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Showing posts from June, 2008

Final Hours in SB

Sunday evening is drawing to a close. This time tomorrow we'll be on our way East. We head out on a grand adventure, with hearts and minds open to the leading of the Spirit of God. We worked hard today getting things ready for the movers, and tonight shared a meal with friends above the Santa Barbara harbor. We went to Brophie Brothers, a famed restaurant, for the first time. Yes, we've been thinking of doing this for years, and finally made it. Sitting outside, on a lovely Santa Barbara evening, watching the boats, enjoying the vistas, we wondered why? Of course the answer is -- the upward call of God. But still, saying goodbye is not easy!

But heaven is, as they say, where the heart is. As we look forward into the future we know that as difficult it might be, there is no looking back. We must look forward into the future, for our call is to lead a congregation full of promise, into the future.

And of course, the blessings of God are to be found everywhere!

Witness in Palestine -- Review

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Anna Baltzer, Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories. Revised Edition. Boulder: Paradigm Press, 2007. 399 pages.

The story of the Palestinian people rarely gets told in the West – at least not in a positive way. Israeli’s tend to frame the conversation, and American politicians have followed their lead. Palestinians are seen in the popular mind as unrelenting violent terrorists intent on driving Jewish Israeli’s into the sea. It is also assumed that Palestinians are Muslims, but while a majority are Muslim, there has always been a significant Christian minority, and many are secular. It is assumed that the current conflict is an ancient one, but in many ways the current conflict is of recent vintage that is rooted in the arrival of Zionist European Jews late in the 19th century. But, again the Palestinian story remains largely untold.

The Palestinian story is a complex one – and must take into consideration both the Arab Israelis, who are citizens of I…

Gay Presbyterian Pastors?

There are Gay Presbyterian pastors, just like there are gay Methodists, Catholics, Disciples, and Baptists. In many cases it's not allowable to reveal oneself, but I guarantee you that they're there. Indeed, there are likely gays among the pastors of Pentecostal and Bible churches, but they stay in the closet. The news is that the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly, meeting in San Jose, California, has voted to allow the ordination of gays. But this is only the first step, now a majority of regional Presbyteries must agree -- which might not be possible (yet). As the LA Times article quotes a delegate -- this is increasingly a generational issue. If it's generational, then it's only a matter of time. The Presbyterians will lose churches, but likely not that many.
But, again, it's a matter of time.

Packing Time

If you happen to stop by on occasion, you may have noticed that I've not been posting much these last two days. Well there is a reason, I've been engrossed in packing up the house for the big move. We've been here in Santa Barbara ten years. They call this paradise, so leaving paradise seems odd. But if we believe that God calls us to ministry, then this move, that on the face of it seems strange, is most appropriate. What lies ahead remains unknown, at least to some degree. I know that there will be challenges. My challenge is to learn to listen closely to the various voices that are in the church.

We leave Monday, so as I'm able I'll give some commentary. Of course I'll try to stay up on the news.

And the news isn't getting any less interesting. The Presbyterian General Assembly has voted to ordain gays, Barack and Hillary got together in Unity, NH, while John McCain seems to be tracking further and further to the right. But, I'm not as able …

America and its Iconic Bible

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 25, 2007

A controversy concerning the use of the Koran in Congressional oath-taking ceremonies raised the question of the Bible's place in American life. Radio host Dennis Prager laid down the gauntlet in a much publicized column when he said, “Insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible. If you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don't serve in Congress.”
If the Bible is America's Holy Book, what exactly does that mean? It's true that the Bible is regularly used in a variety of public ceremonies, from swearing in of witnesses to oath-taking by public officials. It's believed that using the Bible in such a way guarantees truthfulness, although there's little evidence that such use prevents either corruption or perjury.
When we talk about the Bible as America's Holy Book, we're not talking about …

Building Bridges Between Science and Faith

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 11, 2008

Go outside and look around, you'll be amazed at what you see. From the beauty of a sunrise to the buried living treasure under a log, the world is abundant in beauty and diversity. Although the majority of species that have inhabited this world are extinct, our planet remains an amazingly complex and diverse world. From the tiniest microbe to the mightiest elephant, these creatures are a testament to the wisdom of an evolving creation.
I'm not a scientist, but I have great respect for their work. Their tenacity in seeking answers to seemingly unanswerable questions needs to be commended and encouraged. Seemingly undeterred by apparent blind alleys or overwhelming challenges, when one solution doesn't work, they look for another. To be a scientist requires great curiosity, persistence, and patience; this is because the scientific method assumes that there are no easy answers to life's questions.
As a pastor and theol…

