Saturday, May 31, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
So let's take McCain up on his invitation. Here is how he has stood on recent legislation regarding vets and soldiers -- many of them supported by major veterans organizations:
* On Webb's GI Bill, he expressed opposition, and he was AWOL when it was time to vote on May 22.
* Last September, he voted against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments.
* On a badly needed $1.5-billion increase for veterans medical services for fiscal year 2007 -- to be funded through closing corporate tax loopholes -- he voted no. He also voted against establishing a trust fund to bolster under-budgeted veterans hospitals.
* In May 2006, he voted against a $20-billion allotment for expanding swamped veterans medical facilities.
* In April 2006, he was one of 13 Senate Republicans who voted against an amendment to provide $430 million for veterans outpatient care.
* In March 2004, he voted against and helped defeat on a party-line vote a $1.8-billion reserve for veterans medical care, also funded by closing tax loopholes.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Religion and Other Animals
-- Paul Waldau
A March 2008 news item from the BBC, "'Praying' dog at Japanese temple," opened with the lines, "Attendance at a Buddhist temple in Japan has increased since the temple's pet, a two-year-old dog, has joined in the daily prayers. Conan, a Chihuahua, sits on his hind legs, raises his paws and puts them together at the tip of his nose." That the dog's actions might not have involved praying of the human kind, as it were, is signaled by the quotation marks around "praying," and by quotes from various people that suggest alternative explanations for the dog's behavior. Yet the story closed on a note that underscores humans' continuing deep fascination with the idea of animals as potentially religious: "Jigenin temple now gets 30 percent more visitors than it did before Conan joined in the prayers."
Especially interested in the events at Jigenin are scholars in the developing field of "religion and animals." This field is burgeoning today because it touches on many issues of relevance to our twenty-first-century lives, as religion continues to strongly influence how we regard the inevitable connection between our lives and the lives of those diverse beings we call animals. Values and views about animals that originated in religious traditions, often now enshrined in societies as cultural backdrop, continue to exert great influence on this fundamental intersection in our lives.
There are ancient precedents for the claim that nonhuman animals have a religious sensibility. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) claimed that elephants, the animal "closest to man," not only recognized the language of their homeland, obeyed orders, and remembered what they learned, but also had been seen "worshipping the sun and stars, and purifying [themselves] at the new moon, bathing in the river, and invoking the heavens."
Today, scholars such as Harvard's Kimberley C. Patton provide theologically informed readings of many traditional claims about the religious awareness of other beings. Patton deals, for example, with "ways in which animals are believed to possess a unique awareness of holiness," noting that "in many religious worlds…mutual intelligibility obtains between God and animals that exists outside of human perceptual ranges." Assertions of a special relationship between animals and God are routinely dismissed in our human-centered world. But the increased attendance at Jigenen temple reflects that we are fascinated by our fellow creatures and the idea of their potential spirituality. In fact, "religion and animals" themes appear in a surprising number of places—one example is Peter Miller's article "Jane Goodall" in the December 1995 National Geographic, in which he discusses Goodall's belief that expressions of awe by chimpanzees at a waterfall site "may resemble the emotions that led early humans to religion."
The debate over whether or not our animal neighbors can be "religious" is but one issue in the growing field of religion and animals. In the last decade, the field has also illuminated the significant roles played by religious traditions in our learning about and treatment of other living beings. The contemporary relevance of these topics is reflected in the growth of the field—at the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of teachers and scholars of religion, the formal group known as the "Animals and Religion Consultation" has received growing attention, and publications dealing with religion and animals are increasing exponentially.
This scholarly work emerges into a context where humans' attitudes toward our cousin animals are more multifaceted than ever. At times, some humans seem driven by a refusal to inquire about the nonhuman lives within and near their communities. This refusal is evident in food practices, where many encounter animals most frequently. At the same time, more households in the United States today have companion animals than have children. Polls consistently indicate that an astonishing number of people—in some cases more than ninety-nine percent—hold their dog or cat to be a "family member."
Communities of faith are among the institutions that are most responsive to the complex connections between humans and other animals. One increasingly finds that contemporary religious communities have reinstituted the ancient practice known often as "blessing of the animals." Some communities of faith are quite creative in recognizing the pastoral value of concerns for their members' interactions with nonhumans—some offer worship services in which believers can bring their nonhuman companions, and others provide grief counseling when a nonhuman family member dies.
