Thursday, December 29, 2011

conflation

This morning, this graphic showed up in my Facebook feed.  I have no issue with people allowing their faith to inform their politics and I do not have a problem with people of faith speaking out on political issues.  Indeed, I think we should.  Still, this little graphic really interests me.  While I'm sure there are those who are actually pro those four things and anti-Obama and who genuinely hold all of those stances, I have real problems when they are conflated.  I have met far too many folk who say that they are a package deal and if you don't own all of them, you don't own any of them.  Add to that, my basic orientation that says that to some degree, these statements are anti-thetical and you can see where I have issues.

Let me address each... I am pro-God... but it really does depend on what god you're talking about.  If we're talking about the God revealed in Jesus, then, I'm right with you.  If we're talking about the god worshiped in some national religion that equates God with capitalism, war, and most of all the USA, then I'm definitely not "pro-god."

I am pro-life, but I have to say that I cringe when I say that.  All too often the term actually means "pro unborn babies and once their born they're on their own."  If you really want to use that term, you need to use it as the Roman Catholic hierarchy professes to use it - anti abortion, anti-war, anti capital punishment, pro affirmative action (in the broadest sense).  Then, you can really say you're pro-life.  If you are against all f the programs that support poor children, for raising funding of the military industrial complex... well, you get the direction... and you aren't pro-life, you're pro unborn babies and once they're actually born, they're on their own.

Pro - gun?  Frankly, I don't believe the 2nd amendment has anything to say in today's world and should be repealed (like that would ever happen).  The real question though is what does this mean to these folk?  Are they saying they have the right to have a gun to shoot intruders (see pro-life)?  To stand up against a repressive government?   Good luck using that 440 deer rifle against a fuel air bomb dropped from a jet... or are they just saying they can spend their own money any way they please and that they have some machismo issue that requires owning something that can kill from 100's of yards away?   Or maybe it has to do with the aesthetics and engineering of some weapons and the deisre to own something beautiful or with historical import?  I don't know, but do any of those ideas really measure up to needing a constitutional amendment?

Pro-country... I'm pro the USA.  I believe it is the best idea that anyone has had for a political arrangement.  I believe we really can still be the city on a hill if we truly embrace the best of the dreams that gave shape to this country.  At the same time, I am not a tribalist.  If there is something to be learned from another country, then one who truly loves this country will learn it.  If this country does something that flies in the face of all of its stated ideals, then one who truly loves it will call it out.   Truly loving the country cannot ever mean turning a blind eye to its failings.  The most important parts of my religious tradition tell me that those failings have to do with treatment of the poor and vulnerable.  Being pro-country means to me, standing up to make life better for them.

Anti-Obama?  Go for it.  That is part of the genius of our system.  You can be against the president for any reason you like, even stupid ones, racist ones, selfish ones, and uninformed ones.  And there are good ones too.   Still, if you go to the website for the PAC that produced that little graphic, they are complaining about a lack of leadership... but proposing no leader.  Somehow, I think they've dropped the ball.  They want your money to dispose of one poor leader to put who in?  Trust them...  yeah right.

And finally, all of these ideas are conflated with being a Republican.  I'm sure there are Republicans who hold only the very best of values and vote that way because their conscience leads them in that direction.  Like me, when I vote Democratic, many of them hold their noses because the Republican party endorses some ideas that they feel are important while ignoring some they also think important... and they make what they perceive as the better of two bad options.  I sort of understand that.  Still, I cannot but see how the basic orientations of the Republican Party do stand in direct opposition to my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  Indeed, of the five statements, only two seem to fit,  for me, with the Republican platform - pro-gun and anti-Obama. 

for a little smile, here is a cartoon from the naked pastor blog (one of my favorites) that relates to the poster and the way that I experience the Republican party although it clearly is not meant for them alone (it is likely aimed at factions within the Church) and calls me to look more carefully at myself both from a faith standpoint and in regards to my politics as well.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Occupy

First my disclaimers...  I'm male.  I'm white.  I'm very well educated.  I have a middle class salary.  I live in a home that while not ostentatious at all, is quite nice, and when compared to houses in much of the country is pretty expensive.  I have OK health insurance which likewise is ridiculously expensive.  I grew up in a blue collar family in a blue collar city in a time when blue collar folk living in Pittsburgh made a solidly middle class living.

I'm aware of the other side though.  I also went to a school district that was about 50% minority and I experienced first hand the ways that race impacts everything.  I had friends who were poor and had no hope of ever being anything else and it didn't matter how hard they worked.   I also saw first hand what happened when the good blue collar jobs disappeared from Pittsburgh and my parents slipped from being solidly middle class to poor.  In their latter years, they struggled terribly.  My younger sister was just far enough behind me to miss all of the benefits I experienced... and the fact that she was female with a learning disability didn't help at all.

My politics, theology, and economics were formed in the crucible of the 60's and early 70's and I never forgot where I came from.  My formative influences were anabaptists, liberation theologians, and social radicals.

So here we are...  read these words -
46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
I can't imagine a better theological frame for the Occupy movement.  This passage clearly shows that when class warfare takes place (and it is right now), God is always on the side of the poor.  The prophets speak similar words again and again.  From the beginning, God has called for a system that precludes those with power from rigging things for their interests.  The one time we see Jesus angry, it is when those with power and position use it to take advantage of those with none (he turned over the tables of the money changers in the Temple as they took advantage of the poor who came to worship as required by the law).  Unfortunately, the Church is not always on the same side as God.

I recently read a powerful article by Kristin Rawls where she shares her frustration at a system that has failed her even as she did and does everything right and she feels that those on the more progressive side of the evangelical church have not stood with her and those like her.  She asks for a church that will be "outraged with me and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice.  I want you to use your clout and influence to help..."  Clearly she is asking for us, for me, to do exactly what Jesus would do.  If we do anything less, Mary would remind us that we are standing against the work of God.

I don't know that I have any clout or real influence, Kristin, but I want to stand with you and your sisters and brothers who have been thrown under the economic bus.  Yes, God does love even the 1%... but God clearly wants to bring them down from their thrones, send them away empty, while lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things, and seeing the lowness of those under the bus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Carols #2 - gender

We have a gender issue in the Church.  To hear folk like Mark Driscoll parse it, we've become too feminine.  He wants us to get manly and to restructure the church so it is more masculine (as he defines that).  Let me say this gently... he's wrong... in almost every way.

We'll leave most of the argument for another time, but today I want to look specifically at gender and Christmas carols.  For centuries, Christian theology focused on a God who was pictured as a stern, unapproachable father, just waiting for you and I to do something wrong so we could be punished.  In spite of the fact that "spirit" is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek, the three persons of the trinity were universally portrayed as male.  Leadership was segregated to men to the degree that even translations of the scripture reflected that prejudice.  Any images of God that hinted at the feminine were down-played.   It was no wonder that Mary was elevated almost to become a fourth member of the trinity... people wanted/needed a mother figure who would kiss their hurts away and love them regardless of what they had done.  That brings us to carols.

Christmas is the time in the Christian year when the feminine cannot be denied.  Mary moves to the forefront as she is given veto power over the very plans of God, decides to be part of God's plans,  carries, and then births the baby.  Like it or not, biology puts the woman at the center of the story and keeps her there.  This is especially true in a patriarchal culture where caring for children is a woman's work.  Joseph essentially disappears from the story because he is unimportant.

