Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is Climate Change for Real? Part 2

Vaclav Havel thinks so too:

It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?

Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.

The effects of possible climate changes are hard to estimate. Our planet has never been in a state of balance from which it could deviate through human or other influence and then, in time, return to its original state. The climate is not like a pendulum that will return to its original position after a certain period. It has evolved turbulently over billions of years into a gigantic complex of networks, and of networks within networks, where everything is interlinked in diverse ways.

Its structures will never return to precisely the same state they were in 50 or 5,000 years ago. They will only change into a new state, which, so long as the change is slight, need not mean any threat to life.

Larger changes, however, could have unforeseeable effects within the global ecosystem. In that case, we would have to ask ourselves whether human life would be possible. Because so much uncertainty still reigns, a great deal of humility and circumspection is called for.

We can’t endlessly fool ourselves that nothing is wrong and that we can go on cheerfully pursuing our wasteful lifestyles, ignoring the climate threats and postponing a solution. Maybe there will be no major catastrophe in the coming years or decades. Who knows? But that doesn’t relieve us of responsibility toward future generations.

Is Climate Change for Real?

The insurance industry thinks so:

Ten years ago, Peter Levene, chairman of Lloyds of London, was skeptical about global warming theories, but no longer. He believes carbon emissions caused by human activity are warming the Earth and causing severe weather-related events. "At Lloyds, we feel the effects of extreme weather more than most," he said in a March speech. "We don't just live with risk -- we have to pick up the pieces afterwards." Lloyds predicts that the United States will be hit by a hurricane causing $100 billion worth of damage, more than double that of Katrina. Industry analysts estimate that such an event would bankrupt as many as 40 insurers.

Lloyd's has warned: "The insurance industry must start actively adjusting in response to greenhouse gas trends if it is to survive." The Association of British Insurers has called on governments to "stem ominous weather related trends" by cutting carbon emissions. U.S.-based companies AIG and Marsh -- respectively, the largest insurer and broker -- have joined with other corporate leaders to urge Congress to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century. AIG's policy statement on climate change "recognizes the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and is likely in large part the result of human activities that have led to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Peanut Butter Proves Evolution isn't Real

Via Andrew Sullivan, this is priceless.

Episcopal Bishops Reject Anglican Church's Orders

That's the headline in today's New York Times. The bishops, meeting in New Orleans were responding to demands from the worldwide Anglican body that they stop ordaining gay clergy and stop blessing same-sex unions. While they did not back down from what they had already done, they promised to “exercise restraint” going forward.

Historically Anglicans have thought of themselves as finding a middle way between Protestants and Catholics that was actually a better way. But this attempt by the American bishops to find a middle way will probably please no one. Here is conservative Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America:
They’re offering business as usual. The communion asked them to make a change, to embrace the teaching of the communion about homosexuality, and there’s no change at all.
Here is liberal Episcolian blogger Scott Gunn responding to the draft of the bishops' statement:
We need clarity now, not obfuscation. In the draft statement our bishops are now mulling over (as reported on BabyBlueOnline) the reader will find this:
No rite of blessing for persons living in same sex unions has been adopted or approved by our General Convention. We wish to make it clear that the House of Bishops has not voted to authorize such liturgies.
Well, I suppose in a Pharisaical sense that might be true. But SSB's are happening all over the place, with official sanction of diocesan authorities in a few places. Now I happen to believe that SSB's are completely in line with Christian practice and belief. And I long for the day when we can celebrate these blessed moments publicly as a church. But we're trying to have it both ways here. We're doing them, but we're saying that they're not sanctioned.

As a province, I think we should do one of two things. We should either come out and say what we're doing and why (with strong biblical and theological support), or we should stop doing it. If we take the first option, let's face the consequences, if any. It is neither honest nor helpful to do something and then say we're not doing it. It smacks of the worst kind of American imperialism to tell the primates that we've honored their requests, when we really haven't.
It's fair to say that the last word hasn't been spoken on this issue.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

There Are No Gays Here

I thought the best moment in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's address at Columbia University came when he was asked about persecution of homosexuals in Iran (transcript can be downloaded here):
In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it.
The students at Columbia greeted this with laughter and boos. But Andrew Sullivan reminds us that it really isn't very funny.

The Center Has Moved Left

David Brooks as a column in today's New York Times that suggests that the Netroots and the left wing of the Democratic Party has largely been repudiated by the successful centrism of Hillary Clinton:

In the beginning of August, liberal bloggers met at the YearlyKos convention while centrist Democrats met at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Conversation. Almost every Democratic presidential candidate attended YearlyKos, and none visited the D.L.C.

At the time, that seemed a sign that the left was gaining the upper hand in its perpetual struggle with the center over the soul of the Democratic Party. But now it’s clear that was only cosmetic.

Now it’s evident that if you want to understand the future of the Democratic Party you can learn almost nothing from the bloggers, billionaires and activists on the left who make up the “netroots.” You can learn most of what you need to know by paying attention to two different groups — high school educated women in the Midwest, and the old Clinton establishment in Washington.

In the first place, the netroots candidates are losing. In the various polls on the Daily Kos Web site, John Edwards, Barack Obama and even Al Gore crush Hillary Clinton, who limps in with 2 percent to 10 percent of the vote.

Moguls like David Geffen have fled for Obama. But the party as a whole is going the other way. Hillary Clinton has established a commanding lead. ...

But Matt Yglesias, blogging in The Atlantic, has the appropriate response:

The bigger problem with Brooks' column, though, isn't so much that it says things that are wrong as that it leaves things out. He says Clinton is "hawkish" compared to what the netroots want to see and that "Democratic domestic policy is now being driven by old Clinton hands like Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed." Both are true, but it's still also true that all of the Democrats are calling for substantial reductions of troop levels in Iraq, which none of the candidates (including Howard Dean) were doing in 2004. They're all calling for diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran. They're also all calling for universal health care, which John Kerry didn't do, Al Gore didn't do, and Bill Clinton didn't do in 1996. And they all support serious reductions in CO2 emissions, which, again, neither Kerry nor Gore nor Clinton did.

And that, generally, is the shape of things. "The left" has only been empowered to a pretty minor degree, but the "centrist" wing of the party is . . . way further left on the merits than where it was in the late 1990s or the early years of the twentieth century. That, in turn, is largely a reflection of a renewed vibrancy on the left that's both pressured elected officials and expanded the boundaries of conversation. When the centrist strand in Democratic thinking came to represent school uniforms, promises to balance the budget each and every year of the Gore administration, and backing the invasion of Iraq that was one thing. If, instead, we're going to get universal health care, action to halt global warming, and diplomatic engagement with rival powers in the Middle East, that's a very different thing. If Brooks wants to call that latter thing a defeat for the netroots because dKos diarists sometimes find themselves disappointed, well, then I think that's a kind of defeat people can live with.

The left is going to continue to express its disappointment with Clinton and the Democratic Congress, especially over the war. But the fact of the matter is that the Democratic Party, the suburbs, and most of the country has been shifting left on a whole host of issues of concerned to the left wing of the party.

50 Years Ago in Little Rock

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. Today's Washington Post has a front page article about Ernest G. Green Jr., one of the Little Rock Nine, the nine black students chosen to integrate Little Rock High School. Green has done quite well for himself. He works on K Street in the nation's capital for Lehman Brothers.

Vanity Fair has a far more interesting article about the two women immortalized in the picture above. Elizabeth Eckford was the first black student to arrive at the high school on September 4, 1957, and she was greeted by an angry mob and a particularly vocal heckler, Hazel Bryan, a student at the high school.

Here is how Hazel Bryan greeted Elizabeth Eckford as she got off the bus that morning:

Fifteen minutes later, at the corner of 12th and Park Avenue, two blocks from Central, she hopped off. She'd often walked by Central—it was on the way to her grandfather's store—and instantly she sensed something was awry: more parked cars than usual, the murmur of a crowd. Then the jeeps and half-tracks came into view, along with the soldiers ringing the school. She saw some white children pass quietly through the line, a sign that everything was al right. But the first two soldiers she approached rebuffed her. A mob of several hundred protesters that had gathered across the street quickly caught sight of her. "They're coming!" someone shouted. "The niggers are coming!" Elizabeth walked down the street a bit, then approached a different group of soldiers. This time they closed ranks and crossed rifles. "Don't let her in!" someone shouted.

