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Showing posts from September, 2008

Christian Unity -- A Calling worth pursuing

I am a pastor serving within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). In 2009, we will celebrate our 200th anniversary. Born on the Frontier (Western Pennsylvania) the Disciples movement began as a unity movement. It came into existence as Thomas Campbell, and later his son Alexander, discerned a major problem developing out West. All kinds of movements were emerging, all competing for members, and all doing so by attacking other groups. Thomas Campbell had come from Northern Ireland, a pastor of a breakaway Presbyterian church (anti-burger, seceder sect, Presbyterians). He came to the frontier and found a scattering of Presbyterians of many different stripes. When he invited them all to the Lord's Table he was censored by his supervisors. As a result, he chose to go out on his own and invite everyone to come together as one body. At about the same time Barton Stone was embarking on a similar course, and in 1832 the two movements merged.

I preached on the Disciples &quo…

Country First?

It's mind boggling to think that Congress failed to pass yesterday's epic rescue bill. I understand that the American people can't seem to understand why this is needed. And I expect there are reasons why our representatives might choose to vote no. But do they have a better plan?

Yesterday the House voted down the bi-partisan bill 228 to 205. 60% of Democrats voted yes, while only 33% of Republicans. What's ironic is that this bill is the child of a Republican administration. Unfortunately, George Bush cried wolf too many times and no one in America, apparently including members of the Republican House delegation believe him. So, what we have is a Democratic Party trying to rescue an unpopular Republican President. We have Republican House members saying that they didn't vote for it (or at least some of their members didn't vote for it) because Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings. I'm sorry, but let's be adults. Of course Pelosi said what she …

Pulpit Freedom from the IRS

Martin Marty takes up the issue of yesterday's ADF "Pulpit Freedom Initiative." He deals with the question of tax exemption, what is allowable, and what we should do when we feel constrained. Marty seems to feel that if we feel strongly that our freedoms are constrained and we must speak, so be it but expect to pay the consequences. Anyway, I'll let you read and comment!
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Sightings 9/29/08


Pulpit Freedom from the IRS
-- Martin E. Marty


Less noticed than its law-breaking advocates hoped it would be, given the economic turmoil of the week, dozens of churches defied federal regulations and used their pulpits yesterday to challenge IRS regulations, which insist that tax exempt organizations dare not spend a "substantial part of [their] activities in carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation." When this line was added to the tax code, the intention was not to target religious organizations but t…

What's Wrong with Being Cerebral?

One of the criticisms of Barack Obama is that he's too cerebral, too professorial, too intellectual. Somehow being intelligent, thoughtful, reflective, calm under pressure, analytical, is a bad thing. After 8 years of a less than reflective, less than cerebral, President, you'd think we'd want something different. No, we're told that Americans want a leader who is emotive, visceral, reactive.

So, let me ask the question: Why do Americans consistently downgrade intelligence? This despite the fact that it is America's commitment to research and exploration have set the nation apart?

Light at the end of the financial tunnel

We're not out of this yet? There are still pitfalls in front of us, but it appears that Congress has put together a package that will get the financial markets moving again. It is a plan that could result in the spending of 700 billion dollars, though that would happen in increments. It would eliminate golden parachutes for executives and tax heavily salaries above $500,000. For some of the loans taken over, they will be backed by insurance guarantees (as requested by House Republicans). It's not a perfect bill, by the admission of its negotiators, but it's workable.

There are lots of people angry about this, but if the market collapsed we would all be in trouble. Buying houses, cars, or just about anything would be limited. Companies might collapse sending the unemployment rate skyrocketing. So far, most of us have not been effected, but if this started to creep through the system, it wouldn't take long for things to get bad.

So, my hats are off to those who wor…

Faith, Values, Politics

Today, besides preaching and leading worship at my church, as well as visiting a parishioner in the hospital, I participated in a faith forum at the local Obama headquarters. The numbers were small, but I was a presenter (actually I think I was the non-staff presenter). It was an interesting conversation -- our leader wanted us to focus in some part on creating an action plan, but we didn't get much of that done before people had to leave.

