and soldiers -- many of them supported by major veterans organizations:

* On Webb's GI Bill, he expressed opposition, and he was AWOL when it was time to vote on May 22.

* Last September, he voted against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments.

* On a badly needed $1.5-billion increase for veterans medical services for fiscal year 2007 -- to be funded through closing corporate tax loopholes -- he voted no. He also voted against establishing a trust fund to bolster under-budgeted veterans hospitals.

* In May 2006, he voted against a $20-billion allotment for expanding swamped veterans medical facilities.

* In April 2006, he was one of 13 Senate Republicans who voted against an amendment to provide $430 million for veterans outpatient care.

* In March 2004, he voted against and helped defeat on a party-line vote a $1.8-billion reserve for veterans medical care, also funded by closing tax loopholes.

I'll leave it to you to decide what to make of this!

LOST -- the Rise and Fall of Jeremy Bentham

Yes, I'm a big LOST fan! I've followed its twists and turns, wondering where it will all lead. This past year has been fascinating for clearing up some of the confusion of past years. We have learned more about the island and its purpose. In the past we were treated to flashbacks, but this year the writers introduced flash forwards -- and in doing so, we have learned that the founders of the island have learned to control the space/time continuum. Ah, yes, we learned much about this in Star Trek -- and I'm a big Trek fan as well.
Last night's 2 hour conclusion was brilliant, both for drawing to a close a significant part of the story and setting us on course for the final 2 years. In the end two things have been revealed. Six members of the Oceanic flight make it off the island -- Jack, Kate, Sun, Hugo, Said, and Aaron. Desmond and Frank also make it off, but they weren't on the flight, so their story goes in a different direction. We learn why Sawyer doesn't make it -- he has to jump out of the chopper and swim back to the island so Kate can get off (there's a fuel leak).
The freighter blows up and Jin and Michael both die as a result -- to Sun's horror. The chopper goes down after running out of gas after taking off from the freighter just before it blows. Unfortunately they can't return to the island because it disappears (more about that in a minute). They go down and are rescued by Penny -- and the story is concocted.
The island disappears after Ben moves it -- interesting to see that!
The island may have moved -- and I expect we'll see where it reappears next time.
Now, for Jeremy Bentham. As the final episode wound its way through all of the story lines, pulling close some and opening up others, the name Jeremy Bentham kept cropping up. We kept hearing that Jeremy Bentham had visited different members of the Oceanic 6. Finally we learn that Bentham has killed himself -- but why and who is this person?
The identity of that person is revealed at the very end -- but first some back ground.
One of the key characters in the show is John Locke. Locke's namesake is, of course the 17th century English philosopher who is perhaps best known for his theory of human identity -- tabula rasa or blank slate. That is, when we are born our lives are not predetermined by our ancestry in other words, no original sin. We are a blank slate upon which experience will write itself. Locke is also known for his defense of religious toleration (within certain limits) and social contract theory. Locke was one of the key figures in the early English Enlightenment, whose theories contributed greatly to the formation of the United States as well as my own denomination.
Jeremy Bentham was another English political philosopher, but he dates to the end of the 18th century, running into the early 19th century. He was a founder of the philosophical school of Utilitarianism, a perspective that was refined by John Stuart Mill. Bentham was a radical social reformer who rejected the principle of natural rights, urging a more assertive defense of the general welfare of humanity. Although not published until the 20th century he wrote an essay calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and supported equal rights for women. He also advanced the rights of animals. The principle of utilitarianism, as Bentham laid it out, suggests that the happiness of the greatest number of persons is the foundation of morality and social policy. To give you a sense of where his ideas were going, among the followers of Bentham was Robert Owen, the founder of modern socialism.
So, the question now is two fold -- who is Jeremy Bentham on Lost and what does this mean?
The first question is answered last night. In the last moments of the show, Jack breaks into a morgue. He opens a casket, but as he does Ben appears. They converse about Bentham and the need for Jack and the other 5 to return to the island, for Bentham had told them that things had gone horribly wrong after they left and that the only way to restore things is for them to return. Prior to this Claire appears to Kate and tells her not to return, and Sun goes to Charles Widmore and seeks an alliance -- she is angry at Jin's fate. So, getting all six to the island will be difficult. So, who is Bentham? As the show closes, Jack opens the lid, looks in and to our surprise there lies John Locke. Now, how does John Locke become Jeremy Bentham, and what does this mean? That, it would seem, is the question that future seasons will answer!
Now, I expect that James McGrath will explore all of this in greater depth, but this is my summation and my ponderings about future revelations!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Contrasting Campaigns re. the DNC

On Saturday the DNC rules committee will gather to determine the fate of the delegates from Michigan and Florida. Back before Super Tuesday, Hillary Clinton reiterated her position that the votes in Michigan and Florida would not be counted and the fact that her name being on the Michigan ballot was meaningless. But, once it became clear that she couldn't win or even come close, without those states being used in a way that would favor her in a way that would completely undermine the rules, she changed her tune.
When the committee gathers on Saturday, the Clinton backers will be gathering both inside and outside hoping to influence the decision. Clinton has encouraged her supporters to lobby the members, and have done so often in unsavory ways. The Obama campaign, which has always said it would abide by the decisions of the DNC, but has been painted by Clinton and her supporters as being undemocratic and obstructionist and even anti-women, is encouraging his supporters to not stage a counter demonstration.
Now, as to the issue dividing the candidates, I beg to differ with the assessment that Obama is the problem. All he asks is that he be treated fairly, because he unlike Hillary followed the rules. The problem is more acute in Michigan where his name wasn't on the ballot, and Clinton backers would like to snag not only the delegates "earned" by her 54% showing, but also a share of the uncommitted as well. She also wants to get credit for the Clinton votes in Michigan but not give Obama any votes. With this math somehow she thinks she can claim a popular vote majority.
I'm sorry, but all of this smacks of bad sportsmanship. It suggests a candidate so intent on winning that she is willing to destroy her party's chances at winning in November. I hope she proves me wrong on this. And to suggest that by being fair to Obama the DNC hates women is ludicrous. As I've said before, I am quite open to supporting a woman for President, but I don't think Hillary Clinton is the best choice for this post or for VP. She has serious character flaws that must be addressed, flaws that could present serious problems for our nation.
For more on the planned protests, check out this story.

Religion and Other Animals -- Sightings

In the Judeo-Christian traditions, there has been a distinction made between humans and other creatures. Little thought is given in the Scriptures to the religiousness of animals. But other traditions, especially Eastern ones do have a different understanding. The reality is, we simply don't know. But today, in Sightings, Paul Waldau explores the possibilities.


Sightings 5/29/08

Religion and Other Animals
-- Paul Waldau

A March 2008 news item from the BBC, "'Praying' dog at Japanese temple," opened with the lines, "Attendance at a Buddhist temple in Japan has increased since the temple's pet, a two-year-old dog, has joined in the daily prayers. Conan, a Chihuahua, sits on his hind legs, raises his paws and puts them together at the tip of his nose." That the dog's actions might not have involved praying of the human kind, as it were, is signaled by the quotation marks around "praying," and by quotes from various people that suggest alternative explanations for the dog's behavior. Yet the story closed on a note that underscores humans' continuing deep fascination with the idea of animals as potentially religious: "Jigenin temple now gets 30 percent more visitors than it did before Conan joined in the prayers."

Especially interested in the events at Jigenin are scholars in the developing field of "religion and animals." This field is burgeoning today because it touches on many issues of relevance to our twenty-first-century lives, as religion continues to strongly influence how we regard the inevitable connection between our lives and the lives of those diverse beings we call animals. Values and views about animals that originated in religious traditions, often now enshrined in societies as cultural backdrop, continue to exert great influence on this fundamental intersection in our lives.