Elizabeth's knees started to shake. She walked toward Central's main entrance and tried a third time; again, the soldiers blocked her way, but this time told her to cross the street. Now the crowd fell in behind her, shouting: "Lynch her! Lynch her!" "No nigger bitch is going to get in our school! Get out of here!" "Go back to where you came from!" Looking for a friendly face, she turned to an old woman, who spat on her. Before long, some 250 whites were at her heels. She knew she couldn't go back the way she'd come. But if she could only get to the bus stop a block ahead, she thought, she would be safe. She wanted to run, but thought she might fall down. Recording it all was 26-year-old Will Counts of the Arkansas Democrat. He felt sorry for Elizabeth, but he had a job to do; he just hoped he had enough film. "Lynch her!" someone shouted. "Send that nigger back to the jungle!"

One white girl in the throng stood out: she was "screaming, just hysterical," as Benjamin Fine of The New York Times later put it. It was Hazel Bryan. Unlike many in the crowd, rednecks from the sticks, Hazel was a student at Central—like Elizabeth, about to begin her junior year. Her father was a disabled vet; her mother made lightbulbs for Westinghouse. Hazel's dress was fashionable and a bit too tight, as if to show off her figure. Her good looks brought her lots of boys and a certain license, and she'd always been a bit of a performer. Her racial attitudes mirrored her parents': her father would not let black clerks wait on him, for instance, and when banks started hiring black tellers, he found himself another line.

Marching alongside Hazel, chanting "Two, four, six, eight—we don't want to integrate!" were two friends, Mary Ann Burleson and Sammie Dean Parker. Sammie Dean, immediately to Hazel's right in the picture and wearing a dark dress, was one of the ringleaders of the segregationist students; Mary Ann was largely along for the ride. Each of them was having herself a grand old time. But to Hazel—her friends called her "Kitty"—this was serious business, and her mood, and look, were dark. An alien federal government was foisting blacks into her secure, comfortable schoolgirl world, and she was outraged. While Mary Ann stared ahead amiably and Sammie Dean Parker turned momentarily toward her father, thereby protecting herself from ignominy and posterity, Hazel, her eyes narrowed, her brow furrowed, her teeth clenched as if about to bite, shrieked: "Go home, nigger! Go back to Africa!" ...

Each of these young ladies were deeply scarred by the events of that day; each has had a troubled life. They eventually reconciled, became friends for awhile, and then their friendship fell apart. Hazel has not participated in any of the 50th anniversary events. Elizabeth would rather not but feels compelled to be part of what will likely be her last anniversary celebration. And as for Little Rock High School:
Central High School looks as imposing as ever, but over the past 50 years, its innards have changed unimaginably: the school is now more than half black. It's all misleading, of course, because Central is really two different schools, separate and unequal, under one roof. The blacks go to different classes, sit on separate sides of the cafeteria, have different, and far lower, levels of performance and expectations.
How far we have come in 50 years?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Vitter Earmarks Money for Creationist Group

Via Talking Points Memo, I see that Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is trying to use earmarks to support creationism:
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., earmarked $100,000 in a spending bill for a Louisiana Christian group that has challenged the teaching of Darwinian evolution in the public school system and to which he has political ties.

The money is included in the labor, health and education financing bill for fiscal 2008 and specifies payment to the Louisiana Family Forum "to develop a plan to promote better science education."

The earmark appears to be the latest salvo in a decades-long battle over science education in Louisiana, in which some Christian groups have opposed the teaching of evolution and, more recently, have pushed to have it prominently labeled as a theory with other alternatives presented. Educators and others have decried the movement as a backdoor effort to inject religious teachings into the classroom.

The nonprofit Louisiana Family Forum, launched in Baton Rouge in 1999 by former state Rep. Tony Perkins, has in recent years taken the lead in promoting "origins science," which includes the possibility of divine intervention in the creation of the universe.

The group's stated mission is to "persuasively present biblical principles in the centers of influence on issues affecting the family through research, communication and networking." Until recently, its Web site contained a "battle plan to combat evolution," which called the theory a "dangerous" concept that "has no place in the classroom." The document was removed after a reporter's inquiry.

Seems to me I remember Vitter being accused of doing some other under-the-cover activities.

Buddhists March for Democracy

I have been sort of following this story out of Myanmar about the Buddhist monks who have been peacefully protesting for democracy in their country. Myanmar is led by a military junta. In 1990 the junta called elections but refused to recognize the landslide victory of the party led by a popular advocate for democracy Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel peace prize while under house arrest. She was freed for a time but is under house arrest again. The junta has a history of employing brutal tactics against protest but so far has taken no action against the monks. And the monks are carefully using non-violent methods:
As many as 100,000 protesters led by a phalanx of barefoot monks marched today through Yangon, the most powerful show of strength yet from a movement that has grown in a week from faltering demonstrations to one rivaling the failed 1988 pro-democracy uprising.

Marching for more than five hours and over at least 12 miles, a last hard-core group of more than 1,000 maroon-robed Buddhist monks and 400 sympathizers finished by walking up to an intersection where police blocked access to the street where democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest.

Making no effort to push past, the marchers chanted a Buddhist prayer with the words "May there be peace," and then dispersed. About 500 onlookers cheered the act of defiance, as 100 riot police with helmets and shield stared stonily ahead.

IRS Drops Charges Against Liberal Church

From the Los Angeles Times:
The Internal Revenue Service has told a prominent Pasadena church that it has ended its lengthy investigation into a 2004 antiwar sermon, church leaders said Sunday.

But the agency wrote in its letter to All Saints Episcopal Church that officials still considered the sermon to have been illegal, prompting the church to seek clarification, a corrected record and an apology from the IRS, the church's rector told standing-room-only crowds of parishioners at Sunday's services.

The church also has asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that officials from the Justice Department had become involved in the matter, raising concerns that the investigation was politically motivated.

"To be sure, we are pleased that the IRS exam is over," the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. said in his 9 a.m. sermon, which was interrupted several times by applause. "However, the main issue of protecting the freedom of this church and other religious communities to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and core values is far from accomplished."

Bacon predicted that the vague, mixed message from the IRS after its nearly two-year investigation of the All Saints case would have a continued "chilling effect" on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about moral values and significant social issues such as war and poverty.

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has "no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process," the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000.

One of Southern California's largest and most liberal congregations, All Saints came under IRS scrutiny after a sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election by a guest speaker, the Rev. George F. Regas. In his sermon, Regas, the church's former rector, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Regas did not endorse either candidate, saying that "good people of profound faith" could support either one. But he strongly criticized the war in Iraq and said that Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war strategy in Iraq "has led to disaster."

A letter from the IRS arrived in June 2005 stating that the church's tax-exempt status was in jeopardy. Federal law prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections. ...
There was nothing in that sermon that crossed the line. What Regas said was non-partisan, very political, dead-on, and exactly what Jesus would have said to George Bush.

More in Men/Women & Sexuality--Norah Vincent

Last night the book group I belong to met to discuss the book A Self-Made Man by Norah Vincent. The author, a lesbian journalist (and politically conservative friend of Andrew Sullivan who has written articles for The New Republic) quit her job as syndicated columnist with the LA Times to spend a year in drag and find out what it was like to think like a man and live among them. (Not to mention trying to "date" women from the heterosexual male perspective.)

Vincent spent time with 3 different groups of men during her period of disguise--a weekly bowling league, a monthly support group (a la Robert Bly), and a monastery. The book was fascinating. It confirmed some of my beliefs about how men think/feel and shattered others--keeping in mind the fact that the book was written by a member of a sexual minority, although we all agreed that she didn't bring that bias into her writing that we could ascertain.

6 of the 8 of us who met to discuss this book are "devout" Catholics. The other Protestant woman there besides myself, a PhD neonatal ICU nurse-educator kept giving each other glances throughout the evening discussion. So did another woman whose sister is a lesbian (and she hasn't "outed" this to the group). One woman who is a widow reported that her husband's hat was left at a strip bar on one business trip and mused that she doesn't have the opportunity to question her husband about this now. The woman who suggested this book--a retired Air Force office and I had both been sexually harassed on the job as young professional women.

