Monday, December 31, 2007

Green Caskets

CNN takes note of the growing interest in green burials including biodegradable caskets:
Biodegradable coffins are part of a larger trend toward "natural" burials, which require no formaldehyde embalming, cement vaults, chemical lawn treatments or laminated caskets. Advocates say such burials are less damaging to the environment.
I think I still prefer cremation.

Casket image from The Natural Burial Company.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Separation of Church and State in the British Colonies

I am vacationing with my family in the Historic Virginia Triangle area of Jamestown/Williamsburg/Yorktown. We started out our stay at Williamsburg this morning with a program at the courthouse. It was an audience participation reenactment of an actual 18th century jury trial from this era and area. The trial over which I presided (along with 11 other volunteer justices of the peace who in Colonial Williamsburg were property-owning males who were appointed and served--unpaid--for life) was that of an ordained Baptist pastor who was preaching outside in the woods to groups of people some of whom included slaves. The Church of England was the official church of the colonies, however other protestant religions were permitted so long as their ministers were ordained and government licensed and they preached in meeting houses or churches and didn't go out to evangelize or convert "in the open".

(As an aside--one of the audience participation roles was that of a witness for the defendant who happened to be a Quaker and who would not swear an oath on the Bible but instead "affirmed" to tell the truth.)

The pastor was convicted, but his sentence was stayed (not imposed) because he had a previous conviction for a similar offense which he had appealed and a decision had not yet been rendered.

Tomorrow we hope to see a reenactment in a related theme called "The Promised Land" where an African American Baptist preacher talks about his hopes for the future in a new society where all citizens are equal and where there will be no state church.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Another Blow Against the Great Separation

I just finished reading Mark Lilla's book The Stillborn God, which tells the story of what he calls the unique "thought experiment" of the "great separation" between religion and politics that was given birth in the western world in response to the horrendous religious wars that engulfed Europe after the Reformation. The brainchild of Hobbes, who clearly saw the dangerous influence of religious fanaticism and messianism on politics, the great separation took religion out of the realm of politics and gave to politics the limited role of regulating human affairs without relying on divine sanction.

Lilla contends that this extraordinarily successful experiment is also very fragile, beset both by well-meaning liberal religious people who think it denigrates the inherit goodness of religion and by fanatics of varying religious persuasions who think it defies the will of God.

The assassination of Pakistani Presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto is another reminder of how fragile the great separation is and of how far some will go to bring it down.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Holiday Blues

During this season, many people get depressed for a variety of reasons.

I'm posting an adapted prayer from a reader on Beliefnet if you are also one of these folks. I have been there, done that, many years. Happily this year is different for me. May it be so for you as well!

Remember the holiday season can bring a sense of Faith, Hope, Love, and Redemption for us all as it did ultimately for Charlie Brown, Ebeneezer Scrooge, George Bailey and The Grinch!

This year may you open your eyes to find someone around you who is your Linus, Jacob Marley, Guardian Angel Clarence, or Whos in Whooville that helps you find your way to peace and happiness this holiday season and in the new year!

Prayer for Those Who Are Depressed

Dear God,

When it seems that we are actually, finally at our wits' end... and we've seen the end of all that we can do, that is when you are at your nearest, your most miraculous, your best. Sometimes, the road we trudge seems destined to be dusty and desolate forever. And yet, just around the corner, just over the next hill, we see new life, we see hope. I pray for this hope for those who [are depressed].

May you bring them what they need, that they may once again be dancing on this earth.

- Beliefnet member Simba590

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wonderfully ironic letter to the editor in the Star Tribune today from Archbishop Nienstedt in response to a letter from Anna DeGroot at Outfront MN. What, in the archbishop's eyes is almost as bad as being homosexual? Here is his analogy:
After being born, raised and educated in a Catholic home and Catholic schools, my brother decided to join an evangelical church. My parents were heartbroken but continued to keep in touch with him. He knew that my parents never accepted his action, but he also knew they would not reject his person.
Being an evangelical Christian.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Religion in the Public Square

Charles Krauthammer gets it right on the place of religion in the public square:

Now, there's nothing wrong with having a spirited debate on the place of religion in politics. But the candidates are confusing two arguments. The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life.

A certain kind of liberal argues that having a religious underpinning for any public policy is disqualifying because it is an imposition of religion on others. Thus, if your opposition to embryonic stem cell research comes from a religious belief in the ensoulment of life at conception, you're somehow violating the separation of church and state by making other people bend to your religion.

This is absurd. Abolitionism, civil rights, temperance, opposition to the death penalty -- a host of policies, even political movements, have been rooted for many people in religious teaching or interpretation. It's ridiculous to say that therefore abolitionism, civil rights, etc., constitute an imposition of religion on others.

Imposing religion means the mandating of religious practice. It does not mean the mandating of social policy that some people may have come to support for religious reasons.

But a certain kind of conservative is not content to argue that a religious underpinning for a policy is not disqualifying. He insists that it is uniquely qualifying, indeed that it confers some special status.