All of this appears in the carols as we remember the mother and her role in the story of salvation... and all of this elicits a backlash.  The Church with its patriarchal understanding of God and of authority could not allow for any portion of the year to be owned by women...  so the carols often reflect the push back.  "Good Christian men rejoice..."  "God rest ye merry gentlemen..."  "Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven's all gracious King..."  "As with gladness, men of old..."  And also notice the hyper masculine kingly language that is often used.  We must be reminded that this is not a baby, but a king even as he suckles at his mother's breast lest she have too much power in the scenario.

Yes, yes, I know that common English usage when those songs were written didn't provide an easy way to be inclusive, but I am arguing that the entire content betrays a desire to put the woman in her place, to move the focus away from the mother and baby, and to remove as much humanity as is possible from a baby who is dependent upon a woman.

Guess what?  She is there!  She is central!  Without Mary's "yes," nothing happens at all.  It all depends on a woman... heck, in our culture, she wouldn't even be considered a woman.  It all depends on a girl.

So, Mark Driscoll... I don't think we're too feminine... I think we've pushed too hard for too long to disenfranchise women even in our Christmas carols.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adoption Day

my little boy, John
that tree next to him is over 7 ft.
On December 13, 16 years ago, the Donkin forever family enlarged.  The story is long and complicated, filled with frustrations and joys and fears and relief.  After John had been a part of our family for five years, on December 13, 1995,  Cheryl, Alexis, John and I appeared in family court in Albany, NY and finalized the adoption of John.

It probably isn't proper to tell more of the story here but there is one piece that I can tell the world... that day was one of the most wonderful and impactful days of my life.  John is my son no less than Alexis is my daughter, biology beside the point.   I am so blessed to have him in my life and I am so proud of the man he has become and is becoming.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas Carols #1

Of all of the sub genres of church music, I find Christmas carols the most interesting for a whole bunch of reasons.

First, the gospel is all about contextualization, but many theologians and many churches try to ignore that.  They'll talk about trying to recapture the shape, style, and government of the Early Church, forgetting that there never was one early church and neglecting that the cultural differences would make it unworkable even if there had been.  Incarnation is all about context.  Jesus was born a boy in a very specific time and place with a very specific cultural setting, politics, and economics.  His ministry becomes universal only because it is so contextual.  The same continues to be true now.  We see this most clearly in Christmas music.

Europeans moved the holiday to the middle of winter both to coincide with the shortest and bleakest time of the year and with pagan holidays that happened at the same time.  One of my favorite carols is In the Bleak Midwinter.  Now, how much more European can you get than that?  "Snow had fallen, snow on snow..."  "Water like a stone..."  Jesus was born in a place where the weather just doesn't look that way.  Still, the image works both for the setting of the singers, northern Europe and North America,  and as metaphor.   Here's a video of me playing this song in Santa Barbara at the Cambridge Drive Concerts Songs on a Midwinter's Night (sorry for the lighting and for the clam in the first verse) -  another place where the weather doesn't fit at all, but the metaphor still works.



My favorite Christmas carol is Some Children See Him, one of the Alfred Burt carols with lyrics by Wihla Hutson from 1951.  I blogged about the way this song reflects contextualism back in '06.  Here are the lyrics.
Some children see Him lily white,the baby Jesus born this night.Some children see Him lily white,with tresses soft and fair.Some children see Him bronzed and brown,The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.Some children see Him bronzed and brown,with dark and heavy hair. 
Some children see Him almond-eyed,this Savior whom we kneel beside.some children see Him almond-eyed,with skin of yellow hue.Some children see Him dark as they,sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.Some children see him dark as they,and, ah! they love Him, too!
The children in each different placewill see the baby Jesus' facelike theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,and filled with holy light.O lay aside each earthly thingand with thy heart as offering,come worship now the infant King.'Tis love that's born tonight!
Those words reflect my understanding of incarnation more deeply than any song I can think of... and in that reflect the gospel in the deepest of ways.  More than once, it has brought me to tears.  Some Children has been recorded by a number of people but my favorite recording by far is by Stacy Sullivan.  She changes the rhythm a bit and moves the melody some but I don't think does any violence to the song and makes it a bit more accessible for most folk.  Unfortunately I can't find a video of her but you can purchase the MP3 at Amazon here.  It is a gorgeous rendition of the song.

In a few days, I'll be back with some thoughts about Christmas music and gender.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

beat boxes

I love the NBC show, The Sing Off.  It's got it all - great music, compassionate knowledgeable judges, and did I say, great music?  I have a few favs... and two of them are finalists -  Pentatonix and Urban Method.  I also liked Delilah who were eliminated earlier.

If you haven't watched the show, go to Hulu and watch it.  It really is a great show and I highly, highly recommend it.

I am routing for Pentatonix...  They get a huge sound with just 5 voices arranged very, very well.  The rhythm section is HUGE and just plain solid.  The beat box guy - Kevin Olusola - also plays piano, cello, and sax and is evidently quite accomplished on each.  I googled him the other day and found this incredible video of him playing cello and beat boxing... just amazing.



and here's Pentatonix

Monday, November 14, 2011

new gear

my primary guitar
Guitar players are always looking for way to make their sound both better and easier.  I'm at a lace where I'm very happy with the cogent of my sound.  I have two amazing Lowden guitars that I love.  My primary guitar - the custom Lowden O25C  in the picture to the left -  has two pickups in it, a Sunrise magnetic and a McIntyre soundboard transducer.  Together they work very well for me... but to make them work well, I have a rack of stuff that is a royal pain to schlep around.

an earlier incarnation of my rack
The current incarnation has a different blender (the red thing on the top right) and I've removed the tuner (the 2nd thing from the bottom) but it is still the same overall size and essentially the same weight... and it sounds great.  When I was playing with Jamie Green, she would request that I bring that guitar and the rack so I could get that "beautiful guitar sound."  She was right.

For you gear heads, the signal path is a stereo out from the guitar to a stereo Sunrise buffer, to a Dtar Solstice blending preamp, with a dbx compressor in the channel inserts and a Digitech S100 digital effects unit in the effects loop, out to the PA.  I generally run the guitar with a touch of compression, a little chorus, and a little reverb.  The Sunrise is a touch louder than the McIntyre.

LowdenS10P - my 2nd guitar
My second guitar - an old Lowden S10P that is beaten to death, had some terrible repairs done, but sounds and plays great - has only one pickup, a Fishman UTS with the stock Fishman endpin preamp, so it doesn't require the blender or the buffer, but if I want the same rich sound with the compression, chorus, and reverb, I still needed to carry the entire rack... until now.  I got a new piece of equipment, a TC Electronics G Natural, that has pretty much everything that is in the rack plus more in one box that I can access on the floor and the whole thing is 11.2 X 10.5 X 3.5 inches and weighs 4.1 lbs.  And it sounds good..

G Natural
Because it is a digital unit, I can have the option to store 30 presets in addition to 30 factory set presets and I can recall them by stepping on the footswitches.  There are more effects there than I have in my rack plus switching between sounds is much easier and quicker.  It even looks as if I can set it up to work with the dual sources I have in my primary guitar so I can leave the rack at home almost all of the time.  I'm excited about that... if I could leave the rack at home all of the time and got the same quality of sound, it would be wonderful.

