Saturday, March 31, 2007

Studying Religion in School

Stanley Fish is professor of law at Florida International University, and he is a guest columnist in the New York Times today. He weighs in on the the recent article in Time Magazine about whether religious studies ought to be offered in the public schools. Fish doesn't think it is possible to teach religion:

Stephen Prothero of Boston University, who is cited several times by Van Biema (in Time), describes the project and the claim attached to it succinctly: “The academic study of religion provides a kind of middle space. ... It takes the biblical truth claims seriously and yet brackets them for purposes of classroom discussion.” But that’s like studying the justice system and bracketing the question of justice. (How do you take something seriously by putting it on the shelf?)

The truth claims of a religion — at least of religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam — are not incidental to its identity; they are its identity.

The metaphor that theologians use to make the point is the shell and the kernel: ceremonies, parables, traditions, holidays, pilgrimages — these are merely the outward signs of something that is believed to be informing them and giving them significance. That something is the religion’s truth claims. Take them away and all you have is an empty shell, an ancient video game starring a robed superhero who parts the waters of the Red Sea, followed by another who brings people back from the dead. I can see the promo now: more exciting than “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “The Matrix.” That will teach, but you won’t be teaching religion.

Honestly, did he get all the way through law school without ever taking a class in religious studies in college? Does he really think it isn't possible to "bracket" the truth claims of a religion and study its history and belief systems?

Not only that; he seems to be completely ignorant of the fact that there are lots of people in various religious traditions who take seriously the truth claims of their religious traditions but see no need to deny the truth claims of other religious traditions.

I think Mr. Fish ought to stick to teaching law.

Belief in God Yes, Belief in Evolution No

Poll numbers from Newsweek:
A belief in God and an identification with an organized religion are widespread throughout the country, according to the latest NEWSWEEK poll. Nine in 10 (91 percent) of American adults say they believe in God and almost as many (87 percent) say they identify with a specific religion. Christians far outnumber members of any other faith in the country, with 82 percent of the poll’s respondents identifying themselves as such. Another 5 percent say they follow a non-Christian faith, such as Judaism or Islam. Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution; one-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact. Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years; 39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view.
How disheartening. For far too many people being a Christian means turning off one's brain. The Bible is not a scientific textbook. The biblical story of creation is myth not science. It's beautiful myth; it's lousy science.


Here the actual poll questions and numbers:

12. Which one of the following statements come closest to your views about the origin and development of human beings? Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process (or) Humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process (or) God created humans pretty much in the present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so?

God guided process

God had no part

Created in present form

Other/Don't Know

Current Total





Evangelical Protestants





Non-Evangelical Protestants















13. Do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence and widely accepted within the scientific community?


Not well-supported

Don't Know

Current Total




Evangelical Protestants




Non-Evangelical Protestants












So 25% of the self-identified agnostics/athiests in the poll think that God guided the process of evolution and 13% think that humans were created in their present form within the last 10,000 years. Either they found the question confusing or the meaning of being an agnostic/atheist is open to question. It makes me wonder about the meaningfulness of these results. I also would have liked to see question 13 broken into two parts: 1) do you think the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported by evidence; and 2) do you think it is widely accepted within the scientific community. Putting the two questions together blurs the meaning of the response.

Justice Department Credibility Questioned

To me the most amazing aspect of the US Attorney firing fiasco is that these eight fired US Attorneys were Republicans appointed by Bush and fired by Bush, and they all went quietly when they were let go because they were loyal soldiers who understood that they serve at the pleasure of the President. We would never have known a thing about it had a Justice Department official not gone before a Congressional committee and in response to a question about the firings said that they were fired for performance reasons. This falsehood was too much for even these political appointees to take. Here is one of the fired, Bud Cummins, in Salon:
The president had an absolute right to fire us. We served at his pleasure, and that meant we could be dismissed for any reason or for no reason. And we all accepted that fact without complaint. When challenged by Congress, the leaders of the Department of Justice could have refused to explain. Or, they could have explained the truth. But apparently the truth behind some or all of the firings was embarrassing. So, instead, they said it was because of "performance." We didn't accept that, because it wasn't the truth.
As Cummins explains there was no review process implemented for any of them. They still don't know why they were really fired and as he says, given the dissembling by various members of the Department of Justice, these Justice Department employees don't really know either.

Cummins explains the damage this has done to the credibility of the Department of Justice and the US Attorneys offices around the country:

Put simply, the Department of Justice lives on credibility. When a federal prosecutor sends FBI agents to your brother's house with an arrest warrant, demonstrating an intention to take away years of his liberty, separate him from his family, and take away his property, you and the public at large must have absolute confidence that the sole reason for those actions is that there was substantial evidence to suggest that your brother intentionally committed a federal crime. Everyone must have confidence that the prosecutor exercised his or her vast discretion in a neutral and nonpartisan pursuit of the facts and the law.

Being credible is like being pregnant -- you either are, or you aren't. If someone says they "kind of" believe what you say, they are really calling you a liar. Once you have given the public a reason to believe some of your decisions are improperly motivated, then they are going to question every decision you have made, or will make in the future. That is a natural and predictable phenomenon.

It amazes me that the Attorney General still has a job. But then it took four years of ineptitude and disaster to convince the President to get rid of Donald Rumsfeld at Defense. And Gonzeles is a personal friend of the President going back years. So the damage continues.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Wrong Lesson From Vietnam

My Representative, John Kline, has been an unquestioning supporter of the war in Iraq. He does not support the Democratic-sponsored timetable for a troop withdrawal. On Tuesday, he wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explaining his position:

Kline, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, drafted the letter and sought out the others for their signatures. In it, he contends that congressional interference hurt troop morale during the Vietnam War, and any effort now to set timetables for withdrawing from Iraq will have the same effect.

"Our service as soldiers, airmen, and Marines in Vietnam made us witnesses to the demoralizing effects of interference by those in Washington," the letter says. "We are compelled by these memories to ensure that today's service members receive the support they need without political constraints."

John Kline learned the wrong lesson in Vietnam. The right lesson is that while the American public can be duped for a time in the name of patriotism, eventually they wake up and will not support unnecessary wars. In Vietnam, it worked for a time to scare people with the domino theory of Communist takeover of the world, but eventually the politicians couldn't hide why we were really there and what was going on. And when the public caught on and support for the war evaporated, the troops had no business being there any more. That's the way it works in a democracy.

Same lesson in Iraq. We were duped for awhile but the game is over. The last election sent a clear message that the public has had enough of this war. It's time to bring the troops home.

Nap Time

In the Name of God

The things that are done in the name of God:
One morning last spring, a young lawyer parked his Opel car on a busy commercial street next to Turkey's top administrative court, threw a Glock handgun into his bag and went inside.

Reaching the fifth floor of the drab courthouse, Alparslan Arslan followed a tea server toward a chamber where five judges were meeting. The 28-year-old Mr. Arslan paused to look at their faces.

A few months earlier, these judges had ruled that a kindergarten teacher was rightfully denied a promotion because she wore a Muslim headscarf near the school. A covered instructor set a bad example for impressionable young students in a secular state and undermined the foundations of the Turkish Republic, the verdict said. The ruling upset many religiously conservative Turks. But it pushed Mr. Arslan over the edge.

Pulling the gun from his bag once inside the chamber, he pronounced the words "Allahu Akbar" -- God is greater -- and fired four times. The shots killed one judge and wounded three others. Then Mr. Arslan blasted another round into the air and issued a warning that "verdicts should be determined more carefully from now on," according to his later testimony. Fleeing the courthouse, the lawyer was caught and arrested.

The Ethanol Charade

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that there is going to be record planting of corn this year:
Strong prices, driven by expanding ethanol production in the U.S., will drive corn plantings higher than even the government predicted in February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Friday in its Prospective Plantings report.

