Showing posts from July, 2008

The Order of Saint Oprah -- Sightings

What Would Oprah Do? That is the question that some might ask. It is a question that seems similar to the one some Christians have asked -- What Would Jesus Do? Apparently one woman has sought to live her life for one year by following to the letter the advice given by "Saint Oprah." It is of course a secular wisdom, but it has a similarity to other forms of spiritual practice. Aaron Curtis explores this idea and it's ramifications in this week's Thursday edition of Sightings (the last posting we'll be getting until September).

Sightings 7/31/08

The Order of Saint Oprah
-- Aaron Curtis

Is there incipient within the modern cult of the self a desire for a more constrictive way of life? Have those of us who live comfortably within the lax constraints of secular humanism discovered that we long for some rigorous "rule of life"? Some means by which to order a welter of consumer choices (including religion) into a more cohesiv…

McCain's Mudslinging

Continued signs of John McCain's desperation is seen in attempts to raise concerns about Barack Obama's patriotism. First it was charges, which he has refused to disown, that Obama is willing to lose a war to win an election. It makes it sound like Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq is simply craven politics. But Obama has been an outspoken opponent of the war from the very beginning. So how is that playing politics. In 2002 did he decide to oppose the war because he knew it would make him a popular candidate for President in 2008? Now McCain is making charges without any evidence that Obama dissed wounded vets in Germany (to go to the gym) because he couldn't take reporters and cameras with him. The truth is that Obama chose to forgo that visit because the Pentagon voiced concerns that his aid on the trip was a campaign aid and not a Senate staffer -- and thus a campaign stop. But of course John McCain has decided not to let facts get in the way of his own…

On Women's Ordination -- Sightings

One day back Martin Marty addressed the question of Women's ordination in the context of the Roman Catholic Church. The question has come up because of a "debate" between two Catholics, one male and the other female as to whether Rome does and can change -- the male argues that Rome should re-examine it's ban, the woman says no, because Rome doesn't change. Marty wades into the debate carefully, but raises the question -- does Rome change? That is really part of a larger question, how does the church respond to changing times and mores? The role and place of women in society today is much different than 1000 or 2000 years ago. My own denomination is led by a woman, as are others. There is, of course, another question -- that of the meaning and purpose of ordination, but still the question is: how does the church respond to modernity?

Sightings 7/28/08

On Women's Ordination -- Martin E. Marty

Robert J. Egan, S. J., of…

After the Gold Rush -- Emmy Lou, Dolly and Linda

Neil Young is a wonderful writer, not such a great singer. So, here's Dolly Parton, Emmy Lou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt offering their cover of Young's "After the Gold Rush." Enjoy!

After the Gold Rush

Okay, here it is! After the Gold Rush, with Neil playing the organ. Can't you imagine Neil as church organist?

My New Organist

One of my first issues to deal with will be hiring an organist/music director. This morning at church in a conversation with a church leader we talked about the merits of hiring Neil Young (we're both Young fans!). He remembered hearing Young play/sing "After the Gold Rush" -- I'm looking for it, but this is a start

So, here's Neil sharing Like a Hurricane with us.

Energy solutions

Several years ago Tom Friedman suggested that Congress raise the gas tax so as to bring the cost of gasoline to $4.00. Prophetically he understood that it would take $4 gasoline to cause Americans to leave behind gas guzzling Hummers, Suburbans, and Expeditions and start driving less and in smaller cars. Now that we've hit the $4 mark it seems he was right. $3 wasn't enough. Gas seems to be declining in price (it's in the high 3.80s around here). Friedman has argued that such a price increase is needed to do two things -- cut our usage in America and encourage the creation of energy alternatives. Today he writes about an Israeli entrepreneur working on making Israel a totally electric car nation (powered by solar). The other visionary is a Texas oilman that wants to radically expand our use of wind. T. Boone Pickens is investing in 700 turbines for a Texas Panhandle wind farm. Driving across the country this summer we saw lots of land that can be used for either s…

A Bellicose McCain

As I posted earlier John McCain has become rather bellicose of late. It is a sign of his own desperation, but it's also a sign of his own attitudes. Joe Klein, who spoke about this on CNN the other night, writes in Time about the same issue. The essay is entitled: "Blowing His Top: McCain's bellicose against-all-enemies foreign policy is collapsing -- and not a moment too soon."
McCain has tried to place himself out front as the experienced leader, the one ready to be commander-in-chief, but as Klein points out his verbiage suggests that he would continue the neo-con foreign policy that has put the USA in such a hole these past 8 years. He's rattled sabers against Iran, Russia, and China (just to name a few). He's made much of the surge, but seems unable to deal with the Iraqi desire to see us gone.
Klein notes that while McCain has been correct on some tactical issues (surge), he's been wrong strategically or doesn't seem to have strategic understand…

