Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Back in the mid 60's a music revolution took place. My white suburban friends were listening to the British Invasion. It changed pop music for sure. I did listen to some of that music but it wasn't the only music that a city boy in an integrated neighborhood in Pittsburgh heard. WAMO was often on my radio and I was as likely to be listening to James Brown as the Beatles.
If this white boy ever plays funky music, at least in part, James Brown inspired it. Thank you James. I hope that you have finally found peace.


It has been a crazy Christmas season for me... I'll say more about it all in another post.

In this one, I'd like to share the lyrics to one of my favorite carols Some Children See Him written by Alfred Burt in 1951. Burt wrote a carol each year and included it in his Christmas card.

This one strikes me as having an aspect of theology that is unique to Christianity among all of the major religions - contextualization. One of the foundational ideas in Christianity is that God works in specific contexts. The incarnation is the primary example. Jesus was a peasant living in Israel under Roman rule subject to all of the cultural and historical constraints that implies. As Christianity grew, the incarnation was a model that allowed the faith to take different shapes in different cultural contexts. The specificity of the incarnation allows the faith to become universal and be expressed in every unique context. It allows the faith to adapt to different paradigms rather than force them to change. This was clearly seen when some of the early Christians wanted Gentile believers to become Jewish in order to follow Jesus, Paul argued that this was not necessary. The faith morphed for a new context.

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

"tis love that's born tonight...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

war president chart

yeah... my politics comes out more often than it should but this piece was just too good.

It comes courtesy of Joan of Snark who picked it up at The Ironic Times.

Obama Announces

but it was the wrong announcement...

I'm still waiting, hoping, praying for the other one...


My friends Ryan and Heather had a new arrival in their household on 12/6 - Quinn Kingsley

I ran into them yesterday outside of Costco and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories and (dare I say it) terror with my children. Ryan and Heather truly can't know what to expect as this new little person throws their lives into turmoil. They cannot imagine the love and joy and pain and fear that he will bring into their lives. Such power in such a tiny, beautiful package.

My prayer for them is that God will fill full all of their dreams and that the potential we all see in Quinn will come to fruition and more.

Blessings Heather, Ryan, and Quinn!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Whooo Whooo, I Won!

I admit it. I'm a sucker for sweepstakes. If it is free, I enter it. A few days a week I go to Guitar Player Magazine and Bass Player Magazine and fill out the entry forms for their giveaways. I also go to a few sites of the big online music dealers and fill out their entry forms. Guess what! I won!

Here's my name as a daily winner at Sweetwater. And I even won something that I'll be able to use, a Zoom G9.2tt guitar processor. Up until now, my processing has all been very old school, using a variety of analog stomp boxes on this homemade pedal board.

This is the processor that I won.

This new processor is a mix of analog and digital and has the ability to program patches so I don't have to dance to get certain mixes of effects. It is also lighter in weight and a lot smaller (the photos aren't to scale). On top of that, it has a lot more effects than I have on my board... but we'll see how it sounds. I've spent a lot of time and money picking out my stomp boxes and I have some great sounding boxes. It won't be easy for the G9 to cover the sounds I have as well as I can at this point, but we'll see. It may make up for any deficiencies in sound by its flexibility and muscle. It will be fun to find out. In the meantime, the guy from Sweetwater called and left a message with my daughter and will call back again to get me.

Thanks Sweetwater!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Changing Evil

A Muslim friend of mine quoted their tradition the other day and the quote struck me. Forgive me if I don't get it exactly right...

When possible, change evil with you hands...
if you cannot change evil with your hands, use your tongue...
if you cannot change evil with your tongue, use your heart.
That is the least that is demanded by faith.

I'm struck that the quote goes backwards from my intuition. It seems that in each case, the force available is less than the instance before. What seems to be so is not also so. With each step, the individual is putting more of themselves into the task. Doing hand work requires less of a commitment than speaking out in public for what is right which requires less commitment than giving one's heart. It seems to me that it is rare that evil can be changed with your hands or your words... it is only when one is willing to give their heart that things change. And that is the least that is demanded by faith... your very self.


this came in the form of an e-mail on sojonet from Sojourner's Magazine. I find it interesting as I've been involved in a discussion about war and pacifism on a bulletin board for Christian Musicians.

Christian Soldier Returns to Front Lines Unarmed
By Will Braun, Editor, Geez magazine

On the phone, in between his duties at Schofield Army Barracks in Hawaii, Sergeant Logan Laituri tells me he wants to "live radically for Christ." Normally I stumble over that sort of fervor – couched, as it is, in terms I would usually consider vague and cliche – but if following Jesus means telling your captain that 9/11 didn't absolve you of the need to love your enemies, I'll keep listening.

Laituri came to Jesus, as they say, at a dramatic time in his life. He was back from 14 months in Iraq as a front-liner in the U.S. Army, and scheduled to return. It was spring, 2005.

His new girlfriend's family welcomed him with a Christian love so genuine he couldn't resist. He ended up in a New Testament history class at a local college, and was also faced with the incisive questions from his philosophical brother and roommate. Soon he found himself immersed in scripture, filled with the spirit and brimming with passion.

The 25-year-old Laituri grew up the son of an agnostic Vietnam Vet in Orange County, California. In 2000, he joined the Army, hoping for education and travel. After a first term, he re-enlisted for an assignment in Hawaii, looking forward to some good surf. Throughout his six years in the military, Laituri had identified as Christian. "I had all the stickers and stuff," he says of his earlier faith, but that was about the extent of it.

His conversion brought change. He started heeding his college instructor's directive to let the Bible shape his opinions, rather than his opinions shaping it. Again, I'd dismiss this as tired religio-garble, if he weren't talking about his "place in geo-politics" at the same time.

"I realized I had to figure out what it meant to me to be a soldier," he says. "How do I act in my particular job and still follow the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself? Ya know, how can I do that when I'm asked to basically lay waste to kinda large scale areas?"

- - -

"We do know [Jesus] preaches peace," says Major Norman W. Jones, an Army Chaplain whom Laituri consulted at one point, "but it did not mean [Jesus] was against a nation going to war." Major Jones – whose tone is open and entirely gracious – tells me the "sticky point is where [Jesus] says 'do not kill,'" and that's where Just War theory comes in. Though Jones sees faith and military service as compatible, he says he would have sympathy for a soldier whose faith convictions led to the conclusion that the U.S. war in Iraq is not just. "I'm here to support the soldier," he says, convincingly. Jones, who studied at Dallas Theological Seminary, points to the Biblical command to obey the government as the bottom line, though he adds that obedience to God trumps duty to one's nation.

Laituri – who punctuates conversation both with Bible verses and mini-rants about the sins of nationalistic ego – also looks to the good book as the source of "absolute truth," though it leads him in a different direction. When it says love your enemies, he says he "can't kill someone in love."

As his infantry company started gearing up for a return to Iraq, Lairturi was busy asking people about faith, war, and the decisions he faced. In response, he got a lot of Just War theory, and rationalization for the the necessity of violence. People told him it was morally wrong to do nothing about the nation's enemies. One commander, who is also a Baptist preacher, assured Laituri that since he was a Christian, Jesus had died for all his sins, and therefore he was already forgiven for whatever he would do on the battlefield.

The people who had welcomed him to the faith did not welcome his questioning of military morality. His then-girlfriend's father told Laituri he was part of God's hand in bringing judgement to Muslim extremists. The views he heard didn't fit with the convictions he felt, and his company was set to leave for a training session in California before heading back to Iraq.

Logan Laituri sat in the bus, he and his colleagues headed to Honolulu airport for their flight to California. It was April 20, 9:40 in the morning. Headphones on, local Christian band Olivia playing a song called "Heaven," and his thoughts on what in the world to do about his beliefs. Then, for a moment, heaven itself seemed to open.

"I felt like somebody was showing me something," he says of the "short video clip" from above that followed.

"I saw myself in the Middle East, I'm pretty sure it was Iraq," he says, describing the emotionally vivid experience. "What struck me were two things: number one, that I did not have a weapon." The second thing was a feeling of "confidence;" the confidence that he was "doing what was right."

