Sunday, May 29, 2011

let's play

I love this video...

We have a wonderful nursery school at Cambridge Drive Community Church called the Goleta Valley Nursery School where the core of the philosophy is that children learn through play. Every aspect of the curriculum is based on that premise and it is a wonderful, child centered place to be.

I believe they are absolutely on target. But... but... play as a way of being in the world, of finding joy, of experiencing the gifts of God is something we should never abandon. I think that is, in part, what Jesus was talking about when he said that in order to fully enter the kingdom of God we must become like children (Mark 10:15)- experiencing joy and wonder in each moment.

Watch the video again... wouldn't it be wonderful to approach life with the same joy and playfulness as the child (and the otter for that matter)?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Bible Guarantees It

We've all seen the advertisements that were running before May 21st with the tag live - "The Bible Guarantees It." And then, nothing unusual happened on May 21st. What are people to conclude? The Bible is not reliable. Of course, many conservative Christians have responded by saying that the Bible does guarantee many things... just not that, and they have a long list of things they would say the Bible does guarantee.

I'd agree that the Bible does guarantee a few things: God loves us. God's yearnings for us are more wonderful than we can imagine. Grace truly is amazing... but beyond that, not much. Some time back I quoted The Shadow Rock UCC Church in Phoenix who say "We know that to understand the Bible means taking it seriously but not literally." I'd go a little farther, I think, and say, "Taking the Bible seriously means not taking it literally," and I take the Bible seriously. It is a central book in my faith. There are lessons there that can be found nowhere else. I believe that God chooses to speak through that book in a unique way and it truly is inspired. I believe the Bible... but, I do not believe that it provides predictions regarding the future. I do not believe that it provides simple answers to complex questions. I do not believe that proof texts can easily be applied to the issues we face today. I do not believe it is a science book nor do I believe that it is a history book in the sense we understand history books to work today. Taking the Bible seriously requires that I understand these things before I open the pages and read stories, letters, poems, and songs that serve to shape my faith and help to give direction to my life.

So how do I respond to the folk who are distraught because the Bible seems no longer to be trustworthy? I tell them that they don't understand what it is or how it works.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 22

I'm sure by now you've heard the news from the e bible fellowship .com and family radio...

I don't believe it. Indeed, I don't believe in the second coming in that form at all. I have to admit that I'm tempted to make fun of those folk. I've received an invitation to an after-rapture party. I've chuckled at the new business offering pet care to the left behind and well-loved pets of believers caught up in the rapture at a serious pre-paid price. I've scratched my head at folk who feel the need to quantify the end of the world... And then I heard some interviews on NPR with true believers. Now I'm just sad.

There are a bunch of folk who believe this interpretation to the point that they've left jobs, sold off property, given up anything to be ready for the rapture on May 21, 2011. I'm sad because of what I believe they will face on May 22, 2011. Will their faith be completely destroyed? How will they put their lives back together? What about relationships they sacrificed to this belief? Can they be redeemed?

I'm sad about the other fundamentalist groups who are drawing lines in the sand and calling the true believers of this interpretation heretics. I'm sad about the more liberal Christians who just write these folk off as crazies without seeing the depth of their faith and the depth of their need for... something.

And I'm sad for those who look at this and paint all people of faith with the same brush... one that spells "CRAZY" and write off any possibility of a faith that speaks to their real lives.

So... I won't be partying on May 22... I'll be sad.

Monday, May 16, 2011

a sideman's blues

I love to play as a sideman. I have played guitar or bass with some wonderful performers. Currently, I play regularly with Jamie Green and really enjo playing with her and Bob Terry on cajon (Bob is an amazing drummer). I get to make wonderful music without being 100% responsible for what is happening. I put the date on my calendar, learn the music, show up, and hopefully play well.

Here's the problem... a good side man is transparent. They play exactly what is on the recording, nothing more, nothing less. Bob works in artist relations for Yamaha drums and tells lots of stories of great players not getting a gig because they cannot reproduce the exact sounds on a recording without purchasing some new something or other. And it isn't even the same rhythms we're talking about, it is the exact sound. I'm not particularly interested in being transparent.

When you move from a recording with a full band to a trio with one acoustic guitar and a cajon or a duo with one acoustic guitar, it just doesn't work to play exactly what the guitar player on the recording played. The context is too different and you end up with a live performance that is pretty anemic. Sometimes that is fine for the songwriter and sometimes it isn't as they sometimes fill in the missing parts in their head and hear something the audience doesn't hear. And two different sidemen might hear what is needed in very different ways.

Then there is the other piece of the puzzle... I'm not particularly interested in playing what was done on the recording even when it does work. I have my own aesthetic and the joke is true... "how many guitar players does it take to change a lightbulb?" "However many you have... only one to actually change the lightbulb while the rest talk about how they would have done it better." An example here is a great song of Jamie's called, "Like to Be with You." The part on the recording would work fine live and I could easily play it exactly that way... but I like the way I play it much better, using multiple capos and a bit of a Celtic feel.

