Monday, March 27, 2006


I'm feeling funky because that nasty little guy in the photo has infected me... a cold virus.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Day without a Mexican

About a year ago there was a little film calledA Day without a Mexican. The story line was that a fog came over Californian and all of the Mexicans disappeared... those here legally and those not. It wasn't a great film but the message was solid. California fell apart and by extention, so did the rest of the country. After all, almost all of the crops picked in California are picked by Mexican workers with a significant percentage (I've heard 40% but don't hold me to that figure) picked by undocumented workers. If they suddenly disappeared, that would mean a lot of strawberries rotting in the fields and an incredible price increase in the broccoli on the dinner table.

This week, our legislators are looking at immigration reform. And once again, it is the poorest of the poor who suffer short-sighted and easy fixes. Our porous borders have led to concern about terrorists getting into the country easily but few point out that none of the 9/11 hijackers got here illegally. They all had visas. This knee-jerk reaction won't stop Al Qaida members from getting in but it will stop a poor Mexican who is here because he can do a better job feeding his family picking vegetables in California than trying to farm in central Mexico. It will hurt the American who struggles with food vs. energy in our country if food prices go up because of changes in the work force. There are issues of race and class involved when educated white folk get in easily while poor, uneducated brown and black folk are sent home.

And the church has been pulled into the mix with the proposed law. Evidently, it would make it a federal crime for any organization to provide services for folk who are here illegally. A church helping with housing or food for undocumented workers would be liable under the law. Would "spiritual" service count? Who knows. What is clear is that essentially, the church would become an agent for the state, checking the documents of people who come for help or to be part of the Christian community. The bishop of Los Angeles has come out and said that his priests will ignore the law. I hope that stand will be taken by church leaders of all stripes across the country. We are not called to be agents of the state, but of the love of Jesus and frankly, I can't see him turning a Mexican migrant worker in to the INS or even encouraging the worker to head back across the border when his family is depending upon that income.

Immigration reform is needed... but the change needed is not to re-write the words on the Statue of Liberty - "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free..." It should not say, "Give me your well educated, your rich, the haves yearning to avoid responsibility in their homelands..." What would Jesus do? He'd throw his arms around the Mexican and say, "Dios te bendiga!"

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Dennis McFadden had a great aphorism in his blog the other day - "where you sit, is where you stand." So let me first say where I sit...

I grew up in the Viet Nam era and each night on the news heard the body count and saw the horrors of a war that we shouldn't have been fighting. The draft ended just as I reached that age but I thought very carefully about what I would do if I was drafted. I stood at the margins of the anti-war movement. I didn't have any friends who didn't come back but I did have friends who went and were never quite the same again.

I went to college as a Christian to a school in the Anabaptist branch of Christianity and was steeped in the peace church movement.

As I read the scriptures and look at church history, I don't see how any Christian can be anything but a pacifist. I know some still hold to theories of just wars and justifiable wars, but looking at the nature of modern warfare, I can see absolutely no justification for modern warfare.

Which brings us to the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. Over 2300 young American men and women have died there. Over 17000 are injured. Estimates of Iraqi deaths range from 50,000 to over 100,000. No reasonable person can look at the situation in Iraq today and say that the Iraqi people are better off today than they were under Saddam. No reasonable person can look at this quagmire and propose a workable solution for either the short term or the long term. John Kerry's question from the last election rings all too true - "Who wants to be the one to ask a young man or woman to be the last to die for an unnecessary war waged under false pretenses?"

And that doesn't begin to take into account the spiritual damage done to these young people. The other day, our local paper had a story about a young man who is a sniper in Iraq. I have no idea how many people he has killed but I do know that is literally his job. He sits in a hidden protected vantage point and shoots people. Tell me, what does that do to a person's spirit?

A few weeks ago, the VP accidentaly shot a friend while hunting for quail. He said it was the worst day of his life. All that told me was that he is either the coldest, the most unimaginative, or the person least able to empathize with others in our world... Each day, people die because of the failed policies of this administration. Each day mothers, wives, fathers, children, husbands cry because their loved ones have died. Every day young men and women see and do things that scar them forever. And every day, fat cats in Washington, New York, and other centers of power grow richer because of it all.

