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Showing posts from February, 2008

Clinton Whines Again

This has been a very odd nomination season for the Democrats. It's astonishing to watch Hillary's campaign complain every time it seems as if she's going to lose or has lost. Even though she was the "presumptive" nominee back in the fall, and assumed she was going to be in it for the long haul, you would think she'd know what the rules are. Over the past months she's complained about caucuses, claiming that they favor Obama's voters. My question is: why is that? Why can't she reach out to a broader range of voters? Or, is the real reason for her losses is that she has been out organized. So, now, just days before the Texas vote, with Obama seemingly ahead, she's challenging the rules. Why? Because she thinks they're unfair. But funny thing is -- her husband was able to do just fine under the same rules. Why are they such a mystery now? Hillary, here's my suggestion: stop complaining about how everyone is picking on you. …

A Giant Fan Considers the Post-Bonds Era

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It was great while it lasted -- the Bonds years from 93 to 2002. 2002 was the year the Giants were just a few outs shy of winning their first SF World Series. Things fell apart quickly when Rob Nenn couldn't throw anymore. The next year they won 100 games, but fell apart in the playoffs. Then the steroids questions arose, Bonds passed Hank by, and the Giants collapsed.

This Spring there is no Barry Bonds. His era is over. The star on the field is center-fielder Aaron Rowand, their only free agent pick up. We're kind of back where we were after the 100 loss 1985 season. Not knowing what will happen. For those who forget or weren't paying attention that year, 1986 saw the emergence of a cocky first baseman named Will "the Thrill" Clark. Will homered off Nolan Ryan in his first at bat and we began wondering about Hall of Fame credentials. Robby Thompson was the other key rookie that year, a scrappy 2nd baseman who with Clark formed a fantastic left side of the infiel…

The Ministry of the Missional Church -- Review

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THE MINISTRY OF THE MISSIONAL CHURCH: A Community Led by the Spirit. By Craig Van Gelder. Foreword by Alan J. Roxburgh. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007. 204 pp.

“Missional” is an in vogue word in contemporary Christian circles. The “Missional” movement crosses denominational and theological boundaries, attracting evangelicals, mainliners and Catholics to its banner. Whereas earlier generations sent out missionaries, this movement calls on the church be the agency of God’s mission in the world. It is a movement that calls on the church to move beyond seeing mission as something the church does. In this view, mission is what the church is.
Alan Roxburgh, one of the leading figures in this movement of congregational transformation, writes in the foreword to Craig Van Gelder’s book on Missional ministry, that the key to understanding this movement is discerning “what the Spirit of God is up to in the world and, therefore, the ways in which the Spirit is seeking to shape the ministry of the…

Larry Norman Remembered

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Back in my conservative Evangelical days -- I was into Christian music. Love Song, Barry McGuire, and of course Larry Norman, were all favorites of mine. Larry Norman was, back then, a bit of an iconoclast. His theology was very conservative and apocalyptic ("I Wish We'd All Been Ready" was one of his, but he liked to challenge the norms. He wore his blond hair long, talked direct and tough. I remember going to a concert in Portland during my college days. Unlike an Andrae Crouch concert, which was always enlivening and inspiring -- kind of like church -- Larry's message was hilarious and biting at the same time. He would tell a story and you wanted to laugh, but he seemed so serious you felt like you should hold back.
He was an early proponent of Christian Rock and Roll. I remember him telling us (this was around 1978) that the Christian bookstores would sell tickets to the concert but not sell his albums. One of his most famous songs said it well: "Why should t…

The Frontiers of Marital Pluralism -- Sightings

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the global Anglican community (though unlike the Pope he doesn't have any coercive power -- just persuasion), has been in hot water lately on a number of counts. In fact, he seems to be finding every mine field out there to step in. Most recently the debate has been over British accommodation of Islamic law, especially in resolving family questions. John Witte, of Emory University, takes a look at this issue in the context of broader religious question of marital pluralism. As you'll see, he suggests that a way to resolve the question is recognize that there must be a basic legal foundation -- religious courts can add to but not take away. It's an interesting piece because it helps us wrestle with all manner of marital issues, including same-sex marriages. It also reminds us that our nation, like Britain, is composed of people whose religious backgrounds are other than Jewish or Christian.