Romney has been faulted for not throwing at least one bone of acknowledgment to nonbelievers in his big religion speech recently. But he couldn't, because the theme of the speech was that there was something special about having your values drawn from religious faith. Indeed, faith is politically indispensable. "Freedom requires religion," Romney declared, "just as religion requires freedom."

But this is nonsense -- as Romney then proceeded to demonstrate in that very same speech. He spoke of the empty cathedrals in Europe. He's right about that: Postwar Europe has experienced the most precipitous decline in religious belief in the history of the West. Yet Europe is one of the freest precincts on the planet. It is an open, vibrant, tolerant community of more than two dozen disparate nations living in a pan-continental harmony and freedom unseen in all previous European history.

Krauthammer is right to qualify liberal with a "certain kind" because religious liberals have been making religiously based arguments at least since the Civil War; there is nothing wrong with that and religious conservatives have the same right to put forth arguments for public policy based on their religious principles. But religious conservatives do not have an open line to the mind of God; they could be and often are wrong. And theirs is not the only religious argument or moral argument. As Krauthammer points out with the example of Europe it is quite possible to be secular and moral. I find progressive religious reasoning helpful and meaningful, but it isn't the only way to get to or be the best kind of people we can be.

Hard-liners for Jesus

Harold Meyerson comments on the vast chasm between the Jesus of the Gospels and God's Own Party:

As Christians across the world prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it's a fitting moment to contemplate the mountain of moral, and mortal, hypocrisy that is our Christianized Republican Party....

My concern isn't the rift that has opened between Republican political practice and the vision of the nation's Founders, who made very clear in the Constitution that there would be no religious test for officeholders in their enlightened new republic. Rather, it's the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the preachings of the Gospel's Own Party that has widened past the point of absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party proceeds apace.

The policies of the president, for instance, can be defended in greater or (more frequently) lesser degree within a framework of worldly standards. But if Bush can conform his advocacy of preemptive war with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount admonition to turn the other cheek, he's a more creative theologian than we have given him credit for. Likewise his support of torture, which he highlighted again this month when he threatened to veto House-passed legislation that would explicitly ban waterboarding.

It's not just Bush whose catechism is a merry mix of torture and piety. Virtually the entire Republican House delegation opposed the ban on waterboarding. Among the Republican presidential candidates, only Huckabee and the not-very-religious John McCain have come out against torture, while only libertarian Ron Paul has questioned the doctrine of preemptive war.

But it's on their policies concerning immigrants where Republicans -- candidates and voters alike -- really run afoul of biblical writ. Not on immigration as such but on the treatment of immigrants who are already here. Consider: Christmas, after all, celebrates not just Jesus's birth but his family's flight from Herod's wrath into Egypt, a journey obviously undertaken without benefit of legal documentation. The Bible isn't big on immigrant documentation. "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger nor oppress him," Exodus says the Lord told Moses on Mount Sinai, "for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Yet the distinctive cry coming from the Republican base this year isn't simply to control the flow of immigrants across our borders but to punish the undocumented immigrants already here, children and parents alike.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Military-Industrial Complex

Eisenhower must be rolling in his grave:

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation has an itemized description of what's in the budget.

The amount of Cold War lard is truly astonishing, especially given the fact that the military itself is hollering from the hilltops that it can't be responsible for all of our national security needs and that today's problems just don't have military (read "Cold War weapons systems") answers.

Keep in mind, today's defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the "Reagan Era" buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average

In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget - not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rape Victim Receives Saudi King's Pardon

Saudi King Abdullah has pardoned a rape victim who had been sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. She was pardoned, which is very good, but the justice system that convicted and sentenced her and the religious system that essentially held that she got what she deserved because she was meeting with a man in public is still in place, which is very bad.

Senator Chris Dodd is a Statesman

It almost makes me want to vote for him. He left his campaign in Iowa today to return to Washington to lead a filibuster against the FISA bill that would grant telecommunications companies immunity for breaking the law when they cooperated with the Bush Administration in spying on Americans. (And we now know this was going on before 9/11.) Inexplicably, Harry Reid was carrying water for the Administration on this bill; one wonders how much money he is taking in from these companies. But in the face of Dodd's threatened filibuster Reid pulled the bill until at least next year.

Glenn Greenwald has all the sorry and happy details. The good guys finally win a round.

Toleration is not Relativism

I don't know if I have ever read anything in the Weekly Standard that I agree with until today. But Kenneth Anderson has an article entitled Mormons, Muslims, and Multiculturalism that I found interesting and compelling. Anderson was once a Mormon and has no beef against Mormons despite being an ex-Mormon:
Although I once three decades ago served a Mormon mission in Peru, and am proud that I did, I am not a Mormon believer and have not been for a very long time. I hold no brief for the religion. On the contrary, I gave it up because I found I could not continue to say I believed a religion that had been rash enough to make many historical claims, the testability of which was not safely back in the mists of time in the way that protects Christian belief and worldly reason from meeting up to implode like matter and antimatter.
I might disagree about Christian belief being protected by "the mists of time" but what I agree with is his real beef with the idea that some liberals hold (not as many as he thinks, I would guess) - and according to Anderson Mitt Romney too - that toleration of many religious faiths in the public square means that we hold that all expressions of faith are equally valid and therefore we have to allow them to be themselves, even if being themselves might involve them denying the essential teachings of our American experience or even holding that it is right to harm others in the name of their religion.

