Monday, June 30, 2008

The Vague Voice of God

Continuing rumination on David Ray Griffin's Reenchantment without Supernaturalism:

One thing I am realizing as I work my way through this book again is that I need to spend more time trying to understand Process theology's strong emphasis on the reality of non-sensory perception. It seems to me that much if not all of the PT argument for the reality of God hinges on the idea that there is more than one mode of perception. There is the "sensationalist" mode which is what our senses tell us and what we can measure and verify scientifically. At this level, Richard Dawkins is right. There really is no verifiable evidence that God exists. But that is ok because the "sensationist" mode of perception is only one mode of perception. There is also a "prehensive" mode of perception; this is part of the body of data that comes to us at each moment along with sensory data. For example:
We can be somewhat clearly aware of prior moments of our own experience. We are somewhat less clearly aware of our sensory organs, being, for example, much more clearly aware of a green tree than we are of the fact that we are seeing it with our eyes. And when we come to those bodily actualities that are most directly given to our dominant occasions of experience, namely, our brain cells, we are seldom if ever conscious of their experience, although they are contributing enormous amounts of data to our experience. (p. 348)
We have only the vaguest awareness of what is going on behind the scenes when we bring our attention to the data brought to us by our senses. But it is there and it is real and these bodily actualities are only one kind of prehensive data that we usually just take for granted. And it is here in the midst of this background noise that we must look for God:
We must compare our prehension of God, accordingly, not with the data of presentational immediacy but with the other prehensions of actualities in the mode of causal efficacy. And here the vagueness is comparable. (p. 348)
God is still speaking, vaguely. How does that play in Peoria? The problem I have with this is I am on the one hand very much a materialist. Show me the scientific proof. I have friends who believe in ghosts and I have friends who believe in God. I am an intellectual skeptic. I am still looking for verifiable evidence.

On the other hand, this skepticism doesn't really define the reality of my life. I trust the essential goodness of the universe. I see beauty everywhere I look. I experience awe and inner peace and love regularly. Can I prove that any of these things are real? Yet I trust their reality.

So I know that there is something more to this life than what my senses tell me. Vaguely. But I need to think more about the way PT understands this.

Liberal Anglicans Committed "Act of Folly"?

Conservative Anglicans wrapped up their meeting in Jerusalem and outlined details of their new movement, which will essentially create a church within a church. From the Washington Post:
Conservative Anglican leaders vowed on Sunday to stay in the worldwide Anglican Communion but form a council of bishops to provide an alternative to churches they say are preaching a "false gospel" of sexual immorality.

The Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) said member churches would continue sponsoring breakaway conservative parishes in liberal western member countries and called for a separate conservative province in North America.

They stopped short of calling for a schism, although it is difficult to see how this move isn't another step towards one since they are directly challenging the traditional structure of the Anglican communion which treats the Archbishop of Canterbury as a first among equals, and it will certainly encourage more fracturing of dioceses and legal battles over property control.

Via VirtueOnline, a conservative Anglican blog, saw this quote by one of the prime-movers in the new movement, Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Peter Jensen:
American revisionists committed an extraordinary strategic blunder in 2003 . They did not think that there would be any consequences.

Now if they did not believe that there would be consequences, that is an arrogant thing, I have to say. But I don't know them, so I really cannot say. The consequences have been unfolding over the last five years. Now their church is divided; it looks as though there will be permanent division, one way or the other.

All around the world the sleeping giant that is evangelical Anglicanism and orthodox Anglicanism has been aroused by what happened in Canada and the United States of America. It was an act of folly.
Was it really an act of folly? It is difficult to imagine that the liberal wing didn't consider the possible consequences of their actions, including schism. But it is also quite likely that they have chosen the path they are following because they believe God is leading them and they are doing the right and moral thing. The conservative backlash is not surprising and it is no reason not to continue doing the right thing. There are some principles worth fighting for.

Friday, June 27, 2008

God and Creativity

Continuing rumination on David Ray Griffin's Reenchantment without Supernaturalism:

Two hundred and fifty-some pages into a careful exposition of Process theology's understanding of God, Griffin introduces us to Creativity and explains its role in PT. Creativity is embodied in existence, always. To be is to create: "being itself is creative experience as such." (p. 263) In each instance and at each moment of our existence, or that of every other "actual entity" something new is being created.

Creative energy is akin to Aristotle's prime matter. It's existence can be inferred because there is some concrete version of it present in every form. It is an essential character of all existence.

