I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Good day

Today, my dad and I took a road trip together, just like old times. I got to drive in the snow in Chicago and see my friends and their super cute kids. I also enjoyed Giordano's Shrimp Stuffed Pizza for lunch and Indiana's own White Castles for dinner. Good day.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

You Gotta Believe

I'm spending the first seven days of Christmas in Indiana with my parents and youngest brother. I'm reading a wonderful Christmas gift from my sister-in-law, Jesus by Marcus J. Borg. It occurs to me that I really should read some other theologians, at least Dominic Crossan or Hans Kung, but, hey, I'm on vacation.

In Jesus, Borg spends some time on the word "believe." I've talked before about how belief is a funny word because it can reflect more or less certainty than the word know. As in, "I believe the keys are on the table" versus "I believe honesty in a relationship is important." The first one is a belief that can be dispelled by knowing a single fact; the second can be changed, but it would require a serious of "facts" that amount to new experiences. After knowing dozens of relationships ruined by honesty I might no longer hold the belief that honesty is good for a relationship.

Borg talks about this in terms of what the object of believing is. He says that during the Enlightenment, in response to emerging scientific exploration, some members of the church shifted from believing in God and the Church, to believing that a series of facts were true. According to Borg,
Thus, until about four centuries ago, believing in God and Jess did not mean "I believe that the following statements about God and Jesus are true." Rather, to believe in God and Jesus had two primary meanings. It meant to trust in God and Jesus. . . . In addition, to "believe" meant to commit one's allegiance, loyalty, and love to God and Jesus.
The point is not just a semantic one. If you believe, as in trust and are loyal to, God and Jesus, actions of charity seem to spring out naturally. You are not afraid of those who question, why should you be, you trust God. On the other hand, if you think believing means believing facts about God and Jesus, then non-believers are a real problem for you. It makes it harder for you to believe these things are true if others don't. And--if you accept that notion of believing--your continued belief in these hard-to-believe things directly impacts your afterlife. So, you are naturally less tolerant.

What do you believe in? Does it shape the way you live your life and perceive your world?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blue Christmas

I just heard an NPR story about a "Blue Christmas" service that was held for the first time in D.C. It was very similar to Chalice's Longest Night service. Even down to using candles in combination with writing down prayers. Also, it sounds like the attendance was similar. Of course, I think Longest Night is a better name than Blue Christmas. ;)

Trends are funny. I don't know if many churches are doing this, but there are many google news stories about such stories. Also this in the year are stories about a meta-study that busts the myth that suicides are up during Christmas. That is not to say such services aren't valuable; they are, and I hope Chalice continues to do them. It is just a funny juxtaposition.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"In God's Name"

Just watched "In God's Name" on CBS. It is a really wonderful production, and I recommend it if it is replayed. It doesn't really provide a bunch of substance for comparative religion. Rather, it gives you an opportunity to have what a protest from the revival tradition would describe as a "witness" from each leader wash over you.

Pretty cool.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who is Jesus?

Well, my little Christmas-colored nativity maps have generated much interest. Of course, there are a couple of other stories about where Jesus came from in the Gospels. In Mark, Jesus reminds me of a Clint Eastwood character, coming out of Nazareth with a mysterious past, but clearly identified as the One. In John, Jesus is a kind of blow your mind character who was with God and was God. Luke spends must more time with Jesus in utero, showing destiny perhaps? Matthew, clearly demonstrating Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah. And then there are some non-gospel understandings of who Jesus was. I believe Islam recognizes Jesus as a prophet; I don't know about all Jews, but I know Al Franken thinks Jesus was a pretty good rabbi who said a lot of good things, but none of it new. I've heard philospher poet Jim Corner refer to Jesus as a good friend. Product of Aristotelian philosophy that I am, I can't resist semi-completeness by speculating that one could also see Jesus as a fictional character or a villainous cult leader who started a movement to oppress women, gays, and non-believers.

My point is that I hope discovering the factual contradictions of the Nativity stories will spur you to investigate who Jesus is for you. I was just out of college when I read some stuff by Bishop Shelby Spong. He is marvelous for shaking things up. But then I looked into the work of Marcus Borg and really started putting things back together again. I can say with certainty that my faith is stronger and my life is richer as a result. I suspect I would have been stubborn enough to remain Christian without the shake up, but less so.

Question: Who is Jesus?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Nativity Stories

I was discussing this with a friend the other day, and thought it might be worthwhile to post about. There are two versions of Jesus' birth in the Bible. The authors of Mark and John decided it wasn't important enough to write about, but Luke and Matthew have very different stories. So, let's start with Matthew. Matthew 2 has the story about the wise men from the East. It has Herod killing all of the first born, and it has an escape to Egypt. It has no shepherds and no census. Now let's turn to Luke.

Luke 2 has the shepherds and the census, but makes no mention of killing all of the first born. The census is the worst thing Herod does.
That's not to say there is nothing in common between the stories. Both have Jesus born in the City of David, which I suspect was a spiritual necessity. Both have Jesus growing up in Nazareth in Galilee, which I suspect was a historical necessity.

Is this old news? It proves once again that a literalistic view of the Bible is unacceptable, but does it do anything to your faith? What do you take from the stories?

First Fruits from Our New Building

I've written a little about Chalice Christian's new building. This Saturday we are having a service that I don't think we would have conducted had it required renting additional space. Here is the information. Please feel free to forward this to Gilbert/Chandler folks who might be interested.
The Christmas season is traditionally seen as a joyous time of family celebrations. However Christmas may be a very difficult time for those who:

Are grieving the death of a loved one and spending a first holiday without them;
Have recently lost a job and wonder how to pay for gifts;
Carry painful memories associated with the season;
Have no family and will spend the holiday alone;
And those who suffer from depression as the days get shorter.

The emphasis on family and the need to "be happy" can make this a painful time for some people. And it offers the church a unique opportunity for outreach and ministry. There is a time to lament and to grieve. In a Longest Night service, we make a time to remember and affirm that God's light came to those "who walked in darkness" - that the Christmas message of God's hope is for those who are hurting. The "Longest Night" worship service draws its name from the winter solstice - the longest night of the year.

Our Longest Night service will be held December 22 at 6:30 pm. 15303 S. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert Arizona
Reaching those who are not being reached is really important to me. Rev. Linda Miller, our pastor, brought this service to us. I hope to attend, but more importantly, I hope folks who aren't yet a part of our group will attend.

What is your reaction to a church holding a service like this? Does it seem out of the ordinary, or common? Is it something you'd be interested in attending if you could? Keeping in mind those who are not yet affiliated with the church that I hope would come, do you think strangers can help one grieve?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Iranian Reactor built by Russians

Pardon me while I leave the topics of Faith & Politics to wax philosophical about nuclear power.

CNN reported yesterday that Russians were shipping enriched uranium to Iran for its nuclear reactor that was built with the help of the Russians. I was concerned because I don't trust Russians and nuclear power. For example, the Chernobyl reactor was moderated with graphite and cooled with water. That is, the graphite is used to slow down the neutrons so they can cause fission and therefore cause power to go up. The water takes the heat away. So that when there was a power spike and the water boiled off [no more cooling] the power could continue to go up [graphite moderated] until all of the fuel and graphite melted into a big "elephant's foot" underneath the structure. In an American built reactor, the water moderators the reactor, so when power goes up and there is less water (or less dense water) the power is naturally turned down, without moving the control rods.