Theologian Thomas Berry suggests, "We cannot be truly ourselves in any adequate manner without all our companion beings throughout the earth. The larger community constitutes our greater self." Growing awareness of "religion and animals," both scholarly and practical, opens the door to a fundamental question faced by people of divergent faiths—who will humans acknowledge as constitutive of their greater selves?
Paul Waldau is the director of the Center for Animals and Public Policy and a professor in the Department of Environment and Population Health at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. With Kimberley Patton, he edited A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics (Columbia University Press, 2006).
Peter Miller, "Jane Goodall." National Geographic 188, no. 6 (1995).
Kimberly Patton, "'He Who Sits in the Heavens Laughs': Recovering Animal Theology in the Abrahamic Traditions." The Harvard Theological Review 93, no.1 (2000): 401-34.
By Bob Cornwall
The California Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision to strike down a voter-approved state statute limiting marriage to a man and a woman (heterosexual monogamy) has sent shockwaves through the nation. Thirty days after that decision, California may once again issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
But the fact is, in 1992, by mid-April, Clinton's own nomination was being trumpeted. Tim Russert declared that mathematically Jerry Brown had no shot. At this point, even if the majority of delegates were to go to her from the two disputed states, she'd not get close enough to overturn the nomination. As she, had said on numerous occasions, it will be the super delegates who decide this. By and large, they are turning to him, not her. I don't think the trend is going to change.
But if Bill doesn't believe me, let him see this -- from 1992.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Monday, May 26, 2008
Let us pray that we may never forget.
For leaders who send young men and women to war,
that their judgments may be sound
and their motives be pure,
that the love which inspires their sacrifice
be fulfilled in the love of Christ,
that our love for them may make their scars less hurtful
and make their brutality yield to the tenderness of returning love,
that they may live on the strength of the love that they knew,
that the homeless, the orphaned, the hungry, and the innocent
may help us turn from warlike ways to pursue the potential of peace,
Help us to honor its saints, and to pray for its sinners and victims,
through the Victim for our sakes, Christ Jesus, our Lord.
-- Martin E. Marty
"Women Blaze an Interfaith Trail: Two teachers become first Jewish female and first Muslim female to receive advanced degrees from Catholic Theological Union," and "She's First Jewish Graduate of Catholic Theological Union" were headlines in The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times on May 15. These are local news items, but they represent trends that are growing in the religious cosmopolis. At least two Lutheran seminaries have Islamic Study offerings. The presence of Jews on Christian faculties is common. Time to yawn and head back to presidential campaign obsessions for excitement?
What is going on is a revolution in theological education and inter-religious relations on a scale that a religious-warring world ought to cherish. The trend or revolution has its detractors. Some Catholics are building small but well-financed colleges in which Catholic truth is set in amber or hermetically sealed: non-Catholics or Catholics of other kinds are excluded or unwelcome. That's one way of fighting "indifferentism", which The Catholic Encyclopedia defines as "the term given, in general, to all those theories, which, for one reason or another, deny that it is the duty of man to worship God by believing and practicing the one true religion."
Reactionaries also accuse participants in inter-faith dialogue of such indifferentism, and propose that the future of any faith should rely on "differentism," a word not yet in the dictionary, but descriptive enough. "Differentism" does not need seminary curricular support; it appears to be natural, part of the human condition. "I'm right; you are wrong." "We have an exclusive hold on truth; you are in outer darkness." Even more moderate types may acknowledge that indifferentism, the kind of relativistic apathy that is widespread in free cultures, can indeed pose threats to the integrity of the faith(s) and the health of the soul.
The more one observes theological schools which have creedal, confessional, clarified bases but which welcome students (and sometimes faculty) who do not share their confession, the more clear it is that something is emerging which we might observe "beyond indifferentism and beyond 'differentism.'" Sarah Bier, the Jewish graduate at CTU, had seen enough religious violence in Israel; Syafa Almirzanah, from Indonesia, watched in horror as Muslim-Christian conflicts increased in her nation. They wanted to study the phenomena which occur when religious "differentism" turns violent—and to help do something about bringing about change. CTU welcomed them. The Reverend Donald Senior, the respected biblical scholar who heads the thriving—yes, thriving!—Catholic seminary said, "I think of them as real pioneers. We need bridge builders like this or else we're going to be killing each other."
