Saturday, June 5, 2010


The Gulf oil spill has reached a point where I wake up each day imagining that it could have just been a bad dream.. The numbers are so staggering that no one seems to be able to fathom what could really happen over the coming months and weeks, even if the spill were to be stopped immediately. If nothing works until the relief wells are dug (sometime in August?) how many more millions of gallons will have escaped?

For years now, I've found myself evaluating films, TV programs, books, etc., on the basis of whether they were written before or after 9/11. That event fundamentally changed the way most Americans view the world. Suddenly we were aware, in a new way, of how quickly lives could be changed forever.

I wonder if we'll look back at this Gulf oil spill in the same way. Will there be our view of the world Before the Oil Spill versus After the Oil Spill? Will we one day talk to our children about the sealife we used to have, the birds, turtles and other wildlife that used to exist along our southern coastline if not most of the Eastern seaboard?

Commentators have noted that this spill may be the straw that breaks our addiction to petroleum products and focuses our attention on other energy-producing possibilities. Perhaps that will be the only positive outcome of this disaster.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Points of agreement

Imagine my surprise to read a press release by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)...and find that I agreed with it!

The resolution was put together by the association, which comprises about 40 evangelical denominations, and calls for comprehensive immigration reform where ways are found to allow immigrants already in our country to move toward citizenship rather than toward deportation, ala Arizona's new law.  In the full-page ad they will soon run, the NAE recognizes that our biblical foreparents were often strangers in strange lands, and that God frequently reminds Israel to treat the aliens among them with care.

I appreciate this move toward a constructive process rather than using the immigration debate as cynical political theater. For many, the anti-immigrant stance is all about fear and ignorance, and the perception that somehow immigrants are "getting it over" on "real" Americans. When the economy was booming, there was little discussion of immigration reform; now that jobs may be tougher to find, it's easy to scapegoat people who are often willing to take jobs most of us would find too hard to stomach.

The anti-immigrant mood for some is also about hatred of the "other," hence the ridiculous move also being made in Arizona to get rid of ethnic studies. The law is meant to engender fear of those not perceived to be real Americans, and uses language of government overthrow for courses designed to simply help people understand the history of an ethnic group. Using their logic, any classes that seek to help people understand another culture are anti-American, as though "American" is one, static ethnic group.

Let's keep this conversation going.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Public Prayer

I've been asked to take part in a community discussion that will soon be taking place around the issue of public prayer before Forsyth County's Board of Commissioners.  Though a judge has already ruled that the Commissioners should end this practice of beginning with prayer, the board voted to appeal the decision to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

As a Baptist minister, I am surprised at how many of my Baptist ministerial colleagues ignore our history. Baptists in colonial America faced persecution for their beliefs at the hands of early theocratic establishments of religion. Baptists and other religious minorities were sometimes imprisoned for their dissenting religious views and practices.

Weighing in on the formation of the U. S. Constitution, Baptists like John Leland pressed for a declaration of religious freedom. The idea that the government would not do anything to establish religion or obstruct an individual's religious practice was a new, radical thought, built on the understanding that when the government claims partiality for one religion, bad things happen. As Leland commented, "The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. ... Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians." (From "A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia," as cited in Forrest Church, The Separation of Church and State, 92, 2004.)

Now that Baptists are thick on the ground, many seem to have forgotten the thoughts -- and real persecution -- of their foreparents, claiming discrimination against Christians in a county where there seems to be a church on almost every corner.

Because I think my parents in faith had valid points, I have declined invitations to offer prayer before the meetings. I do so because it seems that most of those clamoring for this public prayer are focused more on power than prayer, using their prayers to remind any other non-Christians/non-religious present that they are in the minority in this community.

Jesus never advocated for public prayer, indeed, in teaching Christians the model of prayer, he suggested it be done in private.  Public praying encourages the speaker to focus on things other than God, just as this whole subject focuses our attention away from God.  People are more intent on winning their right to impose prayers on others than on whether what they are doing is pleasing to God.

For those who say, "Yes, but I think it's wise to pray over my public officials" I would say yes, that's a wonderful thing to do.  But do it on your own time.  Or, let's have a time of silence before each meeting so that citizens could, if they chose to, offer a silent prayer for the officials.

Finally, I know the imams and rabbis in our local community.  I have worked with them in local organizations, and respect them tremendously.  I do not want to be a party to a process that seems to be focused on further marginalizing them.

Oh, and if you wish to come to the event, here's a link.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blog Delays

Aaaahhhhh....can you hear the sound?  It is the sound of sweet relief!

