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.