Monday, March 31, 2008

Damage Control

Here's the full page advertisement that the U.C.C. wants to publish in the N.Y. Times and have put out a request to members and friends online to help them raise the money to do so. about transformational!

Power Corrupts?

"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
I can't remember to whom this quote should be attributed. Could someone help me?

I have been pondering this statement often lately as it relates to the local and national political processes as well as to the events of Roman rulers and Jesus' crucifixion.

In an interview with HarperOne about his newest book Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us that power does not necessarily need to corrupt. Power, when coupled with love and compassion, can be a tremendous healing and unifying force in our world/universe.

Here's the interview from Beliefnet today.

We are all biased

Scot McKnight makes a great point on the scholarly search for the real Jesus:
Above all and over everything in historical Jesus studies is an echo of something Schweitzer said long ago: When historical Jesus scholars look down into the deep well of the evidence for Jesus they tend to see a Jesus that looks alot like themselves. Liberals find a liberal Jesus; conservatives find a conservative Jesus. No one doesn't care -- don't let them fool you. Which means what? We need serious deconstruction every time we read a book about Jesus. Every time; every book; mine too. Everyone wants Jesus on their side.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour Countdown...60, 59, 58...

I just found out that it is one hour away from "Earth Hour".

E-mails from a variety of folks are urging me to turn out my lights from 8-9pm Central Daylight Saving Time to mark our concern about Global Warming. The effort is sponsored by the World Wildlife Federation and you can sign up here.

I presume this means we should also turn off our computers, t.v.s, etc. It's too cold and wet to go outside and build a bonfire with all the melting snow and ice along with a brisk wind. I guess we'll have to find something else to do to pass the time. Shouldn't be too difficult.

Here's looking at you, Earth!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When a Brain Scientist Has a Stroke

Do we choose to live out of the right or left side of our brain? The question raised by an eminent brain researcher who had a stroke. Video here. From the New York Times article:

Dr. Taylor recounts the details of her stroke and the amazing insights she gained from it in a riveting 18-minute video of her speech at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference in Monterey, Calif., last month. Her fascinating lecture includes a detailed explanation of the differences between the left and right sides of the brain, complete with an incredibly cool prop — a real human brain.

On a December morning in 1996, Dr. Taylor woke up with searing pain behind her left eye, the beginnings of a hemorrhagic stroke. As the left side of her brain shut down, she began to feel disconnected from her body and entered an almost-euphoric like state. It took her a while to make sense of the experience, but as her right arm became paralyzed, it dawned on her that she was having a stroke.

“How many brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?,'’ she said. “In the course of four hours, I watched my brain completely deteriorate in its ability to process all information. On the morning of the hemorrhage, I could not walk, talk, read, write or recall any of my life.'’

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Rare Opportunity Coming Up Locally

There is a rare and wonderful opportunity for clergy (and others) coming up locally in the LiberalChurch area. I want to figure out a way to attend this--either in whole or in part. Perhaps I will see you there?

Easter Message

With the usual caveat that these are notes, not a manuscript:

I want to read for you this morning the most curious of the resurrection stories from our biblical gospels. Mark 16:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

They fled the tomb and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. That is how the writer of Mark ends his gospel. It is such an unsatisfactory ending that later at least two and maybe three different and more satisfactory endings were appended onto Mark, borrowing from satisfactory resurrection stories of the other gospels where Jesus appears to the women and the disciples.

Why, I have always wondered, would Mark leave it this way? I think it may be that for this writer and his community the meaning of Jesus' life and death was still in flux. There was still to much pain. There was still too much tragedy unfolding all around them. If biblical scholars are correct that Mark is the first gospel written and it was penned just after the destruction of the temple then for Jewish and gentile followers of Jesus, the world is making absolutely no sense. What in God's name is going on? We lose him. The tomb is empty. He is alive? What does it mean? The city of Jerusalem is in ruins. How does this fit? The whole gospel of Mark is full of this uncertainty. And it ends in the same way.

I don't think this is too surprising given their reality. It is all so clear now looking back through the history of a triumphant Christian culture. Of course he rose from the dead. Of course it is all true. We won. But it wasn't so clear then. Just look at the resurrection accounts. Sit them sided by side. All of the gospels have resurrection accounts. Paul talks about his own resurrection vision of Jesus. But all the accounts are different. And they are private. There is no appearance before thousands of worshippers in the temple. There is no appearance before religious authorities, but to the a handful of women who came to the tomb to tend to the body or to a handful of disciples hiding from those religious authorities.

They didn't all see the same thing, or at least they didn't all talk about it in the same way... And yet there was something that happened that made them talk about Jesus as living once again. Walter Wink, a biblical scholar, wrote in a recent article that what happened to the disciples is that they each came to realize that the most essential aspect of Jesus as remaining with them after his death. While he was alive they had seen him heal, preach, and cast out demons, but had localized these powers in him. Though the powers had always been in them as well, while Jesus was alive they tended to project these latent, God-given powers onto him. They had only known those powers in him. But his death unleashed those same powers in themselves, as if Jesus himself had taken residence in their hearts and in their midst.

The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation myth that speaks to this moment of transformation. He in not dead; he is alive. In us. With us. And each of the resurrection stories has a commissioning. The mantle is passed from Jesus to the followers.

Wink makes another important observation about the meaning of the resurrection. Not only did something happen to the disciples, but something happened to God. For the followers of Jesus who experienced his continuing presence, they would never again be able to think about God without being able to think about Jesus. What Jesus did with his life and the way he died became for them the core of their definition of God. He ate with sinners; he touched lepers; he welcomed outcasts and women into his community; in the name of justice he challenged the powers, religious and political. This is who God is; this is what God does; this is what God wants us to do. The living Jesus showed them what the living God looked like.

And maybe most importantly, Jesus suffered and died. And when Jesus was hung on that cross, God was hung on the cross; when Jesus suffered and cried out in pain, God suffered and cried out in pain; when Jesus died, God died. And there was no power in this world or outside this world who could stop that from happening. For those who were there with him and who had their lives marked by this event, they would never be able to think about God again without thinking about the suffering and death of Jesus.