Anderson takes up the history of Mormonism in America as an example and notes that in the 19th century the Mormons were forced by the government to give up on one of their religious practices based on their scriptures - polygamy. What they believed about Jesus and Satan and planets and gods was their business because those beliefs did not bleed into the realm of how they lived their lives among their fellow citizens, but their beliefs about polygamy were a matter of public discussion and concern because this belief affected the lives of real people, some of them women too young to make adult decisions.

Mormons, Anderson says, came around over time and changed their practices on marriage to the point where they fit in seamlessly in American culture despite holding other religious beliefs very different from many of their fellow Americans.

Anderson's real concern is how we respond to the influx of Muslims in America and to the rise of Muslim extremism around the world. Again, the fact that a Muslim might believe something very different about Jesus than a Christian isn't important. But what they believe about the separation of church and state, the treatment of women, and the meaning of jihad, etc. is important because all of these beliefs have broader implications for American society.

Anderson thinks we have lost sight of the meaning of the unique American value of toleration, a legacy of the Enlightenment which holds that we both respect other faith traditions and bring to bear reason and critical thinking to those beliefs when they impact matters in the public square:

On the one hand, religion has been regarded as something that can be shaped by rational discourse and necessarily sometimes even the application of political and state power. An individual in this light must consider the rationality of his or her religious beliefs and subject them to reason. On the other hand, religion also has an accidental and immutable quality to it which, in the extreme case of one's eternal soul, can force an individual to the most harrowing choice. Liberal toleration has always taken account of both of these things. The canonical instance of the state forcing the issue in the United States was the outlawing of Mormon polygamy in the 19th century--and these were harrowing cases indeed, breaking apart families, even if they were not families recognized by the good Christians of the eastern United States.

Despite this history, Western liberalism has unaccountably decided to treat Islam and Muslims--not just Islamism or so-called "political Islam," but Islam as such--as though only one prong of religiosity mattered, the immutable part. Islam is treated as a race, ethnicity, or skin color--an immutable characteristic not alterable by believers and therefore not a proper moral basis on which to judge them. The consequence has been, particularly in Europe, to put anything claimed to be Islamic beyond the bounds not merely of rational debate but of public regulation or even public protest.

...Toleration is not an assertion of relativism. It is, rather, the forbearance from judging and acting on judgments in the public sphere that one might well believe oneself entitled to make in private. Toleration entails the suspension of public disbelief, or at least political action thereupon, about matters that one might nonetheless consider well within the realm of private moral judgment. Relativism, by contrast, is denial of grounds for judging at all. They could not be more different--and, crucially, relativism removes the possibility of toleration because it removes the possibility of reasoned judgment.
This is why I am not a pure multiculturalist and definitely not a moral relativist. I do not hold that Christianity is superior to other faith traditions. I welcome the involvement of all faith traditions in the public square. I believe in religious toleration and in no force in religion or no religious test for public office. I also believe that what a person believes about God, the afterlife, and a host of doctrinal issues is a matter of personal belief.

But when a personal belief leads to actions that may adversely affect others, especially the most vulnerable, or to attempting to legislate beliefs that run counter to hard-won liberal (in the broadest sense) values then I think we have a right to challenge those beliefs and to "fight it out" in the public square.

I fear that we are slowly but surely losing sight of this great American value. I fear that the proliferation of private religious schools and the ascent of "values" voters and "Christian" candidates are eroding the value of toleration. I fear that the actions of the Christian right are paving the way for religious struggles ahead that would appall them if it were Muslims making the same kind of arguments as they are making today.

So take your medicine and go read this article.

Jesus' Conservative Cred Questioned

All these Republicans are claiming Jesus as their most trusted advisor, but this ad questions his conservative credentials

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Heeeerrrrrrreeeee's Jon!

Yesterday morning while rapidly preparing a church display for Liberalchurch's upcoming Open Circle's Best Spiritual Film with a Faith, Hope, and/or Love Theme in February, I discovered that contrary to my previous posting last week, Regis F. is NOT the host of the 2008 Academy Awards Ceremony to be held Sunday Feb. 24th. The host of the upcoming Oscar ceremony will instead be comedian Jon Stewart from The Daily Show!

First, I'm wondering how I got my info wrong because I read it in the NYTimes. Maybe Regis is hosting the Golden Globes? Or the Emmy's? Next, I'm just plain relieved! Stewart is both funny and quite clever and will make it a memorable evening regardless of who the winners/losers are!