It was his calling. He would go to Iraq, but without a weapon. At first he thought he might be able to do that as a non-combative member of his company. So after prayer and consideration, he applied for Conscientious Objector (CO) status, as per the Army regulation allowing a soldier to request discharge for reasons of conscience, as long as military officials deem the applicant "sincere" at the end of the stipulated process. He was ready to go to prison if need be, which, in today's for-us-or-against-us climate is a real possibility for CO applicants. Major Jones says the majority of CO applications are denied.

At that point Laituri was not actually trying to leave the Army, because he saw the human anguish within military ranks, and didn't think it was Christ-like to just abandon people in need. He just wanted to have the right to refuse to bear arms.

But the military is not going to send someone to war without a weapon, and, as it turns out, it may not treat you very well if you make such a request. With re-deployment looming, Laituri's superiors dragged their feet on the CO process, missing stipulated procedural deadlines without explanation.

Laituri talks of theological discussions with commanders, hostile rumors, and bureaucratic tangles. One superior berated him, saying his actions benefitted the enemies of America – an insult Laituri took as affirmation, given Jesus' invitation to love the enemy.

Military command seemed determined to stall his CO application, but they didn't want him in the battlefield either. Eventually, with his term of service drawing to a close, he was re-assigned to a detachment that would not deploy overseas. He surrendered the CO process in favor of simply letting his term of service expire.

As of October 19, Laituri became a private citizen.

- - -

Major Jones says debate about the morality of war seldom comes up in his work, and CO applications are rare. However, according to the United Church Observer, 8,000 members of the U.S. military have deserted since the Iraq war began. During World War II, nearly 43,000 Americans refused to fight for reasons of conscience, and during the Vietnam War 170,000 COs were formally recognized. In addition, 25,000 to 30,000 so-called draft dodgers fled to Canada in the Vietnam era.

Currently there are about 175 U.S. military "deserters" living illegally in Canada, hoping to escape repercussions back home. If Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board starts sending them back to the U.S., Canadian churches will have to decide whether or not to grant them sanctuary - a custom whereby churches allow certain failed refugee claimants to live on church premises where law enforcement officials are hesitant to forcibly enter to arrest someone.

Logan Laituri doesn't have to worry about fleeing his homeland now that he is out of the Army, but he does have his eyes on distant lands. He feels called to be a missionary to the Middle East. So, last Sunday he left for Israel/Palestine on a delegation with Christian Peacemaker Teams, the violence-reduction organization now famous for the four of their members abducted in Baghdad a year ago.

Not sure what someone who sounds like a cross between Noam Chomsky and an evangelical youth pastor means by "missionary," I asked what message he wants to bring to the Middle East.

"Jesus loves you. I love you," he says, proclaiming his desire to "radiate love" even if he doesn't convert a single person.

So off he goes, back to the front lines, disarmed and disarming, an "attitude of active compassion" at the ready. With the courage of a warrior and the love of God, he's living radically for Christ.

Will Braun is editor of Geez magazine ( A version of this article appears in the current print edition of Geez. For more, see and Laituri's blog: .

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

bah humbug!

bah humbug!

If I'm truthful... I really dislike this time of year. I want Advent to be Advent. I end up in a disagreement with church members every year about the appropriate music for the season. I'm not crazy about Christmas lights. I think the battle over "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays" just about sums it up. Christmas has been co-opted and turned into a secular celebration of materialism... and it doesn't even happen in Christmastide, it happens during Advent!

Earlier today I was in my car listening to yet one more advertisement trying to entice me to purchase something amazing for a loved one when they went the next logical step... "Indulge yourself too. You deserve it!" Well, frankly we don't deserve it, especially in a world so marked by poverty and need. Second, it concluded the co-opting of Christmas. At least before it was about gifts - giving and receiving stuff - but still about gifts. This advertisement even removed the gift part and made Christmas just about stuff. bah humbug!

And as I said, it isn't the Christmas season yet. It is Advent, the season when we prepare for Christmas. Christmas begins on December 25th. Now is supposed to be a penitential season, a time for reflection and prayer, a time to ready our spirits to receive the birth of the Christchild. It isn't supposed to be busy and filled with enticements to buy, buy, buy. The music is supposed to be soft and contemplative, not celebratory and joyful (after all, the baby isn't born yet). And then when Christmas does come, I want to sing Christmas Carols and celebrate, and everyone else is tired of them and just want to return the gifts for what they really wanted.

So this is my official take on this time of year - bah humbug!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

In memory of John Fischer

This week a friend of mine named John Fischer died. John and I served together on the Ministers Council Senate of the American Baptist Churches a few years ago. We got to be friends and roomed together a number of times during our meetings.
John was a man of integrity, compassion, humor, and strength.

John did one of the most creative sabbaticals of any pastor I know. He decided that since many of his parishioners were blue collar workers, he needed to understand their lives. He spent much of his sabbatical doing day labor and experienced a side of life that he had not known before. Church politics then went there way and John ended up leaving the pastorate but he was always a minister of the gospel.

One thing that always struck me was the way that he spoke about his wife Terry Sue. He delighted in her and I can't imagine that after years of marriage he was any less excited about seeing her each evening and holding her in his arms than he was the day they married.

God blessed me through my friend John. I trust that right now and forever, God is cradling him in arms of love. He will be deeply missed. Blessings my friend.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

While Iraq Burns

There was a great editorial in NY Times on the 27th by Bob Herbert that you can read here

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Iraq again

I've been watching with more and more despair of late as the news just gets worse in Iraq. Even hawks like Henry Kissinger have come to the conclusion that we cannot "win" there while at the same time more and more are fearing that if we leave, we will see a firestorm overtake the Middle East. That of course leaves a wonderful option... continue to send young men and women to die or be maimed with no reasonable goal in mind. And none of it needed to happen!

I think the situation underscores my belief that our leaders are approaching the current world with a mindset that has its roots in a past long since gone. Warfare does not look like it did during WWII. In a time when one independent terrorist cell can turn the world upside down, it is silly to think that a large army or airforce can go in, do its thing, and force an enemy to sign a peace treaty and then see it kept. It just doesn't work that way anymore. Putting huge resources into the military will not make us more secure in this day and age. Supporting tyrants like Saddam will only come back to bite us. We must work for a more stable and egalitarian economy around the world so everyday people have something to preserve. We must work to understand those with whom we disagree and we must learn to appreciate their perspectives even when we do not agree. We must learn to talk, talk, talk, and then talk some more. And we must learn to build large and far-ranging alliances. The world must want to be our friend rather than fear being our enemy.

More than ever before, we need a national Peace College to train leaders to make peace and we need to place at least equal the resources there that we put into our military academies.

Santa Barbara housing fantasy

Once again, Santa Barbara gets the nod as one of the least affordable places to get housing in the US. Even with Santa Maria (the place 60 miles away where people go to find affordable housing here) included in the data, we're #5 on the least affordable list.

And the folk who already own property here somehow think that is a healthy situation?!?!?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

a prayer

Last week I attended a CE event with Brian McLaren (hopefully I'll get a chance to blog a little about it - it was a very good way to spend a day). He shared a prayer written by a Serbian bishop named Nikolai Velimirovic who died at Dachau.
Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.
Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does,
so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary,
having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.
Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.
Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Your garment.

Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.
Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.
Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows,
that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.
One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.
Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.
A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life.
Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.
Bless my enemies, O Lord.
Even I bless them and do not curse them.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

the darkness within

I've been thinking a lot about Ted Haggard. My first thoughts were of profound sadness for him and even more so for his family. And then came his letter to his congregation and it has been stewing for me since then. I have to say that I pity the man. Let me make a few statements that I think are central to the questions raised by this event.

1. Ted Haggard is gay. Whether he was born that way or became that way is irrelevant. He would argue with that statement but it seems clear to me that it is who he is. Yes I know he is married and has children but this was not a simple sexual indiscretion. As one of my straight conservative Christian friends said, "If he was going to sin, he could have chosen one that is more fun." I think that is the crux of the issue. There wasn't one that was more fun for him. There wasn't a temptation to sleep with women. That was an obligation or even a mark of commitment to his wife... but men... were a different story, so much so that he risked his career, his family, and in his understanding, his relationship with God. The things he did may have been contrary to everything he believed, but not to who he is. His lie was and is his marriage.