This is how Jesus became God in the Christian imagination and in Christian theology, of course. But it is just as important to realize that this is how God became human. In his suffering and death, it was revealed to Jesus' followers that this is who God is; this is where God is; and if we want to find God, this is where we look: where ever there is suffering and dying; there is God is present and there God is suffering and dying with us all over again.

This was not all immediately stunningly clear to those first followers. It is Mark helps us to see that. And it is still not all clear to us either all the time. Despite the triumph of Christian culture in the west, we wonder sometimes where it has gotten us after 2000 years. Is he alive or is he dead and gone? Does it matter? For there still, after 2000 years has been no triumphant return of Jesus, or even any earth-shattering appearance, at the Super Bowl. There are plenty of Christian who are pinning their hopes on that kind of outcome.

I think the resurrection is still very much a personal matter. I think it is still true that if we want evidence about whether Jesus is alive or not, we need only look inside and look at our lives. If we are doing what he was doing, then he is alive in us. The living Jesus is found where ever God's community is being created. Where peacemaking is being lived; where ever everyone of God's people is being welcomed. I look around right here in this room and see evidence that Jesus lives in us. I may not think about it in the same way as some of my brothers and sisters but I can say with them that Christ is risen.

Dim Bulb

Rep. Michele Bachmann has introduced a bill in Congress entitled the "Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act." The bill seeks to repeal the nationwide phase-out of conventional light bulbs. From the Star Tribune:

"This is an issue of science over fads and fashions," Bachmann said in an interview Tuesday.

"Congress tends to jump on whatever the current buzz is in the 24-hour news cycle, " Bachmann said.

Everyone knows that flourescent bulbs have a small mercury problem. But everyone also knows that using them saves energy and results in less mercury being pumped into the air by power plants. Everyone includes consumer groups, energy companies, and the government. Everyone except Michele Bachmann.

Saudi King Wants Religious Dialogue

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has suggested a dialogue between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders:

"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king said Monday night in Riyadh at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."

The king's call — the first of its kind by an Arab leader — was described as a "dramatic and important development" by Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism.

At face value it sounds good. There could be great symbolic value in having the spiritual leaders of the Abrahamic faiths sitting and talking in the same room. But let's also remember that although the Koran calls for religious tolerance, Saudi Arabia is anything but tolerant, even of diverse interpretations of Islam let alone of other religious faiths.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Real Easter

James McGrath writes about the real Easter:
Back in Galilee, some time later, the disciples had dreams, visions, encounters that persuaded them that Jesus was alive, that God had taken this individual who mistakenly thought the dawn of the Kingdom of God was imminent, and had made him Lord of that very Kingdom, which was yet to dawn fully.

That was Easter. When it occurred, and how it relates to the conviction that something monumental happened "on the third day", is hard to discern through the tensions and obscurities in the evidence.

Those experiences, rather than anything to do with the tomb, are at the heart of the Christian faith. While the events of the days that followed the crucifixion are shrouded in mystery and uncertainty, the Easter experiences continue to be part of human experience from then until today. And for those of us who have had such experiences, they do not prove anything about what happened to Jesus' body, or an empty tomb. But they do shine light on our existence, and the fact that we inhabit a universe where such experiences are possible fills us with awe, and wonder, and reverence. And it leads us to spend our lives seeking to do justice to the character of the universe and of human existence such experiences hint at.
John 21 gives us the kernel of the story as it might have happened with Peter and some of the other disciples. He went back to Galilee and went back to fishing. While there he had time to reflect on both the death of Jesus and on the meaning of his life. He was eventually able to see that Jesus was living still - in him and with him in as much as he carried on the work of Jesus. This is the only resurrection experience that matters.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday

Because Easter was so early this year we had a "white Easter" -- not eggs or lillies -- but lots of snow! I tried to post a photo of my kids' at the neighborhood egg hunt on Saturday but my technological incompetence got the better of me and I need to consult Liberalpastor for help!

Keeping in mind that this is still "Spiritual Health Month", here's a good article I just read from Beliefnet's Beyond Blue for those who might be having a "post Easter let down" today. Forgive the length--it's good enough not to excerpt it.


Shadows in Prayer: The seven D's of the spiritual life

One challenge for readers of "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," the collection of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s letters published last fall, is to distinguish among the terms darkness, dryness, desolation, doubt, disbelief, depression and despair—the “seven D’s.” On a popular level, some journalists, media analysts and bloggers conflated Mother Teresa’s “darkness” with “disbelief.” Christopher Hitchens, the atheist author of God Is Not Great, was not the only one who asked, after reading selections from the book, whether the “saint of the gutters” was a closet atheist. Even devout Catholics had difficulties grasping how Mother Teresa, considered a paragon of faith, could have suffered from a feeling of abandonment by God. While some Catholics saw her example as one of remarkable fidelity, others were disturbed to read such lines as, “I have no faith.” One woman asked me, “How can I expect to pray at all, when even she couldn’t believe?”

Such reactions show how easy it is for the media and the public to be addled sometimes by the complexities of the spiritual life and, also, how confused terminology can become, even among those familiar with prayer.

The “seven D’s,” however, are distinct, and Christian spiritual masters have long used specific terms to refer to distinct experiences. One may experience dryness without depression (for example, during a retreat when one suspects that the period of dryness in prayer is temporary). One may encounter darkness without disbelief (as did St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who continued to believe despite spiritual aridity near the end of her life). Experiences can overlap, too. Darkness can lead to occasional doubt, as in the case of Mother Teresa. And depression can lead, as even atheists and agnostics know, to despair.

Darkness Visible

Darkness has been an important theme in Christian spirituality since St. Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century. Perhaps the most often quoted source on the topic is St. John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic. Ironically, he may be the most misquoted as well, as illustrated by frequent references to the “dark night of the soul.” His original 16th-century poem is called simply Noche Oscura, “Dark Night.”

“Dark night,” however, is only one way of describing a particular state of feeling isolated from God. Around the same time St. John was writing, St. Ignatius Loyola wrote of “desolation” in his Spiritual Exercises. So even the most educated Christian can be forgiven for wondering: Are the two saints talking about two phenomena that are the same, or similar or different?