Now all I need is to get things together so I have more gigs more often.  I have to either find the right musical partner or get serious about the solo thing.

FWIW, if the G Natural works as I hope, one of these days, I'll replace the pickups in my second guitar to match those in the #1...

Thursday, November 10, 2011

putting it out there

Last week we had a wonderful show in the Cambridge Drive Concert series with Terry Holder.  At some point during the day, I was talking with Jerry, Terry's husband and guitar player.  He wondered out loud why it was that guys in the audience assume that every female performer "is available to them" and told stories about guys who tried to pick Terry up.  One fun story involved a guy who had purchased 3 CD's from her merchandise table and then learned that Jerry was her husband.  He returned the three CD's and walked away without even asking for his money back.

I was thinking about the discussion this morning as I was walking to work and listening to some music.  I love "If I Were a Boy" by Beyonce and, despite the controversy over the rights to the song, I think she just kills that song.  Every time I hear it, I believe her.  I feel the pain at being taken for granted by some guy and her yearning for "a better man,"  and I figured it out.  A great performance involves putting it all out there.

As a culture, we're just immature about emotions.  When a performer opens his or her soul and puts their emotions out there, it feels intimate.  Indeed, it is intimate... but that doesn't mean we really have an intimate relationship with the performer.  All those guys to whom Jerry was referring were just unable to experience emotional intimacy of any kind without assuming it came with sex.  They really need to be "better men"  who can experience powerful emotions without making assumptions.

So, here's my question... how do we raise a crop of better men who really do understand the emotions of other people?  Who are emotionally mature, caring, and giving, and who understand where the lines are?

Here's a live performance of "If I Were a Boy..."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

handling the text

As a pastor, I take handling the text very, very seriously.  It is my responsibility to help my congregation understand what the text meant in its own setting in life and then help them find the meaning it has for us in our setting.  This can be tricky.  Often the setting of the scripture is as foreign as it can be to our setting.  Sometimes the details just don't make sense to us.  Sometimes, especially in the case of the gospels, there is more than one setting.  For the gospels, we have not only the setting of Jesus' ministry, but also the setting of the writers' churches.  They looked back at Jesus' life and asked, "What stories or events from Jesus' life do my folk need to hear?"  Understanding those passages often requires looking at both Biblical settings and our own.  Then... there are just those passages that don't seem to fit our setting at all.

This past Sunday, I preached on Matthew 25:1-13.  It is a passage that I don't think particularly speaks to my congregation.  The more I thought about the parable, the more I became convinced that if Jesus was telling this story to my church or to most churches in America, the story would take a different tack.  In the Biblical story, there are 5 wise maidens who have adequate supplies of oil for their lamps when the bridegroom is late and 5 who do not.  When those who do not have enough ask the 5 wise maidens for help, they are sent away.  When they finally arrive at the wedding feast, again, they are turned away.  The point is to be ready at all times for the coming of Jesus.  This was especially true for Matthew's church who thought Jesus was running very late.  My congregation is just not concerned about the second coming.

Here's what I think Jesus would do with the story today.  The 5 wise maidens would share their oil.  But what if there isn't enough and everyone runs out?  Think of the feeding of the 5000, of the Hanukah candles, of all of the instances where God's generosity overwhelms the needs and there is more than enough.  I think Jesus would remind us that by sharing, everyone has enough and the wedding feast would be that much more wonderful with the additional folk there helping to party.  I believe the call to us today here is not to worry about being prepared but to share all we can with others and watch as God's party gets bigger and bigger.  And I think he would use it to condemn those in the Church who identify with the Tea Party, the followers of Ayn Rand, and the Republican party who are so bent on holding on to what they have to the detriment of those in need.  And that is what I talked about on Sunday.

So I danced with eisegesis... clearly my message introduced something to the text that wasn't there... but I do believe that if Jesus was telling that same story to us today, that's the direction he'd go.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

just proves what's necessary



She's playing a really cheap and lousy guitar in an open tuning and clearly doesn't know the "correct" way to play a guitar... but what wonderful music!  Just goes to prove that the most important part of making music is in the heart and soul of the player... technique is secondary (although she clearly has great technique even if it is "wrong") and the quality of the instrument is secondary (even though with a better guitar she would have sounded that much better).

So... the lesson for me is, "play, play, play... and then play some more.  just make music and don't worry about the other things."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Fall

I miss fall... at least the kind of fall we had in upstate New York - when the air turns crisp, the leaves turn from green to reds and yellows and then brown, you put on sweaters and the first coats of winter, eat hearty soups,  maybe even a little snow falls that hints of what is coming, and the last deluge of produce comes forth, especially the apples and the products made from them - cider, apple cider donuts, pies, and crisps...  I feel it every year.  I see the apples in the grocery store and I'm not impressed.  They just aren't the same.  Literally, they are different varieties than we loved in Pennsylvania and New York.  The apples there were crisp and tart.  Many of the ones here, even at the farmers' markets, are sweet and mushy.

Of course, there are other signs of fall here.  The last of the grapes are picked and crushed and the new wines are beginning to ferment.  Many wineries bottle wines to free up space in the barrel rooms and sales are abundant because of the need for warehouse space for the new bottlings.

While the temperatures in the low 80's would never have betrayed it, today was a fall day here.  Cheryl and I jumped in the car and headed north to See Canyon in San Luis Opisbo county.  I don't know why they can grow good apples there, but they do.  And we have a favorite orchard - Gopher Glen - that grows 60 varieties of apples including some that we love from the northeast and some we enjoyed that were new to us.  Two weeks ago they were selling Stayman Winesaps - one of our favorites from Pennsylvania and we bought ten pounds.  They're all gone now.   Today we purchased ten pounds of an apple we didn't know as they weren't selling the Stayman Winesaps - Arkansas Black - and two gallons of cider (if you've never had fresh pressed cider directly from an orchard, you've never tasted cider).  It gives us a taste of the fall we know from our past.  Some warm cider donuts would have made me think I had died and gone to heaven... or at least to upstate New York.

Then we headed south, towards home and stopped at Core Winery in Orcutt to pick up a wine club shipment.  Dave and Becky Corey run a great little winery that is just fun.  The wines are quite good and very reasonably priced but it was the family atmosphere that pulled us in and inspired us to join.  So, we enjoyed some wines, talked with folk, picked up our three bottles (and bought three more) and headed home.

Yes, it was 80 degrees and didn't feel anything like an October day in upstate New York (where it was snowing today), but it still felt like fall... and that felt good.

goodbye Cathedral Music

If you look down at the links at the bottom right of my page, you'll see a link to Cathedral Music (my favorite guitar store).  After 16 years, Cathedral is going out of business.  Klem says that it is time for a new chapter in his life, which I understand, but I can't but imagine the economy has a lot to do with the timing.