Please don't forget to post a comment below to submit your own personal nomination(s) for the Open Circle Church selection for the Best Spiritual Film with a Faith, Hope, and/or Love theme along with a one sentence description of why you think it deserves to be a nominee.

Unofficial Rules for this Unoffical Contest:
1)You need not be a member of Liberalchurch to nominate.

2)Nominees need not be 2007 release films, so you can go back in film history as long as you want!

3)Nominations need to be submitted by Jan. 13, 2008.

The top 4 nominees will be announced on Sunday Jan. 20, 2008 at the LiberalChurch Sunday service @ 10am. During the month of February we will be having weekend movie nights at the church to show some of the nominees (dates/times TBD). The films will also be featured and excerpted during the messages each Sunday during the month of February.

So who's popping the popcorn?!

Truth or Tradition?

The "ticker" that runs ads across the top of my g-mail this morning had an advertisement that caught my eye. It was a question on the topic of The Trinity asking if the Trinity was "Truth or Tradition".

Just last week in Bible Study we were commenting on The Holy Spirit descending upon Mary to accomplish the virgin birth in Mark's version of Jesus' birth story. This raised a few questions on The Trinity and The Holy Spirit for further study at a later time.

The advertisement said that the concept of the Trinity was being discussed on this website. So I visited the website and found a long "hot list" of controversial Christian topics and this Christian sect's answers whether each topic is truth or tradition. It was interesting--even though most of their beliefs don't match up to mine necessarily.

It is amazing just how many flavors of Christianity are out there--and more and more are being created every day!

LiberalChurchlady has a Saturday Night Live Flashback

I got a call on my cell phone from an Evangelical Christian group this morning.

This is very rare on two counts--that Evangelicals would be calling me and that I'd get a call on my cell phone (which happened to be turned on, charged, and sitting next to me)!

The male caller started by telling me I'd been "referred" by my husband's aunt and uncle. (His uncle has been deceased at least 7 years, so this was another oddity.) He then asked me whether I thought there was too much sex and violence on television today.

All I could think about was the old Saturday Night Live sketch where Chevy Chase on the Weekend News Update newscast asks commentator Emily Latella, played by the late and great Gilda Radner, the exact same question.

Emily's reply was, "Too much sax and violins? No! I LOVE sax and violins. Why do you want to stop the music on television?...and on she continued..."

Instead of:
a) Giving the Emily Latella answer
b) Laughing into the receiver
c) Satisfying my curiosity about this strange call and engaging the caller in conversation so I could investigate further; or
d) Hanging up immediately without response,

I chose Plan E--my standard answer for all phone calls. I politely indicated that we do not respond to telephone solicitations at our home and asked to be placed on this organization's "Do Not Call List". I then thanked the caller, and then hung up--as he was still trying to talk to me!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

He's no Billy Crystal!

It has been announced today--76 year old Regis Philbin will host the Academy Awards Ceremony this year which will be aired live on Sunday evening February 24th. I'm not a Regis fan, but I'll try to keep an open mind.

This year LiberalChurch will be holding their own Oscar award process. From now until Jan. 12th Open Circle members and friends can nominate favorite films that contain some message of faith, hope, and love.

Nominees will be shown on Friday or Saturday "family nights" at church throughout the month of February and excerpts will be featured and the movies discussed during the Sunday messages. We'll hold a final vote on the nominees the week of Feb. 17-24 and on Sunday Feb. 24th we'll announce our own Open Circle Oscar for "Best Film with a Faith, Hope, and Love Message".

If you'd like to nominate a movie, please post a comment including the title of the film and a brief explanation why you are nominating this film. There is no limit on the number of films you can nominate.

(Disclaimer: Price Waterhouse or any other public accounting firm will NOT be employed to certify the integrity of the nomination or voting process!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Palestinians and others Seeking A Better Life Tragically Drown off Turkish Coast

This news item was posted on the CNN from the Associated Press. Since I didn't read "the hard news" yesterday this may be old news to some of you. Liberalchurch will be hosting a guest speaker, Bill McGrath on 1/13/08. Following the assembly of kits for Church World Service and a lunch buffet of Middle Eastern foods McGrath will give a powerpoint program at 1pm with photos and commentary on his experience living a month on both the Israeli and Palistinian sides of The West Bank.

I wonder whether Bill McGrath met any of the victims of this tragedy while he was living in Palestine...

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- A boat carrying illegal migrants sank off Turkey's Aegean coast and at least 43 died, an official said Monday.

A Turkish news agency said 51 died, and authorities feared the death toll could rise because some of the passengers were missing.

The 50-foot boat sank in rough weather late Saturday off the coast of Seferihisar, a town south of the city of Izmir, said Gov. Orhan Sefik Guldibi. Six migrants were rescued and hospitalized, mostly for shock.

Citing survivors, the Coast Guard said a total of 85 people were on board. Guldibi said 43 bodies, all male, had been recovered. Dogan news agency said 51 died.