My blog has been taking a back seat recently because of my work toward finishing my Doctor of Ministry program.  It has been a long 3 1/2 years, but I've really enjoyed the process. 

I won't be going back to Chicago Theological for graduation, but I'll be with them in spirit.  I still vividly remember graduation following the completion of my masters program; finally, at 44, I was ready to move back into the Church after having been pursued by God and pushed away by most so-called Christians for 20 years. 

Many MDiv students are experiencing similar feelings right now, so enjoy your graduation, and move with joy into your work.  For my fellow DMin students at Chicago Theological, continue your excellent ministerial endeavors.  And as always, thanks to the professors who worked so diligently to support us and encourage us along the way.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

So What's New?

President Obama has recognized the rights of same-sex partners to be with their spouses in hospitals that are supported by Medicare and Medicaid.  Thankfully, this order covers most of hospitals in the US, though not all.  A few years ago, if one were to arrive at an emergency room without official paperwork (or sometimes, even with it), he/she would not be allowed to be with an hospitalized patient; I know because it happened to me here in Winston Salem, NC.

After I had a huge confrontation  in front of the other "spouses" who had not been asked for "legal paperwork"  I was finally allowed to visit my partner in the ED.  But none of the other opposite-sex couples had been asked the same questions; if they were asked any questions at all, and said they were fiances, or partners, or spouses, they were allowed to see their partners on the strength of their statements as opposite sex couples, not because they had to bring any actual paperwork. 

And even with paperwork, some same-sex spouses have not been allowed visitations because hospitals did not believe that their governing groups supported gay rights.  Thank goodness the world is changing...Thank goodness, too, that President Obama has made this change to address a problem that is all too common among LGBT couples, particularly those with children.

Friday, April 9, 2010


The individuals trapped in the recent explosions in West Virginia coal mines are perhaps earning as much as $60,000 per year, which might sound like a lot of money  in these economically difficult times.  However, coal miners work in extremely difficult work situations, falling somewhere within the top 10 most deadly professions.

Meanwhile, we have white collar executives running transnational corporations who regularly bring home millions - if not billions - of dollars in salaries, even if the companies are economically challenged as many have been during our recent recession/depression.

So help me with this question.  Why should people who hold very safe jobs, like corporate executives, earn many times more in salary and benefits than people who work in the deadliest of jobs?  Surely if we really paid people based upon their value to society, we would argue that producing an energy resource would be more valuable than producing earnings for shareholders in a corporation, yet that's not how we value work.

Our capitalist values dictate that people who earn money for others are more valuable than people who create goods that sustain peoples' lives.  Hmmm...what's wrong with that picture?

We should look to Jesus' example, in that he did not focus his time and attention on building up wealth for himself or anyone else.  Instead, he focused his attention on teaching us that we are to take care of those who do not have what we have - the least of these. 

America, which some call a Christian nation, has lost its way if its focus is on protecting so-called "wealth managers" at the expense of coal miners, fishermen, teachers, or any other group asked to work in difficult positions for wages that represent a fraction of what corporate CEOs are making, often at the expense of all of us taxpayers. 

God, help us wake up to the economic disparities of this world, and work to change policies so that all who labor are equitably rewarded for their contributions.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why I need the resurrection

The folks at asked folks to answer the above question in 100 words or less.  Here was my response:

I need the resurrection because around the world today, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons will be persecuted and killed out of hatred and violence birthed from ignorance and fear. I need the resurrection because it demonstrates that the work we do to end heterosexism – and all other sin-filled ‘isms’ - is not in vain but continues to breathe new life and hope into God’s creation. I need the resurrection because it teaches me that violence will never triumph over God’s steadfast love.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Watching what you say

Today I heard a conservative radio host take on the recent court case starring Fred Phelps and his lovely family.  As you are probably aware, Phelps' family chases around the country picketing anything they can link with their hatred of LGBT folks.  Over the last several years, their bizarre actions have led them to demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers, arguing that the deaths are the result of America's permissive attitudes towards LGBT persons.

The father of one soldier took Phelps to court arguing harassment and seeking redress, but Phelps' side won the case on free speech grounds; the father has been ordered to pay $16,500 in legal fees for Phelps.  The commentator argued that Phelps should not be allowed to harass the families of these deceased soldiers, and that their speech was like that of yelling "fire" in a theatre, though he never explained his thought process.

I think Phelps is abominable, but equally abominable to me is that I've never heard conservatives saying that his actions towards LGBT folks were unwarranted.  Until Phelps went after soldiers, I doubt they ever gave him a second thought, yet he and his gang have been creating havoc for LGBT people for years.