To add to the confusion, where one spiritual director uses “darkness,” another might use “dryness” to describe the same experience. “And sometimes directors can be presumptuous, too,” says Jane Ferdon, O.P., who has trained spiritual directors in California for 20 years. “People may say that they are in darkness, and we spiritual directors assume we know what they’re talking about!”

Perhaps confusion stems not only from an imprecise, overlapping and shifting use of terms but also from a failure to recognize that everyone who prays will at some point encounter many of these states.

What are these states? How do they affect our relationships with God? Lent is a good time to reflect on these categories, not only as a way of taking stock of our spiritual life but also as an invitation to meditate on Jesus’ own expression of isolation on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

What follows is a brief overview of the seven D’s, beginning with some simple definitions, followed by comments from past and present spiritual masters.

Definitions and Descriptions

1. Darkness is a feeling of God’s absence after having developed a personal relationship with God. For St. John of the Cross, there were two types of “dark nights.” The “dark night of the senses” is an experience of one’s own limitations and the removal of attachments to the consolation felt in prayer. It is “an inflowing of God into the soul whereby he purges it of its habitual ignorances and imperfections,” wrote St. John. At a later stage, some experience the “dark night of the spirit,” which is a more profound challenge to faith. But both are steps toward deeper union with God.

Janet Ruffing, R.S.M., professor of spirituality and spiritual direction at Fordham University, describes St. John’s dark night as a “mystical experience of God that overwhelms our normal way of apprehending God, and leads not only to an increase in faith, hope and love, but also eventually into a place of light.” She believes that while almost everyone who prays seriously will encounter the dark night of the senses, relatively few will experience the dark night of the spirit.

An experience of darkness can be a gateway to finding God in the nada, or nothingness, and an entry into the via negativa, the negative way. Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite nun, writes in her book "Essence of Prayer" that God “wants us to trust him enough to live with him unafraid, totally defenseless in his presence. We can truly say that John of the Cross’s teaching has as its sole aim to bring us to this inner poverty.”
A person in darkness feels isolated from God. Yet with patience (whether or not one can identify which “dark night” one is experiencing), one can let go of the need to feel God’s presence constantly and gradually move through the darkness to discover greater intimacy with God.

2. Dryness is a limited period of feeling emptiness in prayer. “Dryness is more temporary than darkness,” says William A. Barry, S.J., author of "God and You: Prayer as a Personal Relationship." Anyone who prays will at times feel dryness in prayer, when nothing seems to be happening. “There is little in the way of sensible consolation,” Father Barry said in an interview.

These natural parts of the spiritual life can increase our appreciation for richer moments. One never knows what kind of inner change occurs during “dry” times, and being with the living God in prayer is always transformative. As a Jesuit novice, I once confessed to my spiritual director that nothing was happening during my prayer. It seemed a waste of time. “Being in the presence of God is a waste of time?” he asked.
Much as even a close friendship goes through some quiet or dull times, so our relationship with God may go through dry patches. But being with a friend in such times is necessary if the friendship is to be sustained and grow in intimacy.

3. Desolation is feeling God’s absence coupled with a sense of hopelessness. St. Ignatius Loyola describes it as “an obtuseness of soul, turmoil within it, an impulsive motion toward low and earthly things, or a disquiet from various agitations and temptations.” It is more than feeling dejected or sad. “Desolation is often confused with simply feeling bad,” says Barry. “But it’s more accurate to say it is a feeling of estrangement from God.”

Margaret Silf, a columnist for America and author of "Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality," notes that desolation has a quality of isolation. “Those in desolation are turned away from the light of God’s presence,” she told me, “and more focused on the shadows.” Father Barry agrees. “In desolation it’s more about the person than it is about God,” he says. “Ultimately this leads to despair.”

Desolation is distinct from St. John’s dark night. In desolation, writes St. Ignatius, one is moved toward a “lack of faith” and is left “without hope and love.” In the dark night the opposite is happening, as one moves toward complete abandonment to God. “For the one experiencing this, it may be easier to see this in retrospect,” says Janet Ruffing. “But in the Ignatian worldview, the dark night is actually consolation.”

The desolation Ignatius describes may seem far removed from the lives of average Christians. But it is a common, painful state experienced by many people, coupled as it is with feelings of “gnawing anxiety,” as Ignatius puts it. He counsels that in these times one should, among other things, redouble one’s efforts in prayer, remember times when God seemed more present or remind oneself that it will eventually pass. He also reminds us that all the fruits of prayer are really gifts from God, which we cannot control.

4. Doubt is an intellectual indecision about God’s existence. Many believers face doubt at some point in their lives. “Most people are relieved to be able to talk about doubt in spiritual direction,” says Ruffing. “But no one reaches adult faith without doubt. And frequently people encounter doubt and then move toward a faith that is more complex, paradoxical and, ultimately, more adult.”

Doubt is a supremely human experience, shared by nearly every Christian since St. Thomas the Apostle. Recently, in John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Doubt,” a priest (who faces his own doubts and the doubts of his parishioners about his background) points to this universality in a homily: “When you are lost, you are not alone.”

5. Disbelief is an intellectual state of not accepting the existence of God. Some commentators concluded that because Mother Teresa suffered darkness, she did not believe in God. Once, in her letters, she bluntly wrote, “I have no faith.” But, as Father Barry explains, “She was still praying and writing letters to God.”

Sometimes disbelief is a way of discarding old images of God that no longer work for an adult believer. Margaret Silf reflects on her own experience: “I’ve been through times when all the old props have fallen away, and have felt that I just couldn’t go on believing. So what to do? Bolster this old system, or let things be and see what happens? For me, this finally enabled me to break through to a deeper level of faith, which I would call trust.” Disbelief is a serious challenge in the spiritual life. If the journey ends at that point, there will be little space for God. The key is to continue seeking, even in the midst of disbelief.

6. Depression is a profound form of sadness. In the medical and psychological community, it has a more technical definition. “It’s a clinical category that is often able to be treated medically,” says Barry, who is also a psychologist. “We don’t want to spiritualize primarily psychological problems,” says Jane Ferdon. “But today,” she adds, “we can also psychologize spiritual issues. So it’s very important to discern the root causes of depression.”

