Friday, December 28, 2007

The Dead Sea Scrolls

On the 26th, my family took a short trip down the coast to San Diego to visit the San Diego Natural History Museum to view the exhibition of 15 of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was a wonderful experience that struck me in multiple ways.

I was reminded of the necessity of scholarship and continued study. Two examples that really struck me...

First some background for any who are not familiar with biblical scholarship. Through the years, there were many, many manuscripts of the scriptures. They don't always agree. When trying to come up with accurate texts, biblical scholars make judgements regarding the weight of the various manuscripts. One important variable is the age of the manuscript and, in general, older = better. Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the manuscripts that we had for the Hebrew scriptures tended not to be all that old with the oldest manuscripts being of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible rather than Hebrew texts. (Translation, of course, represents another bucket load of issues...) So, the Dead Sea Scrolls are extremely important in learning what the Hebrew scriptures originally said.

In 1 Samuel 17, we have a story that children from the Jewish and Christian traditions all know, the story of David and Goliath. The Bibles on my shelf all say that Goliath is about 9.5 feet tall. That is reflective of the manuscripts that are extant... except for the Dead Sea scroll of this text. In it, Goliath is about 6.5 feet tall. Still, tall for his time but not the unbelievable height of current stories. So, what happened? Remember that the Dead Sea scroll is much older than other manuscripts of this passage. It looks as if somewhere along the line, after the Dead Sea scrolls were produced, someone made a mistake in copying the story, making Goliath 3 feet taller. The mistake stuck. Likely, the original story had Goliath at 6.5 feet. That very well may change some sermons on that passage.

The second example would have completely changed a sermon from just a few weeks ago. On the 16th, I preached on Matthew 11:2-11, a wonderful story where John the Baptist sends his disciples to inquire of Jesus, "Are you the one we're waiting for or should we look for someone else?"
Jesus replies, "Go back and tell John what's going on:
The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side. (MsgB)

My sermon said something along the lines that Jesus was both calling into question the common understanding of the Messiah (a king who would overthrow the powers of the world in a violent war) and was telling John's disciples to just report back what they had seen.

At the exhibit, I learned about the Book of Enoch. It was a book that was very popular at the time of Jesus but no copy existed until one was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the book, there are many passages that point to the Messiah. In one, those exact words were used to describe the Messiah's work. Jesus was not merely telling them to look around. His answer was a clear, "Yes! I am the one!" for anyone familiar with the Book of Enoch. No doubt, John's disciples would have known it.

The exhibit also made me think about community and about the nature of fanaticism. More on both later.

If you are anywhere near San Diego and have a chance to see the exhibit, do so. It is extremely well done and more than worth the cost of admission. You do have to make reservations though and it feels as if the earlier in the day, the better. It runs through January 6, 2008.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

security in the church

I participate in an online discussion group of folk who play guitar in church. We've been having a heated, but good, discussion about the role of security in the church. It began with the tragedy in Colorado which raised the question - is it proper to have armed guards in churches? It extended to whether or not it is proper for Christians to use violence to protect others.

I think I'll blog more about my observations of the process of the discussion another time. For now, I'd like to address the question. No. and No.

I guess I should say more than that, right?

Here's a list of verses cited by Greg Boyd in his blog

* love our enemies (Lk 6:27, 35; Mt 5:44) (and remember, love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to the example of Jesus dying for his enemies, [I Jn 3:16])
* follow Jesus' example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of enemies, even when we have the power to crush them (1 Pet 2:18-23, 3:15-16; Eph 5:1-2, cf. Rom. 5:10)
* do good to our enemies (LK 6:27, 34-35)
* bless our enemies instead of curse them (LK 6:28; Rom. 12:14)
* pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28)
* forgive our enemies and ask God to forgive them (Lk 6:37; 11:4; 23:34)
* give to our enemies without expecting anything in return (Mt 5:44; Lk 6: 30, 34)
* feed our enemies when they need food (Rom. 12:20)
* give drink to our enemies when they need water (Rom. 12:20
* never resist evil with force (Mt 5:38-39)
* treat enemies as we wish they'd treat us (Lk 6:31)
* never return evil with evil but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17, 19; I Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9)
* never exact vengeance against our enemies, trusting God to do this instead (Rom. 12:17-19)
* turn the other cheek when struck (Mt 5:39; Lk 6:29)
* pray for the healing of our enemies rather than seek to injure them (Mt 26:51-53)
* humbly serve our enemies (Jn 13:1-5)
* respond gently when interrogated under persecution by enemies (1 Pet 3:15)
* consider our sin to be worse than those of our enemies (Mt 7:1-3; I Tim. 1:15-16)

The weight of those verses all point to non-violent response as the only appropriate response fr Christians. If that is so, then having armed guards as representatives of the gospel in a church, who are only effective if the threat of violence is real, is not acceptable.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

tastes great!

I've said before that one of the real joys of living in Santa Barbara is the availability of wonderful, local wines. On Friday we're going to a friend's house to do a tasting of Cabernet's at a variety of price points and I decided to go across the mountains yesterday to pick up a bottle from our favorite winery - Beckmen. Since we're members there, that means a free tasting. So, Cheryl and I along with Alexis and her significant other, Christian, drove to Los Olivos, got lunch at a little cafe and then off to Beckmen's to taste some wonderful red wines. We bought the cab and a bottle of their top of the line blend, jumped in the car and off for some more tastings.

Tastings are a wonderful social event... the pourers are all wonderfully social and informed people and it is great fun to taste some wines, learn about them, and meet some fun people. It is also interesting to feel the different atmospheres of the different wineries and to see the different clientele that is attracted. It was a gray and drizzly day but what better way to spend that than tasting some great wines and laughing with fun people?

We didn't feel like driving around a lot so we went to Solvang where we could visit a number of tasting rooms that we hadn't visited before, walk around a bit, and then head home.

Our first visit was Mandolina. One of the trends here is known as CalItal - growing Italian grapes and making Italian style wines and this little winery is one of the ones devoted to that trend. We tasted some very nice Italian varietals and ended up purchasing a bottle of their version of a super Tuscan - a blend of Italian and Bordeaux varieties of grapes. Yummy. It was a small tasting room and we were the only ones there for most of the time. We enjoyed talking with the pourer.

A short walk around the corner brought us to our next stop - Stolpman Vineyards. Stolpman is known more as a grower than a vintner and it isn't unusual to see other wineries with bottles labeled that the grapes came from Stolpman. I had drunk other vintners wines made from Stolpman grapes, but hadn't tasted their own wines before. When we got to the reds, we were struck by the huge tannins in their wines. I'm told that the vast majority of wines sold in the US are drunk within 3 days and most US wines are produced with that in mind. It would be a shame to drink these wines in 3 days. These puppies need to sit for a few years... and then they'll be amazing. The tasting room was a little larger than Mandolina and David, the pourer, obviously knew their wines. There were a few other people there. This winery is tempting me to join another wine club... but Cheryl says it is more than she wants to commit to spending on wines... I'll be working on her.

Around the corner and down the street and we stopped at Lucas and Lewellen, who also own Mandolina. I have wanted to taste their wines for some time as I pass some of their vineyards on 101 everytime I drive to Santa Maria for my clergy group meetings. This tasting room was full. Beth, the pourer, was a lot of fun. She obviously enjoys her job and the clientele enjoyed her. She described one wine to me as being so wonderful that one drink and the heavens opened and the angels sang... but that wine was sold out. Her second favorite, she told us was almost as good... the heavens still opened and the angels were there but no Baptist choir. You can imagine the look on her face when I told her that I am a Baptist pastor. We bought a bottle of Petit Syrah (her 2nd favorite).

I hate to sound like I represent the chamber of commerce or the visitor's bureau, but if you find yourself anywhere near the California central coast, do plan to do some tastings... and maybe encourage your favorite restaurant or local wine merchant to add some Santa Barbara wines to their wine list.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

sing it sister!