It appears that the Iranian Reactor is moderated and cooled by heavy water. [1] I didn't think heavy water reactors required enrichment, and neither does source [1], so maybe the reports of enriched uranium really means refined uranium ore. Enrichment usually means increasing the concentration of U-235, which is fissile, as compared with other non-fissile isotopes of Uranium.

The reactor is also very small by U.S. standards. A couple places say that it is 40 MWth. [1], [2]. Compare with Oyster Creek in New Jersey that is 636 MW(e)/1500 MWth, or Palo Verde, with three units each twice the size of Oyster Creek. Megawatts Thermal is the power generated by the reactor, megawatts electric is the power sent down the transmission line. (You should follow the OC link to see how wonder nuclear power is; the website has pictures of daises.)

So, I'm less scared about the Iranian reactor than I was initially when I heard the Russians were helping to design. It seems to be strangely small, but I guess I understand how it is their first reactor. And it does make sense to me that they would want to generate electricity with cheap clean nuclear power and continue to sell oil to the West.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Something Pretty

The apparent God is important to me, and this poet captures that idea well.

A Christmas I Never Knew

The sun ascends
into my patio window
from over the Superstition
Mountains; for a short while
a slender beam
spreads into the mass
of tangled branches
of a Mesquite at our back wall.

Are the delicate limb-endings
dancing in a slight breeze?
Or is light tapping from leaf
to leaf, yet perhaps breaking
into creation? Cold is warming:
Advent is trailing into the birth
of Winter’s solstice.

From my lounger, I wonder
about a babe in a manger:
a search for a pearl of great price,
a widow’s mite and gold, incense
and myrrh hidden in the dung
on a stable’s floor.


I dig the way the poet moves you from his back yard to stable floor. Seeing advent as a natural warming is powerful. Kind of gives me chills.

If you'd like to read more of Jim Corner's stuff, his poetry list serve is on the right.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Church Size

How big should a church be? Here's a link that says the median attendance for Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations is 75. Here is some statistical fun from this link, 59% of non-Catholic/Orthodox Christian churches have fewer than 100 members, while only 4% have between 500 and 1000 members. But here's the trick, of the 56 million Americans who attend these churches only 16% go to churches of less than 100, the same percentage that go to churches between 500 and 1000 members. A very large plurality, 45%, attend church with between 100 and 500 others.

Of course, this is just about what everyone else is doing. I suppose one way to look at it is that a church should be as big as possible. I wonder if there is an optimum size for an organization that wants to comfort its members, nurture their spiritual growth by providing a vehicle to reach out to the world and make it a better place.

Friday, December 14, 2007


I'm pseudo performing a scripture for church this Sunday. For the last several years we have asked members to recite a passages from Isaiah from memory. It is neat because it breathes life into the scripture that you don't get from looking something over for ten minutes before Sunday. The process of living with the passage for a week is conveyed to the listeners.

Here is the first bit from what I'm doing:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom,
like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of God.
Isaiah continues to give hope to those who hear these words. He is telling them that in the future there will be a better time. A time when the lame will leap like a deer.

Here's the twist, Isaiah was writing in about the Eight Century B.C.E. The people of Judah would be taken into exile. And anyone hearing these words when they were written would not experience Isaiah's vision.

Question: Does hope serve a purpose when tribulation, at least on a national scale, is unavoidable?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A tortured comparison

I have little time, but wanted to comment on the church shooting in Colorado before it became such old news no one remembered. I already had to search CNN for the story.

Among the sad fact of this story are that the twenty-four-year-old shooter killed two teenage girls, he wounded three other people, the church had (and evidently needed) an armed security guard, and the man used his assault rifle to ultimately kill himself. He also quoted Harris and Klebold of the Columbine High School shooting, posting, "I'm coming for EVERYONE soon and I WILL be armed to the @.%$ teeth and I WILL shoot to kill." CNN described this as "the same wording used by Harris, with the exception of symbols used to replace an expletive."

My reaction to this is the same as my reaction to a natural disaster potentially made worse by global warming. [That's the tortured comparison, BTW.] I don't think dramatic quick action will work--banning firearms, banning the names Harris & Klebold, banning black clothes. I also don't think blaming the victims works, church goers or shoreline livers. But I do think there is a climate that should be changed. And I think we as humans have the capacity to do it.

I think caring for the lost and the lonely in our society will require a rainbow of efforts from from parents and friends; psychologists and pharmacists; from teachers and counselors; from places we have not yet begun to look. I think things like this have been going on for a long time, but I think we could do more to stop them.

And just like putting more CO2 into the air and being more efficient is good even if Al Gore is wrong, I think creating or a more compassionate society is good even if it doesn't prevent tragedies like this one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Fifteen Years

On December 12, 1992, Pat & I swore our love for each other, as they say, before God and everyone. We have seldom been accused of being sickeningly sweet with each other, but there is no doubt that Pat's love has been the greatest single blessing in my quite blessed life. Reflecting back on the last fifteen years together brings a smile across my face that cannot sufficiently express the depth of joy and acceptance and pleasure and hope and excitement and pride and wonder behind it.

The grand love that Pat & I share often serves as a starting point for explaining faith. I have faith in God, not like I had faith in the existence of Santa Clause, but like I have faith in Pat. I am transformed by my faith in God the way I am transformed by my love for Pat and her love for me. And mostly, having it so good, has made me think the world is basically good. Even if that notion, like the idea that you could find someone when you were both twenty-one and spend the rest of your life together loving and caring about each other no matter what may come, is basically naive to the point of being embarrassing.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Open & Affirming Panel Discussion Two

Another point on this topic is whether churches should publicize their status as an "open & affirming" congregation. Here's something the UCC does. Chalice says this on its website:
From the earliest musings about our church, we identified ourselves as people who embrace and celebrate diversity. We are toddlers, grandparents, newborns, first-time parents, empty-nesters, singles, widows, adolescents, teens and newly-weds. All of God's children are welcome here regardless of faith heritage, ethnicity, gender, education, sexual identity, age or ability.
It is under the tag "Who Are We." It could be on the front page of the website. It could be on our bulletins that we hand out. We could fly a rainbow flag over the building. We could be as sensitive in referring to families to be inclusive of gay couples as we are inclusive of blended families.

Here's an argument against doing this: Why should we have to say that, why not just say we accept everyone?

If you think about this for race & gender it makes a lot of sense. What do you think about a church that says, "We welcome people of all races!"? Isn't there a part of you that says, "Well, good for you."?

I think it is different with being open & affirming. I think telling people you accept gays is a stand in for all kinds of things. I would love to hear from some non-church goers on this. What do it mean to you when you hear that a church is welcoming and supportive of the GLBT community? Should a church advertise this fact about itself?

[Side note: What does a church need to do before it is open & affirming? Congregational vote? Hire an Open & Affirming Pastor? Fly a rainbow flag?]

Open & Affirming Panel Discussion One

Tomorrow I am speaking on a panel about issues associated with being an open and affirming church. I am planning on giving the blog's address as a place where people can go to discuss further. Here's the first topic:

Is it right to accept gay people (or more completely gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people)? By is it right, must means is it compatible with my Christian faith.

ReligousTolerance.org has a marvelous article on the topic, providing a careful examination of the Biblical issues in play. It's a good article. Strangely, on the first page of Google, this, was the best anti-gay site. It seems to pretty casually dismiss the issue that gay people feel that they are born gay and that it is not a choice. I'm sure there is better stuff out there. Maybe someone gay post something.