In “The Dark Night and Depression,” an essay in Keith J. Egan’s book "Carmelite Prayer," Kevin Culligan, a Carmelite priest, writes that in the dark night there is an acute awareness of one’s own incompleteness. However, in this darkness one seldom “utters morbid statements of guilt, self-loathing, worthlessness, and suicidal ideation,” as one does during a period of clinical depression.

So one can be in darkness but not be depressed. What about the other way around? Father Barry responds, “Rarely is the clinically depressed person able to experience consolation in prayer.”

Therese Borchard, who writes a blog on depression, “Beyond Blue,” for the spirituality Web site Beliefnet, has suffered from depression herself. She understands it from both a theoretical and a personal point of view and agrees with Barry. “When you’re depressed you feel so angry at God,” she told me. “For some people it can lead you closer to God, as you struggle to express your anger and also cling to God as a last hope. For others it can distance you and lead to turning away from God. In general, though, depression usually leads to darkness and dryness in prayer.” Clinical depression needs to be treated by medical professionals as well as to be addressed in a spiritual setting.

How do spiritual directors and counselors distinguish between darkness and depression? “When I’m with depressed people, I feel swallowed up by their depression,” says Janet Ruffing. “It’s the opposite with people going through the dark night. Once, I accompanied one of our sisters, who was dying, through an experience like this, and in her presence I felt God’s luminosity—though she couldn’t touch it at all.”

Sadness is different from depression. As Barry notes, “Sadness over a painful reality in your life can be a sign that you are in touch with God.” Jane Ferdon says, “These are some of the people who are the most alive, since they are feeling deeply.”

7. Despair is a feeling that all is, and will remain, hopeless. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton defined despair in his book "New Seeds of Contemplation" as “the ultimate development of a pride so great and so stiff-necked that it accepts the absolute misery of eternal damnation rather than accept that God is above us and that we are not capable of fulfilling our destinies by ourselves.” The form of despair Merton describes implies that we know better than God does, and what we “know” is that things can never get any better. Such pride leads to a spiritual dead end: despair.

This may sound harsh. For those living in grinding poverty, facing a life-threatening illness or confronted with some other tragedy, despair may seem a rational response. It can also stem from depression. “When you are depressed you are often without hope,” says Therese Borchard, “and this can lead to despair.”

Jane Ferdon thinks that sometimes despair is not a spiritual dead end, but appropriate. She remembers one woman describing her painful circumstances by saying, “I feel like I’m walking among the living dead.” Ferdon always asks people if they can find God in this state. “Also, it’s important to know if the despair is a reflection of something else, say, aloneness or depression, and what happens when the person brings that despair to prayer. Sometimes the person doesn’t want to pray about it, and if not, why not? That may be where Thomas Merton’s notion of pride comes in.”

Ferdon respectfully disagrees with Merton in definitively identifying despair with pride. “It may be that pride is actually the opposite of what is happening. Despair can be an experience of letting go of our need to control everything, and it can lead to change, revitalization and even consolation.” So while a despair that says, “Nothing can change” is perilous in the spiritual life, a despair that says, “I can’t do it by myself” could lead to growth.

Distinctions and Deliverance

One need not be a scholar of Christian spirituality, a spiritual director or a person under spiritual direction to see that disentangling these spiritual strands can be encouraging, clarifying, consoling and freeing. Understanding that most of these experiences are common can encourage us by reducing anxiety. “These are stages in everyone’s spiritual life,” says Janet Ruffing. Knowing that these stages are not identical can be clarifying and help us discern the correct responses to different events in our spiritual lives. (St. Ignatius, for example, prescribes definite steps to take when one is in desolation.) Being able to bring such experiences to prayer can be consoling, since it can deepen our relationship with God, in the same way that speaking about a thorny problem with a friend can strengthen a friendship and lead to greater intimacy.

Finally, knowing that all these experiences can lead us to God can free us from fear, which can cripple our spiritual lives. For the God by whom Jesus felt abandoned on the cross is the same God who delivered Jesus from death, giving him new life. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is the beginning of Psalm 22. A few lines later, though, the psalmist sings another song. “For he did not hide his face from me, but heard me when I cried to him.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Angry Black Preachers

Obama is, of course, being criticized for his 20-year association with his pastor. Clips of Rev. Wright's anti-American anger are all over the internet. This morning E.J. Dionne calls attention to the angry words of another African-American pastor:

Listen to what King said about the Vietnam War at his own Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on Feb. 4, 1968: "God didn't call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war. . . . And we are criminals in that war. We've committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I'm going to continue to say it. And we won't stop it because of our pride and our arrogance as a nation. But God has a way of even putting nations in their place." King then predicted this response from the Almighty: "And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power."

If today's technology had existed then, I would imagine the media playing quotations of that sort over and over. Right-wing commentators would use the material to argue that King was anti-American and to discredit his call for racial and class justice. King certainly angered a lot of people at the time.

I cite King not to justify Wright's damnation of America or his lunatic and pernicious theories but to suggest that Obama's pastor and his church are not as far outside the African American mainstream as many would suggest. I would also ask my conservative friends who praise King so lavishly to search their consciences and wonder if they would have stood up for him in 1968.

These are realities that Obama has forced us to confront, and they are painful. Wright was operating within a long tradition of African American outrage, which is one reason Obama could not walk away from his old pastor in the name of political survival. Obama's personal closeness to Wright would have made such a move craven in any event.


Dems and Religion

Kevin Drum comments on the trouble Hillary and Obama have gotten in recently because of their religious affiliations. Obama's trouble is well known. Hillary is being lambasted by Barbara Ehrenreich on Huffington Post for her participation in a Bible study group in Washington that apparently trends right. He says:
If this is what being a sincerely committed Christian gets you in the Democratic Party, why should we bother? Are the benefits really worth the costs? There must be more than a few Democrats surveying the rubble of the past week and thinking that maybe we'd be better off leaving the God talk to the Republicans and keeping our own faith private.
I am not naive enough to think that Hillary and Obama weren't calculating the cost-benefit ratio of their religious affiliations; it's part of a politician's DNA. But if this had been all that mattered to them they would have distanced themselves from these potentially unsavory situations long ago.