2. When he speaks of something dirty within himself, he is telling the truth, but it isn't his homosexuality, it is his self-loathing.

3. The suffering that he has inflicted on his wife and family is a direct result of his not being able to accept who he is. It is unnecessary. Had he been honest with himself and with them, he would be involved in a lifelong commitment to another man and this pain would never have happened.

4. His sin was his breaking of a covenant with a woman who loved him, not the fact that he is gay.

5. No doubt, he will try to get "cured" of his homosexuality and his wife may even stay with him. Still, even if he never engages in homosexual activity again, his nature will not change and the self-loathing will be there every day for the rest of his life.

6. A gay man, actively involved in homosexual activities can do significant ministry.

So where do we go with this? I hope it serves as a wake-up call to conservatives to rethink their understanding of the issue. I believe that the scriptures do not preclude the possibility of homosexual love and sexual involvement with the same kinds of criteria that are there for heterosexual love and sexual involvement - fidelity, appropriateness to the depth of the relationship, the degree to which the activity humanizes the partners, ability to live with the possible consequences (these criteria roughly come from James Nelson's wonderful book Embodiment).

So my advice to Ted Haggard... look in the mirror and see who you are and then run to the nearest MCC Church and hear a gospel of the love of God and of welcome. Or run to an AWAB church or some other congregation that preaches the radical inclusive grace of God. Do some serious therapy and come to terms with who you are and give thanks to God for who you are. Then comes the really difficult work - deciding what to do with a promise that you made to your wife, based on a lie.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

a little disappointed

Anyone who knows me would think that I'd be thrilled with the results of last week's elections. The Democrats won... big time. And it was clear that Karl Rove and hence GW didn't expect it. Had they expected it, Rumsfeld would have been canned two days before the election. They actually believed that no change was needed.

So why am I a little disappointed? Actually, it is stronger than that. I'm unhappy that we have only one choice when it comes to foreign policy. Both Democrats and Republicans are standing on a "we're as tough as they are" platform. It is a platform fueled by fear and greed as the military industrial complex continues to rape the poor. (After all, it was Eisenhower who said that every dollar spent on the military is a dollar taken from the poor.) While the dems may be a little quicker to end the debacle in Iraq, neither is really showing any imagination of better ways to live in the world than by caring an M16. Both are caught up in trying to show that they have as much testosterone as the other.

I'd like to see some party that has peace as a central component of its platform. I'd still like to see a party that worked to stop the global arms business (growing by leaps and bounds these days... did you know that our sales to Pakistan have grow incredibly in the last 2 years and that one of their largest customers in the resale of those arms is Iran?) I'd like to see a peace college formed for the training of diplomats who can avoid wars rather than just war colleges to train those to wage them. I'd like to see a party that includes worker's rights as part of the negotiations in its trade deals. I'd like to see the swords turned into plowshares and the spears to pruning hooks. When one of the current or a new party spoke those kinds of ideas, then I'd be happy, even if they lost. Right now, nobody is even raising the possibility that there can be another way.

And as the bumper sticker says... "When Jesus said 'love your enemies' he probably meant we shouldn't kill them."

Say What!?!?!?

As a musicians, my ears are really important to me (wish I'd thought of that when I was young) and I try to take care of them so as not to lose any more pitches than are already gone.

A musicians forum I frequent has a thread about a pitch/musical phrase hearing "test" that took me there to take the test. I scored 86.1. I'm not sure how that really effects one's music but it is interesting to do.

Find the test here.

How'd you do?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Yesterday, Cheryl and I drove south to Ventura for a few errands on our day off. There is a lengthy section of the drive that goes right along the ocean. It was a glorious day with Santa Ana winds making everything as clear as it could be. The Channel Islands looked as if they were close enough to touch. As I was driving I glanced out and saw a spout of water about 50 yards out to sea. It was much too big to be a splash from a diving bird so I watched as carefully as I could while driving down the highway at 65+ mph... and then I saw its back come up out of the water - a whale! This really is a wondrous place to live.

Monday, November 06, 2006



'nuff said.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Run Barak, Run!

A few weeks ago, Barak Obama announced that he was considering a run for the presidency in 2008. About 24 hours later, the comments began - "great candidate!" "Too inexperienced, he should do another term in the senate and then run" "sure loser" etc.

I don't know whether he could win, but I sure hope he runs. And I hope he wins. Perhaps Obama does not have extensive governmental experience but it is a bit disingenuous to have that be a critique from the Republicans. After all, their last candidate had only the experience of a few failed businesses and then the governorship of Texas... a position that I understand is by the state's constitution one of the weakest governorships of them all. That candidate, in spite of being from a family of privilege didn't even have a passport and hadn't even had the cultural curiosity to ever travel outside of the US except to Mexico. Talk about a lack of experience.

Obama has the experience of living with his feet in many cultures from Kenya to Harvard, poor sections of Chicago to the halls of power in DC, black and white. He is intelligent, thoughtful, charismatic, mature, has integrity, and from what I have seen so far, seems to embody what I would characterize as the best of the American experiment. And hey, he has a sense of humor. The photo came from his official website! He knows how to think through complicated issues and work to get things done. What more experience could he need?

So why not wait and run after another term in the Senate. Surely the experience would help him, right? While the experience may be helpful, the getting of it would not. When was the last time a senator was elected president? There is a reason for that. Being in the senate does nothing but put targets on a person. Bills always involve compromise and compromise always looks weak in a 30 second TV ad. Bills change as they work their way through the legislative process so reasonable people may be for a bill at one point and against it at another... which looks like flip-flopping. Riders that are not good get added to good bills and a legislator may vote in favor because the good outweighs the bad... and then is portrayed as supporting whatever riders were attached. Conversely, good riders may get attached to bad bills that everyone knows will pass and so the senator votes for that bill to get the rider enacted. You get the picture. If Obama wants to run for president, he should do it now. I for one hope he does... run Obama, run!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

history of the middle east in 90 seconds

I found this map at my friend, Billy's blog

amazing isn't it?

No on Propositions

As I said in an earlier post, California has an initiative process. It sounds like a great idea... any citizen, if he or she is able to get the requisite number of signatures on a petition, can get an initiative placed on the ballot. If the idea has merit and enough people vote for it. It becomes law. Democracy at it's finest, right?

Wrong. Instead, it has become an exercise in he who has the most money gets over. Huge amounts of money is being spent on the initiative process, mostly on 30 second television ads that spin things. Few people have the time or energy to think through long term implications of the initiatives (often including those who proposed them in the first place) and so many people vote according to 7 word tag lines that they've heard over and over again on television. It is a terrible way to make law. Writing laws should be a careful deliberative process without the influence of special interest groups. Instead we have a situation like prop 87 this year which is about a new tax on gasoline extracted in California - which has much lower extraction costs than other states. The oil industry has spent over $52 million into defeating the initiative. A bit more than $45 million has come from the other side for a total of $98 million spent on pushing this one initiative. That is more than is being spent on the governor's race.

Last year prop 73, a parental notification law, was defeated so this year we have prop 85... another parental notification law. And the street talk is that if this proposition is defeated, guess what we'll have next year? Wouldn't those millions of dollars be better spent on a program that reduces teen pregnancy?

A bunch of years ago we had prop 13, a property tax boon for those who owned property and a curse for those who didn't. Essentially your property tax is based on the purchase price of the property and doesn't change significantly as the property increases in value. Again, it sounds great. Allows elderly folk on fixed incomes to keep their homes... etc. But what are the implications? You can have two homes next to one another, built by the same contractor... indeed, they are exactly the same house and one owner pays $2000 a year in taxes while the neighbor pays $12000. The first paid $200,000 for the house and the second bought it last week for $1.2 million (the median price in Santa Barbara). People don't sell their homes because moving causes a huge jump in taxes. So... that lowers the stock available to purchase which artificially increases the prices. And if your family is growing,rather than move and take the tax hit, you enlarge your home (which does bring a tax increase albeit a much smaller one), removing the smaller housing stock from the market and again making it more difficult for people to get into the market. You can figure out what the tax structure did to the infrastructure and to the schools... I'm guessing that when this prop passed, very few people thought about those implications. And now, it would be impossible to change because those folk with houses for a length of time don't want to lose their tax advantage.

