Showing posts from October, 2008

Happy Halloween!

It's October 31! Halloween is here, which means Thanksgiving is on the horizon and just after that it'll be Christmas. Oh, and it'll be winter soon!
But today is time for a bit of tricks and treats. So, enjoy.

Gog on the Move -- Sightings

Apocalyptic scenarios continually get spun by Dispensationalists and others who delve into the "prophetic." Their prognostications change as the news changes. They publish books that capitalize on the latest trends, books that end up on the remainders table a few months later. For a while Russia fell by the wayside as the political fortunes of what was the Soviet Union fell. But with Vlad Putin back on the prowl, the prognosticators are taking notice. John Howell, a U of Chicago Divinity School Ph.D. candidate writes about these recent developments in today's Sightings piece.

Sightings 10/30/08

'Gog' on the Move-- John Howell

Those who followed early coverage of the 2008 Olympics will remember President Bush's interview with NBC's Bob Costas during which the two men discussed Russia's bombing of Georgia. Asked what he had said to Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremonies about the sti…

John the Careless

It's one thing to see liberals criticize John McCain, what is most interesting is to see conservatives bash him. Of course, you might call these "elitist conservatives," but George Will isn't a "liberal elitist." There is much that I disagree with George Will on, but today's WaPo column about John McCain is on target.

Entitled "Call him John the Careless" -- an obvious paraphrase of "Joe the Plumber" -- Will takes on McCain's decision making and handle on the issues of the day. Nothing is more clear to Will than the carelessness of choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate. As an example of the problem with the choice, Will points to Palin's claim that the VP is "in charge of the Senate." Will says this is either an example of simplification or an unconstitutional grab at power ala Dick Cheney.

She may have been tailoring her narrative to her audience of third-graders, who do not know that vice presidents have n…

Bill Says Yes We Can

There's been lots of talk about Bill Clinton's bitterness and Barack Obama's snubs. Well last night everyone seems to have made up in a big way. Late in the evening, after the big Obama "infomercial" and probably while Obama was appearing via tape on the Daily Show, Bill Clinton gave a very big endorsement of Obama's candidacy. It was a reminder that under Bill Clinton America ran a surplus and under Bush with his tax cuts and massive spending on the wars and more, America has its biggest deficits ever -- and a financial crisis to end things.

It was a good night, I'd say, for Barack Obama!

Heir Not So Apparent

The Nonjurors, a politically-oriented group from late 17th and early 18th century Britain, were strong advocates of hereditary monarchy. So strong was their belief in it that they refused to give up their support for James II and his lineal descendants. Most of you haven't heard about this group, but that's okay. I'm one of the few in the world that has enough time on his hands to dabble in their ideologies and practices. The moral of the story is that they lost out!

Anyway, my reason for writing this post is this -- Ethics Daily has a post about a growing rift between Schuller Sr. and Schuller Jr. Several years ago the aging founder of the Crystal Cathedral handed over the reins of the church to his son -- the heir apparent. Schuller Jr. has tried to emulate his father. Not only does he teach the same possibility thinking theology of Dad, but he talks like his Dad, combs his hair like his Dad, and has the mannerisms of his Dad. Well, apparently things aren't…

Thoughts on Rashid Khalidi

There has been, from the beginning of the 2008 Presidential campaign to cast Barack Obama as either a closet Muslim or a Muslim sympathizer who would threaten the security of Israel. Most of this is an unveiled attack on Islam. There's also the assumption here that if one is supportive of Palestinian rights one is anti-Israel -- or worse, anti-Jewish.

Barack Obama is friends with Rashid Khalidi, a former Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago and now the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. Born in New York, Khalidi is a Palestinian. He's said some "controversial" things. An attempt at linking Obama and Khalidi is part of the ongoing smear that Obama is "palling around with terrorists," as Sarah Palin puts it. As a Palestinian American, it is natural that Khalidi supports Palestinian rights and that he has criticized, indeed, condemned, Israeli actions against the Palestinians. Palestinians strongly…

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

The McCain-Palin mantra -- besides "drill, baby, drill" -- is to call for no more taxes or lower taxes.

When you see either of them decry the Obama "tax plan," you see the crowd boo and hiss at what Obama might do. Even Joe the Plumber has spoken out against taxes. He also is against Social Security, which he apparently thinks is socialist plan as well.