There are ancient precedents for the claim that nonhuman animals have a religious sensibility. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) claimed that elephants, the animal "closest to man," not only recognized the language of their homeland, obeyed orders, and remembered what they learned, but also had been seen "worshipping the sun and stars, and purifying [themselves] at the new moon, bathing in the river, and invoking the heavens."

Today, scholars such as Harvard's Kimberley C. Patton provide theologically informed readings of many traditional claims about the religious awareness of other beings. Patton deals, for example, with "ways in which animals are believed to possess a unique awareness of holiness," noting that "in many religious worlds…mutual intelligibility obtains between God and animals that exists outside of human perceptual ranges." Assertions of a special relationship between animals and God are routinely dismissed in our human-centered world. But the increased attendance at Jigenen temple reflects that we are fascinated by our fellow creatures and the idea of their potential spirituality. In fact, "religion and animals" themes appear in a surprising number of places—one example is Peter Miller's article "Jane Goodall" in the December 1995 National Geographic, in which he discusses Goodall's belief that expressions of awe by chimpanzees at a waterfall site "may resemble the emotions that led early humans to religion."

The debate over whether or not our animal neighbors can be "religious" is but one issue in the growing field of religion and animals. In the last decade, the field has also illuminated the significant roles played by religious traditions in our learning about and treatment of other living beings. The contemporary relevance of these topics is reflected in the growth of the field—at the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of teachers and scholars of religion, the formal group known as the "Animals and Religion Consultation" has received growing attention, and publications dealing with religion and animals are increasing exponentially.

This scholarly work emerges into a context where humans' attitudes toward our cousin animals are more multifaceted than ever. At times, some humans seem driven by a refusal to inquire about the nonhuman lives within and near their communities. This refusal is evident in food practices, where many encounter animals most frequently. At the same time, more households in the United States today have companion animals than have children. Polls consistently indicate that an astonishing number of people—in some cases more than ninety-nine percent—hold their dog or cat to be a "family member."

Communities of faith are among the institutions that are most responsive to the complex connections between humans and other animals. One increasingly finds that contemporary religious communities have reinstituted the ancient practice known often as "blessing of the animals." Some communities of faith are quite creative in recognizing the pastoral value of concerns for their members' interactions with nonhumans—some offer worship services in which believers can bring their nonhuman companions, and others provide grief counseling when a nonhuman family member dies.

Theologian Thomas Berry suggests, "We cannot be truly ourselves in any adequate manner without all our companion beings throughout the earth. The larger community constitutes our greater self." Growing awareness of "religion and animals," both scholarly and practical, opens the door to a fundamental question faced by people of divergent faiths—who will humans acknowledge as constitutive of their greater selves?

Paul Waldau is the director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy and a professor in the Department of Environment and Population Health at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. With Kimberley Patton, he edited A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics (Columbia University Press, 2006).


Peter Miller, "Jane Goodall." National Geographic 188, no. 6 (1995).

Kimberly Patton, "'He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs': Recovering Animal Theology in the Abrahamic Traditions." The Harvard Theological Review 93, no.1 (2000): 401-34.

This month, the Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features an essay by John Witte, Jr. of Emory Law School: "More than a Mere Contract: Marriage as Contract and Covenant in Law and Theology" Commentary from Brian Bix (University of Minnesota), Don Browning (University of Chicago), Christine Hayes (Yale University), David Novak (University of Toronto), and Charles Reid, Jr. (University of St. Thomas) can be found on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Gay Marriage in California -- Theolog

My brief essay on the recent California Supreme Court decision concerning Gay Marriage has appeared at the Christian Century Blog -- Theolog. In it I explore some of the ramficiations of the decision. I'm going to post the beginning paragraphs and then invite you to continue over to Theolog to read the rest!
Gay marriage in California
By Bob Cornwall

The California Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision to strike down a voter-approved state statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman (heterosexual monogamy) has sent shockwaves through the nation. Thirty days after that decision, California may once again issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Of course an effort is already underway to place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would ban same-sex marriage. Governor Schwarzenegger says he will uphold the court decision and won’t support an amendment, meaning that the initiative will go to the voters without his support. Will such an amendment pass?
To continue reading, click here.

Looking to November

It's hard to believe that we're having this argument as to who should be the nominee in November. Even if the DNC Rules committee gives Hillary everything she wants, and that's doubtful, she still couldn't catch Barack in the delegate race.
So, her argument has to do with electability, and to prove her point, she points to charts and maps that suggest right now she's better able to beat John McCain than Obama is. But a lot can change once the election hits full throttle. For one thing, Hillary won't be there (hopefully) undermining Obama's credibility. Another reason why things will likely change is that Democrats will no longer be forced to consider two scenarios. There will be one candidate and so they'll have to decide -- Barack or McCain. If you're a woman, are you going to support McCain when he has pledged to appoint supreme court justices along the line of Alito, Roberts, and Scalia? If you want the rights of women protected, do you vote for a candidate that tells women that if they face bias they should get more education? When the dust settles that's an unlikely scenario. There is time to heal, if Hillary and Bill will settle down and let things play out as they likely will.
My sense is that once all the primaries are over next Tuesday, the majority of undeclared super delegates will make their preferences known. Barack is already close to nailing this shut, and even if the goal posts are extended at the end of the contest -- which is hardly fair, but even that won't change the dynamics -- the results should be the same. Word is that Nancy Pelosi, who will chair the Convention will step in and end this thing -- probably by calling for all super delegates to declare their position, and making it clear that delegates won, not some mythical popular vote, should be the standard. With that in mind, the victory goes to Barack Obama.
Once all of this drama is over, Obama can choose a VP, maybe even select some key cabinet positions, and get started with the campaign. When that happens, when he can devote himself fully to November, I think you'll see things change. McCain is, after all, not a perfect candidate. He can't keep a staff, because so many of them have lobbying ties -- something that undercuts his "straight talk/reformist" identity. He has the baggage of George Bush to contend with -- and that includes a very unpopular war and a challenging economy, and GW wants to go out and campaign for him. If you remember in 2000, one of Al Gore's biggest problems was his need to break with a scandal plagued Bill Clinton. Whatever you think of the Scott McClellan revelations, they don't help McCain's case.
So, let's just wait and see what happens!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bill Clinton's Selective Memory

Bill Clinton is at it again -- whining about how every body's picking on Hillary -- in his mind she should be the nominee and certain people -- don't know who they are -- are trying to take away her prize. His latest gambit is suggesting that never before have either campaigns or the media suggested that a campaign is over before it's over. Actually, Bill, Mike Huckabee might disagree with you.

But the fact is, in 1992, by mid-April, Clinton's own nomination was being trumpeted. Tim Russert declared that mathematically Jerry Brown had no shot. At this point, even if the majority of delegates were to go to her from the two disputed states, she'd not get close enough to overturn the nomination. As she, had said on numerous occasions, it will be the super delegates who decide this. By and large, they are turning to him, not her. I don't think the trend is going to change.

But if Bill doesn't believe me, let him see this -- from 1992.