This is how it breaks down for me. Jesus completed the old testament law by bringing infusing it with love. Look at the Sermon on the Mount we've been reading. At each point Jesus says the important thing is love.

I cannot deny the love between two consenting adults. Although many who have a different view certainly know gay people, having friends who are gay makes it impossible for me to maintain the opinion that there love is a sin. So, I think it is right to throw our doors open to the GLBT community and to affirm their place as a part of God's creation.

What do others think?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kennedy versus Romney

Here is a comparison of Romney's cover of JFK's religion speech.

Both men listed the issue other than religion facing America. Here’s what Kennedy listed:
the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida--the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power--the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms--an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.
And Mr. Romney:
Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.
While Kennedy characterized these as “the real issues which should decide th[e] campaign” then went on to discuss his religion because he was “a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President,” Romney began with what he termed “a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty.”

It turns out the take away moment from the Kennedy speech most reported by the media is what stuck out most for me:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote--where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
Romney said basically the same thing with this:
Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

But Romney focused on the role of religion in the foundation of the country:
We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'
Kennedy chose to point out the danger of religion interfering with government:
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew--or a Quaker--or a Unitarian--or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim- -but tomorrow it may be you--until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

First off, it is remarkable how similar Romney's speech was in structure to Kennedy's. I started by calling it a parody, but I he was being serious, so I think calling it a cover is better.

The next thing is that Romney believes we need religion to have freedom. He says that judges need to respect the foundation of faith that underlies the constitution. So, what the heck does he mean by separation of church and state?

It's fine that the Prophet will not have a direct line to the President, but if he is appointing judges who will consider the supposed religious underpinnings of the constitution, that's a huge problem. This speech has enhanced my concerns about the impact of Romney's religion on how he would behave as president.

Impulse giving

Impulse buying and Retail therapy both rate their own article in Wikipedia. This ideas of reckless spending are probably promoted in no small part by reckless spenders wanting to feel that they are just like everyone else. (I just came across an msn article suggesting that most of us actually have very little credit card debt.)

What do you think of a new idea: Impulse giving & charitable therapy? I think it is practiced by a lot of people too. I wonder, is it better than its commercial counterparts?

Here's where the missed opportunity analysis comes in. If I give a homeless guy a fiver (impulse giving), in a sense I'm hurting him by not giving the fiver to United Way or Habitat for Humanity. If I donate $100 to every charity that asks, first you'll be asked by a LOT of charities, but then later regret my generosity, I may have done some spiritual damage to myself.

These reservations notwithstanding, do you think we can get the same high we get from buying a new toy by making a generous donation? I am asking seriously because I think maybe we can.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Proof for the Nonexistance of America

Here is the proof by evil for the nonexistence of god: (1) If there is a God he is good and omnipotent(2) An omnipotent God can prevent evil (3) There is evil (4) Therefore, God does not prevent it. (5) A good being would prevent evil. (6)Therefore, God is either not good or not omnipotent. (7) Therefore, there is no God.

{If you care, BTW, God is not omnipotent. Also, good is a term that only applies to humans, not God. And of course, there are times when a good being would permit evil Just for starters.}

Okay, well, dig on these stories:
A teacher was sentence to prison for allowing a bear to be named Mohammed.
A rape victim was sentenced to 90 lashes and prison.
And a 12-year-old girl was charged with having illicit sexual relations with her abusers.

(Thanks Matt for providing me with the last one.)

So, you're a part of the world super power. What do you do about it? These stories are weeks old, they represent ongoing oppression of women. In the story linked to the second story about, the President said that the Saudi king knows that the President objects. Can we do anything else? Apartheid eventually went away. Could we have done more to help the process move more quickly? See Iraq & Vietnam. Do we have to sit around and not exercise our power like some non-existent God?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

God's rule around the corner?

Today's scripture reading was from Isaiah 2:1-5, which discusses the reign of God bound to come in the future. As Christians, we relate to the Prophet's promise of miraculous joy to come in this season when we await the coming of the Christ child.

But look, it turns out that the two candidates with the highest rating from the God-o-meter (Huckabee & Obama) are leading in Iowa.

Okay, I don't think the scripture from Isaiah is about to be fulfilled, but I do think it is interesting that the two guys who are most comfortable talking about faith in a meaningful way are on top.

The links on the candidates are to their issues page. I strongly support Obama. I think he has the right vision for the country and the intelligence and drive to get it done. I think he can lead us from a place of hope rather than fear, and I think he more that the others will be less inclined to continue the corruption that is rampant.

I did check out Huckabee and encourage others to do the same. I disagree with him on some show stoppers: he favors federal amendments to oppress gays and criminalize abortion and does not believe in evolution, for instance. However, he does see his faith as driving him to compassion. While touting his strong anti-abortion stance he includes this:

To me, life doesn't begin at conception and end at birth. Every child deserves a quality education, first-rate health care, decent housing in a safe neighborhood, and clean air and drinking water. Every child deserves the opportunity to discover and use his God-given gifts and talents.
I hope he becomes the candidate. Not because I think he will easily be defeated, but because he seems willing to first off, really engage in discussions of the issues and second off, be an open Christian from the political right that doesn't make me cringe.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Abortion Is Not Murder

And none of the Republican candidates think so.

Question, if a mother takes her six month old child to a doctor, and the doctor carries out her wish to kill that child, who should be punished for this, and what penalty should that person receive.

Answer, they are both guilty of murder. They should be sentenced to life in prison or put to death in accordance with the laws of the state in which this action occurred.

Does anyone disagree with that answer? Would any candidate answer any differently?


I've written before that it is ridiculous to claim that life begins at the point of birth. In fact, I've noted that the whole idea that life begins at a single point is wrong. And I find it very frustrating when liberals and abortion rights activists act like this is not a difficult question.

However, I've grown equally intolerant of the claim that abortion is murder. Even politicians courting the votes of a party that has made criminalizing abortion a top priority since the 1980's can't bring themselves to take that notion one step beyond a slogan. People may believe abortion is wrong. They do not believe it is murder.

Am I wrong?

The Power to Change

Last night I had the privilege of attending an event put on by the Arizona Advocacy Network titled the Long Shadow of Jim Crowe. The speaker was retired Superior Court Judge Penny Willrich . Judge Willrich related to the group a story about running into her aunt during a get out the vote drive. Her aunt told her she couldn't vote because she couldn't afford the poll tax. This was in 1978--many years after the poll tax was no longer in force. Happily, her aunt voted in every election after that.

Judge Willrich discussed many of the barriers to voting not just for minorities, but the poor, the elderly, and new voters. Consider the tragically limited impact of the Civil War and the 15th Amendment on Black access to the political process.

Mississippi also enacted a "grandfather clause" that permitted registering anyone whose grandfather was qualified to vote before the Civil War. Obviously, this benefited only white citizens. The "grandfather clause" as well as the other legal barriers to black voter registration worked. Mississippi cut the percentage of black voting-age men registered to vote from over 90 percent during Reconstruction to less than 6 percent in 1892. These measures were copied by most of the other states in the South.
Race & Voting in the Segregated South. Remarkably, just prior to the civil rights movement, the same source reports only 7 percent of Blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote.