I knew a little about Michelle Shocked but never had really listened to her material or followed her career. Earlier today I was reading a bulletin board that I frequent and there was a link to a video of hers done at the West Angeles Cathedral, a Church of God in Christ congregation where she is evidently a member. So I followed some links and listened to some of her recent material. The sister is on the right track! I hope someday I get a chance to play with her.

In the meantime, take a listen to this great song. The Quality of Mercy... reminds me that God's grace is absolutely, positively, completely free and that we are saved by that grace. There is nothing we can or need do... period.


Yesterday I came across Adam Gonnerman's entry into a synchroblog "Redeeming the Season" and Adam got me thinking that I should blog about Advent.

Santa Barbara has a different sense of time than any other place I've lived. There is a rhythm to time in the northeast... work and play, work and vacation, day and night, weekdays and weekends, seasons... and there are different activities and different clothing for the differing times in the cycles. It is clear where you are just by looking around. That doesn't happen here.

The days are pretty much the same. Yes, there is a small swing of temperatures but flowers are still blooming, birds are singing here "in the bleak mid-winter"... heck today I was walking by a loquat tree near my office and heard a buzzing sound. It was full of bees pollinating the flowers for the springs crop of loquats! We don't have seasons in the same way so that piece of the rhythm is missing.

California is casual... dress is the same everywhere all of the time, or not the same in random ways. You wear what you feel like wearing so it isn't unusual to see a couple strolling down the street with the woman in a fancy cocktail dress and the man in jeans and a t-shirt. Or a young woman with microshorts, a fleece jacket, no stockings, and Ugg boots. And either outfit could be any time of year under just about any circumstances. Church dress is everything from very very casual to Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. I have only worn a tie about 6 times in the 5.5 years I've lived here. Clothing gives no hints as to where we are in the year or the week so that piece is missing.

There isn't a rhythm to vacation vs. work. Because the weather is what it is, people play golf anytime, surf anytime, hike anytime... and besides that, aren't palm trees a mark of a vacation place rather than a place where you work? Schedules are often arranged around activities so golfers go to work after a morning round, surfers surf because it is raining and the waves are big or because it isn't raining and the sun is shining. You get the picture.

School provides a little sense of time but families don't seem particularly upset with taking their children out of school to go on a trip or do something special so even that piece is less solid than it was anywhere else I've lived.

That lack of rhythm was the most difficult thing for me to adjust to when we moved here. All of that made Advent and the rest of the church year even more important to me. The problem was that Advent was pretty much equated to "shopping season" in this culture rather than a penitential time when we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child. Yes, you get ready for Christmas, but there wasn't much spiritual significance to the time. I really wanted/needed to redeem the season. An Advent wreath was a tradition that the congregation had so that piece was easy. The hard part was not singing Christmas carols. I told the congregation, "this is Advent, not Christmastide. We sing Advent songs not carols. It is not about joy, it is about preparation." Of course, every store is filled with Christmas songs if not carols and everything blends together in Santa Barbara so this caused tension and misunderstanding. And then when Christmastide came and I was ready to sing Christmas carols, the congregation was tired of them after all of those days of muzak everywhere. They were ready to move on to the next thing.

So this year, we'll sing a few Christmas carols before Christmas along with serious Advent songs. And we'll still sing carols during Christmastide even though everyone in the congregation will be tired of them. I'll try to reinforce the rhythm in other ways and my family will observe its Advent traditions (more about that later).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm embarassed

I was looking at some friend's blogs today and visited Fernando's Desk. He had a link to a test that looks at your blog and assesses the reading level. Fernando blogs on some fairly sophisticated theological topics but his still came out as a high school reading level.

Mine on the other hand came out as junior high!
cash advance
My only comment is that the test must know some junior highs that I've never met.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

India... the last time (maybe)

I've been thinking and talking a lot about India over the last week or so. Alexis returns home next week so that has started a lot of conversations and has helped me to process things a bit more. Plus reading Alexis' recent blog entry100 things I learned in India pushed my thinking as well.

So here are some random thoughts.

It truly is the land of almost... just about anything you can mention, India is almost. Almost western. Almost modern. Almost falling apart. almost...

I've been realizing that one of the reasons it was so challenging for me is that it is completely foreign to me. The foundation for ethics is different. Social structure is different. Expectations and hopes are different. When we visited Haiti, I felt like I understood it even when I was horrified. India was just too foreign.

I wonder how India, and perhaps other cultures that are equally foreign to the west, will interact with the west in the future. For example, the caste system colors every interaction there but doesn't translate elsewhere. Each time we met an Indian, it felt as if they were trying to figure out where we would fit in the caste system so that they would know how they could interact with us - what was proper, what was allowed, what they could expect. Until they fit us in somewhere, they weren't quite sure. Reflecting back, I realized that folk from the lower castes whom we encountered interacted with us in very different ways than those from the upper castes. And, caste and class are not the same thing. On top of that, the government has outlawed caste discrimination while at the same time institutionalizing caste by establishing quotas in a number of areas of the society. How can that all work when interacting with a society like the US where our mythology says anyone can pull themselves up and even a poor boy can grow up to be president?

Religion is different too. It may not be any more diverse than in the states but it certainly is taken more seriously. I was told that Indians really don't have a concept of an athiest. Obviously, everyone does not practice their religion to the same degree, but everyone has one.

Much of the time, you can tell a person's religion by their dress or hairstyle. Again, the walls of separation in the society are daunting.

I can't imagine the scene of thousands of people we saw waiting to get inside the Bahai Lotus Temple, some to pray, some to sit in silence, and some to see the building, taking place in the US. No matter how spectacular, a religious site just wouldn't have that kind of draw.

I was struck by the complete inadequacy of the infrastructure and found myself wondering whether India could catch up to the developed world without catching up there.

Contrast... beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, 21st century and 17th century, west and east... The contrast is always in front of you and always as stark as it could be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

wino's unite!

I live in Santa Barbara, California and it is hard to not love wine here. Each year, wine grapes are the #1 or #2 crop in Santa Barbara county and they make some wonderful wines here. If you saw Sideways, you got a taste of that even though I think the Rhone style wines here are better than the Pinot Noirs. It is always a fun day to hop in the car, drive over the mountains and do some tastings.

One of our favorite wineries is called Beckmen Vineyards. They are a family owned and run, biodynamic winery that makes wonderful syrahs, grenaches, cabernets, and Rhone style blends. In fact, we like this winery so much that we are members of their Purisima Club. I highly recommend their wines if you enjoy great reds.

Some time ago, a wine loving friend of mine from back east sent me a link to Gary Vaynerchuk's website and daily webcasts of wine reviews. He is fun, knowledgeable, and honest in his reviews even if his descriptions are not always what one expects from a wine lover - "who doesn't like jockstrap filled with pickles because let me tell you right now this is man sweat with pickles all around..." Yep, he actually said that about a wine he loved (2005 Guillon Gevrey Chambertin Pere Galland) on episode 353!

Even if you don't love wines or if you do and think he is insane, he is fun to watch... And jockstrap filled with pickles certainly removes any of the pretentiousness that often surrounds serious wine drinking. Click on the widget on the right to see his latest reviews.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Christmas giving

Back in seminary my Hebrew professor once mentioned meeting an elderly man in Egypt who was illiterate in 7 languages. He was making a comment on our US education where we don't learn languages. It has often come back to me as a lesson regarding those who are able to learn without formal opportunities.

While in India, we encountered a number of children begging who were fluent in multiple languages. Most of the time we saw them, they should have been in school but instead were out trying to work the tourists to stay alive. I found myself wondering what would become of them... and what could become of them if they had the opportunity for education.

Some months ago I remember vaguely hearing about some Silicon Valley types dreaming about a $200 laptop that would run via a crank and bring wireless computing to children in the developing world. It sounded like a good idea but it seemed a bit crazy and impractical. Well, they have done it! Check out this link to learn about the project.
and this link to give a laptop to a child in the developing world. Plus, if you do it before November 26, for a donation of $399, one XO laptop will be sent to empower a child in a developing nation and one will be sent to a child in your life in recognition of your contribution. $200 of your donation is tax-deductible (your $399 donation minus the fair market value of the XO laptop you will be receiving). Plus Tmobile with give you one year of free wifi access.