Farmers are forecast to plant 90.5 million acres of corn this year, a 15% increase from last year. The USDA generated excitement in February when it predicted farmers would plant 87 million acres of corn, up from the 78.3 million that were planted in 2006.
Assuming weather cooperates this is good news for farmers planting corn (and not such good news for those buying corn to feed their livestock). Unfortunately, it is terrible news for the health of our rivers and streams and for the environment in general. Here is Ted Williams, who writes for Audubon and FlyRod&Reel and is the best environmental writer in the country today, commenting on the "wonders" of ethanol:
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 requires that US gasoline contain 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol by 2012, up from 4 billion. One hundred and one ethanol plants are online, and 44 are under construction. Eighty million US acres were planted to corn in 2006; and the ethanol boom will require 10 million more just in 2007. Ethanol, we are being told, is going to "reduce our dependence on foreign oil" and "lead us to energy independence." "Live Green, Go Yellow," effuses General Motors, one of the major roadblocks to fuel-efficiency standards. "Fill Up, Feel Good," gushes the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, a front for agribusiness.

How will ethanol affect your fishing, apart from possibly ruining your outboard motor? (Ethanol does this in lots of ways. Just ask David Blinken, the famous Montauk fly-fishing guide, who recen-tly spent $25,000 pulling his deck, replacing his fuel lines and tank, extracting aluminum-oxide gum from his carburetors and basically rebuilding his twin 100-horse Yamahas.) First, no crop grown in the United States consumes and pollutes more water than corn. No method of agriculture uses more insecticides, more herbicides, more nitrogen fertilizer. Needed for the production of one gallon of ethanol are 1,700 gallons of water, mostly in the form of irrigation taken from streams either directly or by snatching the water table out from underneath them. And each gallon of ethanol produces 12 gallons of sewage-like effluent.

Ethanol plants are gross polluters of air and water, and because of the exorbitant price of natural gas some of the new ones will be coal-fired, adding to the already dangerous mercury content of fish. The response of the Bush administration has been a proposal to relax pollution standards for ethanol production. Under the conservation programs of the 1985 Farm Bill and its successors, some farmers are bootstrapping their way toward sustainable agriculture, but corn production still erodes topsoil about 10 times faster than it can accrete.

The toxic, oxygen-swilling stew of nitrates, chemical poisons and dirt excreted from the corn monocultures of our Midwest pollutes the Mississippi River and its tributaries, limiting fish all the way to the Gulf where it creates a bacteria-infested, algae-clogged, anaerobic "Dead Zone" lethal to fish, crustaceans, mollusks and virtually all gill breathers. In some years, depending on seasonal heat and water conditions, the Dead Zone can cover 8,000 square miles. And it's expanding.

No habitat is more important to fish and wildlife than wetlands. They filter out pesticides and sediments, and they consume phosphates and nitrates. At least 70 percent of the wetlands in the cornbelt have already been lost. But, in order to produce surplus corn for ethanol, remaining cornbelt wetlands are being drained. In some areas--Nebraska, for instance--corn has to be irrigated by pumps that suck water from the ground faster than it percolates back in. Both pumps and the ethanol plants themselves are powered by natural gas, the frenzied production of which is creating horrendous problems for fish and wildlife in the West.

Where is the land to grow all the extra corn needed for ethanol supposed to come from? Well, the Bush administration has an idea: In testimony to Congress, the USDA's chief economist, Keith Collins, has raised the possibility of using land enrolled under the Farm Bill's Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Not so coincidentally, it happens that this is precisely the idea that the corn lobby had come up with. In an op-ed in the December 6, 2006 Des Moines Register Bruce Rastetter, CEO of Hawkeye Renewables, Iowa's largest ethanol producer, writes: "First, the government should immediately release some of the 37 million acres that now sit idle in the US Department of Agriculture's Conservation Resources [sic] Program."
This last idea is an absolutely terrible idea. The CRP has been key to cleaning up streams and rivers all across the country, including Minnesota. Here is Larry Gates, DNR watershed coordinator for southeast Minnesota, in the recent issue of the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer (an excellent free publication from the DNR):

"Intensive row-cropping started in the 1990s and has continued," says Gates. "We see larger fields of corn and soybeans. We see more conservation tillage, but I don't think it can offset the huge changes in land use because we've lost so much of our perennial vegetative cover: hay, small grains, pasture, and CRP acres."

This loss in perennial vegetation corresponds with a shift away from livestock in southeastern Minnesota agriculture, says DNR agricultural policy coordinator Wayne Edgerton.

"Federal farm program subsidy payments for corn and soybeans have resulted in more row-crop farming," Edgerton says. "The farmer is simply reacting to the lead from the federal farm bill, because that's where the money is."

"Row-crop agriculture is our greatest polluter of fresh water," says Gates. "It uses the greatest amount of chemical pesticides, and it is the greatest degrader of biodiversity. And there's no way of getting around those facts."

Facts! Who cares about facts when millions of dollars in agribusiness subsidies to politicians are greasing the ethanol skids? This is the driving force behind this charade. Companies like Archer Daniels Midland are reaping millions, paying politicians, and fleecing American taxpayers (According to one estimate--by financial analyst James Bovard of the Cato Institute--every dollar in profits earned by the nation's largest ethanol producer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), costs taxpayers $30 - from the Williams article).

Ethanol production is awful for the environment. It does absolutely nothing to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. So naturally, we are swallowing it hook, line, and sinker.

Nun Says Former Pope Cured Her

Two months after his death, Pope John Paul II is credited with curing a nun who had Parkinson's disease:

Smiling broadly, the French nun whose claims could be accepted as the miracle that the Vatican needs to beatify Pope John Paul II said Friday that she was inexplicably and suddenly "cured" of Parkinson's disease - thanks to him.

Sister Marie Simon-Pierre stopped short of declaring her recovery a miracle, saying that was for the church to decide. But she said her life "totally changed" after her symptoms vanished in one night of prayer and mystery in 2005.

Pope Benedict XVI has already waved the usual 5-year waiting period for declaring his predecessor a saint. All he needed was a confirmed miracle attributed to John Paul's intercession.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hydrogen Cars

New York Times technology writer David Pogue takes a look at BMW's new hydrogen cars:
BMW has the first fleet of hydrogen-powered cars (100, a quarter of which are in the U.S.). Other car companies, of course, are experimenting with hydrogen as fuel, but these 100 cars aren’t hand-built prototypes or concept cars; they were factory built like any other BMW model, which is a significant milestone.

Anyway, the advantage of hydrogen cars is that they don’t pollute. The only thing coming out of their tailpipe is pure water vapor. In fact, each audience member was given a bottle of bottled water–whose label, instead of “Evian” or “Dasana,” was “EXHAUST.” (Dr. Ochmann took a swig from it to make the point.)

I was surprised to learn that the technology for these cars was this far along. They are still a long way off, but it can be done. And as Pogue says, eventually it will have to be done.

The Arrow of Time

Via Andrew Sullivan, a family photo album capturing three decades worth of change. Very interesting.

Creation Science 101

Courtesy of renaldo60.

Security Leads to Freedom

David Brooks has a revealing column in today's NYTimes. In it he dismisses the notion that for conservatives to win in 2008 they need to embrace the legacy of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan:

This is folly. It’s the wrong diagnosis of current realities and so the wrong prescription for the future.

Back in the 1970s, when Reaganism became popular, top tax rates were in the 70s, growth was stagnant and inflation was high. Federal regulation stifled competition. Government welfare policies enabled a culture of dependency. Socialism was still a coherent creed, and many believed the capitalist world was headed toward a Swedish welfare model.

In short, in the 1970s, normal, nonideological people were right to think that their future prospects might be dimmed by a stultifying state. People were right to believe that government was undermining personal responsibility. People were right to have what Tyler Cowen, in a brilliant essay in Cato Unbound, calls the “liberty vs. power” paradigm burned into their minds — the idea that big government means less personal liberty.

