Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Need some Halloween Costume Ideas?

People for the American Way is here to help you out! I think I'll go as Ann Coulter. Now that's SCAREY!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Happy Halloween!--Are you ready to celebrate?

Tomorrow is Halloween which originally started as a pagan holiday and marks the half point between the fall and winter equinox. Read more about it from Beliefnet here.

If I wasn't responsible for handing out candy to my neighbor kids and/or walking my own kids around the neighborhood, I'd go to Liberalchurch for the meditation ceremony which will no doubt will celebrate this holiday. It is at 7pm tomorrow -- 10/31/07.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Fracturing of the Evangelical Movement

David Kirkpatrick has a fascinating article in this week's New York Times magazine on the fracturing of the evangelical movement. As an older generation of leaders - Falwell, Dobson - move to the sidelines the base is rethinking its wedding with right-wing Republican politics.

I was particularly interested in Kirkpatrick's conversation with Bill Hybels, the pastor of the Chicago area mega-church Willow Creek. Some fifteen years ago as I was contemplating the possibility of starting a new church in the twin cities I attended a Willow Creek training session. They were among the pioneers of the seeker-church model and much of what they had to say about unchurched Harry and Sally, as they talked about their target audience, was on target.

But one of the most memorable take-aways from my time there for 2 days was the life-size cardboard cutouts of Oliver North in uniform standing everyone on their massive campus. He was scheduled to speak at Willow Creek that fall and they were proud to have this "American hero" stopping in to speak to their folks about his Christian faith. Here, though, is Kirkpatrick's profile of Hybels today:

As his stature has grown, Hybels has seemed more willing to irk Christian conservative political leaders — and even some in his own congregation. He set off a furor a few years ago when he invited former President Bill Clinton to speak at one of his conferences. And the Iraq war has brought into sharp relief Hybels’s differences with conservatives like Dobson.

Most conservative Christian leaders have resolutely supported Bush’s foreign policy. Dobson and others have even talked about defending Western civilization from radical Islam as a precondition for protecting family values. But on the eve of the Iraq invasion, Hybels preached a sermon called “Why War?” Laying out three approaches to war — realism, just-war theory and pacifism — he implored members of his congregation to re-examine their own thinking and then try to square it with the Bible. In the process, he left little doubt about where he personally stood. He called himself a pacifist.

Hybels traced the “J curve” of mounting deaths from war through the centuries. “In case you are wondering about this, wonder how God feels about all this,” he said. “It breaks the heart of God.”

At his annual leadership conference this summer, Hybels interviewed former President Jimmy Carter. To some Christian conservatives, it was quite a provocation. Carter, after all, was their first great disappointment, a Southern Baptist who denounced the conservative takeover and an early critic of the Bush administration. Some pastors canceled plans to attend.

“I think that a superpower ought to be the exemplification of a commitment to peace,” Carter told Hybels, who nodded along. “I would like for anyone in the world that’s threatened with conflict to say to themselves immediately: ‘Why don’t we go to Washington? They believe in peace and they will help us get peace.’ ” Carter added: “This is just a simple but important extrapolation from what a human being ought to do, and what a human being ought to do is what Jesus Christ did, who was a champion of peace."

In a conversation I had with him, Hybels told me he considered politics a path to “heartache and disappointment” for a Christian leader. But he also described the message of his Willow Creek Association to its member churches in terms that would warm a liberal’s heart.

“We have just pounded the drum again and again that, for churches to reach their full redemptive potential, they have to do more than hold services — they have to try to transform their communities,” he said. “If there is racial injustice in your community, you have to speak to that. If there is educational injustice, you have to do something there. If the poor are being neglected by the government or being oppressed in some way, then you have to stand up for the poor.”

In the past, Hybels has scrupulously avoided criticizing conservative Christian political figures like Falwell or Dobson. But in my talk with him, he argued that the leaders of the conservative Christian political movement had lost touch with their base. “The Indians are saying to the chiefs, ‘We are interested in more than your two or three issues,’ ” Hybels said. “We are interested in the poor, in racial reconciliation, in global poverty and AIDS, in the plight of women in the developing world.”

He brought up the Rev. Jim Wallis, the lonely voice of the tiny evangelical left. Wallis has long argued that secular progressives could make common cause with theologically conservative Christians. “What Jim has been talking about is coming to fruition,” Hybels said.

Wow. I am surprised and impressed.

Do-it-yourself Christianity

In today's USAToday, a Presbyterian minister reflects on the loss of denominational identity:

Of course, denominational pastors like myself have some lessons to learn from successful independent churches. I need to accept that today's spiritual seekers want quality, clarity, convenience and community in their practice of faith, and they will choose the church that offers the programs that best meet their personal needs. Few people will join my church simply because it is Presbyterian, just as a shrinking number of people will buy a car because of loyalty to General Motors. Consumers today want a product with the best features, whether it is a church with a dynamic youth program or an automobile with an excellent crash-test rating.

Individual choice and control are affecting all of our institutions, from financial organizations (Internet banking) to journalism (blogging) to education (distance learning). The church is not immune from this, and we'll see increasing diversity in the "emerging churches" that are attracting a new generation of people in their 20s and 30s who are suspicious of organized religion. Overseas, independent churches are experiencing explosive growth, especially in Brazil and South Africa, and it won't be long before churches in the USA feel the effects of this movement.

Sadly, what is lost in this fracturing of church and society are the worldwide networks that have long been maintained by Protestant denominations. Isolated congregations can certainly meet the spiritual needs of individuals, but they cannot do the work of denominations in supporting thousands of missionaries around the world, creating seminaries for the training of clergy, or taking stands for peace, justice, and religious freedom on the national and international levels. In addition, independent congregations cannot be counted on to preserve a historically based understanding of the Christian faith, or to maintain the unity of the church across geographical or cultural boundaries.

I wonder how many "isolated" congregations there really are. There is no doubt that denominational identity is flagging but I suspect that it is being replaced by new cross-denominational coalitions of congregations that share a similar theology. It will take awhile for the education piece to catch up with this reality but these coalitions are already working together on mission and politics.

SOS--Stressed Out Students

I remember the feeling well! Almost like it was yesterday ;-)

Too much stress can lead to many, many, problems including anxiety, depression, gastrointestinal distress, lowered immune system, high blood pressure etc. I read today in the NYTimes that public and private schools are now doing what our health care system, our religious and secular groups, and families haven't been able to do effectively--help teach children "preventative practices" for mental and physical health problems related to stress.

This Friday night my daughter's Girl Scout troop will be having an overnight at the council office in St. Paul and a couple of the fun things we will be doing is to begin earning the "Stress Less" badge. The Director of Spiritual Health for Fairview Ridges Hosptial (who is the mom of one of the girls) will be leading us in a guided meditation. We will also do yoga together using a DVD by Rodney Yee. At our Monday Nov. 12 meeting we will be taught the Emotional Freedom Technique by Liberalchurch's own Wellness Ministry Team leader. I'm looking forward to it! I wish someone had done this for me when I was 9,13,17,21,25 or 29...

Friday, October 26, 2007

On the Lighter Side...

Kudos to LiberalChurch's Wellness Ministry Team Leader, Kathy, for a successful retreat last weekend. I have heard several people say how wonderful it was.

Along the lines of Wellness, since it has been a long week for me personally, I'm posting something on the lighter side today...

Here's a fun quiz to take from Beliefnet to find out how good your mind/body connection is!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

October 25, 2002

It was five years ago today that Paul and Sheila Wellstone died. This day created a memory for my children much as 11/22/1963 did for me when I was their age. It was a national tragedy that was deeply felt personally and publically both around the world and in our family.

Here's nice article from the AP.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Civics 101

In the lead editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Robert F. Turner, a former Reagan lawyer who specializes in intelligence law, argues that the President is bound by the Constitution and not laws enacted by Congress if they impinge on the power of the Presidency. Thus, he says, every President since Roosevelt has been justified in engaged in warrantless wiretapping in the name of national security.

I don't doubt that what Turner says about past Presidential action is true. But I think he is missing the point here. I can imagine a scenario where situations arise in national security issues that are not covered by existing law. Or, where quick action is required in the name of national security. But my understanding is that FISA was designed to cover just these kinds of situations. FISA approval, even if gained after the fact, brings the action under the umbrella of the law. I don't see what the problem is with this. Nobody, including the President is above the law.