Cathedral is a small shop that never had the largest inventory, but as Klem said, "we don't sell no junk," and every guitar at any price point that came out of that shop was at least a good guitar if not a stellar one. There was a period when my daughter was taking harp lessons about a mile from Cathedral and about 15 miles from my home so every week, I'd drop Alexis at her lesson and then head over to Cathedral to play some wonderful guitars (there are a couple that still haunt me) and chew the fat with Klem.  He never gave me a hard time about not purchasing anything.  I quickly learned to get out of the way when a real paying customer was there but never, ever felt pressured in any way.  I only purchased one guitar via Klem.  When my Lowden L25C was stolen, Klem was the dealer that worked with me on my O25C Custom.  I remember the experience of going to pick up that guitar as if it was yesterday... the anticipation as he brought the case out and the satisfaction of the first notes played.   So, he never made much money from me - I don't know that he made anything on that guitar at all - but through those days of playing wonderful guitars and visiting, we became friends and I have a very soft spot in my heart for that little store.   He is a man of impeccable integrity and was the kind of dealer guitarists all long to have a long term relationship with.   And now Cathedral is closing...

I will miss knowing that store is there but wish only the very best for Klem as he begins this next chapter of his life.  Good journey's my friend!

In the meantime, if you are looking for a guitar or a uke, Klem is having a wonderful sale on everything in his inventory except the consignment instruments.  Tell him that I sent you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cambridge Drive Concerts Video

well... not actually a video of a concert, but a promo video...


CD concerts
by: roy_d


it is my first fledgling attempt to use xtranormal.  The next one will be better but I feel OK abut this first one

Friday, October 21, 2011

Does Romney Understand?

Earlier this month Mitt Romney stated that he is in favor of a constitutional amendment stating that human life begins at conception.  I can only hope that it is a position he doesn't understand or hasn't really thought about.  It is a statement that could be made only by three categories of people... 1. the ignorant,  2. the political opportunist who doesn't really believe it but is hoping for votes, and 3. the insanely anti-abortion folk.  Here's why.

Conception happens when an egg and a sperm connect.  If at that point we have a human being, we have a number of issues to face.  Many fertilized eggs naturally do not implant themselves on the uterine wall.  If a human life begins at conception, every time that happens, we have had the death of a human being with all of the attending legal ramifications regardless of the cause.  Some women experience ectopic pregnancies where the egg implants somewhere other than the uterine wall, most often in the fallopian tubes.  This is extremely dangerous for the woman.  If the fertilized egg is not removed, she will die.  If the fertilized egg is a human being, we're talking about murder here... even though there is no chance that the fertilized egg would remain viable through an entire pregnancy.  A number of the most popular birth control methods do not stop the egg from being fertilized but rather from implanting in the uterine wall.  This would amount to murder.   Many couples find themselves unable to conceive in the normal ways and use in vitro fertilization which typically results in numerous fertilized eggs, some of which are discarded at one time or another.  Again, we're talking about murder if human life begins at conception.  We haven't mentioned instances of rape or incest where the morning after pill - which prevents a fertilized egg from implanting - would no longer be an option.   We also have raised other issues such as the mother's life, the health of the fetus, etc. etc. etc.  Regardless of how one feels in general about abortion, this stance is as radical as it can possibly be.

So either Mitt Romney doesn't understand how conception works and how it relates to pregnancy and birth control, he does know all of this and is just trying to get votes, or he actually believes what he said... in each case, the possibility that he could become president is just frightening to me and should be doubly so to any woman of child bearing age.

a smile

for you cat lovers - you'll identify... (just ask my wife about Espresso and her computer)

for you cat haters - you'll find more reason...

here's Simon's cat

Thursday, October 20, 2011

i love my car

We Americans love our cars don't we?  Back in 2010 I wrote a piece about cars being the modern equivalent of a household god... it was a fun piece and think the concept holds water.   Speaking of which, my first car was a 1964 VW Beetle.  It had it's issues.  It had rusted through in the wheelwells about half way up so when I drove in the rain, water splashed into the front of the driver and passenger compartments and would sit there until it dried out.  It sat there virtually all of the time.  I did drill a hole in the floorboard to allow it to drain but the hole would get plugged and the water would still sit.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, that meant that in the winter, it would freeze and for a few months each winter, I had an inch or two of ice on the floor of my car.  Air cooled VW's didn't do heaters either so I carried an ice scraper to scrape ice from both the outside and the inside of my front window.  It only had about 60K miles on it when I got it in 1971.  I loved that car and cried when the frame rusted through and I had to get rid of it in the winter of '73.

I've been through a bunch of cars since then.  Some I loved (a Fiat spider when it ran), some I hated (a Dodge dart convertible), most I just drove until we replaced them.

not my car but it looks just like this
I have a car I love again.  It is another VW - a 2002 GTI that I bought new when we moved to Santa Barbara.  In spite of the story (apocryphal?) of Bill Gates claiming that if automotive technology kept up with computers we'd be driving cars that cost $25 and got 1000 miles to the gallon, the technology has changed in incredible ways.  I think my bug had 40 horsepower and got about 25 mpg.  My GTI has 170 horses and gets 28-30.  It has nearly 140K miles on it and is still running strong.  Oh... the heater works really well (even though I rarely need it).  It is true that I don't live in a place where they use salt to melt snow, but I do live in a place where the salt breeze comes off the ocean all year round... and there isn't a spot of rust on the car.   With the back seats down I can carry all kinds of stuff - guitars, PA stuff, amps, suitcases, groceries, even furniture.  I have had to do very, very, very little in repairs beyond the normal replace the tires when they wear out stuff.   Yeah, I wish it got 50 mpg but I love this car.

The other day we were playing the "what would you do if you won the lottery" game.  You know the musician's answer - "gig until the money ran out."  I might consider that but I realized that I wouldn't replace my car!  I hope I can get another 140K out of it!  I love my car.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

word cloud

so here are the words I use most...


Wordle: thin places

What DO Progressive Christians Believe?

Often Christians who are labeled as either "progressive" or "liberal" are described as having wishy washy faith systems or theologies that change at a whim.  Try reading most of the professional theologians who represent that side of the spectrum and you're likely to find dense and difficult going, far beyond the commitment of a layperson and even many pastors.  Pastors, if they understood it, have not done a good job of communicating it to their congregations.  As a result many lay folk who fall outside of the conservative camp are not particularly articulate about what they believe.  They are only able to tell you what they do not believe in conservative theologies.

One subset of progressive theology is process theology... a form that I find particularly attractive but also often particularly difficult to understand as it is articulated by many of it's primary thinkers.  More recently there has been a movement to bring process theology into the local churches.  Philip Clayton of the Claremont School of Theology  and his Transforming Theology initiative has been particularly important in that movement.   They describe the mission of the initiative thus:
Our goal is an ambitious one: to rekindle powerful Christian theologies that have a transformative effect on church and society. It is widely believed that only the conservative church knows how to speak in a distinctively Christian voice, that only conservatives are qualified to represent Jesus' message and mission. We believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ is far more complex, far more interesting, and far more relevant than what the Religious Right has offered for consumption in recent years.
Amen.

I have found Clayton's book Transforming Christian Theology for Church and Society particularly helpful.

Bruce Epperly is another writer/theologian/pastor/academic who has tried to make process theology accessible to a wider range of folk.   At Cambridge Drive we have used his book Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living for a study/devotional series and found it just wonderful and a much, much better fit for us than the other 40 Days books.  One of our lay members was so excited at the end of the 41 days.  He told me that every day he found himself identifying with the book and better able to put words to what he had known in his heart all along.  (I highly recommend this book for a small group study/devotion series)

My friend, Bob Cornwall, just posted a piece by Bruce Epperly on his blog where Epperly gives a short capsulation of process theology. If you have ever looked for a good short explanation of process theology, here it is.  If you haven't, read it anyway.  Take a read and let me know what you think.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

worship songs - again

Last November I posted a piece about my struggle with theology in worship songs... that often I cringe at the theological implications or statements in a song but the music or another part of the song really works for me.  I'm facing it again.  In that post, I shared my fear that people get more of their theology from the songs they sing than anywhere else, so my song choices are doubly important.

