Showing posts from July, 2007

Why Barack Obama?

I strongly believe in the constitutional principle that bans religious tests for public office. It does not matter whether a candidate is a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist or an atheist. What does matter is whether a candidate is competent, honest, has integrity, and is compassionate. When I look at Barack Obama he seems to have these important qualities. And so, on those principles alone, I feel like he is the best person running for president to serve as president.
But, as a person of faith who believes that faith can play an important role in the public square, I find Barack Obama’s willingness to speak of his faith and from his faith quite refreshing. That he understands the gospel and its call to love one’s neighbor is welcome.
When I hear candidates speak of faith, I listen for a voice that is authentic, for too many politicians have discovered the value of religion to politics. Now in recent years, Democrats by and large have shied away from such uses, but it would be easy for …

Being Missional -- A Quest for Understanding

I am intrigued by the idea of being a missional church. I'm still learning what that means, which is why I attended the Congregational Transformation workshop at the Disciples General Assembly. Among the presenters were Dick Hamm, whose book Recreating the Church I just reviewed, and Alan Roxburgh, a consultant/coach from Vancouver BC. I'm reading his book with Fred Romanuk, The Missional Leader (Jossey Bass, 2006). Roxburgh and Romanuck write this about being missional: Mission is not about a project or a budget, or one-off event somewhere; it's not even about sending missionaries. A missional church is a community of God's people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God's missionary people living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all creation in Jesus Christ. (p. xv)
Being missional is being outward focused, not inward focused. It's not about program either. It's not top-down, but the mission emerges…

Understanding Religion -- A Foreign Policy Dilemma

I think the Cold War era was less complicated than today's world. There were two superpowers, one "Communist" and the other "Capitalist." It was a matter of ideology. The two superpowers played it's lesser allies off on each other and rattled sabers occasionally. They even fought proxy wars, but the underlying issue remained ideological and there were lots of folks learning the language of that ideological war to guide the government's foreign policy. Times have changed, but the same Cold War mentality remains dominant in Washington. The problem is that things aren't as they were. The so-called War on Terror has no "focused" enemy. Instead it's some kind of many headed hydra. We use the term terrorist broadly to cover everyone from Hamas to Al Qaeda, but not all groups are alike. Some dream of world wide dominion while others are focused on local issues. The War in Iraq foundered quickly in large part because those planning i…

Michael Vick, Theology and the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Yesterday I posted a piece from Sightings raising the possibility that chimps might have religion of some sort. Today I read a piece on God's Politics by my friend Diana Butler Bass on the ethical treatment of animals, in light of the charges that Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick engaged in dog fighting. Diana is working on a book on church history and has been reading Gregory of Nyssa and his sister Macrina, who deal with this very issue. Funny how the ancient church could wrestle with modern issues like our relationship to the animal world. The dialogue between Gregory and Macrina is one of the gossamer threads in Christian tradition. Unlike Soul, much of Christian theology emphasized distinctions between humans and animals, rather than stitching connections between aspects of creation (indeed, Macrina even develops a connection between humanity and plant life). Dividing creation into superior and inferior ranks
served as an excuse for rampant injustice on the part of Christians…

Recreating the Church -- A Review

Richard L. Hamm. Recreating the Church: Leadership for the Postmodern Age. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007.

It’s no secret – the Mainline has suffered dramatically in membership losses and influence these past few decades. Where once Presbyterian, Methodist, Episcopal, Disciple, UCC, American Baptist, Reformed Church in America, and ELCA were the dominant forces American religious life, others have taken place. Whether or not that is to change is yet to be seen.
Richard Hamm offers the Mainline churches a manifesto that calls on these historic churches to essentially seize the day and embrace the future. Hamm writes as one who has experienced all levels of church leadership. He has served as a local pastor, a middle judicatory, and head of a national denomination. Soon he will take on a new role as the first Executive Director of “Christian Churches Together.” So it can be said that this is a person who knows his subject well. The book is written to leaders of congregations, regional bo…