Pastors and Politics

As anyone can tell who looks closely at the blog, I'm a supporter of Barack Obama. I made the decision to give my public support to Obama some time ago, but chose this medium to do so. I know that I received some criticism for that choice, but that hasn't been a problem with my congregations -- past or present. That is in large part probably due to the fact that I've not made much of that decision in church circles. The whole issue of church and politics is the topic of several essays in this summer's edition of Congregations (Alban Institute). In one of those essays my friend, Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaefer and I offer some thoughts and guidelines for fruitful conversation between religious folk and the political community. That essay emerged from a presentation Arthur and I gave in June 2007 at a Democratic Party sponsored forum on faith and politics held in Goleta, CA. It is entitled "Faith and Politics: Finding a Way to Have a Fruitful Conversation." …

Presidential Race Heats Up

Usually the VP candidate is the attack dog, but since John McCain hasn't chosen his yet, he's taken on the role. Barack Obama has been traveling through the Middle East and Europe, largely doing some listening. John McCain dared him to do just that, but now that he's there it's all a campaign stunt. McCain is also dwelling on the surge, which is coming to an end -- suggesting that Obama's opposition to the surge was political calculation and that Obama is willing to lose a war to win an election. The other night David Gergen suggested this had gone beyond the pale and was tantamount to accusing Obama of treason.

Now, from my perspective, watching Obama's trip I've seen someone willing to listen, take cautious positions, and remind people that he's not yet President (there's only one at a time). He's not always taken positions I've agreed with -- I think he's trying to be too pro-Israel, but at least he's more willing to talk to …

Challenges of Change

Sunday I'm preaching a sermon entitled "Bursting the Wine skins." The text I'm using is Luke 5:33-39. That is the parable of the wine skins. In this parable, which follows a discussion of why Jesus and his disciples don't fast, Jesus suggests that with the coming of new wine (his ministry presumably) there will be a need to create new wine skins. I'm using the sermon to address the prospects of change in the church. Now, I know that pastors aren't supposed to make any changes in a church for the first year. Just listen and learn. But sometimes changes can't wait. The question then is how and when. Before coming here to Troy I took part in an Alban Institute seminar led by Gil Rendle that dealt with change. Gil helped us understand the nature of change and the reality of resistance that will be present. He helped us understand that you often have to make changes without having everyone on board. Normally, he says, about 20% of the congregati…

Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

I ran across the following at John Shuck's blog -- Shuck and Jive. It's an open letter that deals directly with the issue of marriage equality -- and more specifically of including gays and lesbians in the bonds of marriage. It was written and posted by the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. I have read the I read through the letter and found it compelling. It's a call to support the extension of civil marriage to gays and lesbians while at the same time recognizing that religious communities have the right to decide how they will bless marriages. I think this is a fair and compassionate statement, one that I have chosen to sign. *******************************************

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

As religious leaders, we are committed to promoting the well-being and moral and spiritual integrity of persons and society. Today, we are called to join the public discussion about marriage equality. There are strong …

Fundamentalism in Europe -- Sightings

I'm a bit behind in my postings, but Martin Marty's Sighting's piece from Monday needs to be read. He is an important observer of religious trends and knows "at least a little" about Fundamentalism. Marty is off, he says, to the 10th International Bonhoeffer Congress, which will be dealing with Fundamentalism. Marty is concerned with how the term is being used pejoratively and to lump all things conservative into one grouping, something he finds very unhelpful. Take a look -- I tend to agree with his analysis.

Sightings 7/21/08

Fundamentalism in Europe
-- Martin E. Marty

Off to Prague this week for the Tenth International (Dietrich) Bonhoeffer Congress, to present a synoptic view of fundamentalism(s). The conferees are probing ways in which the life and record of the theologian put to death by the Nazis in the last month of the European War (1945) can illumine life between and beyond "Fundamentalism and Secularism."…

Saying Goodbye to Santa Barbara

On the final evening living in Santa Barbara, Cheryl and I joined another couple for dinner at the Santa Barbara Harbor. It was a gorgeous evening, one to remember. So, here's one last goodbye to our old stomping grounds!