But today, many of those old problems have receded or been addressed. Today the big threats to people’s future prospects come from complex, decentralized phenomena: Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation.

Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena. The “liberty vs. power” paradigm is less germane. It’s been replaced in the public consciousness with a “security leads to freedom” paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.

OK, so you have to laugh at the "normal, nonideological people," like David Brooks, I am sure. But Brooks is right; the era of small government is over. Aside from libertarians at the Cato Institute, there are no Democrats or Republicans who are arguing for a smaller government. And the Bush Administration has vastly expanded the size, scope, and reach of governmental power.

At issue today is how the resources of a large government are used. And as Glenn Greenwald points out in this long but very good post at Salon, the Republican Party of David Brooks has morphed from the party of Goldwater/Reagan limited government into the party of Big Brother:

That is exactly what the right-wing movement in this country is now -- an authoritarian movement animated by the Orwellian slogan that "security leads to freedom" which embraces and seeks ever-expanding government power based on the claimed need to protect people from all the scary, lurking dangers in the world -- dangers which are constantly stoked and inflammed in order to maximize the craving for "security," derived by vesting more and more power in the hands of our strong, protective Leaders...

But neoconservatism... touts a radical and authoritarian nanny-statism that seeks, at its core, to provide feelings of protection, safety, and moralistic clarity -- "security leads to freedom" -- all delivered by political leaders using ever-increasing federal government power and limitless militarism. Whether one believes in that radical and warped vision of the American federal government is, more than any other factor, what now determines one's political orientation...

But none of this expansion of government power has been undertaken in order to promote ends traditionally associated with liberalism either -- none of it is about creating social safety nets or addressing growing wealth disparities or regulating business. Instead, federal power is enlisted, and endlessly expanded, in service of an agenda of aggressive militarism abroad, liberty-infringement domestically, and an overarching sense of moralistic certitude and exceptionalism. This movement is neither "liberal" nor "conservative" as those terms are understood in their abstract form, but instead, is radical in its attempt to fundamentally re-define the American government and the functions it serves.
It's a very good post and Greenwald accurately and vividly describes the danger that unleashed neoconservatism poses to the country and the world.

From a Judeo-Christian religious perspective, the legitimate rationale for having a big government today is that only a strong government has the resources to implement policies that bring about prophetic justice. Charity is important; personal responsibility is important. But progressive tax policies, Social Security and the social safety net, and the legal arm of the government protecting citizens from corporate greed run amok make it possible for the "mountains to be brought low and the valleys lifted" in a way that even the most caring individuals and religious communities could never do. We need big government to promote justice.

But as Greenwald points out this is not the big government the neocons have in mind. What I would add is that their "security leads to freedom" agenda is not only dangerous; it is a spiritual fraud. It is the antithesis of the values of Jesus and many other religious traditions. True security comes not from a strong military or cameras on every street corner or walls built to keep out terrorists or illegal immigrants; true security comes when we "know" God. (And one doesn't have to "believe" in the sky God who pops in occasionally to dazzle us with miracles to know and experience this genuine security.)

In the same way true freedom has nothing to do with being outwardly free to move about. Victor Frankel spoke eloquently of this after being held in a Nazi concentration camp:
Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
Frankel was a Jew; in his confinement he discovered the spiritual insight once expressed by another Jew whose name was Jesus, the very same insight expressed centuries before by the Buddha. Whatever our outward circumstances we can be free. This is true freedom.

And the more we try to protect ourselves and see this (effort to protect ourselves) as the path to security and freedom, the less secure and free we become. We have a much larger and more lethal military today than any known in history; we have more security apparatus in place in our country in the form of watching and snooping; we are more worried about it than ever thanks to code levels yellow, orange, and red, and we have made the world less secure and ourselves less free because of it.

The neocons care nothing about this spiritual freedom, of course. They are only interested in holding and maintaining the freedom to exercise power, to protect our country's and their personal positions of privilege in the world. This is their real agenda, gussied up with a "security leads to freedom" slogan. It is our task as people who live out of the genuine security and freedom that our spiritual traditions give us to unmask and challenge this dangerous and fraudulent form of security and freedom.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Karl Rove's 2008 List

So who is Karl Rove worried about (Republican) or targeting (Democratic) in the 2008 congressional races? There are no Minnesotans on the list.


Go see if you can read the whole thing.

James Dobson Says Thompson Not a Christian

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson may be the most morally bankrupt "Christian leader" in America today; at the very least no one is doing more damage to the name of Christianity than him. I offer this article in USNews & World Report as exhibit A. In the article Dobson says that he isn't supporting former Senator Fred Thompson for president because Thompson isn't a Christian. When Thompson's spokesman replied that Thompson was indeed a Christian, baptized into the Church of Christ we get this reply:

In a follow-up phone conversation, Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger stood by Dobson's claim. He said that, while Dobson didn't believe Thompson to be a member of a non-Christian faith, Dobson nevertheless "has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian—someone who talks openly about his faith."

"We use that word—Christian—to refer to people who are evangelical Christians," Schneeberger added. "Dr. Dobson wasn't expressing a personal opinion about his reaction to a Thompson candidacy; he was trying to 'read the tea leaves' about such a possibility."

The arrogance of Dobson and his spokesman believing they can mark the boundaries on who is or isn't a Christian is bad enough, but what really takes the cake is Dobson's support for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He's the "brightest guy out there" and "the most articulate politician on the scene today," according to Dobson.

Gingrich is also on his third marriage. He left his first wife while she was battling cancer. He left his second wife just months after learning that she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. He carried on affairs during the first two marriages. He was carrying on an affair while leading the charge to impeach President Clinton for his affair.

Regarding Gingrich and his marital problems, I am a forgiving guy. People make mistakes. But Newt Gingrich is a serial philanderer. There is a big difference between making a mistake and being a perpetual cheat and liar. He can't be trusted; he certainly is not fit to be President no matter how bright he is.

And for the leader of Focus on the Family to say he likes Gingrich over Thompson because Thompson doesn't talk enough about his faith - presumably Gingrich does - while ignoring Gingrich's assault on family values makes Dobson morally bankrupt and a disgrace to the name of Christian. It amazes me that anyone listens to anything this man says.

Keith Ellison's Vote

Rep. Keith Ellison's vote to support the Democratic bill that calls for a troop pullout next year took on added meaning yesterday when the Senate adopted a similar bill. Ellison is in the reliably Democratic 5th Congressional District and there is strong sentiment there among peace advocates for an immediate pullout. Some of his supporters are unhappy with him for supporting a "weak" bill that allows the war to drag on. I was told Sunday, in fact, that it has created a significant rift among twin cities peace advocates.

I think he did the right thing. His vote, along with the other left-wing Representatives who reluctantly supported this bill, sets up the first meaningful confrontation with the President over the course of the war. The President has threatened to veto the bill, which provides ongoing funding for the war. He doesn't want strings attached. And for four long years while Republicans ruled Congress there were no strings. He never had to explain or justify anything. Now, thanks to Keith Ellison, he will. His vote strengthened the hand of Congressional Democrats in their dealings with the President.

ERA is Back

I didn't know this was on anyone's radar anymore:

Federal and state lawmakers have launched a new drive to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, reviving a feminist goal that faltered a quarter-century ago when the measure did not gain the approval of three-quarters of the state legislatures.

The amendment, which came three states short of enactment in 1982, has been introduced in five state legislatures since January. Yesterday, House and Senate Democrats reintroduced the measure under a new name -- the Women's Equality Amendment -- and vowed to bring it to a vote in both chambers by the end of the session.

It's another sign that the public mood has shifted towards progressive values.