The Strib OpEd letter from last week by the lesbian woman from Litchfield and the retired Lutheran Bishop's response, previously posted by Liberalpastor yesterday (thank you, Liberalpastor, because I hadn't read it on my own!) were also both discussed.

Last night was one of the most interesting discussions our book group has had in its 13 year history. I drank heavily and tried not to talk TOO much. We wives, divorcees, and widows, decided that male sexuality is all very Darwinian and that men are, by fact, "chromosomally challenged". I still ponder daily, as Rodney King once so eloquently said, "Why can't we all just get along"?

The Politics of Jesus

Andrew Sullivan still doesn't get it:

A letter-writer in Iowa has a suggestion:

For all that some Christian Republicans claim Christ as one of their own, it's far more likely that he would vote Libertarian. Treat people with fairness and love; otherwise leave them alone.

Sorry: not buying it. Jesus has no politics. He has a message of individual salvation. No political system is necessary for it; none can ultimately prevent it.

A message of individual salvation didn't get him hung on a cross by the Romans.

Does God Want Women to Stay Home?

From USA Today:

When it comes to women and higher education, the old joke used to be that the only reason a woman would go to college would be to earn her "MRS" degree. That was the 1950s take on things. It was before the women's movement of the 1960s and '70s, and before females accounted for roughly half the students in most graduate professional fields and more than half of all undergraduate students.

But now, at least one institution — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Fort Worth — appears to be trying to set back the clock. Southwestern is one of the largest fully accredited Southern Baptist seminaries, offering bachelors in addition to divinity degrees. Last spring, the school announced the establishment of a B.A. in humanities, with a concentration in homemaking.

On its face, much of the new curriculum looks like a standard, if rather retro, version of Home Economics — courses include general homemaking, clothing construction, nutrition and meal preparation, and managing a budget, as well as various areas of child care. And on this account, critics at both ends of the political spectrum have found much to like, as well as to criticize, in the seminary's approach.

As a women's studies student of mine, Krista Martin, remarked in an e-mail over the summer, the homemaking program "appears to be a gain for equal worth in that an institution is recognizing that homemaking is just as (if not more) challenging than the medical or legal professions." She has a good point here, and it's the one feminism has needed to make, ever since the women's movement acknowledged the disservice it had done to housewives by tacitly dismissing the importance of housework. Even so, as Krista went on to observe, herein also lies one major shortcoming of Southwestern's program: It is open only to women.

There was a time - long before I was there - when the seminary I attended taught classes for women on how to be good pastor's wives. Now most of the MDiv students there are women.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Slowly, Change is Coming

Herbert W. Chilstrom is the former presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He responds today to a letter in last week's paper from a lesbian (and preacher's kid) who expressed her disappointment with the church:

I spent my boyhood in Litchfield, 70 miles west of the Twin Cities. Neither the schools nor the churches nor my family gave me any sex education. It all came from my friends. And some of it was not good.

The buzz among my buddies was that there were some men who got together at a certain place in town to engage in some strange sexual activity. We stayed as far away from that spot as possible. Whatever they did, we knew it must be shameful and immoral. As for a woman being attracted to another woman, it was completely off our radar screens.

At Augsburg College in the early 1950s, I majored in sociology, which included courses in marriage and family. Sexual behavior of any kind, straight or gay, was not part of the curriculum.

At seminary, there was nothing on the subject. When I did my doctoral work at New York University in the 1960s, I took some elective courses on marriage and family. Again, nothing on the subject of sex.

I was teaching college students in New Jersey at the time and developed a course on marriage and family. I included lectures on sexual behavior, including rather specific information on sex before and after marriage. But nothing on homosexuality. Why? Because I knew little or nothing about it.

Until my mid 40s, I had only one solitary conversation with a gay person -- a student who wanted advice and counsel. I suggested that he pray and see a clinical psychologist. I was certain he would become "normal." When he left campus a week later, I wrote him off as a failure. I was certain he could have been "cured."

In 1976 all this began to change. I was elected bishop of the Minnesota Synod of the Lutheran Church in America. One of the first issues to hit my desk was a referendum in St. Paul about civil rights for gay and lesbian persons. What stance should I take? Though I was somewhat reluctant, it seemed only fair to support the cause.

That led to a life-changing event. A group of young Lutheran men invited my wife and me to meet with them at a lovely older home in St. Paul. We didn't really want to go. But we had no good excuse not to do so. After all, they were members of Lutheran congregations in our synod.

That night we listened to heart-wrenching stories we have heard a thousand times since.

• No, they did not choose to be gay.

• No, their mothers were not domineering.

• No, they had not been abused.

• Yes, they had pleaded with God for change.

• Yes, they had tried marriage as a "cure."

• Yes, they had spent thousands of dollars on reparative therapy, to no avail.

Over the next decade I worked hard to try to engage congregations in the synod in study of the issue, to meet gay and lesbian persons, to study the Scriptures. It was a discouraging venture. At times the volatility in the room was so intense that my wife feared for my safety. But I pressed ahead, certain that we needed to face the issue head-on.

In 1987, I was elected the first presiding bishop of the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). By now congregations were more eager to study the question.

Study is one thing. Change is another. Some bishops were ready for a new day; others were (and still are) adamantly opposed to any reconsideration of the church's traditional stance:

• We should not bless faithful, same-gender relationships.

• We should exclude persons in such relationships from the ordained ministry.

I left office in 1995, thinking that I would put my energies into other matters. But folks around the country knew of my involvement in this issue and kept asking me to give Bible studies and lectures on the question. At times I was out two and three times a month in some corner of the country, trying to help folks see that our use of the Bible to condemn homosexual persons had been a perversion of the good news of grace and acceptance that God wants all to hear.

I know from experience that it's not easy for pastors and bishops to take controversial stands. At a time when budgets are stretched to the limit and demands for new programs are raised at congregational and synod and national meetings, who wants to lose the support of faithful givers who differ on these matters?

The good news for you, Charlotte, and for others, is that change is happening. Much too slowly, to be sure. But it is happening.

At the recent national assembly of the ELCA, delegates decided not to change the rule that excludes persons in same-gender relationships from the ordained ministry. That was disappointing. That same assembly, however, urged bishops to use pastoral discretion and reservation in disciplining pastors known to be in faithful same-gender relationships.

A small step. But it gives some of us reason to hope that one of these days our church, like the United Church of Christ and a handful of others, will take the big step and wipe out all restrictions for those in such faithful partnerships, assuming they are qualified on all other grounds.

Once that happens, it will herald a new day in some of our Lutheran churches. Then we will have some models of commitment between same-gender persons, just as we now have them from pastors in traditional marriages.

Chilstrom has been courageous voice for glbt acceptance among Christian leaders. It is thanks to leaders like him that change is coming.

Values Voter Debate: Why Should God Bless America?

I will be the first to admit that I don't like the song God Bless America. But listen to this version from the recent Republican Values Vote Debate. Apparently none of the front-runners showed up and its a good thing because they would have some explaining to do. Can you imagine what Fox News would say if anything like this came from the Democratic side.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Our Purpose: Transformation

Today's newsletter article:

Last Sunday's message: Fred Plumer is the President of TCPC. Recently he gave an address in Australia to a gathering of several thousand progressive Christians. In that address he talked about what it means to be living during the end of the Christian world and the unique challenges progressives face:

You see, for over fifteen hundred years, everyone in the church knew why the church was in business. The church had the exclusive keys to the kingdom. The church sold the only tickets to salvation. The church was the only broker for that "life after death" atonement pass. Most mainline churches gave up that lofty presumption decades ago. Since then, I believe most of our churches have been a bit muddled about what they are doing except to be "a really neat church." The results have often been a tepid Christology, a dead theology, and a lack of the mystical and spiritual. We complain about fewer and fewer joining us for the communion meal, but fail to notice that we are serving a low nutritional meal.