Is Religion Bad for the Universe?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 17, 2006

I consider myself to be a pretty decent person. As for my religious proclivities, I can't find anything in my life and theology that's particularly dangerous. As a pastor of a Mainline Protestant church I try to present to the world a faith that is welcoming, generous, gracious, and that seeks the transformation of the world.
When I think of bad religion I usually have someone like Osama Bin Laden and Fred Phelps in mind; on the other hand, I expect that they might say the same thing about me. So, maybe it's really a matter of perspective.
We religious people want to believe that our religion is good, and we're not always sure about anyone else's. Maybe this is why I find Sam Harris' bestseller Letter to a Christian Nation (Knopf, 2006) so disconcerting. Harris is, if you don't know already, a very vocal atheist. In his mind religion may have had some evolutionary value, but whatever benefit human evolut…

What is it about Homosexuality?

Editorial Note -- this column was published in 2006, after the revelations about Ted Haggard. While Haggard isn't a story any longer, homosexuality continues to be an issue. --
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Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 26, 2008

On the eve of our recent election, scandal rocked America's religious world. A prominent and politically connected evangelical leader resigned amidst charges of hypocrisy and “sexual immorality,” and pundits wondered how the election would be affected by the fact that Ted Haggard, pastor of New Life Church of Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, had been involved in a long-standing relationship with a male prostitute. It's unlikely we'll ever know the true impact of this revelation, but the story on the front page raised an issue most religious people would rather not discuss.
By the time the dust settled, Haggard had resigned in disgrace and the Religious Right seemed to have suffered a major de…

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 12, 2006

The credo of partisan politics is: Do what's best for the party, even if it's not what's best for the nation. And the credo of nationalism is: Do what's best for our nation, even if that's not what's best for the world as a whole. Politicians know that if they take care of their party members, their constituents, and maybe even on occasion their fellow citizens (of their nation) they will be rewarded for their service to the narrow good.
All of this is rooted in an individualistic philosophy. It's a world view that suggests that we have to look out for ourselves, because no one else will. Therefore, I'll do what's best for me, and my neighbor - that's their problem. The opposite of such a philosophy is a commitment to pursue the common good. Commitment to the common good sounds wonderful, but it seems out of place in an increasingly partisan, sectarian, and nationalist era. Rarely do we he…

Post-Zionism or Post-Judaism? --- Sightings

I've been reading Anna Baltzer's Witness in Palestine, the diaristic account of a young Jewish-American woman who discovers the horrors of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Anna is definitely post-Zionist. She's also a secular Jew. Today's edition of Sightings is an engagement of two recent films, one a comedy and the other a drama, that seem to give voice to a post-Zionist vision. Brian Britt introduces us briefly to post-Zionism and raises the question of what it means for Israel, Israeli's and Jews. On the other side of the coin is what all this means for Palestinians.
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Sightings 6/26/08


Post-Zionism or Post-Judaism?
-- Brian Britt

Two radically different new films, the American comedy You Don't Mess With the Zohan and the Israeli drama Restless, tell remarkably similar stories of Israeli soldier-assassins who start new lives in New York. By normalizing the image of soldiers and patriots leaving Israel, The Zohan and Re…

Who Is America's God?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
October 22, 2006


Polls suggest that almost 90 percent of Americans believe in God. These are significant numbers, especially when compared to Europe. Despite state-supported churches throughout Western Europe, the continent is largely secularized. America, on the other hand, lacks a state-sponsored religion, but is almost “God-intoxicated” in comparison, at least, on the surface.
The question isn't whether Americans believe in God, it's what they believe about this God they claim to believe in. The details behind these gaudy numbers suggest a diversity of understandings. We may believe in a higher power, but our definitions vary greatly.
You could try to discern the nature of America's God by checking the yellow pages, but this could prove misleading. You would likely conclude that most “believing” Americans belong to one of many Christian denominations. But it's just as likely that a good American will embrace some non-institutional…