So, I'd like to see an initiative on the ballot next year... an initiative to do away with the initiative process. I can see the special interests coming out on that one.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

No on 85

No on Prop 85

There's a bunch of political stuff that I will be blogging about over the next few days so here's installment #1.

In California, we have an initiative process where anyone with enough money can get a proposition put onto the ballot. Then all it takes is spin and advertising and it becomes law. Doesn't that sound great? (I'll be blogging about that in the next few days).

Last year we had prop 73 which would have required parental notification before a teenage girl could have an abortion. It was defeated. So this year we have prop 85... and it is the same thing.

So why would I urge you to vote "no" on a law that would require parents to be notified before a teenage girl could have an abortion? After all, she needs permission before she can get an aspirin at school, right? In the best of all possible worlds, no teenage girl would get pregnant and abortion would be a non-issue. In the next best of all worlds, if a girl did get pregnant, she would go to a wonderful supportive family who would help her through a very complicated and difficult time. We don't live in the best or the next best of all worlds. Some teenage girls get pregnant by a relative, even their fathers. Some live in abusive households and fear for their lives daily. Some have parents who could not care less. To require these vulnerable girls to go to their parents before having a procedure is unconscionable.

Some picture a 12 year old sitting alone in a doctor's office, scared, being pushed into a decision she does not want to make. Others picture untold numbers of girls seeing this as an easy out for them to have unprotected sex and then have abortions with no consequences. Neither picture is accurate. The statistics show that 70% of teenagers who get pregnant tell their parents and make a decision with them. Of the 30% who do not... well there is a reason for not telling and at least some of them are very good reasons. If those girls go to Planned Parenthood, they receive extensive counseling and opportunities to connect with supportive and caring adults who are not there to push them to have an abortion but who are trying to help them make decisions that are the best for them. As for 12 year olds, I was told that our local PP, which covers 3 counties - Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis - only had 3 abortions in the past year with clients 14 or under.

Those who argue for the proposition say that there is a legal remedy for girls who cannot tell their families. The question then is what scared teenager who has just learned she is pregnant to an abusive father is going to have the savvy to go through a complicated legal process? More likely, she would do something like the teenager did last year who asked her boyfriend to hit her in the belly with a baseball bat to try to induce an abortion.

What this issue really is about is keeping the most vulnerable of girls safe in extremely difficult times. Vote "no" on prop 85

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

hanging out

You know the old joke... what do you call someone who likes to hang out with musicians? A drummer.

Well, one of the fun things of being a reasonably good guitarist is that I get to hang out with some amazing ones. I am really blessed to have a bunch of friends who do things with guitars that shouldn't be done... or can't be done. Here are two of them...

One is Miche Fambro. Mick plays a classical guitar upside down and combines jazz, flamenco, and folk with percussion all on one guitar while singing with one of the sweetest voices you'll ever hear. He plays like nobody else I've ever heard.

Below is a video of another of my friends - Thomas Leeb who is an amazing player. Take a look at what he does with a beautiful Lowden F35C guitar. You can't see it in the video but Thomas has added a wooden reinforcement up near the cutaway so he doesn't wear a hole in the guitar there from hitting it so many times. Michael Hedges opened the door to this style of playing but Thomas takes in places that are all his own.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Crazy Tom

Last post I said that Tom is crazy... then he sent me this photo from his last vacation. What sane person would do that?

Monday, October 23, 2006

crazy Icelanders

One of my closest friends does off-roading... the serious kind. Tom builds these monster Jeep thingsand goes up and down mountains and over rocks where no sane person would ever try taking a vehicle. A few years ago, he rolled his Jeep down a mountain... about a mile until he hit one of the few trees which stopped his rolling.

Well, to prove he isn't the craziest person in the world (even if he is the craziest I know) he sent me this link where a Jeep drives across water.

Well, Tom is right. He isn't the craziest person in the world.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Ken Lay gets off

Some months ago, I blogged about Ken Lay. Some folk thought I went overboard when I advocated that his decendants should continue to pay the vicitms of his crimes. After all, wealth and position open doors of opportunity that don't get opened otherwise. Lay's children, grandchildren, etc. would all continue to benefit from his crime even after he was convicted and punished.

Well, Lay was convicted of everything and was awaiting sentencing when he died. The government was poised to seize about $44 million in assets that he got illegally. Well, he died before sentencing and a federal judge in Houston this week wiped away the conviction because Lay had not had the opportunity to appeal it before his death.

So... Lay's family keeps the $44 million and those whose lives were turned upside down by his fraud, some of whom literally lost everything and whose children and grandchildren will have fewer opportunities because of his crimes... well, they get nothing.

some silliness

but boy is it fun...

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Why I am in ABCUSA?

This is a key question for me these days when I am feeling less and less welcome in the larger denomination.

I did not grow up in a Baptist tradition and didn't choose it until I was a student at Eastern Baptist Seminary. There I learned about a denomination that was committed to racial, economic, cultural, and theological diversity. I learned that we hear the voice of God most clearly when we struggle together with those who see and hear things differently. I learned that the voice of God is often, usually, first heard by a small minority who bring it to the larger group. There the message is often rejected, but I was told of a tradition that kept those subversive messages close to their hearts just in case there was something of the Spirit of God present in them. I became an American Baptist not because I agreed with all of the other American Baptists but because I didn't. I joined a denomination that had Unitarians and fundamentalists both (and I needed to hear from both). I learned of a mission movement that was committed to contextualization of their ministries and was very effective and efficient because work was contextual. I saw the extravagant beauty and grace of God in that disparate mix of people.

Through the years, my theology has changed radically. Still, I felt there was a place for me in that mix because no matter where I was on the theological spectrum, there was someone both to my right and my left with whom I could fellowship, struggle, serve, and grow.

I am progressive on most social issues (and believe that way because I believe that is what faithfulness to the scriptures require). Because of those views, I am feeling more and more alienated from the denomination I joined back in the 70's. There are groups that are probably closer to me theologically such as the Alliance of Baptists, but I don't want to lose the diversity of the ABC. I like having conservative partners in mission. I learn from them and I think they learn from me.

So... I stay in the ABC.

Friday, October 13, 2006

missing an old friend

Back in the 80's I played in a band called August in Philadelphia (the band is still playing too!) We used to play at this wonderful little music club in New Hope, PA called John and Peters, often on Sunday afternoon. There was a music store 2 doors down that I would visit on breaks that had this amazing acoustic guitar hanging on the wall... I loved it but couldn't afford it.

Then one week, there was a sign in the window - "Going Out of Business Sale." The guitar was still there and the price was slashed. Monday I went back and purchased the guitar, then sold another one and broke even. It is the guitar that I am playing in the photo.

In the late 80's I switched from electric to acoustic as my primary instrument. That guitar was the only guitar I played from about 1988 until August of '99 when it was stolen on a visit to Philadelphia. I felt as if my fingers had been cut off and truly considered giving up playing. I couldn't imagine making music with any other guitar. That Lowden was "my" guitar and my sound.

The folk at Lowden were great when my guitar was stolen. They built me a wonderful replacement and a person in the company even loaned me a guitar for 6 months while my guitar was being built. George Lowden personally carved the braces in an older style that they were not using at the time and chose the inlays to match their 25th anniversary model. In those days, the large shop guitars where built by the folk who now run Avalon Guitars and George Lowden was president of the company. They have since parted ways with George taking his designs and starting a new company with the other folk becoming Avalon. Both George and Steve from Avalon were amazing to me. Thank you both.

Alexis and I have one of our rare gigs coming up (10/28 at Cold Springs Tavern outside of Santa Barbara) and I was watching an old video from a television show we had done in Albany in '98. Man did that guitar sound great! Indeed, I would say it was the best guitar I've ever owned and possibly the best one I've ever played - certainly among the top 5. Something just worked that day in the Lowden shop when they built that guitar back in '86. I love the new guitar but I still miss "my" Lowden. I'd love to get "my" guitar back someday so... if you run into a Lowden L25C serial number 271, it is my baby. And if I never get it back... I hope someone is still playing it and realizes what an amazing guitar they have.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

convenient scapegoat

If it wasn't so pathetic it would be funny to listen as Republican leaders have tried to blame Democrats for the Foley mess. In spite of the growing evidence that the leaders in the house had received multiple reports and did nothing perhaps for years... they're claiming it is the Democrats playing politics that Foley's actions came out now.

