Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Singing part 2

Hey! I sang a bit this morning as I walked... but I did feel self-conscious.

see this post for more.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Last night the
Interfaith Initiative of Santa Barbara sponsored an interfaith Seder at the Congregation B'nai B'rith. It was a wonderful interfaith event with representatives from the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Baha'i, Buddhist, and Hindu faiths participating. Readings from each tradition were part of the celebration.

It was a wonderful reflection of what we can become as we respect each other's religions and look to the truth that each tradition brings to our common table. The calls for liberation for all people were clear and meaningful. I know that "Jerusalem" was seen as a symbol for a place of peace and "Egypt" was symbolic of oppressors. At the same time, I kept thinking of the Muslim participants and wondering how they reacted to the multiple statements about Egypt and the calls - "next year in Jerusalem." I wondered whether they saw the choice of symbols as being a bit too close to home.

At that point, I was saddened as I was reminded how others of any variety of faiths use similar events to draw lines, excluding one another, or even worse, as calls to violence. Far too many religious festivals build walls rather than bridges.

I have cut down the blogs I read to a relatively short list, but one of my favorites is Rabbi Rami. He has a thoughtful and challenging post on the Passover on his blog that asks some very difficult questions. Head over there, read it, and struggle with the questions he adds to the traditional Seder questions. And let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

sing a song

Have you ever thought about how much children sing. When they're playing, when they're concentrating, when they're doing nothing in particular, they often sing. Sometimes it is a song they know. Sometimes it is a song they make up as they go along, but they sing. A lot.

At some point in our culture, people stop singing. I rarely sing. Not in the car. Not in the shower. Not when I'm walking. Not when I'm working. Sometimes I find myself wanting to sing, especially when I'm walking as I often listen to my mp3 player while I walk, but I quickly catch myself and don't. And it isn't because I don't sing well. I was a voice major in college after all. I just don't sing. Adults don't sing much in our culture. And when they do it stands out. Have you ever stopped at alight and looked over at the car next to you, only to see a lone driver singing along to the radio? The first reaction is to laugh as if they are doing something that grown ups don't do. Or in your house, a family member is in the shower and over the sound of the water you hear a song... and you look at another family member and laugh as if it is something childish.

That isn't true everywhere. When we visited India, I noticed adults walking down the street singing. They didn't make up songs like children, but they still sang.

Yesterday, I was listening to NPR and heard a short report about the City of Dimen in China and the Dong people. Singing is central to the way the Dong people communicate. They sing to greet visitors. They sing to tell stories. They sing their history. They sing of the beauty of nature around them whether it is imitating the sounds of the cicadas in the trees or just admiring that beauty. The reporter, Amy Tan says, "There's a lot about being out in the field working and realizing that even though your life is very hard and you're working constantly and it never stops, no matter what the season or the weather, there is this beauty."

Here's a video with a recording of The Cicada Song

In singing, the people are reminded to see the beauty and they add to the beauty. Me? Sometimes I see the beauty. Sometimes I take it for granted. I rarely add to it. In that lack of action, I feel as if I've lost something wonderful. Today, I'm going to try to sing a bit. If you see me, promise not to laugh.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I've Been Tagged

the blogosphere is a funny place. I find amazing information and insights. I also waste time that could be used in constructive ways. Most of all, it widens my community. Sometimes that is through substantive dialogue but sometimes it is in smaller silly ways that I think are still important. Getting tagged is one of those. Bob Cornwall tagged me. I see it as an affirmation of our friendship. Thanks Bob.

The rules are:
1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about himself or herself.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

1. Ten years ago I was doing . . .

I was living in Albany, NY and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church. Emmanuel is a great church and that community was very important in my own formation. A fun piece that was going on 10 years ago was that I was doig a music project with my daughter Alexis. We quickly figured out that people were going to see her, not me, and we became Alexis d.