It is not a thing, however, or a being or an actual entity. It is, however, the ultimate reality in the universe.

But isn't God the ultimate reality in the universe? Yes. Are God and creative experience the same? No. There are two ultimate realities in the universe. God is the in-formed ultimate; creativity is the unformed ultimate. God is personal; creativity is a-personal. God is always the persuasive force for good, the ultimate persuasive force driving evolution forward towards higher expressions of value. Creativity is an a-moral reality in the universe. It is not God because it is not a purposeful agent. It is not God because it is not an actual occasion. It is nevertheless an ultimate reality because it is always present in every actual occasion.

God and creativity are closely, in fact always, related. God embodies the creative energy perfectly, but creativity, along with God, is also embodied in every lesser form. Creativity is always influenced by God, but creativity can be mis-used. So, for example, when we make a decision God is always present as the subjective aim - that inner voice suggesting the best possible outcome - as one of many possible choices we make. When we make our decision, whatever it is, something new will always be there. That is creative energy at work.

Why is it important to understand the place of both God and creativity in the universe, as two ultimate realities? Because it helps us understand a huge bifurcation in religious experience:
In religious experience of one kind, the experience is said to be of a personal, perfectly good, loving, Holy Being distinct from the experiencer. In the other kind, the experience is said to be of an ultimate reality, finally identical with one's own deepest reality, that is impersonal, indifferent ("beyond good and evil"), and in some Buddhist accounts, wholly "empty." (p. 273)
Both of these religious expressions, East and West broadly differentiated, are valid religious experiences. Both have tended historically to dismiss the other as not real or as a lesser derivation of the one true understanding. But each is directed towards a separate but real ultimate reality. In one the personal ultimate reality has "risen to consciousness; in the other it is the impersonal ultimate reality that has risen to consciousness. And in each religious expression, the influence of the other is always present.

Is this a satisfying explanation? Yes and no. Given the importance of creativity in Process thought as described by Griffin as a co-equal with God as an ultimate reality, its late introduction and short description doesn't seem to do it justice. And its relationship to God feels a little forced; it's like reading explanations of the Trinity. Pre-existing assumptions (God must be this) meet reality on the ground (Jesus did and said this). How do you make them work together?

On the other hand, if you take religious expression seriously, and if it is your intent to honor not only the reality but the integrity of different religious expressions, then this explication of two ultimate realities provides a framework for understanding two real, but different, kinds of religious experiences.

On a personal note, I had one of those "aha" moments when I read the above quoted description of the ultimate reality that is "finally identical with one's own deepest reality." I get that. It is the personal God - even the Process personal God - that I struggle with.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pew Survey and COB Survey

Much has been said about the Pew Forum survey on religion in America. James McGrath provides numerous links here. He also comments on the good news that the majority of religious adherents in the country, including evangelicals, believe there is more than one way to get to heaven. It appears that our increasing religious diversity is making us more comfortable with a diversity of religious beliefs. Hallelujah.

But I am reading the Pew survey side by side with a newly published survey of beliefs in my denomination, Portrait of a People: The Church of the Brethren at 300. It appears that this growing spirit of tolerance is not touching the COB. In the Brethren survey the question is: Which best expresses your view of the uniqueness of Jesus? 64% agreed with "Jesus is the only way to God and those without faith in Jesus will not be saved." 22% said that "Jesus is the clearest revelation of God, but God may save people who don't know Jesus." 11% checked "Jesus is one of many ways to God." 2% admitted that they believed "Jesus was a great teacher and prophet, but not more than that."

According to the survey, the COB has become more conservative in the last 25 years. In the new survey conservatives outnumber liberals by 4 to 1.

What really surprised me, though, was the geographical distribution of our denomination. 51% of the members live in just two states: Pennsylvania and Virginia. Maryland and West Virginia account for 12%. So nearly 2/3 of the denomination lives in these 4 states.

I wondered if this might account for the disparity between the Pew and COB results. But if you take a look at the state-by-state breakdown in the Pew study these states pretty much mirror the results found in the rest of the country. COB members are just less willing to entertain the idea that there is more than one way to salvation.

It is disappointing but not surprising.

Life after Death

How important is it to you to live on after death? I am working my way back and forth through Griffin's Reenchantment without Supernaturalism, and I am reading a section on eschatology. Griffin notes that humans have a highly evolved - vis-à-vis the rest of our known world - capacity for self-consciousness and with it a heightened awareness of our impending death. Death haunts our living. We know that life is short. We want very much to know that our lives have meaning. We have developed elaborate rituals around death as a way of affirming the meaning of our life and death.