And then... and then... the Republicans tried to blame Clinton for the mess with North Korea. And that is after they had both houses and the presidency for how long?

I only hope that in November, the American public will show that they have learned.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

multi-cultural mess

About 7 years ago we did an exchange with a church in Leicester, England, a place that calls itself the heart of multi-cultural England. I was surprised at how multi-cultural Great Britain is. Leicester has very large populations of Pakistani and Indian folk (and some of the best Indian food I've ever eaten!). As we traveled around we saw road signs in Welsh in Wales, stayed with a family in Scotland whose children went to a school where instruction took place in Gailic, and on another trip we visited a church in London where the small congregation included people who spoke 22 different languages. We saw a picture not only of diversity but of a culture that was working to celebrate that diversity. It was wonderful!

Then this week I saw a news article reporting that some British government officials are calling to bar Muslim women from wearing their veils as it emphasizes their differences and one of the government officials said that he feels uncomfortable talking to someone whose face he cannot see.

I was aghast. This came the same day as an interfaith event here in Santa Barbara where Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish speakers shared some of their faith and spoke of their dreams that we can learn to live and work together for a more civil society. Yes, there are differences and the veil makes them obvious. They need not keep us apart though. And to the government official who feels uncomfortable... get over it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Shocking the Monkey

I've been a huge fan of Peter Gabriel for a long time. Today I came across a link thatjust thrilled me. His record company - real World - has a site devoted to remixes of songs in their catalog. They have just completed a competition for remixes of Shock the Monkey. It is amazing what someone with talent and the right equipment can do in remixing a song.

I have only listened to about 20 but the different takes on this song from individual to individual really do amaze me. At this point, this mix by Caml is my favorite. It takes the song in a completely different direction but works perfectly. If you click on the link to top twenty at the top of the page you can listen to some other takes on the song.

Grace Abounds

In this week where the horrific violence in Iraq continues to mount, we've heard multiple reports of deadly violence in schools in the US, the most unexpected event taking place at an Amish school in Pennsylvania. I cannot imagine a place where such violence is less likely to happen. These are quiet, simple, peaceful people of faith. But it did. Charles Carl Robert's entered the school planning to molest 10 girls and ended up shooting instead. And as of 10/4, 5 young girls had died, 3 were in critical condition, and 2 were serious. Roberts is also dead.

It was a terrible disconnect that this took place in a school where a sign proclaimed, "visitors bring joy." This visitor brought grief and pain. He tried to leave hatred and revenge in his wake but the folk in that little community refused. Instead, they returned grace. The Amish do not have insurance so when a need arises the community and other Amish communities around the country rise up and contribute until the needs are met. Funds were established to help the families of each of the girls who were shot. The Amish also set up a fund for Robert's family, knowing that their lives were turned inside out as well. It was also widely reported that the Roberts family would be welcome at the funerals of the girls to share as they all mourn.

These expressions of grace will not bring back the girls who have died but they will offer healing to the entire community. They will not make sense of meaningless deaths, but they will offer hope that the love of God overcomes even senseless violence. They stand out as a radical example of the power of Jesus' love to change the world works. In these violent times. We need those examples.

I am heart-broken that this event was the catalyst for this example of grace but deeply glad that if such events take place, at least amazing grace is available to see us through.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


I've been a fan of Ansel Adams photos since my college days when I first saw them. He captured the majesty of Yosemite like no one else. I wasn't aware that he ever photographed people.

While we were in Hawaii, we visited the Honolulu Academy of Arts and saw an exhibit of photos that Ansel Adams made of the Japanese interment camp at Manzanar in California. It was heartbreaking to see the pain inflicted upon these folk - mostly American citizens - simply because of their ancestry. One photo that still haunts me is of a mother holding the Congressional Medal of Honor she received for her son who had sacrificed himself to save his colleagues by diving on a hand grenade. She received the medal while living behind barbed wire and after having had everything she owned taken away from her. And here we are talking about profiling people because they look Arab or are Muslim... and history threatens to repeat itself.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

property and the ABC and PSW

It is my understanding that everyone involved in the separation of the PSW from the ABCUSA is trying to work in good faith when it comes to property issues. That is a good thing as the region holds title to many church properties and it could turn into an ugly mess. From what I understand, they are working hard to honor the individual congregations. That is wonderful.

The questions I have, have to do with the property that was owned by the PSW. Much of it was given or paid for with money given with the understanding that the resources would belong to an ABC related organization. That includes millions of dollars worth of property in the camps and other assets. Why should it be assumed that these assets go with the new Transformation Ministries? The argument would be that they hold the titles and they are the successor organization to the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest. I would think that an argument could be made that because they are no longer related to the ABCUSA, they are an entirely new organization and that the American Baptists of the Pacific Southwest or whatever organization of American Baptist related churches in the Pacific Southwest is the true successor and that all of the assets should go to them.

The very fact that churches deeded their properties to the PSW is a testament to this. Most churches who deeded their property to the PSW did so to keep the property from leaving the ABC family. Look at the scenario. A church owns its property. An outside group wants to have a church in the area but cannot afford property. They all join the ABC church, outnumber its members, vote to withdraw from ABC and then own the property. To prevent this from happening, churches put their titles in the hands of the region. This is an analog of what has happened. For whatever reason (and the reason doesn't matter), a majority in the PSW has voted to withdraw from ABC and take the properties with them.

Now I am in no way implying that their was malice involved in the PSW's actions. The vast majority of the folk I know in PSW are people of integrity and deep commitment to following Jesus. Indeed, they would argue that they are following the true intent of the donors by continuing their mission. It is here that the discussion needs to take place. Perhaps they are. On the other hand, perhaps these generous folk of earlier generations really did have a commitment to the ABC. We are talking about serious resources here that will impact the way ministry is done and the potential impact of those ministries.

The analogy of divorce has been used more than once by leaders in PSW. Well, in a divorce, nobody walks away with all of the assets. These assets should all be on the table.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I am ashamed

I have never been particularly patriotic. Being formed during the 60's no doubt contributed as did my understanding that as a follower of Jesus that my ultimate citizenship is not in any nation/state, but in the kindom of God. Still, I have always been especially proud of the values upon which this nation was founded. Certainly, we have not always lived up to them but we never (or at least seldom) outright rejected them. And always, someone would hold them up and call us to move towards our better selves.

A few years ago, Alexis was in the Balkans and was warned not to tell anyone she was an American. My first reaction was resignation but there was also a hint of surprise... "Don't they know what we stand for?"

Well, today I am ashamed. Yesterday the House voted for legislation that outright rejects everything that I thought we stood for as Americans. And immediately afterwards, the Republicans accused the Democrats who voted against the bill as being pro-terrorist. All of this following the release of the April intelligence estimate that concluded that everything we are doing in Iraq is making terrorism worse. Well, today I am ashamed to be an American. If this bill becomes law, I will truly be ashamed that we no longer stand up for human dignity or the rule of law.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

a smile...

this came from an aquaintence who got it from a friend who got it from a friend... and so the original author is long lost. It may indeed be that most famous and prolific writer - Anonymous

I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, start
out dead and get it out of the way. Then you wake up in a nursing home, feeling better every day. You get kicked out for being too healthy, go collect your pension, then, when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work 40 years until you're young enough to enjoy your retirement. You drink alcohol, you party, you're generally promiscuous and you get ready for High School. You go to primary school, you become a kid, you play, you have no responsibilities, you become a baby, then, you spend your last 9 months floating peacefully with luxuries like central heating, spa room service on tap, larger quarters everyday, and finally you finish off as an orgasm.

Raises some interesting questions about the meaning and purpose of life doesn't it?