Women and the Presidency

I regularly read and hear women, especially women over 50 bemoan the ending of Hillary Clinton's campaign for presidency. I think one of the reasons she has been able to sustain her campaign is that there is a legion of women who won't let go of the dream of a woman as president. Many apparently fear that if Hillary can't do it, no one can -- read this article by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate: One-Hit Wondering, for some thoughts on this issue.
As a white man, I obviously am in a different position than women or minorities. White males like me -- even ones with beards -- have been running this country from day one. If John McCain wins in November, that chain will remain unbroken. But this year we have seen two people, one a white woman and the other a black man end up as the final two candidates for the Democratic nomination. So, either way come November the Democrats will offer America a unique opportunity.
As for the question whether this is a once in a life time opportunity for women, sells women short. Obviously Hillary Clinton had certain advantages few candidates have. Only the Kennedy or the Bush name is as well known in America as the Clinton one. Indeed, you can say that one reason why Hillary won so big in places like West Virginia and Kentucky, and might win in Puerto Rico is the power of name recognition. Barack Obama remains unknown to a lot of people. Consider that a huge swath of Americans still think he's a Muslim. Yes, Hillary had advantages other women might not have, but let's not sell women short.
There is a growing number of women in Politics -- in both parties -- who are ripe for political advancement. They serve as governors and senators, and leaders of industry. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitono of Arizona, just to name two. I'm supporting Barack Obama, not because he's a man, but because he offers us an opportunity to move into the 21st century with a new vision. With all her strengths, Clinton has significant baggage, the largest of which is probably her husband. Bill Clinton has been both a benefit and a detriment to her. In the end, I think he has proven to be more a hindrance to her candidacy than a benefit.
That being said, the likelihood that it will be another generation before a woman can run again, seems odd to me. Yes, sexism will have to be addressed. And there is sexist bias in this country. There is also racial bias in this country. So, both candidates have had to deal with this issue. In fact, John McCain has to deal with bias against older people. So maybe bias is a wash in this contest.
As for women, look around, note the rising stars. Encourage them, support them. But don't blame Barack Obama for Hillary's demise. He simply ran a better campaign. Hopefully, he'll win in November -- the first for a person of color. As for women, let's keep the dream alive, because I think the time will be sooner than later.

Turn off that engine!

I'm amazed at what I see on my morning walks around the neighborhood. I'm amazed at how many times I see someone in a car waiting to pick someone up just sitting there with the engine going. Or, I see a mother with the SUV going, getting her toddler out of the car seat to take into the baby sitter. Or, sometimes it seems that the person is just warming up the car. He's out tending to the windows, and there the car or truck -- and more often than not the SUV is idling away, exhaust spewing out the back. Why? It's surely not because it's cold -- this is Santa Barbara after all. At $4.00 plus a gallon, that's a lot of dough down the drain.
This morning I read a short essay in Slate that speaks to this very situation. It asks the question of if it's more efficient to leave the car running than turn it off? Too many of us started driving in the dark old days of the carburetor, when every time you turned on the car a lot of gas got used. With fuel injectors, that's no longer true. In the article the suggestion is that we abide the 10 Second rule. If you're stopped for more than 10 seconds, turn it off. You'll save gas, money, and the environment, at minimal cost to the car's electrical system. And, of course, if all cars could adapt the Prius model -- the Prius automatically shuts off the engine -- we could save large amounts of gas. The article suggests saving 10% of our consumption -- just in idling in stop and go traffic.
Just something to think about. And check out the entire article here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Final Week

We're studying Revelation tonight at the Bible study, but references to the final week doesn't have any apocalyptic meaning (at least I hope not). No, this is the final week of the 2008 primary season (unless of course the DNC rules committee decides to hold re-votes in Michigan and Florida -- which I doubt since there is neither time nor money to pull it off).
On Saturday the Rules committee will meet and I'm assuming will come up with a compromise solution that will seat the two renegade delegates but not in a way that would reward Hillary Clinton with anything other than few extra delegates. On Sunday Puerto Rico will vote -- electing 55 delegates (I'm not sure why a Commonwealth that can't vote in November has more delegates than quite a number of states that do). From what I'm hearing Hillary will win in this locale that knows the Clinton brand better than the Obama one. Then a week from today the last two states will vote -- South Dakota and Montana. If both go as expected, Obama will go out of the primary season on a winning note, even if the number of delegates available is rather small.
Then, we will wait to see what the remaining super-delegates do. Some may continue to hold out until August, but that's unlikely. I'm assuming that most will declare and urge the party to get behind the candidate with the most delegates. This fiction about popular vote is simply a ridiculous distraction. If this were about tallying up votes instead of delegates then candidates would campaign differently. Obama has an insurmountable number of delegates, unless the DNC were to essentially say to Clinton since she was the only name on the ballot in Michigan -- excepting Dodd and Kucinich -- she gets all the uncommitted ones as well as the ones she "won." In Florida she won 50% of the vote -- Obama got 33% and John Edwards 14% -- Richardson probably got most of the rest. So, since both former candidates have endorsed Obama -- why not that 50/50 solution?
The question now isn't whether Obama will be the nominee -- if the Super delegates were going to give this to her you'd see them move that direction, but they've been moving toward Obama since mid -February. Will she go quietly? Only time will tell. As Eugene Robinson writes in the Washington Post today, Clinton and her campaign -- as evidenced by strange statements -- show increasing signs of desperation and even self-delusion. Hopefully, they'll come back to earth -- and soon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Memorial Day Prayer

I'm reposting this prayer from Chalice Worship. I shared it in worship yesterday and believe it speaks to our need to stop and consider those who have died in service to the country and the need to pursue peace in our world -- so that more do not die in this way.


Memories are joyful and painful, by we cannot live without them.
Let us pray that we may never forget.

For leaders who send young men and women to war,
that their judgments may be sound
and their motives be pure,
we pray.

For soldiers who lay down their lives for others,
that the love which inspires their sacrifice
be fulfilled in the love of Christ,
we pray.

For soldiers who have been maimed or brutalized by war,
that our love for them may make their scars less hurtful
and make their brutality yield to the tenderness of returning love,
we pray.

For those who have been left behind,
that they may live on the strength of the love that they knew,
we pray.

For those who suffer most from war,
that the homeless, the orphaned, the hungry, and the innocent
may help us turn from warlike ways to pursue the potential of peace,
we pray.

God of Peace, help us never to forget that war is hell.
Help us to honor its saints, and to pray for its sinners and victims,
through the Victim for our sakes, Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Differentism -- Sightings

We live at a time when some in our midst are taking increasingly polarized views of other faith traditions. For instance, is the inendiary rhetoric of a Rod Parsley who calls for the destruction of Islam (by America), all that different from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Both call for the destruction of the other. Then there are those who seek to insulate themselves from conversation with those who are different. Finally, there are those who seek to cross lines -- though this group can be divided into several categories, or at least along a continuum.
Martin Marty looks at two women, one Jewish and the other Muslim, who received advanced degrees from Chicago's Catholic Theological Union. Both sought to explore faith in the context of an institution of another faith. One need not be indifferent to explore faith in a broader context, as Marty details in this brief essay.


Sightings 5/26/08

-- Martin E. Marty

"Women Blaze an Interfaith Trail: Two teachers become first Jewish female and first Muslim female to receive advanced degrees from Catholic Theological Union," and "She's First Jewish Graduate of Catholic Theological Union" were headlines in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times on May 15. These are local news items, but they represent trends that are growing in the religious cosmopolis. At least two Lutheran seminaries have Islamic Study offerings. The presence of Jews on Christian faculties is common. Time to yawn and head back to presidential campaign obsessions for excitement?

What is going on is a revolution in theological education and inter-religious relations on a scale that a religious-warring world ought to cherish. The trend or revolution has its detractors. Some Catholics are building small but well-financed colleges in which Catholic truth is set in amber or hermetically sealed: non-Catholics or Catholics of other kinds are excluded or unwelcome. That's one way of fighting "indifferentism", which The Catholic Encyclopedia defines as "the term given, in general, to all those theories, which, for one reason or another, deny that it is the duty of man to worship God by believing and practicing the one true religion."