Monday, March 26, 2007

60 Years On--The Circle of Life

I was surprised and delighted when Tom, a close friend from high school days who I never see at reunions because he's a year younger, bothered to google my name to find my e-mail address and send me the link to the article below. (He found me at the TCPC website.) Otherwise I would have missed the 60th birthday of my favorite performer!

Tom was one of a group of 6 people who went together to see/hear Elton John on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour in 1974 at the Cleveland Colesium Stadium (demolished several years ago). St. Peggy (my mom) drove us there and back and sat in the car knitting while we listened to the concert. That concert was a week after John Lennon appeared for the last time on stage with Elton John at Madison Square Garden which EJ referred to yesterday. I remember EJ telling us about it that night at the concert. They had covered "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" and "When I Saw Her Standing There" (Elton sang it without Lennon in Cleveland on that night but was still "fresh" from the experience in NYC with Lennon.)

"Hey, Hey, Johnny" was released on an album just months after our friend Chuck Collinge died of brain cancer--less than a year after Lennon's assisation. It was my mourning song for them both.

Long live Sir Elton who has had quite a life journey getting to 60 but is still achieving are we all. I liked Elton when he was an outrageous sexually confused in his 20s and 30s, applauded him when he got sober in the 90s, was happy for him when he found a life partner in David Furnish a few years later. I still love him now that he's a sedate 60 year old musical master composing broadway shows and movie scores--not to mention writing/composing and recording a sequal last year to the Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy album with lyricist Bernie Taupin. (Which I accidently stumbled onto him hawking live on the Home Shopping Network last fall.) I've never wanted to go to Las Vegas--until he started performing there! Hey Tom, should we get the gang together to go hear/see The Red Piano sometime before it closes? We could make it the Chuck Collinge memorial concert tour!

Celebration, sadness at Elton John's 60th bash
POSTED: 8:48 a.m. EDT, March 26, 2007
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- British pop singer Elton John celebrated his 60th birthday at Madison Square Garden on Sunday by recalling late Beatle John Lennon and raising his own record for most appearances at the storied New York venue.
Wearing rose-tinted glasses and a black tail coat, John sat at his piano and played more than 30 hit songs from a career spanning four decades. He began with "Sixty Years On," after an introduction by former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
John told the elated crowd filled with supporters and friends, including his lyricist partner Bernie Taupin, that the arena was the obvious choice to ring in his birthday, with a record-breaking 60th concert there.
"I knew I had 59 shows here and I said the only place I wanted to be was in New York City at Madison Square Garden," he said, before later thanking the crowd for their "loyalty, love and support" in a three-hour long performance.
He recalled two memorable performances at the arena -- playing after the September 11 attacks, as well as in November, 1974, when John Lennon joined him on stage in what turned out to be Lennon's last concert appearance.
"I have never heard a reception for anyone like that in my life," he said, saying how he still mourned Lennon's death.
"It's too upsetting for me to sing it anywhere else," he told the crowd before singing "Empty Garden," with the lyrics "Oh hey, hey, Johnny can't you come out to play?" -- he and Taupin's tribute song to Lennon following his death.
Taupin joined comedians Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams on stage to sing "Happy Birthday," telling the audience "there is nobody I have more respect and love for than him."
John retorted that without Taupin, "we wouldn't be here tonight, because the words have always come first," before launching into their hit 1973 hit "Daniel."
The crowd swayed and sang along to many of his songs including "Honky Cat," "Bennie and the Jets," "Rocket Man," "Sad Songs Say So Much," and "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues."
John displayed none of the outrageous costumes and wigs that were once his trademark, a penchant that Williams joked made John "a man who used to make Liberace look Amish."
John, born Reginald Dwight, has increasingly been outspoken against homophobia following his December 2005 civil partnership ceremony with David Furnish. He dedicated "Something About The Way You Look Tonight" to Furnish.
The concert ended with, "Your Song," which in 1971 gave John his first hit single in a career that eventually sold more than 200 million albums worldwide.

The History of Marriage

A good article today in the Hartford Courant by Stephanie Coontz, who teaches history at The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Wash. She is the author of “Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage:"

Claims of historical fact about marriage can be proved true or false, and three of the historical claims made by opponents of same-sex marriage in Connecticut are demonstrably untrue.

First is the claim that the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman goes back thousands of years. Second is the claim that the Judeo-Christian heritage has always seen marriage as a sacred relationship that must be defended above all others. Third is the claim that marriage has endured for thousands of years without change.

The most commonly approved form of marriage in the past (and the one mentioned most often in the first five books of the Old Testament) was polygamy - one man, many women. Some societies also countenanced polyandry - one woman married to several men. In China and parts of the Sudan, when two families wished to make an alliance but didn’t have an eligible daughter or son still alive, marriages were often arranged between one child and the ghost of another. And at least one society, the Na of China, existed for thousands of years without marriage.

The Judeo-Christian tradition does not speak with one voice on marriage. Polygamy, divorce and concubines are all part of the Old Testament tradition. Jesus broke with older religious traditions in prohibiting divorce for men as well as for women. But in doing so, he also challenged the traditional right of a man to take a second wife if the first wife was sterile. Ever since, the validity of a marriage in the Western tradition has not been dependent on ability to procreate.

And despite Jesus’ rejection of divorce, Christianity did not sanctify marriage. (It wasn’t made a sacrament until 1215). In fact, he urged his followers to remain unmarried or leave their families to go off and spread the Christian word.

His definition of family was based not on biological or legal ties but on the community of believers. When he was dying on the cross, he did not ask a disciple to help his mother. Instead, he called a disciple forward and said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And to the disciple, he said, “Here is your mother.”

The claim that marriage existed unchanged for thousands of years is also false. Two hundred years ago, the generation that produced the Enlightenment and the American Revolution overturned thousands of years of tradition by insisting that the older generation must allow young people to choose their own mates on the basis of love rather than to further their parents’ economic and political ambitions.

Even more radical and recent has been the innovation of giving wives and husbands equal rights in marriage. Until the late 19th century, a husband legally owned all his wife’s property and earnings and could do with them what he pleased. He had the right to physically “correct” his wife and even imprison her in the home for disobedience.

When courts began to treat wives as separate legal entities with their own individual rights, defenders of “traditional” marriage predicted that such a radical social change would “destroy domestic tranquility” and subvert the “order of society.”

Whether one is for or against legalizing same-sex marriage, we must understand that it is heterosexual couples who have been tampering with marriage for the past 200 years. Heterosexuals repealed the old laws mandating wives’ subordination to husbands and prohibiting divorce. It was a lawsuit involving a heterosexual Connecticut couple that led the Supreme Court to overturn laws forbidding the sale of contraceptives, thus giving married people the right to decide not to have children.

Heterosexuals also pioneered assisted reproduction, allowing couples who cannot have children to become parents anyway. And it was heterosexuals who repealed the legal definition of marriage as the union of a husband who must play one role in the home and a wife who must play a different one.

Until the 1980s, courts said that the husband must support the family; the wife had no such duty. Wives were charged with keeping house, rearing children and providing other personal services. That is why a man could not be charged with marital rape and a woman could not sue for loss of personal services in the event of her husband’s death. Only in the 1980s did courts redefine marriage as a union of two people with reciprocal, not complementary, duties.

Once marriage came to be seen as an institution bringing together two individuals based on mutual affection and equality, without regard to rigidly defined gender roles or the ability to procreate, it’s not surprising that gays and lesbians said, “That now describes our relationships too, so why can’t we marry?” If you don’t like these changes in the institution, blame your grandparents, not the gay and lesbian couples seeking entry into this new model of marriage.