In most cultures and religions we also want to believe that there is something more than this life: a completion, an ultimate healing, a chance to experience in the next life what we did not get to experience in this life, a divine judgment, a second chance to get it right, ghosts, etc. Griffin says this longing is so strong in us that if there is not some form of life after death "then the universe has created an ineradicable desire in us that it will not fulfill--a conclusion that implies a form of Manicheanism."

Process Theology as elaborated by Whitehead and Hartshorne answers part of this need. All of our experiences in life become part of God. In fact this is how God "changes." Moment by moment God takes in every bit of experience and is influenced by this experience and then gives back what is appropriate for the next moment. In the process God's consequent nature evolves.

When we die what we have added to the nature of God lives on forever. Quoting Hartshorne: "Since God forgets nothing, loses no value once acquired, our entire worth is imperishable in the divine life." And for Hartshorne this is the very meaning and highest purpose of life: to contribute to the life of God.

But Hartshorne didn't believe in life after death in the form of some kind of surviving soul or continuing self-consciousness. And Whitehead speculated about it but it wasn't a core tenet of his philosophy. Griffin is more open to the idea. In fact he says it is more "probable than not." Especially for humans. Just as conscious experience emerged at some point in human history, followed at a later point by self-consciousness so "the capacity to survive apart from the body, if it now exists, could have also been an emergent capacity." Maybe. Though, I can well imagine a time coming when artificial intelligence makes it possible for our brains to live on in an altered technological state.

I like the Process notion that we are adding to and influencing the nature of God. In this way we live on forever. I like it as metaphor. But I don't feel like I need it. Last week I performed a funeral for a woman who died at the ripe old age of 94. She lived an incredibly fulfilling life. And she, along with members of her surviving family, had no belief in an afterlife. So I talked about the intrinsic value of the life she lived and the way she added love and wisdom to the world. In this way she lives on after death.

I am agnostic about life after death. But I am comfortable with the notion that my remains become part of the compost of the earth, and from that compost new life emerges. Give me a natural burial. And I am comfortable with the notion that I am (hopefully) adding some love and wisdom to the world. In this way I will live on. And that's enough for me.

But perhaps I am speaking from a privileged position. I have lived a fair number of years. Compared to countless infants and young people and the many through the ages who have died too soon I have lived a very long time. Compared to the much of the world I have lived very well. I may not feel the need for an afterlife, but maybe they deserve one. I certainly get where the sentiment comes from.

I have much less patience for the views of many very privileged Christians who are genuinely looking forward to an afterlife because they think they are going to get to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus because they "believed" while the rest of us who didn't believe in their way or have lived their lives following some other spiritual path burn in hell. They may be right, though I doubt it. But as the saying goes, I will be in good company.

In any case, how important to you is an afterlife?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Presbyterians next with GLBT equality?

The Presbyterian denomination is holding is biannual conference in San Jose, CA this week. Here is the big news coming from the Orders and Ministry Committee of the PCUSA General Assembly yesterday...


SAN JOSE – A committee is recommending that the 218th General Assembly approve a constitutional amendment to strike from the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) language that restricts ordination to those who practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.

Instead, the committee – approving an overture from Boston presbytery – voted 41-11 on June 24 to replace that with a provision that those being called for ordained service “pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church.”
Each governing body examining candidates would need to establish “the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards,” the overture states.
The committee also is recommending that the assembly pass an authoritative interpretation declaring that interpretive statements the assemblies of the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian Church made in 1978 and 1979 regarding homosexuality “and all subsequent affirmations thereof have no further force or effect.”

The full assembly will consider the committee’s recommendation later this week – most likely June 27 – and a minority report is expected to be submitted as well. Any proposed amendment to the church’s constitution would need to win approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.
Twice before, in 1997 and 2001, the General Assembly has voted to remove the “fidelity and chastity” language, but the presbyteries have said “No” by margins of at least two-to-one.

But Susan Fisher, a minister from Pacific presbytery, predicted that “this will be deleted one day in this church.”

Some commissioners who disagreed with the decision of the Church Orders and Ministry Committee predicted there could be significant ramifications – that more congregations will leave the PC(USA).

“We will be setting us up for two parallel tracks of what does a Presbyterian believe,” said Emily McColl, a minister from Los Ranchos presbytery.
She said after the vote: “This is so painful I can barely express it.”

