Showing posts from January, 2009

Gotta Serve Somebody

I'll let this video by Bob Dylan speak for itself -- a little spiritual music!

I'll give a hat tip to David Markham, a Unitarian Universalist Pastor who has a series of posts entitled: "My Kind of Church Music" I tend to agree!

Peaceful Iraqi Elections and Hopes for the Future

The War in Iraq started back in 2003, I believe. I was still pastoring the Santa Barbara church back then - which means a lot of water has run under the bridge since then. Barack Obama came into office pledging to bring American combat troops home in 16 months. That process is beginning, as I understand things.

The good news today is that the Iraqi's held provincial elections, with 14000 candidates vying for 440 regional council seats. They did this with a minimum of violence, and with security provided not by American troops, but by Iraqi troops and police.

So, whatever one's view of the war and its conduct, this is good news and portends the possibility of a fairly seamless draw down. Perhaps if things go well, we can bring the troops home even quicker.

The Iraqi's seem to want sovereignty. They don't want to be an occupied territory. All of which means, it's time for us to leave.

Leaving Iraq, of course, means that we don't control its destiny. It is led…

Time for Real Middle East Solutions!

The Sojourners' God's Politics blog has put up an excellent piece by Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center. In an essay entitled "Beyond Gaza: An Abrahamic Peace," Waskow offers suggestions as to how we might work to bring change in the Middle East. Everyone has a part to play in making some sense of things, now that the horrors of the Gaza Conflict have simmered down.

He suggests that the Palestinians give concerted effort at non-violent resistance, resistance that would garner European, American, and even Israeli support. From that, there are possible options pro-peace Israeli's can take to push their country to a position of seriously considering ending the occupation of the West Bank.

But the key is America.

He suggests the calling of a Middle East Peace Conference, one where all the interested parties are present -- including both Hamas and a Netanyahu led Israeli government. That Saudi sponsored peace plan, which neither the US nor Israel has to thi…

The Thrill is Back!

It is my day off, and so I have the opportunity to indulge my other areas of interest, at least for a moment!

First the News, and then the reflection. The News is that the San Francisco Giants are bringing back Will Clark as a special assistant. He'll have two roles, one is promotional and the other is working with the younger players -- hoping I would suppose to instill some of that intensity that he was known for as a player, especially during his Giant playing days. Smart move, Giants. I've always been a Will Clark fan. Would have named my kid after him, had my wife let me!

I am a life long San Francisco Giants fan. I grew up listening to and watching Giants games, both in Mt. Shasta and Klamath Falls. Willie Mays was nearing the end of his career, so I focused more on Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, and Bobby Bonds. Then there was a down period, where the Giants played as bad as it looked in those orange polyester pullover outfits.

Then came April 1986. The Giants br…

Evolution Weekend -- a Press Release

Borderland Churches -- A Review

BORDERLAND CHURCHES: A Congregation’s Introduction to Missional Living. By Gary V. Nelson. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008. x + 166 pp.

We live and work and have our being in a very different world than that of our parents or grand parents. You can make that claim whether you are 18, 35, 50, or maybe even 60. The fact is that the world has changed and the place of Christianity and the church has diminished. We hear a lot about theocratic pretensions, but by and large those voices, while loud, are rather small in number. Gary Nelson writes from a Canadian context, where secularization is much further along than in the United States. There, more than here, religion is private. The number of those claiming no religion, while growing in the US, hasn’t reached a national number of 16% as in Canada. But what is happening there is quickly moving south. With this growing marginalization of the church, old paradigms of church life and church growth must change.

The title of the book …

A Difficult Mission

George Mitchell is in the Middle East. He's talking to Ohlmert, Abbas, Mubarak, etc. He's calling for a broadening and strengthening of the cease-fire, but all around him rockets and missiles are flying. Almost as soon as the last hostilities ended, we began again the tit for tat, that makes progress almost impossible. It's really hard to know who is responsible, because their all connected, and extremists do what they do to disrupt things. But ultimately someone has to start talking directly to Hamas. They're in control of Gaza and have survived a major onslaught from the Israelis, to continue to pretend that they're not in charge, is a bit like US ignoring Castro and Cuba.

So, I say to Senator Mitchell. Keep at it and know that this is going to be a long and arduous trip! And maybe some change in policy is in order.

Science's Rightful Place

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said something that many might have missed or skipped over. He said that his administration would restore science to its rightful place. The point, of course, is that after an eight year period where science was put under a partisan microscope, he was going to set scientists free to do their work. This is especially true of foci such as climate change and energy and maybe stem cell research. But it has broader implications, because science education is part of the equation. The ID and Creationist movements have done much to damage the credibility of science education and the scientific method.

Dennis Overbye has written a most interesting essay for the New York Times. It's entitled: "Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy." He challenges the ideas that science has no intrinsic values or that it teaches no values to society. Indeed, science and democracy go hand in hand. China has tried to embrace science without democracy, …

But Names Can Never Hurt Me?

Growing up I remember being called names -- we've all experienced it. Though, in recent years there has been more of an effort in the schools to deal with this directly. When I was Project Coordinator for the No Place for Hate campaign in Santa Barbara we offered schools resources that helped students understand the issues at hand. And we weren't the only group offering such support services.