That all changed following the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other activists did what the Civil War and the Fifteenth Amendment could not do. They changed the hearts of the American people. The work is not done, but voter suppression today has to take much more subtle forms and could never reduce Black participation as dramatically as the work of the KKK and Jim Crowe laws did in the 1890's. Not because we have better legal safeguards in place, or because activists are more outraged now than in the 1860's, but because the body politic no longer accepts open discrimination of Blacks.

I make that point because I think it informs the path to political change elsewhere. (BTW I am NOT saying the work is done with regard to racism.) I think this is an opportunity for the church to provide the moral compass in movements to go beyond political rationale to reach to the moral imperative behind protecting God's creation, protecting the weak within our borders, promoting human dignity in the treatment of our prisoners, and promoting peace in our dealings with other nations.

Shoud the Church provide the "Why" to the What & How of political change? Who else can provide the reason and motivation for change?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dogmatic Minimalism

Last night my wife and I were discussing the Trinity. The Disciples of Christ professes to have "no creed but Christ," and therefore, it is not surprising that some in our church do not accept the doctrine. In the discussion, I realized that, despite my liberal theology, I tend to keep standard beliefs as long as I can. So, I'm slow to reject the Trinity. I tend think that these ideas that remain after thousands of years of Christian thinking & praying are likely to contain some truth, and I try to seek out that truth.

Now, at some point I can no longer accept an idea. Most recently this was the case with a very narrow, but significant, aspect of intercessory prayer. I have come to the conclusion that I do not believe that praying to God will cause God to miraculously (which is to say in violation of the rules that govern our physical universe) act. Like I said, it is a narrow conclusion. But I only came to it after much searching for a way to preserve the long held notion that God can grant requests for extra-natural intervention.

There is a legal philosophy that I fell in and out of love with while in law school called judicial minimalism. The idea is that judges should only do what is absolutely necessary to decide the case before them, and no more. Cass Sunstein is a the poster child for the seemingly value neutral movement. I think my caution in rejecting a dogmatic principle I once accepted, or that many Christians accept, is a religious analog to judicial minimalism.

Are you slow to reject an old belief? Will you work hard to maintain a dogma (spiritual or otherwise), or do you think after the scale in your mind tips to 51% against the idea you reject it?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wondering Aloud

This post has no study behind it. It is just a wondering. I wonder if the rate of abortions, divorces and violent crime typically rise together. I wonder if they are related to despair. I also wonder if despair is more driven by absolute economic well-being, i.e. how well are your physical necessities are met, and how much time for recreation you have, or whether it is more driven by disparity in wealth, i.e. how good is your life compared to your neighbors.

Just wondering.

[Probably as helpful as Larry Summers' wondering about women, math, and physiology. see this, and this. (The second one has what he actually said.)]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Do the ends justify the means?

It seems to me that a very prominent theme in the the Sermon on the Mount is that it isn't enough to do the right thing, but you have to do things for the right reasons. Doesn't it follow from that, that you can't do the wrong thing for the right reason? Maybe.

What about value neutral behaviors? I'm thinking about filibusters or other parliamentary procedures. Specifically, I'm thinking about efforts to win the presidential elections by restructuring the allocation of electoral college votes in a particular state. In 2004, the Democrats were hot to do it in Colorado. This year, the Republicans are trying the same thing in California. Basically, the technique goes like this, find a state that typically goes to the opposite party. Then suggest a more "fair" way to allocate electoral college votes so that your party get a portion of the votes.

I thought the Colorado measure was obnoxious, but secretly hoped it would pass. I am now, and have always been a partisan. I find the California measure obnoxious, and am not publicly hoping it will not pass. But at the hear of it all, it seems the energy should be spent arguing one's case for how to run the country.

Should we be uncomfortable with these types of measures, or is it just part of the game like Get Out the Vote (GOTV) or negative advertising?

[BTW, 'The ends justifies the means,' seems to come from Matthew Prior, 1701, although everyone from Leon Trotsky to Orrin Hatch has put his own spin on it.]

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving & Civil Religion

Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, not exactly. It does seem to rest somewhere between Independence Day and Good Friday, though. I assume school children still learn about Pilgrims coming to the America to find religious freedom. Thankfulness is featured prominently in our religions.

Over at God's Politics you can read about some discomfort those folks have with the holiday as a result this uncomfortable relationship. Just the other day, I was at a deposition and sort of winced when the reporter asked the man being deposed if he swore to tell the truth "so help [him] God." My dad reports similar peculiarity when he finishes twenty to thirty minutes of talking about man not putting asunder what has been joined by God, only to conclude with "by the power vested in me by the state of Indiana."

Consider the following evidence of discomfort with the state religion: the First Amendment; Jesus outsmarts the Pharisees by noting that what is Caesar's and what is God's are different; Jesus declares his kingdom to be different from Rome's; and even the first Kingdom authorized by God only received his approval begrudgingly.

Are the words "In God We Trust" on our money, swearing under penalty of God's wrath harmless, and sealing our sacred unions with imprimatur of the state harmless? Who should be more bothered by these meaningless religious references, atheists or devotees?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Nineth

The next piece of advice Jesus offer those listening to the sermon on the mount is this, "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven." He breaks the advice down into three parts. First, give to the needy secretly. Second, pray modestly and simply. Finally, when you fast, don't make it obvious that you are fasting. Matthew 6:1-18.

I think it is interesting how thoroughly this section of the sermon has been adopted into modern religious practice in America. We are definitely modest about talking about giving and embarrassed if someone makes to big of a deal about his or her faith.

Why has this advice so taken hold? Is it because it can in fact give cover for not giving very much money to charity, not helping the needy, and not practicing our religious disciplines?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Saving Lives with the Death Penalty

Starting with the least important thing first, I happen to believe there are circumstances in which the death penalty is justified. However, I believe the cost of sufficient safeguards to ensure the number of wrongful executions is acceptably small is too large to be practical. Thus, I am opposed to the practice of capital punishment in the United States in 2007.

Retribution is not the only justification for capital punishment. Another justification is deterrence. And within the context of deterrence, we are comparing capital punishment to life imprisonment. Many folks opposed to the death penalty are fond of noting that capital punishment does not deter murders because states with capital punishment do not have lower murder rates. (I have not independently verified that, btw.)

Well, it appears many studies in recent years show that capital punishment does indeed have a deterrent affect. As reported in the New York Times, full story, "According to roughly a dozen recent studies, executions save lives. For each inmate put to death, the studies say, 3 to 18 murders are prevented." It appears that the studies looked at the murder rate in counties where there was an execution. Generally the murder rate in those counties fell. So, the study focused on actual executions rather than the deterrent of a policy of capital punishment.

There are potential problems with the study. First Texas has a disproportionate impact. Texas has killed 405 killers since 1976, compared to 98 by the next most deadly state, Virginia. [Source.] The death penalty has really picked up in recent years in Texas, and during the same period the number of murders has dropped. See graphic which I put together from these sources [1], [2]. Second, the number of executions are so small, that it is difficult to establish causation.

I don't know, I'm not entirely convinced. The mechanism is a stumbling block for me. I just can't see how a murderer would be informed enough, or view the very rarely exercised punishment of executions, or be thoughtful enough at the moment he considers whether to murder a person that capital punishment would have any impact. But, I think the studies are interesting. I'm a believer in scientific methodology.