We now have two full generations of young adults who have grown up with the opportunity to make choices-choices about which TV programs they will watch, which kind of computers they want, what clothes they will wear, which sports they will play, and even what schools they will attend. They have grown with lots of discretionary time and money. But in the US approximately 60% all young adults between the ages of 18-25 have never been in a church, a synagogue or a temple. They have learned how to make utilitarian decisions. If you can not give them a good reason for spending their time and money with your congregation, they will by nature and training do something else with both. So...can we clearly articulate a reason that someone would want to come to our faith community? What is our purpose for being in business?

Can you answer that question? How would you answer that question? Well, the short answer that I would give is that our purpose is not to bring people to salvation but to invite people to find a path that leads to transformation. That is our business: transformation. Another way of saying it is that our purpose is not to bring people to a saving relationship with Jesus but to invite them to follow him, to do what he did.

What he did was to find a path, a way of living in the world, that made the God present here, and that made it seem to many of those who came in contact with him that he was in fact the presence of God. And he was, but what he taught was that this path was open for all to walk, for all to see God's presence and to be God's presence.

Our task here is to invite one another - to encourage one another - to sometimes even challenge one another to find and follow that path that leads to transformation. To live in the presence of the divine in the world and to become the presence of the divine in the world. And for us of progressive bent we have the added challenge of doing it in a way that isn't exclusive - i.e we have the only way - but isn't mush? Can we be honest enough to say that it isn't easy. There will be some choices to make along the way, some pain.

In Plumer's address he referenced this passage from Luke:

Luke 18:18-23

18A certain ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 19Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.'" 21He replied, "I have kept all these since my youth." 22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." 23But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich.

The point of this story is not that he was rich and this was a problem. The point is that he had a blind spot that was getting in the way of him going deeper. We all have those blind spots. And if we are on a path of transformation we are going to bump up against them and have some pain and some choices to make along the way.

This should happen in a community that is working on transformation. Not in the sense of we the blessed community pointing out to you the wretched sinner your need to repent. But in the sense that as we work together there is going to be self-discovery, loving and supportive truth-telling, and hopeful next steps.

What also should happen is that is that it should be fun - there ought to be a sense that this is what it is like to live in the realm of the divine. It's a joyful place; there is laughter and joy when we are together. I am sorry to say that this never happens here ;)

I think we get it. The question I raise for you here is how can we as a community of transformation better spell out that path. Could it be that we could do a better job of spelling out a path. Not 5 easy steps to a better life with Jesus, but would it be helpful to have some kind of spiritual inventory that has markers of wellness and possible next steps, and a way of presenting this and working on this together as a community on a path of transformation.

That I believe, is our task. Plumer again:

C. Kirk Hadaway, a former executive with the United Church of Christ, now with the Episcopalians, wrote an excellent and insightful book, Behold I Do A New Thing, a few years ago. He begins his book with the question, "What is the business of the church?" He then goes on to answer his own question. "The purpose of the church is to transform people - to bring down their self-constructed walls, dissolve their delusions and help them see God."

In the midst of our everyday lives: at home, at work, when we are alone, when we are together: transfomation - to grow deeper to be able to see God and to be the presence of God in the world. That is why we are here.

San Diego Mayor Supports Gay Marriage

This is an awesome video.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Religious Leader's Very Public Marriage Goes South

From the New York Times:

The attack in a hotel parking lot here last month was remarkable not only because the victim, Juanita Bynum, is the most prominent black female television evangelist in the country, who is pals with Oprah, admired by Aretha, and who recently signed on to campaign for Obama.

It was shocking, especially to legions of women who had latched onto her message that only chastity and self-respect would bring true love, because the attacker who choked, stomped and kicked her, Ms. Bynum said, was her husband.

The episode has led to debate about domestic violence and how churches, particularly black churches, respond to it.

But it has also raised questions about the trajectory of Ms. Bynum’s career as a woman who called herself a prophetess, and while condemning promiscuity spoke openly about her lust and longing, in what has been called one of the most significant contemporary American sermons. Her struggle struck a chord in many black communities, where marriage rates are notoriously low, and it seemed to culminate in the form of an earthly reward: a televised, million-dollar 2003 wedding to a fellow Pentecostal preacher, Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, followed by what seemed to be a model marriage. ...

Ms. Bynum, a former flight attendant and hair stylist, rose to fame in the late 1990s with the help of the powerful Bishop T. D. Jakes of Dallas, who supplied an audience of thousands for her frank sermon about sex and the single woman called “No More Sheets.” The sermon is said to have sold more than a million copies on video and profoundly affected many black women.

Ms. Bynum’s sermon admonished women looking for love to stop sleeping around and prepare for a lifetime commitment, but also dwelt on the difficulty of being Christian and single.

“I find it very difficult to listen to anybody preach to me about being single when they’ve got a pair of thighs in their bed every night,” she said that night. “You’re telling me, ‘Hold on, honey, sanctify yourself,’ and you’re going home to biceps and triceps, and big old muscles and thighs.”

She went on, her voice husky and anguished: “I want to hear ‘Hold on’ from somebody who is really holding on. I want to hear ‘Hold on’ from somebody who knows my struggle.” She used bed sheets borrowed from a hotel maid to signify her past promiscuity.

Ms. Bynum’s confessional approach, including of an abusive first marriage, made her a sought-after speaker and a popular host on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, although she did not lead a church of her own. She wrote books that ranked among Publishers Weekly’s top 10 religion best sellers, and her gospel album “A Piece of My Passion” went gold. Women across the country held “No More Sheets” parties to watch and discuss the sermon. ...

Mr. Weeks, 40, whose previous marriage ended in divorce, proved a foil to Ms. Bynum. Bespectacled, bow-tied and far less visceral, he is fond of maxims like “Failure is a tool that God uses to teach us systematic information to give us consistent success.”

The pair quickly capitalized on their marriage, publishing a book called “Teach Me How to Love You: The Beginnings,” and conducting relationship seminars where Mr. Weeks presided over a sometimes graphic version of “The Newlywed Game” and Ms. Bynum heard couples’ grievances as Judge Juanita on “The Love Court.”

In 2006, Mr. Weeks started the Global Destiny Church in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta, with Ms. Bynum as his “first lady.” (In Pentecostal and charismatic circles, the title bishop usually goes to a pastor who oversees more than one church. Global Destiny says it has locations in Washington, Los Angeles and London.)

The couple separated in June, a fact not made public until the assault case arose. Mr. Weeks was subsequently evicted from his house and threatened with eviction from the space rented by his church.

Mr. Weeks has not granted interviews but has made several statements, saying there is more to the story and apologizing that Christians have had to endure this ordeal.

But during the marriage, Ms. Bynum publicly focused on the duties of a Christian wife, counseling women to give their husbands plenty of sex and to ask them, “Do I please you?”

About this time, Ms. Bynum glamorized her own look, trading a bun for a hair weave, picture-perfect makeup and plastic surgery that she discussed on the BET network. Her wardrobe went from ankle-length skirts to casual chic and glittering jewelry.

In the seminars, she sermonized, “I don’t care what kind of husband you got, that’s your covenant vow, and you have a responsibility to make him feel like he’s a wonder when you know he ain’t.”

Sad story.

Was Jesus a Segregationist?

Speaking of Jesus and intolerance, recently I had a post about how wrong southern Bible-quoting Christians were about slavery. Today in the Arkansas Times there is an interesting piece written by Rob Marus, a 1993 graduate of Little Rock Central High School. He lives in the nation's capital, where he has served since 2001 as the chief Washington correspondent for Associated Baptist Press. He writes:

Jesus and Little Rock Central High School made me a moderate.

The tortured history of white Christianity and the civil rights movement captured my imagination when I first became a student at Central in 1990, and provided the most important revelation of my budding political development — Conservative Christians sometimes came out (gasp!) wrong on a major public-policy issue.

Woefully, sinfully, Bible-quotingly wrong.

Moreover, moderate and liberal Christian leaders (as well as leaders of the city's small but prominent Jewish community) were heroes of the 1957 story. They spoke rationally, even prophetically, for tolerance and integration. ...

One of the first personalities I discovered in my study of the Central High desegregation crisis struck the first, and still most discordant, note of my early political development: Wesley Pruden, who in 1957 was pastor of the now-defunct Broadmoor Baptist Church. Probably better known to historians as the chaplain of the segregationist Capital Citizens Council, Pruden became one of the group's most prominent spokesmen.