But others urged the assembly to remove the barriers for gays and lesbians who feel called to ordained service. Nancy Drake, a minister from Grace Presbytery, encouraged commissioners to “vote our conscience and not vote out of fear.”


The "big vote" to approve/reject these measures is likely to come to the full body of the General Assembly this Friday. So say a few prayers for the commissioners in San Jose, and stay tuned for an update later in the week.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Goodbye George Carlin

I awoke to the news that the world is a little less funny and insightful today. Yesterday George Carlin died. He was the Lenny Bruce of my era. When I was 16 my mom and I had an ongoing battle about how many times I could purchase--and she could throw away--his comedy album "Class Clown". Class Clown contains what is considered to be Carlin's most famous comedy routine "The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Televsion". It was our first family lesson on censorship and the first amendment (yes, it's "officially obscene" according to the FCC and affirmed by the Supreme Court). I can't remember whether my dad just stayed out of this whole mother-daughter drama or not. I still have my "final" copy of the LP--and I dusted it off and played it in Carlin's memory this morning. (Before my daughters woke up naturally.) It still made me laugh until I cried. What a great gift.

Carlin's biggest fans among my teen friends were the Catholic boys. He did have a corner on the market for skewering parochial schools, confessionals, and Catholic dogma--a result of his Catholic upbringing.

Here's a more complete obituary highlighting Carlin's career. Fortunately he lived to know he was awarded the Mark Twain American Humor Award, but unfortunately he did not live to receive it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mind-blowing Numbers of Species

Greg Laden reports on a talk by Scott Lanyon, director of the Bell Museum of Natural History, at the Evolution 2008 conference at the University of Minnesota. Lanyon was giving an update on what has changed in evolutionary biology in the recent years. One area of change is our knowledge of how many species exist on the planet:

With respect to 'speciation' ... the diversification of forms, the diversity of life, the disparity produced by evolutionary process ... again, the same theme. Scott pointed out that we know of approximately 1.7 million species, but estimates suggest there may exist somewhere between 10 and 100 million species. Go back twenty years or so and you would have seen field biologists starting to confront this reality, especially in certain habitats, almost with a sense of disbelief. I remember hearing from a colleague just back from visiting an Amazonian research site ... a fogging sample was taken from a large area of rainforest canopy in a previously uninvestigated area to see what percentage of the insect species (which would fall out of the canopy because of the "fog" ....) would be new species. Five or ten percent would be really cool.

So they fogged the canopy, about a thousand species were represented in what came out of the canopy, and the researchers did not recognize any of them. Probably a few had been described before, but if so, not many. Totally blew their minds. And I'm not exaggerating by more than one order of magnitude (hey, it was a long time ago).

Pretty amazing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Wonderful Water at Open Circle's Camp Green

Wonderful Water will be the theme of this year's Camp Green which will be held Aug. 11-14 in the evenings beginning with a community meal. People of all ages are encouraged to attend Camp Green, but the programming will be geared for the preschool through fifth grade group.

I was delighted to find an e-mail this morning from the World Wildlife Fund asking me to "discover my inner fish" by taking this online quiz. The result for me was that I am most like a Bluefin Tuna (which they say is called the Porsche of the Sea).

What is your "inner fish"? Take the WWF quiz and then sign up for Camp Green's Wonderful Water experience in August!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Searching for an Adequate God

My church newsletter article this week:

Searching for an adequate God. That is what I am doing this summer. As I have long noted online and in my Sunday messages, I do not find adequate the traditional Christian concept of God. My problems with God began early in life when I found myself doubting biblical miracle stories and the theological notion behind them that God can and does occasionally step into our world and "violate" the normal rhythms of nature. I have this hard-core common sense notion that walking on water is just not possible. Same with the sun being made to stand still, dead people coming back to life, etc.

Eventually, my childhood skepticism led to more in-depth reading in theology but this only increased my problems with traditional Christian theology. I discovered, for example, that we don't really have free will. Whether it is Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, or Calvin, for all of the theological "greats" in Christianity an all-powerful God not only has the power to determine all events in the world, he actually does. (It's always a he for these guys.) We think we have the power to make choices, but it is just a mis-perception. So Luther could say that because God's will is eternal and changeless: "it follows, by resistless logic, that all we do, however it may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, is in reality done necessarily and immutably in respect of God's will." In other words, we think we have free will but we really don't.