So, the question is: If for every person the state executes for murder there are 18 murders that are not committed, is capital punishment moral? Put another way, if by eliminating capital punishment we cause the deaths of 18 innocents for every person who would have been executed, is it immoral to eliminate capital punishment?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Once removed immigration laws

At the God's Politics Blog, Jim Wallis writes that
[t]he best example [of what he calls a new Fugitive Slave Law] is the law recently passed in Oklahoma which makes it a "felony for U.S. citizens to knowingly provide shelter, transportation, or employment to illegal immigrants." If a person comes to the door of a church-run homeless shelter, saying he is illegal and needs a place to sleep, it is a felony to offer him a bed. And churches in Oklahoma across the board have spoken against this new law.
Full post here.

In the comments, the right wing comments call foul because regulating immigration is moral while owning a human being is not. That is true, and I think it makes a difference. Wallis, however, is focusing on preventing people from helping each other. Even if regulating immigration is necessary, regulating it by preventing citizens from helping dark skinned people is immoral, just as it was immoral under the Fugitive Slave Act.

These once removed laws pose more problems for me than the immigration policy established by the federal government. I see federal immigration policy as almost entirely an economic issue. (Asylum is important, but it isn't what our immigration policy is about.) And as with other economic policies, they certainly could be evil, but I do not think we are closed to making it so. (That wasn't always true. Prohibiting the immigration of Chinese women, and explicitly prohibiting Chinese people from naturalization was immoral.)

Once we move away from direct regulation, we start to run into problems for me. I think each step has to be narrowly tailored to ensure that it does not deprive a person of more protection than necessary, and to make sure it absolutely minimizes the chances that the law will be applied against someone who just happens to be non-Anglo.

Assume it would break the law to transport a person to the hospital if that person tells you he illegally entered the United States. If a persons makes such a confession, but needs medical attention is it moral to break that law? Is that a different question than a similar one regarding harboring a fugitive slave?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Poetic Evaluation of Our New Building

On the right you will find a link to Desert Moon Review. Jim Corner is the founder of that poetry site and the author of this work, which is a reaction to Chalice's blessing of its new building.

Progressive Place of Worship

We're missionaries, a thinking quarter
with the audacity to challenge a mixture
of traditional and mega-cathedrals;
constructing our way armed with reason
and faith in Jesus and Locke, in a simpler,
more hospitable message. An inclusive
embrace is offered to all, humbly,
without prejudice or judgement;
an intention of unconditional love.

Our goal calls forth: disciples bearing
social justice, racial resolution, theological
integrity and inclusive reception. Given
our yoke of geological distance, eventful
personal schedules and sacrificial sharing,
Chalice Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
is raised and now unbolted to serve all people.

May we as a faithful flock, in this new
sanctuary, follow God to find a growing
perceptive, a new wisdom: "questions
are as important as answers"
and "we can't be human alone."

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Promised Land

Chalice Christian Church, a place where questions are as important as answers, has spent almost a decade wandering in the desert. In her time as a sojourner, Chalice has resettled refugees from Viet Nam, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq. She has held discussions on process theology and the authorship of the Bible. She has served hundreds of people at Paz de Cristo. She has brought water to the border for other wanderers. She has taken a stand against the discrimination of gays, lesbians, bisexuals & transgender persons. I love this church; it is a place where I have found salvation from an ordinary and unexamined existence. It is a place where I have found the fresh air and cool water of the Gospel.

This Sunday, for the first time, Chalice Christian Church will bless a building of its own at 15303 S. Gilbert Road, Gilbert, AZ 85299. This building will be a tool for us. We will use it for ministries that we could not do in borrowed and rented space. It will provide a central point, a launching pad. We have our footing, and I look forward to the new possibilities.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Healing the sick

The sick were a special concern for Jesus and his disciples. Half of the first chapter of the first gospel, Mark, is devoted to healing and casting out unclean spirits. Also, caring for those who can't care for themselves is an important response to our faith for many of us.

For that reason, it is natural for us to be concerned about the condition of our healthcare system, particularly the number of people in our country without access to healthcare. Just like everything else, the tough stuff comes in putting those values into the form of policy. Shadowfax at Movin' Meat nicely addresses the problem of innovation here. Movin' Meat: The Death of Innovation?

Consider two systems, one in which all person are cared for equally and another in which about 1/2 or 1/3 of people get much, much better care than the rest. Is unequal system moral if in the unequal system the members of society getting the worst care are getting better care than everyone in the first system?

I don't believe that is necessarily the case with broader access to healthcare. I think it is very likely that by 1/2 to 1/3 of the population getting what it wants, the overall health of the society is in worse shape. But the way I set it up above is a more interesting case.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Eighth

Alternative Title: Thou Shalt Be Push Overs

From Matthew 5:38-48,
An Eye for an Eye
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Finally! Some favorites of the lefties. We can use this to oppose war and capital punishment and vigilantism and, well, and just about our entire penal code and certainly our tort system. I think these sections of the Sermon on the Mount get thrown around pretty flippantly.

Let's not even try to extrapolate these personal admonitions to national policy. Does this passage prohibit Christians from being plaintiffs in law suits? Does it require a Christian who is told to walk a mile to the "Black" restrooms to tolerate the indignity? What does it mean when Jesus commands us to be perfect, just like God?

The Moral Test of Government

[T]he moral test of a government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life—the children; the twilight of life—the elderly; and the shadows of life—the sick, the needy, and the handicapped.

Hubert H. Humphrey, at the 1977 dedication of the Health and Human Services Building*

This is not a universal truth. It is not what everyone thinks government should do. But it is what I think government should do.

Similarly, there a many reasons why one could think this way, including personal revelation. But, the reason I think this should be the role of government is that I am a Christian.

* I hate to quote people without authority. I couldn't find a speech transcript from 1977, but if Donna Shalala says he said it, that is good enough for me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Veteran's Day

This Sunday is Veteran's Day. I've been trying to put myself in the shoes of ministers trying to deliver Veteran's Day sermons. I think it is difficult for a few reasons. First off, the common lectionary doesn't seem to have anything helpful. Also, I think it easy to conflate veterans with wars. The stories of wars in the Bible generally look at the conflict from a global perspective. The God of Israel willing the people of Israel to take possession of land, or fend off an enemy, or (following sinfulness) be taken away into exile.

But a person serving as a warrior doesn't touch the same themes as a nation making war. Being a member of the Armed Forces requires personal sacrifice and love of country. Another thing it requires is faith in others. When on thought about that aspect I remembered Matthew's story of Jesus calling the disciples.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him.
Matthew 4:18-22. When I accepted an NROTC scholarship, I honestly didn't give it much more thought than the disciples in this story. I did it for lots of reasons. It was an adventure. It paid for college. I had faith in my leaders. I thought it was a chance to make a difference. I suspect the disciples had similar feelings. And I think that is something worth celebrating.

It was also much more serious than I expected. I was never in harms way. I never had to worry about stoploss measures. But I did go without seeing my wife and child for six months in a stretch and the first time I returned from sea my 10 month old did not recognize me. Like the disciples, it is probably good that soldiers, sailors, airmen & marines don't know what they are getting themselves into.

We should salute the folks that continue to seek out adventure, to love their country, and to have faith in their leaders. It is all the more reason to hold our leaders accountable.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


From the NYT:

Mr. Robertson, the founder and chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, said in endorsing Mr. Giuliani in Washington, that he believed “the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists” and praised Mr. Giuliani as a “true fiscal conservative.”
Right, but Jesus was not a fiscal conservative, and Jesus did not advocate making war against people we think may attack us. (Not to say YHWH didn't from time to time, but Robertson claims to be a Christian.) Pat Robertson is not speaking as a Conservative who is also a Christian. He is speaking publicly and bringing with him the trappings of a church leader.