Next week we're having a missionary - Corenne Smith -  visit us and share her work.  (She and her husband Philip have a wonderful ministry in Brazil. Check it out in the link on her name and the video below.)  So, I asked her for suggestions for songs and she gave me one - God of This City.  I really like the general message of the song - that God is at work and has a vision for what we will become in this local.  Except the first verse really grates on me.  "You're the God in this city."  I don't know what city they're talking about but I've never been in a city without multiple "gods" and certainly have never experienced one where God is truly seen as God.  Still, I could almost let that line slide.  "You're the King of these people."  Same argument, but much stronger.  Again, I might let it slide, thinking that it is referring to the people singing the song.   "You're the Lord of this nation."  That one is just untrue... and as a true believer in separation of church and state, really makes me squirm.  I don't want it to be true.  For a slew of reasons, I just can't sing that or have the members of Cambridge Drive sing that.

On the other hand, I love verse 2
You're the Light in this darkness 
You're the Hope to the hopeless 
You're the Peace to the restless
And I love the chorus...
For greater things have yet to come And greater things are still to be done in this city Greater thing have yet to comeAnd greater things are still to be done in this city  
So... what do I do?  Just delete the first verse?  Maybe.  Or change the words a bit... it is tricky to make them fit but work for my theology.  "You're the God who loves this city" for example...  Still, it feels a bit parochial and requires a few more syllables to get squeezed in...  Maybe, "God is in this city... God loves these people... God loves this nation..." or do I just skip the song?  What do you think?

here's a video, sharing Corenne & Philip's work.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

prayers, imaginations, and intentions

The other day, my daughter called me on the carpet.  She was in town for the weekend and attended Cambridge Drive Church.   During lunch she raised a bunch of good questions about the direction of the church but the most important ones had to do with prayer, with imagination, and with intentions... and I think the three are tied together in an intimate way.

We're listening to Orson Scott Card's book, Xenocide, in the car.  It is an interesting and philosophical read - indeed, some folk have complained that it is too philosophical and needs more action.  In the book the Hive Queen describes the way new queens are formed as an imagining of what could be and a calling into the chaos for something to come and give shape to the pattern imagined.  In some ways, it recalls the New Agey idea of dreaming something hard enough and it happens.  It got me thinking about the role imagination plays in prayer... and how intentions are lived out when we have the courage to imagine them as real, present them to God, and live them out.

I have to admit that I've not had a very fertile imagination lately.  Cynicism has been more likely to hold sway in my heart than wonder and expectation.  That's not good.  It isn't helpful to the folk who are members at CDCC and it isn't helpful for those who need just the kind of community we are and should be becoming.  So... my task is to get imagining... to get intending... to get praying... and to see God's yearnings for us - wonderful, beautiful yearnings - filled full.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

<=>

I love that symbol... Less equals more... stands in direct contrast to the advice we got after 911 from President Bush, "Go shopping!"  It stands in contrast to the common wisdom of the day as to the best path to repairing our economy - consumers need to be spending so producers produce and make more jobs for more consumers to spend more...

A more important question is whether it works on a spiritual level.  Does having more really make us happier?  Our guts tell us "yes."  Bumper stickers remind us that "he who dies with the most toys, wins."  I live in a place where 10,000 square foot homes with multi million dollar price tags are not unusual.  Still, our experience tells us that more doesn't make things better.  The person living in that 10,000 square foot home is no more likely to be happy than the one renting a single 300 square foot room a few miles away.  Having more toys only tells us one thing about you - you have more toys.

I've written before about GAS and how guitars players (read me) constantly search for the perfect instrument that will make their playing shine.   Of course, it isn't the instrument at all, it is the player, so they go through guitar after guitar after guitar searching for the one that doesn't exist.  I'm not so caught up on the guitar merry-go-round... I know a guitar won't make me a better player and I actually have an electric, a bass, and two amazing acoustics that I am more than thrilled with... but there are always pickups and microphones and recording interfaces and capos and tuners and gig bags and amplifiers and and and

When I was a bit younger I was also concerned about other things as well... but I am getting better.  My car is 9 years old and has almost 140,000 miles on it... and it runs fine and I love it.  I don't think I'd replace it even if I hit the lottery.  I love our condo, although I do wish I didn't have to commute so far.  I have more than enough clothing.  We eat well and have a nice little wine cellar.  Life is good... but I could still do with less and it wouldn't hurt me a bit.  Maybe I need to do some ruthless editing?




Tuesday, October 04, 2011

St. Francis Day

Today is St. Francis of Assisi Day.   St. Francis is one of my heroes... and not because he acted like Dr. Doolittle and talked to animals.  Well, actually it is because he talked to animals.  The story tells us that Francis' first sermon was to his brothers and sisters, the birds.  He ended the sermon by telling them, "Now go off, because I've told you who you are."  And who they were was children of God, who by being who they were, brought glory to God.  He preached similar sermons to a wolf, a lamb, fish, even worms and bees.  He saw the presence and glory of God in the creation that surrounded him and knew himself to be but a part of that wondrous creation.
Brazilian Cardinal

A few weeks ago we vacationed in Kauai and had a wonderful time.  It is a place of astounding beauty and heartbreaking stories.  One day, I had an experience that made me think of Francis.  We were wasting some time while waiting for a reservation at a restaurant and saw a pair of Brazilian Cardinal's doing their mating thing.  The male had found a piece of popcorn.  The female  would shake her feathers, call, open her mouth and wait and he would pick a piece from the popcorn and feed it to her.  This went on for a bit... and then a second female decided she liked this guy who was obviously a good provider.  He had a piece of popcorn!  So, she flew nearby and began the same thing... shake her feathers, call, and open her mouth.  Back and forth he went, feeding both of them.  Each competing for his attention and him not willing to choose.  We watched until we had to go to our reservation... and have no idea how things ended.  I wnder what Francis might have said to brother Brazilian Cardinal with his gorgeous red head...

Church & State... never simple

Justice is a central pillar of my understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.  I believe in civil rights for women, racial minorities, sexual minorities, religious minorities and, especially, any minorities I missed.  I believe in the role of the law in enforcing anti-discrimination laws.  Indeed, if anything, I believe they should be stronger than they now are... except...

I have to say I cringe even as I write this, except when we're talking about religious institutions.  Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear a case involving a Lutheran school in Michigan who fired a woman.  She says it was because of a disability.  They say that the government has no say in hiring and firing of people who transmit the values and teachings of a religious institution and that her behavior showed that she was not fit to do just that.  That principal is broadly accepted when it comes to clergy.  It makes sense there.  If a religion believes that one must be Jewish to be a Rabbi, it is understandable that they will discriminate against non-Jews.  Ditto for a group that believes women cannot be priests not being held legally culpable for not hiring women priests.  It makes sense that the leader of a religious organization can be required to fit with all of the tenants of that faith, whatever they might be. What happens, though, in a situation where the person under consideration is not clergy and may even have a majority of responsibilities that could rightly be described as "secular?"  In this case, the woman was a teacher who taught primarily "secular" subjects although she did lead prayers and perform other religious duties.  