But what I find incredible is this assertion by Turner:
Much contemporary debate over presidential claims of power to ignore "laws" fails to appreciate the modern congressional practice of enacting flagrantly unconstitutional statutes. This helps explain the increased use of presidential "signing statements" in recent decades. On June 11, 1976, Sen. Robert P. Griffin (R., Mich.) inserted a lengthy statement I'd drafted into the Congressional Record explaining why "legislative vetoes" of executive agency actions were unconstitutional. Seven years later, the Supreme Court echoed those arguments in reaching the same conclusion in the Chadha case. The congressional response? It has since enacted more than 500 new unconstitutional legislative vetoes.
Legislative vetoes? Does he mean laws? Laws drafted by the legislature and signed by the President? If the law is so "flagrantly" unconstitutional why is the President signing it?

Again, I think Turner is missing or perhaps distorting the issue here. This President doesn't on rare occasions issue a signing statement stating his disagreement with a particular aspect of a newly enacted law. He routinely, flagrantly, issues signing statements. He is above the law. He is dismissive of the whole constitutional process: "Go ahead and enact whatever laws you want; I am free to ignore them."

With this President we are not dealing with those rare shades of gray in the legislative process that all Presidents face, we are dealing with a rogue branch of the government bent on abusing power.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Climate Change

Atlanta is almost out of water; California is burning; the West is in perpetual drought; the Great Lakes are losing water levels; across the world glaciers are disappearing at a rapid rate. Over at Minnesota Monitor, Jeff Flecke has this to say about it:

The problem of global climate change does not lie simply in warmer temperatures. It also lies in the way that the world's biomes will be reshuffled. Richard Seager, a scientist at Columbia University, put it bluntly when asked about the west. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, "You can't call it a drought anymore, because it's going over to a drier climate. No one says the Sahara is in drought."

We have reached a point where the impact of global warming is undeniable to any but the most determined skeptic. Some of the impact is inevitable; I fear that within our lifetimes, we'll see the states in the mountain west facing severe water shortages, and demand for states like Minnesota, where we have a great deal of fresh water available, to share the wealth. We must begin immediately to plan for that future, to ensure that we can help our fellow Americans without destroying our own state's environment. And humans must immediately begin to work to curb global carbon emissions. We are already seeing negative effects from our previous lackadaisical attitude, and I fear that we are already too late to avoid catastrophe. We must act soon to avoid apocalypse.

I think he is absolutely right. This water crisis is unfolding at an amazing rate. We need to be ready.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Iran in Perspective

The President says World War III could happen if Iran gets nuclear weapons. The Vice President says Iran must not be allowed to acquire them. Rudy Giuliani suggests that Iran is a greater threat than China or the USSR were during the Cold War. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek puts the Iranian threat in perspective:

The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism." For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.

Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?

...In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can't be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a "residual rationality," he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history's greatest mass murderers.

If I had to choose whom to describe as a madman, North Korea's Kim Jong Il or Ahmadinejad, I do not think there is really any contest. A decade ago Kim Jong Il allowed a famine to kill 2 million of his own people, forcing the others to survive by eating grass, while he imported gallons of expensive French wine. He has sold nuclear technology to other rogue states and threatened his neighbors with test-firings of rockets and missiles. Yet the United States will be participating in international relief efforts to Pyongyang worth billions of dollars.

Born Rich

Via Talking Points Memo, I found myself reading this Washington Post Style page article about the messy divorce of right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife, the Mellon heir who bank-rolled a continuous effort to smear the Clinton's when Bill was President. Scaife, who started dating his current wife while still married to his first wife, also has a long history of funding "family-values" organizations like the Heritage Foundation, which publishes articles about restoring the sanctity of marriage. But Republican hypocrisy about family values is as old as Newt Gingrich. And Rudi Giuliani. And John McCain. And Larry Craig. And, well you get the picture.

What caught my attention was the sums of money being talked about in this article. The soon to be ex-wife, who caught him cheating on her, is collecting "$725,000 a month. Or about $24,000 a day, seven days a week." It seems he forgot to have her sign a prenuptial agreement.

It's an astronomical amount of money - to me. But Scaife gets by on a miserly $4 million a month in trust money. What does he do? The lawyer for his soon-to-be ex-wife says:
These massive streams of income are attributable to no employment, business enterprise or other effort -- intellectual, physical, creative or ministerial -- past or present.

Ron Paul on a Federal Marriage Amendment

At yesterday's Republican debate Ron Paul was asked to clarify his position, his opposition, to a federal amendment to the constitution to "protect" marriage:

PAUL: OK. Well, if you believe in federalism, it's better that we allow these things to be left to the state. My personal belief is that marriage is a religious ceremony.

PAUL: And it should be dealt with religiously. The state really shouldn't be involved. The state, both federal and state-wise, got involved mostly for health reasons 100 years or so ago.

But this should be a religious matter. All voluntary associations, whether they're economic or social, should be protected by the law. But to amend the Constitution is totally unnecessary to define something that's already in the dictionary.

We do know what marriage is about. We don't need a new definition or argue over a definition and have an amendment to the Constitution. To me, it just seems so unnecessary to do that. It's very simply that the states should be out of that business, and the states -- I mean, the states should be able to handle this. The federal government should be out of it.

The state should be in the business of recognizing and protecting the legal rights of civil unions, straight and gay. Marriage is a religious ceremony. The state has no business wading into the issue of marriage. It should be up to religious communities to decide if they want to bless civil unions with the religious rite of marriage. This is what we call the separation of church and state, and state-recognized marriage gets the state involved in the middle of religious issues where it has no business.

Valerie Plame Wilson Speaks

Sort of. I watched her interview last night on 60 Minutes. She really didn't say much except to firmly state that she was an undercover CIA agent in 2002 when her cover was blown by the Bush Administration. But, as I just learned from this post by former CIA operative Larry Johnson, the CIA is forbidding her to speak about her time in the CIA. So Larry Johnson is doing it for her:
It is as if Rod Serling has returned from the dead with a 21st Century version of the Twilight Zone. The CIA won the initial round in Federal Court and insists Valerie cannot acknowledge working at the CIA prior to February 2002. Because of a pending appeal in her freedom of speech case against the CIA, she cannot say anything about joining the CIA in September of 1985 fresh out of college. She cannot say anything about her initial impression of her Career Trainee classmates–such as Jim Marcinkowski, Brent Cavan, Mike “the Griz” Grimaldi, Precious Flower, and mois. She is proscribed from telling you about wandering the forests of Camp Peary learning land navigation and she certainly will not, at least for now, be able to tell you about being taken hostage and subjected to torture for two days.

Valerie especially cannot tell you about her first tour overseas as a case officer. Ironically, her first boss overseas–Fred Rustmann–has gone on the record and tried early on in this scandal to argue that she was not a NOC (i.e., Non Official Cover officer). But Fred, who was forced out of the CIA and into early retirement because of misdeeds overseas, was not around long enough to learn that after her first tour Val was given the opportunity to become a NOC.

Not only did she get the opportunity. She took full advantage of it and embarked on a career that would change her life in ways she never imagined. She walked away from diplomatic cover and was left naked of the protection normally accorded to diplomats. She had to rely on her wits and tradecraft, and did so successfully for many years, until betrayed by the Bush Administration. But she cannot tell you about that period. At least not now.

Her publisher, Simon and Schuster, came up with a nifty idea to tell the story of the period of service Valerie cannot talk about. They hired Laura Rozen and she interviewed people like me, who served with Valerie. Laura does a great job but it is still a second best solution.

Come Monday you can read for yourself the legal documents surrounding Valerie’s case. They will be posted at

We do know this one key thing with certainty–Valerie was not some low level, desk jockey, secretary taking up space and using oxygen at the CIA. The CIA does not prevent such people from telling their story. Nope. Valerie’s very existence as a CIA operative is deemed by the CIA to be so sensitive a topic that she can say nothing about activities prior to February 2002. But she can admit that in February 2002 she was a senior covert operations officer involved in projects that went to the heart of the President’s highest priority–finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Valerie’s identity and ability to carry out that mission during a time of war were compromised by Dick Cheney, Sccoter Libby, Ari Fleischer, and Karl Rove. Their actions were both treasonous and cowardly. Yet the person being penalized and compelled to sacrifice her constitutional right of free speech is Valerie Plame Wilson. The good news is that the American people will finally get to meet the classy, smart lady I served with at the CIA. She achieved her aspiration to be good intelligence officer and still found balance in her life to be a good wife and a good mother. She lost her career and her ability to help support her family. As a nation we have been deprived of her service because of the pettiness and stupidity of the Bush Administration. A successful book tour will be small recompense for the loss Val has experienced. But let’s hope its enough to ensure that Val, Joe, and the kids have a happy, long life.