Wanna know what is on my Christmas list? One XO laptop fr a child somewhere in the world who's name I will never know.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More India

India - a land of contrasts...

We were constantly amazed at the craftsmanship that surrounded us. In Jaipur we were particularly taken by the hand work. This first photo is of a person doing block printing. Each color is applied via an individually hand carved block, one color at a time as the printer goes down the fabric, placing each block so as to complete the design. It is amazing how fast they go while keeping each block exactly where it needs to be.

This second photo is of a man making a wool carpet. We were told that this carpet would have about 820 knots per inch and in a 6X9 size would take three people about six months of work to complete. Notice in the photo that the knife is a little blurred... that was because of the speed of movement of the craft person's hand. We saw a silk carpet with over 3000 knots per inch. It was amazing.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Taj Mahal, and indeed many of the magnificent buildings of India, is the inlaid marble work. The marble used is among the highest quality available in the world and it is inlaid with pieces of cut semi-precious and semi-precious stones as well as abalone and mother of pearl shell.

One crafts person grinds the stones into the tiny pieces that will fit together to make the design. If you look carefully at the photo, you can see the tiny pieces of orange stone waiting for the rest of the design and further to the left, you can see designs of lapis and shell waiting to be inlaid into marble.

This person is using tiny chisels to cut the indentations into the marble so that the stone and shell pieces can be inlaid. You can see the completed flowers that are already in the table top. The brownish color on the marble is henna to help the worker to see the design on the marble. Because this marble is not porous, the henna wipes right off when the design is completed.

The attention to detail and the beauty of the work really was amazing... No matter what you saw in India, incredible beauty was always close by.

Friday, November 09, 2007

who do we want to be?

A number of politicians have rightly noted that torture is not about the character or lack thereof of the folk in custody. It is about us. If we torture prisoners, it says something profound about who we are as a nation. I do not want to be that nation.

John McCain said that one of the things that enabled him to endure his torture in a North Vietnamese prison was the knowledge that if his captors were in a US military prison, they would not be treated the same way.

And here we are, once again leaving the door open to torture. Michael Mukasey was confirmed as attorney general in spite of his inability to decide whether water-boarding is torture. I am once again ashamed of the Democratic majority in the Senate and I am deeply saddened to think that this is who we have become. This is not the America I grew up in, nor is it the one I love. This is not who I want to be.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


We just returned home from a 7 days in India... We visited Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.

I'm not quite sure what I expected, but whatever it was, India wasn't that. We had visited Haiti in the mid '80's so I have been in the developing world before. At the same time, I have read so much about a developing middle class in India and an economy that is going great guns. And of course, we were going to see some of the antiquities so I had them in mind also. Who doesn't think of the Taj Mahal when thinking of India? I guess I expected a little bit of Haiti and a lot of Silicon Valley with a few really old buildings added for flavor.

We arrived at the airport about 9:30 at night. Immediately on getting off the plane we smelled burning wood. (It was a smell that we experienced almost everywhere we went). That brought back memories of Haiti and the ubiquitous smell of burning charcoal. It was the first surprise.

Once we connected with our daughter, we went out to the car. There were hundreds of men gathered outside of the entrance. Two of them tried to carry our luggage. As I didn't know who was with our daughter, I allowed that... we got to the car and they wanted $5 for their work. And rubble... rubble everywhere. As we drove to the house I felt as if we had been transported to Blade Runner. All along the roads there were groups of men, sitting around piles of burning trash. We saw very few women outside that evening. The density of the buildings was higher than I had ever seen. In the mix there were vacant buildings, buildings that looked as if they had been bombed, buildings in use, and new construction in process everywhere. And the traffic was like nothing I had ever experienced. As Alexis said months earlier, traffic signs and lights, were only suggestions. Lane markers weren't even that. The roads were filled with cars, trucks, bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, pedestrians, feral dogs, cows, carts pulled by animals, buses, and motorcycles, all of them fighting for inches of space as 5 vehicles all rushed to fill a space meant for 2, snaking back and forth, all acting as if that single inch was the last one in the universe and that if they didn't get it, they were lost forever. Needless to say, in our time there, I don't recall ever seeing a vehicle that didn't have at least a few dents in it.

My friend Fernando Gros had lived in Delhi for 3.5 years and had told me that it was the "most challenging place" he had ever lived. Even during our ride to the house, I began to see that would be more true than I had imagined before going there. Little did I now. I also began to understand the difficulties that Alexis had been having in doing her work.

Over the next few days I'll try to process some of our experiences there and share my thoughts. One question that has already been asked is whether we would go back again. I don't know. If Alexis ends up back there at some time, which is very possible, we might. If she doesn't, I don't think so. I guess I see the fascination that some folk have with the place, I experienced the beauty, but I also saw the ugliness. For me, I'm not sure that the beauty outweighs the ugliness to a degree that would make me choose to visit there again. I do realize that a week and only three cities along with the countryside in between was only a tiny taste of the country... but for now, I think it was enough of a taste.

More to come...

Friday, October 19, 2007

La La Land

I'm not crazy about LA. There are parts of it that I really like and could even live in (I love Venice Beach and Santa Monica) but as a whole it just leaves me flat. It is the end product of a culture consumed by accumulating more stuff and being cut off from a sense of larger community. Sit in any traffic jam and count the number of cars that have more than one person in them and see what I mean. Then imagine the median value of those cars... The endless expanse of strip malls, freeways, and gated communities are just too different from the densely packed cities I grew up in. In those cities you rubbed shoulders with your neighbors and even if you were afraid of them, you didn't ignore them. And you walked places.

I came across a wonderful blog entry about LA at BLDG Blog that does a great job at analyzing LA. The writter loves the city. Still, he sees the disconnectedness when he says that at the bottom line, nobody cares about you in LA. how very sad. I fear that is becoming a mark of our culture.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

back in black

There is an old joke about fashion in NYC. A visitor asked a random person on the street why New Yorkers wore so much black... the response: "we only wear black until they come out with something darker."

Most of my clothing reflects that aesthetic. I do have some blue shirts, one blue jacket, a navy suit, and a few things from the brown family but just about everything is black or gray.

When we moved to Santa Barbara we were surprised at how differently people dress here. No doubt some of it has to do with the difference in climate but there was also a psychological difference. Instead of blacks and grays, we saw lots of colors, flowers, and sometimes gaudy prints. It still is the case... bright colors and big patterns. I have to say that I have tried on multiple occasions to purchase a Hawaiian shirt... I just can't bring myself to do it. Well... actually I do have one... sort of... it is black... with black flowers.

On Monday, in preparation for our trip to India, we had to go to San Francisco to get our visas. Now San Francisco is the city on the west coast that feels most east coast to me. The architecture, the weather, the density all could be a city like Boston or New York or Philly. As soon as we started walking down the street I realized something. Everyone was wearing black. Well, lots of people were wearing black. Black shirts. Black jackets. Black stockings! And we had some time to kill so we ended up walking around an upscale mall on Mission Street. Guess what, every store had black and gray clothing on display. Looking into the Bloomingdale's men's department, I could have taken a black and white photo and not missed anything. Even Tommy Bahama's, known for silk Hawaiian style flowered shirts, had shirts in darker colors without the floral patterns on display.

My wardrobe fits in!

surprise, surprise

I took another of those silly online quizes and here are my results. Interesting... four freedoms... a little different from Shurden's but perhaps we see a theme here.

What's Your Political Philosophy?
created with
You scored as Old School Democrat

Old school Democrats emphasize economic justice and opportunity. The Democratic ideal is best summarized by the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

Old School Democrat


New Democrat




Foreign Policy Hawk




Pro Business Republican


Socially Conservative Republican


Friday, October 12, 2007

Stepford Wives?

