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.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I have faith

and therefore must be a liberal.

Back in my seminary days, at what is now called Palmer Theological Seminary - which was then a pretty centrist American Baptist seminary, one of my profs said that it is not possible to be both Christian and a Republican. In part, he may have been trying to get a rise out of some of the students, but he did believe what he was saying. He was saying that the political stances of the conservative movement and the platform stances of the Republican Party were antithetical to Christian ethics. I have continuing connections with that professor and he would say that this is more true now than it was back in the 70's.

I read an article today in the Scientific American that says foundational that I think makes my profs statement even more true. The article shows that positive images carry more weight with liberals than conservatives or, to phrase it another way, that conservatives have a "bad is stronger than good bias." It is no wonder then, that the article quotes William F. Buckley who said that conservatism "stands athwart history, yelling "Stop." For conservatives, change is always for the worse and the future is only dark. For them, our role is to hang onto the past as tenaciously as we can because things are clearly falling apart.

This strikes me as the opposite of faith. If I truly trust in the power of a loving God, then how can I but see the future as positive? As a child, I had a plaque on my wall with a quote from the early missionary Adoniram Judson, "The future is as bright as the promises of God." If I believe that, how can I envision anything but a future of beauty and wonder and progress? Now, I know that many conservatives would respond that I cannot ignore the power of sin. Fine, I'll give them that. I have experienced the powers of sin and each day I read about it in the newspaper and see it on television and online. Sin is very, very real... and it is bigger than many of them would acknowledge as it wields power both in and through individuals and in and through larger societal systems. But, sin is not the final word. I also believe in the good news of Easter when the powers of sin and death are overcome by the power of God's love. I believe Paul when in Roman's he speaks of God's love which overcomes all negative powers in the universe. I believe the prophet Isaiah when he speaks for God, "look, I'm doing something new."

Standing astride history yelling "stop!" by definition means standing against the movement of God to a better future. Living with a basic orientation of "no" is a position of no faith rather than one of faith. So, again, I have faith... therefore I am a liberal.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

just say YES

but you have to mean it...

Alexis told a wonderful story about her time in India. They deliver everything there and she and a bunch of friends were ordering ice cream from Baskin & Robbins to be delivered to their house. They called and asked, "What flavors of chocolate do you have?" "Yes." (with an Indian accent). "Do you have Rocky Road?" "Yes" (keep the accent going here). "Dark chocolate?" "Yes." "Chocolate with chocolate chips?" "German chocolate with coconut?" "Yes." "How about strawberry?" "Yes." "Mango?" "Yes." So they placed a complicated order with at least 4 distinct kinds of ice cream. 45 minutes later a bicycle delivery guy arrives with a package, takes his money and rides off... vanilla.

Saying yes without meaning it doesn't accomplish anything, but meaning it can open amazing doors. A week or so ago John Bohlinger had a great column in Premier Guitar where he quoted Tina Fey's book, Bossy Pants, extensively. Fey say's that when improvising, you need to say, "yes." Anything else stops the process.

While Bohlinger is talking about improvisation on guitar and Fey in comedy, I think the general idea is a good one for life.

A few months ago, I got a call from Stefana Dadas to play a gig. Her normal guitar player was not available nor was her back-up. The gig included a few middle easternish tunes and a belly dancer - far outside of my musical vocabulary and my comfort zone. I thought there would be a keyboard player though, so I'd have some cover... and said, "yes." It turned out there was no keyboard player, just two vocalists, a drummer, a percussionist, a bass player, and me. Had I known how much sonic space I needed to fill, I may not have said "yes." I'm glad I did. I got stretched a bit. Met some great musicians and a wonderful dancer. (thanks Stefana, Ei, Kali, Budhi, Randy, & Mason!) And we sounded good. Because I said "yes," I got to be a part of something wonderful. You can see some video clips here.

Last Friday we presented Jill Knight at Cambridge Drive Concerts and Jill invited me to sit in on a few songs. I have to say that my first inclination was to say, "no..." Then I thought about the article and said, "yes!" I'm glad a did. Here's a link to a previous post about that evening with a video of one of the songs I joined. Again, saying yes, allowed me to be a part of something beautiful.

Now, it is true, saying "yes," doesn't guarantee that things will turn out wonderful. Sometimes there will be messes. The possibilities of both are there. Still, you can be sure that if you don't say "yes," the beauty will not happen. Take the chance. Say "yes," mean it, and see what comes your way.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

a great song

Last night we presented Jill Knight at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series. Jackie Morris opened for Jill. It was a wonderful, wonderful show. Jill is a great songwriter, a great guitar player, and an engaging performer (if you ever have the opportunity to see her perform, don;'t miss it!).

Jill's most recent CD, Rare October is stripped down to just voice and guitar. It is perfectly recorded and perfectly performed. The songs are strong enough to stand with nothing other than a voice and a guitar, albeit a wonderful, soulful voice and stellar guitar work. That CD is in heavy rotation for me right now.

Last night, Jill performed many of the songs from that CD in a slightly different format. She brought along monster bass player, Bobby Santa Cruz. There were numerous jokes through the evening that guitar players can throw out some clams but there is no room for mistakes for a bass player. Well, Bobby provided this wonderful bottom end that grooved and added just enough and never too much. The songs still shown through. Jill even invited me to sit in on a few songs. I was thrilled to be able to play with her and enjoyed those few moments of thinking about adding a little icing to those great songs.

Bottom line of all of this is that a great song doesn't need whiz bang production, 14 highly paid studio musicians, or lasers and lights. All it needs is a competent, heartfelt performance.