Religion of the Apes -- Sightings

Religion is considered one of those distinctly human attributes, but what if chimps, our closest evolutionary cousins (if as I do you believe in evolution), have religion also? That thought might be disturbing, but according to Christian Sheppard in today's Sightings essay, such is the view of Jane Goodall. Read the essay, if you might and then I'd be interested in your thoughts about this most challenging idea! Sightings 7/26/07

Religion of the Apes-- Christian Sheppard
Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo recently hosted a conference on chimpanzee cognition and culture, "The Mind of the Chimpanzee." The most recent research confirms that chimpanzees possess a sense of self, a theory of mind, strong memory, empathy, politics, and culture. One further question to ask is whether our fellow apes also possess religion. Jane Goodall has posed this question. She observed long ago that, during the rainy season, male chimpanzees display before the storm's thunder, lightnin…

A General Assembly Reflection

The 2007 General Assembly has closed and I might add it closed with a bang!! Jim Wallis was our preacher for the closing session and he did a bang up job. He is much better as a speaker than as a writer and he called us as Disciples to be true to our name. His message was about social justice -- but with a "revivalist" tone. He called us to join together and change the world. I must say I was moved.

Earlier in the evening I had the opportunity to hear and then meet Krista Tippett, whose book I've reviewed on this blog. It was a great message that encouraged us to share our faith in the world with humility and grace.

Yesterday was taken up with business sessions (the afternoon of which I attended). The issue that divided us concerned the Iraq War and a call to oppose it. The measure passed despite some maneuvering to get it thrown out, but the passage was fairly narrow. I was impressed by our moderator's actions after the vote. Bill Lee called us to prayer, a prayer for…

And the Rains Came Down!

Yesterday was the first full day at the General Assembly -- and I overslept and missed the opening business session (I tend to skip as much of these sessions as possible anyway). But the assembly is a good opportunity to network, see old friends, and get information for the church. I'm attending the 2 day workshop on congregational transformation, which has been interesting. Lots of information is being thrown at us, but it should be interesting. Today Alan Roxenburg will be a lead presenter, and I'm interested in what he has to say. The Disciples have shrunk over the years, but though there is still much pessimism, there is also great optimism. I do believe that the Disciples message of freedom, unity, justice, and a Christ centered faith will have great promise in the coming years -- but transformation of a denomination and of congregations takes time. As Dick Hamm shared -- if you have a 2 year plan for congregational transformation, the only thing you'll change aft…

My ESPN Moment

Last night, rather than do my duty and attend to my General Minister's Message to the Church (I'll get the CD!), I went with a friend from Fort Worth to the Texas Rangers/Cleveland Indians game (Cleveland won). My friend has a church member with tickets front row right behind home plate. Last night as I watched the Baseball Tonight highlights, I found myself there on the screen -- as runs scored (Cleveland). That I wasn't standing and cheering can be explained by my being a Giants fan. But despite the humidity, I had a great time!

More reporting on important things later.

A Little Summer Reading

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
July 22, 2007

Summer is going by fast, but there's still time to do a little summer reading, and I have a book to recommend. It's not light beach reading, but it has an important message about how people understand and live their faith. It's the story about a religious pilgrimage informed by conversations with people of faith, some who are Christian and some who are not.
Krista Tippett is the host of Public Radio's Speaking of Faith and author of a book by the same name. “Speaking of Faith” (Viking, 2007) is a relatively brief book, but it allows this theologically-trained (Yale Divinity School) journalist to share with us a model of listening to people as they share their stories of faith in ways that are humble and authentic.
In the course of six chapters that range from the auto-biographical to the analytical, she talks about how she grew up in a fairly rigid Christian setting, abandoned that faith, and then rediscovered a broader…

From Santa Barbara to Texas for the GA

I left Santa Barbara at 6 AM this morning. It was foggy and cool -- just perfect. Got to Fort Worth -- it's green here -- cloudy and humid -- not used to the weather, but should be interesting.