Dr. Almirzanah, who played a curricular double-header as she received a second doctoral diploma the same weekend in the Lutheran School of Theology's program, shared Dr. Bier's choice of term: At these schools the women both learned "respect" for the other faiths, not "tolerance", which is too weak a word. Catholic "truth" and Lutheran "truth" were not compromised, nor were "Jewish faith" and "Muslim faith" eroded or jettisoned. A new model of relations is taking shape and, yes, these graduates are pioneers in a time when shooting comes easier than studying. The news they make is quieter than that of noisy presidential campaigns. But it is news that deserves "respect."
Sunday, May 25, 2008
May 25, 2008
Each Sunday when my congregation gathers for worship, we celebrate the Lord's Supper. In observing this ancient rite, we hear the words of Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me.” These words spoken over bread and cup, symbols of a life given for others, invite us to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. In this act of remembrance we honor and acknowledge the one who has laid claim on our lives.
What my church does at the table, we all do in one form or another - we participate in rituals that cause us to remember those people and events that impact and form our lives. There are religious rites, and there are national and cultural ones. For instance, it is with parades and fireworks that we mark the birth of our nation.
That original focus remains present, but it has increasingly taken a back seat to the recreational aspects of the weekend. There are those who mark the graves of the fallen, but more of us - me included - likely see this as a day away from work, more a day to play than to remember. Indeed, Memorial Day is now a federally sponsored three-day holiday weekend marked by picnics, barbecues, trips to the beach and to the lake. It is more a marker of a change of seasons than a remembrance of the fallen.
It can happen in many forms. It might involve placing flowers or a flag on a grave. Or it might simply involve taking a moment to remember someone who has died, someone whose life impacted your own life. As we remember, we should give thanks for those who no longer walk with us in the flesh, and yet remain deeply embedded in our hearts. Indeed, part of the celebration of the Lord's Supper involves giving thanks for a life lived and given for others.
On this Memorial Day weekend, we stop to remember and give thanks for those whose lives have made a difference in who we are and what we shall become.
May 25, 2008
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Young adults, that group of Americans under the age of forty, have become an increasingly difficult target for churches to reach. The cultural, social, and generational differences of this cohort are striking when compared with the cohorts that have come before them. Christian and Amy Piatt write from within this generational matrix about issues of faith and culture, offering words of warning and of hope.
Christian is a writer and consultant, while his wife, Amy, is founding pastor of a Disciples of Christ congregation in Pueblo, Colorado. They bring to this book years of working with youth and young adults, and their own experiences inhabiting this generation. They make use of statistics and stories to bring to life the spiritual realities of those adults under forty. Unlike the book, UnChristian, Christian and Amy are sympathetic to the life choices and concerns of this generation. They’re realistic but not judgmental – indeed, even as the authors of UnChristian recognize, this generation is turned off by judgmental and hypocritical religion. They also affirm the spiritual quest of a generation that is truly "spiritual but not religious."
The book’s title is key to the book’s message. Social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, are front and center in the life stories of this generation. This is a digital world, even virtual world. Communication is instantaneous, and yet community is often difficult to create. This is a generation that is reachable, but it’s unlikely to come to the church – to reach them the church must go looking for them. But, in inviting them into the community, older generations must understand that the physical plant, rituals and history are of less importance. Sacred space can be created wherever this generation gathers. All of this makes communication between generations difficult. The authors write:
Today’s twenty-year old generally has less in common with someone twice his or her age than ever before. Further, people resist traditional definitions and labels, creating a fuzzier notion of what exactly we’re talking about with regard to young adults (p. 5).
In seeking to reach them, we must be aware that prepackaged ideas don’t often work. And just because they like Starbucks doesn’t mean they’ll come to Christian coffeehouses. To connect churches must provide community, support, welcome, and an encouragement of the imagination. Ironically, while traditional church might not connect well, ritual has its place – but only if it allows for the release of the imagination. More than anything, there is a seeming need for connection with the generations that came before. In many ways this is a generation that has not developed strong personal habits –especially in regard to sexuality and money -- and they long for mentors who will help them wrestle with important issues in their lives. Indeed, churches that will address such issues with openness and grace can find important entrees into their lives.
In a chapter on addiction, the Piatts point out the real problems that young adults are having with addiction – whether it is issues of drugs, alcohol, gambling, and eating disorders. They ask the important question: Where is the church? That is, why isn’t the church taking proactive steps to reach out to and support those facing addiction.