Likewise, this commentator would likely not agree that some of the things Palin and the tea-partiers have said seem very dangerous to me.  When Palin talks about "reloading" when it comes to attempts to overturn the health-care reform bill, or shows pictures of legislators who voted for it with gun sights superimposed on their faces, it's hard to imagine that she is not inciting violence.  And like Phelps, some of the tea-party folks have been using the "f" word in talking about folks like Barney Frank, along with tossing out the "n" word to true patriots and statespersons like John Lewis.

Free speech demands responsibility.  If you don't like what Fred Phelps is doing, then be sure you or people you support aren't doing the same thing. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easter, anyone?

Arguably the second biggest Christian holiday is about to take place:

However, Easter is not CLOSE to being agreed upon based on Barna's research (at the above link), and if we are so divided on the meaning of this Christian holiday, why should we be surprised that we are divided - deeply divided - on other areas of presumed Christian doctrine?

I've been reading from Christians at all spectrums of belief, and have realized, like countless others before me, that we all have a bite at the apple of "truth." The reality is that we all have a taste of truth, and that no one has gathered the fruit of knowledge completely.

The question is whether we are willing to share our visions of truth in service of a larger picture, or whether we will be exclusive in proclaiming a once and only truth - or as Stephen Colbert might explain, a once and only "truthiness."  God help us if 'truthiness' is our goal.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spiritual Warfare

This morning, in catching up on some reading, I stumbled across a religious movement that is apparently spreading quickly through some conservative Christian circles, a practice known as spiritual mapping.

In this system, geographic locations are mapped based upon presumed demonic activity, activity triggered through the sins that were historically perpetrated in an area. These sins are addressed through prayer and political action in the hope that the demons will be vanquished.

For some reading this, the notion is laugh-out-loud funny. But having grown up in a conservative Christian community, I know that this is very serious work for some well-meaning folks. These people see the problems in their local area, want to fix them, and believe prayer - and political action - can help solve them. Heck, I believe that, too! I even understand the notion that specific areas are in need of different forms of healing. For example, I think Winston Salem is still suffering terribly from its history of racism, a deep, structural wound that has never been properly lanced, so we continue to feel the effects long after losing touch with the presenting problem.

But the devil is always in the details. For example, leaders of this movement have been linked to ideas like overthrowing democracy in favor of theocracy, imprisoning LGBT people on the basis of their being possessed by demons, or assigning "historic sins" in a community to particular groups of people, such as Jewish businesspersons, etc.

I'm going to do a bit more research since the mainstream media doesn't seem to have information on the movement, but probably does have coverage of leaders that might be instructive, particularly if those leaders are influencing politicians - and I would be shocked if they were not. If any readers locate interesting information, please link it back to me via comments.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

All politics is local

If you haven't been following the controversy over the Texas Board of Education's recent decisions regarding "history," now would be a good time to Google this situation. The short story is that this board controls, by virtue of Texas' size, such a large proportion of the textbook market that their decisions affect ALL our children. Textbook publishers don't want to produce a book Texas won't buy because it hurts their bottom line so much. The pressure leads them to make changes to textbooks based upon what Texas deems reliable "history." Because of their recent decisions, some are now referring to them not as the Texas School Board, but as the Texas Fool Board.

In the 1990's Ralph Reed, then head of the Christian Coalition, argued that the way conservative Christians could take over the US was through a strategy that asked candidates to run without divulging their religious views so that they could, once they were in office, begin to legislate their views. School boards were a particular target.

We are still seeing the effects of this strategy, particularly in a state like Texas where one board wields so much power. But the same is true all throughout the US, even outside of the outsized Texas influence; local school boards have a lot of power over what happens to your/our children.

People often focus attention only on national political happenings, and as important as that knowledge is, local politics matter to day-to-day lives. If you want to make a difference in your community, serving on local committees and boards is important - I would say critical - to the health of our larger political system. When local people work together, hearing each others' experiences and recognizing common humanity, learning takes place and good things result.

Maybe this need to know each other is why scripture focuses so much attention on our concern for our neighbors - all of our neighbors.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Life has been too busy of late. But I allowed myself to at least catch a glimpse of the beginnings of spring as I zoomed down the interstate early this morning. The trees are beginning to show that very slight bit of pink that heralds new growth. Daffodils are edging up and out from the soil still wet from all the snow and rain we've had this winter. The forsythia is building up to a riotous explosion of yellow in about a week.