Luckily, Jamie lets me play like myself for the most part although there are times when she'll ask me to play something differently. They are her songs and it is her name on the calendar so I do my best to accommodate her desires. I think that most of the time she is happy with what I do but I do get the feeling sometimes that she is dreaming of a sideman who worked with her in LA and who is transparent.

Back in the late 90's and early 00's, I played with my daughter, Alexis. It was a fun project. We wrote some very satisfying music, performed around the northeast and as far away as Des Moines, Iowa. When we started, I was doing a solo thing and had Alexis sit in with me a few times. She had a blast and it eventually became a duo. We performed as "D" and did a record that in part was a senior project for a music production major at the College of St. Rose who had heard us p Alexis has a distinctive voice and a wonderful stage presence and we quickly learned that people weren't really interested in me so we switched the name to "Alexis d." Even though we were performing under her name, it still was a partnership in terms of the music. So, I didn't have to worry about being transparent as I was the one who wrote the guitar parts from the beginning.

It has been about 5 years since we've performed together but Alexis is staying with us for two months while her husband is doing an educational program in New Jersey and we have a few gigs lined up including opening for John Batdorf at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series in June. She isn't quite as thrilled as I am since the lyrical content of some of the songs reflects a very different place in life for her... still, I'm excited that I get to play ME a few times.

You can hear some of the Alexis d material on the player in the right hand column.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

National Day of Prayer

Today is designated the National Day of Prayer - an event that has been held since 1952. As violations of the separation of church and state go, it is pretty minor, but the symbolism is important and it is a bad idea. I am against it both on constitutional grounds and on religious grounds. Here's why...

To whom are we praying? Even among Christians, one could argue that the God we pray to is not all the same. The folk at Westboro Baptist are a clear example of this when they say that the God they worship does not love everyone... my God does. Clearly we are not worshiping the same God. I once had a discussion with an orthodox Presbyterian who told me that God had created her brother gay so that God could send him to suffer eternally in hell. That woman and I do not worship the same God. She actually came to that conclusion before me and raised it to me. And that doesn't begin to add all of the variety of religious understandings in our country. So, to whom are we praying? Should we sacrifice a chicken? Bow towards Mecca? Sit in silence? Chant a Sanskrit chant? Recite the Lord's Prayer (which version)? Pray in the name of Jesus? Burn incense? Pray in Hebrew or Coptic or Greek?

And what when the deepest prayers of our hearts conflict? I pray for the end not only of specific wars but of war in general and of the military complex... and I believe it should begin with the immediate dismantling of the American Empire. How do I find common ground with those who would pray for the literal destruction of America's "enemies?" What of those who pray for the assassination of the current president vs. those who pray for his re-election? We can't even ask forgiveness together when different groups would see America as guilty of very different sins.

Some would say to go ahead and pray specifically. They would say to go ahead and pray in the name of Jesus while likely feeling much less comfortable with a prayer to Allah or some god whose name they had never even heard before. In any case, this would marginalize many people some of whom might even feel that praying to whatever other god in whatever other way constitutes sin.

Some would answer that we should pray generic prayers that can apply to any religion... but if we do that, why bother? If the prayers are so generic, so non-specific as to not offend anyone, they have no real meaning.

Another answer is that individuals can each pray privately as they see fit... but people who pray already do that, so again, why bother?

The early Baptists knew that when the state imposes religion, above all else, it damages religion. At the very best, imposed religion weakens faith both by causing it to move to the lowest common denominator and by identifying it with the "earthly institution" of the state. At the worst, it is used as a means of rendering the actions of the state as being above judgment as they are identified with whatever god is being implored.

Finally, the state cannot grant me the right to pray as I see fit nor can it stop me from praying as I see fit. Those actions are simply beyond the power of any state. Some nations have tried to curtail faith and many more nations have persecuted people of a wide variety of religious understandings... but those who believe cannot be stopped from believing as they choose and they cannot be compelled to believe that which they do not.

None of what has been said applies to the population of Americans who do not pray at all, who have no faith in any god. Are we asking them to act against their consciences? their deeply held convictions? Or worse yet, are we reminding them that they are not really "us" and trying to dissociate them from the mainstream of our culture? Again, we are marginalizing folk.

I'm against a national day of prayer. It does nothing to deepen faith. It does nothing to bring our nation to a better place. It does serve to harm real faith and to cause divisions between people. And it clearly is unconstitutional.