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Sightings …

A campaign's demise

This is kind of an addendum to an earlier posting about the coming end to the primary season. Reading commentaries by Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich in the NY Times, the revelation is clear. The Clinton campaign was undone by two things -- a dour message and an incompetent campaign strategy. Dowd notes that Clinton can't figure Obama out. He's an enigma to her and thus any of us who support him must be deluded -- bedazzled by the glitter. She has been so discombobulated that she has ignored some truisms of politics that her husband understands well: Sunny beats gloomy. Consistency beats flipping. Bedazzling beats begrudging. Confidence beats whining.

Experience does not beat excitement, though, or Nixon would have been president the first time around, Poppy Bush would have had a second term and President Gore would have stopped the earth from melting by now.What's so strange about this campaign is that Hillary consistently insults the electorate she hopes will put her into…

The End is Near

I don't mean to sound apocalyptic or anything. I'm not planning on quoting Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye, but politically the end of the primary season is here. On the GOP side Mike Huckabee has become increasingly irrelevant. He's not at a Mike Gravel point, but he's becoming an after thought -- someone for disgruntled social conservatives to register their complaint. But for all intents and purposes, John McCain has won the GOP nomination.

On the other side, Hillary seems willing to trudge along for at least another week. Last night's debate, from the clips I saw and the analysis I've read, show that Obama held his own, offered a dignified presence, and made no major gaff. There are suggestions that Hillary received more than her share of attention from the moderators. That may well be true. Whether or not the press has taken it easy on Obama, the reality is that now she's the one with something to prove. She's far behind in actual delegates (Superdelegate…

Another Debate -- No New Revelations

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I either teach a Bible Study or have some other church related event on Tuesday evening, so once again I missed the debate between Barack and Hillary. That's okay -- I've already cast my vote (I voted in California's primary on February 5).
This was, however, the last debate before the March 4th primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Everyone, including Bill Clinton, concedes she must win Texas and Ohio or drop out. By most accounts she must win these by sizable amounts and then run the table. The likelihood of this is not high. She had to hope that tonight he would make a major blunder, but he didn't. Most polls suggest that Obama is now slightly ahead in Texas and is closing in quickly in Ohio. Now, as we know the polls have been fickle of late. But, if the momentum is as strong as it seems to be, it's quite likely that he will win at least one of these two states.
So, at the end of the night. They had their toe-to-toe. From what I read, no knock out…

Dodd Endorses Obama

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You can see it now, the tide has turned and the momentum is surging. Today, on the day of the Ohio Debate, Chris Dodd, a former candidate for the Presidency, a senior Democratic leader, someone who can truly claim the mantle of experience, has stepped forward and endorsed Barack Obama. His voice and his reasoning is clear. Obama is ready to lead -- though initially Dodd says he was skeptical, he's decided that Obama's time is here. Dodd is the first of the candidates to endorse. My sense is that Biden will do so soon.
Dodd says what a lot of party leaders are thinking. It's time to end the campaign. Obama has taken a clear national lead among Democrats. He has a significant lead in pledged delegates (not including super-delegates). Hillary would have to run the table, which isn't likely unless Obama just flat out does something stupid -- like have an affair. Since that's not likely, the time is now to get ready to face John McCain. By continuing her attacks all that…

America's Changing Religious Climate

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Among Western nations, America remains the most religious of nations. But the makeup of America's religious presence appears to be changing. According to a new study, released today, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, things are in flux.
According to this study, Protestantism as a whole is in decline. In the 1970s, Protestants made up around 2/3rds of the population. It's now down to 51%, with Evangelicals forming a slim majority. Roman Catholics make up 25% of the population -- holding steady over the decades only because of immigration. I found it interesting that about 10% of Americans are former Catholics. Unaffiliated is the fasted growing group, with 16% of Americans and 20% of men claiming this status. This is a growing trend.
We're likely to change our religious affiliations -- over 25% are part of a faith tradition other than the one of their birth (and that doesn't include inter-Protestant switching). Now, as for this statistic, I'm surprised …

On Rowan Williams -- Sightings

Anglican leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams, has been in a difficult situation for some time. He's caught in the middle of a broader Anglican dispute over women and gays and lesbians in the church. But more recently he's been caught in the middle of concerns at home about accommodation of Muslims. His suggestion that British law give some room for Sharia caused a major controversy and Williams seeking to find a way to embrace Britain's religious diversity is under attack from both secularist and traditionalist forces.

