Showing posts from October, 2006

Flags of Our Fathers

War movies are a unique genre. In recent years they've become more graphic, more realistic. They have their heroes, but the heroes are more human, more flawed. John Wayne war movies were always rah! rah! types of things.

War movies during war time tell us different sides of war experiences. We're in a war and it, like Viet Nam, has become increasingly unpopular. Of course, like Viet Nam, and unlike WWII and earlier wars, Iraq is being fought in our living rooms. Though the numbers of dead are significantly less than either WWII or Viet Nam, or even Korea, the war continues to drag on with no end in sight. President Bush has made it clear that any resolution, if there is a resolution, will be left to his successor(s).

And so it's in this context that we view Clint Eastwood's Flags of our Fathers. I'll try not to ruin it for those who've not seen it -- better yet, first see it and then read what I've got to say. I just watched it this evening, and found it movi…

George Will on Cheney and Iraq

George Will and I come from different places on the political spectrum. He's a conservative and I'm left of center (though not far left). But in recent months I've found his perspective enlightening. Being a conservative he can't be tarred with representing the views of the Democratic Party. But as a true conservative and not a religiously/social conservative (maybe he's an old style conservative), he brings an important perspective to the table.

In a piece I came across from Newsweek/MSNBC entitled "Togetherness in Baghdad," in which he speaks of Dick Cheney's (among others in the administration) lag in recognizing and acknowledging the realities in Iraq. The President recently dropped "stay the course" from his vocabulary, in large part because the course we're on is proving disastrous. That the Iraqi elections didn't prove to be the salve they were hoping for was clear months ago.

As we consider our political future in elections tha…

Cynical Politics

I was reading in the LA Times this morning about Karl Rove's new strategy -- spread emergency dollars to districts where GOP house members are in difficult races. Nothing goes farther than a bit of pork to draw the voters in, or so the political agents like Rove believe. It's of course not just a GOP sin, any party in power would probably do the same. It's just that Karl is so blatant about it!

Politico's can take a cynical take on the political scene, because by and large the belief is -- do what's necessary to win. Yes, win at all costs. We throw the mud and hope to bury the opponent. Especially at a time when more and more people are registering as Independents of some sort, the party bosses would just as soon that these unpredictable voters not participate. Well, I've taken a look at all of this in my column today in the Lompoc Record -- just in case you'd like to look.

My advice, though, is don't let the cynics win. Think for yourself, do the homewor…

Dangerous Myths

As I continue to ponder the words of Sam Harris, I find his closing words disconcerting, but worth pondering.
"Nonbelievers like myself stand beside you, dumbstruck by the Muslim hordes who chant death to whole nations of the living. But we stand dumbstruck by you as well -- by your denial of tangible reality, by the suffering you create in service to your religious myths, and by your
attachment to an imaginary God. This letter has been an expression of that amazement -- and perhaps, of a little hope." (Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 91). I think this needs to be heard. We like to think of ourselves, we "Christians" and see ourselves as somehow different from other religious folk. Our religion is better, more humane, divinely authorized I suppose. But to the non-religious person there is no difference. We are seen as simply irrational, believing in nonsensical myths and attached to imaginary deities. Sam Harris has hope that things will change. That change will com…

Reverent but Critical Bible Reading

I recently posted a "review" of sorts for Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation. In that diatribe against religion and Christianity in particular Harris takes particular aim at the Bible. Now, Harris will admit to only one understanding of the Bible, and that's the understanding of the most rigid of Fundamentalists. It does of course offer the starkest of contrasts between his enlightened views of the world and the benighted Christian perspective.

As I said before, I'm not comfortable with his characterization of my views, so I'll repeat them so to speak.

The rigid fundamentalist position is to take the Bible with a wooden literalism -- of course even the most rigid find it necessary to recognize that this isn't possible. But what is often done is read the Bible flatly, as if there isn't any difference between a passage in Numbers and the Sermon on the Mount. Too often the Bible is read without its context, in proof-texting fashion. You can just abo…

Letter to a Christian Nation

Ninety percent of us in America, maybe more, believe in God -- or at least we believe in some kind of divine being/entity. The number of avowed atheists is thought to be about six percent of the 300,000,000 Americans. That's not a large number. But the truth is the number of those who embrace some institutionalized form of religion is probably fairly substantial.

So I come to Sam Harris's best seller, Letter to a Christian Nation, (Knopf, 2006). I just finished reading this little book by the author of another best seller The End of Faith -- a book I haven't read. This is a hard hitting no holds barred, no prisoners taken, broadside against religion, and Christianity and Islam in particular. In the mind of Sam Harris the best thing that could happen to the world is to see religion eradicated. He holds out no hope for moderate or liberal versions of religious faith -- they simply provide a cover to the extremists who are a danger to the world.

This book of course builds a str…

Good News for the Mainline

All the news we get on Mainline Protestantism is that its a dinosaur waiting for extinction. Every year we read the statistics -- another decrease in membership and more churches closing. But maybe there is more to the story. Maybe there's good news to be had.

I know it looks as if I've been doing nothing but plug Diana Butler Bass, but hey she's been putting out some exciting things that offer hope to those of us in the supposedly sidelined Mainline. Here is an interview with Diana in Newsweek entitled "Thawing the 'Frozen Chosen'." Take a look and see if you don't see some good news on the horizon.