In an October 1957 issue of the Arkansas Democrat, the Baptist pastor took out an advertisement under the headline, “Can A Christian Be A Segregationist?” In it, he repeated the dire predictions that many segregationists of the era made — school integration was a plot that would usher in racial intermarriage, soon to be followed by communism. The ad closed with a pseudo-hermeneutical justification: “Our Lord was born into the most segrated [sic] race the world has ever known. Under this system He lived and died. Never did He lift his voice against segregation. Segregation has Christian sanction, integration is Communistic.” ...

It just needs to be said over and over... The same mentality that once led Bible-quoting Christians to endorse slavery and then segregation is now being used to justify anti-homosexual views. They were wrong then and they are just as wrong today.

God's Harvard

David Kuo is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir about faith and politics, Tempting Faith. Hanna Rosin is the author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission To Save the Nation and a contributing editor at the Atlantic. In Slate they have an interesting conversation about her book, which tells the story of "students at Patrick Henry College, a small, recently founded school designed to further the education of ambitious, home-schooled Christians."

Good Kuo quote:

Virtually all surveys show that 30 percent to 40 percent of Americans go to church once a week. There are a lot of evangelicals out there even if, as you point out, they lead lives that are virtually indistinguishable from other Americans when it comes to divorce, abortion, and the like. I've argued that part of the reason for that is the political obsession of many evangelical leaders, which has in turn seduced so many evangelicals. It is that obsession and seduction that is so beautifully and horribly laid out in God's Harvard. As you recounted over and over, there was no differentiation between Jesus and politics. There was the absolute understanding that to serve Jesus meant to grasp power and manipulate the political system for God's gain. Sadly, this isn't anything new. It is precisely the sort of thing that Jesus came to defeat.

About halfway through the book, something struck me. Not a single student quoted Jesus' sayings to you in justifying their politics. Their justification came from Old Testament admonitions about power. They didn't quote Jesus—at least as related in the book.

Why? It is because it would be impossible to quote Jesus urging young Christian men and women to tackle the political battlefield as if going unto war. It is because Jesus' commands have everything to do with sacrificially loving others and nothing to do with influencing the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court.

I am not saying that Christians shouldn't have a political voice. They should. But they should do it as citizens with opinions in public policy and not as "Christians" presuming they have Jesus' answer to problems—because on virtually every position, they do not. It is perfectly possible to be a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, born-again Christian and have different perspectives on everything from abortion to Iraq. And that perspective is what is missing from Patrick Henry.

Good Rosin quote:

In my book, I wrote about some of the Patrick Henry kids campaigning for Jerry Kilgore, who ran against Tim Kaine for Virginia governor. Kaine is a Democrat, but he has a very convincing Christian testimony. On the campaign trail, he told the story of how a mission trip changed his life and made it impossible for him to support the death penalty. In a very pro-death-penalty state, this was a brave thing to do. I showed some of the kids interviews with Kaine in which he spoke in moving, sincere ways about his faith. When I asked if they would ever consider voting for him, they looked at me like I was asking if they would vote for Osama Bin Laden. It just would not penetrate that someone could be a Democrat and a good Christian.

This, you would say, is just further proof that politics is ruining them, and you're right. But I would not then draw the conclusion that they should just drop out. That whole cycle that evangelicals have followed for much of this century (Retreat. No! Storm the gates! Retreat. No! Storm the gates!) is just dysfunctional. It produces someone like James Dobson, who just about every six months barrels into Washington vowing to save it and then one month later leaves bitterly disappointed. He's done it for 30 years, and it doesn't work. It produces the worst of the home-school mentality, which teaches that you can go straight from your kitchen table to the White House and rescue America.

Engaging in politics has a moderating effect and makes you more sophisticated. If Christians don't drop out again, then here is my prediction for what will happen in the next election. Right now, candidates compete for the religious vote with their personal testimonies: Vote for me, because I found Jesus in 1974 when I was in the Amazon! etc. You write in your book about how moved you were by Bush's testimony about how he found Jesus and stopped drinking, and how that made you instinctively trust him. This time around, it will no longer be possible to buy them off with a story.

Given their dubious options in the upcoming Republican primary, they will have no choice but to select someone based on their position, not on their story...
Good Kuo quote:

You ended your note challenging me to show you that these kids can change. OK.

I've seen it among some men and women I know in their 20s who went to a very conservative Christian college and who came to D.C. to work in politics. Over the past several years, I've seen them grow in a church where the pastor says he knows they would welcome and love Hillary Clinton, were she to come to a service, as much as they would George W. Bush. I've actually seen them up on the altar surrounding, in loving prayer, a Democratic senator who also attends the church. And one of these guys e-mailed me the other day to say he had read Bill Clinton's new book and loved it—no matter how much he was appalled by that thought.

Interesting quote, via Rosin, from a graduate of "God's Harvard":

I've gotta admit I've been a little bored with his constant love-peace-and-happiness-for-the-world mantra. Would have been a little spicier if you found someone that has more to say than, "Most of us evangelicals are just like you, Hanna, really! We like Bill & Hillary, too! We're tolerant and loving just like you!" I mean, that may true, but it kind of misses the point of your book - that there are people out there who believe that the convictions that stem out of their faith have direct consequences in their jobs, votes, positions, and principles.

As long as your faith is an ambiguous thing that's determined by your culture and personality and the parts of the Bible that you like best—that's fine with most liberals. But the moment your faith becomes grounded in a God that has revealed his opinions and principles in a document (the Bible) that people rally around, study, learn, and believe despite their personalities and personal convictions (which is the sort of "elite" evangelicals you hung around with at PHC)—you're dealing with a united force with a relatively united voice. So if you believe that being open-minded, curious, and tolerant (which is obviously how David Kuo defines love) are the highest virtues—then that other crowd is pretty scary.

So anyways, it's been interesting and intriguing to think about. I always have to wonder which Bible those guys read—I mean, Jesus was no action hero, but he did rebuke and revolutionize the lifestyles of people in every sphere—from military officers, to prostitutes, to businessmen, to fisherman, to governors, to children. He preached radical change of people's loyalties and demanded all-or-nothing of their opinions and alliangences. He was not very "loving" to most of the people he interacted with—if loving is defined as saying, "You can live how you want, and I'll live how I want," which is what Kuo seems to think—instead he was like, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." So, I think maybe Kuo should go back and read the Jesus stories again before he claims that Jesus is such a nice, tolerant guy. Jesus was lots of things, but "nice" and "tolerant" aren't really ever vibes I picked up on.

That's right. Jesus was intolerant. That is what happens when you read the gospels through the lens of one passage in the Gospel of John.

The Rich Get Richer

Alan Greenspan has a new memoir out, The Age of Turbulence, and it has ruffled some feathers because he is a life-long Republican but has fairly positive things to say about working as Fed Chief during Bill Clinton's term and not-so-kind things to say about his time with President Bush. It seems everyone associated with the Bush fiasco feels the need to separate themselves.

Yesterday I listened to an NPR interview with Greenspan and I was struck by his comments about the rising income inequality in America. He said he it is a "major concern" of his because we "cannot have a capitalist market economy without support of vast majority of people." The rising inequality of income creates, he thinks, the potential for a "backlash" against the market economy. For this reason, he said, he does not support attempts to repeal the estate tax.

Greenspan is apparently not worried about issues of economic justice but is afraid the peasants might revolt and bring harm to the rich folks. Better to be a little less rich and keep the peasants happy.

Greenspan's interview reminds me, though, of a recent post by Paul Krugman on his blog. Someone responded to Krugman's column challenging his contention that there is a vast and growing disparity in income inequality that is actually worse than what is known as The Gilded Age, because even then the incomes of average Americans were rising - just not as fast as that of the Robber Barons. In our modern version of The Gilded Age, the rich are getting richer and the middle class is losing ground. In response to the post Krugman said:
I think you’re suffering from a common failure — you don’t understand how rich the people we’re talking about are. We’re not talking about people with good jobs who’ve paid off their home mortgage; we’re talking about the $1 million a year plus crowd, people who live in a completely different material universe from most Americans.
The rise of their incomes during the Bush years has been so strong that it has made it appear that the entire economy is growing. Their economy is growing; ours is not. And it is unraveling the social compact that somehow we are all in this together. They, the super rich, are not in it with us. And it is their economic interests that are being supported by today's Republican Party.