"We are trying to keep our hopes alive but the possibility of more survivors is diminishing," Guldibi said.

"Boats and helicopters are searching for more migrants in the sea," Guldibi said. "Because of the strong wind, we think the bodies should be closer to the coast than where this boat sank. But they are searching far off the coast as well."

The survivors, who stayed afloat by wearing inflated inner tubes around their waists, swam to shore late Sunday and shouted for help, according to Guldibi. Residents heard their shouts and called the police.

The migrants were mostly Palestinians, Somalis and Iraqis, Guldibi said.

The passengers met up in Izmir Saturday evening and were taken to the coast from where they boarded the boat in the dark. The vessel capsized around two hours after setting sail, Guldibi said.

Strong winds and rough seas hampered rescue work, private NTV television reported. Rescuers were also searching areas close to the Greek island of Chios for bodies, the report said.

Thousands of immigrants from Asia and Africa enter Turkey illegally on their way to European Union countries in search of jobs and a better life. Smugglers often take the migrants from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands on fragile and overcrowded boats, and accidents are common.

The EU, which Turkey wants to join, wants the country to crack down on illegal immigration.

EU-member Greece, which has an 8,000-mile coastline dotted with thousands of islands, has accused Turkish authorities of not doing enough to halt the flow of illegal migrants.

Turkey has increased patrols along its Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, but boats still get through

Friday, December 07, 2007

Romney's Speech

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave his "Mormon" speech last night. You can read it here. I don't think he should need to say anything about his faith, but he is trying to win the votes of Evangelical Christians, some of whom think that Mormonism is a cult, so it was probably inevitable that he would need to address the issue. However, he said virtually nothing about the details of his faith except to acknowledge in one sentence the fact that his beliefs about Christ may be slightly different than orthodox Christian beliefs.

Mormonism, by the way, is a cult - in the language of religious studies. A cult is any new religious movement. A sect, on the other hand, is any variation of longstanding religious movements. Presbyterians and Catholics and Brethren are sects of Christianity. Mormonism is a cult movement in the sense that compared to its religious peers it is not very old. Christianity itself was once a cult movement amidst its more ancient pagan and Jewish religious peers. Interestingly, Mormonism is growing today at the same kind of rapid rate that Christianity once grew. Cult movements often do this.

Mormonism does have some "strange" beliefs. Mormon theology teaches, for instance, that there are many gods and that each Mormon man has the potential of exaltation, becoming a god. But, then, Christianity has some "strange" beliefs too, like the idea that a young woman was impregnated by God and gave birth to a child who was the Son of God. I find it strange that anyone in the twenty-first century would take either of these beliefs to be literal truths; I read them both as metaphor and myth. But, then, we seem to be living in strange times.

Mitt Romney was not the first Presidential candidate to address his religious beliefs. In 1960 John Kennedy felt the need to speak to how his Catholic faith would influence his decision-making if elected President. His words bear reading again:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute- where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be a Catholic) how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote- where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference-and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish-where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source-where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials-and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew-or a Quaker- or a Unitarian-or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim-but tomorrow it may be you-until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end- where all men and all churches are treated as equal-where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind-and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

I leave it to you to decide if, after reading Romney's speech side by side with Kennedy's, we have made any progress in the last half century.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Real Good Storm

Here in Minnesota we have been getting a couple medium-sized snowfalls over the past week about every 2 days. None of them has been timed such that it has shut down too many activities.

More snow is on the way for Thursday and Saturday say the forecasters. But it sounds like they too will me "moderate amounts" of snowfall.

I was listening to my new Peter Mayer "Novelties" CD yesterday and hoping that one of these snows might be a "Real Good Storm" as Mayer's song (track 13 of this disc) describes.

Here's the lyrics:

This winter please, dear Lord
Send us a real good storm
One where we're all snowed in
That makes people neighbors wave and grin
Stranded in our own yard
We might as well play cards
And get out game boards
So send us a real good storm

We who get so uptight
Need a good snowball fight
And should be forced to ski
To rent a DVD
So heap it up to the window sill
Make the mad world stand still
Bury us Lord
Under a real good storm

We'll pile onto the old wood sled
Scream when we see a tree ahead
Make a man with a carrot nose
Then come back in and have hot cocoa

We'll cheer when the radio
Says that our school is closed
We'll make a big snow pile
Dig it out and crawl inside
Decorate it with Christmas lights
Laugh and sing songs all night
And we'll stay warm
inside of that real good storm
So stir it up Lord
Send us a real good storm.

Anybody want to have a snowball fight? I've got a wooden toboggan and a pair of cross country skis that are very dusty! I love making snowpeople and snowigloos. I've even got a spare set of Christmas lights to light it up! Let me know if you've got game!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


Fox Entertainment Group has acquired Beliefnet:
“FEG’s vast resources will enable Beliefnet to expand our audience, enhance our offerings and more effectively carry out our mission to help people find and walk a spiritual path that brings comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness,” said Steven Waldman, Beliefnet’s CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder.
FEG is not only home to the worlds most shameless news program but is a regular purveyor of smut as news (here too).