I love Column One in the LA Times. Every day there is a fascinating article there about some quirky thing going on in the world or some interesting people. Yesterday's article both made me laugh and cry at the same time. It was a perfect picture of the ridiculousness of some fundamentalist interpretation of scripture and the way that fundamentalists confuse culture and faith. My heart breaks for one very talented woman who "credits the class with helping restrain her take-charge instincts. 'I have to be able to shut my mouth.'"

Southern Baptist Seminary has evidently begun an undergraduate program to train women to be... good wives. And of course, the definition of a good wife looks suspiciously like those sitcom wives from the 1950's, or if you're really cynical, Stepford Wives. Consider these paragraphs from the article
God values men and women equally, any student here will tell you. It's just that he's given them different responsibilities in life: Men make decisions. Women make dinner.

This fall, the internationally known seminary -- a century-old training ground for Southern Baptists -- began reinforcing those traditional gender roles with college classes in homemaking. The academic program, open only to women, includes lectures on laundering stubborn stains and a lab in baking chocolate-chip cookies.

Philosophical courses such as "Biblical Model for the Home and Family" teach that God expects wives to graciously submit to their husbands' leadership. A model house, to be completed by next fall, will allow women to get credit toward bachelor's degrees by learning how to set tables, sew buttons and sustain lively dinnertime conversation

Well... it is not only hopelessly unrealistic and wasteful of the talents and abilities of some 50% of the population, it is poor interpretation of scripture and just as bad interpretation of culture. Any student of US culture has to see the "refeminization" of women in the media of the 50's as a reaction to the liberation of women during WWII when Rosie the Riveter was the model women were to emulate. The men returned home from war and had to find a way to put the women back into their places... the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedroom, but never the boardroom, the factory, and certainly not the pulpit.

It is also bad interpretation of scripture. For example, the text never says, "wives submit to your husbands..." The text actually begins in the phrase before where we are all told to "submit yourselves to one another..." The first example of what this means follows, "wives to your husbands." Yes, it does say that husbands are the head of the wives but the meaning there is not about authority, it is referring to the Genesis story where the man is the source of the woman (Eve is formed from a rib taken from Adam...) The image is not unlike the headwaters of a river. The examples continue with husbands as well.

And the woman as a "helper" to the man? Again, cultural interpretation of a text. The word translated "helper" in the Genesis passage is also used to refer to God and can just as easily be interpreted as a savior figure as a subordinate. Think how differently things would have gone if the KJV said something like, "it is not good for the man to be alone so I will create a savior for him" and then there comes the woman.

Evidently the folk in leadership of the Southern Baptists actually believe that this degree will act as an evangelistic tool. Someone will visit one of these homes where the woman has sublimated all of her gifts and directed herself solely to being Mrs. and the visitor will be so taken by the wife's chocolate chip cookies or squeaky clean counters that they will drop to their knees and become Christians.

What would happen if instead the Southern Baptists put energy into helping folk figure out how to maintain relationships and build strong families in the culture we actually have? What would happen if they actually taught the men to share responsibility and respect the gifts of their wives? What if they worked for a world where as Paul tells us "In Christ there is no male or female"? Or where women were treated with the kind of revolutionary respect that Jesus showed to them? Then there might actually be some evangelism taking place... but of course that would mean they would have to read the Bible and the culture with new eyes and that is not likely to happen any time soon among Southern Baptists.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

torture and faith

I came across these quotes at Michael Westmoreland White's blog. I am sad to say that I believe that my government is engaging in torture and continues to do so. There is no moral or theological or ethical justification for torture. Consider these thoughts...

The deliberate torture of one human being by another is a sin against our Creator, in whose image we have all been created. This practice should not be condoned or allowed by any government. It must be condemned by all people of faith, wherever it exists, without exception.—Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

All of humanity is created in the image of God. Torture is a profound violation of this principle.–Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The Qu’ran clearly emphasizes the dignity of all human beings and that must be maintained at all costs.–Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director, Office of Interfaith & Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America.

I’m concerned that we, as a nation, are unwilling to draw the line on torture. We should be able to point to that line with pride. To cross it would be to vacate our integrity and violate the human dignity of those whom we thus choose to victimize.–Fr. William J. Byron, S.J., Loyola College, Maryland

My Christian faith does not allow me to compromise on this issue. Torturing another human being, a child of God, is evil, plain and simple.–Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, United Methodist minister, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Outgoing General Secretary, National Council of Churches of Christ, U.S.A.

What we must face squarely is this: whenever we torture or mistreat prisoners, we are capitulating morally to the enemy, in fact, adopting the terrorist ethic that the end justifies the means.– From the article, “Inhuman Behavior: A Chaplain’s View of Torture,” The Christian Century, 4-18-06.–Rev. Kermit D. Johnson, Chaplain (Major General), U.S. Army, Retired.

If we condone torture, we yield the moral high ground to our enemies and encourage anyone who hates us to stoop to using that subhuman level against us. We reap what we sow.–Dr. Rick Warren, Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church.

There is a special dignity in every human being that comes from the fact that we are brothers and sisters in God’s one human family. It is because of this that we all feel that torture is a dehumanizing and terrible attack against human nature and the respect we owe for each other.–Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Emeritus Archbishop of Washington.

I have a heightened sensitivity to the torture issue because the central symbol of my faith is an instrument of torture. While on that torture machine, Jesus cried out to God on humanity’s behalf, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” 2000 years later, we still don’t know what we are doing.–Dr. Leonard Sweet, Methodist minister and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Drew University Divinity School.

I signed “Torture is a Moral Issue” [the Declaration of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture] because I understand the Christian faith to require vigorous efforts on behalf of human dignity, wherever it is threatened–friend or enemy, wartime or peace, my government or somebody else’s government. I also understand that evangelical Christians, of which I am one, have enormous power in this culture, and I wanted to put myself clearly on record against torture precisely as an evangelical. I signed the statement because I believe the United States has a fundamental legal and moral obligation to refrain from any form of torture even as we also have a legitimate right to self-defense. Finally, I signed the statement because I am very much concerned that torture, or acts approaching torture, are still occurring.–Dr. David P. Gushee, Baptist Minister, founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights, and newly appointed Professor of Christian Ethics, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University.

The international community expresses shared moral belief through international law. International law absolutely forbids torture, as well as cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment. The United States was once fully in support of these international laws and the moral principles on which they are based. We can be again.–Mary Ellen O’Connell, Catholic layperson and Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law, the School of Law, University of Notre Dame.

In the years leading up to World War II, Karl Barth complained that the German Church wasn’t awake to what was going on. . . . “The church permanently finds itself in a state of emergency,” he said, “but is often asleep at the wheel.” I worry that we similarly are slipping into patterns of national behavior about which the American Church is unaware, silent, or, worse, complicit. I hope this statement on torture will help us wake up.–Dr. Brian McClaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church and well known author in the “Emerging Church” movement.

The Bible teaches that all of us sin, and power corrupts especially when dealing with the weak and vulnerable–which surely includes prisoners. Biblical Christians know we need the restraint of law, and want to be law-abiding. It’s not enough just to be against torture; we want the U.S. to be a law-abiding citizen of the world, respecting international law.–Dr. Glen H. Stassen, Baptist layperson, founding board member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, longtime peace and justice advocate, author, and Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary.

“In our current political climate, there is an attempt to make torture so ambiguous that we are not sure we know it when we see it. Therefore it is very important for Christians to say, ‘We know it when we see it.’” - Stanley Hauerwas

Monday, October 08, 2007

Christmas is coming.

Annie Dieselberg spoke at our church last night... what an amazing woman! Annie works with Nightlight, a ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, working with women and children involved in the sex trade. We heard about the cultural pressures in Thailand that facilitate the horrors of trafficking of women and children. We learned that human trafficking is tied for second place in the list of the most lucrative illegal moneymaking ventures (illegal arms and drugs are the others in the top 3). There are as many as 27 million people held in slavery in the world today with 800,000 people being trafficked each year, perhaps as many as 50,000 being trafficked into the US.