Reactionaries also accuse participants in inter-faith dialogue of such indifferentism, and propose that the future of any faith should rely on "differentism," a word not yet in the dictionary, but descriptive enough. "Differentism" does not need seminary curricular support; it appears to be natural, part of the human condition. "I'm right; you are wrong." "We have an exclusive hold on truth; you are in outer darkness." Even more moderate types may acknowledge that indifferentism, the kind of relativistic apathy that is widespread in free cultures, can indeed pose threats to the integrity of the faith(s) and the health of the soul.

The more one observes theological schools which have creedal, confessional, clarified bases but which welcome students (and sometimes faculty) who do not share their confession, the more clear it is that something is emerging which we might observe "beyond indifferentism and beyond 'differentism.'" Sarah Bier, the Jewish graduate at CTU, had seen enough religious violence in Israel; Syafa Almirzanah, from Indonesia, watched in horror as Muslim-Christian conflicts increased in her nation. They wanted to study the phenomena which occur when religious "differentism" turns violent—and to help do something about bringing about change. CTU welcomed them. The Reverend Donald Senior, the respected biblical scholar who heads the thriving—yes, thriving!—Catholic seminary said, "I think of them as real pioneers. We need bridge builders like this or else we're going to be killing each other."

Dr. Almirzanah, who played a curricular double-header as she received a second doctoral diploma the same weekend in the Lutheran School of Theology's program, shared Dr. Bier's choice of term: At these schools the women both learned "respect" for the other faiths, not "tolerance", which is too weak a word. Catholic "truth" and Lutheran "truth" were not compromised, nor were "Jewish faith" and "Muslim faith" eroded or jettisoned. A new model of relations is taking shape and, yes, these graduates are pioneers in a time when shooting comes easier than studying. The news they make is quieter than that of noisy presidential campaigns. But it is news that deserves "respect."
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
This month, the Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features an essay by John Witte, Jr. of Emory Law School: "More than a Mere Contract: Marriage as Contract and Covenant in Law and Theology" Commentary from Brian Bix (University of Minnesota), Don Browning (University of Chicago), Christine Hayes (Yale University), David Novak (University of Toronto), and Charles Reid, Jr. (University of St. Thomas) can be found on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

Enjoy more info!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- a report

Cheryl and I took in the new Indiana Jones movie. Like many our age, this was sort of a pilgrimage. After all, Raiders of the Lost Ark came out when we were in our early 20s -- even before we met. So, even if this isn't Raiders, it's still an Indiana Jones movie.

I won't offer a critical review, but I'll give a sense of the movie. In someways it's a bit of an Indiana Jones meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It has all the action and the mystery of an Indiana Jones movie, with just enough space alien stuff to mess with the plot. The return of Karen Allen as Marian is a good addition. We'll see if Shia LaBeouf can carry the franchise -- as the new Junior.

There's plenty of action, and Harrison Ford does his job, though he does show a bit of age here. Nonetheless, the wit is still there.

As for the villian -- Cate Blanchett does a nice job as the Stalinist Russian agent seeking to find the crystal skull. Being that the movie pushes the story line into the late 1950s, it's no wonder that the nemesis will be the Soviets, but the Soviets don't have the same sinisterness as the Nazi's that Indiana had to battle in the first three movies.
I won't give the plot line -- but if you understand that this isn't Raiders, you'll enjoy it!

Remembering those who came before us

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
May 25, 2008

Each Sunday when my congregation gathers for worship, we celebrate the Lord's Supper. In observing this ancient rite, we hear the words of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me.” These words spoken over bread and cup, symbols of a life given for others, invite us to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. In this act of remembrance we honor and acknowledge the one who has laid claim on our lives.

What my church does at the table, we all do in one form or another - we participate in rituals that cause us to remember those people and events that impact and form our lives. There are religious rites, and there are national and cultural ones. For instance, it is with parades and fireworks that we mark the birth of our nation.
This weekend, and more specifically Monday (the last Monday of May), we stop to remember and honor those who have died - especially those who have died in the defense of the nation. Although Memorial Day, as we know it today, was established by Congress in 1971, the practice of remembering fallen soldiers goes back 140 years. In 1868, the commanding general of the Grand Army of the Republic began the practice of decorating the graves of those who had died in the Civil War. What began at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868 came to be known as Decoration Day, and in the years following spread across the country, first in the North and then after World War I in the South.

That original focus remains present, but it has increasingly taken a back seat to the recreational aspects of the weekend. There are those who mark the graves of the fallen, but more of us - me included - likely see this as a day away from work, more a day to play than to remember. Indeed, Memorial Day is now a federally sponsored three-day holiday weekend marked by picnics, barbecues, trips to the beach and to the lake. It is more a marker of a change of seasons than a remembrance of the fallen.
We live fast-paced and often overly structured lives, so a time to play isn't a bad thing. And yet, it is important that we stop and remember - and not just those who have died in service to the country, but all who have gone before us. As we remember family and friends, mentors and teachers, who no longer walk with us, we discover our identity and purpose in life. If we can re-imagine Memorial Day, we can see it as a celebration of the legacy that has been left to us. Because we live in such a mobile society, it's easy to become rootless.
I grew up in Klamath Falls, Ore. I have good memories, but I don't have any family left there and very few friends remain. It's quite possible that I'll never return, but that community - my teachers, employers, friends, and parents of friends - helped form me. In many ways, the only real roots that I have left in that community are memories, and yet these memories are very real and important to me. Our need to connect and to remember from whence we came drives the recent interest in genealogy. By tracing back our family tree, we discover our roots and find our place in history.
By remembering, we can grow and find healing. When we remember, we can take responsibility for both the good and the bad that is our history. We can acknowledge our need for forgiveness and restoration. By remembering, we can make peace with the past so we can embrace the future. That would be a worthy goal for a celebration of Memorial Day.

It can happen in many forms. It might involve placing flowers or a flag on a grave. Or it might simply involve taking a moment to remember someone who has died, someone whose life impacted your own life. As we remember, we should give thanks for those who no longer walk with us in the flesh, and yet remain deeply embedded in our hearts. Indeed, part of the celebration of the Lord's Supper involves giving thanks for a life lived and given for others.

On this Memorial Day weekend, we stop to remember and give thanks for those whose lives have made a difference in who we are and what we shall become.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc. He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.

May 25, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

My Space to Sacred Space -- Review

MYSPACE TO SACRED SPACE: God for a New Generation. By Christian Piatt and Amy Piatt. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007. 167 pp.

Young adults, that group of Americans under the age of forty, have become an increasingly difficult target for churches to reach. The cultural, social, and generational differences of this cohort are striking when compared with the cohorts that have come before them. Christian and Amy Piatt write from within this generational matrix about issues of faith and culture, offering words of warning and of hope.

Christian is a writer and consultant, while his wife, Amy, is founding pastor of a Disciples of Christ congregation in Pueblo, Colorado. They bring to this book years of working with youth and young adults, and their own experiences inhabiting this generation. They make use of statistics and stories to bring to life the spiritual realities of those adults under forty. Unlike the book, UnChristian, Christian and Amy are sympathetic to the life choices and concerns of this generation. They’re realistic but not judgmental – indeed, even as the authors of UnChristian recognize, this generation is turned off by judgmental and hypocritical religion. They also affirm the spiritual quest of a generation that is truly "spiritual but not religious."