Christian theologians have wrestled with free will for centuries. The problem is that to give us true free will is to limit the power of God. Things could happen that God isn't in control of. So the answer is to say essentially that within the powers of our perception we have free will, but in the mind of God all that we will do is already known and part of the divine plan. And yet, these same theologians will argue that it is just that some are saved and some are damned for their good and bad deeds, even if they really don't have any choice in the matter. It is all for the glory of God. The 18th century American theologian Jonathan Edwards said that the doctrine of election of sinners to eternal damnation was "exceedingly pleasant, bright and sweet." For God and for those elected by God to go to heaven, who can enjoy watching their fellow humans being tormented in hell.

It gets worse when you consider the problem of evil. If everything is part of the plan then God is ultimately responsible for evil in the world. God allowed evil to enter the world and could do something about it if he wanted to, but chooses not to. Except when he does and responds to the prayers of some Christians and makes storms move somewhere else or heals some children of cancer but not others. I have found no satisfactory answer in Christian theology to the question: why do bad things happen to good people.

Right now I am re-reading a book by David Ray Griffin called Reenchantment without Supernaturalism. Griffin is a Process theologian. Process theology is one modern attempt to rescue God from a pre-scientific worldview. In Process theology God is not all-powerful and does not ever intervene supernaturally in the world. God is present in every decision we make as the "initial subjective aim," a persuasive influence whispering in our ear, so to speak, about the best possible outcome for every occasion. In the midst of the wide variety of choices we face in every decision we make, God is there in every one. The decision is always ours; free will in intact; but the persuasive influence of God is always felt. Whatever decision we make, good or bad, God is there in the next moment as an influence for good all over again.

I like this way of thinking about the way God works in the world. I also like the way Process theology talks about God as the soul of the universe. God is the keeper of all the painful and joyous memories, taking it all in and giving back love and wisdom in the form of an ever-present lure towards a better future.

But I am still searching. This summer I am going to do some reading, some gardening, some fly-fishing, and see if I can find an adequate God. I'll let you know what I find.

Update: I should say that Searching for an Adequate God is the title of another book on process theology.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Probably not the first time...

Ever heard of the "Mile High Club?" Well, I guess this is the Roman Catholic version.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Vatican Censorship

"It does not conform to our views", so you will not be permitted to film in our churches. This is what Ron Howard was told following his request to use two Roman Catholic churches to turn the Dan "The DaVinci Code" Brown's prequel, "Angels and Demons", into a film. "Angels and Demons" will apparently also star Tom Hanks reprising his role as Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, as this story today indicates.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Prayer for Today

This is for those who are members of the "Jane Austin Book Club" (great movie by the way) as well as for those who are not! And also this is for my mom who is a huge Jane Austin fan. And here's one reason why she is I believe...From today...

Prayer for Humility

Incline us O God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be saved only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with the charity which we would desire from them ourselves.

- Jane Austen

Appropriate for many faiths

Friday, June 13, 2008

PDKs not PDAs

I learned from one of my favorite local yarn shops that Saturday (tomorrow) is "Knit in Public Day". See the ad below...

(Bear with me here because I don't know how to link to a personal e-mail so I'm cutting and pasting my e-mail from Steven at The Yarn Garage in Rosemount. Cheap plug? Not really, I only barely know Steven. But perhaps Steven will someday come to visit Liberalchurch, I can only hope!)

Celebrate World Wide Knit in Public Day

Come Celebrate with Us!!!!!

Show your support this Saturday as we celebrate World Wide Knit In Public Day... the global event lovingly titled WWKIP Day.

At The Yarn Garage and Fiber Studio we're showing our support : 20% off everything in the store and bring something for Pot Luck. Call me at the store or email me if you can come and tell me what you are bringing. Email me here.

WWKIP Day is unique, in that it's the largest knitter run event in the world and so far more than 706 events have been scheduled.

WWKIP Day is really about showing the general public that knitting can be a community activity in a very distinct way

Steven - The Glitter Knitter

Visit us at

If you want to be on my email list, go to

2980 West 145th St, Rosemount, MN 55068 • 651-423-2590 •
Hours: Monday to Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM*
Saturday 10 AM to 4 PM, Sunday Noon to 4PM
* Knit Nite: Wednesday and Friday, 6 PM to 8 PM - Call for Reservations

Once a week with a group of women who knit, quilt, weave, embroider, etc... and we had just been laughing this past week about a woman who was caught by another of our group "knitting in public". Actually, she was waiting for her take-out order at a local Chinese restaurant, but her friend thought she might be escaping her husband and family and had just taken her knitting "on the road". (Her husband was out of town on business at the time so she's acquitted of those charges.)