It is easy to despair at the numbers, shrug one's shoulders and go on ignoring the issue... or we can begin to chip away at the problem. It begins by men making the simple declaration - "not buying" because women are not for sale. It goes on from there with organizations that offer alternatives for the women such as Nightlight.

Nightlight does amazing work in helping these women. Training in life skills and reinforcing the idea that a women does not have to sacrifice herself and her dignity to show love for her family build a foundation for a new life. Learning above all that God loves them and that they have value far beyond what a man is wiling to pay in a bar gives strength for positive change. Still, there are cultural expectations of supporting their families and economic pressures that cannot be ignored. Nightlight addresses these issues and restores dignity for the women by teaching them to make jewelry and then marketing the jewelry around the world. The jewelry is available here.

Christmas is coming and while generally I feel pretty negative about the materialism that surrounds that holiday, we have found some ways to give presents that make a positive impact in the world. Nightlight ranks right up there. Purchasing this jewelry directly impacts the lives of women who otherwise would be on the streets or in the bars in Bangkok selling their bodies. The equation is simple. More jewelry sold = more women helped. So... purchase some jewelry as presents, give it away, transform some lives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tell me that you love me more...

I'm not a fan of Apple but they sure do have some wonderful commercials. I'm also pretty far from the cutting edge or even trailing edge of music these days so I was thrilled to see the new Ipod commercial and then track the song down. I love the song and I love the video. 1234 by Feist feels like the innocent, fun, folkie material that I knew from New England and the video implies a lot that makes me enjoy music - it creates community, allows the inner child to come out, and is just fun. So... here's the entire video for the song.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

these and these

I don't know very much about the tradition of wisdom from the Rabbis, but the little I've read is extremely attractive to me. One of the speakers at the Spirit and Nature conference I mentioned in an earlier blog was Rabbi Rami Shapiro. He was inspiring and challenging and was very conversant with Christianity.

At one point during his presentation he quoted his tradition... "Elu v'elu d'vrei Elohim Chayyim" which he said basically translates as "these and these are all the words of the Living God." The interpretation of the saying is that if God is truly infinite, then ideas about God must be plentiful and even paradoxical. Just because two ideas contradict one another does not mean that one must be wrong. It is necessary to hold the two contradicting ideas and find truth in both of them if we are to begin to truly encounter God.

As a Baptist, that doesn't feel like a foreign idea to me. As I understand my tradition, there was always room left for the conflicting opinion because there was always the possibility that God was, indeed, speaking through it. It is built into the very fabric of Christian theology. We begin with a paradox... Jesus is fully human and fully God. How can that be? And we go on from there.

At the same time, it is not a comfortable position for many Christians who see the world in a very mechanistic terms. It certainly is not a popular way of thinking among Baptists even if it is central to our tradition. No, many Christians have a theology of syllogisms: If A is true and B contradicts A, B must be not true. It makes for a predictable and comfortable god, but as the Rabbis would remind us, a god too small to be God. Paul reminded us that "now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." Our ideas about God must always be couched in humility. We do not know everything about God, what we do know may be contradictory, and what we think we know may in fact be distorted... So for now, we look for the words of the Living God in these... and in these.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


We need a drummer at our church... so if you know anyone in the general Santa Barbara, CA area, send them our way.

(graphic came from musicmasterpro... hope they don't mind me using it)

What would you give up?

I attended a part of a conference on spirituality and the environment last weekend. One of the break-out groups began with a question... "What would you have to give up for this vision of the world to come to pass?" It felt like a good question to consider in the larger context of the kindom of God...

Immediately I began to make a list... It including questions regarding my retirement account, the possibility of ever owning a home, cutting back on electronic toys (like the laptop I'm writing on), travel, my lust for guitar related things, etc. etc. etc. As I was writing my list I had a breakthrough. I realized that those things are not the real problem. The real problem for me is that I have a picture of the world. It includes all of those things and more. The real problem is that I have a picture of the world and have difficulty imagining one that is different. Any foray into this new world is a step into the unknown... and I am filled with anxiety and lack of trust about that unknown world. What I need to give up is my fear.

Of course, Jesus talked a great deal about these things. He spoke of trusting God for the future and worrying only about the day in front of us. And 1 John spoke of perfect love (God's love) casting out all fear. What do I have to give up? Fear. What do I gain? Everything. What do you have to give up?

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rest in Peace Joe

We were traveling on Tuesday so I didn't hear the news that Joe Zawinul died of cancer on Tuesday in Vienna at age 75. I've never been much of a jazz fan but Joe Zawinul has made some of the most sublime music that I've ever heard. His work with Weather Report changed the musical world as he and saxophonist Wayne Shorter gathered the cream of the crop to produce a fusion of jazz, rock, and world music. He played with Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderly, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Alex Acuna, Herbie Hancock and scores of other great musicians. To learn more about his work and hear some of his tunes go to NPR.
His son Erich commented..."Joe Zawinul was born in Earth time on 07 July 1932 and was born in Eternity time on 11 September, 2007. He, and his music, will continue to inspire!" Amen.

I just had to add this video off of youtube... The song is Birdland performed in '78 and that is the amazing, late Jaco Pastorius on bass.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

you can't go home again

A little over five years ago we left Albany, NY to head to another planet - Santa Barbara. Albany had been our home for 14 years and Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1 block from the capital building, was our faith community. John was born in Albany and Alexis spent the most important formative years of her early life there. We had a fantastic house. My spouse, Cheryl and I worked together and found our relationship both stretched and challenged by spending that much time with each other. The Emmanuel community taught us more than I can even begin to say about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. They played a critical role in shaping who I am now.

It is a church with significant ministries in the city. Together with 1st Pres, Westminster Pres, Israel AME, Trinity Methodist, and MCC of the Hudson Valley, they form the FOCUS churches of the Capital Hill. Those 6 churches feed over 100 people a day in their winter breakfast program, run a food pantry that serves hundreds of families a month, do important advocacy work, and have played a central role in virtually every important social issue that has faced the city of Albany.

EBC is a diverse congregation. It is racially, culturally, and economically mixed. Seeing the variety of colors sitting in the sanctuary or sharing at table is a wonderful reflection of God's kindom.

Leaving Emmanuel was one of the most difficult moves that I have ever made. I loved the people, enjoyed the work, and felt as if we were accomplishing good things there. It truly was our home. Still, it was time to leave. There were tasks that needed to be done that I could not lead.

This past Sunday we went back to visit Emmanuel for the first time since we left. A number of older members had died and were conspicuously absent. There were new faces including a number of children. There were old friends whom I deeply love and miss. It was bitter sweet but it was good. I see that God is at work and the current pastor has led the congregation in directions that I could not. Seeds that we had planted are growing and new directions were evident.

I also saw that I have gone in new directions and that the time in Santa Barbara has helped me to grow in new ways. My children have both discovered new directions and Cheryl has taken on a new and deeply moving ministry as a chaplain in a hospice organization. And we all have new friends whom we love.

It is said that you can't go home again. I guess it is partly true... Emmanuel is not my home any longer and at this point it wouldn't be good for them or for me if it was. Still... you can visit... and the visit was wonderful.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Stephanie & James

Weddings are not my favorite events. There is too much pressure to "keep up with the Joneses," the couple are often in this fog that keeps them from being truly present in the moment, and just about everyone has unrealistic expectations. So usually, I'm not crazy about them. And if it involves planning or conducting the service with someone else, it drops another notch or two or ten on my satisfaction meter.

We're in upstate NY for a friends wedding and it had every possibility of being a mess. It was hot and humid. Nobody involved lived where the service was taking place. It was a joint service with a Roman Catholic priest (the theological and liturgical differences can be insurmountable). Family came from all over the world and had competing expectations. The couple recently moved from Santa Barbara to D.C. for work and had their own mix of tensions.

Because nobody was from the place where the wedding happened (long involved story there), folk were imported for just about every piece. The priest and I both came from Santa Barbara, CA. The gospel singers in the wedding drove down from Albany. The musicians at the reception came from Boston. The florist was local and the caterer was local. Parents came from Florida and London. More & more possibilities for something to go wrong...