It could just be that Hillary attended her Bible Study and Obama attended his church for spiritual sustenance. Wouldn't that be something.

The Day Christ Died

James Tabor is author of The Jesus Dynasty and one of the chief proponents of the idea that the tomb of the family of Jesus may have been found: the Talpiot Tomb. Here is his blog post for Holy Thursday:

The subject heading is the title of a most famous book by Jim Bishop, The Day Christ Died, published in 1957 by Harper Collins with an official Imprimatur by the famous Archbishop of New York Francis Cardinal Spellman–guaranteeing it “free of doctrinal or moral error.” The book is still available in reprint editions. I highly recommend it for a kind of retrospective history reading. I remember devouring this book when it came out. I was eleven years old. It captivated me utterly, I could not put it down.

Fifty years later I write this post on a Thursday night, on the eve of “Good Friday,” that happens this year to also be the night of Purim as well as the Vernal Equinox–a kind of triple package of markers and observances. Today is Thursday. I have been absolutely convinced for several years now, as I explain in my book, The Jesus Dynasty, that Jesus died on Nisan 14th, which in the year A.D. 30, fell on a Thursday not a Friday. So this is indeed, the “day Christ died.” He was put in the temporary rock hewn tomb just before sunset, and Friday, the following day, was the first day of Passover. This means the Passover meal or Seder was eaten that Thursday night, just as the Gospel of John records (John 13:1; 18:28). The next day, Friday, was indeed a “Sabbath,” but not Saturday, the weekly Sabbath, but rather one of the seven “annual” Sabbaths of the Jewish festival cycle (see Leviticus 23:7). This means there were two Sabbaths, back to back, Friday and Saturday, that year. Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene went early to the tomb and found it empty, it was indeed “three days and three nights” that Jesus had laid in that tomb (Thurs, Friday, Saturday nights), which comports with the tradition that Matthew has received (Matthew 12:40). Surely a million Sunday schools kids over the years have asked, not to mention adults, how can you get three nights, from Friday to Sunday morning. It simply will not work.

Modern astronomical programs completely confirm this chronology of the Spring of A.D. 30. I have had quite a few dozens of readers write me to point out that the Jewish calendar never allows the 14th of Nisan to fall on a Thursday. But this adjustment in the calendar, based on what are called “postponements,” was not instituted until well into the 2nd century. In the time of Jesus the month of Nisan was set by the new moon, and that particular year, A.D. 30, the 14th day of the first month (14 days after the new moon) fell on a Thursday. The “last supper,” that Jesus ate with his disciples the night before, a Wednesday evening, was not the Passover Seder, but a messianic banquet or Eucharist of “bread and wine,” such as mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Didache. One way of putting it is that Jesus did not eat the Passover, he was the Passover, at least as understood by the Gospel of John and by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7). According to Josephus it was between 3pm and sundown the Passover sacrifices were made, just as the 14th of Nisan ended and the 15th, an annual Sabbath, began. Christians subsequently saw great symbolism in this chronology.

Tabor is one of those rare progressive biblical scholars who thinks there is a fair amount of historical accuracy to be found in the details of the gospel stories, including the Gospel of John, and he puts it all together in a readable and fascinating way in his book. This post is a good example; he thinks the Gospel of John has the right chronology on Jesus' last supper. The last supper wasn't a Passover meal, which, Tabor says, would have been celebrated by Jesus with his extended family and disciples. The last supper was in essence a strategy meal (from his book) with the disciples to lay out his plans for the next day, and to say goodbye.

Jesus was killed on Thursday and buried in a temporary tomb by Thursday night. The women, who had watched the crucifixion from a distance also followed to see where he was buried. Mary Magdalene went on Sunday morning after the Sabbath to find the tomb and the tomb was empty. And the rest was history.

Or faith. Reading Tabor is like reading a good historic novel. Plenty of well-researched historic details and lots of imaginative speculation filling in the unknown gaps. But in his defense, every biblical scholar does the same. There is much that we don't know about the details and chronology of Jesus' life and death.

Tabor, by the way, is in Jerusalem participating in an archeological dig.

Good Friday Storm

The view out the back window this morning. With mid-40's forecast for next week it will all be gone in a few days.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Shoe-Polishing Bishops

A different take on foot-washing:

The Bishops of Birmingham and Leicester and the Dean of Peterborough are among senior clergy preparing to roll up their sleeves and cassocks today to clean and polish the shoes of dozens of office workers in towns and cities across the country.

The church figures are getting ready to buff the footwear of passers-by in a symbolic act echoing Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet on the night of the Last Supper, before his trial and crucifixion which are commemorated on Good Friday.

The Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev David Urquhart, said: “The shoe shine is just a small demonstration that people who follow Jesus are prepared to roll up their sleeves and serve their communities.

Asking Jesus into Your Heart

Among evangelicals, it's a frequently used summary of what is required to become Christian. And it's completely un-biblical. So says a conservative Biblical scholar:

How did language that is not biblical become the most important language for doing evangelism? Jesus never even comes close to saying, "Invite me into your heart so you can go to heaven." Nor does the rest of the New Testament. (Concerning the misguided focus on going to heaven, see my blog for March 17.) If people really knew what it meant for Christ to take over the controlling center of their being, that would be one thing, but they do not. Jesus does not seek people to make a decision, but people who become disciples, who follow him, and who are attached to him.

If we think we can retreat to Paul, we are in for a surprise. Paul rarely speaks of Christ in us—at most six times, but at least 164 times he has the Greek expression en Christō* or its equivalent, which can express a variety of ideas. Clearly though, being in Christ is a much more powerful image than Christ being in us. Faith is not merely a mental activity. As Sanday and Headlam’s old ICC commentary on Romans put it, faith involves "enthusiastic adhesion" (p. 34). Faith is that which attaches you to Jesus. Nothing less is saving faith.