Why must we wait for the judicial system to say that these young people need help? Do they have to be arrested in order to receive treatment? Is this the message we send? In a haplessly reactive culure, the church must be a proactive source of hope and healing for these young people, empowering them with the tools they require for self-care before they face these high-risk factors. We must also be there for their families, both before and after a crisis is recognized. We should be on the front lines, helping teachers, parents, and other caretakers collectively identify risky and self-destructive behavior before it eve becomes an issue relegated to the court system (p. 105-106).
Of course in a book speaking to connecting with young adults, it’s appropriate to talk about music. Music is and always will be a primary expression of spiritual energy and ideals. That churches have been fighting for years over what is appropriate is almost a truism. We recognize it to be true, but find it difficult to have a conversation. In addressing this issue, Christian Piatt writes as one who is a musician and who has spent time working in the music business. He has a strong sense of the role music plays in our lives, and reminds us that much of what passes as Christian music is deficient in quality and content. The issue addressed here is an important one, because the church faces the question of the degree to which music must be distinctly sacred in order for it to be appropriate for church. He suggests four different views, ranging from purist to separatist, while he finds himself somewhere in the middle, in positions he refers to as spiritual reflective and incidentalist.
There is a chapter that wrestles with the question of who is called to serve. Not only is there a looming crisis in ministry – an aging clergy isn’t being replaced by younger clergy – but the definition of who might serve is changing. That is, the ordination of both women and gays is in play, and for the most part the views of young adults are open and expansive. Finally, in a chapter entitled "Church of the Prodigal Child," the Piatts discuss their research methodology, tell some stories of young adults who are open to the church, but who also tend to be disassfected. In essence they return to the premise that this is a generation that is more spiritual than it is religious. It is a generation open to alternative spiritualities, but also wants to pray, study, engage in community and social justice. Looking at American history, they discern five themes that define America’s religious instincts, instincts that are very present in this generation: 1) "Personal autonomy"; 2) "Sensibility over creeds"; 3) "Impatience with organized religion"; 4) "Present applicability"; 5) "Fascination with the metaphysical" (p. 156).
We often talk about young adults as the church of the future, but in reality they are the church of the present. If the church doesn’t engage them – which involves listening with respect – there won’t be a church in the future. The Piatts offer us an excellent primer on the faith and desires of this broadly defined cohort. They write with energy and commitment. This is a book full of compassion and grace. They call a spade a spade, but do so without judgmentalism. Anyone wanting to connect with younger adults will want to read this excellent book. That the Piatts are Disciples, like me, only makes it better!
Friday, May 23, 2008
I am a Christian who finds strength in the revolutionary aspect of Jesus’ teachings; as such, I believe that were he to walk on the Earth today, this would be his fight. Contrary to what right-wing fundamentalists want you to believe, Jesus’ message was one of radical inclusion. And while my knowing that gets me through the hateful and homophobic rhetoric of the Dobsons and Falwells of the world, hearing Asman reiterate the message reminded me why I became a
Christian in the first place.
1. About Schmidt -- wonderful piece with Jack Nicholson.
2. Field of Dreams -- "Build it and he will come." Indeed -- one of Costner's best (along with Bull Durham)
3. Star Wars -- Episode IV -- The special effects may have improved, but this was the original!
4. Elephant Man -- the story of a man thought to be a monster and an imbecile, simply because of his looks, but underneath was a man of tender intellect.
5. Star Trek IV: Voyage Home -- you can't beat Spock on a San Francisco trolley.
6. Star Trek: First Contact -- How the Earth was saved from the Borg and itself
7. Casablanca -- Play it again Sam!
8. Hotel Rwanda -- heroism amidst violent and dehumanizing tribalism
9. Gold Finger -- Bond, James Bond -- the Bond series never died!
10 Raiders of the Lost Ark -- On the weekend that Indiana Jones returns, we must celebrate the first of the series!
And I'm supposed to tag 5 people:
Thursday, May 22, 2008
Here is a video that links McCain and Parsley. I post this, though I was troubled by the postings about Wright, because Parsley poses a danger to our nation. Don't think that this stuff doesn't find its way into the Middle East. If uttered by an imam about America, people here would have a fit. Is this not the same thing and isn't it much worse than anything Jeremiah Wright said?
Note too that McCain speaks of him as a spiritual guide and a moral compass for America. Has John listened to Parsley?
Here's a brief run down.