Plague in the kingdom of Spamalot!

In the StarTribune today is an article about a rare neurological disorder suffered by a number of workers in the pork processing section of Hormel--makers of SPAM--in Austin, MN. The disease which causes the immune system to attack the sheath surrounding the nerve was identified in 1975 by a doctor from the Mayo Clinic.

While assurances have been issued by both Hormel's public relations and state epidemologists that this is not something that is transmitted by virus but is somehow a production related problem that is unique to plant workers, it does give one pause. I keep telling myself that perhaps the time is ripe to again open all those vegetarian cookbooks I invested in and used regularly for about 5 years back in the 90s!

I'm finally getting around to reading about the adventure and exploits of Barbara Kingslover's family as they raise and process their own food which she has documented in her recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle! Local zoning ordances--not to mention my spouse--would prohibit me from operating my own "free range farm" in our backyard. So producing my own livestock in the burbs is not an option. I'd have to go veggie again.

A Former Republican Legislator States the Obvious

From my side of the political aisle, it has been quite obvious what the Tax Payers' League and the Governor have done to the state with their slavish devotion to "no new taxes." Our schools aren't funded, our bridges are collapsing and our infrastructure is deteriorating, we are losing jobs, and our social service network is frayed to the breaking point. But today in the Star Tribune, former Republican legislator Dave Bishop says the same thing, and adds that the Republican Party has also been decimated as a result:
And what has been the real result of this illogical and extreme tax policy? Galloping property taxes, excess levy referendums for school costs that can't keep up with inflation. Also deteriorating roads, declining support for higher education -- in fact, a total of declining quality of our life in Minnesota.
And we also learn this morning that the Governor is unwilling to call a special session of the legislature to pass a bonding bill to jump-start road construction. Same old story; he doesn't want to create government jobs; he wants to cut taxes again.

Counting down the days.

Romney's Mormonism

We are told that Mitt Romney is going to address the issue of his Mormon faith this Thursday. There was probably no way for Romney to avoid this at some point, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say. But it really shouldn't matter, as Richard Cohen rightly argues in the Washington Post. Cohen notes that on Sunday morning Mike Huckabee was asked by ABC's George Stephanopoulis whether Romney was a Christian. Huckabee smiled and punted. Shame on him, Cohen says:

It is absurd that Romney feels compelled to deliver a speech defending his beliefs and that Huckabee does not have to explain how, in this day and age, he does not believe in evolution. But it is singularly appropriate that Romney's speech be delivered at the Bush library. For it is the 41st president's underachieving son who put such emphasis on religious belief -- and has shown us all, with his appalling record, that faith is no substitute for thought. A mind honed on the whetstone of doubt might have kept us out of Iraq.

The Republican presidential field has some feeble minds and some dangerous ones as well, but none has done as much damage as Huckabee has. Religion does not belong in the political arena. It does not lend itself to compromise. It is about belief, not reason, and is ordinarily immutable. Romney is a shifty fellow, but he will always be a Mormon, and it will never make a difference. Should he become president, he will still light the national Christmas tree and pardon the Thanksgiving turkey and host the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn.

I might quibble a bit with his comment that faith is about belief and not reason. I disagree. But we have had entirely too much talk about religion from our political candidates. We have learned that you can be a person of faith and be a disaster as President. There are far more important qualifications.

Believe Not a Word He Says

He knew before he made the explosive threat of World War III:
President Bush got the world's attention this fall when he warned that a nuclear-armed Iran might lead to World War III. But his stark warning came at least a month or two after he had first been told about fresh indications that Iran had actually halted its nuclear weapons program.
He simply cannot be trusted.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Highway of Holiness

When I was returning from my trip in San Antonio a couple of weeks ago, I sat on a plane next to a woman from Texas who was coming to MN to be part of a prayer team praying along I35, which runs from MN to Texas. She was taking time off from her job as school teacher to do this. A recent Minnesota Monitor post fills me in on the context of this prayer event:
Running right through the heart of the Twin Cities is a spiritual road that dozens of evangelical churches say is specifically mentioned in the Bible as the "Way of Holiness." They call it the "Highway of Holiness." Others call it Interstate 35.

Evangelicals throughout the Midwest, from Laredo, Texas, to Duluth, Minn., have been praying at 24-hour prayer rooms for a month for Interstate 35 in order to "light the highway." Young people in the movement have been holding "purity sieges" in front of LGBT businesses, abortion clinics and stores that sell pornography. So far, Minnesota has been spared of "purity sieges," but 24-hour prayer rooms have been set up in Minneapolis, Albert Lea and Duluth.

The scriptural basis for the new movement comes from Isaiah 35:8, which reads, "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it." Because of chapter 35, believers say the highway mentioned must be Interstate 35. In addition, a number of people in the "Highway of Holiness" movement claim to have had prophetic experiences that involve Interstate 35.