My question is this: if you stacked up each tax plan against each other, how would those booing and hissing fare under each tax plan? From all estimates, if you make under $250,000 in net income you will get a bigger tax break under Obama than McCain. Do a majority of McCain-Palin supporters make over $250,000? In their rhetoric they rail against elites and urbanites and claim to represent the rural hardworking real Americans. Do these folk make more than $250,000 a year? If not, why buy the McCain-Palin rhetoric?

Do they hope that they'll benefit better under a continuation of "trickle down" …

Standing with the Outsider

From its earliest days, Christianity was the religion of outsiders. It was in its earliest moments a radical Jewish sect that stood on the side of the marginalized. It garnered opposition from the religious leaders who feared its reach into the populace. The Romans at first just feared any group that threatened order. Over time the Romans opposed the growing church because it declared primary allegiance to Jesus and not to the emperor. It did this by refusing to worship the emperor. Something happened in 310 AD. Constantine made a bargain with the church -- state sponsorship in exchange for church support. No longer was the church on the margins, it had made it into the halls of power. So different from the early days. When Jesus made it into the halls of power it was as a prisoner on his way to an execution. The same would be true of his followers.

So, what should we think of power and systems?

Going back to Peter Rollins' book, Fidelity of Betrayal, I'm struck by h…

Extremism or Cooperation -- Religious Choices of the 21st Century

I'm reading Eboo Patel's Acts of Faith (somewhat belatedly) and have Gustav Niebuhr's Beyond Tolerance in the queue. These books speak to something that remains important to me -- building bridges across religious lines. Something that Patel writes in his introduction needs to be heard. Patel's own work is with young people, largely college students, seeking to bring people together who are divided by color, ethnicity, and religion. On this issue of religious extremism he writes:

"Religious extremism is a movement of young people taking action." (p. xvii).

He goes on to say that religious totalitarians and extremists have learned to "prey on young people's desire to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact." We read about their efforts each day in the newspaper.

On the other hand:

"Interfaith cooperation is too often a conference of
senior religious leaders talking." (p. xvii).

Interfaith dialogue is important, but Patel se…

Vote for Kierkegaard in 08

With all those ads flying around, why not choose between Kierkegaard and Nietzsche? Kierkegaard was, after all, a Christian?

Thanks to James McGrath I ran across the following:

Jesus' Social Gospel

We who are Christians must look at the world, including the life of our nation, through the eyes of faith. As followers of Jesus we must ask the question: how does Jesus view the world and how should that influence me? Quite often through the centuries, Christians have domesticated Jesus, using him to bless their many campaigns and actions. Constantine, we're told, marched to victory under the sign of the cross. As a result the religion of Jesus became the religion of Caesar. As I was pondering these questions -- about faith and life, I did a trip through a couple of my historical resources. In the book Sources of Christian Theology in America, edited by Mark Toulouse and James Duke (Abingdon, 1999), there is a selection from Walter Rauschenbusch's Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907). I think this paragraph from this father of the Social Gospel is worth considering. There was a revolutionary consciousness in Jesus; not, of course, in the common use of the word &qu…

One Week to Go!

In seven days America will go to the polls (at least those Americans who either won't vote or have already voted). We will be casting votes on candidates and propositions that range from the local to the national. Then it will be over and the work will begin.

It was back on February 10, 2007, nearly two years ago that Barack Obama announced what many thought was an improbable campaign for the presidency. Just two years before he had joined the Senate, and not even three years before he had electrified the Democratic National Convention as a State Senator from Illinois running for the US Senate. He was a person with little national experience, but he did have a compelling story and an ability to inspire. There were many odds to overcome -- including the formidable campaign advantages of Senator Hillary Clinton. Despite the odds, Barack Obama is on the edge of making history. It's not over until it's over. There is no room for celebration yet. You've seen clips of that gu…

TR and Taxation

Barack Obama and Joe Biden have been heavily criticized for wanting to "spread the wealth" and redistributing the wealth. They've been called socialists and even Marxists. Apparently wanting to tax the wealthy (who by the way have seen their wealth increase exponentially in recent years while the lower and middle classes have at best stagnated), is anti-American.

John McCain likes to claim Teddy Roosevelt as his hero. I want to remind John that Teddy Roosevelt, though a Republican, was also a progressive. Remember that in 1912 he ran for President under the Bull Moose banner. One of TR's legacies is the Progressive Income Tax, which requires that you pay more if you earn more -- in the name of fairness. That apparently is an idea John McCain doesn't like -- but why then embrace TR?