Robertson's ilk have supported pro-business, pro-war Republicans because those same people are also anti-gay and anti-choice. Fine. You can certainly read the Bible and come away anti-gay. I guess you can be anti-choice, although it takes an awfully, awfully strained reading to do so. And, I even guess, you can find those things mroe important that standing for peace and against poverty (and lets not forget justice).

But Rudy does NOT support their hateful anti-choice and anti-gay agenda. (Stop: Some people do this in a way that is not hateful, but Robertson blamed 9/11 on gay people right along with Falwell. Theirs is a hateful agenda.) And he is pro-business and extremely pro-war. And, he is a "law and order" guy, which makes me very nervous about rights for the accused, a/k/a justice, that have been viciously assaulted by the Bush administration.

At times politics requires one to make a Hobson's choice. So I can understanding holding your nose and voting for the lesser of two evils (although we've recently heard from someone here who does not accept this position), but there is no way you can endorse such a person by lending your status as a religious leader to him.

And this is my concern about progressives' principled rejection of the lesser evil. It is not a level playing field. Pat Robertson has figured out the best way to forward the power of the party that works best for him, and he will say whatever it takes to keep them in power. On the one hand, I don't want to play that game. On the other hand, I'm tired of the greater evil being in power.

The N-Word

Happily, I have only heard about this story sporadically, but it appears that Dog the Bounty Hunter is in trouble for using the n-word. (CNN Story Here.)

Is use of the n-word at all a modern equivalent of swearing an oath? What I mean is, there is something about the words and phrases that is offensive. Even if the idea is the same. In the post below, Jesus says you can obviously say yes or no. You just can't say, "I swear on my mother's eyes, this is all the money I have." (There is a Soprano's netflick waiting for me.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Seventh

I want to press on with the next requirement in the sermon because it gives us the next example of biblical requirements:

"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
Matthew 5:33-37

That next example is requirements that seem silly. Don't swear? One of the judges did swear to offer as a burnt offering the first thing that came up to him upon his return from a battle if God would let him win. The first thing to come up was his daughter. See Judges 11. Also weird.

So, Jesus tells us 1) Do Not Hate 2) Do Not Lust 3) Do Not Get Divorced & 4)Do Not Take Oaths.

One way to handle these dictates is to consider some more serious than others. The less serious ones are easier to disregard, particularly because they are so tied to cultural context. Another way to do it is to say that there is an essence in these teachings, more fundamental truths if you will, that is what we really need to follow. In some sense, isn't that what Jesus is saying with the entire sermon?

Of course, Jesus is providing an interpretation of the essence of the Torah, and now I'm suggesting we look for the essence of Jesus' teachings. But, we have to do something, right? Or as Christians, should we not take oaths?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pipe Bomb at Palo Verde

CNN reported on Friday that a pipe bomb was found in the bed of a pickup truck belonging to a contractor who was about to enter Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Here. The story explains that the security team discovered the device and took appropriate action.

Something I did not read in the coverage of the story that I found on line (at least in my quick review of blogs & wire stories) was how prepared nuclear plants are for this kind of thing. Long before September 11, nuclear plant employees went through devices that detected explosives on the way in to work and devices that detected radiation on the way out. The plants have highly trained professionals providing security. Not just trained in how to stop bad guys, but trained in which areas of the plant are critical for a safe shutdown.

That is the other way nuclear plants are prepared for something like this. They have redundant systems that will allow the power plant to be safely shutdown and cooled down in the event of every conceivable catastrophe. There are several places that a single bomb could go off and force the plant to shutdown. It would take several very specifically placed bombs to prevent a plant from conducting a safe shutdown and cooldown.

I think the nuclear power industry is probably one of the few to have been completely prepared for our enhanced security existence.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Sixth

The next two versus of the Sermon give me a ton of heartburn. Here they are:

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32.

Re-reading this passage today, I was first struck by some of the cultural ugliness. I would have preferred, "Don't get divorced except in the case of marital unfaithfulness." Instead, the passage makes clear that men are the ones who do the divorcing, and apparently, women are the ones who commit adultery. Notice that if the man wrongfully divorces his wife, he is not guilty of adultery but the women he remarries is. Ug.

Fine, notions of marriage and divorce are so tied up in the cultural context, it would be very difficult to discuss them without incorporating the social biases of the time. The real problem for me is the meat of the passage. Many of the people I care about are divorced. I don't know if infidelity was always involved, but I can think of other reasons for divorce. Abusiveness, overpowering and unaddressed addiction for two.

What to do?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Very Serious blogging below

If you are here for religion and politics please continue to the next stimulating post. However, I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in a long time. Thus, I cannot help but take up some space to post some pics.
First, Homer and his Pirate Daughter:

Add Scary 13-year-old costume:

Finally, "Why you!!"

Lust & Anger

The last couple of items from the sermon on the mount up the ante from no murder & no adultery to no anger & no lust. Looking at this from a public policy standard, I have been suggesting that the nature of these requirements require voluntary compliance. You can't make lust or anger against the law.

How should a Christian respond to speech issues that related to these. Should a Christian be in favor of limits on hate speech and pornography?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Fifth

Okay, now this gets interesting, and not just because it is about sex. Here's what we find the sermon says about adultery:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Matthew 5:27-30.
Jimmy Carter famously commented on this passage in an interview with Playboy, excerpted here. Jimmy Carter's take on this scripture was that everyone lusts in his heart, thus no one should feel superior to someone who commits physical adultery.

I think Carter is amazing, and I think this quote is pretty amazing. He gave the interview to run in November of the year he was elected President. Can you imagine anything so risky, today? And, his faith inspired message is one of humility. Great.

In fact, this is probably the most common interpretation I've heard of the passage. But I think there is more to it than that. I don't know when humans started feeling emotional connections with their mates, but I assume it wasn't always that way. I can't help but notice that most of the good guys in the Bible love their wives. They don't just have healthy wives, or child bearing wives. Perhaps the Bible was written during the period when this was evolving in our culture.

Jesus' message gives us important guidance on how to function as loving couples. Just as we have the power to be more or less hateful and more or less empathetic, we have the power to control lusting after others. And we should because we can harm our relationships even without an extramarital affair.

So, I think this is more directive than Carter said in his 1976 interview. I think Jesus intends for us to endeavor to lust less. Also, as I get older I have become aware of more and more stories of pain and suffering caused by infidelity. I don't think the only person who suffers is the one who is cheated on. I imagine those who focus on lust to the detriment of their deeper relationships also suffer.

I'm not sure what the cutting off bit is about. It is a favorite for attacking literalists, but what does it mean figuratively? Perhaps it is comment on a loss associated with taming our physical desires in exchange for a deeper love.

Cool Local Event

I should probably go and actually learn something about the passage I've been writing about.

The Sermon on the Mount and the Gospel of Matthew
Rev. Vernon Meyer, PhD

Like Moses in the time of the Exodus, Jesus offers a new way of living in the world. The Sermon on the Mount announces that the blessed are the poor and the Lowly; that enemies are to be loved; and that prayer leads one deeper into the mystery of the Reign of God.