Martin Marty, of course, is as always a keen observer of these things. In brief compass, he helps us understand the situation. So, here is this week's Monday morning publication of Sightings.

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Sightings 2/25/08


On Rowan Williams
-- Martin E. Marty


The Church of England today is a weak institution with a strong leader. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, though given few official powers, uses his office and voice in efforts to hold tog…

Undermining America's Moral Fabric

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 24, 2008

How far should a nation go to protect its people? Where should we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable measures of gaining information from suspects and sources? This isn't a hypothetical question. It's a question being debated at the highest levels of government, because we live in dangerous times.
When we discuss interrogation methods in this country, we don't like to use the word torture. Torture is something barbarous that others may engage in, but not us. On several occasions President Bush has declared that the United States doesn't condone torture, nor does it practice it. Instead, we use “enhanced methods of interrogation.” When put this way, U.S. practices don't sound as harsh and unseemly, and besides, the information gained from these interrogations is said to keep us safe. But is a practice such as waterboarding simply torture by another name?
It is waterboarding that has become the focu…

Discerning the Direction of God

Father, I am seeking: I am hesitant and uncertain, but will you, O God, watch over each step of mine and guide me. (St. Augustine)
We are home from our journey. We spent time with a great search committee in a city far from our Southern California home. We return with much on our hearts, knowing that they also must discern God's direction. In due time all must make their decisions -- and I have more than one decision to make. Do I stay where I am, knowing that I am loved and encouraged. Or, do I take a leap of faith and take up a new challenge. There is much to be said for both options. These words from Augustine are helpful, for they speak of my own sense of things at this time and place. The reality is that God is at work in both places. The question is where God would have me (I should say us, for it involves Cheryl as well) be. The important point to make at this point is that we seek to be the missio dei, the mission of God where we are placed.

Living By Faith

I am a person of faith and hopefully I live my life by faith (though it isn't a blind faith that asks no questions). The most famous biblical passage dealing with faith is, of course, Hebrews 11, which offers a definition. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." If you have sufficient evidence, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that something is in fact true and incontrovertible, then obviously this isn't what's in mind here. I'm a fairly rational person. I ask lots of questions, know that doubt is something I have to deal with, and accept the reality of the gray areas of life. In fact, it is the gray areas of life that require faith. The world of fact is black and white, but life is full of gray. Moving forward in the midst of the gray, of course, requires faith. When it comes to matters of faith, I rarely have doubts about the existence of God. I do, however, have questions about how we are to understand the natu…

What Does the Headscarf "Mean" Anyway -- Sightings

The relationship between church and state differs from place to place, culture to culture. In America, in spite of the often contentious debates, religion and the state live in general harmony. There are other places, let's say Saudi Arabia or Iran, where religion is the determining factor in "church-state" relationships. Europe, which has become increasingly secularized, often goes the other way from the American ability to peacefully coexist. Overt public displays of religion are often discouraged and sometimes even outlawed. In Turkey, which has taken the French model for itself, has sought to discourage, even outlaw some important expressions of Muslim culture -- including the woman's headscarf. That is being challenged, but as University of Chicago Grad student Jeremy Walton points out in this Thursday edition of Sightings, the question is not just about whether this is right or wrong, but what the headscarf means in this discussion. I think you'll…

Ten In A Row!