Looking forward to the General Assembly -- all those hours sitting in hard seats. Oh, yeah! But will be good to be together with my fellow Disciples. Had lunch with an old friend today -- hadn't seen him in about 11 years. That's what Assemblies are for!

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Volume 7 of the Harry Potter series is nearing it's revealing. As I've noted, my copy is in the mail -- which likely means a Monday arrival. But, we saw the movie -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix-- today!
It's been a bit of time since I read the fifth book in the series, so I didn't go into the movie with all the details fresh in my mind -- which is probably a good thing since a movie like this must compress the story down to manageable size. As I watched, though, I began to remember the plot line of a book that had moved a step further toward that final showdown that is likely revealed in the soon to be read book.
Deserving of its PG13 rating this isn't a movie for small children. The one major death of course is Sirius Black, and Harry's relatioship to Sirius gets greater texture in the film/book. Dumbledore plays a more remote but important role, and the three central characters take center stage, and Harry becomes not just hero but teacher as well…

I'm Going to the General Assembly

I'm off to the 2007 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). For a few days we'll gather in Fort Worth to worship, study, do some business (nothing earth shattering -- except we'll vote to end the war). Last time we made history by electing Sharon Watkins as General Minister and President.

I'll spend some time learning about church transformation, hear Krista Tippett speak at a banquet, and on the last evening hear Jim Wallis. I'm going to a Texas Rangers/Cleveland Indians baseball game (skipping the GMP's state of the church address, but I couldn't turn down front row behind the umpire tickets).

So, my blogging for the next week will likely be intermittent, but I'll be back soon!

Harry Potter

The book is in the mail, saw the movie this afternoon --- more on that a bit later. And then visiting Danny Bradfield's blog, I came across this little Harry Potter quiz. Had to do it and I can't claim to know why I came out as:

You scored as Albus Dumbledore, Strong and powerful you admirably defend your world and your charges against those who would seek to harm them. However sometimes you can fail to do what you must because you care too much to cause suffering.

Albus Dumbledore80%Remus Lupin70%Ron Weasley65%Ginny Weasley65%Draco Malfoy65%Severus Snape60%Harry Potter60%Hermione Granger60%Lord Voldemort50%Sirius Black50%
Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with

Religious Tests for Office

I participated in a conversation last evening that concerned the relationship of faith and politics. I won't say anything about the content of the meeting, since I need to respect the privacy and concerns of those involved. But a question was raised about litmus tests, and it's a good question. It's kind of easy to gloat these days as the Democratic candidates seem to have their "faith" statements down and the GOP, the party of God, is having problems finding appropriate candidates that will reach to its Religious Right base. The issue raised and the one that needs to be addressed is that of litmus tests and the precedents set by the willingness of the three top tier candidates -- Barack Obama being the most outspoken -- to speak of their faith. They have been, I think up front, honest, and authentic. Now, I'm a bit biased but I don't see them pandering to religious folks, but a precedent seems to be in the process of being set. Is it necessary for a D…

How to Love GW?

Jesus tells us to love our enemies as well as our neighbors. I do believe that. I'm not sure whether George W. Bush is my enemy -- since he's my president I can't say he's my enemy. But he is frustrating and I think he has done considerable damage to the nation's image at home and abroad. The War in Iraq, rather than serving to keep terrorists at bay has created a whole new brigade of them. Should he be impeached? I don't know. I think he comes close and Dick Cheney even more so. In fact I sent a letter to my Congresswoman asking her to pursue that course. But then again, would that serve any real purpose at this point, and would such a course be seen as "politics of retaliation"? Diana Butler Bass argues against pursuing impeachment, in large part because it is an ineffective remedy and it's not "loving George W. Bush." She writes: Impeachment is the politics of retaliation, a tool of political violence that should be used in th…