Father, Lesbian Daughter Prohibited From Speaking at Church

From the Minnesota Monitor:
The Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis has prohibited a father and his lesbian daughter from giving a talk Monday night at a Minneapolis church.

Robert and Carol Curoe were scheduled to give a talk about their book, "Are There Closets in Heaven? A Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Share Their Story," about a Catholic family coming to terms with their daughter's coming out. The announcement of the talk several weeks ago spawned discussion on Catholic blogs, and according to the archdiocese statement to the church, "the number and intensity" of phone calls and emails opposing the event led the archdiocese to ban the event.

The Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and Catholic Rainbow Parents had sponsored the talk at St. Frances Cabrini Church. "Obviously, we're disappointed, and we are still trying to understand it," said Carol Curoe in a statement Sunday. "Our book, Are There Closets in Heaven? talks about an 82 year-old, life-long Catholic father trying to understand and practice his faith within his church while also loving his daughter as he does her siblings. Neither our journey, nor writing the book, was an easy task."

They will speak at the House of the Beloved Disciple located at 2930 13th Ave. S., Minneapolis on Monday, October 22, at 8:00 p.m.

What Worries Me About You is Your Optimism

Nearly a month before the war in Iraq began, while the Bush Administration was publicly saying it would wait for on-the-ground WMD inspections to be concluded, the President hosted Spanish Prime Minister José Marìa Aznar at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and told him that the war was coming. We all know now, of course, that the Administration was hell-bent on taking out Saddam regardless of what inspections found, but this article by Mark Danner in The New York Review of Books provides another interesting look at Bush's state of mind and the response it elicited from a world leader who wanted to support the President but who was wary of rushing to war. Bush, of course has no doubts:
Aznar: The only thing that worries me about you is your optimism.
Bush: I am an optimist, because I believe that I'm right. I'm at peace with myself. It's up to us to face a serious threat to peace.
Says Danner:

It is worrying, as Aznar remarks, to rely on optimism grounded only in belief. The Spaniard knows that gaining that second Security Council resolution, and thus the critical international legitimacy for the war, will be very hard; in many nations, launching a war against Iraq, particularly before the UN inspectors have finished their work, is deeply unpopular. Faith cannot replace facts, nor can a historic sense of mission. Both may be personally comforting—they plainly are to George W. Bush—but they don't obviate the need to know things.

Bush came to office a man who knew little of the world, who had hardly traveled outside the country, who knew nothing of the practice of foreign policy and diplomacy. Two years later, after the attacks of September 11 and his emergence as a self-described "war president," he has come to know only that this lack of knowledge is not a handicap but perhaps even a strength: that he doesn't need to know things in order to believe that he's right and to be at peace with himself. He has redefined his weakness—his lack of knowledge and experience—as his singular strength. He believes he's right. It is a matter of generations and destiny and freedom: it is "up to us to face a serious threat to peace." For Bush, faith, conviction, and a felt sense of destiny —not facts or knowledge—are the real necessities of leadership.
And the whole world has paid the price.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Treat for Insomniacs

I've been having a little trouble staying asleep all night lately. Usually it gets very tiresome laying in bed thinking or watching late night t.v. or reading in a state of semi-consciousness. However tonight if I wake up at my usual time somewhere between 2 - 4am, I'll be in for a real treat! The Orionoid Meteor Shower will be visable after 1:30am and the best viewing is supposed to be just before sunrise Sunday according to this article from After a week of rainshowers, it will be quite refreshing to watch a star shower instead!

Pandering Update

Giuliani was not pandering this morning when he spoke at the Values Voter Conference:
Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, walking into a political lion’s den, told the year’s largest gathering of social conservatives that he is “not always the best example of faith” but that their similarities are much greater than their differences.

“Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe instead of changing all my positions?” Giuliani told an audience of 2,000 at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit at a Washington hotel. “I believe trust is more important than 100 percent agreement.”


“We’ve got to find a way to be more inclusive,” Giuliani said. “Christianity is all about inclusiveness. It’s built around the most profound act of love in human history, isn’t it? … I’m running for president of the United States because I believe I can bring us together. Strong leadership can help us find common solutions to our problems.”

State Turns Down Abstinence-Only Money

I was surprised to read this in this morning's Star Tribune given the politics of the Governor:
Publicly funded abstinence-only sex education in Minnesota has nearly disappeared.

Last month, for the first time in a decade, Minnesota officials quietly said no thank you to $500,000 in federal abstinence-only money. That leaves a budget of only $331,000 for a statewide program that as recently as 2004 received $2 million.

The decision not to apply for the federal funding came at a time when the value of abstinence-only sex education is being fiercely debated in Minnesota and nationally.

At issue is the question of whether adolescents and teenagers should be taught the view embraced by social conservatives -- that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. According to that view, comprehensive sex education that also teaches kids about birth control or safer sex practices encourages them to have sex. Rules tied to the federal funding forbid any mention of the effectiveness of contraception or of sexual practices that reduce the risk of disease.

But apparently even our socially conservative Governor had a problem with these rules:

Among other things, it required all such programs to also teach that sex outside of marriage was psychologically and physically harmful.

And the messages had to be directed toward everyone ages 12 to 29, officials said.

Another fine example of "faith-based" science.

Rowling Outs Dumbledore

From Entertainment Weekly:
First things first: At last night's talk at New York City's Carnegie Hall — an event for thousands of young Harry Potter fans and their parents — J.K. Rowling outed the kindly headmaster.

Responding to a question from a child about Dumbledore's love life, Rowling hesitated and then revealed, "I always saw Dumbledore as gay." Filling in a few more details, she said, "Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald.... Don't forget, falling in love can blind us. [He] was very drawn to this brilliant person. This was Dumbledore's tragedy." She added that in a recent meeting about the sixth movie, she spied a line in the script where Dumbledore waxed poetic about a girl, so she was forced to scribble director David Yates a note to correct the situation.

Pandering Update

At the Values Voters Conference:

Thompson got polite applause for his pledges to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage, then promised that in his first hour as president, he would "go into the Oval Office, close the door and pray for the wisdom to do the right thing."

The crowd leapt to its feet, applauding and yelling its approval to a smiling Thompson.
I guess they do like it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More Brethren Identity

My longer response to the talk by Stewart Hoover at the 300 year anniversary gathering in Pennsylvania:

I listened to the opening address by Stewart Hoover and found it interesting. Some of it is a restatement of what is familiar knowledge - we are losing denomination identity and authority; people identify with particular communities of faith and they are, as individuals, their own authority. They pick and choose pieces of this and that and put together their own meaningful spiritual identity.

I thought his insight was helpful on the way popular culture has made a commodity of Christian symbols like the cross. It was interesting to me the way he juxtaposed pop-singer Madonna and what she has done with the cross - and the non-response it has gotten - against what Irish singer Sinead did a few years ago on a SNL skit when she sang an irish protest song and then tore up a picture of the pope. Sinead was booed off the stage and then subsequently booed off the stage of her concerts until she apologized. Hoover's point: the pope was a more meaningful symbol of Christianity to young people than the cross. He was a living symbol; the cross, then, has become a "dead" symbol? Or one that has lost some of its power? In any case, it seems true that we have lost control of our symbols in popular culture.

I was less convinced by Hoover's comments at the end of his discussion about what we do as Brethren to clarify our identity - our symbol. He suggested that we, in essence, sold our soul down the river during the last 50 years by either trying to become identified with evangelicals or mainline churches. Our distinctive Brethren identity has been lost. But how do we get it back? If I heard him correctly he suggested that in the midst of the culture wars between Christians and Muslims who think we need to battle it out, the Brethren - with our memory of what it is like when religion is too closely wed to political power and with our commitment to the peace position - have a contribution to make by getting both sides of the culture war to listen and talk to each other. For those who heard the talk, is this a correct interpretation of what he said?