But the conversation was helpful. It showed in part that Democrats as a whole are not sure where faith fits in and their concerned that religion can be an impediment to political change. But when we turned to the question of how we can start a dialogue about faith and values and politics, that would lead to a conversation about Obama, I think we came to the conclusion that biggest barrier to conversation is fear. If we are to move forward and solve the problems of our day, we need to recognize the reality of our fears. But instead of preyi…

Politics and the Pulpit

Let me be clear: I will not be endorsing or condemning any candidate for public office tomorrow morning as I enter the pulpit. There are other preachers, however, who will be doing just that tomorrow. Code named the "Pulpit Initiative," a small number of preachers who have been recruited and encouraged by a conservative Christian entity, the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that was founded with support from among others James Dobson, will go to their pulpits and defy a 54 year old IRS ban on pulpit electioneering. The point of this effort is simply this, the ADF wants the IRS to go after these preachers and their churches so that they can sue to overturn the ban.

Now, I must confess (as I often must) that I have endorsed a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I've done this deed on this blog (I don't think it's a secret--if you read the blog). That said, I make a strong distinction between what I do on this blog and what I do in the pulpit. Y…

Crossing the Threshold

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In the weeks (maybe months) prior to the first presidential debate, the question in the minds of many people has been whether Barack Obama has the wherewithal to be Commander-in-Chief. John McCain, and Hillary Clinton before that, tried to hammer on the issue of experience. Barack Obama has always countered that while he might not have the same amount of experience (i.e. time on the job) he does have the judgment, temperament, and demeanor necessary to be president. Last night Barack Obama's primary job was to convey to the undecideds out there, about 10% or so of the voters, that he would not be a risky choice. The analogy often used is Ronald Reagan in 1980 showing in his debate with Jimmy Carter that he wasn't a whack job who would lead America into nuclear annihilation.

So, what happened last night? Well, I didn't get to watch the whole thing -- about 45 minutes or so -- but I saw enough to get a sense that by and large they were even. I later watched some of the…

American Racism

For the next two Sundays we will be taking the annual Reconciliation Offering, an annual collection for the Disciples' anti-racism program. That we have to take this offering is indicative of the fact that racism still runs rampant in this country.

We hear regularly from pundits who wonder why Barack Obama hasn't run away with this election, considering how badly the Republicans are doing. Well, the answer seems pretty clear to me -- it's the color of his skin. Yes, for some it's experience, but all signs point to the fact that many Americans aren't "comfortable" with Barack Obama -- why? Sometimes we hear that he's an elitist or aloof -- but what does that mean?

If we don't believe that racism is a problem in America, news out of George Fox University in Newberg, OR should give us pause. George Fox is a growing, highly regarded evangelical university that is situated not far from Portland, OR. It is historically related to the Friends Chur…

The Bail Out and the Public

The polls say -- the public is against the bailout. Senators and congresspersons are getting all kinds of responses, very little positive. Part of the problem is that neither the President nor Congress is held in high regard. The President tried to go out and sell a plan he'd rather not have to sell. It came through in his presentation. Things are bad so we have to do something I'd rather not do. It's kind of like Jimmy Carter's malaise speech of years ago. So, we had a little revolt.

So, America is angry. They'll rail against Washington. Most of them on election day will send their own representative back to Washington -- because it's always the other guy's representative who is the bad guy. The question is -- at this point -- what should the government do? Do they risk voter wrath or do they simply do nothing? The reality is, everyone says, something must be done -- that is, the experts. Of course in this anti-intellectualist time, no one t…

Time to Suspend . . .

Stephen Colbert always seems to gets to the heart of things!


Are We Still in a Financial Crisis?

The week ends with no deal in sight. We essentially have the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans (or at least a sufficient number of them), and House Democrats willing to make a deal. John McCain came to town, met with the rebellious House Democrats, and other than that has done nothing substantial. A debate is scheduled for this evening, though Barack Obama may be doing a town hall rather than a debate.

There's been lots of drama but nothing concrete. Barack Obama was there yesterday, asked good questions, and was told by Hank Paulson that the House Republican "plan," what Barney Frank called this morning a one page set of bullet points, was unworkable. Obama has stood steady, conferring with the Democratic leaders and negotiators. He didn't make a grand entrance in the capital like McCain, didn't say he was riding to the rescue, but he showed, in my mind a steady hand, letting the designated powers do their job.