James Dobson Pontificates on Obama's Theology

Two years ago Barack Obama spoke to a Sojourner's sponsored rally. At that rally he spoke of his faith and how it influences his moral and political decisions. It was, at the time well received. He spoke of the importance of faith -- opposing those who feel that faith has no place in the public square -- while making sure that any politician or politically active person understands that religion by itself can't be the argument. You have to use reason as well. Indeed, moral statements need to be set forth in broad terms, because this is, after all, a diverse nation. For some reason James Dobson just discovered the speech and has denounced Obama. Dobson says that Obama distorts the Bible and offers a "fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution." Now, Dobson, who is by training a child psychologist, has no theological training nor legal training. Really, we shouldn't have to even be dealing with this "johnny-come-lately" attack. What has Obama d…

Dark Side of Certainty

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
October 1, 2006


There's something to be said for clarity. When the times require decisiveness, it's good to know what you believe and why.
In such life and death moments, time is usually of the essence and you can't second-guess yourself. Needing to act quickly, you have to put off the analysis. It would be great to pause a moment to consider all the ramifications, but you don't have time. Some of your decisions may come back to haunt you, but that's life. After all, you're only human. Clarity is one thing, absolute certainty is another. If you think you know the truth, and you have no doubts at all, then you're experiencing absolute certainty. Unfortunately, such certainty can keep you from listening to other voices, including voices of experience and wisdom. When you think you - or your group - have all the truth, it's easier to let this certainty lead to untempered zeal and even violent fanaticism.
In a book writte…

Talking Religion in Public

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
September 10, 2006

I know it's not polite to talk about religion or politics in public. Unfortunately I'm both religious and politically-minded, and except for sports and music, there aren't many topics of greater interest to me than these two. More than 20 years ago Richard John Neuhaus wrote a book called “The Naked Public Square” (1984), a manifesto that challenged the alleged secularization of the public square. He contended that the religious voice, which he believes is the foundation of civic life, was no longer welcome in public, doing damage to the American way of life. I mention Neuhaus' book, not because I want to deal with it or his arguments, but because the possibility that the public square could be naked is quite real. There are many countries that deny religion any place in the public square, and there are, of course, other nations where just one religion dominates the whole of public life. Though it often seems like …

Forgiveness is the Foundation of Civic Life

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 27, 2006

In a perfect world there would be no need for forgiveness. Reality, however, demands it, at least if we're going to live in peace with each other. People have dreamed utopian dreams of a world that's egalitarian, harmonious, and peaceful. While this is an attractive dream, especially at a time when conflict rages around us, history isn't optimistic about its chances. There was a time when the boundless possibilities of the American frontier inspired such dreamers, but most of these ventures were small in scope and short in duration. The idea is good, but in practice it doesn't seem to work out as planned, and those who dream big utopian dreams, like Mao and Pol Pot, usually fall prey to totalitarianism.
If utopianism is merely a dream with nightmarish consequences, what are the alternatives? One “realistic” alternative with a long historical pedigree is the principle of an “eye for an eye.” If you hurt me or my family…

Not so religious in California

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There's a new Pew Survey out. I've not yet had a chance to look at it, but I've heard a little. Today, though, there's a piece in the LA Times that looks at the report's findings about California. Would it surprise you that we're much less religious than the nation as a whole?
A majority of Californians have some religous inclinations but we're our numbers are about 8-10% below national averages. And, if you were to take out the Central Valley, they'd likely be even lower. None of this surprises me. I've been pastoring in Santa Barbara County the past ten years, and while Lompoc is much more conservative than Santa Barbara (the city), even it is much less religious -- at least in terms of institutional religion.
From day 1 I've found that Santa Barbarans are more likely to be involved in spiritual traditions than institutional religion. The Unitarians do fairly well here (2 congregations). There's a Vendanta Temple and Buddhist organizations.…