Assuming it is, I think there is some merit to this. He is certainly correct, I believe, that both sides of the culture war are wrong. But I am not convinced that this will help us clarify our identity vis a vis other mainline churches. As far as I can tell it is also the position of the Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and every other mainline denomination that I can think of - and Jim Wallis too - to call for an end to the culture wars and a healthy respect for the separation of church and state. It is in my view the right place to be, but it doesn't set us apart.

What does? One thought I have is that somehow our Brethren ancestors managed to convince some radical pietists that there was merit in getting together in community. How did they do it? The spirit of the age today is radically pietist. It is intensely personal; each person is on a journey, finding the spiritual path that works for them. This can be fairly threatening to "traditional" Christianity because it invariably means today that non-Christian elements or non-orthodox Christian elements are in the mix. (And it was threatening to orthodox Christianity then too.) But this is where spiritual expression is going for now (who knows for how long) and it is where many young people are at who distrust traditional Christianity as practiced by denominations. How do we convince these modern-day pietists that there is value in getting together in community? We once figured out a way to blend those two sides of spiritual expression together and that as much as our commitment to service and peace shaped our identity. Can we do it again?

Brethren Identity

From the COB Newsline, a report on a talk by Steward Hoover at the academic conference celebrating 300 years of Church of the Brethren history at Elizabethtown College, PA:

Brethren today face difficult challenges in maintaining identity and community, particularly in the media culture, said Stewart Hoover in the keynote address. Hoover is professor of media studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, a professor adjoint of Religious Studies and American Studies, and a former staff member of the Church of the Brethren General Board. He spoke on "Brethren Heritage and Modern Culture: Vision and Challenge."

The Brethren must continue to search for a unique identity and voice, Stewart advised. He spoke of the 21st century cultural context as a time of great change in institutions and religion. Christian identity is no longer denominational, rather it is found at the congregational level, he said. In this context, it is a problem that 20th century Brethren "cast their lot" in two directions--evangelical Christianity, and the mainline Protestant churches--Stewart said, characterizing the two directions as contradictory, and neither particularly Brethren.

As he advised Brethren to seek a stronger voice in the culture, Stewart warned that "we Brethren know that ascendancy comes at a the expense of the rights of others." However, he added that Brethren may be particularly well placed to play a constructive role in the current debate or "clash of civilizations" between Western society and radical Islam.

Brethren "know that both sides of this conflict are wrong" in advocating a strong role for religion in the state, Stewart said. Brethren know that involvement of religion in the state will lead to coercion, violence, and the antithesis of religion's claims, he said. At the same time, Brethren may help shed light and reduce heat in these debates. "We Brethren would argue that to work toward coexistence (of Western society and radical Islam) would not be a denial of our theology but a fulfillment of it," Stewart said. At a time when other forces seem to want to enhance this clash of cultures, he asserted that Brethren "can see how un- Christian such a movement is."

Yes, both sides of the conflict are wrong. And yes, congregational identity is much more important today than denominational identity.

An Ironic Filibuster Threat

Senator Chris Dodd has had enough. His attempt to put a hold on the FISA bill - that would grant amnesty to telecoms for their part in cooperating with the Administration while it was engaging in illegal eavesdropping - was apparently going to be ignored by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, astonishing as they are supposed to be on the same side. So, as Talking Points Memo reports, Dodd is threatening to filibuster the bill:
Are you willing to go to the mat to restore the Constitution?

Just last night, we heard there are plans to disregard Senator Dodd's intention to place a hold on a FISA bill that includes amnesty for telecommunications companies.

That would be a pretty extraordinary move, but Chris Dodd has pledged to stop this horrible bill any way he can.

So if the hold is not honored, he is prepared to go to the Senate floor and filibuster.

Rolling back the Bush Administration assault on the rule of law has been a major focus of Chris Dodd's work in the Senate -- and it's also a centerpiece in his campaign for President.

Good for him. Finally one Democratic Senator is going to stand up to the Senate leadership that has been caving to every Republican bluster. And that is the irony here. It is maddening to see the Senate leadership pull bills because they don't have the votes to override a Presidential veto, instead of forcing the Republicans to filibuster. But apparently they willing to force the hand of one of their own and risk a filibuster. It makes no sense to me.

The Year of Living Biblically

ProgressiveChurchlady mentioned this book the other day. I see that the author, A.J. Jacobs, has a back and forth conversation about the book with Matt Labash on Slate. Best quote from Jacobs about his experience:
By the end of the year, I had moved from my old agnosticism to what a minister friend of mine calls "reverent agnosticism": Whether or not there is a God, I think there's something to the idea of sacredness. The Sabbath can be sacred, rituals can be sacred, and there's an importance to that.

The Evangelical Christian Voter Poll by CBS

Thanks to Rep. Al Junke who highlights polls and news stories for DFLers around MN and sends out digests and special e-mails to everyone every day! Here's news he just sent which is very interesting...

Story: Evangelicals: The New Swing Voters? (CBS News):

Release: Evangelicals Feeling Left Out, Poll Finds. (CBSnews):
Poll results: White Evangelicals, the issues and the 2008 election. (CBSnews):


Bush approval rating at 24%....Voters unhappy with Bush and Congress. (Reuters):

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deja Vu

Deja Vu was the title of a CSNY tune from the 70s. In a bit of Deja Vu, CSNY's Graham Nash has teamed up with old friends Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne from the '79 No Nukes Concert to speak about and help stop the threat of nuclear energy to our planet. It has resurfaced again in an energy bill currently in congress. This generation of music activists has been joined by Keb Mo and Ben Harper and thru UTube are reaching another generation of people now threatened by this "dirty energy". To learn more and hear them sing together a great Dusty Springfield tune, go here!

Confusing Story

Here is how Newsweek is reporting the story of the Vatican Priest caught making sexual advances on another male:

It's another story the Vatican could have done without. A high-ranking church official in Rome is caught by a hidden camera making what appear to be advances to another man. The scenes, in which the priest questions the Roman Catholic church's teaching on homosexuality, are then broadcast on Italian television.

That's the position the Vatican, still trying to deal with the long-running fallout from pedophile priests, finds itself in after the official, Monsignor Tommaso Stenico—who has responsibility for matters relating to the clergy—was filmed during an encounter with a youth he was reported to have met on a gay Internet chat room.

The priest invited the young man to his office after work hours and, during the course of their conversation on homosexuality, started complimenting the youth on his appearance. The young man told the priest he was "about to commit something with me that is a sin in the eyes of God." Stenico, 60, replied: "No, I don't consider it a sin." When the youth questioned how the priest could ignore the church's teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, the priest cut short the meeting and showed him the door—but not before placing his hand on the back of his leg and saying, "You're so hot." The priest asked his guest not to talk with anyone on the way out.

I am confused. Is the other male a "young man" or a "youth"? Is he 12-16 or 18-25? It makes a difference. Is it pedophilia or homosexuality? Either way the Priest is breaking his vows and finds himself in an embarrassing heap of trouble. But is he breaking the law?

I know conservative Catholics who think there is no difference between pedophilia and homosexuality; they think that if the church would just get rid of all the gay priests there would be no more pedophilia. But it isn't the same thing, and this article adds to the confusion.

One Can Hope

From an editorial in today's New York Times:
We would like to think that the spiritual leader’s (the Dalai Lama) lifelong dedication to nonviolence and tolerance might also rub off on some of the people he meets in Washington. “Through violence, you may solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another,” is one of his statements that politicians everywhere might meditate upon. Or this: “The world has become so small that no nation can solve its problems alone, in isolation from others.”

Richard Land on Giuliani

Richard Land, leader of the Southern Baptists, isn't impressed with promises by pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani that if he is elected President he will appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court:

"He also promised two previous wives that he would love, honor and cherish them until death do us part,'' Land said.

The Stillborn God

Tuesday I started reading the book A Stillborn God by Mark Lilla. Lilla is professor of humanities at Columbia University. Lilla's basic argument is that we in the United States are unequipped to understand the challenge posed to western civilizations by the political theology of Islam because our own political traditions developed in a relatively secular atmosphere. Here he is laying out the thrust of his book in an online forum at the Cato Institute:

Considered with even a little historical perspective, contemporary American debates over religion and politics are astonishingly provincial. Whether our arguments take place in the press, in seminar rooms, or on the stump, we keep coming back to the same basic themes: toleration, church-state separation, freedom of assembly, conscience, values, community, and a few others. These terms reflect the way we see religious phenomena at home and abroad and also shape how we see them. Having read our Tocqueville, we understand how deeply rooted in American experience these concepts and categories are. Many of the first settlers were fleeing religious intolerance and persecution at home, and for them establishing a constitutional framework guaranteeing toleration and church-state separation was the first order of political business. Nothing goes deeper in American collective consciousness.