Saturday, September 23, 2006


These days it feels like deja vu... "it depends on what is is..." only now the stakes are much higher. So when is torture not torture? When does it become "coercive interrogation?" It seems as if this administration is arguing that as long as we aren't applying electrodes to genitals, breaking bones, raping, or murdering, it is OK. That leaves water-boarding, hanging upside down, sexual humiliation, and all sorts of other things that seem to me to fit any reasonable definition of torture.

So why should we not do any of these things? First off, it doesn't work. When these "coercive techniques" are being used, someone will say anything to get them to stop. How often do you think they'll tell the truth? If the torture stops with a lie, we've reinforced lying. If it doesn't stop with the truth, then we taught them that the torture won't stop anyway so why tell the truth? It doesn't work and experience has shown that the information that came using these "techniques" has been unreliable at best.

Second, it destroys any moral authority we have. Yes, some of the terrible people out there will torture American soldiers, journalists, and even civilians anyway but when we use torture, we have no argument before the world that we are any different than the terrorists. And there will be those who will follow our example and more American soldiers, journalists, and even civilians will find themselves being tortured around the world.

Third, and this is the most important reason, torture is wrong. There is no justification under any circumstances for using torture.

I'm reminded of the story of the holy man who was meditating near a river that was rising rapidly. He looked over and saw a scorpion sitting on a high spot that had turned to a tiny island, soon to be engulfed by the flood. He walked over and reached down to save the scorpion and the insect tried to sting him. This happened a number of times until a passerby remarked, "You know, you will get stung if you keep doing that. It is in the nature of the scorpion to sting." The holy man replied, "Yes, it is in the scorpion's nature to sting. It is in my nature to do what is good and right. Why should I allow the scorpion to make me change my nature?"

As a people we are allowing the "scorpions" to cause us to abandon our most beautiful values and deeply held convictions. We must hold true to who we claim we are and stand against the forces that are calling us to compromise what we know is right and true. We must not torture.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


just a short note here... we just got back from a wonderful week of rest and relaxation on Oahu and I'm trying to catch up with everything.

We stayed at Eden-by-the-Sea, a little guest house for two run by Jeff and Lynda Mueller as a ministry to professional church staff. They really have a gift of hospitality and have provided a beautiful spot to refresh and relax. They didn't miss a detail in making everything easy and enjoyable for us. I highly recommend their ministry to any of you for whom it fits.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Heretics Guide part 2

I finished my second read through A Heretic's Guide to Eternity the other day and need to say a bit more about it...

I first discovered that I was a heretic back in 1975 when I went through my ordination council with the Philadelphia Baptist Association. They voted me down, called me back for more questions, voted me down again, tried to get a local pastor to tutor me in the "right path," and when they couldn't called me back for more questions... actually just one - "Is there any chance your views will change?" When I replied "yes, I'm sure they will" that gave them the out they needed and they voted to allow the congregation I was already serving to proceed with ordination. Many times since then, I have been branded with the same title. Well, after reading the book, I am a little happier with the title than I was before. In fact, maybe I'll even own it! I'm reminded of an adult Sunday School class about 2 years ago at Cambridge Drive Church where three groups were charged with writing a good old fashioned confession of faith. The one that I liked the best began with the statement, "All Confessions of Faith must be written in pencil." I like that alot

So to the book... as I said before a primary theme is the juxtaposition of spirituality defined by grace vs. "religion" by which Spencer means all of the institutional stuff - rules, confessions, dogma, etc. etc. I find myself agreeing with many of his conclusions. I believe in the primacy of grace and free floaties. I believe that God is bigger than any of our systems of thought, or doctrine, or even of experience. I believe that we can find "truth" in just about every religion out there while still owning that they are not the same. I like unversalism as a starting point. I even believe that our understanding of God is growing as a culture and we are moving beyond where we were and it is a good thing. But... and it is a big but... there are two places where I feel like Spencer has dropped the ball.

1. He talks about "religion" as being culturally bound and shaped while "spirituality" (which is where he says we're headed) is universal. I think he is falling into the same trap that our ancestors in the faith lived in - the idea that we have gotten to the end of revelation and our views are eternal while everyone else's are flawed. Again, I agree with his conclusions that the Church as we have known it is quickly dying and will be gone in a relatively short time, but the forms that will replace it are still culturally bound, just bound to a new culture. This is a very important critique because it changes the whole nature of the argument. If his new schema is eternal and universal, then it becomes static and cannot be questioned. If it too is written in pencil, then the journey continues.

2. While Spencer clearly says that faith must be communal for it to be all that it can be, he doesn't give any way to build that community of faith once he has discarded the institutions of the past. Indeed, his few short descriptions of his community of faith left me feeling very sad. I really want to hear him tell what this new community of faith might look like without any institutional trappings. Base communities that struggle together over praxis... house churches that study and hold one another accountable... intentional communities that live faith as an alternative lifestyle... we need something more than what feels to me as too easy an escape from the joys and difficulties of community.

I also wanted a bit more about the way we follow Jesus in this murky water of religious pluralism... how does that play itself out in the free-wheeling, market driven world of spirituality where each person spins their own, often out of their own juices and often out of what feels easy and convenient rather than what challenges us to grow and change and serve.

To the degree that this book reflects some of the thought in at least one wing of the "emerging" church, it will provide a convenient target for some on the conservative side of things who are already condemning this movement as being soft on doctrine and anything but orthodox. He obviously pushes the envelope more than many of the other writers dealing with similar subject matter. I'm sure that the title "heretic" will be thrown at him more than once in the coming days.

All in all, I think it is an important book that will help frame some great discussions about the next steps for a Church that must leave behind its antiquated forms and find new ways of being followers of Jesus in a radically new world. Pick it up and read it and then wrestle with the ideas with a group of friends. Who knows, you may begin to answer the question I was left with... OK now what? How do we do this new thing together?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Yesterday was Labor Day. I grew up in a blue color family in a rust belt city so Labor Day has always brought up some strong feelings for me. I have a deeply held belief that working folk deserve the fruits of their labor and ought to share in the fruits of this society. Sadly, this is becoming less and less possible.

Yesterday there was an article that my local paper carried from the Miami Herald with some frightening statistics... Productivity is up but standard of living is going down for working folk. Wages are the lowest on record as a percentage of the national income while corporate profits are at a 56 year high. In 2005, CEO's earned 262 times the average worker's pay (up from 24 times in 1965).

I think we need a maximum wage law... or at least incredibly high taxes - 90% or more - on incomes above a certain level. Or maybe some of the executives could learn from a good example. There are CEO's who are doing it right.

Jim Sinegal, CEO and founder of Costco, makes about $350K which is approximately 12 times what the average worker on the floor of a Costco makes. If he was at the typical multiplier of most CEO's he'd be making nearly 8 million! Costco also pays above the market rate and provides higher benefits for those folk on the floor. Wall Street doesn't like him. Companies like Walmart hate him. Seems to me, he's doing things right.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

33 & counting

Yesterday was the 33rd anniversary of the wedding of Roy & Cheryl Donkin. Hard to believe!

Through the easy times and the not so easy ones, I love you Cheryl!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

the truth isn't sexy

the truth isn't sexy

This music video - Constance - reminds us that human trafficing is not a pretty thing. Watching this video and contrasting it to the scripture I'm preaching on this Sunday from the Song of Solomon really shows God's intention for the way we interact vs. the way that people can be objectified and abused.

only in California

A beetle with a jet engine that is street legal! How else can you add 1350 hp to your car?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina, 1 Year Later

Every Sunday we ask for prayer requests during our worship service and every week, one of our 8 year olds asks us to remember the folk who are still suffering from the effects of that storm. This morning, the president said that he takes "full responsibility" for the federal response (or lack thereof). On the one hand, he should take responsibility. After all, he is the president. On the other hand, it is an easy political gesture that allows the rest of the government to escape their responsibility. After all, we have a Republican House and a Republican Senate. They congress has acted, in large degree, as a rubber stamp for the current administration. They must also bear responsibility for what has happened as they have shaped the policies and supported the philosophy that allowed the Gulf coast to languish while we destroy Iraq, allowed real anti-terrorism programs to suffer, and gave tax cuts to the rich. In two months we should vote them all out.