Gay Marriage -- the future beckons?

I'm no longer living in California, so I won't have an opportunity to cast my ballot regarding Prop. 8, a bill that would institute a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a man and a woman. This bill is similar in nature to another one passed in 2000 (Prop 22), a measure that limited marriage to a man and a woman, but did so as simply a statute, not a constitutional amendment. That effort passe with 61% of the vote.
A recent poll reported on in the LA Timessuggests that things have changed in 8 years. Now a slim majority (51%) in a recent Field Poll would vote against the measure. In part that might because of changes in perspective and also because this is a constitutional amendment, and people are less eager to change the constitution. Whatever the case, it is quite possible that the California Supreme Court decision throwing out the earlier vote will stand allowing thousands of gays and lesbians to be legally wed.
The question that stands before us then is this: Is …

When Mountain Top Experiences are Few

Last Sunday I preached a sermon, one that was in part autobiographical. In it I noted four mountain top experiences that have helped form me. I did so in order to help my new congregation understand where I'm coming from. I mentioned my wedding, the birth of our son, my ordination, and the receipt of my Ph.D. These four events mark me, so I told the congregation, as Husband, Father (Parent), Pastor and Scholar.
By any stretch of the imagination these are positive markers. Cheryl and I have been married 25 years, our son graduated from high school and is set to go to college, I have been a pastor for the past 10 years (not all of which have been positive years), and have become a scholar of the church.
The question was raised, but what if the mountain top experiences are few or even not present? In what way has God spoken? What if the spiritual experiences have been more the dark night of the soul than the highly ecstatic moments on the mountain. What if the experiences have been mo…

Left Behind or Left in Cyberspace? -- Sightings

Beginning with a reflection on a new web site capitalizing on belief in the rapture -- you can send e-mails after the rapture to friends and loved ones you don't think will make it -- Noreen Herzfeld reflects on the value and disadvantages of cyber-religion. We have become more and more connected through cyber space, but does this replace face to face connections? That is the question for today.


Sightings 7/17/08

Left Behind or Left in Cyberspace?
-- Noreen Herzfeld
As a teenager, when a friend first told me about the rapture, in which Christians will be miraculously transported to heaven while sinners remain on earth to suffer a variety of tribulations, I was quite sure that, sinner that I was, I was destined to be the one member of my family and friends who would surely be "left behind." My psychology teacher later assured me that considering oneself the "chief of sinners," as the apostle Paul did, was a normal response, since we e…

Theocracy in America?

Untold numbers of books and articles have been written of late concerning the threat to American life by the Religious Right and other purveyor’s of theocracy.We’ve been warned that if these groups have their way, America won’t look much different from Iran or even Saudi Arabia.If they get their way they’ll institute Levitical law, which if you look closely seems to resemble Sharia.That there are advocates of religious extremism is quite evident, but the likelihood of a Christian Fundamentalist takeover of American political life is probably far fetched.
The popular faces of theocratic tendencies have been folk like James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and the late Jerry Falwell and the equally dead James D. Kennedy.In their writings and in their pronouncements they have railed against the spread of secularism and have called forth legions of Christians to make their voices and votes felt in transforming America.It’s nothing new, of course, back in the 1970’s there were movements that called f…

Gun-toting Evangelism

I've heard of shot gun weddings and I've heard of Popsicle evangelism, but I've never heard of a church using an assault rifle give away as a way of enticing teenagers to attend a youth conference, but apparently that's what was going to happen at an Oklahoma Baptist Church --Windsor Hills Baptist Church to be specific.

News is that the offer has been canceled -- along apparently with the shooting contest -- due to the fact that retired pastor who was going to lead it got injured. But apparently the give away has just been postponed until next year.

Now, I'm not sure how giving away an $800 assault rifle is a good evangelism ploy. I'm not sure what it has to do with the gospel -- indeed, I'm not sure Jesus would approve. Indeed, it sounds more like American nationalism than the gospel of Jesus Christ, the guy who gave the Sermon on the Mount for example, you know the one who talked about peace makers being blessed by God.

Thanks to Scott Paeth for the tip.