What we seem to have forgotten is how unique the circumstances were that made possible the establishment of the American compact on religion and politics. Perhaps now is the time to restore the much needed concept of American exceptionalism and remind ourselves of some basic facts. The most important one that set our experience apart from that of Europe was the absence of a strong Roman Catholic Church as a redoubt of intellectual and political opposition to the liberal-democratic ideas hatched by the Enlightenment – and thus also, the absence of a radical, atheist Enlightenment convinced that l’infâme must be écrasé. For over two centuries France, Italy, and Spain were rent by what can only be called existential struggles over the legitimacy of Catholic political theology and the revolutionary heritage of 1789. (Though the term “liberalism” is of Spanish coinage, as a political force it was weak in the whole of Catholic Europe until after the Second World War.) Neither side in this epic struggle was remotely interested in “toleration”; they wanted victory.

Looking beyond Europe, we note other things missing from the American landscape, quite literally. For example, there were no religious shrines to fight over, no holy cities, no temples, no sacred burial grounds (except those of the Native Americans, which were shamefully ignored). There also was a complete absence of what we would today call diversity: America was racially and culturally homogeneous in the early years of the republic, even if there were differences – in retrospect, incredibly minor – in Protestant affiliation. Yes, there were a few Catholics and Jews among the early immigrants, but the tone was set by Protestants of dissenting tendencies from the British Isles. The theological differences among them were swamped by the fact that everyone spoke the same language, cooked the same food, and looked to a shared history of persecution and emigration. It was a homogeneous country, and what comes with homogeneity, along with some troubling things, is trust.

It was this trust, bred of homogeneity, that allowed the ideal of toleration to be actualized. People feel comfortable when they are with their own, and it is only in an atmosphere of mutual trust that norms of acceptance and openness can develop. Because the early Americans seemed familiar to each other, at a certain point it no longer seemed far-fetched that a white male who followed one Protestant preacher and cut his hair in one way, could eventually learn to tolerate another white male who followed a different Protestant preacher and cut his hair in another – or, later, that this same principle might be applied to people who were not white, male, or Protestant. Tocqueville begins the first volume of Democracy in America with these geographical and sociological givens, which he saw as the necessary conditions of establishing a successful democracy in a large continent. If toleration is the great achievement in American political and religious life, the road to it was not paved with toleration alone. It was the by-product of many other factors that had to be in place before the deeply rooted human urge to distinguish, discriminate, and fear could be snuffed.

But now the principle of toleration has been rooted in the United States and, at least since the Second World War, is formally recognized in the democracies of Western Europe, Latin America, and parts of Asia. This is a great success for democracy and, insofar as we have helped things along, for American foreign policy. But it has also bred fantasies about the easy spread of democratic institutions and the norms necessary to support them in other parts of the world, most urgently in Islamic nations. Toleration seems so compelling to us as an idea that we find it hard to take seriously reasons – particularly theological reasons – for rejecting the democratic ideas associated with it....
If you read the responses, all of them interesting, on the Cato sight you well see that he gets quite a bit of pushback about whether America has really been so free of political theologies. It is certainly true that many of the early settlers established colonies with a strong political theology. And it is true that we have a long history of religiously based politics, from Prohibition to anti-abortion effort today. But on the whole I think Lilla is correct to argue that because we never had the centuries long, deeply rooted religious history that Europe had, the political theology in America has never been as deeply rooted.

And the founders, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Franklin, etc. knew their European history, a history bathed in the the blood of horrendous religious wars, and were intent on establishing a political framework based in natural rights and not on explicitly religious grounds. We were not founded as a Christian nation. We are a secular nation that happens to have a majority Christian population. And it is probably true that we don't "get" the political theology that informs much of the Islamic world. Although, I haven't read far enough into his book to see if he takes any account of Turkey, which is a secular democracy which happens to have a majority Muslim population.

In any case the book is an interesting read so far and I will probably post more on it as I get back to reading it. And the online discussion at Cato is also quite good.

The Biggest Losers Fallacy

Two years ago my cousin asked me to join her and her husband in a "Biggest Loser Group" where you and your teammate/family and friends worked along with folks in the show to lose weight in your own lives/homes. Having been a lay student of dieting and weight loss since I was about 10 years old when my mother gave me one of her weight loss Rx pills--and also sometimes over my lifetime employing "psychologically clinically treatable methods"--I had to figure out a way to support the efforts of my cousin and her husband while saying "sorry, no thanks".

I've never watched an espisode of The Biggest Loser, however I did yesterday see clips of it for the first time on the t.v. screen at the bowling alley while there with my mom and kids. This article in today's New York Times explains my biggest reason why I have avoided The Biggest Loser:

Finally, and perhaps most unfortunately for viewers tuning in to the show for inspiration as they pursue their own diets, the most significant factor in the contestants’ big weight losses is probably the fact of participating on a reality show. The losers are all living in what one of the show’s producers, J. D. Roth, calls “a biodome” — a hothouse of emotional and physical intensity with no children to pick up at school, or bosses to please, or houses to clean. The only obligation, besides getting to hair and makeup, is losing weight.

What’s more, contestants on “The Biggest Loser” who work to shed pounds at home after being voted off the show, have an advantage over the viewer. Former contestants receive regular checkups from the show’s doctors and trainers and are also kept in check when strangers buttonhole them about their weight. Plus, stepping on that scale for “the live finale in front of millions keeps motivation strong,” Mr. Roth said.

For those still living on the show’s campus, female team members eat 1,100 to 1,500 calories a day, and male contestants eat 1,500 to 2,300 calories a day, with meals like salmon and wild rice. And everybody spends an hour or two on weight or resistance training, an hour on a high-intensity cardiovascular exercise, and up to three hours walking on the treadmill, using the elliptical trainer or riding a stationary bike. The low-intensity cardio exercise is left out when each diet week is edited to fit a 90-minute segment.

“Most of what goes on while a person is losing weight is incredibly boring,” Mr. Roth said. “It’s like watching paint dry.”

Yet contestants and trainers say it’s those dull hours of low-intensity activity that make the difference. For this season, 250,000 obese Americans sent audition tapes; only 18 made the show. “You watch it because you want to know the secret,” said Ms. Peters, who writes a blog about her attempt to drop 70 pounds. “But the reality is, you can’t. So why bother? Everybody in the real world seems to have the same consensus: nobody has that much time to dedicate to losing weight.”


In short, reality t.v. presents a warped sense of reality! I wish we would all go back to being entertained by situation comedies on television. But then I'd be more tempted to go back to watching more t.v. instead of reading, listening to music, working on a hobby, helping people other in need--or God help me--even exercising!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Another Atheist Fanatic

A report from the Freedom From Religion Conference on a talk by religion hater Christopher Hitchens:

Then it was Hitchens at his most bellicose. He told us what the most serious threat to the West was (and you know this line already): it was Islam. Then he accused the audience of being soft on Islam, of being the kind of vague atheists who refuse to see the threat for what it was, a clash of civilizations, and of being too weak to do what was necessary, which was to spill blood to defeat the enemy. Along the way he told us who his choice for president was right now — Rudy Giuliani — and that Obama was a fool, Clinton was a pandering closet fundamentalist, and that he was less than thrilled about all the support among the FFRF for the Democratic party. We cannot afford to allow the Iranian theocracy to arm itself with nuclear weapons (something I entirely sympathize with), and that the only solution is to go in there with bombs and marines and blow it all up. The way to win the war is to kill so many Moslems that they begin to question whether they can bear the mounting casualties.

It was simplistic us-vs.-them thinking at its worst, and the only solution he had to offer was death and destruction of the enemy.

This was made even more clear in the Q&A. He was asked to consider the possibility that bombing and killing was only going to accomplish an increase in the number of people opposing us. Hitchens accused the questioner of being incredibly stupid (the question was not well-phrased, I'll agree, but it was clear what he meant), and said that it was obvious that every Moslem you kill means there is one less Moslem to fight you … which is only true if you assume that every Moslem already wants to kill Americans and is armed and willing to do so. I think that what is obvious is that most Moslems are primarily interested in living a life of contentment with their families and their work, and that an America committed to slaughter is a tactic that will only convince more of them to join in opposition to us.