Bill Gates knows how dangerous this is. Warren Buffett and even Alan Greenspan, too. In many ways the war fiasco has masked this problem. But if there is a silver lining in the very dark cloud of all the problems created by Bush it is that the undoing of the Bush Administration and the Republican Party on the war may also trickle down to a long-overdue leveling of the playing field in the economic life of America.

*Extra* Years of Therapy Hang in the Balance!

Liberalchurch in Burnsville has several families that have members entering college this fall. Several parents have become "empty nesters" including liberalpastor and his spouse. This article in the New York Times this morning brought back some old feelings. I'm an only child so you might guess that upon my departure to college my room remained a "shrine" for about 9 years. When my husband and I contracted to build a home--the one we still live in--my parents immediately began to remodel my father's childhood home and moved (across the street). At age 40-something I felt a sense of loss when my mother sold the home (a perfectly wise and sound decision on her part) even though it had undergone many metamorphoses during the 15+ years it had been rental property. parents' treatment of my childhood space after leaving for college did not add more years to my therapy...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

300 Years of Brethren

On Sept. 15-16 Germantown Church of the Brethren in Philadelphia hosted the opening event of a year-long celebration of the 300th anniversary of the Brethren movement, which began in Germany in 1708. Events took place at the "mother church," the first congregation of Brethren in the Americas, and featured worship, workshops, tours, exhibits, and music.

This is where it all began in America for the Brethren, who emigrated to America in 1723. They came to Penn's Woods and joined other Anabaptist and separatist groups in a commonwealth where dissenters from the state churches of Europe and American colonies with established religions were welcome.

Open Circle's Rhonda Gingrich, front left, is on the anniversary committee. The festivities conclude at Annual Conference in Richmond, Virginia in July 2008. For progressive Brethren the celebration is marred somewhat by the fact that the pastor of the North Manchester Church of the Brethren, in Indiana, was uninvited to to deliver the keynote address this summer in Schwarzenau, Germany, where the first Brethren gathered for adult baptism in 1708, because his church is at the center of a controversy in the Church of the Brethren because it is progressive and has allowed same-sex commitment services to be held there.

This is Brethren pastor Earl Ziegler delivering a sermon at the Germantown event. Earl was once the District Executive of the Atlantic Northeast District, one of the largest COB districts in the country. It was Earl (around 1984), who was at seminary teaching a class, who once knocked on my door at seminary and asked me to accompany him to the seminary recycling bin. Looking at the beer bottles there in the recycling bin Earl said to me that he had been told that seminary students gathered at my apartment occasionally to consume alcohol. I admitted that this was true. He told me that I would never be invited to serve a church in his district. I replied that it was unlikely I would ever be interested in serving a church in his district. I never did serve a church in his district, one of the most conservative in the denomination.

However, much to my surprise after I moved to Minnesota, one summer day Earl called me up and said he was at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport with an extended layover, and asked if I had time to pick him up and take him to the Mall of America. I picked him up and took him to the mall where we shared a lunch and had a delightful visit. Earl and I disagree on many things but we share the historic Brethren understanding that maintaining relationships and continuing to dialogue are more important than being "right." This is what the modern American evangelical Brethren don't get or don't believe. They have the "truth" and they want compliance or punishment. No more talking. It is why our denomination is headed towards another split.

God and the Constitution

Today's editorial from USA Today:

On Sept. 17, 1787, after a long summer of argument and compromise, the Founders completed and signed what would become the U.S. Constitution. And despite popular misconception, it didn't include a word about the USA being a "Christian nation."

In fact, the Constitution doesn't mention Christianity, or God, at all. It is a secular document outlining the structure of what would become the new government of this nation.

Likewise, the First Amendment to the Constitution, which protects every individual's right to practice his or her own religion — bans government "establishment" or direct support of religion — makes no mention of Christianity.

Yet, 220 years later, an astonishing 55% of respondents to a poll released last week said they believe the Constitution "establishes a Christian nation."

More disturbing than the mistaken assumption of special status for one religion is a broader pattern evident in this poll, taken by a respected survey research firm for the First Amendment Center. The poll shows widespread ignorance of basic freedoms and a belief that many of the Constitution's rights apply only to some Americans, not to all:

* 98% said the right to speak freely about whatever you want is essential or important. But 39% would muzzle public statements that might be offensive to religious groups, 42% would bar musicians from singing songs others might find offensive, 56% would outlaw public statements that might be offensive to racial groups, and 74% would prohibit public school students from wearing a T-shirt that others might find offensive.

* 97% said the right to practice the religion of your choice is essential or important, but only 56% said freedom of religion applies to all religious groups.

* 93% said the right to be informed by a free press is essential or important. But 37% would not allow newspapers to freely criticize U.S. military strategy or performance; 61% would impose government requirements on balancing conservative and liberal commentary in newspapers.

Just as the Founding Fathers didn't apply freedom of religion just to Christians, neither did they limit freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly just to those who behave politely or avoid offense. How could it be otherwise? If freedom of religion means anything, it must apply equally to minority religions. And if freedoms of speech, press and assembly mean anything, they must apply to all — most particularly those whose views might not be in the current mainstream.

In a democracy, if freedom is not available to all, then no one is truly free.

The Danger of Fundamentalism

Tom Englehardt has an interesting interview with author James Carroll, the author of Constantine's Sword (now a movie too, I guess), a devastating critique of Christianity's centuries-long ugly treatment of Judaism. I have probably never read a book that made me so ashamed of the history of Christianity. In the interview Carroll talks about the danger posed by fundamentalism, including the way it has creeped into the American military:

TD: You have a new film, based on your book, Constantine's Sword, in which you explore this change at, among other places, the Air Force Academy, right?

Carroll: Yes, what happened there was striking. Take just this example: A couple of years ago, Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ rendered in profoundly fundamentalist ways, most terribly, the death of Jesus as caused by "the Jews," not the Romans. In that movie, Pilate is a good guy; the Jewish high priest the villain. Gibson justified this by saying it was how the Gospels tell the story, which is literally true. A fundamentalist reading of the Gospel story ignores what we know from history and from scientific inquiry and analysis of the Gospels. It wasn't "the Jews" who murdered Jesus, it was the Romans, pure and simple. There were complicated reasons why the Gospels were written that way, but a fundamentalist reading of those texts is dangerous. Gibson demonized the Jews, while celebrating grotesque violence as a mode of salvation, as willed by God.

And then that film was featured at the United States Air Force Academy. Its commanders made it clear that every one of the cadets, over 4,000 of them, was supposed to see that movie. Repeatedly over a week, every time cadets went into H. H. Arnold mess hall, they found fliers on their dinner plates announcing that this movie was being shown. I saw posters that said: "See the Passion of the Christ" and "This is an official Air Force Academy event, do not remove this poster."

As a result of that film, there was an outbreak of pressure, practically coercion, by born-again evangelical Christians aimed at non-Christian cadets and, in a special way, at Jews. This went on for months and when the whistle was blown by a Jewish cadet and his father, the Air Force denied it, tried to cover it up. Yale University sent a team from the Yale Divinity School to investigate. They issued a devastating report. The commander at the academy was finally removed; the Air Force was forced to acknowledge that there was a problem.

In fact, the Academy had allowed itself to become a proselytizing outpost for evangelical Christian mega-churches in the Colorado Springs area. Chief among them were Ted Haggard's and James Dobson's, both men then in the inner circle of the Bush White House, involved in the sort of faith-based initiatives that marked the Bush administration.

In the Pentagon today, there is active proselytizing by Christian groups that is allowed by the chain of command. When your superior expects you to show up at his prayer breakfast, you may not feel free to say no. It's not at all clear what will happen to your career. He writes your efficiency report. And the next thing you know, you have, in the culture of the Pentagon, more and more active religious outreach.

Imagine, then, a military motivated by an explicit Christian, missionizing impulse at the worst possible moment in our history, because we're confronting an enemy -- and yes, we do have an enemy: fringe, fascist, nihilist extremists coming out of the Islamic world -- who define the conflict entirely in religious terms. They, too, want to see this as a new "crusade." That's the language that Osama bin Laden uses. For the United States of America at this moment to allow its military to begin to wear the badges of a religious movement is a disaster!

