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.