Basically, what Hitchens was proposing is genocide. Or, at least, wholesale execution of the population of the Moslem world until they are sufficiently cowed and frightened and depleted that they are unable to resist us in any way, ever again.

This is insane. I entirely agree that we are looking at a clash of civilizations, that there are huge incompatibilities between different parts of the world, and that we face years and years of all kinds of conflict between us, with no easy resolution. However, one can only resolve deep ideological conflicts by the extermination of one side in video games and cartoons. It's not going to work in the real world. We can't simply murder enough Moslems to weaken them into irrelevance, and even if we could, that's not the kind of culture to which I want to belong.

A clash of whole civilizations is a war of ideas. The way we can 'conquer' is on the cultural and economic level: the West should not invade and destroy, but should instead set an example, lead with strength, and be the civilization that every rational citizen of the other side wants to emulate. Yes, there will be wars and skirmishes, because not everyone on either side is rational, but the bloodshed isn't the purpose. Hitchens would make it the raison d'etre of the whole Western effort.

Another Group of Iraq Veterans Speaks Out

Twelve former Army Captains who spent time in Iraq today join the parade of former soldiers who say it is time to put an end to this debacle:

...Even if all the Iraqi military and police were properly trained, equipped and truly committed, their 346,000 personnel would be too few. As it is, Iraqi soldiers quit at will. The police are effectively controlled by militias. And, again, corruption is debilitating. U.S. tax dollars enrich self-serving generals and support the very elements that will battle each other after we're gone.

This is Operation Iraqi Freedom and the reality we experienced. This is what we tried to communicate up the chain of command. This is either what did not get passed on to our civilian leadership or what our civilian leaders chose to ignore. While our generals pursue a strategy dependent on peace breaking out, the Iraqis prepare for their war -- and our servicemen and women, and their families, continue to suffer.

There is one way we might be able to succeed in Iraq. To continue an operation of this intensity and duration, we would have to abandon our volunteer military for compulsory service. Short of that, our best option is to leave Iraq immediately. A scaled withdrawal will not prevent a civil war, and it will spend more blood and treasure on a losing proposition.

America, it has been five years. It's time to make a choice.

Dalai Lama to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

President Bush will present it to him personally tomorrow:
Chinese diplomats, Hill staffers said, pressed hard against the Dalai Lama getting the medal, and were particularly upset when Bush announced last week that he would personally present it to him. In doing so, Bush will become the first U.S. president to meet the Dalai Lama in public.
Good for the President.

UCC Leader Arrested in Protest

The president of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, was recently arrested outside the White House while trying to deliver petitions and a pastoral letter calling for an end to the Iraq War:

On 10 October 2007 Mr Thomas and another denominational official, the Rev Linda Jaramillo, had been trying to deliver to the White House a pastoral letter that contained 60,000 signatures calling for an end to the military action in Iraq.

The two officials were arrested after they refused to leave a no-protest zone near the gates of the US presidential residence, the UCC news service reported.

Thomas and Jaramillo had earlier sought a meeting with the White House's public liaison office, in order to hand-deliver the petitions, but their requests were refused.

Instead, the two officials held up thick stacks of the petitions in the no-protest zone, and failed to comply with a police request to step back from the White House fence.

Thomas and Jaramillo were handcuffed and led to a police van. They were released after being held briefly at a police station and paying a US$100 fine.

The letter the two officials were attempting to deliver urged, "an end to our reliance on violence as the first, rather than the last resort, [and] an end to the arrogant unilateralism of pre-emptive war."

Thomas told a small group of protesters before the arrests that the symbolic act was a "very meaningful witness of the whole church".

The 1.2-million-member UCC is known for its opposition to the Iraq war.

You'd think that someone in the White House could be made available to receive Thomas, even if for only a moment.

A Moment of Silence in the Public Schools

When I was in my formative years of elementary school the U.S. Supreme Court was enforcing the doctrine of Separation of Church and State by prohibiting mandatory prayer in the public schools. It never prevented Mrs. Whelpley--a member of the church I attended--from going right ahead with a mandatory prayer right after the Pledge of Allegiance every morning when I was in second grade. (And it confused the h@!! out of me as a budding Civil Libertitarian and student of the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Now I read that 11 states have a mandatory moment of silence in their public school classrooms. I LOVE the comment by the author of this blog which is published in the NY Times! He writes that he uses this time every day to pray that legislators will cast votes to give more money to public schools!

What about this idea? What if legislators required Public Schools to instead devote two minutes each morning to a variety of multifaith spiritual practices including a discussion of atheism! This would be a "teaching moment" for both cultural and religious diversity! (Plus a few of those Fundamentalist Christian educators--and lawmakers--might learn some Religious Tolerance and be required to "Think Outside The Book"!)

Romney and Gideon

The New York Times looks at the fine line Mitt Romney walks as a Mormon trying to appeal to evangelical Christians, who, we are told, are suspicious about whether Mormonism is really Christian. But what caught my attention was the last part of the article with Romney's overtures to make nice with evangelicals:

“Rick Warren’s book, ‘The Purpose-Driven Life,’ suggests something — the idea of something greater in life than just yourself,” he said. “And by virtue of belief in a creator, there’s a sense of the worth of each individual.”

More recently, in a Fox News interview, Mr. Romney made an unusual aside when he described how charged up he often gets after a day of campaigning.

“I find myself having to read for an hour or so before I can fall asleep,” he said. “And thanks to the Gideons, I’ve got good material.”

Is there any evangelical who hears this kind of talk from candidates and doesn't think to themselves that this is just shameless pandering.

As Halloween Approaches...Here's a Scary List!

Today's feature on is a list compiled by a writer of who they believe to be the 12 most powerful Christians in Hollywood. For the most part it is a very scarey list!

Most of the names on this list were not surprises but I did learn a few things for example someone is producing a movie based on John Milton's Paridise Lost! That ought to be interesting and perhaps could make me reread it for the first time since I struggled through it as a senior in high school awaiting my graduation (and hating it because I couldn't read the "old English"). Yes, I'm admittedly just a "white trash intellectual wanna be"!

Suggestion--I think Liberalchurch ought to have a Valentine's Day program in 2008 where we gather to listen to Denzel Washington and his wife read The Song of Songs. That would be HOT!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Southern Baptist Beginnings

I am doing a month-long Sunday series on the history of the Reformation, and came upon a website on Baptist beginnings. I thought the section on general Baptist history was pretty good, but when I clicked on the link on Southern Baptist beginnings, I discovered this effort to rationalize the real reason for the Baptist split:

The Southern Baptist Convention Organized

When Baptists in this country formed the first of their three national societies in 1814, many of their leaders recognized that there were numerous social, cultural, economic, and political differences between the businessmen of the North, the farmers of the West, and the planters of the South. These differences had already brought much rivalry between the several sections of the new nation. Each section continued to revive old colonial disagreements and wrestled with questions about how the new constitution should be interpreted, what constituted the final legal power, and similar problems.

Perhaps most critical of all was the slavery issue. This practice had been forced upon the colonies by England early in the seventeenth century against the protests of Northerners and Southerners. Northern merchants, however, soon sought the profit involved in importing slaves from Africa. Southern planters, the only ones able to use large numbers of unskilled laborers on large plantations in a relatively warm climate, helped to prolong this evil. At the height of this system, however, two-thirds of the white families of the South owned no slaves at all, and Baptists (who were generally of the lower economic status) were probably less involved than this.

The same moral blindness that caused a minority of northern businessmen to purchase and import slaves from Africa and finance their sale to southern planters was displayed in the South in continuing this evil institution. The same arguments concerning the right of secession from the federal union that were debated by the South in 1860 had been vigorously used by the northeastern states a generation earlier in the Hartford Convention. The same political frenzy that finally brought all of these issues into civil conflict in 1861 dominated equally the New England merchant, the western farmer, and the southern planter....

Sure. Everyone was involved in the political frenzy. And historically there were very few American leaders who came out smelling like a rose on the issue of slavery, especially among the founding "fathers." But by the middle 1800's the northern churches, including the Baptists, had come to see that slavery was incompatible with Christianity. The Southern Baptists didn't become convinced of the evils of slavery until the south was defeated in the Civil War, and it took another hundred years for them to recognize the evils of racial discrimination.