Now, perhaps McCain will rescue u…

Preaching Good News to the Poor -- Sightings

In today's edition of Sightings, Debra Erickson, takes up the question of the emerging Evangelical concern about poverty and the poor. In doing so, she points to an essay by Peter Berger that suggests that we take another look at Pentecostalism and Prosperity teachings, movements that instead of distracting the poor, may empower them. It also suggests that lower income people may be attracted to the conservative message not because of wedge issues, but because they have been disproportionately affected by social upheaval. As a progressive, this is an idea at least worth considering. So, take a look, and offer your thoughts.

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Sightings 9/25/08 Preaching Good News to the Poor -- Debra Erickson It is by now old news - or should be - that evangelical Christians have developed a social conscience that goes beyond wedge issues like abortion and gay rights. Some are even (gasp!) registered Democrats. In the most recent issue of Books and Culture (p…

Deal or No Deal

It is fascinating to watch the drama unfolding in Washington. It might even be entertaining, almost soap operatic, were the stakes not so high. Earlier in the day I read that Congress had essentially worked out a deal to take to the President's afternoon summit. Both McCain and Obama were there. McCain "suspended" his campaign to help work out a deal and suggested that tomorrow evening's debate be postponed.

I'm not sure what's going on here -- whether it is another dramatic political stunt designed to catch headlines or something else. Obama has rejected McCain's idea, saying that they should be able to do both debate and deal with the crisis. The reality is that while either of these two candidates will inherit this mess, neither of them are yet President nor are either of them on the Senate Banking committee. They can offer input, but hanging around Washington does little good.

What appears to be the case is that the Republicans won't back t…

Obama Speaks to Financial Mess

Barack Obama in this video version of a news conference speaks to his views of the financial mess and his intention to continue with the plan for the debate. He speaks calmly and forthrightly.


Polkinghorne on Creationism

The issue of scientific creationism never seems to go away. If it's not a creationist museum opening up in Kentucky it's news that a politician (this time Sarah Palin) wants creationism taught along side evolution. I'm reading at this moment biologist Kenneth Miller's Only a Theory, and will comment later on it, but British theologian/physicist John Polkinghorne has a new statement out on this issue in the London Times.

In this essay Polkinghorne takes on the problem of biblical literalism and the way in which it misuses and abuses Scripture -- especially when its proponents make an ancient text speak to modern scientific issues. What makes all of this even more interesting is that we are on the eve of two important events -- the bicentennial of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his seminal text -- On the Origin of the Species.

To give you a taste of Polkinghorne's statement, here is his opening paragraph.

An irritating feat…

Stupid Bible Tricks

We preachers have a tendency to make the Bible say what we want it to say. That is, when it comes to sermon time we've got to say something about the Bible even if the text only tangentially fits our purpose. I'll admit that last Sunday I preached a sermon on the Restoration Principle. I used at passage from Acts 3 that spoke of restoration, but I didn't make much use of the text. Of course, this was more of a topical sermon than a textual/expository one -- and I had to have a text. But some preachers go to extraordinary lengths to make the Bible say what they want it to say.

Well, Dr. Susan Pigott, an OT professor at the Baptist seminary at Hardin-Simmons University, tells the story in an Ethics Daily post about one really "stupid Bible trick." She tells of a Baptist pastor who fit Jesus into Genesis 1 by using the Hebrew word "et," a word that is not translated into English because the word simply serves as the sign of a direct object -- and it…

Observing the Financial Mess

So far this financial mess has not effected me all that deeply. I'm a new home owner but had good credit. I have a strong job situation (at least for now I'm still in the honeymoon stage). Our family debt is small -- besides the house, we have 2 cars we're paying on. We have assets in the bank to draw on if necessary. So, all in all, we should be able to ride this storm out.

But I recognize that there is great anxiety out there. People are losing jobs and homes. We hear dire warnings of what might happen if the government doesn't intervene, but we also hear voices suggesting that this would saddle the American taxpayer with an unpayable debt (not that this has stopped anyone in recent years).

What is interesting is that the current bailout plan satisfies no one. You have Senator Jim Bunning calling it unAmerican, others calling it socialism (of course for some any government is socialism), others calling for more regulation and oversight. The reality is that…

The Dangers of Moralism

Jesus was known to challenge the self-righteous and the moralizers. I realize that the text's authenticity is uncertain, but the exchange with those who came to judge the woman caught in adultery seems authentic to who Jesus was. As the woman's accusers stood up to stone the woman, hoping to get Jesus involved, he said: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her." As the narrator continues with the story, everyone slithered away, embarrassed at their own defects. Then, Jesus released the woman and charged her to sin no more (John 8:1-11).