Ah, spring. I can't wait for more evidence that you are really here. Thank you, God, for the joy of this season when new life finds its way and delights our senses.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Catching Up

Since my blog was not active last year, I thought some of you might appreciate reading the editorial I wrote for our local newspaper last Valentine's Day. Sadly, the material continues to be relevant. You can read the story here.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Climate Rant

OK, people. It has been a weird winter here in the southern US. I haven't seen this much snow in one winter since I was a child, and that's been a few years ago. But if I hear ONE MORE PERSON say that all this snow negates climate change (global warming), I am going to lose what's left of my snow-frazzled mind.

As one can easily find with a little research, "global warming" is actually one part of the overall discussion on climate change. While research shows that overall, the average temperature is increasing, there is a recognition that these changes are having impact on extremes of weather as well. In other words, our having an unusually heavy snowfall is not a surprise to climate scientists.

One of the arguments I've heard against climate change is that humans are taking themselves too seriously if they believe they can influence God's created world in such a devastating way. How do these folks rationalize, though, that humans have created enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth several times over? If we can create those kinds of materials, why is it such a stretch to imagine that our daily actions, multiplied by billions of individuals, could not have their own devastating results for our planet?

In Genesis, God asks humans to be good stewards of the creation. Attempting to absolve humanity of the rights and responsibilities of stewardship, then, is an affront to God.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rasslin' with Jesus

I had not intended any kind of follow-up to my last post, but sometimes the headlines call out. This article suggests a fight (pardon the pun) between female and male, masculine and feminine, that I find unhealthy. They seem to be suggesting that Jesus himself must have been "all man" and because of that fact be someone they should consider following. WWJD - What Would Jesus Do? is being replace by another WWJD: Who Would Jesus Deck? This dualism suggests that Jesus himself had no feminine side, that all of his statements about peace can be thrown out because Jesus was a "fighter."

Of course, I hate being placed in a position where it is presumed some traits are feminine and others masculine. If forced to choose, into which of these columns does justice worker go? How about peacemaker? Healer? Friend to all marginalized persons? I would hope that all persons would aspire to embody these distinctions regardless of how we assign their biological gender.

And in a recent advertising campaign Dockers is not-so-subtly suggesting that a lack of manliness has led to many societal problems, difficulties that apparently would not exist if men - presumably white and straight men - had been wearing the pants they way they are supposed to. Maybe the next campaign should be WJWD...Would Jesus Wear Dockers?

If 21st century men need to re-create a 1st century Jesus into a rough and ready, bare-knuckles fighter so that they can follow him, then Jesus' wardrobe of choice will pose problems, not to mention all those pesky sayings of his noted in scripture.

I'm tapping out.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town...

Yes, I've been in Chicago this week completing the (hopefully) final seminar for completion of my DMin degree. It has been a rich week, with colleagues carefully critiquing each other's projects and preparing for our oral exams in April.

I've been in this degree process since January of 2007. What some folks don't recognize about DMin degrees is that most programs are designed to allow working clergy to share with each other projects that might help other congregations or local communities. The desire, at least in the CTS DMin program, is that clergy will have created resource material that will tweak the interest of clergy and perhaps provide solutions to common challenges in our faith journeys.

What struck me today, however, is that while we had a wide variety of project presentations and critiques this week, there is a common thread that runs through them all; divisions cripple our communities. Whether the project concerns left vs. right brain learning in Bible studies, mind vs. body considerations regarding health care, liberal vs. conservative in our religious and political discourse, etc., the problems of our communities often boil down to our reluctance to engage all of our being, both individually and collectively.

We think we can feed our minds and ignore the signals from our bodies about whether we are completely - wholly - healthy. We believe we can study the Bible and absorb disembodied facts while ignoring the right hemisphere of our brains that would allow us to internalize what we experience when we encounter scripture. We believe we can heal bodies with technology, ignoring any diagnoses that reflect on our spiritual well-being. We believe we can solve problems within our communities by establishing beachheads where we refuse to talk to those on the "other" side of what we believe about a particular issue.

All of these actions separate us, individually and collectively. We cannot be healthy if we continue down these paths of division. We have been reminded, in the texts of many religions, that the way to "salvation" cannot be accomplished unless we are willing to treat others as we wish to be treated. We must recognize the humanity of the "other" if we are to survive well.

This notion of the recognition of our common humanity seems self-evident to me, but the cultural currents seem to be pulling us away from each other. My prayer is that our Creator will grant us the grace to work toward each other, for it is only through relationships of depth, mutuality and vulnerability that we will be able to survive, that is, survive well.

Friday, January 22, 2010


I've been thinking about a story I read today regarding ads being purchased for the upcoming Super Bowl telecast. It seems that Tim Tebow, the Florida Gators star quarterback, is filming two ads with his mother through Focus on the Family.