2. 5 Things on Today's To Do List

attend a luncheon with the Coastal Housing Coalition and meet the new director, Debbie Cox Bultan
finish planning worship for Sunday
rehearse with the church band
spend some quality time with my wife
practice some guitar

3. Things I'd do if I were a billionare

This is a difficult question as I think being wealthy is much more difficult and dangerous than being poor with middle class... in the middle. The first thing I'd do would be a bit selfish... I'd purchase a house here in Santa Barbara. The lion's share of the money would go into a foundation that if I was choosing today, would be used to help leverage change in Santa Barbara to relieve the housing crisis we have here. Other posibilities might be education, musical instruments for poor children... I'd give a significant amount to Juniata College. And to be really selfish, I'd probably pick up a few amazing guitars and amps.

4. 3 Bad Habits

too much time on the web
watch more tv than I should
don't always finish what I start

5. Five Places I've lived

Santa Barbara, CA
Albany, NY
Three Springs, PA
Wilkinsburg, PA

6. Five Jobs I've had in life:

guitar player
radio DJ
garbage collector
deli counter guy

7. Tagged Ones

Fernando Gros
Dave Miller
Jon Reid
Alexis d
Angela Spain<

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Often actions have unintended consequences. The Iraq war has driven up oil prices which has pushed the desire for alternative fuels such as ethanol produced from grain. These two trends are major contributors to the rapid rise in food prices around the world as the cost for transporting the food skyrockets and competition for the grain increases as more of it is converted into ethanol rather than used for food. I've read and heard that the amount of grain needed to produce enough ethanol to fill the tank of one American SUV is equal to the amount of grain eaten by one of those poorest people in a year! Yes, it takes a year's food to fill a tank once. In many areas of the world the price of rice, wheat, and corn has doubled in the past few weeks. For me it is an inconvenience. For the poor of the world, many of whom live on a dollar a day, it is a crisis.

This summer the G8 meets and they must include the alleviation of hunger as a priority for the next year. By clicking here you can sign the following petition
President Bush,

The soaring cost of staple foods and the resulting hunger crisis has caused riots from Haiti to Bangladesh, threatens hundreds of thousands of people with starvation and could push one hundred million more people deeper into poverty. Please build on your recent commitment by taking immediate action to:

1) Prioritize issues of global poverty, including the world hunger crisis on the agenda of the G8 Summit this July in Japan.

2) At the summit, secure commitments for additional resources for all types of food assistance and increased agricultural productivity in developing countries.

And visit Bread for the World to learn more about the growing hunger crisis.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Obama quote

We've heard and read lots regarding the comments that Obama made that have been characterized as elitist by Hillary Clinton and others. It is important to read them in context. Make of them what you will but at least consider them in a larger context.

So, it depends on where you are, but I think it's fair to say that the places where we are going to have to do the most work are the places where people feel most cynical about government. The people are mis-appre...I think they're misunderstanding why the demographics in our, in this contest have broken out as they are. Because everybody just ascribes it to 'white working-class don't wanna work -- don't wanna vote for the black guy.' That's...there were intimations of that in an article in the Sunday New York Times today - kind of implies that it's sort of a race thing.

Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laughter), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).

But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.

But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing.

angry renters

I have to say that I am ambivalent about the housing crisis. I certainly don' want to see folk losing their homes. I know that there were some predatory lending practices going on. I know that the tanking of the economy just made the entire mess worse. And I know that the ripples from the housing crisis effect all of the economy.

Still, nobody forced people to purchase homes that they couldn't afford. People need to be responsible for their decisions... as do financial institutions. Both bet that the market would climb forever and it didn't.

Below is a short video from a group called angry renters that makes a strong argument. I know it is over-simplified and I see many/all of the complexities of the issue. What do you think? Where does responsibility lie and what can/should be done?

tax day

I have to tell you that tax day is not a happy day for us. As a pastor, we pay quarterly paymets so even with the best of planning, we still have to pay a chunk of money. If something didn't work correctly through the year, we pay a chunk for two years. All of that is depressing but there is more. There is a piece of the tax code that I try to ignore for most of the year but when we finally do our income taxes, I am faced with it.

We owned a home in Albany. It was one of the least expensive places to purchase a home and in the 14 years we were there, we saw almost no appreciation in the value. Still, it was a great house and there are other benefits to owning as we later came to appreciate. In California, we live in a parsonage. Owning a home was out of the realm of possibility here because property values are completely out of whack. What we hadn't really figured out though, was that the difference of not having the mortgage payment would cause our taxes to just about double.