Listen to her statement about Michigan not counting:
Remember that essentially all the other candidates pulled their names off, and she still only took about 54% of the vote. In essence she beat noncommitted by about 10%. If Barack Obama had been on the ballot, wouldn't he have pushed that margin?
Give it up Hillary.
When Prosecutors Grapple with Prayer
-- Shawn F. Peters
In recent months, prosecutors in both Oregon and Wisconsin have been confronted with a complex problem: Should parents who choose to treat their children's illnesses with prayer rather than medicine be charged with abuse, neglect, or even manslaughter when their children die? As these cases begin to play out in the courts, it has become apparent that their task in answering that question is going to be anything but straightforward, thanks in part to the ambiguity of laws that might be applied to spiritual healing practices
The Oregon case involves members of the Followers of Christ Church, whose faith healing practices generated an intense statewide outcry in the late 1990's. Church members Carl and Raylene Worthington currently face manslaughter and criminal mistreatment charges stemming from the death of their fifteen-month-old daughter, Ava. The toddler died on March 2 from bacterial pneumonia and a blood infection – ailments that her parents, citing the tenets of their religious faith, had chosen to treat with prayer rather medicine.
The Worthingtons appear ready to mount a vigorous defense. Their attorneys already have launched a website dedicated to both outlining the contours of their defense strategy and raising money to fund it. But, legally, this promises to be an uphill climb, thanks to changes in Oregon law that eliminated apparent exemptions from criminal charges for parents who engaged in faith healing practices. They most likely will fall back on the claim that their religious practices are shielded from regulation by the First Amendment and analogous provisions in Oregon's constitution.
The Wisconsin case is every bit as tragic, but it might proceed slightly differently in the legal arena. On Easter Sunday, an 11-year old girl named Kara Neumann died from diabetic ketoacidosis. Treatments of insulin almost certainly would have controlled the ailment, but Kara's parents – their beliefs about physical healing shaped in part by a Flordia-based online ministry – chose to treat her with prayer in lieu of medical science. Dale and Leilani Neumann later told police that their daughter had not been examined by a physician in more than seven years.
In late April, authorities charged the couple with second-degree reckless homicide, a felony punishable by up to twenty-five years in prison. But several observers have cautioned that the prosecution of the Neumanns is bound to be complicated, if not simply derailed, by the apparent exemption for faith healing practices that remains in place in the state's child abuse and neglect laws. The couple is likely to claim that this conflict in the laws (spiritual healing practices appear to be protected under one part of the criminal code but not under another) violates their right to due process of law.
Wisconsin's "treatment through prayer" provision is not unique: More than thirty other states offer similar kinds of apparent legal protections for devout parents who reject medicine and turn to prayer when their children are ailing. A number of groups have lobbied for the repeal of such religious exemptions, chief among them the advocacy organization Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty (CHILD). Its head, Rita Swan, has argued that these stipulations, while safeguarding the religious liberty of parents, endanger the health of children and violate several different interrelated constitutional standards.
Groups ranging from the United Methodist Church to the National District Attorneys Association also have called for the repeal of religious exemptions to child-abuse and neglect laws. Several prominent medical organizations – among them the American Medical Association and the Bioethics Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics – have echoed those calls. In 1988, the latter body issued a statement declaring that "all child abuse, neglect, and medical neglect statutes should be applied without potential or actual exemption for [the] religious beliefs" of parents. Deeply committed to "the basic moral principles of justice and of protection of children as vulnerable citizens," the members of the bioethics committee called upon state legislatures to remove religious exemption clauses and thereby ensure "equal treatment for all abusive parents."
A decade after that call for reform, however, a majority of states, including Wisconsin, have failed to act. Unfortunately, it seems that legislators might only lurch into action and address the law's shortcomings if the prosecution of the Neumanns misfires.
Shawn Francis Peters' latest book, When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law, was published in November by Oxford University Press. He teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
But that’s not all. Two compelling new books have just been published that describe two other big power shifts: “The Post-American World,” by Fareed Zakaria, the editor of Newsweek International, and “Superclass” by David Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment.
Mr. Zakaria’s central thesis is that while the U.S. still has many unique assets, “the rise of the rest” — the Chinas, the Indias, the Brazils and even smaller nonstate actors — is creating a world where many other countries are slowly moving up to America’s level of economic clout and self-assertion, in every realm. “Today, India has 18 all-news channels of its own,” notes Zakaria. “And the perspectives they provide are very different from those you will get in the Western media. The rest now has the confidence to present its own narrative, where it is at the center.”