Most people know that Tebow would list references to Bible verses in his eye black, a practice I don't have a lot of trouble with, though I'm betting the school would not have gone along with a Muslim player putting references from the Qu'ran in a similar spot.

I guess what I'm really puzzling over is that Focus on the Family recently laid off something in the neighborhood of 300 employees because of budgetary shortfalls, yet somehow they have found about $5 million for these two ads. Their spokesperson said that the monies for these ads all came from special donations and not from FOF's main budget, but that's probably cold comfort for all those persons whose jobs were ended before Christmas.

Then, too, fundraisers are ongoing for Haiti, and I wonder if that $5 million might not have been better used if it had been sent to this devastated island rather than into the pockets of CBS. I can't imagine what Tebow and his mom can say that would be a better Christian witness.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


There is no good way to measure the extent of the destruction in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. Anyone with a heart grieves at the pictures of death and devastation, particularly as they recognize that there will be no quick solution to the suffering. People of good will are praying for relief organizations to be able to get goods into the hands of the people to alleviate some of the problems, and many US organizations have mobilized campaigns to raise money for the support of aid groups already on the ground there.

In the midst of this outpouring of support, however, land Pat Robertson and Al Mohler, who have both managed to find a way to blame the people of Haiti for this earthquake. Pat claims to know not only what God said about the people, but was able to quote Satan as well. How interesting that he would have such a close relationship to Satan.

Unfortunately, there are many Christians who would agree with Pat and Al, believing that God chose to target Haiti with this earthquake. The God that I and many other Christians follow, however, bears no resemblance to the god whom Pat and Al claim to hear. My God is grieving for the tens of thousands of people who have died, grieving for those who may still be clinging to life, but who are trapped under the rubble and may not be able to be saved. My God is instilling hope in those who are working feverishly to uncover any remaining survivors, giving strength to aid workers who have been on their feet for days without proper rest, and comforting the survivors who have lost family, friends and all their meager possessions.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Harassment and Prop 8

In case you didn't know, there's a big trial underway in California where two lawyers, one conservative and one liberal, have undertaken to have Proposition 8 ruled as unconstitutional. I won't cover all the history of this case; google Prop 8 if you need the background.

The judge in the case wanted to let cameras into the court, and then the material would later be posted for public viewing. But the dissenters took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court, who, in a very quick decision, said that allowing the public to view the video testimonies might result in harassment of witnesses, and do them irreparable harm.

I find it ironic that those testifying against same-sex marriage are acting as though they are a beleaguered minority who need protection. These same folks are generally against any legal protections for LGBT persons, even when it comes to employment. It is still legal in a majority of states for persons to be fired from their jobs purely on the basis of their sexual orientation. It is hoped that 2010 will finally see passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but there are no guarantees.

If the Supreme Court's conservative majority can empathize with these anti-gay persons, you would think that their reflecting on how hard it would be to be subjected to public opprobrium might trigger an "aha" moment where they would likewise recognize how difficult it must be for LGBT persons in a society where a majority (albeit it a small one) of persons don't believe in equal protections for LGBT people!

Thus endeth my rant!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A New Culture

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to help with a training session for our local IAF group, CHANGE - Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment. Every time I participate in any kind of CHANGE training, I am reminded afresh of how counter-cultural IAF is, and why the media - whether local or national - has a hard time understanding IAF.

Anyone who is remotely awake to local, state and national events should recognize that we are an increasingly polarized culture. At every turn, we are being told by pundits and politicians - and some clergy, too - the equivalent of "if you aren't for us, you're against us." People are being trained to out-yell each other rather than to reason together, to demonize anyone who disagrees rather than listening to that person's story and experience.

As I looked out over the several dozen folks who had given up their weekend for CHANGE training, I was - as always - pleased to recognize that we had folks from different ethnic backgrounds, different faith traditions (or none at all), and varying political views. Our culture doesn't know what to do with a group like this that comes together to work for solutions that make life better for the entire community.

I have to wonder if the politically powerful people who lived in Jesus' day were equally as confused. Here was this laborer leading a group of people who were historically marginalized to recognize that if they took care of each other, treated each other as they would want to be treated, that the "world as it was" would be transformed in the ways Jesus referenced in the Sermon on the Mount. For those who were used to wielding power over the populace, how frightening it must have been to see people coming together, by the thousands, to hear what Jesus had to say.

But I imagine the most frightening part of all came after Jesus' crucifixion, after those who wanted to stop this movement believed it took killing only one man to accomplish the task. Instead, the twelve Jesus initially trained became 70, and they taught and trained more who became the hundreds if not thousands as described in Acts 2.