Peacemaking -- Sightings

Peacemaking is an oft under appreciated calling. It requires a patience and a sense of vision few of us have. Religious folk are often blamed for inciting violence around the world (and Mark Juergensmeyer's Terror in the Mind of God offers good evidence for this tendency), but religious people can also be central to the cause of making peace. As Martin Marty shows us today, writers for The Economist seem to think religious folk just might be best equipped for this job. ****************************

Sightings 7/14/08

-- Martin E. Marty

The Economist's (July 5) long headline talks about "Mediation and Faith: Not a Sword, but Peace." The subtitle notes that "In some cases, only the religious have the patience to be reconcilers." The anonymous editors include a couple of cautionary notes, but in the main the story is surprisingly appreciative. It provides "the text for our meditation" this week.
"Public religion," usually sighted …

Politics Keeps Rolling On

I'm just beginning to catch up with all the news. And from the looks of things, things don't change. Surrogates say things they shouldn't and candidates must repudiate them. There's a magazine cover -- The New Yorker -- that apparently is trying to deal with the politics of fear, but it's cover -- Michelle as a gun-toting Black nationalist and Obama as Muslim, with the American flag burning in the fire place -- isn't going over very well. Not much new really, just the same old stuff. Obama and McCain are still finding their footing. There's restlessness in the base, concern about direction. Both candidates have a image as "different kind of politicians." When they play politics, which they must do to win, the pundits accuse them of hypocrisy. Politics is, by its very nature, the art of compromise. That's why fringe candidates like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich won't win, they stand at the edges of their parties and don't budge.…

On Patriotism -- Sightings

What is patriotism? That is the question that Martin Marty considered in last Monday's edition of Sightings. I didn't get around to posting it until now, but I think that it's worth considering. It talks about the case of clergy prevented from preaching during WWI because they were foreigners and considered seditious. So what qualifies as nationalism? Patriotism? Sedition? Continue reading.

Sightings 7/7/08

On Patriotism
-- Martin E. Marty

Ninety years ago this Fourth of July weekend, the City Council of West Point, Nebraska passed a resolution that citizens were not to hold "assemblages not in sympathy with the war" or to distribute literature "out of harmony with the war," that is, World War I. On April 19, 1918 the local paper reported that three Catholic priests and one Lutheran minister "were not permitted to preach last Sunday," because they violated Nebraska's Sedition Law. "…

Politically Unawares

I am a political junkie. I've been following the election closely, wrote numerous postings on the comings and goings of the candidates, and even gave my endorsement to Barack Obama. But, since I've been moving from California to Michigan (where Obama can count on 3 more votes), I've not been able to keep tabs on what's happening politically.

From what I can gather, things remain close, with Obama leading McCain. Neither candidate has chosen a running mate. Obama has moved to the center on a number of issues (a typical tactic in a general election) and McCain has generally tacked to the right. Liberal activists are upset with Obama, but would they abandon him? Obama seems to be leading in most of the key battleground states, but there's a long time between now and then. It appears that some Clintonites aren't ready to forgive and forget. Oh, and the press still seems enamored with McCain.

But that analysis largely comes from skimming the headlines. I ho…

Reflecting on a first Sunday

Today was the day. They say you can never overcome first impressions -- and so from the looks and sounds of things, things went well! I'm very excited about beginning my new ministry at Central Woodward. We have lots of work ahead. We must balance our work on growing the congregation with our service to others. We must discern our core values so as to move forward with our work as God's people. We must also focus our hearts on mind toward God in prayer and meditation. That being said, I can say, now several hours later, that we got off to a rousing start!

We've been here a week. Most of the furniture is in place, the books in the shelves, etc. But the fun is just about to begin. So, pray for us -- the Cornwalls and Central Woodward Christian Church. Pray that we might discern what it means for us to be missional.

Good things are ahead, I can sense that. We are moving out of the wilderness and into the promised land!

Marked for Service

I thought I might post my sermon I'll be giving tomorrow at Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy, MI. It will be my first at this new congregation. This morning I met for the first time with the Elders and we began sharing the dreams for the coming months and years. But for now, share in this message, which can also be found at my sermon blog -- Words of Welcome. ***************************** Matthew 17:1-9
We’ve all had life defining experiences. They may not be Damascus Road, Mt. Sinai, or the Mount of Transfiguration types of experiences, but whatever they might have been, they helped define our lives and transform us into the persons we are today. If we look back on them, even years later, we can remember the event vividly.
There are historical and public events that define us – events like Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Martin Luther King, or 9-11. These events define generations and eras. Those of you who grew up during World War II see things differently than w…