The reality is that there are many in our midst, both on the right and on the left, who are so certain of the rightness of their cause and of their person that they don't slink away, but assume that it's their right and responsibility to throw that first stone. Much of this is due to a lack of reflectiveness, a lack of self-awareness. And such a perspective easily fires up the ideologue.

What …

Temperament in Times of Crisis

I can't say that I agree with George Will on much -- though I do believe he is opposed to the designated hitter in baseball, as do I -- and I'm not in agreement with all that he says in an editorial today in the Washington Post. That may be because I'm a political liberal who is more comfortable with government intervention in the economy than is he, but that's not my point.

What is interesting is Will's take on McCain's fitness to be president. That his attacks on Christopher Cox show a shallowness of understanding and a moralizing impulsiveness that can be dangerous.

What is central to McCain's persona, one that appears he shares with his running mate, is a self-righteous moralism that pits "us" against "them." If you disagree with me, you're not only wrong but you are immoral. Will writes:

In any case, McCain's smear -- that Cox "betrayed the public's trust" -- is a harbinger of a McCain presidency. For McCai…

A Risk We Can't Afford

Even as the financial sector melts down, largely due to a lack of oversight, Barack Obama's campaign raises questions about McCain's intentions with health care.


More Peter Gomes

Peter Gomes, Dean of Chapel at Harvard, talks about his call to ministry and more at Salon.


Crash -- Sightings

How should we respond to the financial mess? How do we interpret what's going on? What is the solution?Martin Marty speaks to this question today in his Sightings column. He points to a Wall Street Journal article that bemoans the failure of the markets to "self-heal," that is, they've not corrected themselves without outside intervention. As he shares his insights he points to a symposium that featured Milton Friedman, that guru of unfettered free markets and contrasts that with a bit of Niebuhrian realism.
It is interesting that John McCain, king of deregulators, seems to have concluded that maybe there's need for at least some regulation - maybe because the market is not able to heal itself or patrol itself!***********************************************

Sightings9/22/08Crash

-- Martin E. Marty

"Worst Crisis Since '30s, With No End in Sight," screamed the September 18th Wall Street Journal, in company with all other headliners. The four authors …

The Financial Mess

What a mess we've gotten ourselves into! Just weeks before one of the most significant presidential elections in history the economy went into melt down. The candidates can really do little except suggest what they might do and perhaps criticize what the other candidate might do. There is a danger in saying too much (McCain has been more vocal about what he would do) and saying too little (I think Obama has taken the right balance here, but perhaps he could say more). The current president is in his final months in office, which means he has little clout. The one person who seems to have some clout at this moment, and by all reports is doing a good job is the current Treasury Secretary. Both candidates seem to agree on this and praise his leadership while suggesting the need for oversight.

What is the cause of this? Greed, yes I think there's some greed here, but greed is the driving force of capitalism -- which makes McCain's populist rant against greed sort of odd.…

More on Peace Day

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I reported yesterday that Central Woodward Christian Church hosted the Troy Interfaith Group's observance of International Day of Peace. Here is a report of our event and others around Metro Detroit. By the way, we made peace pinwheels as well!

International Day of Peace -- An Interfaith Observance

Today the Troy Interfaith Group observed the UN's International Day of Peace. About 90 adults, youth and children gathered at my church -- Central Woodward Christian Church of Troy, MI -- to share their visions of peace. We had Muslim, Hindu, Baha'i, Unitarian, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, and Amaddiyah Muslim groups come together. It was a good day, all in all. I'll share below my opening comments -- sans the directions! May today be a day of peace, the beginning of a new possibility for our nation and world. **************************************************************


International Day of Peace

Today is, by decree of the United Nations, the International Day of Peace. This day of peace was first set aside by the UN in 1981, and since 2002 it has been observed each 21st day of September. According to the organizers: "Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples . . . Th…

A Scandalous Jesus -- Peter Gomes talks to Stephen Colbert

Peter Gomes appears on Stephen Colbert's show to plug his new book on Jesus -- The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus (HarperOne, 2008).

Gomes tells us that the gospel is scandalous because churches are agents of conservatism and the status quo, but Jesus upsets the status quo. Enjoy the video!!