Bush, God, and War

As we debate the rightness of mixing religion and politics, George Bush is the poster child for why not to mix them. GW seems stubborn by nature, and it seems that stubbornness is reinforced by a sense of divine calling that will not waver. As Robert Parham shares in an Ethics Daily post, Bush is truly convinced that the war in Iraq has a divine mandate -- that's why he could care less what Congress or the American people think. He is called to bring "freedom" and democracy to the world -- or at least that is what he apparently shared with NY Times columnist David Brooks. But what does this say about the war? Parham writes: If this is Bush's theological perspective, then our nation is being lead by a Christian crusader, not a commander in chief. And that is a very dangerous place to be. Good democracies go bad when governed by theocrats.If the president is theologically right that God wills the war in Iraq, what does that say about the moral reflection of the broad…

A Benevolent Visionary?

I came across one of those personality tests -- It says I'm a benevolent visionary. I think what it really says is I like to find ways of wasting my time -- when I need to be cleaning the house or doing the financials!!!

Benevolent Visionary

Severus Snape and the Transparency of Evil -- Sightings

University of Chicago Ph.D. candidate Elizabeth Musselman wrestles with the moral qualities of one Severus Snape, Harry Potter's apparent enemy at Hogwarts, and yet perhaps not. Musselman explores the question of appearances and moral ambiguities. We like things black and white, good and evil, clear and not ambiguous, but Snape's character reminds us that all is not as it seems.

So, with the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the theaters (I see it tomorrow) and the final installment of the Harry Potter series due in our mail boxes on Saturday (I pity the poor mail carriers or UPS carriers) -- one busy and heavy day -- Musselman's thoughts are worth pondering!!!

And yes this preacher is a Harry Potter fan!


Sightings 7/19/07

Severus Snape and the Transparency of Evil--
Elizabeth Musselman

On July 21, children across the country will stay up all night reading as the narrative of Harry Potter draws to a close. Many adults will also stay…

Ratzinger and Liberation Theology

As I continue posting comments on Benedict XVI as I read through David Gibson's fascinating biography The Rule of Benedict (Harper 2006), I was intrigued by his discussion of Joseph Ratzinger's interactions with Liberation Theology/Theologians. A while back I posted on Benedict's treatment of Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, but Gibson puts that in context.
Like John Paul II, who had a strong aversion to anything Marxist (understandable considering his experience in Poland), Benedict had a similar distaste (to put it mildly) for things Marxist. Though Ratzinger wasn't a big fan of western capitalism, which he found "hellish," Marxism was much worse.
That many Liberationists turned to Marxist analysis to analyze Latin American society and promote change, provoked a strong reaction. He believed that they had co-opted the Gospel and turned it into a "godless prophetic movement." It promised this-world benefits, but did not deal with spiritual matters in a wa…

Blogging Comes of Age

According to Craig Smith's report this morning, we will soon celebrate -- December 23 -- the 10th anniversary of the birth of blogging. A Santa Barbara attorney and reporter on all tings Santa Barbara News Press, he's been blogging since 2005. I started in March of 2006 or there abouts. His has a much larger readership, but then he reports on all things News Press -- and with Wendy, Travis, and Dr. Laura to talk about, obviously he gets the readers (including me). Here is a quote from Elizabeth Spiers of Gawker found in a Wall Street Journal article about what makes for a good blog -- you must judge whether this particular blog fits the bill! [T]he (blogs) that had the biggest and most loyal readerships -- always had a few consistent qualities. They were topically focused, often in niche areas. They published regularly and frequently, typically during office hours and several times a day. They published content that was original or difficult to find, from breaking news to p…

Ten Propositions on Faith and Laughter -- Kim Fabricius

Kim Fabricius is a wonderful creator of propositions that catch important points with poignancy and wit. This time he takes on faith and laughter. Sometimes faith can be a bit dour, but need it be so? As Kim notes there has been a theological tradition that suggests that laughter is not a divine attribute -- for God is impassible and incapable of emotional outbursts, and surely laughter is an emotional outburst. And of course there is the question of whether Jesus laughed. I sort of think he did; how could he not?