John’s language focuses too on attachment to Jesus. While he speaks both of Christ being in us and our being in him, he expresses both ideas with the word menein, "to remain." Christians are people so attached to Jesus that he remains in them and they remain in him.

Interestingly, nearly all the 263 occurrences of the noun mathētēs, the word for "disciple" are in the Gospels and Acts. The same is true for the verb akolouthein ("to follow") and its cognates. How do we make sure that the focus on following, being attached to Jesus, is not lost when we turn to speak also of the risen Lord? Asking Jesus into your heart does not cut it.

The other obvious thing about discipleship that should be said, especially from Luke 9:57-62 and 14:15-33, is that the biggest obstacles for discipleship—and the biggest opportunities—are our family and our money. Ouch!

Take up the cross, follow after, be a disciple. It isn't about asking Jesus into your heart or about correct belief but about practice, practice, practice.


It is the first day of Spring. It's a beautiful spring day in Minnesota - for Minnesota. But we are under a winter storm watch for tonight with heavy wet snow possible.

Maundy Thursday

From the Gospel of John:
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. 2The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper 3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
"Before the festival of the Passover." In the Gospel of John the Last Supper is not a Passover meal.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 Years in Iraq

With no end in sight. Nearly 4000 American troops lost. More than 150,000 Iraqis lost. Depending on who is counting between 1 and 4 trillion dollars will be added to the national debt before it is all over. Still no political reconciliation in sight.

There have been two major wars in my lifetime: Vietnam and Iraq. Both wars were launched and justified based on deceit by Presidents and cowardice on behalf of a Congress afraid to exercise its Constitutional duties. Both divided the nation and left us weaker at home and in the world.

Can it be too much to ask that we say we will never again allow a President to launch an unprovoked war?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech

I thought it was excellent. (Transcript here) It didn't have the awesome oratory of his campaign speeches, but it shouldn't have either. He addressed the controversy of his former pastor's incendiary statements by putting those comments in the context of the history of racism in American and the way it has bred resentment and despair for both blacks and whites. And most importantly he didn't distance himself from the man who performed his wedding and baptized his children and with whom he has had a 20 year relationship.

I have read criticism already (here) about his likening his pastor to his white grandmother, who occasionally made racist comments. Both of them, Obama said, were family. The criticism I have read and heard is that it's a bad analogy; he could leave his church; the pastor is not blood. This criticism misses the point. First, of all, he could leave his family if he wanted. People do it; it doesn't mean you stop being related but you can certainly stop having contact. In neither case could Obama dream of doing that. Why? The statements are expressions of fear and pain; this doesn't excuse them; they are still wrong. But they are windows into a wounded soul. But they are also a tiny slice of a whole person whose life and legacy is much more and much better than those few statements.

Will his speech put an end to the character assassinations of his pastor, and through guilt by association Obama? Even Obama had to say that he didn't know the answer to that. If the electorate wants to follow the right-wing noise machine down this rat-hole then we will see an endless stream of these quips popping up and this is what the talking-heads on CNN, et al., will keep talking about. And Obama's campaign will be lost. But more importantly, so will the opportunity to turn a page from the politics of personal assassination so we can address real issues.

I will happily vote for Hillary if she is the nominee; she could make a good President. But Obama has an opportunity to be a transformational President.

It Must Be True

Fred Plummer is the president of The Center for Progressive Christianity ( Open Circle is a member church. Fred has his Easter sermon online. He tells the story of a minister colleague who reasoned that the resurrection of Jesus must be true because the church wouldn't have survived 2000 years if it wasn't. Fred says:
But it seems to me that if we use the same test for a truth in religion we have a bit of a problem. For there are at least five or six major religions active in the world today like, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, and Shintoism, that are older than Christianity. Are they therefore "more true" according to my friend's test of truth I wondered? I realized that the followers of those ancient traditions probably do not think too highly of the traditional Christian idea that Christ is the one and only way.
If you grow up in Christian-dominated culture - as I did in rural Pennsylvania - where you never have contact with any other religions, there is virtually no reason to even give a second thought to the ultimate truth claims of Christianity. They must be true. Its all you know. And it's ancient.

It's difficult to imagine that there are people growing up in other parts of the world who think the same way about their faith tradition, and some of those faith traditions are far older than Christianity. They must be true too. Right?

There is more than one way up the mountain.

Trouble in Tibet

The crackdown continues in Tibet. The New York Times gives some background today on the long-simmering dispute:

But to many Tibetans and their sympathizers, the weeklong uprising against Chinese rule in Lhasa reflects years of simmering resentment over Beijing’s interference in Buddhist religious rites, its tightened political control and the destruction of the environment across the Himalayan territory the Tibetans consider sacred. If there is a surprise, it may be that Beijing has managed to keep things stable for so long.

Since the last big anti-Chinese riots in Tibet two decades ago, Beijing has sought to smother Tibetan separatism by sparking economic development and by inserting itself into the metaphysics of Tibetan Buddhism. But an influx of Han Chinese to Tibet, and a growing sense among Tibetans that China is irreparably altering their way of life, produced a backlash when Communist Party leaders most needed stability there, analysts say...

The Communist Party, atheistic by doctrine, has insisted that it has the sole authority to approve incarnations — the divine process by which a “living Buddha” is chosen in boyhood. Beijing had already selected a boy as its own Panchen Lama, the second ranking figure in Tibetan Buddhism, and reportedly jailed a boy chosen by the Dalai Lama.

Last November, the Dalai Lama countered with his own surprise. He proposed that instead of waiting for senior religious figures to search out his incarnation following his death, he might choose his own reincarnation — a possibility that has enraged Beijing. The Dalai Lama proposed a referendum among Tibetan Buddhists on whether to change the current reincarnation practice, in a way that could allow him influence in picking his own successor.

Meanwhile, Beijing has steadily been taking a tougher line on religious practices and cultural expressions of Tibetan pride. In November 2005, Zhang Qingli was appointed Communist Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region. Mr. Zhang came from the Communist Youth League organization, part of the political stronghold of Mr. Hu. Mr. Zhang has made no attempt to disguise his paternal attitude toward his charges.