What I find interesting is the vehemence with which groups like Focus on the Family oppose anti-bullying education and hate crimes laws. I understand that they oppose homosexuality -- it's quite clear -- but why oppose efforts to reduce the level of hate crimes and bring civility to our communities. Why oppose "No Name Calling Week" in our schools? Surely they're not for children calling others names. Yeah, I know, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me." Well, the truth is that names do hurt. They oppose it because they see …

Respect and the Muslim World

In his interview yesterday with Al Arabiya TV, Barack Obama set forth an important line of communication. In choosing to address the Muslim and the Arab worlds with his first televised interview he offered a very different face. Rather than the "you're for me or against" me kind of rhetoric that marked the previous administration, Obama spoke from his own experience. He has Muslim relatives and lived in a Muslim country -- Indonesia.

With that in mind he speaks of the need to listen and to live together with mutual respect.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith – and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers – regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is fille…

Getting Ready for Evolution Weekend

We are closing in on the 4th Anniversary of the first Evolution Sunday, which is morphing into Evolution Weekend so as to include other faith traditions. It will be my fourth time doing this -- the first three times as Pastor of First Christian Church of Lompoc. Now, I'm readying my current congregation for a similar observance. Yes, we will observe the birthday of Charles Darwin, who incidentally turns 200 on February 12, the same day that Abraham Lincoln also turns 200.

Laurie Lebo writes a most informative background article on this observance, focusing on Michael Zimmerman's efforts to support the teaching of evolution in our schools. I learned something in this essay (not that Indianapolis' Butler University is in Wisconsin -- a minor mistake). I didn't know that Zimmerman was himself an atheist. But unlike Richard Dawkins, he doesn't believe that using evolution as a platform for espousing atheism does science any good. What he discovered in his own eff…

Obama Talks to the Muslim World

The recent pattern for American Presidents is to start work on Middle East Peace with 6 months left in your term. I guess they hope they can make the big breakthrough that will give cover to the rest of their term in office. Last night Barack Obama gave his first full interview not to CNN or Fox, but to Saudi station Al Arabiya. He made it his first focus to say to the Muslim world, we're not your enemy. We're ready to engage. Yes, Israel is our ally and will continue to be our ally, but that doesn't mean we can't talk. Indeed, this time around will listen first, before dictating terms.

This interview, part of which I watched last night on CNN, is amazing and reassuring. It demonstrates his commitment to get engaged right from the beginning. Sending George Mitchell into the region is also a good sign.

Now, the road ahead is difficult, and full of land mines. There are those on every side that want to undermine progress.

I don't know if a 2 state solution is …

Inaugural Jesus -- Sightings

The inauguration of President Barack Obama is nearly a week in the past. He's will into his term, well a week into it, but questions and comments still swirl.

Martin Marty speaks to the "scandal of Jesus" in the inauguration, that is the scandal of the "in the name of Jesus." The question here is what is the scandal and how should we respond. As always, Marty offers cogent interpretation and challenges.


Sightings1/26/09 Inaugural Jesus -- Martin E. MartyThe apostle Paul claimed that Jesus, in the form of "Christ crucified," was "a stumbling block [skandalon=scandal=offence] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (I Corinthians 1:23) Jews+Gentiles=pretty much everybody. You may ask, "What is Jesus doing in Sightings," given this column's assignment to deal with religion in public life? Try this: Saturday my internet search engine turned up 484,000 references to "Jesus" or "…

The Eucharist and the World

We Disciples place great emphasis on the Lord's Table. We gather each week to break the bread of life and share in the cup of salvation. Although a pastor likely will preside at the table, clergy are not required. It has been that way, I think from the beginnings of our movement. But what does the Lord's Supper have to say to us? What purpose does it serve?

I appreciated Rob Bell's lengthy and challenging meditation on the Eucharist in his new book: Jesus Wants to Save Christians, (Zondervan, 2008). Bell points out the implications of our Eucharistic celebrations. He writes (and this is but a taste):

The Eucharist is ultimately about what we do out there, in the flow of every day life.

When the goal of a church is to get people into church services and then teach them how to invite people to come to church services, so that they in turn will bring others to more church services --

that's attendance at church services.

And church is not ultimately about attending …

The Two State Two Step

I like Tom Friedman. I think he's a great writer and generally quite perceptive. In some ways he's a hawk, but he understands the realities of the world. He's critical of Israel, at times, but supportive at others. He has been an advocate of a two-state solution, but he's realizing that this might be a solution that is nearing its usefulness.

In an essay today in the NY Times, entitled "This Is Not a Test" Friedman suggests that the possibility of a two state solution is nearing its end point. The reasons are two fold -- Hamas and the Jewish Settlements on the West Bank. He's hoping that Israel will elect a centrist government in the February 10th elections that will rein in/close the settlements, but puts the onus for the recent invasion on Hamas, though there's considerable evidence to suggest that Israel was looking for a reason to invade.

My concern is with Friedman's hope that Israel will elect a government that will say no to the settle…

Jesus Wants to Save Christians -- Review

JESUS WANTS TO SAVE CHRISTIANS: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile. By Rob Bell and Don Golden. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. 218 pp.

The title is intriguing: Jesus Wants to Save Christians. It’s intriguing because one would assume that Christians are already saved. After all, aren’t Christians followers of Jesus? And isn’t Jesus the one who saves us? The problem, as Rob Bell and Don Golden suggest, is that we have gone and lost our way.

As with Velvet Elvis, an earlier book by Bell, this book is written in a fast paced and compelling manner. The paragraphs are brief. Often the wording is laid out one sentence or one phrase at a time. The book is packaged so that the reader continues to move forward into the book. While the style and the formatting aids in the reading of the material, the material itself is compelling, challenging, and transformative.

As with any coauthored book one doesn’t know exactly who wrote what, but I’m assuming that Bell is the lead writer …