Gonzales and Bush

I thought Attorney General Gonzales would be gone by the end of last week but the slow bleed of his political death and that of his President continues. Here is conservative columnist Robert Novak this morning:

Republican leaders in Congress, who asked not to be quoted by name, predicted early last week that Gonzales would fall because the Justice Department botched the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. By week's end, they stipulated that the president would not sack his longtime aide and that Gonzales would leave only on his own initiative. But there was still an ominous lack of congressional support for the attorney general.

"Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here," a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.

Republicans in Congress do not trust their president to protect them. That alone is sufficient reason to withhold statements of support for Gonzales, because such a gesture could be quickly followed by his resignation under pressure. Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.), the highly regarded young chairman of the House Republican Conference, praised Donald Rumsfeld in November only to see him sacked shortly thereafter.

But not many Republican lawmakers would speak up for Gonzales even if they were sure Bush would stick with him. He is the least popular Cabinet member on Capitol Hill, even more disliked than Rumsfeld was. The word most often used by Republicans to describe the management of the Justice Department under Gonzales is "incompetent."

Incompetent is the word that best describes the entire Bush presidency. I have never thought him to be a bad man, just completely unqualified to be President. Not surprisingly, then, he surrounded himself with similarly unqualified people and the result has been one disaster after another.

The question that pops up continually, though, is why did we elect him? I think in the first election we elected a Bush, believing that the son would be similar to the father. I did not agree with the politics of Bush 1 but he came from the mainstream Republican establishment and had a lifetime of distinquished public service. How far could the apple fall from the tree. Pretty far, apparently.

We elected him to a second term because 9/11 happened and our heightened fear was met and exploited by the cynical machinations of the Rove political machine. (And we had an uninspiring Democratic opponent.) Unfortunately, the damage being done to the country was already well underway by the second election. And now it is showing up in every aspect of American life that the President has touched. Incompetence is very dangerous. Even Republicans can see that now.

Acts 10 - Sunday Message Recap

Sunday's message focused on Acts 10 and the story of Peter and Cornelius. It's a key progressive passage:

Why is it that Peter would not dream of eating unclean foods? Because his scriptures told him it was not ok. Leviticus 11 spells out clearly what foods are clean and what foods are unclean. And observant Jews to this day follow that scripture.

Peter’s vision told him that the revelation of God had not ended with Leviticus. It was continuing with Jesus. The scriptures, his scriptures, could be set aside if they got in the way of the continuing revelation of God in Jesus. The scriptures said it then, but now we see differently.

It is this same insight that has set the movement free throughout history to get beyond what it says in the Bible. The Bible said that slavery was ok; the Bible said that women should be subjugated to men. The Bible says that divorce is wrong and that divorced people and re-married people cannot participate fully in the life of the church as leaders. But fortunately at key moments in history some visionaries have seen the continuing unfolding of God’s revelation to include everybody and anybody who wants to be a part of the movement and not to allow what the Bible says to get in the way of God speaking to us today with a new vision.

And of course the Bibles says that homosexuality is an abomination. Well, it doesn’t actually say that but lots of Christians think it does. But it doesn’t matter because what the scripture writers knew about sexuality is not what we know. We see and know differently today. And we can say with confidence that God wants us to accept and welcome gays into our community. And we learned that from Peter's dream.

Unchurched America

We just had a great weekend with Jim Adams, the founder of The Center for Progressive Christianity, who was in the twin cities for the weekend and spoke at Open Circle on Friday night and Saturday morning. In one of his talks, Jim said that there was a common misperception about church attendance numbers relating to evangelical and mainline churches. The misperception is that evangelical churches grew in the 80's and 90's at the expense of mainline churches. It is true that mainline Christianity declined precipitously. And it is also true that some of the growth of evangelical super-churches came at the expense of the mainline, although some of it also came at the expense of smaller evangelical churches who did not or could not compete with the big show of mega-churches. But the largest decline in mainline churches came as a result of people on the religious and political left dropping out of church altogether.

This recent article on the Barna Research Group website, an evangelical outfit focused on church growth, bears this out:

A new survey released by The Barna Group, which has been tracking America’s religious behavior and beliefs since 1984, reveals that one out of every three adults (33%) is classified as unchurched - meaning they have not attended a religious service of any type during the past six months. While that figure is considerably higher than the one out of five who qualified as unchurched in the early Nineties, it is statistically unchanged since 36% were recorded as having avoided religious services in the company’s 1994 study.

Some population segments are notorious church avoiders. For instance, 47% of political liberals are unchurched, more than twice the percentage found among political conservatives (19%). African Americans were less likely to be unchurched (25%) than were whites (32%) or Hispanics (34%). Asians, however, doubled the national average: 63% were unchurched! Single adults continued a historic pattern of being more likely than married adults to stay away from religious services (37% versus 29%, respectively).

Residents of the West (42%) and Northeast (39%) remain the most church resistant, while those in the South are the least prone to avoid religious services (26%). Sexual orientation is closely related to church status, too: while about one-third of heterosexuals are unchurched (31%), half of the homosexual public (49%) met the unchurched criteria...

When these statistics are projected across the aggregate adult population, the numbers are staggering. An estimated 73 million adults are presently unchurched. When teens and children are added, the total swells to roughly 100 million Americans.

To put that figure in context, if the unchurched population of the United States were a nation of its own, that group would be the eleventh most populated nation on earth (trailing only China, India, the churched portion of the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan and Mexico).

As Jim Adams said, "Churches are emptying from the left to the right." The large number of unchurched political liberals and homosexuals presents progressive churches like ours with a unique challenge. Many of these people simply don't care about church; they don't believe in God, or at least they don't believe in any traditional God concept, and they certainly don't worry about what might happen to them in an afterlife. They also believe it is perfectly possible to live a good life without going to church. And some of them, particularly homosexuals, have also been deeply wounded by rejection by Christians. Why should they go to church?

This is our challenge, to have intellectual integrity, to be unconditionally welcoming, and to find ways to reach out and entice these folks to give us a look.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Peace Club in Fairmount, MN--U.S. Dept. of Peace

I didn't hear this on NPR, but the mother of one of the members of liberalchurch has a close friend who is one of the 5 ladies of The Peace Club who asked the city council of Fairmount, MN to support the campaign for a U.S. Department of Peace. Here's the full story from MPR given by The Department of Peace Campaign supporters (of which I am one). To quote one of the Fairmount ignorant, "Oh it's those communists again!"...

Media Action Alert WRITE NPR TODAY!
Dear Department of Peace Campaign Supporter:

On Saturday, March 24, 2007, National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon aired a 10-minute story on Fairmont, MN, and the Department of Peace campaign. The piece was produced by award-winning journalist Daniel Zwerdling.


Listen to the program and send NPR your thoughts. Go to, and send them an email about the program.
What did you like best about the program?
Did it give accurate information about the Department of Peace?
What would you like NPR listeners to know about the Department of Peace?
Remember, letters written from the heart are best.

ABOUT DANIEL ZWERDLING:Zwerdling has won numerous awards, including the Edward R. Murrow, the Investigative Reporters and Editors, and the Robert F. Kennedy awards for investigative reporting - all for his stories in 2004 examining abuses of immigrant detainees. He's also won the Overseas Press Club Foundation award for live coverage of breaking international news, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Award, the National Press Club Award for consumer reporting, the Ohio State awards for international reporting, the James Beard award for reporting on the food industry, and the Champion-Tuck Award for economic reporting.

You can read his full biography at:

Please write your LETTER TO NPR today, and please forward this email quickly and widely!
With deepest gratitude,
The Peace

The cover of Time this week--Bible in the Public Schools

As a child who grew up studying the constitutional doctrine and practical applications of the separation of church and state, my faith and political journey the past couple of years has certainly made me rethink so many, many things. I grew up studying the constitutional doctrine of the separation of Church and State and how it got applied to my life. I was glad (and my parents sad) when the Supreme Ct. decided that kids should no longer be required to recite The Lord's Prayer each day before school. (That's still a good thing -- unless they start to teach prayer traditions of other faiths and recite them too and perhaps have a moment of silence for the atheists, which would not be a bad way to go either. Have you ever read the Sanskrit version of The Lords Prayer? I subscribed to "prayer of the day" on so I could learn some prayers of other faiths and other Christian traditions.)