So what do we do now? I wish I had answers. Perhaps, Iraq should be three smaller countries. After all, it was an artificial copuntry put together by the British. Perhaps, the future of the place should be turned over to their neighbors and they can support the fledgling governments. They have the most to gain or lose over what happens there. Perhaps, we should just walk away and see what happens next - certainly nothing that we are doing there is helping.

Personally, I feel that Bush & Cheney should both be impeached at the least. Some have argued that they should be tried for war crimes. I can see that logic. I'd like to see everyone in congress who voted for this war or at least those who continue to support it turned out on their behinds.

Usually anniversaries are occassions for celebration... this is one for mourning.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Small God vs. Soul Freedom

Today therre have been multiple articles written about an Afghan man facing death for his faith. Two thoughts...

The first is that basic Baptist tenet that faith cannot be coerced. It is freely chosen or it doesn't exist. What the leaders in Afghanistan do not realize is that they are sowing the very destruction of their religion by forcing it upon people.

The second is that folk who feel the need to protect their God have a very small God. Seriously now, if the future of Christianity were to depend upon me protecting the faith, it would die very quickly. If Islam in Afghanistan requires the death penalty to keep people in the fold, what does that say about their trust in the power of their faith?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bonhoeffer quote

Today I read a letter from Bob Roberts - a retired muckity-muck from my denomination where he quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously
regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?”

He was talking about the impeding separation of the PSW region from the larger body of American Baptists. And he used the quote well... I found myself reading that quote and immediately wanting to point a finger... which of course is the point isn't it? Whenever one points a finger, they are immediately guilty of the judgmentalism that Jesus clearly condemns. I spend more time there than I would like.

Of course, the problem is that we must make judgments. But... we must also be aware of our own sin, our own blindness to our own sin, as well as cultural and theological glasses that make us see some things in a distorted fashion.

For me, that is why I think diversity of theology and background is critical. It is only when I wrestle with folk with differing opinions/blinders/ glasses/ understandings that my own blinders are exposed. Sometimes it strengthens my understanding. Sometimes it challenges it. Most often, I find myself growing because I have listened, considered, and learned from another.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

two evils - a final post on the code of ethics

I've continued to think about the Code of Ethics as it relates to the unfolding events in my denomination's region of the Pacific Southwest. I'm struck by a few things.

Many of those on the right are having a great deal of difficulty with this critique. Some refuse to allow that what they are doing is in conflict with a commitment/covenant that they signed in the Code of Ethics. To do so allows for shades of gray that cannot exist in much of evangelical thought. Things are right or wrong, moral or immoral... allowing for shades of gray or times when one must choose to do something that is "wrong" is not possible, therefore the Code cannot apply to this situation.

Some seem to be moving towards seeing the grays but in reality are not. Glenn Layne compares his situation to that of a military person being ordered to do something that is wrong and refusing... still, he overlooks the reality that the refusal is a breach of an oath taken. Any soldier refusing an order would expect to be taken to military court at the least and in current times would realistically expect court martial and jail. Refusal to follow an order may be justified, but it is still a broken promise and there are consequences. If I'm understanding Glenn correctly, he doesn't see any consequences for acts of "disobedience."

To deny that the code applies seems to me to be very much a matter of ignoring the log in one's own eye while complaining about the speck in another's. There may indeed be a speck, or even a log in the other's eye, but you better be able to see your own as well.

We see this same selective vision in the use of scripture. Those arguing for separation often quote scriptures regarding separation from sin but neglect those that speak of maintaining unity in the Body of Christ.

It also includes what is seen in the documents and history of the denomination.

The roots of the current controversy go back to a resolution by our General Board that said simply - We believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and was passed in October '92. The resolution was unusual in that it had no prescribed steps for implementation as do all other resolutions. From the very beginning that lack of implementation was problematic. Conservatives wanted teeth in the resolution.