“The Communist Party is like the parent to the Tibetan people, and it is always considerate about what the children need,” Mr. Zhang said last year. He later added: “The Central Party Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans.”

One can imagine how it would be received in this country if an American president said that the American government was the real Jesus for Christians.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spring Cleaning & Spiritual Health Month

People in the Simplicity Circle at Liberalchurch discussed dealing with these issues and how this process of cleaning is quite difficult for many of us. I'm at the top of the list! (Just ask my spouse.) I think this meditation will be helpful for me. I thought I would share it on the blog in case it might be helpful for others.

Meditation: Get that 'Spring Cleaning' Feeling
By Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway

"Spring cleaning" is as much a metaphor for spiritual life as it is an annual chore-ridden project. In this meditation, clearing out, cleaning up, and deeply cleansing are seen through spiritual eyes, as ways to welcome space, light, and energy into your life and home.


Breathe in a fresh breath of spring.
Exhale old, stale energy.

Breathe in clarity.
Exhale mental clutter.

Breathe in calm.
Exhale emotional disarray.

Breathe in new possibilities.
Exhale that which stands in the way of true love.
As your lungs fill with fresh air,
and you exhale tensions and stress,
feel yourself coming into a state of relaxation
where your heart, mind and soul are aligned.

From this place, there is no conflict or worry.

And you know that letting go of things you are attached to
is sometimes the best thing you can do
to free your heart for love...
And clear your space for a new relationship.
It is time to recognize that you hold the key to transforming your love life...

It could be the same key that opens your front door.

Now, see yourself at the door to your home.

Step is filled with sunshine and brightness...and a sense of hope.

Feel your heart and spirit is lift as your walk through the door.

There is a special pair of glasses waiting for you, and when you put them on you can see clearly through your spiritual eyes.

Use those glasses to know what items
in your home and life
support your journey toward love...
and which are holding you back in history.

Recognizing these items is the first step
to clearing stale, or negative, relationship energy from your space.

Now breathe in the sunshine and fresh you scan the room...and allow your spiritual eyes to focus on an item that is calling for your attention.
As you identify it, ask yourself:

What does this item mean to me?
How does it make me feel when I look at it?
Is it holding me inappropriately to my past?
If the answer is yes, step up to the item or hold it in you hand and:

Thank it.
Bless it.
Prepare yourself to let it go.

There is a beautiful, big box in the center of the room. It's surrounded by a halo of yellow sunshine.

The inside is lined with healing, welcoming green color.

It has a beautiful pink lid that represents the heart.

It is a special box for items you like and love...but know you must release.

When you are ready, take the item, big or small, and place in the box. It is large enough and expands as needed.

How do you feel once you have let it go?

Liberated and free?
Sad but relieved?
Or Remorseful?
If you feel remorseful, it could be you are not ready to let it go. It is okay to put it back in its place.

But if you are ready, walk over to the box, close the big lid, and as you do...feel a fresh breath of spring rushing all around you. Cleansing you and setting you free.

Feel the warmth of the sun streaming in from the open window.

Congratulate yourself for your willingness to move on. Take a deep breath, and let it out with sigh with relief.

Do this exercise over and over again, with any items in your home that call to you for your attention.

They each have stories to tell about your life...and carry energy that may not be right for the new love life you've chosen.

You can invite in a fresh breath of spring to help you along...any time of year.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spitzer Woes

Eliot Spitzer being caught with a female prostitute is like Ted Haggard being caught with a gay prostitute. They are not to be faulted for their human frailty, but their rank hypocrisy. Hopefully Spitzer can repair things with his family, but his political life is probably over.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Prayer for Today

Discourse on Lovingkindness

Let your love flow outward through the universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.

- The Buddha

Buddhist; appropriate for many faiths
source: Sutta Nipata as posted on the Beliefnet's Prayer for Today.

Friday, March 07, 2008

GM vs. Toyota

General Motors, once the world's largest seller of vehicles by a long-shot, has been losing market share to foreign car makers for years and will likely soon slip into second place behind Toyota. Today's business section in the Star Tribune provides us with a piece of evidence about why this is happening. The Strib talked to representatives of the big five automakers who are in town for the Greater St. Paul & Minneapolis International Auto Show. Here is how the GM and a Toyota representatives answered the question about the future of ethanol":

Given the food vs. fuel debate, are E85 and biodiesel ideas who've time have come and gone? Or do federal mandates pave the way for a long ethanol future, but as a 10 percent blend at the pump, not E85?

GM: We do not think so and maintain our commitment to E85. We believe E85 still has a big large role to play. The new Renewable Fuel Standard (36 million gallons of ethanol produced in the United States annually by 2022) will require use of greater concentrations of ethanol than just E10. The food vs. fuel debate is a bit of a red herring. Some animal feeds have gone up in price in part due to rising prices for corn. But there is ample corn to feed people and make fuel. Growing demand for food in nations like India and China have a big role in the demand for food and short harvests in other nations (i.e. Australia and New Zealand) have as much or more to do with the issue as corn-based ethanol. Also, as previously mentioned, the real potential lies with cellulosic ethanol.

TOYOTA: There is a place for ethanol, but many, many challenges ahead. More important than food vs fuel is the issue of water availability challenges.

GM is betting the farm on a technology that is widely recognized as bad for the environment, not to mention reeking havoc on global food prices. Toyota is not. Who do you think will be better positioned for the future?

Two Men and a Computer

That is what we call the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, the anti-tax group that generates lots of publicity about the evils of taxation in MN, but has only a couple of names attached to its endless stream of press releases and its website.

I mention them because in Neal St. Anthony's column in today's Star Tribune, he comments on the fact that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which recently backed the first gas tax increase in 20 years in the state, has taken little flack from its members for its sensible stance that it is time to put an end to the traffic gridlock that is hurting Minnesota businesses. How many resignations did the chamber receive? St. Anthony tells us:

Mike Wigley, the founder of the decade-old Taxpayers League of Minnesota, a vocal anti-tax lobby, this week encouraged like-minded folks to drop their chamber memberships in retaliation for the organization's helping write legislation that includes a 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike by the end of this year and 8.5 cents by 2013.