I had to wait until this morning to see what happened in Hawaii. There was some thought that Hillary might ultimately do well there -- having gained the support of a couple of big unions and Sen. Daniel Inoye. But Obama's victory was huge -- 76-24%. That's on top of the 58-41 drubbing he gave her in Wisconsin, a primary in which the polls going in suggested that she'd pulled even. Didn't happen. That John McCain is setting his sights on Obama (and getting nasty) suggests that he knows who is opponent will be. I don't expect Hillary to quit before March 4, but if Obama wins one or both of these two big states and she doesn't win in landslide fashion, then she will have to step aside. If she doesn't I expect that her Superdelegates will start to pull back, switch sides, and her financial backing will dry up. Unless she'd rather have John McCain be President, she needs to put aside her ego and consider what's best for the party and the nation. I…

A HUGE WIN in Wisconsin

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There was talk that Hillary might sneak in and win this thing. Indeed, there were those who said that Obama might have crested and will start to slow down. A close race was assumed. The answer my friend, that's blowing in the wind, is this. At this point with 85% of the votes in. Obama leads 58% to 41%. Barack Obama has won a major victory in Wisconsin, a state Hillary originally thought about passing by and then went after. It's also telling that John McCain is lighting into Obama, using much of the same "failed" rhetoric of all style and no substance, of false promises, and such -- all of which hasn't gotten Hillary anywhere. I was hoping a McCain-Obama race would be civil, but at least at this point that doesn't seem likely. Which, is too bad!

In a season of transition, where America seeks change, 2008 is increasingly looking as if we will have a major choice to make. As Donna Brazile noted last week, the choice is between "Fear, Fear, Fear" and…

Fidel and the Future of Cuba

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I turn 50 this year. So does the Cuban Revolution. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when I was born -- to be followed by JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2. That's ten presidents.

For 50 years Castro has been persona non grata. We've made peace with Russian, China, and even talk on occasion with North Korea and Iran. But, as for that little Island off the coast of Florida, we've had little connection. Alone among the world's powers, we have kept our distance from Cuba -- largely as a result of the political clout of the Cuban emigre community in Florida.
US Law prevents any meaningful contact as long as Fidel (or his brother Raul) are in power. Today, Fidel resigned from the Cuban Presidency. His younger brother is likely to be named President in his stead and the transition will begin.
You would think that after 50 years of a failed policy we would be interested in a course change. But for some reason we live in fear of what would happen …

On Wisconsin (and Hawaii too)

It's election day again, and we await the returns with baited breath. A win by Obama today in Wisconsin keeps that old momentum ball rolling. A win by Clinton puts up a road block of sorts. In terms of delegates its likely not to matter much. With proportional distribution, whoever wins will pick up a few more than the other. Its more symbolic than anything. I'm finding Hillary's campaign efforts more and more desparate. The accusations that he's ducking debates -- he's got 2 scheduled with her -- is ludicrous. They've debated already -- a debate is simply free advertising for a good debater. Then this thing about plagiarism. Now that's really specious. Borrowing lines from a friend isn't plagiarism. And if he's plagiarizing Deval Patrick, then as Obama points out, what about her use of "fired up, ready to go." Some how I think Obama has being using that for some time. If that's as good as it gets, then Hillary needs to g…

Growth, Violence, and the Coming Religious Peace -- Sightings

I envy Martin Marty. He has such a command of what's being written and said about religon in the world today that is incomprehensible. I think of myself as being aware of much of what's going on, but he is amazing. Anyway, this morning he points us to three articles in the March issue of the Atlantic that deal with the role of religion in the world today. Contributors include Walter Russell Mead, author of the book God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, who looks at the moderating influences on evangelicalism; Elizabeth Griswold, daughter of former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who looks at the religious fight going on in Nigeria between Christian and Muslim; and finally a piece by Alan Wolfe that offers a look at a way out of the religious dilemma of the age, a solution that will require a dose of secularism and compromise. It looks to be an excellent issue -- here's a preview.
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Sightings 2/18/08


Growth, Violence, and the …

Our Presidents and their Legacies

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 17, 2008


Mount Rushmore enshrines the visages of four presidents, each of whom left their mark on the American experience. Two of those so honored were born in the month of February, a fact that has given birth to our celebration of President's Day this weekend.
Looking back through history America has been led by a series of presidents. Some, like Lincoln and Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt, left a legacy of service and wisdom. Others, of course, have been disasters, though I'm sure we'd have a vigorous debate as to who belongs on this latter list. History is, ultimately, the judge of one's legacy. Some, who were judged great in their own day, haven't been treated quite so well as time has wore on. Others, considered failures in their own day, are enshrined as great leaders. I think Lincoln fits this latter category quite well. Others, either because of illness or the assassin's bullet, didn't live long eno…