The book’s title is key to the book’s message. Social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, are front and center in the life stories of this generation. This is a digital world, even virtual world. Communication is instantaneous, and yet community is often difficult to create. This is a generation that is reachable, but it’s unlikely to come to the church – to reach them the church must go looking for them. But, in inviting them into the community, older generations must understand that the physical plant, rituals and history are of less importance. Sacred space can be created wherever this generation gathers. All of this makes communication between generations difficult. The authors write:

Today’s twenty-year old generally has less in common with someone twice his or her age than ever before. Further, people resist traditional definitions and labels, creating a fuzzier notion of what exactly we’re talking about with regard to young adults (p. 5).

In spite of these differences and difficulties, it’s possible to reach out to those aged 18-40. But, to do so requires listening before talking.

In a series of chapters, the Piatts take us into the lives and needs of this cohort. They help us understand their longings and concerns. As other studies have told us, this is a group that eschews absolutes and is comfortable with differences. For mainline churches to reach them, space must be made for diversity. Churches that put less focus on creeds – churches such as the Disciples – will benefit, as will churches that allow them to tell their stories. As for God, Young Adults often see a disconnect between their view of God and Christianity as a whole. They believe in God, but not in the church and its definitions. Utilizing the Baylor University matrix of God -types, they suggest that the most likely views of God in this generation are either the Authoritarian God or the Distant God, but they’re interested in connecting relationally with God – they’re just not sure how this can happen, and they don’t think the church can help them.

In seeking to reach them, we must be aware that prepackaged ideas don’t often work. And just because they like Starbucks doesn’t mean they’ll come to Christian coffeehouses. To connect churches must provide community, support, welcome, and an encouragement of the imagination. Ironically, while traditional church might not connect well, ritual has its place – but only if it allows for the release of the imagination. More than anything, there is a seeming need for connection with the generations that came before. In many ways this is a generation that has not developed strong personal habits –especially in regard to sexuality and money -- and they long for mentors who will help them wrestle with important issues in their lives. Indeed, churches that will address such issues with openness and grace can find important entrees into their lives.

In a chapter on addiction, the Piatts point out the real problems that young adults are having with addiction – whether it is issues of drugs, alcohol, gambling, and eating disorders. They ask the important question: Where is the church? That is, why isn’t the church taking proactive steps to reach out to and support those facing addiction.

Why must we wait for the judicial system to say that these young people need help? Do they have to be arrested in order to receive treatment? Is this the message we send? In a haplessly reactive culure, the church must be a proactive source of hope and healing for these young people, empowering them with the tools they require for self-care before they face these high-risk factors. We must also be there for their families, both before and after a crisis is recognized. We should be on the front lines, helping teachers, parents, and other caretakers collectively identify risky and self-destructive behavior before it eve becomes an issue relegated to the court system (p. 105-106).

Here is a way of connecting, but only if it’s authentic care.

Of course in a book speaking to connecting with young adults, it’s appropriate to talk about music. Music is and always will be a primary expression of spiritual energy and ideals. That churches have been fighting for years over what is appropriate is almost a truism. We recognize it to be true, but find it difficult to have a conversation. In addressing this issue, Christian Piatt writes as one who is a musician and who has spent time working in the music business. He has a strong sense of the role music plays in our lives, and reminds us that much of what passes as Christian music is deficient in quality and content. The issue addressed here is an important one, because the church faces the question of the degree to which music must be distinctly sacred in order for it to be appropriate for church. He suggests four different views, ranging from purist to separatist, while he finds himself somewhere in the middle, in positions he refers to as spiritual reflective and incidentalist.

There is a chapter that wrestles with the question of who is called to serve. Not only is there a looming crisis in ministry – an aging clergy isn’t being replaced by younger clergy – but the definition of who might serve is changing. That is, the ordination of both women and gays is in play, and for the most part the views of young adults are open and expansive. Finally, in a chapter entitled "Church of the Prodigal Child," the Piatts discuss their research methodology, tell some stories of young adults who are open to the church, but who also tend to be disassfected. In essence they return to the premise that this is a generation that is more spiritual than it is religious. It is a generation open to alternative spiritualities, but also wants to pray, study, engage in community and social justice. Looking at American history, they discern five themes that define America’s religious instincts, instincts that are very present in this generation: 1) "Personal autonomy"; 2) "Sensibility over creeds"; 3) "Impatience with organized religion"; 4) "Present applicability"; 5) "Fascination with the metaphysical" (p. 156).

We often talk about young adults as the church of the future, but in reality they are the church of the present. If the church doesn’t engage them – which involves listening with respect – there won’t be a church in the future. The Piatts offer us an excellent primer on the faith and desires of this broadly defined cohort. They write with energy and commitment. This is a book full of compassion and grace. They call a spade a spade, but do so without judgmentalism. Anyone wanting to connect with younger adults will want to read this excellent book. That the Piatts are Disciples, like me, only makes it better!

What if Michigan had voted in the rules?

That's the question Andrew Sullivan raised and then pointed me to the site. This site analyzes the electoral process. So, as a future Michigan resident -- about 5 weeks to go -- I wonder how things would have been different in a contested primary?

This is important because Hillary Clinton apparently is arguing that Obama should be credited with no delegates -- even though she only won about 54% of the vote in an uncontested election. Just imagine, you're essentially the only candidate on the ballot -- no Obama or Edwards or Richardson or Biden and you can only muster a 10 point spread. She's arguing that if she doesn't get her way the Michigan voters would be disenfranchised, but note than only about 7.8% of Michigan voters went to the polls.

Well this web site calculates what might have happened using similar districts in neighboring states. With that in mind, the likelihood is that given similar voting rates, Obama would have won by about 4% points and taken about 65 of the 128 delegates available. Just think if Michigan had voted sometime in February, after Super Tuesday. What would have happened?

I hope that the committee and the super delegates take this into consideration. By giving Hillary a majority of Michigan delegates, the committee is giving her the benefit of the doubt, because reality could have been disastrous for her.

Uttering the Unspeakable

A week back, while at the NRA convention, former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee made a stupid remark. After hearing a loud noise off stage, he joked that it was Barack Obama falling off a chair -- because someone had pointed a gun at him and he dove to the floor. It was a poorly crafted joke that didn't go over at the convention or nationwide. Huckabee apologized, noting that it was offensive.
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton in an interview with a South Dakota paper defended her continued run for the White House, despite the steep odds, in part because in the past Democratic nominations didn't get wrapped up until June, and pointed to the fact that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June. That analogy has caused a firestorm of protest. The Obama campaign's official responses have been muted, but outside the official channels there has been strong protest.
Now, I don't believe that Hillary was inviting someone to do Barack Obama in. But it does suggest the desperate straights of her campaign -- and this isn't the first time she's used the analogy. The problem is that in speaking of such a thing, she raises the specter of violence against a candidate who has had to receive Secret Security protection earlier than any other candidate precisely because there have been death threats. And if something were to happen to Obama, she wouldn't have to continue on till the end -- she already has sufficient delegates to claim the nomination.
The problem here is that speaking of assassination -- even if not directly pointed at the rival is in bad taste. I do think that it will have a negative effect on her campaign -- and likely nixes any chance of her joining the ticket. I think it's fine for her to continue on the trail until June 3, but now its time to slowly shut things down and let the process conclude peacefully. And no more dumb statements please!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Validation at Last? Gay Marriage Question

Penny Patterson, a young woman who writes a column for the Santa Barbara Independent, on issues facing the LGBT Community, offers a moving testimony to what the recent California Supreme Court decision means to her as a lesbian in a committed relationship. I met Penny at a showing of the documentary For the Bible Tells Me So.
Penny writes of her own struggles coming to terms with her sexuality and the response of her very religious family. She shares in this piece of her own faith and what that means as a gay woman. The evening of the decision a vigil was held her in Santa Barbara, which I wasn't able to attend, but as Penny shares, my friend and colleague, Mark Asman, the pastor Trinity Episcopal Church, and a gay man, spoke to the gathered crowd about faith, marriage, and homosexuality. As Penny recounts it, Mark pointed out that not all religious people stand as opponents of gays and lesbians. She writes:

I am a Christian who finds strength in the revolutionary aspect of Jesus’ teachings; as such, I believe that were he to walk on the Earth today, this would be his fight. Contrary to what right-wing fundamentalists want you to believe, Jesus’ message was one of radical inclusion. And while my knowing that gets me through the hateful and homophobic rhetoric of the Dobsons and Falwells of the world, hearing Asman reiterate the message reminded me why I became a
Christian in the first place.