So it's time to dust off my needles and start a new project tomorrow in honor of WWKIP. In case you want to join me with a PDK tomorrow on WWKIP, here's an inspirational message from "The Church of Craft". It'll make you want to create something NOW!

A Sermon: Simple and Captivating
From The Very Esteemed Callie Janoff

Simple and captivating: the Church of Craft is both of these things. "Church" is a concept that makes a lot of us uncomfortable, but why? After all, what is a church? Generally speaking it is a community organized by their faith, their spiritual practice. Any church is no more and no less than its members, it's yours, and you are making it. This church's purpose is to be a constant act of creation. We create it every time making dinner makes us happy, we create it when doodling helps us focus our thoughts. This church's purpose is to help us see the power that creativity and making works in our lives.

Making things is our spiritual practice. For some of us it is simply what we do, and what we have always done. Many of us don't really take the spiritual parts of our life very seriously; it never seems to require our attention, so we don't pay it much mind. But some of us have begun to ask ourselves these esoteric questions. How am I spiritual? What do I believe in? What in life moves me, compels me, gives me strength and makes me happy? The answers to all these questions are both simple and complicated. The simple answer for us is: love, love of ourselves, and the love between each other. But what gives us the courage to love? What allows us to feel the love around us? That is very complicated. Love in our lives depends on our confidence and security, our peace and serenity, and something ineffable; a feeling that is impossible to explain with words but that we hint at with what we make. It is in the pictures we take, the shelves we build, the waffles we make and the words that we write, that you are reading even now. When we create, we make our lives a place of love.

Making things isn't easy. Our lives conspire to keep us from acts of creation. We are very well bred consumers; that is to say--we have learned well how to consume our food, culture, knowledge, power... We eat our lives and that makes us who we are. Consumption is passive, and we seek the path of least resistance. When we consume our identity, we are filled with self doubt: what if someone finds out that we are not as cool as our shoes might lead one to believe? Our consumption plagues our quiet lives, filling it with broadcast noise and boxes of macaroni and cheese. But when we make something, we are filled with satisfaction, the kind you feel to your core. Consider the presents you give: the one you bought (I hope this will match her living room furniture) vs. the one you made (I hope she can tell by the way that I have made this how I feel about her). Which kind of gift would you rather give? We are not suggesting we should all move to Vermont and subsistence farm. Rather, we can all find moments of creation in our lives and fill our hearts minds and bodies with the courage to see love, and make love.

And that is what the Church of Craft is for, to help us remember how to find moments of creation in our lives. We come together, and we make things, and we affirm the craft we see in each other. Then we go home inspired, confident, peaceful, and we live our lives with all the happiness and love we can.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A Win for the Forces of Light

The Supreme Court has ruled that detainees at Guantanamo have constitutional rights to challenge their detention there in United States courts. Praise Jesus! And think about what it would mean to have one more right-wing Supreme Court justice.

It's really astonishing to read about how some of these foreign detainees ended up in our custody:

The detainees at the center of the case decided on Thursday are not all typical of the people confined at Guantánamo. True, the majority were captured in Afghanistan or Pakistan. But the man who gave the case its title, Lakhdar Boumediene, is one of six Algerians who immigrated to Bosnia in the 1990’s and were legal residents there. They were arrested by Bosnian police within weeks of the Sept. 11 attacks on suspicion of plotting to attack the United States embassy in Sarajevo — “plucked from their homes, from their wives and children,” as their lawyer, Seth P. Waxman, a former solicitor general put it in the argument before the justices on Dec. 5.

The Supreme Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered them released three months later for lack of evidence, whereupon the Bosnian police seized them and turned them over to the United States military, which sent them to Guantánamo.

What kind of country are we living in?

The Church of Craft

Last summer during LiberalChurch's bi-monthly Simplicity Circle discussion group, we had a conversation one night about the intersection of community and simplicity. I expressed to the group that I have many different communities because I am much happier in smaller groups than in larger groups. I often joke with myself and others that I have MANY churches that I belong to. I feel that in addition to the two "real" churches I am a member of, I am also a member of "The Church of Girl Scouts", I occasionally attend "The Church of the Local DFL" but due to my problems with the separation of Church and State I've found my involvement in the latter to be more troublsome as of late.

I'm also a member of a crafting group that meets weekly at each others' homes. One of the women in this group hangs up her fabric sign "Therapy in Session" when she is hosting and jokes that it is free therapy. Yesterday was my turn to host. During my morning e-mail readings I opened up one from Beliefnet which gave me 10 Tips for a More Spiritual Summer. One of the tips was to create something--anything--be it music, art, crafts etc...That particular suggestion gave a link to The Church of Craft. I have finally found a nondenominational group to which I'd be honored to be ordained!