Project 515

From Minnesota Monitor:

A new advocacy group focusing on rights for same-sex couples is launching a campaign to educate Minnesotans about the discriminatory nature of Minnesota's statutes. Project 515 hopes to shift the discussion regarding same-sex relationships from the divisive rhetoric over gay marriage and activist judges to one Minnesotans support -- giving same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.

"We are confident that the personal stories of Minnesotans who have experienced the negative impact of state laws first-hand will illustrate the need for fairness and remind us that Minnesota law is far from treating residents equally," said Project 515 board member Laura Smidzik in a press release late last week.

Citing public opinion polls over the last few years that demonstrate the willingness of Minnesotans to support equal treatment under the law for their gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender neighbors, Project 515 argues that LGBT people are currently not treated fairly under 515 Minnesota's statutes.
A report released last week (PDF) lists the 515 discriminatory statutes and their effects on same-sex couples. The report outlines some particularly discriminatory statutes as well as some that are very obscure.

  • Spouses are entitled to workers' compensation benefits if their spouse is killed at work. However, a long-term but unmarried partner is not allowed to receive similar benefits.
  • If victims are killed during crimes, their families are entitled to restitution. Same-sex partners are not considered family under the law, and therefore cannot receive restitution.
  • Minnesotans may submit their spouses' campaign donations. However, people who have been in a relationship for decades cannot submit campaign donations on behalf of their partners.
  • The surviving spouse of a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty may receive a payment of $100,000. The same benefi t is not available to the committed but unmarried partner of a law enforcement offi cer killed during duty.
  • Farmers may slaughter their poultry to feed their immediate family members without getting a food handler's license. Same-sex partners are not legally considered family members. As a result, farmers need a special license to slaughter their poultry for their same-sex partners.
  • Holders of licenses to hunt deer on their own land may transfer those licenses to their spouses. But it is not legal for hunters to transfer their licenses to a partner they have lived with for years.

"Project 515 will be exclusively dedicated to, and will stay laser-focused on, the elimination of the 515 statutory inequities to secure equal rights for same-sex couples and families under the law," Smidzik told Lavender Magazine. "Marriage is one mechanism to achieve equality," she said. "But before we even discuss the 'how', we need to understand the 'what': the 515 inequalities and their consequences on society."

"Minnesotans have really only talked about gay marriage, which polling shows is polarizing and something that most Minnesotans don't support," Project 515 board member Lee Anderson told Lavender. "But, those same polls show that Minnesotans support fairness for all Minnesotans, including same-sex couples. When we talk about the 515 state laws that treat same-sex couples unequally, people are shocked by the actual discrimination we face. Project 515 will use this broad-based support to advocate for change over time."

More Gore

James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly on Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize:

I am old enough... well, there are many ways to end that sentence, but for now: I am old enough to remember, from my school years, the disdainful reaction in my home town to the news that Martin Luther King had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The reaction was, of course, racial at its root. This was a majority-white, minority-Hispanic small town with very few black residents, which went for Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election that same fall.

But the stated form of the objection concerned not King's race but his obnoxiousness as a man. He was a windbag. He was pompous and self-dramatizing, He was holier than thou. Plus, he had started getting involved where he didn't belong, in raising questions about the Vietnam War. Through the rest of Martin Luther King's life, the father of my best home-town friend always went out of his way to refer sneeringly to "Martin Luther Nobel."

As is the case now with some similar complaints about Al Gore, the criticisms weren't about nothing.

Gore can be pompous, lecturing, pedantic, and all the rest. I agree with the argument in his book The Assault on Reason but wish he made the point with fewer larded-in references to Jurgen Habermas. (Think of of how, yes, Bill Clinton would make similar points about the simplifications and distortions of today's nutty media world.) But in retrospect the criticisms of King look very small, and -- without equating the stature of the two men -- I think something similar will be true regarding Gore.

Like him or not, he has turned his efforts to an important cause, under historical and political circumstances that would have tempted many people to drown themselves in drink or move to Bhutan. It's interesting about the Nobel Peace Prize -- unlike the quirky and PC-conscious prize for Literature, or the quasi-Nobel* "medal" in economics -- that its list of winners holds up very, very well under historical scrutiny.

There are a few choices that look fishy in retrospect. (Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973??? Arafat as co-winner with Peres and Rabin in 1994?) But the great majority stand up very well. Desmond Tutu, and then Mandela and deKlerk. Albert Schweitzer. George C. Marshall. Lech Walesa, Willy Brandt, and Mikhail Gorbachev. The Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi. The Norwegian Nobel Institute has earned the benefit of the doubt for choosing people whose achievements will stand up over time.

So: might this award make Gore sound even more righteous? Maybe, but who cares. He has earned it. A lot of other people have the big head on much flimsier grounds.

I agree 100%, and hope, hope, hope that he continues to be an advocate and does not decide to run for President.

Clifford Larson Remembered

Last evening I attended the memorial service at Central Baptist Church in St. Paul for Clifford Larson, father of Paul who is a member of Open Circle. Cliff died a couple of weeks ago at the ripe old age of 93. I was continually amazed at his wit and interest in engaging me in theological discussion when he visited Open Circle from time to time.

For many years Cliff was a teacher and then dean and vice president at Bethel College in the twin cities. He was credited by a speaker last evening for helping the college expand its scholarly offerings and for seeing that the college became fully accredited. After that he taught for a decade at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

I found it quite gratifying to hear Paul and his siblings, and one grandchild, talk about their father and grandfather and what he had meant to them and given to them. I was also glad to hear one of the pastors of Central Baptist talk about the impact Cliff had on that congregation over the years. He encouraged them to become more ecumenically involved with the wider Christian community, and then after 9/11 to become more ecumenically involved with other faith traditions. The pastor said that thanks to Cliff Central Baptist moved in directions that it likely would not have gone had he not been there. The pastor noted that Cliff himself had come through the conservative-liberal religious wars and had come to a place where he was comfortable with his faith in Jesus Christ but completely open and interested in engaging in conversation with people of other faiths.

I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet this remarkable man.

Theologians Denied Visas to Speak at Mennonite Conference

From Ekklesia:

After months of preparation for a gathering of women of colour entitled “Encountering the face of God” which was hosted at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, visas for entry to the USA were denied for two of the event’s featured speakers, Ofelia Garcia of Mexico City and Sidonie Swana Falanga of Kinshasa, Congo.

Falanga works with women theologians in Democratic Republic of Congo and Garcia has worked alongside Alix Lozano of Colombia to explore Anabaptist theology with Latinas.

The Encountering the Face of God/Encontrándonos con el Rostro de Dios event took place earlier this month (October 2007) — organized by Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Central Committee US, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Women USA — was planned for Mennonite racial/ethnic women to support one another and explore Anabaptist theology through their unique lenses.

Latina theologians throughout the Americas are also due to come together at Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay in 2009.

In response to the denied visas, Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership, MCC US and others have been writing letters of protest to the State Department expressing concern over the situation.

The US State Department cited a "lack of assets" as a key reason for denying the visas, says Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of Intercultural Relations for Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership.

“Apparently,” she said “the government does not see their work, churches, communities and families as assets” that would bring them back to their home countries.

Entry denial is an example of migration and immigration issues that separate Anabaptist and other women across borders.

“We’re not going to let this barrier dictate how or whether we connect with our sisters. We’re going to find a way to do that. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure that with God’s leading and Spirit, something will come up,” de León-Hartshorn says.

Visas were denied to a group of Congolese Mennonite leaders trying to visit the United States for a Mennonite World Conference gathering in 2005. Falanga’s visa was denied then as well.

Womaen's Caucus

I see the Church of the Brethren Womaen's Caucus has a nice-looking new blog.

Nigerian Brethren Threated with Attack

I saw this item on the BRF blog:
Militant Islamists in this city in the northern state of Borno have sent three letters to a church warning that members would be attacked in the next few days, raising tensions where 50 Christians were killed and 57 churches destroyed last year.

Leaders of the Christian Association of Nigeria told Compass that the letters were dropped onto the premises of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria (EYN), in the Polo Area of Maiduguri, on separate days last week.