I hope the larger American culture can catch a vision of the world as it could be by looking at the work done by local IAF organizations. Rather than throw stones or hurl invectives, I'd invite them to actually join in the work, building relationships with people from other parts of the city/county.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mary Daly

Mary Daly, self-described "radical lesbian feminist," died this week at the age of 81. To say she was controversial would be an understatement of mammoth proportion. As I often do when reading news accounts, I viewed comments left with stories announcing her death. It appears no one has middle-of-the-road views about her, and I think Dr. Daly would have liked it that way.

The single most important thing written by Daly, in my view, was "If God is male, then male is God." I can still remember how that single sentence jolted me when I first read it in my 40s, just prior to my sojourn to divinity school. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church which had already told me that, as a female, I could not be a pastor, I found in that one sentence the key which unlocked a door to the pain I had felt as girl called to ministry, and to the pain I had experienced as a lesbian trying to cope in a world that wanted me to express my femaleness only in particular ways.

To be sure, Dr. Daly wrote words that were painful to the experience of some womanists and transgendered persons. We are all products of our particular times and experiences, which makes writing thoughts down for posterity a dangerous endeavor. As a friend once remarked about the legacy of sermon manuscripts, "I'm not sure I still believe what I believed then!" But Dr. Daly was undeniably at the headwaters of a stream of feminist theo/thealogians who have continued to unlock doors for women - and ultimately for all persons - as they help us imagine and re-imagine our concepts about God.

Through Daly's words, I was able to uncover and recover an image of God that included me. Those words have no doubt changed countless lives, and for that we owe Dr. Daly our gratitude.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who decides?

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over the attempt made to detonate explosives during the Northwest flight into Detroit on Christmas Day. Google News is logging thousands, if not tens of thousands, of news reports about airport security in the wake of this event.

Many commentators suggest that there is no way to stop someone who is willing to die in order to harm or kill other people. In the case of terrorists who follow fundamentalist Islamic law/teachings, these commentators argue that the subject has dedicated his (occasionally her) life to the ideal that killing those who refuse to convert will earn him great rewards in the hereafter, and bring honor - if not monetary rewards - upon the family that survives him. The focus is between that individual and his God, and how the individual will be favored by God based upon what the individual did.

The bottom line seems to be: because this individual is focused only on himself and his presumed rewards, he cannot be stopped.

I wonder, though, how much of this same "me first" thinking affects/infects our ability to reduce threats from terrorists of all sorts.

For example, it would seem that the networks devised to provide information about potential threats had plenty of data regarding Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. If it is possible to cut through all the inter-agency finger-pointing, it becomes easy to imagine that at least one major reason Abdulmutallab was not stopped prior to boarding the flight was because individuals in various agencies were more concerned about protecting themselves or their agency than they were in stopping a potential threat. The focus was on their own interests rather than in service of the common good. Likewise, the same public that cries out about failures in intelligence systems is the same public that cries out about being asked to undergo security screenings they find inconvenient.

If one begins to view actions through that lens, it becomes possible to see how "me first" thinking threatens our culture in many ways that have nothing to do with airport security.

Think about protection of the environment, and how many individuals refuse to do their part in recycling, changing driving habits, or using energy-efficient materials because it inconveniences them.

Think about individuals who oppose health-care reform because the current system works well for them.

Think about individuals who, like fundamentalists of any religion, believe that "my religion" is the only true one, and want everyone else to live by that truth.

Sometimes Christians scoff at the command to love the neighbor, or they recast it so that loving the neighbor means making that neighbor do the "right" thing THEY want them to do! Doesn't sound much like love to me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Backtracking on the death penalty

The New York Time's article by Adam Liptak, Shapers of Death Penalty Give Up on Their Work offers hope to me that death penalty proponents are losing serious ground. If this group, described as "the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States," recognizes that the system is broken, then perhaps we are on the way to taking the death penalty off the judicial table.

One of their findings was that the system is plagued by racial disparities. Finally.

For too many years, people have tried to justify the death penalty system, arguing that the appeals process has insured that no innocent persons have ever been executed. Riiiiiight...

Here where I live, Forsyth County, North Carolina, there have been two men proven innocent after years of imprisonment. Had they been on death row, who knows if there would have been time to jump through the hoops necessary to prove their innocence. And despite the incredible odds against there being two convictions overturned, there is a third man here who is probably innocent as well, Kalvin Michael Smith. All three men are African American.

I tried to link to the Winston-Salem Journal's latest story on Smith, but could not get the link to work. Search their site for the story:

As this institute is finally willing to acknowledge, the death penalty system is broken. Based on what I have seen in the three cases above, our judicial system is broken. Until we are willing to face the racial biases that pervade the system, more innocent people will be convicted while dangerous perpetrators walk the streets.