Tuesdays, November 13, 20, 27, 700-9:00 PM
$20 per class, or $50 for all four classes

Crossroads United Methodist Church
7901 N. Central, Phoenix


In comments to my post about the Bush administration's noise regarding Iran, Dave from Chandler points out Bush has continued his conduct even given a Democratic majority in Congress. The Democratic majority is not able to stop President Bush because 1) the Republic minority is remaining loyal to the president in upholding his vetoes and 2) The Democratic majority is not willing to bring everything to a screeching halt by unfunding everything until the president discontinues his immoral ways.

I think if anti-war and anti-poverty advocates were as politically loyal as anti-gay and anti-abortion advocates the Democratic majority would have more confidence in taking bold action. But I don't know what I think about political loyalty.

Question: How does one strike a balance between loyalty ("I know they shut down the government, but I believe Harry Reid & Nancy Pelosi are doing what they need to do for the country and they have my support.") versus integrity ("I've always been a Democrat, but if they can't stop Bush from torturing people, I can't vote for them.")?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Integrity is Key

This bright-eyed young fellow is Machinist Mate 2nd Class Matthew Ugarph. He was an Engineering Laboratory Technician (ELT). It appears that last year he was selected for an officer candidate program after serving onboard a Pearl Harbor based nuclear-powered attack submarine. Nice job Matthew.

Guys like Matthew used to work for me when I served as Chemical and Radiological Controls Assistant onboard USS Billfish. We were almost all under thirty, and many of the enlisted men were 19 or 20. We worked in an environment where the most experienced officer onboard had been doing his specific job for three years, and that would have been on the day he was being transferred to a new job. Some of the enlisted men would have been at it longer than that, but not on the same ship, and probably not with the same type of power plant. Many people who operated and maintained the reactor had been doing that job for a year or less.

By contrast, I worked at a civilian power plant for a couple of years where I was a baby at 28, everyone else was in their forties or fifties. Most people had spent twenty years on the job, including the guy on the bottom of the operations org chart whose jobs was to tour the plant and take readings.

My point is that the Navy is able to successfully operate dozens of nuclear reactors with a bunch of teenagers only because it has created a culture of integrity. When that breaks down, it is very dangerous. A friend forwarded me this story from CNN about sailors onboard USS Hampton first failing to monitor reactor chemistry and then falsifying the records to indicate they had performed the tests. Missing the tests is bad, but I'm sure we monitor chemistry much more closely than we need to. It is a long term problem and even if there was a negative impact, there are many, many other layers of protection that would detect a problem in terms of public safety or the safety of the crew. The lying, on the other hand, is devastating. The Navy said, "There is not, and never was, any danger to the crew or the public." I beg to differ. Any breakdown in the culture of absolute candor in the Navy's Nuclear Power Program is a danger to the crew and the public.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A New Tool in Our Gospel Toolkit

Reverend Mary Jacobs delivered the message at Chalice this morning, and this was the title of her sermon. The New Tool was our building, which has been the source of some frustration for the congregation as it hangs at about 80% complete. Nothing is threatening its completion; we are just experiencing the standards delays that go along with permitting, some cosmetic rework, etc. I liked Mary's analogy of the building as a tool. A tool is something you use for all its worth, and like many at Chalice, I hope we use this building as a staging point for mission work, as a community center, as a launching pad for mission and evangelism. It will also allow more regular fellowship and less energy devoted to setting up and tearing down.

As you might suspect from my listing, church buildings make me nervous. Much of the hatefulness that my dad experienced as a parish minister was related to use of the building. Also, it has been such an energy sink for the last year and will be such a financial commitment for years to come, that I hope it is worth it. (I know for most people that seems crazy. Of course you have to have a building!) Mary's sermon today gave me a really helpful way to characterize the issue. Rather than just a wish that the building is worth it, which puts the responsibility on the shoulders of someone else, we can make sure we use the building with sufficient vigor to make it worthwhile, which nicely puts the responsibility back on ours.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Then & Now

From NPR this morning:
Fifty years ago, 80 white pastors in the Atlanta area took on segregationists in the Deep South. They took their beliefs to the front page of Atlanta's main newspaper in 1957, issuing what has been called The Ministers' Manifesto.
I find the manifesto striking for two reasons. First, it stirs my soul to read these words, "Because the questions which confront us are on so many respects moral and spiritual as well as political, it is appropriate and necessary that men who occupy places of responsibility in the churches should not be silent concerning their convictions." Amen to my Southern brothers from so long ago.
But I also want to quote this, "To suggest that a recognition of the rights of Negroes to the full privileges of American citizenship, and to such necessary contacts as might follow would inevitably result in intermarriage is to cast as serious and unjustified an aspersion upon the white race as upon the Negro race." Notice that the position is not that intermarriage is right, but that both the white and Negro race understand that it is wrong, and thus, one should not expect it to happen as a result of integration. They made a grand, perhaps dangerous move, but they were not fully evolved.

In spite of the discomfort in making such a manifesto, even in spite of the fact that they didn't/couldn't get it perfect, they had to speak. They had to speak because, to quote another out spoken religious leader from the period, "[T]he Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." MLK, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

What is our civil rights issue? Where is the church called to speak with its prophetic voice to today's world?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran

Brian McLaren has written a piece about the dangerous saber rattling concerning Iran, here.He concludes the piece with a pair of compelling questions. Here they are:
What will we [Christians] do if we wake up and find our government has attacked Iran while we were sleeping? What actions - public and private - would be appropriate?
What can we do now to decrease the possibility of that occurring? What will we wish we would have done in the weeks and months before the morning after?
Iraq is so very hard to deal with now. We have moral obligations to the people there. We have stirred up a hornets nest and created a generation of America haters. It is really hard to know what to do. Imagine if we had never invaded.

Would George Bush start a war even though he knew the public was overwhelmingly against it? Even if the facts on the table suggest that it is unwise and immoral?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Fourth

Now we begin the fulfillment of the law. Here is what Jesus says about murder:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,[FN1]' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
[FN1] An Aramaic term of contempt. Matthew 5: 21-26.

So, you are not only prohibited from killing, but from being angry. Is this purely aspirational? Does Jesus really expect his followers to not be angry? I don't know, but I know that it matters whether you make an effort to find solutions during a conflict rather than just prove you are right. In other words, you live a better life by doing more than not murdering.

Here's another question: Is some separation of church and state inherent in this passage?

Does Jesus acknowledge one set of laws that are to be compulsory and a second, fulfilled perhaps, set of laws that require willing compliance? There are a whole slew of things I believe in that I don't want mandated by law but that I think are important. Is that dichotomy, a Christian distinction as well as a Western distinction?

Monday, October 22, 2007

The occupation of Iraq is wrong, according to some.

This is old news, but my pastor mentioned it on Sunday, and I wanted to share. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) passed the following resolution at its general assembly.


. . . .
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathered in Ft. Worth, Texas on July 21 – 25, 2007, after due reflection and a respectful discussion, go on record as conscientiously opposing the war in Iraq as an action inconsistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, and a violation of the traditional standards of just war, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this General Assembly reaffirm the following statement (included in the letter of February 18, 2006, from the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches addressed to the delegates at the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil) that "we lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights" ; and
. . . .

If you follow the link, you can review the justifications for the resolution. This is an example of the church participating in politics. It is also an example of the church expressing an opinion on policy rather than values. So, it gives me pause. However, I know that it also gives lots of other members of the Disciples church pause. And this decision, was not one entered into lightly. In fact, if the church has a failing in this regard, it is that it too often tries to be all things to all people and fails to act.

