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Showing posts from June, 2011

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture -- Sightings

Call it the Jack Bauer syndrome, but large numbers of Americans, especially since 9-11, have concluded that torture is okay.  Indeed, large numbers of American Christians have concluded that this is true, even Roman Catholics, whose own social teachings rule it out.  Indeed, not only are there religious conventions against it, there is the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, that also rules against such "techniques" as water boarding.  In today's Sightings, Sidney Callahan focuses on this issue in light of the work of The National Religious Campaign Against Torture.  I invite you to read and respond to this informative essay, considering how a person of faith can assent to such acts (while also acknowledging that historically we have not only assented but participated). ************************************
Sightings6/30/2011 The National Religious Campaign Against Torture -- Sidney Callahan
For many Christians a banner reading “Torture Is A Moral Is…

Religion, Allegiances, and the Common Good

There are many conflicts scattered across the globe.  Most of these conflicts are tribal or national, and often religion plays a role, in that it becomes a marker of identity.  To take one example -- Northern Ireland.  Is the conflict really one of theology or is it one of tribal identity, with a religious face placed on it.  In Bahrain, there is conflict between a Sunni majority that rules the country and a Shia majority.  The conflict has a religious face, but it's also quite political and involves the struggle for dominance between the Saudis and the Iranians (also an issue in Iraq).  When religion is a factor in such situations, it's really not about God, but about a desire for dominance and power, and God gets dragged into the conversation.  That is, we want God to bless our side of the debate.  Thus, God blesses America -- right!?
Although a full review of Miroslav Volf's book Allah:  A Christian Responseis to be written in the coming days, I wanted to share a parag…

The Secularization of the Cross -- Sightings

In his book God in Public, Mark Toulouse speaks of "iconic faith," that is, the use of sacred icons for a public purpose -- thus the Bible serves an iconic function in American society when we swear oaths on it.   Something of this also happens with the cross, which serves in places as a public memorial (Mt. Soledad).  In recent years there have been court battles over whether it is appropriate for such symbols to be displayed on public lands.  Supporters of these monuments have on occasion sought to secularize the symbol so it can pass legal muster.  But is this good for the symbol?  Does the defense of its use as a public icon rob the cross (or the Bible) of the reverence that it's due as a sacred object?  Martin Marty wrestles with this question in yesterday's edition of Sightings. ********************************** Sightings 6/27/2011
The Secularization of the Cross -- Martin E. Marty
Weekly, year in and year out, we sight new evidence that defining what is “religiou…

The Purpose of the Constitution

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There are a lot of people arguing about the meaning and the use of the Constitution of the United States.  When the new Congress began a group of Republicans decided to read an edited version (one that didn't include the part about slaves being 3/5ths of a person).   There are those who we might call strict constructionists or originalists who demand that we read it and apply it exactly as it was understood in 1788.  Now, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since 1788 was enacted creating the United States of America.  Although we celebrate the birth of the nation on July 4th, we didn't really become a nation until 1788 when the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation.  Before that we were a loose "confederation" not much different from the European Union.  But the Constitution changed all of that.
Many of the "strict constructionists" have been arguing of late that the purpose of the Constitution was to limit the Federal Government.  As…

The Reward of Being a Welcoming People -- A Sermon

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Matthew 10:40-42

In his book The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, Stephen Post suggests that the “recipe for living a rich, less stressful, healthier, and more meaningful life than you thought possible . . . [is to] give of yourself to someone else” (pp. 27-28).
The responses I heard from the Peace Week mission teams and from the congregations who helped support their work, such as by providing meals, confirm this observation.  Not only were the recipients of this help blessed, but so were the givers of help.   That is, giving and receiving help is circular – you give and you receive and you give again, and in this relationship between giver and receiver, there is great reward.        
In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew,  Jesus debriefs his disciples after they have returned from a mission trip. He seems to want to know how they were treated.  Hopefully when the teams from Indianapolis, Lexington, and …

Hidden Gifts of Helping -- Review

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THE HIDDEN GIFTS OF HELPING:  How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us through Hard Times.  By Stephen G. Post. San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2011.  Xii + 200 pages.
            It has become clear that one’s attitudes and one’s actions contribute greatly to how one experiences difficult times, whether it is a cross-country move, a surgery, the death in one’s circle of friends/family, or a loss of a job (just to name a few possibilities).   When our focus is totally placed on our own self, moving forward in life becomes very difficult.  If, however, we change our focus outwardly then positive things can and often do happen.  That doesn’t mean that positive thinking or even positive action will cure all that ails you, but it does make a difference in how we engage the world that we know, especially during difficult times.  Conversations such as these must take into account the deep resources to be found in our faith traditions, most of which call on the individual to look…

Why Did Kuwaiti Islamists Divorce the Government? -- Sightings

Since the revolution broke out in Tunisia that launched the Arab Spring, many of us have been watching closely the events breaking out across North Africa and the Middle East to see where this trend will lead.  We in the West are hoping for a broad democratic movement to take root, though we're not always sure what that would look like.  One of the central issues for the observer from the outside is the role of Islamist groups.  What role will they take and how will that influence relationships with the West and with Israel?  Mona Kareem wrote a reflection yesterday for Sightings on the developments in Kuwait, a chief US ally, that helps us understand the variety of issues that face a very complex region. ************************************* Sightings6/23/2011
Why Did Kuwaiti Islamists Divorce the Government?
-- Mona Kareem

As a country that has an elected parliament but not an elected prime minister, Kuwait is a paradox. In the course of the Arab spring, Kuwait has witnessed sit-ins,…

Obedience's Rewards -- A Lectionary Meditation

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Genesis 22:1-14


Romans 6:12-23


Matthew 10:40-42


Obedience’s Rewards

The old hymn goes: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”   Then, in Hebrews 11, we read that “by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance” (Heb. 11:8).  Abraham is supposed to be our example of faithful obedience.  When God called, Abraham said “here I am” and obeyed, and therefore, he was deemed faithful and righteous, because of that obedience (Rom. 4:1-8).   The question is: if we’re to follow in Abraham’s footsteps what does this obedience require of us?  Is it blind obedience?  Following God’s lead without question, submitting fully and completely to these directives? Blind obedience is not part of our general cultural make up.  We ask questions and push the boundaries.  What then do we make of stories such as the one told in Genesis 22, where Abraham follows God’s command to sacrifice his son, seemingl…