Andy Birkey :: Holy Highway: Evangelicals Pray to "Light" Interstate 35 Highway to Holiness prophet Cindy Jacobs told CBN News that it was an unnamed German prophet who saw the significance of Interstate 35 back in 1984. "And in this dream he saw a highway that went from the bottom of someplace to the top that had a '35' sign on it. And God showed him that revival was going to begin at the bottom of this highway and go to the top."

The collapse of the 35W bridge in Minneapolis in August has also been a topic of discussion among the "Highway of Holiness" believers. "I don't usually send what the Lord is downloading to me, however this is very timely and significant I believe," Highway of Holiness Community Coordinator Christine Pickett of Little Canada wrote to the movement's Web site.

Pickett says that last year's election of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Muslim, and his announcement of a trip to Israel the very same day of the collapse could be an omen. "I think the Lord may be saying that this man and his district and what he is about doing in Israel is connected. I could be wrong -- however, I just have to look at the timing and the fear of the Lord comes upon me."

"We are tired of seeing the destruction of what sin has brought on the world," Caleb Valdez, a student at Heartland Ministries in Dallas told TV station WFAA. "And so, we believe God has ordained this highway for us to go up and down ... to see lives transformed, to see people revolutionized for God [and] for the betterment of this place."

I don't usually send what the Lord is downloading to me either.


While I was gone I missed the story on spanking that is making its way through the MN court system. Here is the gist of the story from a Star Tribune article a few days ago:
When Shawn Fraser's discipline failed to rein in his 12-year-old son, he turned to his religion, taking a wooden paddle to Gerard's upper thighs and posting Bible verses on the refrigerator, Fraser's lawyer told the state Supreme Court on Wednesday.

But after 36 blows, delivered in 12-blow increments, the 195-pound boy called authorities. Now the state Supreme Court will determine when discipline of a child crosses the line into physical abuse that requires a social worker's intervention.

He turned to his religion? To justify beating his son? I don't know what the Supreme Court will decide. I know that punishment by parents is a gray area in the law. But this was not punishment. This was a beating, regardless of whether the blows caused bruising. 36 blows with a wooden paddle is not spanking and it is not punishment.

Naturally, though, the Star Tribune's conservative Christian columnist Katherine Kersten sides with the parents in her column today. I was almost led to tears as she described the anguish of these parents trying to deal with their twelve year old son who was on the verge of turning into a career criminal. What choice did his father have but to pick up a wooden paddle - a "small" paddle - and beat his son repeatedly on the back of his thighs? How could the state dare to intervene to stop this God-fearing father from using the rod so that the son would not be spoiled?

Another stain on the name of Christianity and a sad story about a dysfunctional family in serious need of counseling.

Awarding Failure

Paul Wolfowitz is back. As one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, Wolfowitz left the Administration in disgrace. He moved on to run the World Bank, where he was also a disgrace. His time there was marked chiefly by his run-ins with their ethics board over his continuing efforts to get his girlfriend a high-paid job for which she had no qualifications (and what is it with Republicans and their girlfriends). So he fails miserably at two high-profile jobs, which makes him a perfect candidate to serve once again in the Bush Administration:
Don't ever say the Bush administration doesn't take care of its own. Nearly three years after Paul Wolfowitz resigned as deputy Defense secretary and six months after his stormy departure as president of the World Bank—amid allegations that he improperly awarded a raise to his girlfriend—he's in line to return to public service. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has offered Wolfowitz, a prime architect of the Iraq War, a position as chairman of the International Security Advisory Board, a prestigious State Department panel, according to two department sources who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters. The 18-member panel, which has access to highly classified intelligence, advises Rice on disarmament, nuclear proliferation, WMD issues and other matters. "We think he is well suited and will do an excellent job," said one senior official.

We Are The People We Have Been Waiting For

World leaders are getting ready to meet in Bali for the next round of talks, after Kyoto, on climate change. As the New York Times opines today, nothing serious will happen until the United States takes this issue seriously; and that isn't going to happen until we have a new President. Meanwhile Thomas Friedman takes heart because others in the US are doing something:

While the Bush team came into office brain dead on the climate issue and will leave office with a perfect record of having done nothing significant to mitigate climate change, I’m heartened that our country is increasingly alive on this challenge.

First, Google said last week that it was going to invest millions in developing its own energy business. Google described its goal as “RE <>

Its primary focus, said’s energy expert, Dan Reicher, will be to advance new solar thermal, geothermal and wind solutions “across the valley of death.” That is, so many good ideas work in the lab but never get a chance to scale up because they get swallowed by a lack of financing or difficulties in implementation. Do not underestimate these people.