The point is, this resolution provides an argument by authority for me that the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq violates in contrary to Christian values.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Third

So far, the sermon has given hope for those in distress and challenged the rest of us to have a faith that has impact on our world. The next part is what we in the law would call guidance on statutory construction. Jesus tells us the relationship between his ministry and the Hebrew law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-20. We are about to hear a bunch of specifics about how Jesus is fulfilling the law. Basically, changing the mandates from requiring on certain behavior to require behavior with a state of mind. Good. I think there is profound truth in that. We are good when we refrain from killing, we are better we love those who hate us.

But, before Matt can point it out to me, the Law and the Prophets also say things about stoning people to death for this that and the other. For that matter, the Law talks about what to eat.

Question: How do most Christians rectify this specific statement from Jesus that he is not abolishing the old law, with our disregard for the dietary laws and other customs of the Judaism?

Friday, October 19, 2007


Really there is nothing more important to our political discourse than ranking, although I suppose labeling is pretty important to. Anyway, here is a link to belief-net's ranking of the candidates with a cute meter like interface.

Belief Net, whose mission is "to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness," make efforts to even handedly represent the beliefs of all faith. In other words, they're a bunch of lefties. So, I find their attacks on Obama frustrating. Not that I don't think we should be careful not to repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration, but because my biggest problem with Bush is how he governed, not how he campaign. Thus, making the comparison to Bush is irritating.

For example, Obama is not going to employ people only from a Christian law school. Obama is not going to overrule scientists to meet is spiritual directives. At some point, the actual substance of what one is doing saying has to matter. It is different to say, we should help the poor because Jesus says so than to say we should invade Iraq because Jesus says so. Ug.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An old scripture

Sojourner featured the following from Isaiah yesterday:

I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will lead them and repay them with comfort, creating for their mourners the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and the near, says the Lord; and I will heal them. But the wicked are like the tossing sea that cannot keep still; its waters toss up mire and mud. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.
Isaiah 57:18-21 Shorter, there is no peace for the wicked, but it is not for lack of trying on God's part.

It is cool that the First Testament is full of stories about loving the unworthy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Unbinding the Gospel: Martha Gay Reese

Reese explains that mainline denominations (many of whom I link to on the right) are much less significant now than in the 1960. In 1960, 26 of 179 million Americans were members of mainline churches. In 2000, 21 of 280 million Americans were. That is a reduction in membership of 20%, but more importantly, the membership represents only 7.4% of the population instead of 14.4%.

I think this is troubling because I believe that mainline denominations offer a place for thinking Christians. Certainly many congregations from mainline denominations do not do so. But in general, I believe these denominations do. So, I'm sad to see them shrinking for reasons other than the fact that I am a member of one such denomination.

Even a bigger deal for me, is how much less religious America is today. Reese looks at two measures of religiousness, raised with a religion & currently affiliated with a religion, for three groups: 80-90 yr olds, 40-50 yr olds, & 27-31 yr olds. 97% of 80-90 yr olds were raised with a religion back in the 1910's and 96% still affiliate. For the 40-50 yr olds 96% were raised with religion but only 89% affiliate now. The young adults raised with religion is 87%, with 27% of them already saying they have no religious preference.

To me, this is strong evidence that the church must change or die. These numbers march right through the fundamentalists resurgence of the Christian Coalition, Moral Majority, etc.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prayer revisted

Over the summer I struggled quite a bit with prayer before delivering a sermon on the topic. After preaching the sermon I arrived at a narrow conclusion that prayer could not cause God to violate the laws of nature to bring about a result we prefer. That's a narrow conclusion because there are many, many other ways that prayer can work. My father is struggling with cancer and my praying for him reminds me to keep in touch with him, causes me to be alert for other ways I can help him, causes me to talk to others about the same, and prepares me for his death. There are dozens of other ways that practicing the spiritual discipline that is prayer can be good for me and good for Dad.

This weekend I finished a book my pastor gave me titled, Unbinding the Gospel, by Martha Grace Reese. The book has some alarming statistics for mainline churches that perhaps I'll share later. It also has lots of practical advice for getting the message of mainline churches out to the world. So, she had my attention.

According to Reese, prayer is a crucial part of what churches that do it right do. I admit initially pulling back from this. Years ago, I explored the Prayer of Jabez movement [the prayer is here], and ultimately found it too much for me. I have viewed The Secret with suspicion.

But, then I remembered how carefully Chalice approached the issue of evangelizing. Many of us explored our distaste for evangelism. We shared stories, and we prayed. It gave us more direction in our evangelism. It has kept us focused on spreading the Good News we found at Chalice to others.

Question: Is there more involved than reflecting, that is using our minds to think about our task, when we pray? I stand by my conclusion that God does not violate natural law at our request, but I wonder if there is something more than a pep talk but less than casting a magic spell going on when we pray for the Church.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Second

After giving the people the Beatitudes, he gave them the following:
"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:13-16. As I am moving through the sermon, I am looking for bits that challenge me. My first read of this passage is that you are not allowed to be quiet. You can just be Christian all by yourself.

The next thing I notice is that Jesus does not say, "I am the light of the world," here. He says, "You are the light of the world." Taking that very literally is significant to me. And if we ever lose are ability to change the environment we are in, then we should "be thrown out and trampled." Which I read as strong suggestion not to waste time with a meek faith.

So, nothing too tough for me so far.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


In a previous post I shared a DOJ study showing that in 2007, my twelve-year-old son was twice as safe as I was at twelve in 1983.

Here is another study that flies in the face of the everything is going to Hell in a hand basket narrative. See the nytimes story here.

I think the data about women is interesting because I doubt there are very many women working 23 hours a week. I know that one can work part-time, but I suspect the numbers reflect the result of averaging.

Anyway, it looks like kids today are safer from violent crime and spending more time with their parents. The divorce rate is also down from its peak in 1981. The only conclusion I can come to is that George Bush is a much better President than Ronald Reagan.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, First

Okay, I spent a decent amount of time looking at Revelation, a book that is difficult to understand and pretty light on calls to action (aside from be faithful). Also, I don't see a book like Revelation as very authoritative. I don't know much about its author, and I feel pretty free to discount themes I find unhelpful, like the revenge idea.

So, now I'd like to do something a little more challenging. The Sermon on the Mount may or may not have been delivered as a single sermon by Jesus, but it certainly establishes the bedrock tenants of Christianity that go beyond Love God and Love Others as Yourself.

The sermon starts with the Beatitudes:

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5:1-12. Compare the Sermon on the Plain in Luke.

It seems to me that the first four are not intended to be goals, but as comfort. The second half reminds me of the basics. Be merciful and pure. Make peace and be faithful. So far so good. (BTW, if you follow the link to Luke it is much harsher. For example it blesses the poor and curses the rich. I'm pretty sure I'm the second one.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Here's the other thing

Today during the children's sermon, the leader started to tell the children a story about a rock falling out of the sky. Half of the rock landed on top of a mountain and the other half rolled down the mountain. The half on the mountain said, "You are loved." The leader told the children that the people believed only they were special, then one of the children said immediately, "They made a fight?" She said yes, and told the story about a girl from the village who found the other half of the rock making it say, "You are loved and so are they." The same little boy then said, "They made an accident."

From the mouths of babes. Oh that we might acknowledge that we made an accident.