At the same time, James and Stephanie are wonderful people, mature enough to know what they're doing, and, even though they are as different as they could possibly be, they fit together like hand in glove. Their relationship had been tested by James being in Afghanistan for a year and had come out stronger and more solid than before.

Well... it was one of those wonderful weddings where everything fell in place and the service, with all of its disparate parts, worked. The bride glowed but it wasn't the glow of ignorance, it was the glow of love tested and found true. James looked into her eyes and was lost in the joy of commitment and discovery of a future filled with wonder, surprise, and grace. The choir was wonderful. The liturgical traditions connected well. It was a wonderful celebration for friends and family as we came together from all over the world and poured out love and support for the couple.

Congratulations James and Stephanie! May your life together be filled with love and may all of the hopes and dreams you hold and we hold for you be filled full.

Friday, August 31, 2007

2 years later

it has been two years since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast...

Senator Dodd has a bill before congress to rebuild the infrastructure that was destroyed two years ago. To sign a petition encouraging congress to pass the bill go here

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Dark Night of the Soul

Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

Last week, Mother Teresa's letters to her friend were released to the public, showing a woman who struggled mightily with doubt. Immediately people like Christopher Hitchens came out saying that ths was more proof that faith is ridiculous and even Mother Teresa didn't really have any. Indeed, Hitchens essentially says that she was trapped in a hole she had dug for herself during her time of delusion... i.e. faith.

Hitchens suffers from a common misconception - that faith and doubt are opposites. They are not. Indeed, they are twins and without doubt, there is no faith. When Mother Teresa audibly heard Christ speak to her and call her to ministry among the poorest of the poor, she knew. She did not need or have faith. She had heard the voice of God speaking. There was no question. There was no trust. There was only the choice of whether or not to obey. When she later knew Jesus as "The Absent One," it was only faith that kept her going. Remember that the writer of Hebrews tells us that "Faith is the substance of things not seen." It is precisely when we doubt that we find faith. It is in the dark night of the soul that we discover faith and stand upon that which we cannot see.

Obviously Hitchens and his like see proof that she was just a crazy masochist doing what no sane person would ever do. For me, my respect for the woman has sky-rocketed. She was not a super-hero, just a woman with doubts and struggles like any other who happened to do lots of small things with extra-ordinary love. In doing so, she brought the kindom of God a whole bunch of steps closer. And Mr. Hitchens... if she was just crazy... oh that the world would be blessed with more crazy people like her.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I'm a union supporter. Yes, I know about the excesses of the national unions through the years and the corruption that has been there but I am still pro-union. I have seen the results of strong unions. I have also seen what happens when workers have no power.

I grew up in Pittsburgh in the days when steel was still king. The steelworkers had strong unions and that meant that Pittsburgh was a great place to be a blue collar person. Salaries and benefits were good. Pride was high among everyday folk who could provide a good living for their families by the sweat of their labor. My father was not in a union but he was blue collar. We benefitted from what they did. We also suffered when the shop owner who was my father's boss decided to break his word to his workers. They had no recourse as they weren't unionized.

I learned very early that a strong union is the only way that everyday folk can stand up to the power of very wealthy business owners.

Last week the unions won here in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara News Press was prosecuted by the National Labor Relations Board for their lack of recognition of the vote taken by the newsroom workers to join the Teamsters. Last week the NLRB ruled that the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamster's Union is now officially certified as the bargaining unit for the newsroom employees at the News-Press.

There is an ongoing fight regarding employees who contend that they were illegally dismissed for engaging in union activities.

All in all, it is an important step in an important case regarding the way newspapers function in our society.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Moyers on Rove

Bill Moyers is one of my heroes. I think he exemplifies the best of the Baptist tradition.

Here is his commentary on Karl Rove.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

dangerous living

I'm at Soliton and the theme this year is "Dangerous Living." We've had great discussions about the role of community as we as followers of Jesus live in tension with the dominant culture.

Since seeing the theme this year, Bruce Cockburn's tune from the '80's - Lovers in a Dangerous Time has been running through my mind. Cockburn is a man of faith whose music has consistently presented a challenging alternative to the ethos of the day. There is a line in this song that has the most wonderful image - "you've got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight."

Here's the video of the tune... sorry it was made in the 80's so you can close your eyes and just listen to the tune if that works better for you.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I Laughed... I Cried

well, I didn't really cry at all, but I laughed a lot. I saw the Simpsons Movie and it was one of the funiest films I've seen in a long time.

Monday, August 06, 2007

August 6, 1945

On August 6, 1945, the nuclear weapon Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima by the crew of the American Enola Gay, directly killing an estimated 70,000 people. Approximately 69% of the city's buildings were completely destroyed, and 6.6 percent severely damaged. In the following months, an estimated 60,000 more people died from injuries, and hundreds more from radiation. [Wikipedia]

I know the argument that the dropping of the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima ended the war and saved lives. I don't believe it. And even if it was true, the action was still immoral and inexcusable. Look at the numbers. There must be one good thing that comes from it. Human beings must learn that never again can we unleash such destruction on our fellow human beings, on our home, on God's creation. We must destroy all nuclear weapons and never build them again. There is no justification for ever using them and without that threat, having them does not work as a deterrent. Destroy them all.

Friday, August 03, 2007


This morning I went outside to get the LA Times and saw that everything was coated with ash. We've had ash off and on in the mornings since the Zaca Fire began. It is burning about 45 miles from where I live, on the other side of the Santa Ynez mountains. When the winds are coming from the right direction, the fire, which has burned over 38,000 acres, drops ash on Santa Barbara.

We are far from the fire. Its immediate consequences do not impact us here in SB. Indeed, the local newspaper isn't even providing its own coverage of the fire. They run the Associated Press stories! But today, if you have breathing problems you don't want to go outside. The ash lying on auto finishes has an impact. It touches us far away in unexpected ways that are only related to the fire itself in peripheral ways.

A few weeks ago, William Lobdell, told of his loss of faith in column one of the LA Times. He had the religion beat for a number of years. As he worked there and experienced, time after time, the sins of different faith leaders and groups, he lost faith. None of those leaders gave any thought to William Lobdell. They never imagined that abusing a little boy in a Catholic church would cause a writer for the LA Times to lose faith. A group of Mormons never imagined that shunning a fallen church member would so impact this stranger miles away. Like the ash falling on us in Santa Barbara, their actions and the actions of others left a mark on this man who they may never have even met and eventually killed his faith.

I think it was courageous for him to share his story and I pray for him. I hope that some day he is able to find faith again and feel the joy and peace it obviously gave him at one point in his life. I thank him for sharing his story that reminds me that my actions touch the lives of people far away and there may be ashes that mark someone whom I've never even met. I pray for myself that my actions and words will be reflective of what I claim to believe, of the loving Prince of Peace whom I try to follow. Thank you William.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

the fragility of life

The last week and half has been a difficult one. The fragility of life has been thrust into our faces yet again.

Misty Yurko, my niece, was 30 years old. She struggled with Crohn's disease for about five years and had had her ups and downs with that until last November she came down with pneumonia. She went into the hospital and never came home again. For eight months she had one issue after another - times when it looked as if she would get better... times when organs would stop working, seemingly at random. Two weeks ago she seemed to be on an upswing and there was hope that she might actually recover. We had seen her in June, and while she was weak, we did have some time to laugh and smile. I hoped that the next time I saw her she would be back to herself.

Misty was doing physical therapy and things were looking good. Then, in a day she went back from the physical therapy department to a regular hospital room. The next day she was in ICU, non-responsive, and on life support. A few days later she was gone.

We always lived a distance from her so we didn't know her as well as I would have liked. She was about 6 years older than Alexis and the times we saw her during childhood, she loved playing the "big sister" to Alexis. I'm left with wondering how things might have been different... how I might have spent my time better with her. My sister is trying to figure out how to face a world without her daughter in it.