For Penny and many other gays and lesbians this decision offers the opportunity to receive legitimation. Yes civil unions can provide legal protections, but in our culture it's marriage that offers cultural support to relationships. Now, as Penny suggest, she can now dream of one day marrying her partner.
To read the entire column click here.

There Will Be Blood -- DVD Review

I was looking forward to seeing Oscar nominated There Will Be Blood. The premise of this movie -- starring Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis and based on Upton Sinclair's novel Oil! -- seems to be two-fold: first, oil is intoxicating, and second religion is itself demented. Lewis plays a California oil baron named Daniel Plainview who strikes it rich after numerous difficulties. Plainview's big strike comes after he's enticed to check out land that seems to be in the western edges of the San Joaquin Valley. The location is unclear because wherever it is the movie first locates about 100 miles from Santa Paula (near Ventura), but when building his pipeline west to the coast San Luis Obispo, the 1oo mile figure is again mentioned, and its quite a ways further north. Wherever this site is to be found, Plainview decides to buy up land and build a pipeline because he's losing his profits on a big strike in payments to the rail company.

The second part of the story relates to his relationship with Eli Sunday, the preacher son of the man Plainview leases land for the big strike. Eli negotiates a bargain requiring Plainview to pay him $5000 to start his church, money that Plainview never seems to pay. At one point, however, with one last tract of land not in his possession, Plainview is forced to seek baptism to gain access to the land to lay the pipe line. As he comes forward to receive baptism, Eli slaps him around and requires that he shout out: "I've abandoned my boy" (one of the more dramatic scenes in the movie).

This leads to the boy -- Plainview's son H.W., whose mother we're told at one point had died in child birth, but later is said to be an orphan Plainview picked up to assist his attempts to gain land for his oil speculations. Anyway, H.W. goes deaf when the oil well blows open. This changes the relationship, and Plainview sends the boy off to a school.

One of the principles that emerges from the movie, and perhaps it is the foundation piece is that he brooks no competition. Anyone who would threaten his domination, must be destroyed -- even if that person is his own son. Eli has to be destroyed, because he is also a threat, and because Eli humiliates Plainview.

Now, I've not read the book, which I understand is quite different. One of the key pieces that the movie changes, as I understand it, is the nature of the preacher. From what I hear, Sinclair modeled the preacher after Aimee Semple McPherson, a person he at one point admired.

As to the movie itself. I'm not a purist when it comes to movies. I enjoy an intellectually challenging film and films that push my values. I don't mind a film that's slow developing, but I found myself wondering how everything fit together. There are too many loose ends, and the movie, which goes on for more than 2 1/2 hours drags. Indeed, it's not until about 10 to 15 minutes into the film that we have any dialogue at all, and in the mean time we jump nearly 2 decades. It received Oscar consideration, so it's an important film, but I think it needed more editorial work.

Not a favorite, by any means, but it does speak in part to the lure of money and the possibility that religion can be manipulated for gain.

10 Favorite Movies Meme

Favorite movies as a meme is back in vogue. Danny Bradfield tagged me and suggested I write mine. So, here goes -- in no particular order:

1. About Schmidt -- wonderful piece with Jack Nicholson.

2. Field of Dreams -- "Build it and he will come." Indeed -- one of Costner's best (along with Bull Durham)

3. Star Wars -- Episode IV -- The special effects may have improved, but this was the original!

4. Elephant Man -- the story of a man thought to be a monster and an imbecile, simply because of his looks, but underneath was a man of tender intellect.

5. Star Trek IV: Voyage Home -- you can't beat Spock on a San Francisco trolley.

6. Star Trek: First Contact -- How the Earth was saved from the Borg and itself

7. Casablanca -- Play it again Sam!

8. Hotel Rwanda -- heroism amidst violent and dehumanizing tribalism

9. Gold Finger -- Bond, James Bond -- the Bond series never died!

10 Raiders of the Lost Ark -- On the weekend that Indiana Jones returns, we must celebrate the first of the series!

And I'm supposed to tag 5 people:

Mike Leaptrott
Roy Donkin
Rustin Smith
Michael Westmoreland-White
Brett Younger

Father Virgil Dies

Having lived these past ten years in Santa Barbara I quickly came to know the name Fr. Virgil Cordano. Father Virgil is almost the patron saint of the community -- a living one at that. He was closely identified with the annual Fiesta, which is one of Santa Barbara's primary events. He appeared at any number of forums and functions and was beloved for his warm and inclusive views. He passed away last night of cancer at the age of 89. Whether you'd met him or not, you had to admire his spirit and his impact on the community.

I first met Fr. Virgil early in my ministry here. I was invited to participate in the blessing of the boats at the harbor. I joined a couple of other clergy in this venture, including Fr. Virgil. Over time I would work with him in several other ventures -- especially during my time working with the ADL's interfaith committee.

Fr. Virgil's witness to inclusion will be missed. Hopefully others will pick up that message in the years to come.

Rejecting "Agents of Intolerance"

In 2000 John McCain spoke out against agents of intolerance, that is, leaders of the Religious Right that sought to divide Americans along social/cultural lines. In 2008, needing their support, he began by mending fences with the original target of his critique -- Jerry Falwell -- by accepting an opportunity to speak at Liberty University.
More recently he sought the support/endorsement of two of the most virile proponents of intolerance -- John Hagee and Rod Parsley. These guys make Falwell and Dobson look like leftists. Both preach an end times theology that appears to support Israel, but only for selfish purposes. They need conflict in the middle east so their end times scenario can take occur. Hagee's comments about Catholics has become well publicized, but only recently have we heard his bizarre theories about God using Hitler to push Jews to Palestine. Does McCain buy into these ideas? I doubt it. But by pursuing an endorsement without checking into his views, it appears as if he does.
As I noted in an earlier posting, more problematic in my mind is Rod Parsley -- for several reasons.
1. Parsley is politically active in Ohio.
2. His anti-Islamic statements are reprehensible and dangerous.
Again, McCain sought out Parsley's support -- probably as a way of garnering support in Ohio among religious conservatives. Once again he failed to vet this pastor.
Today we have learned that McCain has rejected both endorsements. That is a wise decision, for these are truly agents of intolerance whose views pose a a danger to American foreign policy. Just as I criticized McCain for seeking these endorsements, I applaud his rejection of them.
Now, as for the comparison to Jeremiah Wright. Obama was a member of Wright's church, but he did not seek Wright's political endorsement nor did he align himself with Wright's views. He made clear that Wright helped him find a faith in Jesus Christ and encouraged his commitment to social justice. Obama has not shown any evidence of supporting or aligning himself with Wright's more radical views.
McCain has suggested there's a difference here, and he's right. He sought these pastor's support for political gain, not because of religious agreement. All of which points out the dangers of trying to wrap ones' self within a religious flag. McCain, who isn't especially adept theologically, stepped into a hole, but his lack of support among religious conservatives led to this debacle.
What McCain may need to do at this point is explain his views on Middle East policy. How does he view Islam and America's relationship with predominately Muslim countries? With that in mind, how does he view Israel? Those are legitimate questions that both candidates need to address, because the Middle East will be center stage in American foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
Finally, perhaps we can now take the pastor question off the table. Neither Jeremiah Wright nor Rod Parsley should be of any interest in this election process.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