Last week, I also met with two groups of M.I.T. students who blew me away. One was the M.I.T. Energy Club, which was founded in 2004 by a few grad students discussing energy over beers at a campus bar. Today it has 600-plus members who have put on scores of events focused on building energy expertise among M.I.T. students and faculty, and “fact-based analysis,” including a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Then I got together with three engineering undergrads who helped launch the Vehicle Design Summit — a global, open-source, collaborative effort, managed by M.I.T. students, that has 25 college teams around the world, including in India and China, working together to build a plug-in electric hybrid within three years. Each team contributes a different set of parts or designs. I thought writing for my college newspaper was cool. These kids are building a hyper-efficient car, which, they hope, “will demonstrate a 95 percent reduction in embodied energy, materials and toxicity from cradle to cradle to grave” and provide “200 m.p.g. energy equivalency or better.” The Linux of cars!

They’re not waiting for G.M. Their goal, they explain on their Web site — — is “to identify the key characteristics of events like the race to the moon and then transpose this energy, passion, focus and urgency” on catalyzing a global team to build a clean car. I just love their tag line. It’s what gives me hope:

“We are the people we have been waiting for.”

Advent Message

Back from PA and a blogging hiatus. Thanks to ProgressiveChurchLady for keeping the home fires burning on this site. Here are my notes from Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent:

In my Sunday messages I don't usually follow the lectionary, the suggested scripture texts that many Christian traditions and churches follow. But I want to read today's suggested gospel passage, the reading for the first Sunday in Advent:

Matthew 24:36-44
36 ‘But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

This passage is part of a series of "you better be ready" passages that Matthew has collected together in chapters 24 and 25. While each of the parables and stories in these passages might have had a different meaning when and if they were spoken by Jesus, the writer of Matthew has grouped them together for a purpose. He uses these passages to convey a particular message for his community in the midst of their situation.

That situation is the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE, a moment when we know from both Jewish and Christian writers when many who lived through it believed would be followed by a decisive response from God. Apocalyptic fever was in the air; the center of God's presence in the world had been destroyed; God had to respond.

Matthew uses these passages to tell his community that yes, we should expect God's coming, but don't be fooled by the "obvious" signs that everyone is pointing to. Be patient. Be good. Be ready. When it happens it happens. But more importantly, he brackets these passages with the larger story of Jesus. And he doesn't end his gospel with an apocalyptic message, but with a mission from Jesus to go out into the world making disciples.

But let me tell you what I find interesting about these passages as they are used by Matthew. They suggest to me that some people in this early Christian community were not entirely satisfied with what they got in Jesus. The first showing apparently didn't quite satisfy. The Son of God appeared and not much changed in the world. In fact, within 40 years things got much worse for Jews and members of the Jesus movement centered around Jerusalem. And so some early Christians began to hope that he would come again - this time in a big, dramatic way, decisive way. And of course some Christians have been reading these passages ever since and trying to figure out when is the big event going to happen.

But what if there wasn't going to be another big event. What if the first visit was all there was. What if who Jesus was, his vision, how he lived, what he taught, was the whole package? What if God had appeared in a unique way in Jesus in this not entirely satisfying manner and this was the whole point?

That is what I think. I think there isn't going to be any second coming of Jesus. I think there isn't going to be any big decisive end-time act by God. I think we may very well bring about the end of our world at some point through environmental degradation or nuclear destruction, but it won't be an act of God; it will be because we have made God absent.

I think one of the central points of the Jesus story is the setting of when and where he lived: the poverty, the Roman occupation. It was right there in the midst of this difficult moment in time that the presence of God was experienced in an unexpected, new way. The birth stories of Matthew and Luke, different as they are from one another, both make this very point. Who would have thought that the Son of God would appear in a stable, to the parents of a not-yet married couple, in the backwater town of Bethlehem.

But the real story of Jesus is that he didn't just appear for a moment and make a flash and then go home with a promise that he would pop back in some day in the future. While he was here he shared what he knew. What he saw, the way he lived - it was possible for others to do too. We are all sons and daughters of God. We can all learn to live into that.

We can learn to see the presence of the divine in the unexpected, the difficult, the ordinary, the not entirely satisfying reality that is so often a part of life. We can learn to be mindful of who we are. We can learn to use our time, exercise our gifts, be a force for hope and love and healing in our world. We can surprise people - who is this person? That is what they said about Jesus - who is this person. We know him; we know his family; where did he get this gift? We can learn to be surprised again every day by wonder and beauty and joy - to see beauty in the lilies of the field.

It is Advent. It is a time of getting ready, attuning our senses and spirits once again to presence of God who came and who continues to be right here in our midst.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Somewhere Over the Artic

There has been much of fuss about the upcoming movie, The Golden Compass--similar to the prerelease angst before the movie of The Da Vinci Code came to the big screen. Not having read this fantasy series of novels yet, I've been wondering what all the fuss was about. It seems that the author of the novels is an atheist and some Catholics feel this book is "atheist propaganda". (Note--the screenplay was written by someone else and ends earlier and cheerier than the novel apparently.)

I wonder if they said the same thing about Frank L. Baum? Here's an explanation of all the fuss from today's New York Times. Now I will head to my county library's website to reserve a copy of the book so we can read it before go see this movie over the holidays!