I was a "church going child" who took her Christian Education in Sunday School about as seriously as any grade-schooler could. I cooperated with the teacher on most Sundays and tried to learn the stories (and not ask too many questions when things just didn't make sense). I had some pretty good "church ladies" including my mother and others teaching me, but none of them were seminary trained and certainly didn't have answers to the "tougher/larger" questions. It was a rare moment that I picked up the Bible just to read it just to read. (Except perhaps as self-imposed penance for some act of which I was trying to repent.)

Nothing has changed for todays' kids. There is even more to occupy time than reading one's Bible today than there was 40 years ago. I hang around and listen to my friends who are seminary graduates and read books with Biblical references and I sometimes feel like a slouch--even though I'm too hard on myself. I'm modestly well-read (but I'm finding that as the parent of a child with a learning disability I'm becoming a bit less "head focused" and more "heart focused". But I do worry about what my kids will and won't learn about the Bible and other seminal texts of the major world religions. Even though my kids are very fortunate to have an ordained minister who freelance writes adult and student curriculum and a Protestant publishing company curriculum writer who have teamed up to develop materials and teach Sunday School each week (or feeding materials to others to do the teaching) these lessons often feature a secular, not Biblical, story as the main or supplemental lesson theme. My kids now listen to the messages in church. But I'm still not sure how much of the Bible my kids will be retaining in their 2 hours each Sunday morning.

So, what about teaching my kids the Bible in the public school? This article addresses what would be some of my main concerns: teaching or preaching? who's the teacher? what does the text look like? Will it be comparative to other religions? should other religions get "equal time"? And perhaps the issue I still grapple with the most--whether a book that has been so misused to justify so many horrific things over the millenia, should continue to be taught at all (check out the ROTC student quote). Yet the Bible is not going to disappear from public consumption--in fact quite the opposite is true. For that reason alone, it is important to "get Biblically literate".

Here's the article...,8816,1601845,00.html

Friday, March 23, 2007

Living No Impact

A year with no toilet paper:

DINNER was the usual affair on Thursday night in Apartment 9F in an elegant prewar on Lower Fifth Avenue. There was shredded cabbage with fruit-scrap vinegar; mashed parsnips and yellow carrots with local butter and fresh thyme; a terrific frittata; then homemade yogurt with honey and thyme tea, eaten under the greenish flickering light cast by two beeswax candles and a fluorescent bulb.

A sour odor hovered oh-so-slightly in the air, the faint tang, not wholly unpleasant, that is the mark of the home composter. Isabella Beavan, age 2, staggered around the neo-Modern furniture — the Eames chairs, the brown velvet couch, the Lucite lamps and the steel cafe table upon which dinner was set — her silhouette greatly amplified by her organic cotton diapers in their enormous boiled-wool, snap-front cover.

A visitor avoided the bathroom because she knew she would find no toilet paper there.

Meanwhile, Joseph, the liveried elevator man who works nights in the building, drove his wood-paneled, 1920s-era vehicle up and down its chute, unconcerned that the couple in 9F had not used his services in four months. “I’ve noticed,” Joseph said later with a shrug and no further comment. (He declined to give his last name. “I’ve got enough problems,” he said.)

Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. Isabella’s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation...

Interesting article.

Not Just a Mormon Practice

Mormons don't sanction polygamy anymore and it's only a few splinter groups that do. But this New York Times article suggests that polygamy is being practiced by some Muslims in America:

She worked at the Red Lobster in Times Square and lived with her husband near Yankee Stadium. Yet one night, returning home from her job, Odine D. discovered that African custom, not American law, held sway over her marriage.

A strange woman was sitting in the living room, and Ms. D.’s husband, a security guard born in Ghana, introduced her as his other wife.

Devastated, Ms. D., a Guinean immigrant who insisted that her last name be withheld, said she protested: “I can’t live with the woman in my house — we have only two bedrooms.” Her husband cited Islamic precepts allowing a man to have up to four wives, and told her to get used to it. And she tried to obey.

Polygamy in America, outlawed in every state but rarely prosecuted, has long been associated with Mormon splinter groups out West, not immigrants in New York. But a fatal fire in a row house in the Bronx on March 7 revealed its presence here, in a world very different from the suburban Utah setting of “Big Love,” the HBO series about polygamists next door.

The city’s mourning for the dead — a woman and nine children in two families from Mali — has been followed by a hushed double take at the domestic arrangements described by relatives: Moussa Magassa, the Mali-born American citizen who owned the house and was the father of five children who perished, had two wives in the home, on different floors. Both survived.

No one knows how prevalent polygamy is in New York. Those who practice it have cause to keep it secret: under immigration law, polygamy is grounds for exclusion from the United States.

Under state law, bigamy can be punished by up to four years in prison,

No agency is known to collect data on polygamous unions, which typically take shape over time and under the radar, often with religious ceremonies overseas and a visitor’s visa for the wife, arranged by other relatives. Some men have one wife in the United States and others abroad.

But the Magassas clearly are not an isolated case. Immigration to New York and other American cities has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali, where demographic surveys show that 43 percent of women are in polygamous marriages.

And the picture that emerges from dozens of interviews with African immigrants, officials and scholars of polygamy is of a clandestine practice that probably involves thousands of New Yorkers.

“It’s difficult, but one accepts it because it’s our religion,” said Doussou Traoré, 52, president of an association of Malian women in New York, who married an older man with two other wives who remain in Mali. “Our mothers accepted it. Our grandmothers accepted it. Why not us?”

Other women spoke bitterly of polygamy. They said their participation was dictated by an African culture of female subjugation and linked polygamy to female genital cutting and domestic violence. That view is echoed by most research on plural marriages, including studies of West African immigrants in France, where the government estimates that 120,000 people live in 20,000 polygamous families...

I love my wife, but one wife is enough, thank you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Soulforce--Equality Ride Update

If you haven't read about these brave students, here's an update. They could use prayers, notes of support, (and cash for bail) links below.
Two weeks ago, 50 young men and women boarded two buses and set out on a remarkable journey. Their mission: to initiate conversations about faith and sexuality at 32 Christian colleges with policies that silence or exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. This week, the Riders face their toughest challenges yet as the westbound bus travels to Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah and the eastbound bus travels to Mississippi College in Mississippi.

Thus far, the Riders have shared moments of reconciliation, prayer, and connection with conservative Christian students at colleges on two separate routes across the nation, but they have also faced harassment and intimidation. Their bus was defaced with anti-gay slurs in Sioux City, Iowa and they were met by armed police on the rooftops at Central Bible College in Missouri.

Currently, 5 Equality Riders and 1 Baylor University student are being held in the McClennan County Jail in Waco, Texas. The Riders were arrested Tuesday on criminal trespassing charges after they wrote messages affirming LGBT students in chalk on Baylor sidewalks. The Riders' bail has been set at $2,000 each, which is equivalent to the maximum fine under Texas law.
Riders are also facing organized, official resistance as they prepare to visit BYU, where Mormon Riders have been banned from their own church, and Clinton, Miss., where police officials attempted to abridge the Riders' constitutional rights.

To read more of this Equality Ride update click here.
To help the rider's pay their bail please click here.
Throughout their two-month journey, the Equality Riders will be blogging from the buses, including the posting of video clips. To read the daily blogs go to

A Celebration of Faithfull Witness for Justice

As the gut wrenching stories emerge from deportations around the country during the past year as "give us your tired, your poor" has turned into "go home you are unwelcome here", there is finally some good news.