Five days ago we received word that a cousin of one of our church members was killed in Iraq. I never met Jimmy but I have heard a little about him and can guess some more. He graduated from high school in 2005 without direction and the family says he joined the military as a way of growing up. I expect that he had to know that he would end up in Iraq so there may have been some patriotism involved, some hope for adventure, even the yearning for the testosterone thrill of the battle... all of the fantasies of an 18 year old who has never seen the horrors of war. I don't have any idea what he experienced while there. Perhaps he felt he was doing something of value, perhaps not... in either case, he is gone. His family is in tatters. All of the dreams for the future are gone.

I want to be furious about his death. Jimmy is the closest that I have come to this needless war. I want to be able to hold him up as the picture of the waste this administration has caused - the waste of resources, but more importantly the waste of lives. I cannot. All I can do is feel grief, and sadness, and loss. I never knew Jimmy but he sounds like he was a great kid. I never will know him now.

In a blink, it is gone. Life is fragile. It ends with a sniper's bullet, a disease that cannot be stopped, a bridge collapsing during an afternoon commute, the long wear of years... sometimes it is long and full, sometimes far too short. Sometimes it is filled with joy, sometimes with pain, most often a mixture of the two, but it is always fragile. And it is always precious. I hope that I remember this a few months from now when the press of work and the day to day is all around. I hope that I take the time to talk with the kids in my church and neighborhood, to hug my family, to smell the flowers and watch the birds... Life is fragile... too fragile to waste on the unimportant.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

One Year Later

It has been over a year since the mess at the News Press, the local newspaper in Santa Barbara, began. Some 70+ employees including over 50 in the newsroom alone have been fired or resigned over the practices at the paper. One response was the formation of a website - Santa Barbara Newsroom which was an attept to keep the news coming. It was run by a number of former News Press reporters who were fired for union activities. Well Santa Barbara Newsroom is no longer live (they ran out of money) but their swan song is a documentary that shows what has happened in Santa Barbara.

The documentary teaches us some important lessons regarding the role of a newspaper, the necessity for unions to regain their strength, and the disaster that occurs when wealth and power run unconstrained. It runs about 29 minutes, but it is worth watching.

It also reminds me that the battle is not over and that we must not forget it and move on to the next thing... if you live in Santa Barbara and have not cancelled your subscription to the News Press, do it today. If you have friends or family here, ask them to do so. If you visit stores in Santa Barbara, encourage them to find other venues for advertising and patronize those businesses that do advertise elsewhere. Fight the good fight!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


I miss apples. I know, they grow apples in California and every grocery store sells apples but they aren't the same. There is something about an Empire that you pick off a tree in upstate New York, wipe on your shirt, and then eat. There is something about a Winesap from Pennsylvania... you get the idea. Just like the grocery store tomatoes don't taste like real tomatoes, those store bought apples don't quite cut it. You can't buy real apple cider here and nobody even knows what a cider donut is.

Moving to the central coast in California, I have learned that the same thing is true for all produce. We get the most amazing vegtables here... straight from the fields, strawberries to die for all year round, oranges and lemons... but I'm told that grapefruit don't like the climate and don't grow well. Now I've had those grapefruit shipped from Texas and they are good. They are amazing compared to what I've tasted from grocery stores in the northeast but we found out they just don't cut it compared to the real thing. My son John works for an agency that helps elderly and disabled folk with maintenance issues at their homes. Last week he helped at a home where they had a grapefruit tree. The owner told him to pick a few and take them home. He picked some at random (he had know idea which to pick), threw them in a bag and brought them home. Well, well, well... the kitchen filled with this wonderful fragrance - grapefruit (as I knew it) but sweeter. Then we cut one and ate it. It didn't need added sugar or honey. It was amazing!

So I learned the lesson again... buy fresh. Buy local. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 12, 2007


Some of you know that I had a very frustrating time trying to put together a funk project with my good friend (and amazing vocalist) Stephanie - working title The Broken Hipsters. We found a great bass player in Johno Dunn and had problem after problem finding a drummer. It began to feel as if they were exploding like in Spinal Tap! Every time we found a good drummer something would go wrong. Finally we found one and it felt as if things were finally going to work. Then we tried to find a keyboard player and had more difficulties. Then the drummer quit the project and we were back to square one. We found another drummer who was very good and clicked extremely well with Johno and then other personal issues got in the way and I tore the tendon in my finger. Needless to say, the project never got off the ground in spite of showing lots of promise.

Just as the Hipsters were disintegrating completely, a great drummer friend of mine, Mike Golden, called me. He had met a singer/songwriter named Jamie Green who had recently moved to Santa Barbara from LA and was looking for an acoustic guitar player. I had been playing mostly electric for a while but Mike was so enthusiastic I thought I should make a contact. We connected and things clicked nicely.

It has been an interesting experience. Jamie is extremely professional and knows exactly what she wants. She played with the same guitar player in LA for about 5 years so it has been an adjustment for her to deal with a new player.

All of this is to say that we have three gigs scheduled over the coming days:

Friday July 13, 6-8 at Borders Books in Goleta, California
Sunday, July 15, 4-6, Northstar Coffeehouse, 918 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA
Saturday July 28, 8, Northstar Coffeehouse, opening for John Cragie.

If you're in the area, stop by and give a listen. If not, check out Jamie's music at the link above.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ABC Biennial

It's been a week since we got home from the American Baptist Churches Biennial meeting... I wanted to write seriously about it but by now, a lot of the meeting has receded into that area of my brain where cobwebs outnumber synapses so you'll get some impressions only.

The meetings took place in the Washington DC Convention center... it s a cavernous place that really requires many more people than we had (about 2500) to feel "alive." Even the opening night which we shared with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, who were ending their convention, wasn't full. (they numbered about 3000.) The space made it difficult to feel connected and all of the meetings felt smaller than they were.

THE CBF is a lively group. Their display area was wonderful to walk through. The downside of them is that they seemed pretty homogeneous - white and southern.

The joint ABC/CBF worship began with a presentation from the pension/benefit board. Huh? What a silly way to celebrate our relationship even though it is a way that ABC has helped out the CBF.

ABC did a better job with media this year but still was not as good as many local churches.

The worship services leaned towards the "Swiss army knife" style that happens when you try to make an extremely diverse group of people happy. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it felt just like a Swiss army knife - lots of little parts that aren't big enough to do what they're meant to do while at the same time making the whole thing a less than useful monstrosity (yes, that is an exaggeration but I liked the word).

The preaching was less than I hoped for. Lauran Bethell was probably the stand out for me. She was the individual least likely to be known for her preaching but the genuineness of her presentation really worked for me. There was some wonderful music - a few of the choirs were amazing - and some that did nothing for me at all - enough said there. A number of the African American churches brought dancers as did a southeast Asian congregation. Fun.

Walter Shurden spoke at the Association for Baptist Principles meeting and was wonderful at laying out the foundation for who we are as baptists.

The best part of the meetings is getting together with friends, many of whom I get to see only at the biennials. We had some reasonable beer and some great conversations.

I was happy to see the racial diversity (we do this better than anyone else in the US) but saddened that the full breadth of who we are wasn't visible. The anglo conservatives didn't come. In addition to the folk from PSW who weren't there (and most would not have attended anyway), I didn't see any of the conservatives that I know from around the denomination. This lack of theological breadth made for less contention but it also made for some boring meetings and didn't feel quite "Baptist." For me, the diversity of theological stance is crucial to who we should be. There was also an awful lot of gray hair present...

The next biennial will be in Pasadena. I hopeful that the location will draw some new folk to the meeting and that the planners will build on what was done well... two years will tell.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

always a parent

While we were back east, our daughter Alexis left for 6 months in India. She will be doing an internship at the Nelson Mandela Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution at the Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi. Her interest is how interfaith relationships contribute to the formation of a civil society (or not).

We are very proud of her and excited about her work as she moves forwarded in her scholarship and eventually career. BUT (and it is a huge but), I can't help but be more than a little nervous about her being so far away in such a foreign place. She is 24 years old! She is extremely capable! She has spent time in Central America and Hungary and has traveled to places that made me really nervous in the past. But she is still my baby.