As Carroll goes on to note, what has temporarily checked this manifestation of fundamentalist crusading is the complete failure of the Bush Administration. But the problem and the danger goes deeper than Bush. Carroll contends, in fact, that it is latent in our American DNA, a crusading streak that resides side by side with the Enlightenment idea of separating church and state and bringing the skeptical and critical tools of scientific inquiry to religious claims. Religion doesn't have to be fundamentalist and dangerous to humanity; it can be a source for lifting the human spirit and working for peace and justice. But it can also be a dangerous source of intolerance and uncritical self-righteous thinking.


It will be interesting to see if the Iraqi government - our Iraqi government - really has the authority to kick out the mercenary firm Blackwater. But is simply amazing to me that the State Department hires mercenaries to protect its staff in Iraq instead of using our own military:
TIME has obtained an incident report prepared by the U.S. government describing a fire fight Sunday in Baghdad in which at least eight Iraqis were reported killed and 13 wounded. The deadly incident occurred when a convoy of U.S. personnel protected by Blackwater security contractors came under small arms fire. Blackwater returned fire, resulting in the Iraqi deaths. The loss of life has provoked anger in Baghdad, where the Interior Ministry has suspended Blackwater's license to operate around the country. Several Iraqi government officials have indicated their opposition to Blackwater's continued presence in their country. If the suspension is made permanent, it could significantly impair security for key U.S. personnel in the country, a U.S. official in Baghdad told TIME. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose State Department depends on Blackwater to protect its Iraq-based staffers, called Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to say that the U.S. has launched its own investigation into the matter.
I'll be surprised if our "impartial" investigation doesn't exonerate the mercenaries.

Hillary 's Healthcare Plan

David Brooks talks to Hillary Clinton and essentially endorses her healthcare plan (with a few caveats) this morning in the New York Times:

As she spoke, memories of the Clinton years wafted through my head — government by seminar running into the late hours. But as she will tell you (before you even have a chance to ask), she has learned a lot since the early 1990s, and while the conversations may still be endless, they are also more restrained.

And it’s true. The plan she unveiled yesterday is much simpler than the one she came up with 14 years ago. Back then, she and her staff were like technocratic engineers, one of her advisers told me, trying to patch every last gap in their edifice. This time they were content to leave the details of the plan to Congress.

Last time, they threatened people who were satisfied with their health coverage. This time they reassure them that nothing will change. Last time, they were out of touch with the American values of choice and individual freedom. This time they emphasize those values every chance they get, never seriously considering a Canadian-style single-payer system.

This time the change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. The private insurance/employer-based system will still remain the heart and soul of the social contract — it’s just that more people will be given tax credits so they can afford to buy in.

The Clinton plan makes life politically difficult for Mitt Romney. She relies on an individual insurance mandate. So does his plan in Massachusetts. The Clinton plan also takes the brave step of taxing the wealthy for gold-plated health care benefits — a reform that almost every Republican health expert endorses. Meanwhile, the plan seems to have driven John Edwards around the bend. The statement he issued yesterday qualifies as the shrillest statement issued by a major presidential candidate this year.

I am beginning to think Hillary is an unstoppable force.

Genitics, Morality, and Politics

This article is worth reading in total--so I won't try to summarize it because everyone will get something different from it and summarizing would be editorializing!

I'm going to take the "morality quiz" that they link to in the article now...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Speaking of God and Sports

What is wrong with Notre Dame? Breaks my heart. And it reminds of a wise old question: why is the sky blue and white? Because God is a Penn State fan!

Kitna Felt the Hand of God

I was on my way home from my run at Ritter Farm this afternoon when I heard KFAN sports analyst Dan Barreiro commenting on Detroit Lions quarterback Jon Kitna's comeback yesterday after being knocked out of the Lions-Vikings game with a concussion. According to ESPN Kitna attributed his surprising comeback to a "miracle":
"I've never felt anything like that, and for it to clear up and go right back to as normal as I can be, is nothing short of a miracle," Kitna said. "I just definitely feel the hand of God. That's all it was. You can't explain it.
Barreiro was raising the obvious question about all those other players who have suffered injuries and were not able to come back. Where was God when they got hurt, he wondered? It is a good question. And maybe a better question needs to be asked of the Lions' coaching and medical staff. This is Kitna's third concussion, and they sent him back into a game? It is possible that Kitna was not thinking straight, but what were they thinking?

Mid-Life Risk Takers

This article from the New York Times about youth risk-taking vs. adult risk-taking is very interesting and should be read by all policy-makers, jurists, judges and psychologists--at least!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

First Frost

We had our first frost of the season last night here in Burnsville. I covered the flowering plants I wanted to keep going. It was time to say goodbye to most of my vegetable garden--I guess. But there is part of me that wants to keep things going. It's the sad part of fall--saying goodbye to the growing season. I'm thinking about trying to prolong it this year. My in-laws used to do this and I may follow in their footsteps and attempt it this year if I can figure out how to do a cold frame, that is.

Here's the first site I looked at this morning in an attempt to find some information. The Savvy Gardener says...

Fall is also a good time for sowing some cool-weather crops in frames. If provided with adequate moisture and fertilization, most cool-season crops will continue to grow through early winter in the protected environment of the cold frame. Depending on the harshness of the winter and whether or not additional heating is used, your frame may continue to provide fresh greens, herbs, and root crops throughout the cold winter months.

Here's a link to the full webpage including plans for making a cold frame.

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Decider Decides We'll Stay

Joseph Galloway for McClatchy News on the President's address:

Well, now we’ve heard from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker and President George W. Bush, and it appears that the Surge has succeeded — succeeded in guaranteeing that the Iraq War will drag on for the last 16 months of the Bush presidency at a cost of another 1,600 American dead and $13 billion a month.

Extending the war, kicking that can down the road, was President Bush’s only strategic objective last January when he came up with the idea of escalating the number of American troops in Iraq from 130,000 to today’s 170,000. Put simply, the Decider wants to hand off the decision to pull the plug on his unwinnable war to someone else, anyone else.

Four and a half years after this president ordered the invasion of Iraq in a gross act of arrogance and ignorance based on faulty, bogus and politically twisted intelligence — and after repeatedly changing the rationales and objectives of the war as each has failed in turn — we’re going to continue this war because George W. Bush is incapable of admitting that he was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Leaving aside all the happy talk we heard this week about how much better the security picture is in Baghdad, the fact is that the escalation or surge has failed utterly. The stated purpose of this exercise was to buy breathing room for the faltering government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and the paralyzed Iraqi parliament to make progress toward national reconciliation.

The Iraqi government’s job was to use this breathing room, bought at the cost of American lives and American treasure, to step back from sectarian murder and civil war, which it’s failed to do, may be totally incapable of doing and may not even be interested in doing.

Every American commander in Iraq has stated the obvious from Day One: This war cannot be won militarily. It cannot be won by American troops. It cannot be won by wishful thinking. It can only be won by the Iraqis themselves, and their definition of victory is built on dreams of bloody revenge and the slaughter of innocents.

When our president talks of peace returning to the streets of Baghdad, he mistakes the silence of empty, abandoned homes and sectarian cleansing for progress. He confuses the segregation of Shia and Sunni, each in their own ghettos behind tall concrete walls, for progress. More than 3 million Iraqis have been driven from their homes and neighborhoods into exile, internal or external, and this he calls success...

Will Bush get away with this? From all the evidence at hand, the answer, sadly, is yes. Only the Democrats in Congress stand in his way, and they have yet to find their spines, or a semblance of moral courage, or even a sufficient understanding of the Constitution and its clauses on war making and war-financing, to override The Decider.

It’s a long journey from now to January 20, 2009, and the blood of many Americans and even more Iraqis will flow freely and stain the hands of those who allow this insane war to continue at the behest of a stubborn, unseeing, unthinking man from Crawford, Texas.

Liberal Education

Colleges and Universities have started up their fall classes and students everywhere are "hitting the books".