Problems with Perfectionism?

Much of my adult life (that is to say the past 25 years after my formal education ended) has been spent trying to figure out my own personal definitions of failure and success. Being voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by my high school classmates has made me a poster child for humility. After graduating with a B.A. in political science with departmental honors I made a decision to 'ditch' these studies and go to law school rather than on to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. and become a political pundit, politician, or acedemic. At age 25 (25 years ago) I completed that J.D., passed the bar exam, and made a living using that degree--for only about 6 years.

After 25 years I'm still not sure which polarity--failure or success--generates more fear for me. I think much of it is wrapped up in "issues" I have with perfectionism. it's just another mental journey I'm always traveling.

To help me on this journey, Therese Borchard, has yet again boiled down ages of wisdom into 9 mantras to help me keep my focus as I set out to grapple with this long standing problem of perfectionism. Having reached a milestone marker age, I'm making my own "bucket list" as I am assessing of what I've done and left undone in my life--both for myself and for others in this world. So now I'm attempting to learn/try a few new things such as playing the guitar and making a quilt both for my own benefit and for the benefit of others.

I'm sharing with you the wisdom about perfectionism that Borchard put forth on Beliefnet today. I'll be using them as I attempt to learn these new skills I've been meaning to learn for many years but never quite let myself follow through.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NY Bishops on Marriage

The Catholic Bishops of New York State have issued a formal statement on marriage in response to the governor's directive that same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states will be legally recognized in New York. You can read the statement here. Not surprisingly they are opposed to legal recognition of same-sex marriage. At the heart of their argument is the link between marriage and procreation:
Marriage always has been, is now and always will be a union of one man and one woman in an enduring bond. This is consistent with biology and natural law, and should be obvious to all, no matter what their religion, or even if they have no religion at all. It is a mutual personal gift between the two that serves the individual couple in many ways, allowing them to grow in love and, through that love, to bring forth children.

Just as importantly, this union also serves the larger society. Marriage provides a stable family structure for the rearing of children and is the ultimate safeguard so that civil society can exist and flourish. That is why civil society through the ages has recognized its duty to foster and respect marriage between a man and a woman.
This is basic Catholic teaching. The purpose of marriage is to provide a stable environment for the raising of children. You will get no quarrel from me about the benefits of children being raised and nurtured in the homes of married parents. And there is no denying the cost to children and society of family breakdown.

But that is all the more reason to support with every means available to us those same-sex couples who are raising children. Thousands of same-sex couples are already raising children. We should welcome their willingness to love and care for children with the same moral and legal support we give to straight couples. Their children are every bit as precious and important. Legal recognition of same-sex marriage increases the pool of stable families available to raise children. This is a good thing.

We need to be honest, though, and recognize that marriage is not and never has been just about raising children. One only need think of biblical stories of polygamy and historical stories of political and arranged marriage. There has always been marriage for other culturally accepted reasons. And this remains true to this day. There are young couples who get married and they have no intention of having children. There are older individuals who are outliving their original spouses and finding new mates. Are these marriages any less legitimate? Are they less deserving of the legal protections of the state? We marry them all the time in court houses and churches, and we do not link their marriage rights with procreation. The bishops' letter essentially demeans the nature of these marriages:
The simple fact that two people have a committed relationship is not a reason for the state to confer upon it the status of marriage. If affection and commitment were the only prerequisites for a marital relationship, then it is conceivable that any two or more individuals could claim the right to a civil union, no matter what their relationship.
This mere "affection and commitment" typically involves one in major life decisions about education, jobs, care of one's partner if they are ill, care of aging parents, and a host of other life transitions and challenges that are every bit as real for couples who don't have children. The state confers legal protections on these marriages because as a society we see an economic and social value in supporting these commitments. Gay couples deserve the same protections.

Reading this letter gives one a sense of the gap that exists between those looking on from the outside at marriage and coolly reasoning about its theological meaning and those who actually get married and know what it provides and what it costs. How else do you account for a statement like this:
Societal acceptance of casual divorce and single parenting was initially viewed by many as the natural progression of an enlightened society, just as “same-sex marriage” is viewed by some today.
Casual divorce? Maybe among Holywood celebrities or Las Vegas revellers. But for the vast majority of married people there is no-such thing as casual divorce. Whatever the legal hurdles to marriage, be they stringent or lax, divorce is painful and difficult for all involved. Only someone who has never been married could make such a statement.