Anti-Torture Bill Passes the Senate

The Senate voted today to support an anti-torture measure that would bring the CIA into line with the Army's Field Manual -- prohibiting such tactics, including water boarding. This is the press release from the National Religious Campaign against Torture: February 13, 2008
For more information contact: Linda Gustitus (202-557-8867)NRCAT Praises Senate Vote to Stop CIA "Enhanced Interrogation" Program(Washington, D.C.)
Statement of National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) President Linda Gustitus on Senate vote on Intelligence Authorization Conference Report: "Congress has spoken with a majority voice against the CIA's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' as authorized by the President. These techniques have included torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Our country and the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Now it is up to the President to sign this bill and make the CIA comply with the Army Field Manu…

How the Establishment Candidate Got Outflanked

Unless you live in Boston, you may still remember the Super Bowl. On Super Sunday, just a few weeks back, just days before Super Tuesday, the proud and to that point unbeaten New England Patriots, met the lowly wild card Giants on the field of battle. One team was led by the time tested and beloved quarterback, the other by a superstars younger brother, a QB who had yet to establish himself with any consistency. But on that day, it was the underdog who went away the victor. Last Fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of the former President, put together a team of established Democratic vets, culled numerous super-delegates, and laid out her plans for the future. Only one problem, there was this young "untested" upstart who turned everything upside down. But, as E.J. Dionne notes, there have been chinks in the armor from the beginning. Clinton has detailed policiy plans, but no central message. Indeed, as Dionne notes, she keeps changing her slogans, while he has stayed w…

I've been Simpsonized

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Is this me? I've Simpsonized myself!


Indiana Jones Returns

Okay, this doesn't have much to do with anything religious or political or even Valentines Day, but hey, I loved the first three Indiana Jones movies and expect to love the next one. Indy maybe older, but so am I. Besides, when it comes to action you can't beat him!

Here's the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. It's due out May 22nd!


An Ode to My Valentine!

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It is Valentine's Day today. And I'm no poet. There will be no flights of poetic whimsy to be found in these words of mine. That may well be, But in this heart there is great love for the one who is my wife, my companion and my lover. To my Cheryl, with all of my love.

Thugs and Religion in Myanmar -- Sightings

Not too long ago we watched and read accounts of an uprising in Myanmar or Burma. It was led by monks, who are revered in this heavily Buddhist nation. The military responded by cracking down on the monks and little has been heard since. Burma has, in a sense gone back into a closed system. In today's edition of Sightings, Professor Jason Carbine of Whittier College gives us a bit of insight into the dynamics at work in a Buddhist society such as this. He explores with us the traditional interplay of state and Buddhism, and the possibilities of change in this country.
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Sightings 2/14/08


Thugs and Religion in Myanmar
-- Jason A. Carbine


Four months ago, Myanmar was all over the headlines. For the first time since 1988, monks and lay people had staged major protests in the streets. The self-professed Buddhist military had beaten, shot, and killed Buddhist monks. After forty-five long years, the country again seemed poised on the brink of major political change. But w…

A Woman President?

There are those who believe America isn't ready for a woman president. Don't count me among them. If a woman was running, whom I believed was the best qualified person to serve in that capacity I'd vote for her in a heart beat. As a historian, I know that there is a long history of women serving effectively as national leaders. I just watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Elizabeth I of England was one of England's greatest monarchs. Catherine the Great of Russia was one of her country's great leaders. I may not be a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, but she was a strong an effective leader. Golda Meier and Indira Gandhi can be added to that number. Benazir Bhutto might not have been the most effective leader, but she was elected Prime Minister of a Muslim country, and women have led several other Muslim countries. So, there is plenty of precedent for a woman leader. So the question we're facing now isn't whether America is ready for a woman Presiden…