But there is a second resolution that I have never heard cited by these same leaders. In early '93, a second resolution was passed. It followed the "normal" format of a resolution and included directions for implementation. Here's an excerpt from it:

Since our founding days, we American Baptists have heralded the Bible as central to our lives. Individuals have the right and responsibility to interpret Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit within the community of faith. We have also come together to seek the mind of Christ on contemporary issues, knowing that none of our corporate statements claims to speak for all of us. The time has come for our churches, Regions, National Boards, and the General Board of the American Baptist Churches, USA to consider prayerfully the mind of Christ regarding human sexuality.

Therefore, we call on American Baptists to:

1. Testify that Jesus Christ is the unifying presence in our denomination.

2. Explore the biblical and theological issues of human sexuality.

3. Consider using the resources identified and gathered by the ABC Commission on Resources on Human Sexuality.

4. 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.

5. Respect and defend the individual integrity of all persons within our denomination and their Christian commitment as we engage the issue of human sexuality.

6. Pray fervently that as we honestly address these concerns we may seek unity and avoid divisiveness as we grow in our common mission for Jesus Christ.

I have argued that this second resolution provided the implementation to the first - yes, the majority of American Baptists do believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching but we are not unanimous and our tradition leaves room for that diversity of thought, therefore we will... Even if my read is incorrect, the 2nd resolution still provides an additional perspective on the issue that calls for working together in spite of differences on substantive issues. Ignoring it is selective vision at best.

So what do I hope for with all of this? I guess I want to hear some conservatives say that their actions are in violation of the Code of Ethics but their conscience and sense of call compels them (and actually a few including Dennis McFadden have made similar statements) and that perhaps they should suffer the consequences of their actions whatever that might be. I want them to acknowledge their selective readings with a shrug that says, "yes, but the differences are so great that we still can't make it work." I want to see tears and broken hearts rather than feelings of victory. I want indications that these folk are feeling the same grief that I am as I look at this impending separation in the family I love.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

the poor always have fewer options

I am pro-choice. I am not pro-abortion. And I take that stand as a religious one.

The recent law passed in South Dakota has me thinking a good bit... will it stop abortions? Obviously not, if all one needs do is travel to a state where they are legal. So what will it accomplish?

It may force a show-down at the Supreme Court over abortion rights that could play out in any number of ways from overturning Roe V. Wade to a complete patchwork of laws which would differ from state to state to an affirmation of the status quo. It may lessen the number of South Dakota women who have abortions but not as expected.

Well off women always had access to abortions. They may have had to travel overseas, connect with a network that would direct them to a physician who would perform the procedure for cash under the table, or just go to another state, but they had options. Poor women who were desperate had fewer options. If they could not afford to travel or pay someone who really knew what they were doing, they did what they could where they were. It might have meant a predator in a back alley with a coat hanger. It may have meant, as it did for one young woman, having her boyfriend hit her it the stomach with a baseball bat in hopes of inducing a "spontaneous" abortion. Many times, it meant carrying a pregnancy to term regardless of the situation that caused it or the one that resulted.

Well off women had options. Poor ones did not. So what happens with bills like this one? Poor women have more problems while wealthy ones are inconvenienced.

So what would I hope can happen - notice I did say that I am not pro-abortion, but I am pro-choice? I would be thrilled if there was never another abortion performed in the US or anywhere but banning procedures that are as intimate as ending a pregnancy without walking in the shoes of the person making such a decision is going way too far. It seems that we should provide options from the very beginning - education, birth control, more education, economic possibilities, serious programs to help prevent unintended pregnancies... all of these are ways to lower the rate of abortions without stepping on a woman's right to determine her own future.

Friday, March 03, 2006

what next

The other evening I was at another informational meeting sponsored by PSW and the executive minister said that some folk have expressed thanks to him that PSW has made the moves it has - this action has helped to get the denomination off the dime.

Well, I'm not sure about that, but one thing is very clear - the American Baptist denomination will be very different in 6 months than it is now. PSW will likely distance itself and there are some other regions that may as well. At least part of the theological diversity of ABC will be gone if much of the right leaves and a solid chunk of financial support will disappear (even if regions like PSW continue to support our ABC international ministries). There are folk advocating a change in our structure that would make things much more loose than they are now. It will not be an easy time for the folk in the bureaucracy.