The case has brought together the strangest bedfellows ever with everyone from the Southern Baptists to The National Council of Churches, Yoruba, and Hare Krishna's supporting the Lutherans.  The Baptist Joint Committee , has filed a brief in support of the school, arguing that 

Indeed, questions that might seem facially nonreligious take on a religious coloration in a dispute between a religious organization and one of its ministers. ...
This case exemplifies how theological or religious issues are almost impossible to avoid in cases involving employees with spiritual duties...  
Ultimately, the church congregation terminated Perich‘s commission because, given her behavior surrounding the request to return, it had lost confidence in her ability to represent the school‘s purposes to children... [I]t is up to the Church, not a jury or judge, to decide whether she could be effective.
It is true that allowing for such a broad interpretation of the current law regarding "ministerial exemptions" may open the door for serious abuse by religious organizations.  Still, a more narrow interpretation impinges on their ability to live out their faith.  The government has no right to do that.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

gonna party like it's my birfday. it's my birfday!

It's my birthday.  That pulls together a bunch of different threads for me.  On the one hand, it is a day like any other day.  'nough said...  but it is good to set time aside to be aware of the passage of time, of people and places and experiences that are important to us and to celebrate and commemorate.  It doesn't have to be expensive or elaborate.  It just needs to be.

So we're celebrating.  And it won't be expensive or elaborate.  We blew way more money than we could afford on our recent trip to Kauai so it can't be either.  I'll be thankful for family and friends, for technology that kept me alive way beyond most of the men in my family, and for blessings too numerous to even remember let alone list.

Cheryl and I started last night by stopping by a wine bar in Lompoc called D'vine.  It was our first time there.  We'll be sure to go back.  We had some nice local wine and heard some great music by Owen Plant (who we have coming back to the Cambridge Drive Concert Series in January).  We weren't planning to eat anything but they had this desert that wouldn't let us not try it.  It was a dark chocolate chili tart with candied apple smoked bacon.  It was soooo good and was just perfect with red wine.

Today... I'm beginning by trying to put off finishing my sermon.  It is not an easy passage (Matthew 21:33-46) and I've never preached on it before so I can't even cheat and pull out an old sermon.  So, I blog first and then I'll get back to it.

For dinner, like many folk, the birthday person gets to pick either a favorite restaurant or a favorite meal.  Cheryl is an amazing cook.  She can do sophisticated and fancy and she can also do peasant food.  I like both.  We can get sophisticated pretty easily in Santa Barbara and some kinds of peasant food, especially Mexican, but other peasant foods are just not available.  Good pizza is very difficult to get on the west coast period and the people's Italian food is almost as difficult to find.  Back in Philly and Pittsburgh, every few blocks there was a knock you off the bar stool neighborhood Italian restaurant.  Here... there just aren't.  Cheryl makes a red sauce, called gravy in Philly, that is as good as any I've ever had anywhere  and a killer meatball.  So that is what I requested.  We'll have a nice super Tuscan, the Tocata Riserva from Mandolina and some store bought deserts.  Cheryl also makes some amazing deserts but if she made an entire flour less chocolate torte I'd eat it.  So we bought deserts from a local bakery.  They won't be as good as hers, but I'll be finished with it this evening and won't have all of those evil calories calling me.

Now... back to the sermon.  Thanks for the diversion.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

NGD

NGD - stands for New Guitar Day... and it isn't quite accurate.  I've been on vacation and therefore away from blogging.  The NGD took place just before I left on vacation (more about that later) and I am sooooo excited.  And it was only a new guitar for me...

Some of you realize that I am a huge fan of Lowden Guitars.  George is a genius and has a design that is different enough from anything else out there to be uniquely his own with a distinctive sound.  He was also the first steel string builder to use cedar for tops to a significant degree - again a different sound than the more traditional spruce tops of most American designed guitars.  Lowdens aren't for everyone, but they work for me.  I've been playing a Lowden as my primary guitar since 1987 when I bought an L25C from  little music store in New Hope, PA that was going out of business.  That first guitar, which I deeply loved, was stolen in Philly in '99.  At that point, a friend loaned me another Lowden while the company built me a very beautiful replacement that I also love and have been playing since receiving it in 2000.  After the theft, I watched for my guitar to show up and still do check e-bay and craigslist every now and then, hoping to run into it again.  It really was my guitar but I have, for the most part, given up hope of ever seeing it again.  There was something special about the guitars built by the Lowden company in the late 80's and I've been hoping to get one at some point.  Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to purchase one so when I've seen one come up for sale, I've longingly said... "Oh well..."

A few weeks ago I came across an ad on a guitar forum looking to trade a Lowden S10 from that era for a Taylor.  Normally this wouldn't be much of a possibility as Lowdens are significantly more expensive than Taylors.  This particular Lowden was pretty beaten and had a few issues that made it less desirable and therefore worth a little less... and I had a Taylor 314CE for a back-up guitar, although not the particular model the other individual was looking for.  I dropped him a note anyway and what do you know, we were able to work out a trade.  Off went the Taylor to Colorado and the Lowden made its way to California.

The guitar arrived and it is as I expected.  It is a "lower" end Lowden with two piece neck construction rather than the typical 5 piece Lowden neck and  had come from the factory with a pickup and two little holes in the side for controls, the controls having been removed, leaving two little holes - see the left photo.   That also meant a different saddle arrangement as Lowdens are designed with a split saddle for better intonation.  At that period in time, there were no under-the-saddle pickups that worked with split saddles so Lowdens with factory pickups from that era had a single wider saddle rather than their standard split arrangement - see above.  Also, there were some Lowdens from that era that had problems with the bridges coming loose.  An easy but very undesirable fix was to drill holes and use bolts to solidify the joint.  That had been done to this guitar.  It also shows the wear and tear of 25 years of hard play and the finish is worn and scratched.  She looks as if she'd been through a war.  And the hard case is beaten, cracked, and has a few holes.  All of that brings the value down and puts it closer to the trade range of a Taylor 314CE (what I had to trade).

Here's the most important info about the guitar.  It sounds AMAZING!  It is every bit a Lowden from the late '80's.  Even the under-the-saddle pickup, which I typically don't care for, sounds good.  It is the perfect backup guitar for my primary Lowden and I am sooooo happy with the trade.  It could even become my primary gigging guitar.  FWIW, I heard from the person I traded and he is thrilled with the Taylor so everyone is good.

So, what does a Lowden sound like?  Listen to the songs in the player in the right column and you can hear both my 87 guitar and the 2000 guitar.  Heartbeat is a good example of the newer guitar and Celtic Dreams and Call Down Thunder are the old one.  You can guess at the other songs.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sing Off

Sing Off is one of my guilty pleasures... so much great music!

here's the preview for this year's show...

where did the carriage returns go?