Purchase a house and you get to deduct your interest (which just happens to be the biggest part of your house payment for most of the life of the mortgage) and your property taxes and because that pushes you well past the standard deduction, you get to deduct all of your charitable giving too. It ends up essentially being a government subsidy as you hopefully build equity while you are receiving a huge tax break. And the bigger your payment, the bigger the deduction! Rent... and you get none of that. No tax break. No equity. Nada.

So who lives in rental housing? Folk who can't afford to purchase property. So once again the haves get the breaks and the have nots get... fill in the blank.

And I know that was part of the driving force behind many poor folk getting in over their heads in the housing market... they thought that finally they could get their leg up. That just adds to the ambivalence I mentioned in the earlier posting.

Girl Fight

Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion regarding a group of teenage girls who posted a video on YouTube of the beating of another girl. "Should the parents be held responsible?" "What is happening in our society that kids think this is an appropriate way to solve differences?" "Where they just trying to be 'famous' for their 15 minutes?" "What do we need to do as a society to address this behavior?"

It seems clear to me that the answer begins at the top. We have a president whose first answer to any problem is violence. When he felt that Iraq was a threat or not responding appropriately to international demands, a preemptive strike and a prolonged military occupation was the solution. When he talks about Iran, threats of attack are the norm. When the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians is raised, diplomacy is ruled out with important groups virtually insuring that the violence will continue.

And it doesn't stop with the current president. When John McCain speaks about the situation in Iraq/Iran, he shows a profound misunderstanding of the differences or relationships between the various factions and seems to have little interest in learning those differences. Instead, his default position is to joke, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" and to assure us that "we will have more wars."

When the default answer for the leaders of our country is to resort to violence, how can we expect anything different from our children? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the default reaction was to have a diplomatic surge rather than a military one? Wouldn't it be wonderful if the first reaction to an enemy was to work to make friends or at least to find areas of common interest rather than saber rattling? Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could point to our leaders and say to our children, "look how they solve conflict and follow in their example"?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ending the Iraq War

Today there were hearings in congress to learn about the progress of the Iraq war. Needless to say, those testifying stayed with the party line. As a person of faith and as an American, those answers are not acceptable to me. We must leave and do so now.

Following is the text of a proposal from the Network of Spiritual Progressives that was drafted by Tony Campolo, an American Baptist and noted evangelical, and Rabbi Michael Lerner who represents the other end of the religious spectrum. It can be found here and if you agree, you can sign it and/or make a donation to have the proposal appear as a newspaper advertisement in major papers around the country. I signed.

The war in Iraq is unlikely to end until Congress specifically cuts the funding for the war and refuses to pass any funding authorization for the Dept. of Defense until the troops are headed safely home. Many Americans are not ready to make that demand on their Congressional representatives quite yet. They want to know what will happen next after funds are cut. To answer that, and strengthen Congressional resolve to end the war, the peace forces need to introduce a new ethical and spiritual vision of how America could change the way it acts and is perceived in the world. Here’s how.

I. The War is Wrong: Repentance Is Necessary

The remedy for wrong-doing begins not only with the act of changing the path (stop funding war) but also with apology and repentance (in the Biblical sense repentance conveys a return to one’s highest self after one has gone astray and betrayed one’s highest values). Therefore, we ask that our elected representatives go before the U.N. and acknowledge that it was wrong for the U.S. to invade Iraq, that hundreds of thousands of innocent people have been killed and wounded in the chain of events that our invasion precipitated. The war has also created over two million refugees. For the suffering and deaths that have come from this invasion, we, the American people, must ask forgiveness since we overwhelmingly supported this great wrong when it began in 2003 and allowed it to continue. The scripture declares:
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (II Chronicles 7:14 KJV)

It is not a sign of weakness to confess wrong-doing. We believe that it is only the spiritually strong who are able to do this. Such a confession will go far to restore the stature of America as a truly moral nation. And in repenting on behalf of all Americans, including those who are not religious, the president (or Congress) should acknowledge that this entire society has mistakenly adhered to the view that safety and security can be achieved through domination or control of others, but that a better path to safety and security is to treat others with generosity, kindness and genuine concern for their well being.