That said, I have prayed today. I would have prayed anyway. Indeed, I had forgotten that today is the National Day of Prayer. There is nothing any state can do to make me pray nor to make me stop, short of killing me. So, pray if it is something that is part of your life. It is a good thing to give thanks for the positives of the USA, to ask forgiveness for our cultural shortcomings, and to pray that the negatives will change. And do it again tomorrow and every day. And work to make things better. If you don't pray, then, do something positive today that makes the world a little better. And do it tomorrow as well.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Baptists... again...

On March 24 I out up a post titled Will the Real ____ where I asked who gets to define a term or tradition. I touched on my tradition - the Baptists - and I want to revisit that part of the discussion.
One of my Facebook friends recently made a number of comments about Christians in general and Baptists in particular in a thread about compassion that I want to address without further hijacking that thread. In a first comment he mentioned Westboro Baptist as an example of Baptist "compassion." When I complained about that, he told a story of some very negative experiences with Southern Baptist churches and wondered why Southern Baptists don't speak out about Westboro.
I am not a Southern Baptist. Never have been. Wouldn't be. Couldn't be. Can't speak for them. As I hinted in the earlier thread, I'm not sure they deserve to be called Baptist at all... but that too is another discussion.
So... let me address my friend's statements from my perspective.
I belong to the American Baptist denomination. Pre civil war days, there was basically one large, loosely connected, Baptist group in the US which split over slavery into the Southern Baptist Convention and the group that became the American Baptist Churches, USA. Since that time there have been multiple split offs and new configurations of Baptists. A few years ago I was told that there were 49 Baptist bodies in the United States alone and there are thousands more "independent Baptist" churches that do not formally relate to any larger groupings. Theologically, most are conservative but not all. Some groups, like the Alliance of Baptists, fall solidly in the progressive/liberal camp. Most of the Black Baptist groups are a mix of liberal on issues of economics and race and conservative on sexuality and theology. Many groups are wildly diverse. My denomination, ABCUSA, has no racial group comprising over 50% of the denomination, includes churches that would proudly call themselves fundamentalist and others that are dually aligned with the Unitarian Universalist Association, has had ordained women leaders since the 1800's and many congregations that do not allow women leaders of any kind... you get the picture. Worldwide, there are 218 groups that are members of the Baptist World Alliance.
Some prominent names in Baptist history illustrate that diversity - Martin Luther King Jr., Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Walter Rauschenbusch, Fred Phelps, Albert Mohler Jr, Jerry Falwell, and Roger Williams.
Early Baptist commitments were summarized by Walter Shurden in his book The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms where he identifies four core commitments that define the Baptist movement - soul freedom, church autonomy, freedom of the scripture to speak for itself, and separation of church and state.
All of that is to show that the Southern Baptist Convention is by no means representative of the entire tradition, and indeed, I would argue that they have strayed so far from the main stream of the tradition that they are no longer Baptists at all.
As to the second question - why don't Baptists speak out against Westboro Baptist and its actions? They do. The last time Westboro was making national news the General Secretary of the ABCUSA had a press conference and sent news releases everywhere condemning Westboro's actions and telling everyone that Westboro is not related to ABCUSA. I don't know whether other Baptist groups did the same but I would expect they did. The actions of a denomination condemning Westboro Baptist doesn't have nearly the sex appeal of their despicable actions and so didn't make the news anywhere. It happened, you just didn't hear about it. Blame the media for that, not the Baptists. As far as I know, Westboro Baptist Church is an independent church and is not affiliated with any larger Baptist body and I'm sure they couldn't care less what the ABCUSA has to say to them. Indeed, they likely see the ABCUSA condemnation as a mark of honor.

Monday, May 02, 2011

a parable

I'm struggling with the killing of Osama bin Laden. As most of you know a very important part of my spiritual formation took place among the Anabaptists and I am a pacifist by faith. I also truly believe pacifism works. The immediate response to someone who espouses non-violence is usually something like "they're trying to kill us," or "who will protect the innocent?" as if taking up arms means that nobody on your side dies and the innocent are spared! Violence begets violence. Non-violence opens new possibilities.

This little parable comes back to me often when I think of such times as today...

It was rainy season and a holy man was sitting under a tree in prayer. Nearby a scorpion was cut off on a small mound of dirt, surrounded by the rising waters. As the holy man watched he realized that the scorpion would drown if he didn't act to save it. So, he got up and reached towards the scorpion, which tried to sting him. This happened a number of times while the water continued to rise.

A man who was watching spoke to the holy man, "You're going to get stung if you keep trying to save that scorpion. Don't you know that it is in the nature of the scorpion to sting?"

The holy man smiled and responded, "Don't you know that it is my nature to preserve life? Why should I allow the evil nature of the scorpion to cause me to abandon my good nature?"

it's been a while

since I've posted a music video...

I don't have any idea what this song is about and the video is a little... unusual... but I really like the song. Bizness by tUnE-yArDs