There has been a change in the format of blogger and somehow, the way I was using it, it left out the carriage returns.  I apologize and fixed the two posts without carriage returns.  happy reading

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I can do math

On the day after Labor Day, I feel the need to write a short piece about what strikes me as the most important social issue for us in the US right now - jobs. There simply aren't enough of them. Far too many people have been out of work for far too long. Safety net programs are both inadequate and losing their efficacy and more and more folk are falling through the cracks. All of the politicians are marching out their plans to create jobs and frankly all of them fail to consider the long term. That is fine and indeed, that is appropriate at this time when we are in such a crisis. The question then is, do the programs work.

 Here's where the math comes in. Laying off government workers makes more people unemployed. Immediately. Unemployed people don't spend money which causes businesses to lay off people which causes spending to go down which causes businesses to lay of more people and the spiral goes down. Take away jobs... and the number of jobs goes down... in a spiral. Cutting government contracts makes people unemployed. Similar but more complicated arguments could be made regarding infrastructure and education although both are more long term issues and so probably don't fit in this discussion. 

Some folk will come out with plans that advocate lowering taxes on businesses or lessening environmental regulations and safety regulations. Again, I think in the short term, that might be fine as a stop gap to get things moving.  Here's the problem. Neither works. Businesses already have money, what they don't have is customers. Cutting taxes on businesses doesn't create customers. Lowering safety standards and environmental protections doesn't create customers. Even cutting taxes on individuals doesn't help that much because it only impacts the folk who have jobs. What we need are jobs... and they will follow customers... but without jobs, we get no customers.

So what can the government do? Spend more money. Yes, I know that would raise the deficit and it certainly isn't a good strategy for the long term, but in our immediate crisis, it is what we need. Jobs are the presenting problem. If your house is on fire you don't stop the firefighters from hosing down the house because you're worried about water damage. You deal with that after the fire is out. The deficit is like water damage while the job situation is clearly a fire. Government should be hiring more people, not laying them off. Government should be passing money out to the states for every program that can be kick started with an infusion of cash not cutting back. Government should be hiring folk to go in and clean up after Irene. Government should be investing in research, supporting new technologies and strategies to make us more competitive. Government should be spending more, not less. If it means borrowing money. Borrow it. Interest rates are lower than they have ever been. Take advantage of that. Spend. Spend. Spend. And do it in a way that the money ends up in the pockets of real people and puts real people back to work so that businesses can begin to see customers and so need to hire more workers... and the spiral begins to go back up again. Then, when the population are more stable financially, the government can begin to wrestle with dealing with the long term problems.

Monday, September 05, 2011

they can choose when they're old enough

We've all heard that statement from parents and I'm sure it is meant with all sincerity - "I don't want to impose a religion on my children... they can make their own decision when they're older." I'm not trying to sound insensitive here but... it's a crock.

 First off, whatever you teach your children, they're going to make their own decisions when they get old enough. That is human nature. It is what we, as parents hope for, that our children will grow into fully functional adults who can look at complex issues and make decisions for themselves. You can't make it happen, and more importantly, you can't stop that from happening. To imply that somehow by raising a child in a religious tradition will keep them from making their own decisions about faith is just silly.

But there is a way a parent can make it more difficult... By not giving a child a perspective, by not providing the child with tools, you can make it much more difficult for them to make informed and intelligent decisions regarding religious life. Let me give some parallel examples. When our children hit age 9, they were required to take up a musical instrument. Alexis chose folk harp and John chose violin. We paid for lessons and made them practice. John got pretty good as a violinist and Alexis still has her harp, but neither really plays any longer. That was their decision... but had they decided otherwise, starting instruments in adulthood is much more difficult than starting as a child. Believe me, I know.

Second, neither of our children were forced to learn a second language as a child. Guess what, both are mono-lingual. I think Alexis would have been very gifted there and has touches of a variety of languages but the pathways of her brain were not formed correctly as a young child to make learning languages easier and she only has a smattering of each. Let me give a positive example. Both of my children grew up in very diverse settings interacting with people of a number of racial groups, economic classes, educational backgrounds, and sexual orientations and identities. Both are able to easily fit into just about any setting and be respectful and empathetic. 

And here is a direct example. Some years ago, one of my close friends with two daughters, one the age of my daughter, suddenly passed away. His young family was in a shambles but the church did exactly what a church is supposed to do and offered an amazing amount of support and caring. It happened that the wife had grown up in a family with no faith. Her sister watched as the church rallied around her and as her own faith gave her strength in a time that made no sense to anyone. The sister was literally amazed. I learned about a year later that she had gone home and began a search for a faith that she could embrace. It wasn't easy as she had no idea even where to begin... except she had seen faith in action as a community of grace and love cared for her sister and nieces. How different from her nieces' perspective when they grew up knowing what a real faith community looks like and how it acts.

For an adult to "make their own decision" regarding a religious tradition, it is sooooo much easier when they have a background, a perspective, a language from which to begin. That child very well may reject your religious tradition, but if you really want to enable them to make an informed and meaningful choice when they're older, give them a background in childhood. Let them participate in a tradition and discover the riches there. Give them a language so they know what they truly need and truly don't. Let them see what faith in life really looks like. Give them training so they have someplace to start.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It's all about Jesus

I am involved in an interfaith group and have a great deal of respect for most other religions. I believe in my heart of hearts that virtually all religions have some truth in them (and none, including my own, have all) and so have something to teach me. I also realize how much of what one believes is a result of culture and setting. Had I been born in Pakistan, I would likely be a good Muslim boy, in Tibet, a good Buddhist... you get the picture. I know at least a little abut a lot of religions and have good friends who are believers in a variety of faiths.

I marvel at the way my Muslim friends live their faith in their daily lives. I wish I had the centeredness of my Buddhist friends. I have a Hindu friend who has such an incredible sense of the Holy all around her... she sees God where I see weeds. I'm jealous of the deep roots my Jewish friends have. Even within the Christian tradition, there are very different streams - the seriousness of many conservatives, the dedication of many Anabaptists, the commitment to liberation in many minority traditions, the rootedness of the Orthodox... you get the picture. There are also religious traditions in which I don't have friends but I've still learned a little about them - the care the Jain have for all living things, the commitment to standing up for the oppressed that is central to Sikhism, the close community of the Mormons. Yes, I may misunderstand some of the traditions, oversimplify or give in to stereotypes, but I haven't run into a religious tradition that didn't have something I needed to hear.

As you can guess, I don't believe that everyone who doesn't believe like I believe is going to hell. I don't believe God requires one to be a follower of Jesus to find salvation. That is another discussion that I don't want to get into now - just so you understand what I believe and where I'm coming from.

So why am I a Christian vs. something else or some amalgam of a variety of traditions - a JewBu or ChristLim or whatever? Jesus. It is that simple. I find Jesus revolutionary, compelling, and impossible to ignore. When I think of God, it is always through the lens of Jesus. When I wrestle with truth, it is always through the lens of Jesus. When I struggle with my life and the direction I feel I should go, it is always in the context of the cliche'ed question, "what would Jesus do?" Jesus is the one who challenges me to be more, in whom I am inspired as to what that more might be, the one in whom I experience as close as I can get to the fulness of God.

I don't claim to have all of Jesus sussed out. Indeed, I don't think the Christian tradition has him all sussed out (which is why, even though I do believe that Jesus is the Truth, the Christian tradition doesn't have all the truth. We don't "have" Jesus, but hopefully he has us). And I know that there are lots of interpretations of who he is and was. We each see Jesus through a set of lenses formed by our background and culture and even preconceptions but however colored that picture might be, some of the real Jesus still shines through. So, my task as a follower of Jesus is to work to get better and better lenses until they are transparent and don't distort him at all... probably a never ending task, but one to which I'm committed. For me, it is all about Jesus.