Both of my alma maters, The College of Wooster/undergratuate and Case Western Reserve University/law school, have new presidents who are beginning their tenure in this position.

Here's a recap of the Convocation Address to the students at the beginning of the academic year in Wooster, Ohio at The College of Wooster. To hear a podcast of Dr. Cornwell delivering his address to the faculty and students, click here.

Happy learning everyone!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Evil World Government

We are studying Revelation in Bible Study and having some fun with popular movies based on the most misunderstood and misused book in the Bible. One of the things I had forgotten about A Thief in the Night was the way world government (the evil United Nations!) was portrayed. Same goes for the Left Behind Series:

From A Thief in the Night:
A government system called UNITE (United Nations Imperium for Total Emergency) is set up and those who do not receive the mark identifying them with UNITE will be arrested.
From Left Behind II:

It's a week after the rapture and the millions of people who vanished into thin air are still missing. Chaos rules the world as panic and grief stricken survivors continue to search for their lost loved-ones. Suicide rates are sky-rocketing, businesses and homes are being looted, and martial law is in effect. A desperate world looks to the leadership and guidance of UN President Nicolae Carpathia, the only person offering any answers, hope, and plans to restore peace and order.

While Carpathia has the world's adoration and trust, he is seemingly unaware of a small group of rebels spreading the truth that he is in fact the Antichrist.
Is it really possible there are people who take this stuff seriously?

Same-sex Unions in Canada

They are becoming part of the mainstream:
Same-sex unions are growing at five times the rate of opposite-sex ones according to census numbers that also reveal, for the first time, the number of homosexual marriages in Canada.

Some 45,300 couples, both common law and married, reported as same-sex in the 2006 census, up from 34,200. Those numbers represent a 33 per cent surge since 2001, while heterosexual couples grew by just six per cent in the same time period.

The historic Statistics Canada query on same-sex marriage, coming in the wake of Parliament legalizing such unions in 2005, revealed 7,465 homosexual marriages.

That's considerably lower than numbers reported by the now-defunct advocacy group Canadians For Equal Marriage. The group, based on its own research of municipal records, reported last November that 12,438 marriage licences had been granted to same-sex couples since provincial courts began recognizing such unions in 2003.

The census relegated same-sex marriages to a write-in category under the questionnaire's 'other' box - a move that raised the ire of Egale Canada. The national advocacy group responded by urging its membership to list their relationships as husband and wife.

"One box for everybody," is how executive director Helen Kennedy described the group's position.

"People are people and people just want the same things out of life. Your sexual orientation should not matter."

Anne Milan, a senior analyst at Statistics Canada, stands by the accuracy of the census data but concedes the limitations of relying on the answers people provide.

"It's the first time that we've asked same sex marriage so it's really a benchmark number," said Milan, who added it's "difficult to say" what effect Egale's dissent had on the numbers.

"Future census releases will allow us to compare the count and see what's happening."

The fact that the question was being asked at all shows that "people are getting on with their lives, which was fundamentally what the whole debate was about," said Michael Leshner, a lawyer and one of Canada's first legally married gay men.

Rosh Hashana and Ramadan

They both begin this evening:
The setting of the sun this evening begins a sacred season for two of the world's most popular religions.

The unusual convergence marks the beginning of Ramadan, the monthlong Islamic fast, as well as Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year that starts the 10-day period known as the Days of Awe.

The two holidays typically happen on the same day only every 33 years, although they also occurred together in October 2005.

Both religions reckon time with the lunar calendar, which has 354 days, 11 fewer than the widely used Gregorian calendar.

Because Jewish holidays are connected to seasonal cycles, a 13th month is inserted into the Hebrew calendar every three years.

Major Muslim holidays are not connected to any seasonal or agricultural event, the Islamic calendar follows a strict 354-day cycle. As a result, the dates move up 10 days of the Gregorian calendar every year, so Ramadan falls during different seasons.

Today marks the new moon, the harvest season and a "turning point" in the year for Jews, said Rabbi Aryeh Wineman of Temple Beth El in Troy. The High Holy Days conclude 10 days on Sept. 22 with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This year is 5768.

Today's unique celebration of the two different faiths also marks a time to reflect upon their similarity, Wineman said.

"There's a sense of soul-searching and inner cleansing, spiritual cleansing and renewal," Wineman said. "It takes on different forms but that's the character of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and Ramadan, too."

Rosh Hashana starts with a period of contemplation in the synagogue followed by a festive meal at home with sweet foods. Observant Jews fast for Yom Kippur, on which the last hour of the traditional service is a period of prayer.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the the Islamic calendar, begins with the sighting of the crescent moon. Beginning Thursday morning, Muslims will fast from food and drink, including water, in daylight hours. The fast begins after suhoor, a morning meal before dawn, and is broken after sundown, usually with sweet dates.

Religion is in my Heart

The New York Times asks Iraqis whether they want American troops to stay or go:

“Violence could erupt at any moment if the Americans leave,” said Sara al-Zubaidi, 30, a Baghdad resident whose father is Sunni and whose mother is Shiite. “The ones who do these terrible things are asleep, not gone. They are waiting for the opportunity, just waiting for the opportunity to eat one another,” said Ms. Zubaidi, a graduate of the city’s College of Arts.

In interviews four months ago, many Iraqis refused to say how long American troops should stay. Now, however, some say they want them here for a minimum of three years, and maybe even five years. Ms. Zubaidi said she thought five years would be the minimum, adding that the police and army needed to be remade to root out sectarianism.

“They will need five years,” she said. “The first year they need to prepare themselves properly to work with the Iraqi people. Then they need a year or two years to start from the ground building the security services and then. ...” She lowered her voice and looked around as if she was afraid someone might be listening, then continued: “They need one year to prepare a government for Iraq that is built not on a sectarian foundation. It must be a secular government.

“Religion has nothing to do with government,” she said. “Religion is in my heart.”

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is This Making America Safer?

I just heard Senator John Warner (R-VA) ask General Petraeus if the surge was making America safer. Petraeus said that he believed he was pursuing the right strategy to achieve the military aims in Iraq but he didn't know whether it was making America safer. I thought that was an astonishing statement from a top general in our military.

Here, via Talking Points Memo, is the video.

An Islamic Televangelist

From the Washington Post:
The rhythmic clapping began the minute Amr Khaled stepped through the door of the packed Crystal City ballroom. Surrounded by security guards, the Egyptian preacher had to weave his way through the crowd -- men both cleanshaven and bearded, women both fashionably coifed and dressed in conservative Islamic dress -- that had come from up and down the East Coast to hear him. Two massive screens projected his image to those in the back.

"My goal is that you leave happy," Khaled began softly, once he finally got to the lectern. "My goal is to fulfill the hadith of the prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that says, 'Whoever puts joy in the hearts of the believers, his reward is not less than Paradise.' " The crowd ate it up. For the next 90 minutes, they laughed at his witticisms, smiled at his stories, nodded at his exhortations and clapped again -- spontaneously and often. But most of all, they listened intently.

The rock-star preacher in the designer suit, often called "the anti-bin Laden," had arrived in America with his new brand of upbeat, feel-good Islam...

In sermons, speeches and appearances throughout his first trip to the United States, in May -- he said he hopes to return often -- Khaled spoke consistently of compromise and coexistence. "My message is: Please be rightful representatives for your religion," he said in an interview. "Please show people here your good manners, your attitude of hard work, how you can succeed in this society, what you can add, your positive integration while maintaining pride in Islam -- so people know how really great this religion is."

The message resonates. Over the past decade, Khaled has emerged as the top-ranked televangelist in the Arab world, a New Age Islamic guru likened to tele-megastars Joel Osteen and Dr. Phil. His appearances are uploaded on YouTube. His Web site-- in 18 languages, including Danish, Turkish, Hebrew, English and Russian -- gets tens of millions of hits. This year, he ranked 62nd on Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people.

In programs broadcast worldwide on four satellite stations, Khaled has also revolutionized the way Islam is ministered and the focus of the faith's message. He tells folksy tales of the prophet adapted to modern life. In slangy Arabic, he preaches hard work, good works and good manners. Wearing a mustache but no beard, sometimes dressed in jeans instead of the trademark robe of Islam's clerics, he reaches out to the young and encourages women...