This morning there was an interesting editorial in our paper written by former FEMA head, James Witt and Max Stier. In the editorial they chose to focus on the positive lessons we should learn from the disaster. Basically it is an argument for good government, with good staff, adequate funding, and a long term perspective (all of which were and are lacking under an administration that argues against "big government.") We don't need less government. We need more. It just needs to be efficient and competent.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Lord of War

Last night I watched The Lord of War a second time... this time in preparation for my sermon this morning (I used a clip in the sermon from 1:51:32-1:55:30). It is a profoundly disturbing film on many, many levels and is based on the true story of Yuri Orlov, an arms dealer. The bits that hang with me and make my stomach churn are the statement that our president (whoever he is at the time) is the world's largest arms dealer, selling more in a day that Yuri does in a year, and the liner note that the five largest arms dealers the world are the US, the UK, Russia, France, and China - the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. I watch Yuri with loathing and then realize that he is us as we sell arms through our government and spread the same violence that he does only on an even wider level.

The arms trade is immoral on every level. There must be... there must be a movement to stop the international trade of arms on all levels if we are ever to see peace. Shouldn't those of us who claim to follow the Prince of Peace and who preach the gospel of peace be the first to propose this idea and to work for it?

Friday, August 25, 2006


I received a proof of Spencer Burke & Barry Taylor's book The Heretic's Guide to Eternity and was asked to read it and blog about it. I want to read the entire book before I say much but...

Spencer's primary theme is one of grace... grace unconditional and untamed. Around this theme he says that Christianity must change not only it's face but also its guts. Forms are not enough, the theology underneath must change as well. Adding new media or music doesn't go far enough. It is an argument that I've been making for a while.

This week, I had an experience that underscored this for me. I heard a speaker, tauted as "the stuff" for YA's. And to be truthful, there was a vocal bunch of followers there. But as I listened to the words, I wondered how others would hear the message. He spoke of abortion in a very judgmental way and promised that God would make a way financially for women who chose to follow the pregnancy to term regardless of their situation. He talked about the substitutionary atonement as Jesus died in our place at the hands of a judgmental god.

I left thinking that if that is the theology of the Church, it deserves to disappear. My heart resonates with a God who loves us without strings, of a grace that truly is amazing, of a savior who understands and identifies with our struggles rather than making easy and quick judgements.

I think Spencer and Barry are right on target when they talk about the shifts that must take place. I am not finished with the book yet so I'll say more in a few days. I do wonder as they dismiss the institutional church where they will find community and communal expressions for their faith. I worry about what seems to be a furthering of the individualization of faith... but as I said, I'm not finished with the book and I'm hopful that they'll say more about these issues. Check back later for more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Whoo Whoo

Three days short of two years on the wait list, today I received notice that I've come to the top of the list to purchase an Analogman King of Tone two channel overdrive box for my pedal board... one step closer to completion.

Whooo Whoo!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Soliton August '06

This past weekend was Soliton. It was my second year to be part of the gathering and I have to tell you that I was really looking forward to it. As things worked out, I missed the first day as my wife was having torn cartilage repaired in her knee, but I got there for Friday & Saturday.

The theme was "hospitality." The concept was stretched in the pragmatic realm as there were more participants this year and because the hosting community - The Bridge of Ventura - lost their space some months ago. The results were that the various sessions were hosted in the Presbyterian Church, member's homes, a park, etc. More importantly though the concept was stretched with questions pushing us to consider the implications of hospitality for peacemaking, evangelism, institutional and personal change...

There will be a lot for me to chew on (as there was in the previous year). The question of what is clean and unclean and how the Trickster transforms the unclean and brings about redemption will be on the burner a lot for the coming days.

Probably the most important part of the event for me is connecting with folk that I met there and may only see there. It is wonderful to know that our ties go across geography, theology, age, and culture.

I would highly recommend that you all put this event on your calendar for next year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

something completely different

For a few months I've been slowly putting together my pedalboard. For an electric guitarist, a pedalboard is the equivalent of a painter's palette. It allows the player to mix sounds and create new colors by manipulating the guitar's tones electronically. Currently I have two or three more pedals to add and the board will be done. For any who care, the board currently includes (in order of signal chain) a boss tuner, a modded dynacomp, an HBE power screamer overdrive, a modded phase 90, a boss chorus, a chatmods deeelaaayyy, a highly modded wah wah pedal, and a Duncan booster. I have a Build Your Own Clone envelope filter in process and, after a two year wait, am nearing the top of the list for an Analogman king of tone overdrive. I'd like to add a BYOC envelope volume pedal and maybe an octave box as well. I'm also slowly replacing all of the cables with Lava Cables ELC cable. It is great cable and very reasonably priced for the quality but the price still adds up when you have that many pedals. On the other hand, having the low quality cable that I had before in that many places really degrades your sound. So as I can, I'll be buying the ELC and taking the blanket off my tone.

My daughter Alexis did part of her college years at Bard college in their art department. I asked her to paint a few pedal boxes for me and she enjoyed it a lot and so is offering her services. Drop me a note if you're interested in having one painted.

First is the second one she painted - the modded Phase 90 which is already on the board. She used reds and oranges because the original pedal was orange so she already had her background color.

The first box she painted was the BYOC envelope filter. BYOC is a company that produces very high quality kits for people to build their own pedals. The boxes come unfinished. A friend of Alexis' is putting the electronics together and she did the box.

These photos were taken before the clear coat was added and unfortunately the clear coal wasn't completely clear. It darkened and dulled the colors a tiny bit. On the next box we'll use something different.<

61st Anniversary

Yesterday was the 61st anniversary of the dropping of a nuclear device on Hiroshima. It was an attack that killed 140,000 people - mostly civilians. Three days later a second device was dropped on Nagasaki, killing 80,000 more. These were sinful acts with absolutely no justification.
In a speech marking that anniversary, Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba of Hiroshima called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. It is long past the time that that must be done. What we need now are some courageous leaders of nations with nuclear weapons to join in that call.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

the myth of redemptive violence

I participate in a discussion group of Christian musicians where someone asked whether Israel had gone too far. I was amazed at the vocal folk who believe that violence is necessary, at times good, and doesn't conflict at all with one's faith as a Christian. The argument goes that there are some ends that cannot be achieved by any means other than violent ones. There is something cleansing about violence and "right." Indeed, a thread branched off from that one about "moral" violence.

I've shared before that part of my formation was in the historic peaces churches so this idea is repugnant to me. My faith is in a God of love and I seek to follow the Prince of Peace.

It seems to me that Jesus was pretty clear that violence was not an acceptable option. He said, "Love your enemies..." and in Matthew's version, "do good to those who persecute you." In Luke, "do good to those who hate you." As the bumper sticker says, "Loving your enemies probably begins with not killing them." When Peter drew a sword to protect him from the Roman soldiers, Jesus stopped him, "all who take the sword will die by the sword." When violence was committed on him, Jesus received it, asked for forgiveness for the perpetrators, and God used his non-violent act to change the world.

Paul reminds us to feed a hungry enemy and to overcome evil with good.

The earliest Christians refused to take up arms in the face of terrible persecution and the Church grew in the blood of the martyrs.

And what does this myth say about God? We claim to believe in a God of love who went so far as to send Jesus to the cross as a demonstration of that love, yet who would turn around and call for a war that results in human blood flowing to the horses' bridles? We claim to worship a God who counts the hairs of our heads and who knows every sparrow that falls but who doesn't mourn when 14 children trying to flee a war zone are hit with a missile? We claim to worship a God whose love overcomes even the power of death but who cannot come up with a better way to solve the world's problems than through a bloodbath? It doesn't make sense to me. Indeed, that is not the God I worship.

So why is it that people of faith who claim to follow the Prince of Peace cannot see beyond the violence? I think it is a lack of imagination, a lack of faith, a lack of love, and maybe even bloodlust. Lack of imagination because they cannot envision something better... Lack of faith because they do not trust God to work things out, they must do it and the only option they see (lack of imagination) is a violent one... Lack of love because they cannot allow themselves to love their enemies, many of whom may have done horrendous things... Bloodlust because there is something thrilling about violence and we have all known times when the desire for revenge welled up in our guts (I have identified more than I like with Bruce Cockburn's song - If I Had a Rocket Launcher) I know how I would want to react if I was an Israeli and saw Hezbollah's missiles raining down on my home, or a Lebanese watching my children shredded by US made, Israeli dropped cluster bombs.