The Economy of Relics -- Sightings

There is something mystical about what the Catholics call relics. But relics can be more than something related to a religious figure. Indeed, Topps is offering presidential relics -- sun glasses worn by Woodrow Wilson. Spencer Dew ruminates on the economics of relics, whether sacred or not in today's edition of Sightings. *****************************

Sightings 7/10/08

The Economy of Relics
-- Spencer Dew

The most discussed aspect of this month's release of baseball card company Topps' "Triple Threads Baseball" series is, in fact, not related to baseball at all. Inserted in a single pack of baseball cards will be a "relic" of President Woodrow Wilson, a so-called "book" card – actually two cards together, which open like a book – wherein will be embedded a pair of sunglasses owned (and presumably worn) by the president. You can hold the card up to your face and look through it, seeing, as one release says, "what President Wilson saw." It…

Visioning for Change

I'm just settling in, getting house and office set up. Ordered a desk so I could set up my computer at home. So for a moment my focus is on the present. Even the past is somewhat in the rear view. We think of Santa Barbara, our beautiful former home town, and the fires that are effecting our former neighborhood. We think of our friends in Lompoc, and the ministry we engaged in while there. But like I said, for the moment the focus is on the now and not the past.

I was told, don't look back. Don't regret moves or decisions. Make the most of the opportunity. And, so we will. As we dig out from the present, we will begin to look outward, see what is possible and more. It will be time to look for where God is at work. I've long appreciated the writings of Jurgen Moltmann for precisely this reason. He reminds us that God is out front of us, at work in the world. God isn't in the past. Instead, God is really in the future beckoning us forward.

As I begin m…

Have Arrived!

Travels can be travails, but our trip east was generally enjoyable. We saw a beautiful country, and the route we took crossed beautiful but often lonely countryside. Wyoming is pretty barren of people. Nebraska and Iowa are more developed, but still quite rural. Even much of western Illinois is rural. But, we're here in Michigan. The furniture has arrived, and it's time to unpack.

The future stands before us. We pray for good things -- both for us and for the church.

Soon, I'll get back to regular posting, but for now, I'm hit and miss.

Jefferson's Bible

With so much attention being given to presidential religion, it's appropriate to remember that not all of our presidents have been equally religious. Some -- Carter and Bush, for example -- have made much of their faith. Others tried to keep it private -- JFK -- and of course Thomas Jefferson was extremely interested in religion, but was not especially Christian. He was highly interested in Jesus and his message, finding in him a primary source of morals, but did not believe in his divinity or the miraculous.

Today's LA Times offers an article on the famous (infamous) Jefferson Bible, Jefferson's cut and paste version of the gospels that removed the miraculous, much of the birth narrative, and the resurrection.

Historian Lori Anne Ferrell asks the question: what would we think if we heard that the President of the US had taken scissors to the Bible? Of course, Jefferson's little Bible didn't get published until 1904. I suppose that if a contemporary President…

A Journey Eastward

No, I don't mean a journey into Eastern religious traditions. Since Monday we've been moving eastward toward Troy. We left Santa Barbara Monday evening, after a rather eventful day. The movers were 4 hours late, didn't have the necessary materials for packing and didn't know they were supposed to pack certain items. But, we got out of town and started the journey. After a couple of nights in Vegas (didn't do any gambling), we continued on through some beautiful country -- Utah, Wyoming, and Nebraska. Wyoming is barren of people, but full of beautiful lands. Since this is the 4th of July -- a day spent driving -- I must say that this is a beautiful land, one we must take good care of.

Only a couple of days more and then the new ministry begins. Life will take on a new dimension for me. I plan to blog, but my time may grow more limited. But the issues of the day are to important not to speak to them, so I'll keep my voice in play.

As we move toward our ne…
I commented recently on the James Dobson--Barack Obama fracas. I admit to not being all that sympathetic to the Dobson mentality. Obama has tried to bring his faith into the equation without making that faith onerous. He speaks from faith, but has made it clear that in doing so he has tried to find a common language that would include those whose faith is different than his. He is a committed Christian, but like many mainline Protestants he puts his faith into a pluralist context.

In yesterday's Sightings, a U. of Chicago theology Ph.D. student, Rick Elgendy, looks more closely at the issue and suggests that Dobson might have raised some important questions, even if his criticisms were largely off-base.


Sightings 7/3/08

A Public Theology or a Theology of the Res Publica
-- Rick Elgendy

Last week, Focus on the Family's James Dobson took issue with a 2006 speech made by Senator Barack Obama at a meeting of "Call to Renewal," a movement of p…