We urge the Congress to pass a resolution rejecting the strategy of domination and embracing the strategy of generosity, and calling upon the world’s peoples to forgive our society for the destructive path it has followed. It should then convey this appeal for forgiveness on behalf of the American people to the peoples of the world.

II. Replace U.S. and British Forces in Iraq with an International Peace Force Acceptable to the Iraqi People

While no such force is possible as long as the U.S. presence continues, an international force, composed primarily of Muslims from non-neighboring states, but also non-Muslims from other states not engaged in violence or economic boycotts against the Iraqi people, could provide security and fill the power vacuum and conduct a plebiscite so that the Iraqi people themselves could determine their own future. The U.S. should give all our Iraqi military bases to this force, leave no forces behind as “advisors” or deployed in neighboring states ready to re-intervene. And we should require that all U.S. corporations operating in Iraq give at least the majority of their Iraq-derived profits to the task of Iraqi reconstruction.

III. Rebuild Iraq. Launch a Global Marshall Plan.

True repentance requires the works of repentance. It is not enough to simply say We’re sorry!” So the U.S. must commit the hundreds of billions needed to fully rebuild Iraq. Yet the rebuilding of Iraq should only be part of a larger Global Marshall Plan which the U.S. should announce now—to commit at least 1% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the U.S. each year for the next twenty years toward the goal of eliminating global and domestic poverty, homelessness, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and for repairing the environment. Just as the first Marshall Plan allocated 1.5–2% of GDP after the Second World War to the rebuilding of Europe, this second Marshall Plan, extended to the rest of the world, will provide far more homeland security for the U.S. than the currently planned military spending that will squander our resources.

The Global Marshall Plan we propose is a major step toward a Strategy of Generosity which is the key to rebuilding trust in the United States. It is this kind of generosity which is required by the Scriptures of all the Abrahamic religions and should be pursued not only because it helps increase American security and respect for America around the world, but because it is morally appropriate and religiously mandated. If our Global Marshall Plan is backed by American political leaders purely for utilitarian reasons, it will be far less successful than if it is perceived by others around the world to have been supported by Americans because of a genuine caring for others and not solely because it is in our security interests to do so. Fostering an ethos of genuine caring for others—countering the ethos of selfishness, materialism and me-firstism that has been the “common sense” of a cynical media and our market-driven-culture—must become the highest domestic and foreign policy priority for our society.

If you agree with our perspective, please join the Network of Spiritual Progressives (you don’t have to be religious or believe in God—secular people with a spiritual consciousness as reflected in this ad are welcome) and help us spread these ideas. And ask anyone seeking your political support in 2008 to publicly endorse the Global Marshall Plan and the Strategy of Generosity. Don’t let media and politicians convince you this is “unrealistic” or “utopian,” because history shows (and the Iraq war proves) that militarism and domination are far less “realistic” as paths to peace and security. Please donate to help us publish this information in Congressional districts that do not yet call for an end to the war. (Donors of $500 or more will have their names listed on future ads, but every donation, no matter how small, will be greatly appreciated).

We, the undersigned, support the concept of repentance and generosity as central to the way to end the war in Iraq. We call upon our elected officials, media, and fellow citizens to give serious consideration to the strategy outlined above which requires a fundamental rethinking of what can really provide security for the U.S.

Drafted by Rev. Tony Campolo (author, Letters to a Young Evangelical) and Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor, Tikkun Magazine and national Chair, the Network of Spiritual Progressives) and signed by over 2500 people

Monday, April 07, 2008

3 films

over the last few weeks we've seen three films that were really wonderful, each of which dealt with impossible dreams.

The first was The Amateurs, starring Jeff Bridges. It is a sweet movie with an odd cast of characters and an unlikely story. Jeff ridges plays a character not unlike many others he has played - a lovable loser. He comes up with an idea... their little town will be the first town to produce a full length porno film. The porno film is a disaster but everything turns out in the end.