Violence is not redemptive, it is something to be redeemed from. Those who take the sword, die by the sword. I believe that we have not risked believing Jesus yet. We have not submitted to the command of Jesus to love our enemies. When we do, if we do, we will see the love of God break forth in ways we have not imagined.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

why I like post-conservatism and post-liberalism

A while back, Relevant Magazine had an interview with Tony Jones, the national coordinator of Emergent.

here is a question and answer that Ryan, a friend of mine, quoted on his blog a few weeks ago.

RM: You mentioned earlier that you have lesbian pastors and conservative absolutists. It seems that it would create a tension point when it comes to endorsing that person’s view or platform.

TJ: If you believe that Christianity is—at its very heart—a tension-filled, dialectical endeavor, you have less problems with these tension-filled relationships with believers. Christianity is paradoxical. Life comes out of death. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. We haven’t yet found that there’s anything that justifies us breaking fellowship with somebody else who loves and is trying to follow Jesus. Why would you break fellowship with someone because you have a different understanding of the atonement than they do? Or a different understanding of human sexuality than they do? It seems nonsensical that we’d give each other tests and try to hang it over someone else’s head and say, “Hey, dude. I’m going to break fellowship with you if we can’t come to agreement on this particular issue.” It just doesn’t seem to be the nature of human life. Maybe you’re right. Maybe it will get to a breaking point. People have left. Some people have been very forthright about why they’ve left. I certainly don’t think that the issue of absolute truth is a good reason to break fellowship with someone who’s trying to follow Jesus.

I like it a lot. It is worth reading the entire interview at the link in the first paragraph.

Friday, July 28, 2006

bad taste? perhaps

A few folk have called me to task for calling W an idiot in an earlier post... Perhaps it was a cheap shot, particularly when I didn't address the issue he raised. During his first ever veto, the pres equated using embryonic stem cells for research with murder. Actually, he was stronger than that. He said it is murder. And this, while claiming the higher ground and refusing to use taxpayer funds to kill children.

Let's look at the implication of his statement. If using an embryo for stem cell research is murder, what is throwing 10's of thousands of them into the trash? Should all fertility clinics that use in vitro fertilization be closed? After all, each procedure produces a number of embryos that will be discarded. If destroying an embryo is murder, then that is a multiple homicide. And should the couple be charged as accessories? After all, they provided the eggs and sperm to produce the embryos, knowing full well that many would be destroyed. And what about the laws regarding the disposal of deceased persons' bodies... do they apply to embryos (it is murder)? And if using embryonic stem cells is murder, why is it that private research companies can continue to do it as the law only referred to government funding, not private?

Finally, the president said that never before have government funds been used to murder children. What about the thousands of Iraqi children who have died by American bombs (paid for with tax payer money)? To say that collateral damage in war is not the same as murder would be a fine distinction that I think the mothers of those children would have difficulty seeing.

It all seems obvious that using the word "murder" was a deliberate attempt to inflame the passions of those who equate the procedure with abortion. Clearly he doesn't really believe what he said or he would be pushing to outlaw those fertility clinics, arrest the workers in the clinics and the prospective parents, and establish legal standing for the embryos.

Finally, I did not argue for embryonic stem cell research, although I think it may hold some promise. What I should have said is that the president's logic is seriously flawed... actually I should have said it was idiotic.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

ABC content... the story continues

Last week, Roy Medley - the General Secretary of the ABCUSA - released a letter that has caused a great deal of discussion on the left and the right. In the letter, Roy promises to "implement the policies of the General Board." The two biggest questions are "Why now?" and "What is he trying to accomplish?" Unfortunately, he also conflates sexual abuse by persons in positions of power with homosexual relationships... but that is another issue entirely.

A bit of history here again... in '92 a resolution was passed by the general board that read simply "We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." It was an unusual resolution in that there was no theological or sociological background and no steps for implementation. Additionally, it was passed in an unusual way - by mail, with no discussion. Presumably, this is the policy that Roy is planning to implement even though it prescribes no steps for implementation. It is also the policy that PSW was requesting be implemented before they voted to withdraw from the denomination.

In '93, a second resolution on human sexuality was passed. This one included all of the background materials and steps for implementation. Among other things, this second resolution calls on American Baptists to "Acknowledge that there exists a variety of understandings throughout our denomination on issues of human sexuality such as homosexuality and engage in dialogue concerning these issues."

Read together one can only conclude that the second resolution is a corrective to the first. "We" don't affirm anything in common regarding homosexuality. Indeed, there are a variety of understandings held by American Baptists ranging from the idea that no homosexual relationship is ever anything except sinful and that homosexual people should never be allowed in leadership roles all of the way to the belief that homosexual relationships are just a reflection of the diversity of God's beautiful creation. If a resolution needs to be implemented, it is the second which, again, presumably corrects the mistakes of the first one.

Still, it looks as if Roy is responding to the call of conservatives and speaking solely about the first resolution. Why now? and what is he trying to accomplish? Why didn't he say these things earlier when he instead stood for Baptist principals and seemed to be standing on the second resolution? At the last biennial meeting, he said that he would not allow differences over these issues to separate him from sisters and brothers in Christ. It may have been that PSW would not have withdrawn had he given this "sermon" rather than the one he gave. I can only conclude that the folk at our headquarters didn't expect that the PSW would actually withdraw and that now that PSW has, they are trying to keep other more conservative regions from following suit. In doing so, they are breaking from Baptist tradition, violating the fully formed, discussed, and more recent resolution, and may be pushing some of the more left-leaning churches to look to other connections.

I joined ABC in about 1977 because I was impressed by the diversity - racial, cultural, and theological. I believed and believe that a Christian communion like that most clearly reflects the kindom of God. I believe a denomination with that openness to one another and commitment to learning from those with whom we differ has the best position to speak in a post-modern world. I truly believe that my understanding of the Baptist tradition holds the most hope for a denomination in the future. Sadly, the short-sighted stands taken by those in Valley Forge seem to be pushing us towards extinction. The conservatives will not be placated. The liberals will be hurt. The post-moderns will pack their bags and walk because they have more important issues to discuss. Very little will be left.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

so much to write about

Boy... there is so much to write about. President Bush once again shows he is an idiot... declaring that federally funded stem cell research would be doing something that had never been done in the history of our country - using federal money to fund the killing of children... I guess he doesn't watch the news to see what is going on In Iraq. We won't even talk about the logical end of declaring that destroying an embryo is murder.

The Southern Baptists have shown their idiocy again too... they approved a resolution on the environment at their June meeting saying they would not "support solutions based on 'questionable science' that could hurt the economy," i.e. they don't believe in global warming in spite of virtually unanimous agreement about it by atmospheric scientists.

Nope... I'm going to write about separation of church and state. Trinity United Methodist church is a congregation that I know well. It is located on a busy street in downtown Albany, NY, crowded with bars, restaurants, and lots of people. Together with the other FOCUS churches, they have a long history of involvement in social justice issues and outreach to those on the edges of society.

Trinity has begun a program to give teenagers someplace to go and something to do. They have started a concert series with rock/punk/ska/ etc. bands and it evidently is attracting a lot of kids. The city of Albany has cited them for running an illegal nightclub! The city is trying to define what their ministry can be and even what constitutes church music. The police chief, James Tuffey said "An organ recital is a church event. This is not a church event."

This is precisely the kind of issue that the early proponents of separation of church and state foresaw. Those early proponents were people of faith - Baptists, Quakers, and Unitarians mostly - who believed that faith had to be free to be real and that no government had any right to constrain it in any way. The doctrine was articulated not to keep faith out of government, but to keep government out of faith. The city of Albany has no right to define Trinity's ministry or to constrain it from following what it believes to be the leading of the Spirit. If the city prevails in court today, it bodes badly for all of us who are seeking to do the ministry to which we have been called. At any time, a city government could step in and say, "can't do that."

Here's an
article in the Albany paper.