She'll be blogging about her experiences in India at her blog. Check it out... think of her... and pray... for me.


I just got home from a 3 week trip back east that included the ABC Biennial meeting (more about that later) but the meetings got me thinking about freedom.

Walter Shurden spoke at the Coalition for Baptist Principles gathering and told a wonderful story... while pastoring, he invited a number of leaders from their faith traditions to share their traditions in an adult Sunday School class. At the end of one of those meetings, Shurden asked the Catholic priest who had been sharing what he understood to be the central characteristics of the Baptist tradition. Without a blink, the priest replied, "freedom."

Shurden went on to talk about freedom as central to not only the Baptist tradition, but also to the ways in which God relates to humanity. God gives us freedom for faith or not, freedom to follow or not, freedom...

I have to say that I bristle whenever folk talk about the US as being a Christian nation or even that it is founded on Christian ideals and then argue and work towards a theocracy. It seems to me that working towards a theocracy is precisely the opposite of what God wants and a nation where freedom, including absolute freedom of religion, is the distinguishing characteristic, is exactly what God does want. It is a wonderful irony isn't it? God has given us the freedom to not believe, the freedom to not follow. From the positive perspective, God has given us the freedom and responsibility to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling and nobody, including God's self, can impose faith upon us. It is only when we have that freedom that we are living in the kind of society God envisions for us all. God wants us all to be in relationship with God but it is more important that we be able to choose than what we choose.

Happy 4th of July! Let Freedom Ring!

Monday, June 25, 2007


saw this sign as we drove away from the National Airport in DC...

the jokes are just too easy...

Robert W. Cholke

Yesterday I learned of the death of the Rev. Robert W. Cholke in April of this year at age 67.

Cholke (everyone that I knew who knew him called him "Cholke," even Lee, his wife at the time) was my and Cheryl's CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) supervisor at the Haverford State Mental Hospital outside of Philadelphia. He was one of the most important people in my early formation as a clergy person. His imprint is still clear to anyone who knew him and who knew me before my time at Haverford. Cholke was bright, insightful, one of the most perceptive persons I have ever known, and funny. Most of all, he was real. There was no pretense and nothing hidden. He shared himself openly and freely.

Let me tell three stories about Cholke.

1. I clearly remember my first day at Haverford... I was more than a little nervous. I had had almost no experience with mental illness and was filled with stereotypes. My theology at the time was narrow and naive. And there was Cholke... chain smoking, heavy drinking, couldn't form a sentence without a 4 letter word, Lutheran, Cholke. I was aghast! What could this man teach me? He couldn't even be a real Christian. I was sure it would be a waste of time, just a hoop to jump through to finish seminary. I'd hang in there and be done with him as soon as possible. Little did I know.

2. As part of the CPE program we had individual sessions with the supervisor. One day, I arrived to see Cholke and he was running late with a patient. I sat outside the door for a few moments before it opened. When it began to open, I stood to enter. There in the doorway was a man who I reacted to as one of the most repulsive human beings I had ever seen. I could smell him from feet away. His speech was slurred. He was missing teeth. His face was swollen and bruised, as if from a fight. His clothing was dishelved and his hair was a mess. He had tardive dyskinesia - a side effect from the use of major tranquilizers that cause an individual to loose control of small muscles when they aren't using them. When he wasn't talking his tongue darted around uncontrollably. His fingers also moved, as if with minds of their own. My first reaction was to step back. His attention was on Cholke who was there completely and absolutely for him. Before he left, Cholke took the man and embraced him with a smile and a laugh. Cholke saw what I could not. He saw the face of Jesus. No, he saw this man as a child of God. It was a moment of grace for a man from whom most would run. For me, it was a moment of transformation - one huge step on my journey to see what is real and true.

3. Cheryl and I participated in a couples' group with Cholke and Lee. Week after week Cholke would see something the rest of us had missed, share it, and we'd all think, "how'd we miss that?" Then came the week we were looking at some of the issues in Cholke's relationship with Lee. He was as clueless as the rest of us when it came to his own relationship.

I could write pages about the things I learned from Cholke and the ways those insights changed who I am. Whenever Cheryl and I would talk with another clergy person regarding their CPE experiences, more often than not we would shake our heads and give thanks that Cholke had been our supervisor. I hope he would be proud of who I have become and of the ministry I do. I know he would shake his head, laugh, smile, and call me on things I had not seen.

I hadn't seen him in more than 20 years. I am sure that he grew and changed and that the journey of his life sharpened his insights and enriched his ministry of caring. I do know that he married again and that family life had brought him both joy and pain. I pray for those who loved him and were close to him during these years, that God will hold them close in grace and love and ease their grief, especially his wife, Joanne Martindale.

These words were found in some of Cholke's papers... and they sum up his spirit...

People don't need a long life,
As much as they need a compelling reason to live,
And a compelling reason to die.
For upon these two necessities
Is Life for the human being
(in that great array of living things)
Sustained, enabled, and fulfilled.

Chaplain Robert W. Cholke, 5/18/94

Thank you Cholke for all that you taught me, for the imprint you made in my life, helping me to be come who I am. My life is richer and fuller because of you. Rest in peace my friend.

Congratulations John!

things change

Our baby... a 6'3", 285 pound baby, graduated from high school on the 15th. We are so proud of John. He is turning into a wonderful young man. His mother and I are excited and expectant to watch as he continues to grow and mature and turn into the good man we see taking shape. I'm sure there will continue to be surprises... but that makes the future even more wonderful.

He begins as a student at Santa Barbara City College in the fall, probably as a business major. We'll see where his path leads him... and watch proudly.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


no... not the city. I just had to write about her.

It really has been a roller coaster ride hasn't it? First, she gets sentenced to jail. In California a celebrity getting found guilty and sentenced is a very very very rare thing. We know which side our bread is buttered on and we give them the slack they need to live the excessive lives we all wish we could. Then she is released because of "medical reasons." Say what? I'm guessing that a significant proportion of the inmates in the LA county jail have drug problems, or mental illness, or severe anxiety about the place they are (most people don't get excited about going to jail and it is a scary place).

I have to admit that at first I felt like cheering when she went back to jail... spoiled little rich girl needs to learn a lesson... but the more I thought of it, I began to think that maybe... just maybe she should be released.

We have incredible over-crowding in our jails. All kinds of people (Paris included) end up there when some other setting would be much more effective at dealing with their problem. Perhaps she should be doing community service in a physical rehabilitation facility that deals with folk injured in automobile accidents. Or maybe she should be spending her time helping homeless alcoholics. Something... anything... to help her learn what a spoiled brat she is and turn her life outward.

And there are those who are there because of who they are. Racism is still operative both in our laws (look at the laws for crack abuse - mostly a crime of poor minority folk - vs. powdered cocaine - a drug of rich mostly white folk) in enforcement (lots of my friends have been pulled over for DWB - driving while black), and in sentencing. Of course there are issues of personal responsibility but there are also issues of culture that cannot be dismissed. There must be something wrong wen we are second only to Russia in the percentage of our population in prison.

So Free Paris! And if you want a little pink bracelet that says just that, for only $9.99 you can order one here

Friday, June 08, 2007

Shift Happens

A friend sent me this link....

it is long but raises some interesting questions.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Prince at the Alma Awards

with Sheila E and Grupo Fantasma!

my, my, my...

what more is there to be said?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Man of Grace

I have to admit that I wanted to blog about Scooter Libby and especially about te vice president's reaction to his conviction but good news prevailed.

Yesterday's L.A. Times had a front page article on David Scholer, professor of New Testament at Fuller Seminary. Dr. Scholer is dying with cancer but has learned to live the verse from Thessalonians - "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances." And his life exudes grace to all who come in contact with him.

I have met him in passing, read some of his writing, and heard him speak a number of times. He is an American Baptist and his theology and style exemplify the best of what I understand of the Baptist tradition. Good stuff... his scholarship, but more important than that to me has been his faith and the way he lives his life. May I learn that lesson.