Chamber CEO David Olson said that he's aware of two cancellations from the 2,400-member group.

Two men with their computer.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thinking Spring

About yesterday I began to think it was time for spring to arrive. Maybe it was being in Los Angeles for a couple of days last week. Or maybe it's just March and since the days are getting longer it seems like it ought to be getting warmer but instead we are getting snow and colder weather this week. I am beginning to think about gardening and grilling but the weather isn't cooperating.

Even though we are still white and frozen here, there are signs of spring. In my backyard the House Finches and Mourning Doves have arrived from their winter habitat and are visiting the feeders. When I get the paper in the mornings male Cardinals and Chicadees are singing their mating songs. I have seen a couple of Robins.

And then there is this opossum. Since the middle of January he, or she, has been a regular visiter at our feeders. Isn't he pretty? Not very, but he is fascinating to watch and it is pretty unusual to see one of these normally nocturnal marcupials on a regular basis during the daylight. He obviously must be hungry.

It won't be long before it is warm and green. But there is wonder and beauty to be seen and heard right now. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Please Make a Phone Call Today!!

Today, you can build on the legacy of the late Senator Paul Wellstone (and his family).

Please call your U.S. Representative today and ask them to support the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act.

Why is the Wellstone Act important? Because this bill will end discrimination against people with mental illness and addiction by prohibiting insurers from putting different limits or financial requirements on treatment for mental health and substance abuse than other medical benefits. Simply put, it makes sure that people are treated equally.

The bipartisan Wellstone Act is coming up for a vote today and we need your help. Please call your U.S. Representative and urge them to support the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Act.

(Note: This is a paraphrased e-mail from the Chair of the MN DFL Party sent out today. If you don't have information on how to reach your U.S. Representative, I will look up the toll free switchboard number at the U.S. Capitol, add it as a comment to this post.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

It's Primary Day in Ohio. Who would Alex P. Keaton Vote For?

One family at Liberalchurch refers to their son as an "Alex P. Keaton".

Today's New York Times has a column by the creator of the 80s hit sit-com Family Ties, Gary David Goldberg, in which he responds to the burning question: "Who would Alex P. Keaton vote for in today's Ohio primary election?" (The Keaton family--as you may recall if you watched as much t.v. in the 80s as I did--lived somewhere in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Ohio's primary for those who are totally politically disenfranchised is today along with Texas and others.)

Would Alex cast his vote for Clinton, Obama, McCain, Huckabee, or Paul? Post your guess in the comments, then read this clever piece by GDG. It is also hilarious to note that the actor who played Alex (Michael J. Fox) and Alex's creator Goldberg differ on what Alex would be doing today. I agree with Fox's interpretation of MPK's life since the 80's. Along with Fox, I believe that MPK listened to the Gordon Gecko speech by Michael Douglass in the movie Wall Street one too many times back in his formative years. He's probably about to exit a minimum security prison term following a guilty plea for an insider trading scheme gone bad. Or maybe it was junk bonds? Or pension plan looting? Write it whatever way you'd like and watch the classic reruns of the Keaton clan when you can!

UCC Legal Defense Fund

Here's an update on preparations the UCC is making for a legal defense fund. Doesn't matter that this challenge to their tax exempt status due to Sen. Obama's speach at a denominaional conference is spurrious, it will still cost money to defend against it!

Dear members and friends,

As of this morning, UCC members and friends have contributed $59,564 to support the UCC Legal Fund. We are so grateful for the generous support that so many have provided since we were notified that the IRS had initiated a church tax inquiry due to a speech given by U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, a UCC member, at our 2007 General Synod.

Because of the overwhelming response from so many, we feel it is necessary, at least momentarily, to suspend additional requests for gifts to this important fund.
Today, we are announcing that WilmerHale, a prestigious Washington, D.C.-based firm, has been retained to represent the church.

Seth P. Waxman, former Solicitor General of the United States (1997 to 2001), will lead WilmerHale's top-notch team of attorneys working on our behalf. Read more.

As a sign of its strong support for the position taken by our church and the First Amendment issues inherent in this case, the WilmerHale firm also has graciously said it will not charge us for its attorneys' time.

While we know there will be other significant expenses associated with our defense, we are profoundly grateful to WilmerHale for offering its time without the customary hourly fees.

Therefore, at this point, thanks to the immediate and generous outpouring from our members and supporters, we feel it's best to suspend additional fundraising and to wait to determine, in the weeks to come, if additional money will be needed. We will keep a careful accounting of our costs, and we will ensure that the intent of our donors is honored. Questions about giving can be directed to our Financial Development Office at

Again, the response over the past week has been incredible. Thank you!

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Religious Leaders Losing Clout with Young in Iraq

This is a hopeful sign:

In two months of interviews with 40 young people in five Iraqi cities, a pattern of disenchantment emerged, in which young Iraqis, both poor and middle class, blamed clerics for the violence and the restrictions that have narrowed their lives.

“I hate Islam and all the clerics because they limit our freedom every day and their instruction became heavy over us,” said Sara, a high school student in Basra. “Most of the girls in my high school hate that Islamic people control the authority because they don’t deserve to be rulers.”

Atheer, a 19-year-old from a poor, heavily Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, said: “The religion men are liars. Young people don’t believe them. Guys my age are not interested in religion anymore.”

The shift in Iraq runs counter to trends of rising religious practice among young people across much of the Middle East, where religion has replaced nationalism as a unifying ideology.

While religious extremists are admired by a number of young people in other parts of the Arab world, Iraq offers a test case of what could happen when extremist theories are applied. Fingers caught in the act of smoking were broken. Long hair was cut and force-fed to its wearer. In that laboratory, disillusionment with Islamic leaders took hold.

There is nothing more dangerous than a religious person who believes that their "truth" is the only truth, unless they also have political power. The Iraqi young are learning this first-hand, and if it leads to a healthy dose of skepticism about the authority of religious leaders and their confidence that they are ruling in the name of God then perhaps something good will come out of this awful war.

Monday, March 03, 2008

More on Spiritual Health Month

In celebration of Spiritual Health Month, here's a little quiz to take from a spiritual health website I found to start your week. Peace!