Monday, January 4, 2010

One final Christmas story

I received some very good feedback on a recent sermon. Click on the post title above and go to the 12/27/2009 links for audio and/or manuscript.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Seeing things anew

Christmas is a complicated time for me. I won't go into further detail now, but suffice it so say that the season has not always been a very happy one for me. That said, I had interesting experiences as I went to visit my mom on Christmas Day.

A few days before Christmas, it snowed about 8 inches where I live. It was a beautiful snow, and I enjoyed watching it fall and taking pictures as it did.

By Christmas morning, the snow had either melted/been scraped such that the roads were passable, but there was still a lot of snow elsewhere, which made for a stimulating drive. The snow gave definition to areas of the countryside that I typically ignore as I drive along the (mostly) interstate route to my hometown.

The white backdrop provided an interesting canvas, causing features of the terrain to 'pop' before my eyes in ways they never had, though I've been traveling this road for 30+ years now. I was reminded of a quote attributed to famous traveler, Charles Kuralt: "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything." I realized that I had been traveling this road for decades without understanding the depth of interest beside the roadways: deep ravines, wetlands, firm stands of pines, deer-filled forests, etc. All of these places had existed before, but in my haste, I had never taken the time to really see them.

Thanks to the "white space" provided by the snowfall, I was able to see things previously hidden as I made my way from Point A to Point B. And while the snow had been mostly cleared, the remaining cold temperatures continued to leave some icy spots where snow had melted, so instead of traveling at the posted speeds, I had slowed, and the lower rate of speed also allowed me to see new things as well. I had never noticed the broken fence, the swollen creek or the depth of the vineyard. Gone from sight, too, had been the small "mom and pop" stores, those retailers who had avoided being swallowed by Walmarts, et. al. There was wildlife to be seen, running waters to be enjoyed, and even the occasional hiker, blessed be, who had pulled him/herself away from other distractions to wander out into nature.

Christmas has not always been my favorite season, but on this particular morning, I was allowed to see different views that changed my vision forever.

Look behind the everyday view, open your eyes to what can be seen anew, and be thankful for the creation at hand. Imagine doing these things on every day. If you can open your imagination in this way, welcome to a new year, indeed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'm baaaaaaack!

Ah, it's good to be back at the blog again!

Despite my best intentions, I did not get around to moving this blog to a new domain after all, and life became so complicated that I stopped posting as well. But it's a new year and with new years come resolutions, and I am resolved to blog once again.

Of course, one of the reasons I wanted to move the blog was because it's hard to get traffic if the blog isn't linked to other sites people read. Our church website had not been updated in quite some time, but we recently remedied that problem by having a new vendor create a site for us. It is quite lovely, don't you agree?

So now that I'll have a location from which folks might actually read my rantings, I'm committed to getting back into the blogging habit.

I started to remove all the old posts below, but I kinda hated to delete them. I thought they might inspire me as I try once again to get into this habit. Plus, they'll give you some insight into how my mind works - or doesn't, as you may argue.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wish list

Car trouble, Christmas events and end of semester work have all conspired to keep me from blogging regularly this week. However, one of my new year's resolutions is that I will continue to blog even after the end of my Public Theology class. I have secured my name as a new domain and once I can figure out how to move content there, I will be operating under a new blog address.

My final op-ed is soon to be ready as well, and I will post it here once I've completed final editing. As I noted earlier, it is about torture, a topic that continues to find its way into our news cycles, as well it should. Given all the scandals of this administration, it is time that the public retain a focus on something as critical to our country's future as this subject.

I am also thankful that John McCain continues to speak out on this subject. It would be easier for his political fortunes for him to join the double-speak bandwagon with some of his Republican presidential contenders, but he continues to argue against torture with compelling personal testimony.

As we move toward Christmas, I marvel at how we can dissociate ourselves from these larger national issues and allow ourselves to be consumed by the consumer process. At this time of the year, Christians should be drawn to the drama of the child that was coming to bring unimagined change to the world, rather than be blinded by the glitz of the season. It is my prayer that we disengage from the consumer culture so that we can turn our attention fully to trying to live in the way we were shown by the one who came as the Prince of Peace.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Shop 'til you drop

I hate to go to shopping malls, so any excuse not to go is good enough for me, even at Christmas time. The recent shooting spree at the mall in Omaha provides just such an excuse. There will no doubt be copycat actions because shooting people while they are Christmas shopping makes for good news copy. If you want to get noticed, now’s the time to grab your guns. It gives “shop 'til you drop” a whole new meaning.