Extremism -- A 21st Century Ideology

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 20, 2006


“If totalitarianism was the great problem of the 20th century, then
extremism is, so far, the great problem of the 21st.”This is our future, says, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. Recent news reports would seem to support his analysis. Jihads, crusades, and culture wars dominate daily conversation, while ideology polarizes us. You're either for or against us, and either red or blue, with no room for purple.
While Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, and Stalin dominated the last century, religious and cultural extremism now grab the headlines. Osama seems more driven by religious fanaticism than desire for power, with his followers willing to sacrifice their lives for the cause through suicide bombings.
Though it's easy to point the finger at an Osama Bin Laden, he's not alone. I might be comparing apples and oranges, but listen for a moment to Pat Robertson. Zealotry is very much part of his ideology, as seen in the encouragement he gave …

What Wall of Separation?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
July 30, 2006


The First Amendment grants Americans the right to freely exercise their religious preferences and prohibits government establishment of religion. Unique at the time, it's become a model of religious liberty for the world. Recently, however, our interpretation and application of the First Amendment has inspired much debate.
History shows that we've never been consistent in our interpretations and practices. Though most American children no longer pray or read the Bible devotionally in school, we still have congressional and military chaplains and pledge allegiance to “one nation under God.” The words “in God we trust” are imprinted on our currency and Protestantism has long appeared to have a quasi establishment as the national faith. Whatever the nature of the alleged wall of separation between church and state, it appears that the wall is quite porous.
It's true, as many are quick to point out, the Constitution doesn't…

Can there ever be peace in the Middle East?

ed. note -- This was written at the time of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. That conflict has ended, but peace remains elusive

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Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
July 23, 2006

The newscasts are abuzz with stories of death and destruction. Lebanon is burning and Hezbollah rockets rain down on northern Israeli towns. In many ways there isn't anything new about this current news cycle. For much of the last half century, Israel, the Palestinian (Occupied) Territories, and Lebanon have been the scene of war and regular acts of violence. That Jerusalem means “city of peace” carries great irony.
Who really knows when the current cycle of violence began, but the intensity of this cycle coincides with the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by a Hamas aligned group, which led in turn to harsh Israeli retaliation. A northern “front” opened when Hezbollah guerillas based in southern Lebanon crossed the border and kidnapped two more Israeli soldiers. This act of aggressi…

A unique balancing act: religion and politics in America

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
July 16, 2006


Religion has become a polarizing agent in American life. Partisans use it to score political points and gain recruits. Some insist that the United States is a Christian nation and others say that it's completely secular. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
In my search for a compelling and thoughtful guide to the relationship of church and state I came across Jon Meacham's “American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation” (Random House, 2006). This book is just the tonic we need. As a history of the relationship of church and state, the book takes us on a whirlwind tour of American history, from Jamestown and Plymouth to the Reagan presidency, but the heart of the book is Meacham's reflections on the nation's founding generation.
Whatever their personal beliefs, the founders understood that the new nation would be ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse. The nation's long-term fut…

Freedom: a privilege and a challenge

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
July 2, 2006

It's been 30 years since our nation celebrated its bicentennial and, as nation-states go, we're still quite young. Our national experiment remains unparalleled in the world; with the breadth of freedoms we enjoy the key to our uniqueness. Freedoms of speech, the press, and religion are all enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Freedoms cherished by the founders were considered inalienable rights and the gift of the Creator. Come Tuesday, the nation will gather for parades and fireworks, all in remembrance of an act of rebellion that changed the world.
Believing that the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable, we expect our government to protect these rights or we will make a change in that government. Freedoms that Thomas Jefferson and the signatories to the document sought were understood to be the product of divine providence, but particular governments did not possess divine ordination. Government…

Fallen Soldier's Faith Goes Unrecognized

Ed. note -- the following was like others I've been posting recently was published earlier at the Lompoc Record. In this particular column I take up the cause of a Wiccan soldier who died in Iraq, but whose religion wasn't recognized by the Pentagon and thus his grave couldn't carry the Wiccan symbol. I wrote to the Secretary of Veteran's Affairs, but I don't know the current state of the case -- or others like it. But the point here is one of religous freedom in America. *******************

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
June 25, 2006


In a nation that recognizes the freedom of religion, it seems odd that an Army widow would have difficulty getting a grave marker that carries her family's religious emblem.
Military graves carry crosses, Stars of David, and Islam's Crescent, the Buddhist wheel of righteousness, and even a symbol of atheism. However, the Department of Veteran's Affairs refuses to grant the widow of a fallen soldier, one killed in comb…