John McCain, Rod Parsely, and Anti-Islam sentiment

Much has been made about Barack Obama's membership in Jeremiah Wright's church -- and Wright's rhetoric. Although not a member of Rod Parsley's church, McCain, seeking connections to the Conservative Christian movement -- Religious Right more particularly -- sought out an endorsement from Rod Parsley. He has broken with John Hagee because of statements about Hitler and the Jews, but so far has said nothing about Parsley's very troubling anti-Islamic rhetoric.

Here is a video that links McCain and Parsley. I post this, though I was troubled by the postings about Wright, because Parsley poses a danger to our nation. Don't think that this stuff doesn't find its way into the Middle East. If uttered by an imam about America, people here would have a fit. Is this not the same thing and isn't it much worse than anything Jeremiah Wright said?

Note too that McCain speaks of him as a spiritual guide and a moral compass for America. Has John listened to Parsley?

My Son the Radical

My son, a senior at Santa Barbara High School, came home today to tell me that he'd participated in a little civil disobedience. About 100 students sat in the main hallway for two hours to protest a school decision not to allow the showing of a documentary about the Iraq War and Arlington West produced by Veteran's for Peace.
Students participating in this effort, of course, will be marked as truants.

It's his first brush with radical politics. Back when I was his age, of course, I was a good Gerry Ford Republican, and we didn't do sit ins. How times have changed!

Here's a brief run down.

Hillary's Hypocrisy

Hillary Clinton signed off on the DNC rules that she now thinks are oppressive and that her battle to count the Michigan votes (in her favor) is akin to the abolitionist effort and more is the height of hypocrisy. If she wanted to seat the delegations she would agree to a compromise that's fair to all and would stop the rhetoric. She's made this an issue because she's behind and it's her only hope -- though even there she's likely wrong. If she were ahead it's doubtful she'd be leading the charge.

Listen to her statement about Michigan not counting:

Remember that essentially all the other candidates pulled their names off, and she still only took about 54% of the vote. In essence she beat noncommitted by about 10%. If Barack Obama had been on the ballot, wouldn't he have pushed that margin?

Give it up Hillary.

Hagee--McCain break up

John McCain's attempts to connect with a religious group he once called them agents of religious intolerance, but in 2008 he has sought to rebuild the bridges he once seemed to burn. Besides courting Jerry Falwell, he went after other right wing voices including Rod Parsley and John Hagee. Hagee's embrace has become a liability of late, first as word of his anti-Catholic tirades became known. Now excerpts of sermons suggesting that God used Hitler and the Holocaust to push Jews to Palestine -- so that the foundations of the second coming of Christ could be put in place -- have become public. Today word comes that not only has McCain broken with Hagee, but Hagee has withdrawn his endorsement. McCain suggests that his relationship with Hagee is different from that of Barack Obama with Jeremiah Wright. This is true, Hagee wasn't McCain's pastor, but McCain did seek his support, probably because of Hagee's Christian Zionism made him seem like a supporter of Israel. What McCain seems not to have understood is that Christian Zionism doesn't support Israel out of a love of Judaism, but because a restored Israel is needed to start Armaggedon.
More problematic for McCain is the support he has sought from Rod Parsley, a rabidly anti-Muslim megachurch pastor from Ohio. Hagee is caught up in his end times scenarios, while Parsley echoes medieval calls for an anti-Muslim crusade. If John McCain wants to ever bring troops home from Iraq, choosing support from Parsley makes that infinitely more difficult. McCain's camp has said that they didn't properly vet Hagee, obviously they've not properly vetted Parsley either.
One thing to point out regarding Obama, Obama never sought his pastor's political endorsement. Indeed, he's made it clear that he didn't seek his pastor's poltical advice, though Wright's commitment to social justice does influence his own commitment to social justice. Politically, however, they have taken different routes to accomplish this task.

When Prosecutors Grapple with Prayer -- Sightings

Could reliance on prayer rather than medicine lead to charges of child abuse, neglect, and even manslaughter? Or, does the First Amendment shield parents from prosecution when reliance on prayer rather than doctors leads to illness, injury, or death? Shawn Peters of the University of Wisconsin takes that question up in today's edition of Sightings. It is an intriguing set of questions, one that calls for us to balance religious freedom with the protection of children's health and civil rights.

Sightings 5/22/08

When Prosecutors Grapple with Prayer
-- Shawn F. Peters

In recent months, prosecutors in both Oregon and Wisconsin have been confronted with a complex problem: Should parents who choose to treat their children's illnesses with prayer rather than medicine be charged with abuse, neglect, or even manslaughter when their children die? As these cases begin to play out in the courts, it has become apparent that their task in answering that question is going to be anything but straightforward, thanks in part to the ambiguity of laws that might be applied to spiritual healing practices

The Oregon case involves members of the Followers of Christ Church, whose faith healing practices generated an intense statewide outcry in the late 1990's. Church members Carl and Raylene Worthington currently face manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges stemming from the death of their fifteen-month-old daughter, Ava. The toddler died on March 2 from bacterial pneumonia and a blood infection – ailments that her parents, citing the tenets of their religious faith, had chosen to treat with prayer rather medicine.

The Worthingtons appear ready to mount a vigorous defense. Their attorneys already have launched a website dedicated to both outlining the contours of their defense strategy and raising money to fund it. But, legally, this promises to be an uphill climb, thanks to changes in Oregon law that eliminated apparent exemptions from criminal charges for parents who engaged in faith healing practices. They most likely will fall back on the claim that their religious practices are shielded from regulation by the First Amendment and analogous provisions in Oregon's constitution.

The Wisconsin case is every bit as tragic, but it might proceed slightly differently in the legal arena. On Easter Sunday, an 11-year old girl named Kara Neumann died from diabetic ketoacidosis. Treatments of insulin almost certainly would have controlled the ailment, but Kara's parents – their beliefs about physical healing shaped in part by a Flordia-based online ministry – chose to treat her with prayer in lieu of medical science. Dale and Leilani Neumann later told police that their daughter had not been examined by a physician in more than seven years.

In late April, authorities charged the couple with second-degree reckless homicide, a felony punishable by up to twenty-five years in prison. But several observers have cautioned that the prosecution of the Neumanns is bound to be complicated, if not simply derailed, by the apparent exemption for faith healing practices that remains in place in the state's child abuse and neglect laws. The couple is likely to claim that this conflict in the laws (spiritual healing practices appear to be protected under one part of the criminal code but not under another) violates their right to due process of law.

Wisconsin's "treatment through prayer" provision is not unique: More than thirty other states offer similar kinds of apparent legal protections for devout parents who reject medicine and turn to prayer when their children are ailing. A number of groups have lobbied for the repeal of such religious exemptions, chief among them the advocacy organization Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD). Its head, Rita Swan, has argued that these stipulations, while safeguarding the religious liberty of parents, endanger the health of children and violate several different interrelated constitutional standards.