25 years ago people mortgaged their homes to help defray legal costs and expenses to help fight deportation and provide sanctuary for one Salvadoran refugee. A few years ago it looked like his case was going to be reconsidered and he was going to have to fight another battle as the Bush administration is on the illegal immigrant witch hunt. But finally the INS has agreed to stop persuing his deportation. There is going to be a celebration party among those still alive to celebrate...

St. Luke Presbyterian Church is hosting a celebration for Rene Hurtado at the end of his long journey and faithful witness for justice. In 1982, St. Luke welcomed Rene, an undocumented El Salvadoran refugee, into Sanctuary, with the support of the Refugee Sanctuary Coalition of the Twin Cities. After 25 years, immigration authorities have finally agreed to end their efforts to deport him. The celebration gathering is Saturday, May 5, 2007, at St. Luke Church, 3121 Groveland School Road, Wayzata, MN. there will be a dinner, a program, a dance. Many congregations and individuals in the Presbytery gave their support to the Sanctuary Movement and to Rene. You are invited to attend. RSVP to St. Luke at 952-473-7378 or by e-mail:

Episcopal Bishops Respond

The Episcopal Bishops, meeting in Navasota, Texas have responded to the deadline issued by the Worldwide Anglican body that they stop ordaining women and gay clergy or face exclusion from full participation in the worldwide body:
It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.
They will not stop and they will not withdraw. It will be up to the Anglicans to force the issue.

US Attorney Blowback

How do I know that the President is in trouble over the firing of the 8 US Attorneys, and that Attorney General Gonzales is likely a goner? I check in to see what the right-wing Corner has to say about it all:

Unfortunately, President Bush’s news conference yesterday failed to answer the absolute key question for the public: Why did he fire the eight U.S. attorneys?

If you read the transcript, he talked about “new leadership.” He also said, “Neither the Attorney General, nor I approve of how these explanations were handled. We’re determined to correct the problem.”

But people watching Mr. Bush will still be wondering what his explanation is.

Of course, the President has the political and constitutional authority to hire and fire these prosecutors. But why were these eight dumped? Why not the other eighty-five?

It seems to me if you use a press conference event to go over the heads of the mainstream media, and broadcast to the American public, you have to deliver a clear rationale for your actions.

Regrettably, I don’t think Mr. Bush did this.

And that’s one reason why he’s going to stay in hot water on the Hill, and probably remain in that hot water with the electorate.

Here’s my humble suggestion: Mr. Gonzales ought to be replaced by an eminent law school dean or college president—someone with enormous credibility and respect.

What comes to mind is President Gerald Ford’s decision to appoint University of Chicago president and former law school dean Edward Levi in the post-Watergate pardon period. Levi restored credibility for the Justice Department.

Just a thought.

If this is coming from the folks at The National Review, then the President is in trouble.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I always read through all of the footnotes of the books I read; they usually contain gems as worthy as the material found in the books themselves. Today I read Marcus Borg's book Jesus, which is his revised and expanded version of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Much of it is the same material, but there are good additions. But in a footnote about how he understands John 14:6:
Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
I caught this:
To amplify with a story that illustrates a nonexclusive way of interpreting John 14:6, about fifty years ago a Hindu professor preached on this text in a Christian seminary. After reading the text aloud, he announced that this text was absolutely true--Jesus is the only way. And, he continued, this way is known in all the world's enduring religions. His point is that Jesus was not the unique revelation of a way unknown anywhere else; rather, Jesus was that way became flesh, embodied, incarnate, and in a life.
Very nice.

They Think We're Nutty

From the New York Times:
“The American church is not a pariah to everybody — some people still like us,” said the Rev. Lisa Fishbeck of Carrboro, N.C., in the Diocese of North Carolina, which is setting up a program with a diocese in Botswana. “They think we’re nutty, but they still like us.”
The worldwide Anglican community wants the American Episcopal church to stop ordaining women and gays. They have given the Americans a deadline of September 30 to comply with the wishes of the worldwide body or face consequences.

Complicating this threat is the reality of money, apparently. While the American church is small in numbers compared to the worldwide body, its financial support is large, particularly to Africa where American money supports Anglican churches and relief efforts. Only Henry Orombi, the archbishop of Uganda, has already stopped taking American money, and as the article points out this has led to the shutdown of AIDs relief programs.

It's worth noting that the Americans have continued to contribute - and have increased their contributions - to the worldwide body despite these threats. They have not threatened to take their money and go home because the rest of their denominational community disagrees with them.

Disappointing Democrats

This is exactly the kind of garbage that contributed to Republicans' downfall in the recent election:
House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year.

So far, the projects -- which range from the reconstruction of New Orleans levees to the building of peanut storehouses in Georgia -- have had little impact on the tally. For a funding bill that establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline to bring the troops home, votes do not come cheap.

Let's have an up or down vote on funding the war and leave the pork to the elephants.

Adam and Eve in the Garden

Sometimes a story is just a story. And so it is with the tale of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It's a mythic tale about the absolute necessity of growing up and leaving behind innocence and protection and becoming an adult with the ability to know the difference between good and evil. How wonderful it is to have those brief moments of childhood innocence; how painful it can be to realize that our children are growing up and don't need us as much anymore (Who told you you could eat of the fruit? It wasn't me. Why didn't you listen to me? You don't need me?) How unsettling it can be to realize that we really are on our own and we are accountable for what we say and do. How often we try to deny our accountability and blame others. (It wasn't me who did it; is was her. It wasn't me who did it; it was that serpent.) And so we all inevitably find ourselves living outside the blessed garden in a world where toil and pain is a part of life. But, my oh my, how sweet it is to know and think and love as adults.

It's myth, not history. And it has nothing to do with "original sin."

A Kline Spotting?

What do you call a representative who never talks to constituents unless they represent the interests of big money. We call that representative John Kline, our US Congressman, who rarely deigns to talk to the average citizen in his district. But lo and behold after a group of very committed folks have sat in his office every Tuesday for the last couple of months Mr. Kline has decided that the time has come to pay a brief visit to the common folks and explain to them the reasons for his unquestioning loyalty to Bush's Iraq policy. Tuesday, April 3, 7:00 p.m. at Lakeville South High School. Hopefully there will be a large contingent present to greet him. Unless "something" important comes up that keeps him away, like a meeting with a big-money lobbyist.

Rich Pay Fewer Taxes in Minnesota

Darn those statistics and facts. A state Revenue Department report released today shows that the tax burden in Minnesota has been shifting away from the wealthy and from businesses and towards lower and middle class families:

A state Revenue Department study presented to the Senate Tax Committee on Monday showed wealthy Minnesotans are paying a slightly smaller share of their incomes in state and local taxes, while tax burdens for middle-class households are increasing.

The biennial "tax incidence study" also showed taxes are shifting away from businesses and toward individuals.

Overall, the study projected Minnesota's state and local taxes will become somewhat more regressive by 2009. That means the percentage of income a person pays in taxes declines as his or her income rises.

This gives further ammunition to DFL'ers in the House and Senate who are proposing to begin shifting the burden back. Of course, the Governor will veto any "tax increase" that isn't called a fee. And he is happy to borrow huge sums of money to fund what he won't ask us to pay for now in tax increases. And he doesn't seem to mind that cities and schools are raises our taxes through higher real estate taxes. But he is not going to sign any bill that diminishes his prospects as a tough (but always smiling) anti-tax Republican Vice Presidential candidate.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another Hard Day

Christianity Then and Now

My newsletter article today:

Once a month I have a conference call with the three other pastors and the seminary professor who joined me last January for a trip to Rome. We are participating in a Lilly Foundation funded "Pastoral Excellence" program. Our chosen study project has to do with looking at the ways Christianity in our day looks like early pre-Constantinian Christianity. This means, in essence, that we are living in times just like the days of early Christianity, when there was no "orthodox" hierarchy able to define what is true Christianity, and when it was not possible to assume that everyone was Christian. Christians were in a minority, and had to be able to make their case in a culturally hostile setting why anyone would want to be a Christian.