It's the Economy Stupid

The mantra of the 1992 election was "It's the Economy Stupid." Bill Clinton took down an incumbent US president because that president, though he had presided over the successful conclusion of the first Gulf War, seemed out of touch on economic issues. Go buy socks he told us -- kind of like his son told us after 9-11 that everything would be fine if we just go out and buy things.

Not long ago it was the Iraq War and national security that sat at the top of the agenda. People in 2004 voted for GW Bush in large part because he suggested to people (and many believed) that a vote for John Kerry would make the US unsafe from terrorism -- what people forgot was that the issues were much bigger than just terrorism (and it's quite questionable that GW made us safer). But this last week put the economy front and center again. Now neither candidate can do anything substantive about the economy at this moment -- neither has any real power to do so. All we can do is look b…

Maybe I'm really a Conservative

David Brooks wrote a column the other day about Sarah Palin, and whether she's qualified to be VP. He concludes that while she brings certain qualities to the table, those qualities, at this time do not fit well with her proposed duties. That's not the point though, that I have in mind.

Brooks makes a different point as the foundation for his argument. Brooks, like George Will, is a conservative. And Brooks points out that conservatism historically has been an "elitist" philosophy. Only recently has the "conservative" movement in America taken on a more populist hue. That may largely be due to the influx of social conservatives into the mix. When I was growing up Republican, the GOP of my youth was focused on economics and projecting a forceful military presence in the world. It was in many ways the pro-business party. It was the party of the bankers and the CEO's. It wasn't the party of unions or blue collar folk. Things have changed, in …

American Islam Enters its Next Phase -- Sightings

Until recently most Americans had little interest in or connection to Islam. Most of us knew very little about it -- though we knew that Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul Jabbar had both converted to Islam -- back in the 60s. We may have heard about Malcom X -- whose fiery rhetoric made many Americans embrace Martin Luther King as the less radical version of the Civil Rights effort. But for the most part we've known little about Islam -- and continue to know little about it, though interest is growing (mostly out of fear).

Omer Mazaffar, a University of Chicago Ph.D. student directs us to the person of W.D. Mohammed, son of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Mohammed. Unlike his father W.D. Mohammed came to embrace orthodox Sunni Islam and became a leader in American Islam -- across ethnic boundaries. W.D. Mohammed was buried on September 11th, just a week ago, ending a family legacy that has had a significant impact on American religious and political life. It is a helpful piece, …

GREED or HUBRIS?

We are witnessing a major financial meltdown in our country. Investment banks, insurance companies, normal banking institutions, lending institutions are collapsing. People are loosing homes through foreclosure. Why? We're being told be people on both sides of the aisle that the culprit is greed. Does that surprise anyone? It has always been true that for most people, the more you have, the more you want.

Reinhold Niebuhr writes of the root of human sin:

Man is insecure and involved in natural contingency; he seeks to overcome his insecurity by a will-to-power which overreaches the limits of human creatureliness. Man is ignorant and involved in the limitations of the finite mind; but he pretends that he is not limited. He assumes that he can gradually transcend finite limitations until his mind becomes identical with the universal mind. All his intellectual and cultural pursuits, therefore, become infected with the sin of pride. (Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public …

Biden's Response!

I love Joe Biden! I believe that he's an excellent running mate for Barack Obama, in part because Joe not only understands foreign policy, but he speaks from a middle class perspective. But most of all, Joe says what he thinks! That gets him into trouble, but he does so with such grace and wit you can't help but like him. And he'll own up when he makes a mistake.

He was here in Michigan yesterday and spoke to the people of the neighboring county. Michigan is an important vote in the upcoming election, and Joe unmasked McCain-Palin. Here he is on the economy.




You can read the rest of the speech here.

Subordinate but not Submissive -- Sightings

I have to admit, when I first saw the title of the post I thought Martin Marty was going to deal with the issue of Conservative Christian support for a woman candidate for the VP -- given that women can't hold church office and must submit to their husbands at home. But that's not the focus of this essay, no it has to do with whether we should follow the biblical injunction to disobey when the government's judgment runs counter to our faith perspective. And if so, should we be willing to suffer the consequences? Take a read and offer your thoughts:
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Sightings 9/15/08


Subordinate but Not Submissive
-- Martin E. Marty

You did not ask to be born into a republic which legally subordinates religion to civil society. You thought that because religion usually makes reference to whatever or Whomever it is that transcends society, society and its laws should come in second in any contest. You thought that because we see…