OK. I realize my macabre sensibilities won’t go over well with some, so let’s look at this situation another way.

Immediately after this event, callers to a radio show proclaimed that mall doors should be outfitted with metal detectors. But then a later caller asked; what about the parking lots? If someone wanted to take out a lot of people at once, that would be a fine place, too. Heck, I’ve had moments where having a gun to deal with a parking space thief could have felt really right! OK, so why don’t we have searches of cars/persons as they arrive to a mall?

Obviously all these “fixes” lead to the absurd. There is no place that is perfectly safe. As in so many situations, then, the better question would be to return to the source, that is, to the reason why someone felt his only recourse was to shoot and kill others.

Hope is the antidote to the hopelessness that leads people to such desperate actions. We must be able to imagine a world where no one would feel so isolated that he/she had no other way to deal with pain but to hurt others. Just like the shooter at Virginia Tech, it is clear this young man had problems, but there was no one close enough to reach him, no one to hold out a hopeful hand to him.

When I look at scripture, and see what Jesus did for/with others, it seems clear that in so many cases he was, in essence, defusing people with love. His willingness to hear people’s needs and help them turn their lives around no doubt took away so much anger carried by those with physical or emotional difficulties, or those who had been marginalized by society. They were then able to face the world empowered by hope. He taught a way where love could overcome hate and peace overcome violence, whereas the reverse has never been and will never be possible.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

(De)Merit badges

A recent news article announced that the Boy Scouts would no longer be able to lease a Philadelphia building for $1/year because they discriminate against gay scouts. The city has a non-discrimination clause that says taxpayer monies cannot subsidize groups that discriminate, and the building once used by the Scouts rents for considerably more than $1/year!

Some will complain that the Scouts, as a private organization, should be able to set their own membership policies, and I agree. However, if they want to discriminate, they shouldn’t complain at having to follow the same rules as any other organization when it comes to things like renting space, using public buildings, etc. Often what the Scouts do is say that their focus is so positive that everyone should give them a break; they are making opportunities available for young boys and thereby fulfilling a public good.

Here’s one big problem with the above argument; it’s like saying that if underprivileged young white boys are served by being giving educational/leadership opportunities, it’s OK that the organization discriminates against boys of other races. I can’t imagine that point of view being accepted by municipalities as a reason for allowing the group to use taxpayer facilities at no/reduced costs.

I have a young friend who was on his way to an Eagle Scout award until it became known that he was gay. In his subsequent research on the subject, he learned some very important points. First, the United States is the only western-world scouting organization that discriminates based on sexual orientation or religious affiliation (or lack thereof), having rather recently constructed membership policies based on "biblical values." Secondly, most countries around the world do not segregate scouts by sex. Finally, the Girl Scouts here in the US do not discriminate based on orientation. When one puts those facts together, a new picture emerges; the discriminatory policies are based on some misguided notion of what it means to be a proper male in our culture. Those who lead the BSA seem to be afraid of both gay boys in particular and girls in general. Their notion of masculinity must be protected.

Jesus showed by his actions that he did not follow his culture’s strictures on interactions between males and females. Women were prominent in his life as supporters and, following his death, as leaders among those who continued to carry his teachings into the world. So if the BSA wants to discriminate, let them find another rationale for their actions rather than misusing Christian scripture.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The passion of Mel?

Last week, I watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ for the first time. Upon its initial release, I had refused to see it. A colleague watched it as part of a panel of clergy recruited by our local paper, and his report was that it was the most violent film he had ever seen. He’s right; The Passion makes Scarface look like a bedtime story.

So many things troubled me about the movie in addition to the excessive violence. As has been noted by reviewers, Mel lays the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion at the feet of the Jewish authorities, a scapegoating tactic that does not follow scripture. But there’s also not-so-subtle scapegoating of women.

The movie focuses on the last hours of Jesus’ life, and opens in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus is praying. Circling around him is a Satan figure who might have been intended to present ambiguous gender, but who is smooth skinned as opposed to every other character in the scene having thick beards. Later in the movie, this figure cradles a baby in what seemed to me to be a reversal of a Madonna and child, a scene that latter occurs when Jesus’ body is cradled by Mary at the foot of the cross.

Mel purported to strictly follow scripture in telling this story, but any cursory reading of scripture demonstrates that he took many liberties. This is the story of Mel’s idea of Jesus, a super-macho figure able to withstand 20 minutes of flesh-ripping beatings. Hmmm...almost sounds like the plotline of a Lethal Weapon movie. One has to wonder if Mel doesn’t understand himself as a Christ-like figure, being persecuted by the detractors of his movie.