We had a call this morning, and once again discussed an assigned book about early Christianity. This month's book was From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries by Peter Lampe. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits of information from this book. One, Lampe notes that in the early years of Christianity Rome was dotted with a number of house churches. The predominant number of Christians in these house churches were poor, and care and concern for the poor was a major point of mission for the churches and it was also the way evangelism was done. Those who were cared for often became Christians themselves.

How poor were the members? Because there was a shortage of wealthy Christian patrons to support the church, some members sold themselves into slavery to provide financial support for the mission of the church. There was such an imbalance between the number of wealthy and poor Christians that Pope Calixtus ruled that it was acceptable for a wealthy woman to live with a slave or a freedman without being married. (If she had legally married either slave or freedman she would have forfeited her estate.) So allowances were made for living together to keep the finances in the Christian house.

I mention a Pope, which makes us think of the Catholic Church and its present-day hierarchy. But that's not the way it was then. Lampe points out that among the house churches in Rome there was incredible diversity of theology and freedom to practice Christianity as they understood it. Some of the churches held theological positions that were later deemed heretical. But in those early days the churches coexisted peaceably and cooperated on care for the poor and widows. They were all followers of Jesus and they were all part of an oppressed religious minority. It wasn't until the church began to grow in numbers and influence in the community that the majority"proto-orthodox" movement began to notice that there were "heretics" among them and moved to define the "true" Jesus.

It is my belief that we are living in a time when Christianity looks more and more like it did before the conversion of Constantine. The very definition of Jesus and what it means to be Christian is up in the air as Christian "authority" loses its grip. We can no longer expect, especially in major metropolitan areas, that everyone will be Christian. All sorts of eastern and new age and "no" faith perspectives are part of the religious market place. Why would anyone want to be a Christian today? It is once again a very relevant question.

And my very brief answer to that question is that unless we are meeting real material and spiritual needs there is no reason. Doctrine doesn't matter; practice does. It isn't what we say we believe - whether we can recite a creed or believe in the Trinity or hold that only Christians who are saved are going to heaven - it is whether we are living our lives with a compelling spiritual and practical story that would make someone want to say: "Wow, why do you do what you do?" It is all about making the realm of God that Jesus talked about real here and now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NAE Supports Cizik on Global Warming

James Dobson and Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer and their ilk have been the visible voice of evangelical Christianity for a long time, but it appears that things are changing. After distributing a letter to the press calling for the National Association of Evangelicals to distance itself from the views of Richard Cizik, NAE Washington Policy Director, who has been pressing evangelicals to speak out on the dangers of global warming, the NAE meeting in Minneapolis this week not only ignored their letter but broadened their social justice agenda:

However, the association board not only stood behind Cizik, but also further broadened the group's agenda with a statement condemning torture, which charged that in pursuing the war on terror, the United States had crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible."

But one of the board members, the Rev. Paul de Vries, said, "It ought to be God's agenda, not the Republican Party's agenda, that drives us.

"We're actually tired of being represented by people with a very narrow focus," he said. "We want to have a focus as big as God's focus."

Imagine that: Christians speaking out against torture. Or perhaps one might wonder how a Christian could ever justify the use of torture. That really boggles the imagination.

The most amusing quote from this article:

But Dobson and the other signatories of the letter to the National Association of Evangelicals board said evidence supporting global warming was not conclusive and that the organization "lacks the expertise to settle the controversy."

"The issue should be addressed scientifically and not theologically," they said, calling on the group's board to either rein in Cizik or encourage him to resign.

Would that be the same science that teaches us about evolution?

Alan Simpson on Don't Ask Don't Tell

General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff made news this week when he let slip his personal views on gays serving the in the military, saying that he supports "don't ask, don't tell" because gay sex is "immoral."

Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, responded today in the Washington Post:

As a lifelong Republican who served in the Army in Germany, I believe it is critical that we review -- and overturn -- the ban on gay service in the military. I voted for "don't ask, don't tell." But much has changed since 1993.

My thinking shifted when I read that the military was firing translators because they are gay. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than 300 language experts have been fired under "don't ask, don't tell," including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. This when even Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently acknowledged the nation's "foreign language deficit" and how much our government needs Farsi and Arabic speakers. Is there a "straight" way to translate Arabic? Is there a "gay" Farsi? My God, we'd better start talking sense before it is too late. We need every able-bodied, smart patriot to help us win this war.

In today's perilous global security situation, the real question is whether allowing homosexuals to serve openly would enhance or degrade our readiness. The best way to answer this is to reconsider the original points of opposition to open service.

First, America's views on homosexuals serving openly in the military have changed dramatically. The percentage of Americans in favor has grown from 57 percent in 1993 to a whopping 91 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed in a Gallup poll in 2003.

Military attitudes have also shifted. Fully three-quarters of 500 vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan said in a December Zogby poll that they were comfortable interacting with gay people. Also last year, a Zogby poll showed that a majority of service members who knew a gay member in their unit said the person's presence had no negative impact on the unit or personal morale. Senior leaders such as retired Gen. John Shalikashvili and Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman, a former West Point superintendent, are calling for a second look.

Second, 24 nations, including 12 in Operation Enduring Freedom and nine in Operation Iraqi Freedom, permit open service. Despite controversy surrounding the policy change, it has had no negative impact on morale, cohesion, readiness or recruitment. Our allies did not display such acceptance back when we voted on "don't ask, don't tell," but we should consider their common-sense example.

Third, there are not enough troops to perform the required mission. The Army is "about broken," in the words of Colin Powell. The Army's chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, told the House Armed Services Committee in December that "the active-duty Army of 507,000 will break unless the force is expanded by 7,000 more soldiers a year." To fill its needs, the Army is granting a record number of "moral waivers," allowing even felons to enlist. Yet we turn away patriotic gay and lesbian citizens.

The Urban Institute estimates that 65,000 gays are serving and that there are 1 million gay veterans. These gay vets include Capt. Cholene Espinoza, a former U-2 pilot who logged more than 200 combat hours over Iraq, and Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, who lost his right leg to an Iraqi land mine. Since 2005, more than 800 personnel have been discharged from "critical fields" -- jobs considered essential but difficult in terms of training or retraining, such as linguists, medical personnel and combat engineers. Aside from allowing us to recruit and retain more personnel, permitting gays to serve openly would enhance the quality of the armed forces.

In World War II, a British mathematician named Alan Turing led the effort to crack the Nazis' communication code. He mastered the complex German enciphering machine, helping to save the world, and his work laid the basis for modern computer science. Does it matter that Turing was gay? This week, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said that homosexuality is "immoral" and that the ban on open service should therefore not be changed. Would Pace call Turing "immoral"?

Since 1993, I have had the rich satisfaction of knowing and working with many openly gay and lesbian Americans, and I have come to realize that "gay" is an artificial category when it comes to measuring a man or woman's on-the-job performance or commitment to shared goals. It says little about the person. Our differences and prejudices pale next to our historic challenge. Gen. Pace is entitled, like anyone, to his personal opinion, even if it is completely out of the mainstream of American thinking. But he should know better than to assert this opinion as the basis for policy of a military that represents and serves an entire nation. Let us end "don't ask, don't tell." This policy has become a serious detriment to the readiness of America's forces as they attempt to accomplish what is arguably the most challenging mission in our long and cherished history.

Great post. Gay" is indeed an artificial category that says little about the measure of a person. I predict the military will be end "don't ask, don't tell" under the next President, whether that President is Republican or Democratic. And in another generation the only anti-gay strongholds will be pockets of religious communities.