Here's what TR had to say about taxes.

"No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar?s worth of servi…

Opie/Richie Cunningham say yes to Obama

Ron Howard has been a director for the past quarter century, but he has played two iconic TV characters Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham. Reprising these roles, and joining with Henry Winkler (Fonzie) and Andy Griffith (Sheriff Andy Taylor), Howard gives his endorsement to Barack Obama.

Thanks guys!

So, watch!

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Bringing the Campaign to Finland -- Sightings

There are only 8 days to go until the big election. Things are getting heated, and will continue to get heated. Religion is one of the components of this race, not just at the national level but at the state level. In California religion is playing a big role in Proposition 8, the effort to ban gay marriage. Here in Michigan it's Proposition 2, a measure that would allow for stem cell research, a proposition heavily opposed by religious groups -- though religion itself is rarely introduced. It's all about taxes and unrestricted science -- the latest being a comparison between stem cell research and the Tuskegee experiments.

So, what is the effect of this interaction -- on politics and on religion? Martin Marty addresses this issue from afar, being in Finland where he's been asked to address America's embrace of religion and politics.


Bringing the Campaign to Finland -- Martin E. Marty I am currently in…

The Fidelity of Betrayal -- Review

THE FIDELITY OF BETRAYAL: Towards a Church Beyond Belief. By Peter Rollins. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2008. 196 pages.

We have entered a Postmodern Age, an age where conventional wisdom and rationalism no longer reign supreme. Things have been turned upside down, requiring new ways of looking at the world, including the religious world. This new age is marked by a distinct anti-institutionalism, where the usual ways of organizing life are rejected. Because churches are institutional creatures, they come under critique in post modern analysis, as do doctrinal professions. Most interesting of all is the attractiveness of such understandings among young evangelicals.

Peter Rollins is one of those young evangelicals who is questioning the received traditions. He seeks to embrace a radical Christianity, one that in this book requires a bit of betrayal of traditional faith and practice. To give the reader a taste of what will come, Rollins begins his book with a reflection…

Considering an Inclusive Gospel

About a week back I raised the question of universalism. For many in the Christian community there is great concern about who is in and who is out, and how we might know the answer to the question. In answer we heard several seemingly exclusive texts listed. The question is, as always, how do we interpret and use these texts. At the same time I've been reading Peter Gomes' The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, about which I posted a review last night.

Gomes raises the point about inclusion in the book. He does so in a number of ways, reminding us of the darker sides of Christian life. He reminds us of the stain of anti-Semitism that ultimately sustained the Holocaust. He reminds Protestants of the strong anti-Catholicism that had been present at least up until John Kennedy's election. He reminds us of the attempts to exclude women from church life and leadership. Much of this has changed or is changing, but there are still parts of Christian life that place barriers ag…

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus -- Review

THE SCANDALOUS GOSPEL OF JESUS: What’s So Good About the Good News? By Peter J. Gomes. San Francisco: HarperOne, 2007. pb. 264 pp.

With a title like this, it’s not surprising that Harvard’s renowned chaplain, has caught the attention of many a reader. The title reminds us that the one we so often seek to domesticate and manipulate for our own purposes, resists our best efforts. Should we choose to read the words of the gospels and consider them, then perhaps our sensibilities will be challenged. Jesus does not do well the status quo, and yet centuries of Constantinian efforts have inoculated us to his message.

The book is divided into three parts – “The Trouble With Scripture,” “The Gospel and Conventional Wisdom,” and finally “Where Do We Go from Here?” He begins with the Bible, a text he has looked at in a previous book, for obvious reasons. If we are to understand the foundational figure of the Christian faith, we have to understand the book that bears witness to his life…

No Preconditions

Way back when, I don't know, back in 2007 I think, Barack Obama was asked if he would sit down with the leaders of "enemy" nations without preconditions. He said yes. He got a lot of criticism for that answer. Indeed, he still is getting flak for it, long after he has filled out what he means.

By "no preconditions," Obama meant, as I understand it, and as the question that day was phrased, that he would not require them to meet unreachable standards before sitting down with them. For instance, if he decided it was in our best interest to talk with Iran about the situations in Iraq and Lebanon, he wouldn't necessarily require Iran to let's say, stop its nuclear activities or withdraw support of Hezbollah. Those are likely goals that might emerge from the talks, rather than being the preconditions for the talks.