Here's a video of "Carolina" with Bobby Santa Cruz on bass and me trying to add a little icing.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

he said, she said

There has been more than a little discussion regarding whether or not Anders Breivik should be called a Christian. Fox news has complained that the mainstream media jumped to conclusions and called him a "Christian Terrorist," while others such as Jon Stewart have called them on their hypocrisy

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Regardless of what you think about Breivik, we're back at the question I've raised before... who get's to decide? Who gets to define the terms? Do Breivik's action, by definition exclude him from being a Christian? Did Bin Laden's actions define him as something other than a Muslim? Who decides and how?

My friend Bob Cornwall just put a piece up on his blog written by Margaret Mitchell that raises the same questions, specifically regarding Breivik. Here's a quote from the article that I think is important.

In the days since the attack and arrest, the media has been abuzz with reflections on whether or not Breivik can or should be called a “Christian.” Each argument depends upon some stated or implied criterion for what constitutes Christian identity: a form of “belief,” of personal piety or religious experience, of ethical comportment, of ritual practice, of theological commitments, of cultural identity, of ecclesial participation, of relationship to political orders. These arguments tell us as much or more about the commitments of the authors as they do about Breivik.

She points to Breivik's extensive use of materials written by conservative Christians, calling for armed resistance against Muslims and secularists as important for understanding him.

I still don't know who gets to define the terms... but I can clearly say that Breivik is not my brand of Christian... and neither are the folk he cited in his manifesto - Joseph Farah and Michael Bradley.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Brothers

I've been reading a lot more recently (as long as you allow that listening to an audiobook is reading.) I don't have an e-reader though... Last week, I read my first book on a screen - my computer rather than an e-reader - and the experience was OK. I didn't have that wonderful tactile experience of turning a page but a book is a book is a book. The book I read was The Brothers, the first novel published by my daughter.

I have to say that I enjoy fantasy and science fiction and I love my daughter but with that disclaimer, I really enjoyed the book. It falls into the YA fantasy genre so it is a quick and easy read but it is not shallow. Khloe Alwell's struggles, while not exactly the same as every teenage girl's, are close enough that we can all identify - who am I? how do I fit in? what is my place in the world? how do I find meaning and purpose? The characters all ring true.

I found it a fun read and I'm really looking forward to the second book in the trilogy. Alexis is only charging $3.99 for it on Smashwords so it is about the same investment as a latte at Starbucks.

Monday, August 01, 2011

compromise? not

It is said that you can tell a good compromise because nobody is happy. The idea is that both sides have given significantly and that a higher goal has been met. It involves a common commitment to a definable end. Next, it involves both sides sharing their deepest hopes and dreams and then trading back and forth, giving a little here and a little there, until a solution is reached that reflects both sides giving up roughly equivalent amounts and that definable end being met. I believe in compromise. My wife would tell you that all too often I give too much.

What happened in Washington today was not a compromise. It was capitulation. Let me tell you why.

First off, there was no common definable end. There is a significant number in the Republican party who basically do not believe in a strong federal government. How can compromised be reached regarding government spending when some parties do not believe in government?

Second, there are some in the Republican party who do not have the best interest of the American people at heart. Mitch McConnell has proudly said that his primary goal is to see that Obama is a one term president. The easiest way to see that happen is to see the economy crash and burn. On the other hand, if the recovery took off like gang busters tomorrow, his goal would be impossible. So, tell me, what his strategy should be? And then there are some of the Tea Party folk who truly do believe that a strong federal government is a bad thing. Finally, there are those who are beholden to very wealthy and connected benefactors who are doing quite well with the status quo and don't want to see a stronger, more educated, more active middle class.

Third, nobody brought the liberal concerns to the discussion. Yes, I have heard many conservatives call Obama a socialist or even a communist. He isn't. Let me say that again, HE ISN'T. At best he is a centrist pragmatist. I have been saying since before he even won the nomination that he is right of center. I can't think of one thing he has done that would make me conclude otherwise. True, he is to the left of Michele Bachmann... but that still doesn't make him a liberal. It makes him sensible. So, what did liberals want that never even got discussed? Liberals wanted significant cuts in the military including an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not on the table. Indeed, discussions about military cuts usually still involve significant increases over current spending, just cuts in proposed increases. Liberals wanted significant increases in taxes on the wealthiest Americans. Never even in the same room. Liberals wanted to see deficit reduction come long after job creation which they see as requiring more, not less spending. That wasn't even discussed. Liberals want to see a plan for controlling medical costs that removes the profit motive from medical care. That wasn't even seriously discussed when Obama's medical plans were being raised let alone now. Liberals wanted separate talks regarding the debt ceiling and other economic issues. Again, never discussed. The liberals got none of their hopes or dreams. What did they receive? Medicare and Social Security were not cut... but the Republicans didn't really want them cut anyway or they would never have been re-elected. Now they can blame any fiscal problems on the Dems who refused to cut in areas they never would have cut anyway.

The conservatives got everything they wanted and more. They moved the discussion from jobs to deficit without showing how the two are even remotely related. No increases in taxes were discussed or are on the table for the future. Indeed, McConnell has promised that any representatives he sends to the "super congress" will be strong anti-tax increase folk. Again, they will be in a position to completely derail any possibilities of true compromise. They received significant cuts in the social programs upon which poor and middle class folk rely with more to come without touching the third rails of SS or Medicare. What did they give up? They didn't get a balanced budget amendment... which likely would never have passed anyway as it is simply a stupid idea. They didn't get cuts in Social Security or Medicare - see above. Now it is true that the truly anti-government crowd did not get to bring down the government... but did anyone with any sense really want that?