The second was King of California. Michael Douglas plays a character recently released from a mental hospital who has a dream of finding buried treasure. He pulls his daughter into this crazy scheme and they go searching after the treasure. You'll have to watch it to discover whether they find it.

The third is a completely different take on impossible dreams - Trade tells the story of a teenage Mexican boy trying to rescue his sister who has been trafficked into the US. Against impossible odds, Jorge goes after his sister Adrianna as she is sold in this strange new land of the United States. He is helped by an American police officer who is searching for a daughter he fathered via an affair some years earlier and who was sold into sex slavery by her mother. It is a glimpse of the darkest hell that human beings can create contrasted with love that will endure anything.

The three films point to the most beautiful aspects of the human spirit and in the case of Trade, the ugliest as well. I highly recommend all three films.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I've been playing with Jamie Green for a while now. She is a great songwriter and a wonderful performer and I've had a lot of fun working with her.

Recently, we've added a percussionist named Bob Terry. Bob has played with folk like Eddie Money, John Mellencamp, and Wang Chung and is one of those wonderful drummers who can lay down a groove that moves your very soul.

The next steps are a bass player and maybe a keyboard player.

In the meantime, we have two gigs this weekend...

Saturday, April 5th, 2008
@ Border's Books
900 State St. (Outdoors)
Santa Barbara CA
Price: Free

Sunday, April 6th, 2008
@ Stearn's Wharf Vintners Tasting Room
2:30 - 4:30
Stearn's Wharf - Outdoor Patio
Santa Barbara CA
Price: Free

If you're in beautiful Santa Barbara, stop by and have a listen and be sure to say "hi!"

what would you do with $16500?

What would you do with an extra $16500? Pay off some debt? Put it towards a car or a new flat screen tv? Buy a new guitar? Pay for school for one of your kids? Make a contribution to your church or some important charity? Just have enough cash to make ends meet in this time when things are pretty shaky for a lot of us...
Think of that number $16,500 when your $1200 "economic stimulus" check arrives. Why? Because that is the amount that your household is paying towards the Iraq war.
Is it worth it? Are you getting your money's worth?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Last Lecture

The web is a wondrous place filled with heart-touching stories, smut, and incredible information. A few days ago I came across what is evidently a lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University called “The Last Lecture.” In it, professors are invited to give an open lecture, imagining that it was the last chance they would ever get to talk to the students of the university. It became a way to talk about what the professors see as really important.

For one of the professors, Randy Pausch, it was more than just an exercise. One month before his lecture, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with a prognosis of just a few months to live. His topic is achieving one’s childhood dreams. You can watch it here.

Since seeing his video, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I would say in a final sermon. At this point, I have to admit that my final sermon would not be very original. The title would likely be "Free Floaties for All" and would come from Spencer Burke’s book, The Heretic’s Guide to Eternity. He tells a story of standing on the beach one day with his 5 year old son watching huge waves roll in. The son turned to him and said something to the effect of, “Dad, I love you. I love you so much that if we were out there in the ocean and we knew that we were going to drown and we had one floatie… I’d give it to you.” That story forms the foundation of his theology… and it is a good one. He says that the basic premise of Christianity is that God gives us all free floaties. Period. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s love and nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love. That would pretty much be the content of my “last” sermon, the one that included everything that I wanted to be sure I said before it was too late.

So, if you had one final opportunity to tell the folk around you, the folk whom you love the one thing you think is most important, what would it be?

Obama wins Texas

this in from MSNBC
From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
NBC News has allocated the remaining nine Texas caucus delegates, 7-2, in favor of Obama. That means the Illinois senator has won the most delegates, 99-94, as a result of both the Texas primary and caucuses.

Obama now leads by 129 in the overall delegate count, 1637-1508. Obama leads by 162 pledged delegates, 1415-1253. (There remains just one delegate unallocated from Democrats Abroad.) Clinton leads among superdelegates, 255-222, per the NBC News Political Unit count.

Also note, the Obama campaign has passed around that it has picked up two delegates in Mississippi, showing Obama with a 20-13 lead. NBC News' count remains 19-14 for Obama so far