The other night I heard Sarah Palin say, with John McCain sitting next to her, that her understanding of "no preconditions" meant &q…

Religion is Ridiculous? -- Sightings

There have been many recent assertions that religion is not only ridiculous and irrational, but it's inherently violent and dangerous. I've not seen Bill Maher's Religulous, but I've seen clips, so I have an idea. David Myers in a Sightings piece today suggests that these attacks on religion, which base so much anecdote don't hold up once one digs deeper into the data. Religion might not be so bad after all, as long as it doesn't go to extremes!

So, if you're interested in seeing the other side of the debate, check this essay out!


Sightings10/23/08 Religion is Ridiculous? -- David G. MyersRidiculous, and worse.So say the new atheist books: In God is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens does not mince words, calling religion "violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children."Now Bill Maher&#…

We the Purple -- Review reposted

With the election coming down to the wire, I thought I'd re-post my review of Marcia Ford's We the Purple. It's an argument for third parties/non-partisan voting -- a middle way of sorts. I disagree with parts, agree with others. I'm concerned that we've become increasingly polarized, and this election, which had the possibility of being different has proven to be just as polarizing as earlier ones. So, take a read, see what you think!


WE THE PURPLE: Faith, Politics, and the Independent Voter. By Marcia Ford. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2008.

I must confess that my politics are thoroughly partisan. For better or worse, America is a two-party system. Recognizing this to be true, I’ve cast my lot with the party that best represents my values – even if it doesn’t do so perfectly. I do believe, however, that our politics has become unnecessarily polarized, so polarized that little gets done in Washington, in our stat…

Sarah Palin -- You're no Aimee Semple McPherson

Sarah Palin is the much beloved/maligned woman running for Vice President of the United States. She's running as a populist and as a maverick -- an outsider you might say. She's born again, having spent her growing up years as a Pentecostal (something I know a bit about, having been one myself). She doesn't make much of the distinctive Pentecostal doctrines, but she seems to buy into much of the perspective. Aimee Semple McPherson was an earlier Pentecostal Maverick. The founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, even found time to discuss politics with Huey Long. Aimee was a pioneer in many ways, and innovative and smart. Matt Sutton, author of an important study of Aimee, focusing on her politics, has penned a "Tale of Two Mavericks." It is a comparison and contrast of these two women, and his analysis leads him to the conclusion: "Sarah Palin is no Aimee Semple McPherson." I'll let you check out the piece, posted about a …

Noticed in the Paper

I wanted to post a link to the Troy-Somerset Gazette, which gave a shout out to my installation. They essentially reprinted my press release, but hey that's fine with me. As they say, any publicity is good publicity!!! Except perhaps the obituary!

Who's a True American?

A Congresswoman from Minnesota suggested that the press check out who in Congress is truly "pro-American" and who isn't. Sarah Palin has spoken about visiting parts of the country that are truly pro-American -- mainly small towns and rural areas, as opposed to urban areas. Immigration hasn't been touched upon much in the election, but it's another component. Suggestions that America is a Christian nation suggests that those who aren't Christina are somehow not truly American -- or at least they're second class citizens. There are those who suggest that a Muslim can't be trusted to lead the nation.

Since early in the primary season, there has been a whisper campaign suggesting that Barack Obama isn't a true American or isn't patriotic. Remember the absent flag pin? Of course John McCain doesn't wear one (though Gov. Palin wears one big enough all of them). Of course, he's a socialist (and no good American can be a socialist), he&…

Monotheism, Polytheism, and Violence -- Sightings

We are often told that monotheism, especially Western monotheism is not just prone to violence, but is inherently violent. Our conversionist temperament is central to that. We are often told as well that non-monotheistic traditions and atheism are not so prone. But is that true? Or must we all reach beyond the violent tendencies/traditions and try the non-violent ones? These are some of the questions that Martin Marty grapples with in yesterday's edition of Sightings, which I post a day late!


Monotheism, Polytheism, and Violence -- Martin E. Marty "Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Flee," Somini Sengupta's front page story in the October 12th New York Times, is part of one day's additions to my bulging clippings file on religiously-inspired terror, war, and violence, in the name of…(fill in the blank). The file bulges as I prepare to speak on "The Monotheists and the Problem of the Other…