So here are the 10 Propositions as first posted, as they always are, at Ben Meyers' influential blogFaith and Theology. I've posted them here in full this time, but if you want to read them with Ben's choice illustrations, just go back and click the title!

Ten propositions on faith and laughter
by Kim Fabricius

1. Let’s face it: the Bible is not exactly a barrel of laughs. In the Old Testament the Lord laughs a few times in the Psalms – at the nations’ rulers in Psa…

Oprah's the true Obama Girl!

If you want an endorsement, besides Tiger Woods or maybe Tom Brady (of the Patriots) there's no better choice than Oprah Winfrey. Hillary might have Spielberg, but Obama has Oprah. If she can sell books and Dr. Phil, surely she can sell Barack Obama. Yes, the true Obama Girl isn't the young lady who danced her way to fame on YouTube, it's Oprah! News comes that she's going to start raising money for him in my own backyard. Yes, Oprah will be hosting a little shindig at her Montecito estate near my Santa Barbara home. Now I'd love to get an invite, but I doubt I've got the big bucks to make it inside. I'll have to wait my turn!

Augustine and Ratzinger's Pessimism

As I have been reading David Gibson's The Rule of BenedictI have been getting a better sense of the man who became Pope. We are products of our environment and experiences, and Joseph Ratzinger was influenced by his context -- leading him to become the man he is today.
What is interesting to see in the section dealing with Vatican II is Ratzinger's growing disillusionment with the optimistic tone of the proceedings. His Augustinianism shows in his feeling that the aggiornamento party of Kung and Rahner did not take sin seriously enough. Gibson writes:
Yet there is a consistent thread to his thinking, which runs counter to the optimism of the Second Vatican Council and which grew more defined in later years. Indeed, the aftermath of the council only reinforced his suspicion of man's seemingly unending capacity to go wrong and betray himself by believing he can accomplish things by himself. It also confirmed his view that returning to the sources, stripping away and simplifyin…

Religion and Politics -- Who's Got it?

Religion is mixing with politics this presidential primary season in most intriguing ways. By all estimates the GOP, which is supposed to be the party of God is having a hard time finding a candidate. The two most outspokenly religious candidates -- Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee -- can't get any traction and at least for now aren't a factor. Mitt Romney's Mormonism has proven problematic, and well there's Rudy Giuliani who just doesn't fit the program guide (McCain is fading out quickly). So who might the savior be?
Well it appears that the Religious Right is checking out Law and Order DA and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson. Dan Gilgoff writes a short piece for U.S. News and World Report on Thompson's outreach to Conservative Christians, but there seem to be real questions about the authenticity of his faith. He's willing to meet with the kingmakers, who are interested, but they're not going bonkers over him. At least at this point, it seems mor…

New Regional Ministers for Pacific Southwest Region -- Disciples of Christ

Doesn't that look official -- like I'm an official reporter for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)? I will admit I'm not the official announcer, but I was excited to learn this morning that my good friends and colleagues from the Ventura First Christian Church, Don and Susan Dewey, have been called to be our next co-Regional Ministers. The Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) consists of Southern California, Southern Nevada (Las Vegas) and Hawaii!
I've known Susan since way back when we served together on the Adult Nurture Committee for the Region. Back then she and Don served the La Mesa church in the San Diego area. Later on I served as Juniors (4-6 grades) co-camp director with Susan at Loch Leven, our regional camp. Don and Susan have friends, confidants, encouragers over the past 9 years of ministry in the local area. So, I am excited for them and know they will be a great asset to the R…