Mosque calls to prayer were sounded at 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. last night, hours when Muslims do not usually observe prayers, putting police and security agencies on alert. By 6 this morning, police armored tanks were patrolling the streets to thwart any plans to attack Christians.

The Rev. Daniel Mbaya of the Polo Area Church of the Brethren, which has about 3,000 members, had reported the threat to police and Christian leaders. Nigeria’s security agencies and Christian leaders held an emergency meeting yesterday on ways to protect Christians in the event of an Islamic strike on the church.

I haven't seen reporting about it anywhere else so I don't know how reliable this is.

Clash of Civilizations

It isn't just the Christian Right that thinks we are in a holy war with Muslims. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a former Muslim, now atheist, who endured physical abuse including clitoral circumcision as a child growing up in Somalia. As a young woman she refused a marriage arranged by her family and fled to the Netherlands, where she eventually became a member of parliament. Now she is a resident scholar in the United States with the American Enterprise Institute. In a long and interesting interview with Reason Magazine she had this to say about how to respond to the extremist elements of her former religion:

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

Reason: Are we really heading toward anything so ominous?

Hirsi Ali: I think that’s where we’re heading. We’re heading there because the West has been in denial for a long time. It did not respond to the signals that were smaller and easier to take care of. Now we have some choices to make. This is a dilemma: Western civilization is a celebration of life—everybody’s life, even your enemy’s life. So how can you be true to that morality and at the same time defend yourself against a very powerful enemy that seeks to destroy you?

Reason: George Bush, not the most conciliatory person in the world, has said on plenty of occasions that we are not at war with Islam.

Hirsi Ali: If the most powerful man in the West talks like that, then, without intending to, he’s making radical Muslims think they’ve already won. There is no moderate Islam. There are Muslims who are passive, who don’t all follow the rules of Islam, but there’s really only one Islam, defined as submission to the will of God. There’s nothing moderate about it.

Yikes. She certainly has a reason to be angry with Islam. But she can't be serious about "crushing" a worldwide religious movement. Call me naive if you want, but we need to learn how to get along with Muslims and we need to encourage liberal and moderate Muslims who are trying to bring about an Islamic reformation. Talk about crushing them ranks right up there in the annals of stupidity with launching unprovoked wars in their countries.

I do have problems with separate Muslim schools for children, in the same way I have problems with separate Christian schools for children. Not only do they tend to teach things that aren't true - like a separate "Christian" version of science that is any thing but scientific - but the proliferation of religious schools contributes to the balkanization of our society. In the public school format we are all in this together learning how to be American citizens; too many religious schools teach some version of an us versus them mentality where there are good Americans - them - and bad Americans - the rest of us. I don't know what to do about it since we have a long and legally sanctioned history of parallel parochial schools. From what I can tell it is an even worse problem in Europe than here, but it is a growing problem here. The public school system is one of the great melting pot experiences in American life, even with all its warts.

Anyway this interview just goes to show that it isn't just religious people who are prone to fanatical views. There are atheist fanatics too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Speaking of Faith--Matthew Sanford

Tomorrow is a repeat of an earlier program where Twin Cities' yoga instructor and author, Matthew Sanford, was interviewed. At the recommendation of my psychologist, Dr. Karen Miller, who heard him speak earlier this spring at a seminar, I bought and read his book and started--very timidly--to practice yoga. I find his interview interesting--although I'm certainly not "there" yet. You can listen to Sanford's interview by Krista any time!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Congratulations Al Gore!

Al Gore was named the recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize!

If former Vice President Gore had been named President by the U.S. Supreme Court as the winner of the 2000 Presidential Election he might not have won the Peace Prize. And has to wonder which path was the best one for Mr. Gore...or for our earth!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Coulter Reaches New Lows

I really didn't think it was possible for Ann Coulter to go any lower, but she outdid herself this week. Appearing Monday night on the MSNBC Show 'The Big Idea' with host Donny Deutsch, she had this to say about Deutsch's religious faith:
DEUTSCH: That isn't what I said, but you said I should not -- we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians, then, or --


DEUTSCH: Really?

COULTER: Well, it's a lot easier. It's kind of a fast track.

DEUTSCH: Really?

COULTER: Yeah. You have to obey.

DEUTSCH: You can't possibly believe that.


DEUTSCH: You can't possibly -- you're too educated, you can't -- you're like my friend in --

COULTER: Do you know what Christianity is? We believe your religion, but you have to obey.

DEUTSCH: No, no, no, but I mean --

COULTER: We have the fast-track program.

DEUTSCH: Why don't I put you with the head of Iran? I mean, come on. You can't believe that.

COULTER: The head of Iran is not a Christian.

DEUTSCH: No, but in fact, "Let's wipe Israel" --

COULTER: I don't know if you've been paying attention.

DEUTSCH: "Let's wipe Israel off the earth." I mean, what, no Jews?

COULTER: No, we think -- we just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.

DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?

COULTER: Yes. That is what Christianity is. We believe the Old Testament, but ours is more like Federal Express. You have to obey laws. We know we're all sinners --

DEUTSCH: In my old days, I would have argued -- when you say something absurd like that, there's no --

COULTER: What's absurd?

DEUTSCH: Jews are going to be perfected. I'm going to go off and try to perfect myself --

COULTER: Well, that's what the New Testament says.

DEUTSCH: Ann Coulter, author of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans, and if Ann Coulter had any brains, she would not say Jews need to be perfected. I'm offended by that personally. And we'll have more Big Idea when we come back.
The whole interview is quite an eye-opener, even for her.

RFK Jr. Speaks Out

I had a friend tell me that she went to see/hear RFK Jr. speak at the College of Wooster which is my alma mater. My friend is an elementary special ed. and media specialist who teaches students at the Smithville Elementary school.

Here's the local media coverage of RFK Jr.s speech from the local newspaper, The Daily Record, in Wooster, Ohio.

RFK Jr. has authored several books including the one he is currently "touring" which is titled Riverkeepers.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Has anyone seen or read this book yet? This is the synopsis given in the Barnes and Noble weekly e-marketing...

From the bestselling author of The Know-It-All comes a fascinating and timely exploration of religion and the Bible.

Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.

The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history's most influential book with new eyes.

Jacobs's quest transforms his life even more radically than the year spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for The Know-It-All. His beard grows so unruly that he is regularly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. He immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry, and tells the absolute truth in all situations - much to his wife's chagrin.

Throughout the book, Jacobs also embeds himself in a cross-section of communities that take the Bible literally. He tours a Kentucky-based creationist museum and sings hymns with Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah's Witnesses. He discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance. And he wrestles with seemingly archaic rules that baffle the twenty-first-century brain.

Jacobs's extraordinary undertaking yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges. A book that will charm readers both secular and religious, The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible, part memoir, and part look into worlds unimaginable. Thou shalt not be able to put it down.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Clinton on Torture

This is what the Washington Post reported:
Clinton was similarly vague about how she would handle special interrogation methods used by the CIA. She said that while she does not condone torture, so much has been kept secret that she would not know unless elected what other extreme measures interrogators are using, and therefore could not say whether she would change or continue existing policies.

"It is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn't doing. We're getting all kinds of mixed messages," Clinton said. "I don't think we'll know the truth until we have a new president. I think [until] you can get in there and actually bore into what's been going on, you're not going to know."

This is what Clinton said:

Q: Can I ask you a follow up? You mentioned Blackwater, you’ve said that at the beginning of your administration you’d ask the Pentagon to report. When it comes to special interrogation methods, obviously you’ve said you’re against torture, but the types of methods that are now used that aren’t technically torture but are still permitted, would you do something in your first couple days to address that, suspend some of the special interrogation methods immediately or ask for some kind of review?

HRC: Well I think I’ve been very clear about that too, we should not conduct or condone torture and it is not clear yet exactly what this administration is or isn’t doing, we’re getting all kinds of mixed messages. I don’t think we’ll know the truth until we have a new President. I think once you can get in there and actually bore into what’s been going on, you’re not going to know. I was very touched by the story you guys had on the front page the other day about the WWII interrogators. I mean it's not the same situation but it was a very clear rejection of what we think we know about what is going on right now but I want to know everything, and so I think we have to draw a bright line and say ‘No torture – abide by the Geneva conventions, abide by the laws we have passed,' and then try to make sure we implement that.

Context is everything. Via Talking Points Memo.