Well, to top it off, I'm heading off to the Regional Assembly of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I expect to be renewed!

Dangers of Bad Religion

I was at Borders recently and the new books by Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins caught my eye. I've not read either book but I've read excerpts here and there and know something of their perspective. This morning I read Diana Butler Bass's perspective on the books and their premise that all religion, not just extremist religion is bad.

Though 90% of Americans (or there abouts) say they believe in God the very popularity of these books, as Diana points out, should be a warning to moderate and liberal Christians. Progressives offer themselves, and always have, as a middle way between fundamentalism and extremist religion on the right and non-religion at the other end [on this read Garry Dorrien's wonderful series -- which is about to become a trilogy -- The Making of American Liberal Theology (Westminster/John Knox)]. But if Harris and Dawkins are to be believed even this middle road is dangerous.

As a believer, indeed, as a pastor I must take this seriously. In the c…

Becoming Pilgrim Churches

No, I'm not talking about doing a pilgrim service on Thanksgiving Sunday. I've been there and done that. My sense is that it doesn't work too well, especially if you're a visitor and you want to sit with your spouse (separating men and women doesn't work that well in modern America).

Yesterday I mentioned the book From Nomads to Pilgrims (Alban, 2006)and I can now report that I finished it last night. I plan, as I said yesterday, to write a book review for Sharing the Practice, so I'm not intending to review it here, except to say, that it's very much worth reading!

What I'd like to do is reflect for a moment on this transition from spiritual nomads to spiritual pilgrims that figures prominently in the book. I want to think about this comment in Diana's conclusion to the book:
"At first, we called such churches 'practicing congregations,' butincreasingly, we have come to think of them as 'pilgrimage congregations,'
communities of Ch…

Saying Yes, Saying No

I am in the process of reading the book From Nomads to Pilgrims, edited by Diana Butler Bass and Joseph Stewart-Sicking. This is the second volume of a trilogy of books by Bass dealing with the Practicing Congregations Project. I will be writing a review of the book for Sharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy (of which I'm the newly appointed editor). I'm almost done with the book, which is a collection of stories from congregations that exemplify the practices. You'll have to read this book and Diana's first book in this trilogy published by Alban Institute -- The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church(2004) to find out more about what the practices are.

What caught my eye was the essay by Methodist Pastor Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.: "Saying Yes and Saying No: The Prayer of Jabez, The Passion of the Christ, and a Tale of Two Congregations." The point of the essay is how we deal as church with popular culture, and more specif…

I Want to Be a Red Letter Christian Too

Sojourners has launched the Red Letter Christiannetwork. Red Letter, of course, referring to the words of Jesus, which in many bibles can be found highlighted in red. Now, I've always argued that there is a problem with the red letter idea -- because the original Greek texts didn't have quotation marks no one can be sure when a quotation by Jesus begins or ends. But instead of quibbling let me say I want to join Jim Wallis, Diana Butler Bass, Brian McClaren, and the other featured communicators who are calling on Christians to heed the voice of Jesus.

Too often we simply compartmentalize Jesus as savior. He died on the cross for my sins. I'm forgiven -- born again -- and now I can do as I please. Jesus' words, whether we find them too difficult or maybe incomprehensible, seem to have no effect on our lives. I know that the critics will say that Sojourners is limiting itself and not paying attention to the whole counsel of God. Such rhetoric is really silly, because even…

Church, Politics and the IRS

Politics and religion can prove interesting bedfellows. While not everyone is interested in politics, I expect a goodly number of clergy are interested in such things. But we walk a fine line when we enter into the political debates of the day. When, do we cross over the line. I earlier posted articles from the LA Times that talk about these issues. I've given my take on things today in a column published in the Lompoc Record. Take a look and let me know what you think.

Whose Family Values?

In the linked post, E.J. Dionne comments on the Mark Foley scandal that has riled Washington and beyond. It has the potential to bring down the Republican majority in the House and maybe the Senate. It is a scandal that shows that power can and often does corrupt, especially when there are no checks and balances. When the Republicans came to power in Congress in 1994, they came in with a "reform" agenda. Now, that agenda might conflict with the agendas of others -- as it was and is extremely conservative in nature -- but it was a call to clean up the place. Now 12 years later, the place continues to stink -- maybe even more than it did before.

Though the Conservative Republican mantra has been family values and liberal Democrats have run away from the phrase, it would appear that Republicans such as Denny Hastert are more concerned about power than anything approaching family values. Family Values has been a code word for being anti-gay. Mark Foley's sexual orientation a…

Intertwining of church and electioneering

I read with great interest the front page article in this morning's LA Times entitled "Pastors Guiding Voters to GOP." The article details the efforts made by conservative evangelical pastors like Rick Scarborough of Texas to push the line on acceptable politicking in church. It tells how Focus on the Family is guiding churches to focus the attention of congregations on two issues. It directs pastors to help a congregant who shares that the two most important concerns are health care and national security to "suggest that Jesus would make abortion and gay marriage priorities." Now, I don't know about you, but I don't remember reading about either issue in the Gospels, but maybe that's just me. Anyway, there has been a significant effort to blur the lines.

An accompanying article tells about the Kansas Attorney General, Phil Kline, who is making significant use of religious connections in his bid for re-election. Again there are significant questions …