Councils of Churches -- A Martin Marty Report

Martin Marty is always on top of things, ofering analysis and insight into the various aspects of religious life. Today he picks up on Council's of Churches, especially that of Wisconsin, which hosts an annual forum. He offers insight and at the end a link to other Councils around the nation. Just so we know what's going in in the ecumenical sphere! ****************************************

Sightings 7/16/07

Report from Wisconsin-- Martin E. Marty Editor's Note:
Last Monday's column ("Campus Funding Frays," July 9) incorrectly stated that the Rosenberger case was decided in 1991. The case was decided in 1995.
Last month, I spent a page sighting activities in mainline Protestant bodies as exemplified in a large congregation, and extrapolating on the basis of that to smaller ones everywhere ("Mainline Mission," June 4). Today I focus on a Council of Churches in order to look at councils of churches. I do this because I have spent the week in Wis…

For the Bible Tells Me So -- Updates

In today's LA Times there appears an article about a Gay film festival that featured five films dealing with religion/sexuality issues. Among those films shown at the festival was "For the Bible Tells Me So." This is a documentary that appeared at the 2007 Sundance Festival and garnered great reviews. But a general release date hasn't been set -- at least until now. Directed by Daniel Karslake the documentary follows 5 families dealing with a gay family member -- among those families is Dick Gephardt's. Desmond Tutu and Peter Gomes are among the persons interviewed in this film that in a straightforward manner deals with the biblical, theological, and pastoral issues of this controversy. My friend Steve Kindle of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals was involved in the film. It appears that a theatrical release date is set for October 2007.
I know that Spike Lee's movie Malcolm X came out fifteen years ago, but sometimes it takes a while to get to view a movie, and so it is with me. Fortunately there's the DVD to watch and finally I've had the opportunity to view the life of this powerful African American leader whose message was definitely unsettling in the 1950s and 1960s. Malcolm was a powerful speaker who could move groups of people to take action.
Malcolm X is not as honored a Black leader as Martin Luther King, but as Malcolm seems to understand himself, his radicalism made Martin look more palatable to whites. It's quite possible that Malcolm's vision scared White politicians to agree to Martin's demands.
The movie itself, which is based on Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X, brought Oscar nominations to Spike Lee and Denzel Washington in 1992. It is a long but powerful portrayal of Malcolm's journey from a young man caught up into a life of crime to a convert to the Nation …

Wrap Up on Vatican Proclamations

The LA Times Beliefs article focuses on the recently released proclamation from the Vatican's Congregation on the Defense of the Faith (CDF) concerning the nature of the church -- and the fact that Protestant congregations are not by RCC definitions to be considered churches in the proper sense, for they do not have proper orders or sacraments. The article by Rebecca Trounson is a brief but helpful summary. It raises the question that I've raised -- why now? Yes, as others have said it clarifies things concerning Vatican II. But there are parallels here to the debate over the Constitution of the US between "strict constructionists" and non-strict folk. Every document, whether the Bible, Vatican II, or the Constitution, is subject to interpretation, and it would seem that Benedict wishes to take the narrowest of interpretations, whereas his opponents such as Kung and others wish to take a broader view of the Vatican II proclamations. So, as I said earlier, we'…

Understanding Benedict

As a historian I know about the importance of putting a person or a movement in context. The recent proclamations made by the Vatican, first on the Latin Mass and then the clarification on the nature of the church don't come out of nowhere.
Reading David Gibson's The Rule of Benedict (Harper, 2007) has been a helpful eye opener into the psyche of Joseph Ratizinger, aka Benedict XVI. I will write a review when I've completed the book (I'm about 1/2 way through the book at this time), but I thought this important to note. In a chapter dealing with Ratzinger's involvement at Vatican II, and he was one of the leading contributors to the discussions -- along with Hans Kung and Karl Rahner --we learn a bit about how the apparently progressive Ratzinger becomes the archconservative.
Gibson lays out the two opposing parties within the progressive/reforming end of the discussions in Rome in the early 1960s. Unlike the group that included Kung and Rahner, Ratzinger was an Augu…