So what next? It could be a time to radically look at ourselves and position ourselves for a future that is very different from the past. Or it could be a time of retrenchment that would certainly spell extinction. I think the Baptist tradition is the Christian tradition most suited for a post-modern world but at this time, as far as I can see, none of the Baptist groups are capitalizing like they can or should. I think that if we can really hold on to and hold up the traditional Baptist distinctives of soul freedom, local church autonomy, the associational principle, and the authority of scripture we will be in a good place to speak to a new world searching for faith.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Stations of the Cross

In 2004 my daughter Alexis painted an abstract Stations of the Cross that she donated to the church. Walking the stations of the cross is a spiritual practice that lies far outside the Baptist tradition. This allowed her to take the tradition and morph it a bit to make it more meaningful for those of us unfamiliar with the practice. It has become and important part of my observance of Lent, beginning today with Ash Wednesday.

Here are a few of my favorite paintings from the stations along with the tradiional descriptor and the prayers Alexis wrote...

6th station
The 6th station is where Veronica wipes Jesus' face. The prayer that Alexis wrote to go with the station is: O Creator, remind me that though I am small, though I am insignificant in this vast universe, everything I do makes a difference. Show me that when I so much as smile to a person who is burdened, I can change the path of fate.

11th Station
The 11th station is where Jesus is nailed to the cross. Prayer: Peel my prejudice away and open my arms that I may embrace all of my family on this world. It is tempting for me to take my anger out on others. Grant me strength to love and not to lash out. Make my hands those of healing and not those of hate.

14th Station

The 14th Station is where Jesus is laid in the tomb. Prayer: When I want to keep my resources to myself, even though they would be used better elsewhere, drive me to give. Keep generosity at the foremost of my thoughts, the tip of my tongue and the ends of my fingers. Remind me that the gifts I give now come back one hundred-fold.

Traditionally the Stations end there... we include a 15th station as well - Resurrection! At Easter I'll add a post with that painting and the prayer.

ministerial ethics... again

As the American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest continues its move towards withfdrawing from the covenant with the larger denomination, the question has been raised how the code of ethics signed by every clergy person in the region applies.

the code states: I will hold in trust the traditions and practices of our American Baptist Churches; I will not accept a position in the American Baptist family unless I am in accord with those traditions and practices; nor will I use my influence to alienate my congregation/constituents or any part thereof from its relationship and support of the denomination. If my convictions change, I will resign my position.

In the FAQ sent out by the regions office the question is framed as such: If the ABCPSW withdraws from the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA, will its pastors be in violation of The Covenant and the Code of Ethics for Professional Church Leaders of The American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.? The answer to this question is of course, "no." As the regions FAQ says, any body has the right to withdraw from the covenant at any time. That includes regions and individual churches. But the wording of the question makes it a straw man and misses the point of the critique. The code of ethics does not speak to the actions of the region or of the particular churches. It speaks to the actions of the individual church leader - pastor or regional staff person. And it provides a remedy for this current situation - when a church leader disagrees with ABCUSA, rather than using their position to influence their congregation/constituents to leave ABC, they will resign. Notice it does not only say congregations. This is clearly meant to include regional and national staff, missionaries, etc. and other ordained leaders in the denominational family.

One friend asked me whether the code of ethics trumps authority of scripture. Again, the question is a straw man. Nowhere does the code touch on that question. Indeed, if one believes that ABC has discarded authority of scripture as a core value, the code provides an out - resign. Move to another body that holds the same beliefs as you.

It is a question of integrity here. If a person has signed an ethics document - for all intents and purposes, a contract stating how they will behave in the larger family - and does not abide by it, they have no integrity.

So how does this all apply here? Yes, PSW can withdraw, but any staff person providing leadership or encouragement to do so is in violation of the code that he has signed. Yes, individual churches can withdraw from ABC. Any pastor providing leadership heading in that direction is in violation of the code that he or she has signed.