Monday, August 29, 2011

presidential religion & article 6



The other day Michele Bachman was questioned by Byron York of the Washington Examiner regarding what it meant for her to submit to her husband. The audience booed and since then lots of talking heads have said that her faith is a private matter and is out of bounds for questions. She answered, “Thank you for that question, Byron. What submission means to me—if that’s what your question is—it means respect.”

Then there was a blog on the Washington Post written by Richard Dawkins attacking Rick Perry on some of his faith stances, particularly his dismissal of evolution.

All of this makes me want to write about the 6th article of the constitution again. Article 6, paragraph 3 of the constitution says, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." The argument that has come from some quarters, both liberal and conservative, is basically that you cannot vote against someone on religious grounds. As I said in the previous post, that is just plain stupid.
The article is referring to a legal test. Nobody can be excluded from running for president on the grounds of his or her religion or lack thereof. The article says nothing abut an individual's right to vote for whomever they want for any reason that is important to them. If I want to vote for someone just because they practice one religious tradition or against someone because they practice another, that is my right.


I want to know and everyone needs to know what Michele Bahman means when she says she is submissive to her husband. If she is thinking about bombing Palestine, decides against it, and then her husband tells her it is the right thing to do, they discuss it and still disagree... I want to know whether that means she will just acquiesce. If I vote for her for president, I want to know what role her spouse will play. Will he be an important advisor, as I would expect virtually all presidential spouses have been, or would he be the final say, after all, she said that she submits to her husband. And frankly, if she really means that means that she respects him... then she is lying to everyone about her theology and that tells me even more.

I want to know if she truly believes that the earthquake and the hurricane were messages from God to control spending? And how does she know they weren't messages from God to cut back on greenhouse gasses or to provide medical care for the poor? And are all disasters to be read as messages from God?

I want to ask Rick Perry what he thinks about education when he writes off commonly accepted scientific conclusions, about which, I'd bet he has very little real information? Does he really believe that a majority climate scientists are fudging their data to further their careers? And if he thinks that, what does his understand about the way that scientific research works? I want to know why, when disasters hit places other than Texas, it is the judgment of God while when a terrible drought hits Texas, it is a call to prayer rather than an indictment of the present administration's sin? And the cynic in me wants to know why he thinks God did not answer their prayers?

Hey, it isn't about conservatives only. I was thrilled to see that Obama was a member of Jeremiah Wright's church and likely has/had a good understanding of liberation theology. As I've said before he was not my first choice but that piece of knowledge would have made it much easier for me to vote for him as I think liberation theology is a positive theology and reflects a good general understanding of the scriptures. I was saddened when he left that church and that told me something about the role of faith in his life.

All of this is to say that religion or lack thereof is an important facet of what makes a person and must be fair game when we're trying to figure out who to vote for. The same is true about their education, I'd like to know what they studied and where... it does tell us a good bit about their formation. I even want to know about their career paths. A lawyer is trained to think like a lawyer. A physician is trained to look at the world through a very specific set of lenses. A business owner or a career military person likewise seems things in a specific way. And I want to know where they grew up. Did they spend their childhood years in a wealthy white suburb or a mixed race middle class neighborhood in a large city or did they grow up on a farm in the heartland? Clearly, none of these characteristics are necessarily definitive, but they are all part of the puzzle and they all deserve consideration and tell us something about the candidate.

So Mrs. Bachman, was does it mean when you say you submit to your husband and how will that play out if you are elected? Mr. Perry, how is it that you write off a scientific theory that has virtually unanimous support in the scientific community and how does that impact how you understand education and how you understand the judgement of experts in any given field? Mr Obama, how do you understand the theme of liberation in the Bible and the prophetic tradition that stood against those with power and for those on the margins and how would that impact a second term if you receive one?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

up from the bottom

I get a daily meditation in my e-mail from Fr. Richard Rohr via the Center for Contemplation and Action. Today's meditation has another perspective on my semi-tongue in cheek comment that faith requires one to be liberal. I've quoted all of it here...

The terms “right” and “left” came from the Estates General in France. It’s interesting that now we use them as our basic political terms. On the left sat the ordinary people, on the right sat the nobility and the clergy! (What were the clergy doing over there?!) I think you see the pattern.

In history you will have these two movements, because we didn’t have the phenomenon of the middle class until very recently. The vast majority of people have been poor, even in Jesus’ time. The people who wrote the books and controlled the institutions, however, have almost always been on the right. Much of history has been read and interpreted from the side of the "winners,” or the right, except for the unique revelation called the Bible, which is an alternative history from the side of the enslaved, the dominated, the oppressed, and the poor, leading up to the totally scapegoated Jesus.


It is interesting that the history of the terms - right and left - reflect the demarcation between poor folk and those with power and riches. To some degree, that seems still to be true with the wealthy and powerful tending to lean more to the right while those on the margins of life tend to lean more to the left. How the middle class plays into this is even more interesting, especially as we watch the middle class shrink.

I'm struck by Rohr's comment that the Bible is an alternative history written from the viewpoint of the poor, the enslaved, the dominated, the oppressed... The central story is one of liberation, first of slaves in the Hebrew scriptures then of the outsiders in the Christian scriptures with the prophets in the middle crying out for justice to those oppressed by the folk with power and wealth. And that the clergy, like many of the religious hierarchy throughout the scriptures, sat on the side of those with power rather than with the people...necessitating the prophets to speak the word from God to those in power when the professional clergy either refuse to do so or are deaf to the still small voice of the Spirit.

lots to think about...

Friday, August 19, 2011

30 days



What are you going to do for the next 30 days?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

read your spam?

Do you ever read your spam? Yes, I know there are monsters out there and it is likely that your spam folder has lots of stuff that you don't want to read, lots that is a waste of time, and lots more that you just shouldn't read. Still, every now and then something shows up - and it clearly is spam - that still offers something positive.

I regularly look at the titles in my spam folder to see if there is anything with a remote possibility of being worthwhile. Usually there isn't. Today I got an ad for a book. Now I have no idea whether the book is worth buying - It is called The 100/0 Principle: The Secret of Great Relationships. Since it was spam, I'll not include the link but you can google it if you're interested. Anyway, the ad copy reminded me of those movie trailers that give you the very best scene of the film and, after seeing the film, you wished you had just watched the trailer again... The ad copy had four ideas that are great when it comes to relationships. I don't have any idea what more they had in the book.

here they are:
· STEP 1 - Determine what you can do to make the relationship work...then do it. Demonstrate respect and kindness to the other person, whether he/she deserves it or not.
· STEP 2 - Do not expect anything in return. Zero, zip, nada.
· STEP 3 - Do not allow anything the other person says or does (no matter how annoying!) to affect you. In other words, don't take the bait.
· STEP 4 - Be persistent with your graciousness and kindness. Often we give up too soon, especially when others don't respond in kind. Remember to expect nothing in return.


good stuff! Obviously there could be situations where following these rules of behavior could be counter-productive or even self-destructive, but as a general understanding it makes sense to me. Give 100%. Expect nothing in return. Everything that comes back will just be gravy.