Groups ranging from the United Methodist Church to the National District Attorneys Association also have called for the repeal of religious exemptions to child-abuse and neglect laws. Several prominent medical organizations – among them the American Medical Association and the Bioethics Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics – have echoed those calls. In 1988, the latter body issued a statement declaring that "all child abuse, neglect, and medical neglect statutes should be applied without potential or actual exemption for [the] religious beliefs" of parents. Deeply committed to "the basic moral principles of justice and of protection of children as vulnerable citizens," the members of the bioethics committee called upon state legislatures to remove religious exemption clauses and thereby ensure "equal treatment for all abusive parents."

A decade after that call for reform, however, a majority of states, including Wisconsin, have failed to act. Unfortunately, it seems that legislators might only lurch into action and address the law's shortcomings if the prosecution of the Neumanns misfires.

Shawn Francis Peters' latest book, When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law, was published in November by Oxford University Press. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This month, the Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features an essay by John Witte, Jr. of Emory Law School: "More than a Mere Contract: Marriage as Contract and Covenant in Law and Theology" Commentary from Brian Bix (University of Minnesota), Don Browning (University of Chicago), Christine Hayes (Yale University), David Novak (University of Toronto), and Charles Reid, Jr. (University of St. Thomas) can be found on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Recycling Energy -- what an idea

If you've been filling up at the service station you may have noticed rising prices. The reports of energy price increases and the possibility of global warming is getting us to focus on alternative energy sources.
This morning, on my morning walk (during which I saw a guy walking his dog from his SUV) I listened to a piece from NPR about an entrepreneur who has found ways of recycling energy. Inspired by that Nuclear plant cooling tours that release steam into the air on the Simpsons, Tom Kasten (sp?) got an idea -- why not reuse all that steam to create power. Indeed, he says that for every 3 units used by industry, 2 are wasted -- sent up the stacks into the air. All told, if we recycled energy we could produce something like 200,000 megawatts of energy. That sounds very promising! Why waste energy and create greenhouse gases when we can find ways of reusing energy.
What's even more interesting is that current laws make it impossible for most industries to recapture energy for use.
Here's an issue for our politicians to take a look at. Indeed, Al Gore, are you listening?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Future Deficits -- of the Bushian kind

GW and JM along with Joltin' Joe Lieberman and Rudy are blasting Obama for talking about talking with our non-friends. Tom Friedman, yes I like Tom (thanks to the NY Times I can again read him), writes today that the issue isn't to whom we might talk, but whether anyone really cares to talk to us. As bad as Iraq is, Iraq isn't the biggest contributor to our problems. Our biggest challenge is the lack of an energy policy -- as Friedman points out, Bush begging the Saudis for relief isn't a policy. Because we don't have a policy that will free us from dependency on foreign oil, we're sending money to places like Iran, Venezuela, Russia, and elsewhere. At $200 a barrel they'll be hauling in money -- to such an extent that they'll be able to buy American companies -- with a couple months revenues.
In other words, GW has so badly bungled our energy policy and our foreign policy that we've become essentially irrelevant in the world. We may have military prowess, but our economic engines are clearly challenged.
He writes:

But that’s not all. Two compelling new books have just been published that describe two other big power shifts: “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, and “Superclass” by David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment.

Mr. Zakaria’s central thesis is that while the U.S. still has many unique assets, “the rise of the rest” — the Chinas, the Indias, the Brazils and even smaller nonstate actors — is creating a world where many other countries are slowly moving up to America’s level of economic clout and self-assertion, in every realm. “Today, India has 18 all-news channels of its own,” notes Zakaria. “And the perspectives they provide are very different from those you will get in the Western media. The rest now has the confidence to present its own narrative, where it is at the center.”

GW has put the next President in a deep hole -- well in Friedman's analysis, three deep holes. Our ability to dig out will require considerable work and quite a bit of luck!

Israel and Syria -- Talking!

John McCain may not want to talk with Syria, but apparently the Israeli's are, with the help of Turkey. Now these talks may not go anywhere, but if Syria can be pried loose from Iran - -a nation with whom they have major disagreements on the role of religion, etc, that could be a boon for peace and a limit on Iran's power in the region.
Of course the issues here revolve around land and water, but if resolved, the result could have major ramifications for places like Lebanon and even the Palestinian territories. Whether Israel can sustain these talks is unknown, but we'll have to pray that they proceed to a just and fair conclusion.

Day After Election Post Mortem

What should we make of last night's two primaries?
Here are my thoughts:
1. Barack Obama has all but sewn up the nomination. All that remains now is for the remaining super delegates to put him over the top. Hillary Clinton's math simply doesn't add up -- she'd like to count Michigan and Florida in ways that giver her huge vote totals, while excluding caucus states won by Obama.
2. Race has played a significant role in the last few contests. That 20% of voters in WV and KY would admit that race played a factor in their votes for Clinton suggests that the numbers were much higher. This reminds us that racism is still a problem in this nation, and especially in places like this. As David Gergen said last night on CNN, Hillary probably needs to come out and say that if you're voting for me because you don't like blacks, then I'd rather not have your vote.
3. The huge wins by Clinton were fed by Obama's decision to not contest either state. My sense is that two things happened. Some voters chose to vote against him because they felt ignored. Others chose Hillary because they knew here and didn't no him.
4. The Oregon win, and his playing things close with Oregon's blue collar whites (I saw that he'd gotten about 47% of them), suggests that the issue is more an Appalachian thing than a white blue collar thing.
5. Gender has played a role here. Obama played Clinton to a draw among white women in Oregon (and they made up about 58% of the electorate), but Clinton continues to draw well among women, especially older women. Why is that? It's for the same reason that African Americans are flocking to Obama -- this is historic. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to effectively break through the glass ceiling. Many women, especially older women, don't want to let this dream die. That's understandable. Some may feel that Obama stepped in front of Hillary and may feel upset. All that being said, when November comes I doubt that most of these women will vote for McCain. On the issues that matter to women, Obama is much closer to Clinton than is John McCain and the GOP. Had Appalachia not been an issue for Obama, I think that Kathleen Sebelius would have been his running mate. He may have to go in another direction this time.
6. Looking at the electoral map. As they say with stocks and mutual funds, past performance is no indicator of future performance. I think that this may play true in this electoral cycle. Hillary has made her case about WV and KY being key swing states. Obama has demonstrated that he has had difficulty there. But, he has also shown great strength in other developing swing states. The Mountain West is up for grabs. Obama could do quite well in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, and even Montana. He should take California, Washington, and Oregon. In fact, he stands to do quite well west of the Mississippi. He could also take some southern states -- North Carolina and Virginia seem ripe. He should do well in New England, take NY, and with the help of people like Ed Rendel take Pennsylvania. Ohio can be turned and Michigan will be closely contested. Wisconsin and Minnesota look prime for him. What he must do is peel off states that Republicans have done well in lately, but which are in the process of changing demographically.
7. The VP choice may be very important. Indeed, he may want to start recruiting a cabinet team before November --especially State and Defense. If voters know that these important posts will be in trusted hands and they believe that Obama will listen to these voices, that could help undermine any McCain angles.
8. Finally, as Howard Dean said on Meet the Press several weeks back, the key to November is the person who comes in second place. If Bill and Hillary will go to places like KY and WV, Ohio and PA, and say to voters there -- we know Barack Obama. Yes we fought tooth and nail to get the nomination, but we know he'll be a great President, and if you trusted us then, trust us now and vote for Barack. He could turn some of these states with their help.
So, here we go!