The Catholic Church or any other church should be free to pronounce marital blessings on whomever they choose. They don't have to bless same-sex couples. But the state should not be in the business of legislating religious principles regarding marriage. The state of New York is doing the right thing in moving to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. Encouraging same-sex couples to get married and protecting their legal rights when they do is in the best interests of everyone.

Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?

The John Templeton Foundation is well-known for its efforts to encourage and fund a civil dialogue between religion and science. For these efforts it is often panned by hard-core atheists who think this dialogue is keeping us from seeing the obvious "truth" about the triumph of science and reason and the vacuity of all religious claims. See, for example Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion.

To their credit the folks at the Templeton Foundation are not afraid to give the religious haters a voice. They have a new series available online and in print entitled Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete? The series is edited by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine. It includes responses from fellow skeptics Stephen Pinker and Christopher Hitchens as well as church leaders like Keith Ward, an ordained priest in the Church of England.

I haven't read all the responses yet. I took a quick look at Hitchens' piece and found him once again being dogmatic about holding onto a narrow definition of belief that he can then easily dismiss:
Religion, remember, is theism not deism. Faith cannot rest itself on the argument that there might or might not be a prime mover. Faith must believe in answered prayers, divinely ordained morality, heavenly warrant for circumcision, the occurrence of miracles or what you will.
Must it now? Hitchens just can't have religious thought that has evolved along with scientific thought. That wouldn't sell very many books.

One interesting response came from Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy, the chairman of the department of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, and author of Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality. He turns the "god of the gaps" argument on its head. It is usually argued that as scientific knowledge has increased there is less and less room for God to be used as an answer for what we don't understand. He suggests that while one understanding of God might be dying, the door is being opened to another:
Let's face it: the day of the Sky God is long gone. In the Age of Science, religion has been downsized, and the medieval God of classical religions has lost repute and territory. Today people pay lip service to trusting that God but they still swallow antibiotics when sick. Muslim-run airlines start a plane journey with prayers but ask passengers to buckle-up anyway, and most suspect that people who appear to rise miraculously from the dead were probably not quite dead to begin with. These days if you hear a voice telling you to sacrifice your only son, you would probably report it to the authorities instead of taking the poor lad up a mountain. The old trust is disappearing.

Nevertheless, there remains the tantalizing prospect of a divine power somewhere "out there" who runs a mysterious, but scrupulously miracle-free, universe. In this universe, God may choose to act in ingenious ways that seem miraculous. Yet these "miracles" need not violate physical laws. Extraordinary, but legitimate, interventions in the physical world permit quantum tunneling through cosmic worm holes or certain symmetries to snap spontaneously. It would be perfectly fair for a science-savvy God to use nonlinear dynamics so that tiny fluctuations quickly build up to earthshaking results—the famous "butterfly effect" of deterministic chaos theory.

Nietzsche and the theothanatologists were plain wrong—God is neither dead nor about to die. Even as the divine habitat shrinks before the aggressive encroachment of science, the quantum foam of space-time creates spare universes aplenty, offering space both for a science-friendly God as well as for self-described "deeply religious non-believers" like Einstein. Many eminent practitioners of science have successfully persuaded themselves that there is no logical contradiction between faith and belief by finding a suitable God, or by clothing a traditional God appropriately. Unsure of why they happen to exist, humans are likely to scour the heavens forever in search of meaning.
The gap isn't shrinking; it's exploding exponentially. There is plenty of room for God. There is also plenty of room for discussion about what it means to be religious and at home in a world explained by science. Kudos to the Tempelton Foundation for facilitating the discussion.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Too Much Religion?

A few days ago in the Wall Street Journal Alan Jacobs had an interesting piece where he raised the question about how much of a role religion really plays in all that is good and bad in our world. Jacobs is a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois and a self-described serious Christian. Yet he says:
The books I read, the food I eat, the music I listen to, my hobbies and interests, the thoughts that occupy my mind throughout the greater part of every day -- these are, if truth be told, far less indebted to my Christianity than to my status as a middle-aged, middle-class American man.
He wonders if religion really is the powerful force it is cracked up to be by believers and detracters alike. He wonders, too, if the new athiests, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc., aren't over-eager to accect at face value claims by religious people that religion motives cause them to do the good or, mostly, evil they do:

Card-carrying members of the intelligentsia like Mr. Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris would surely be doubtful, even incredulous, if a politician who had illegally seized power claimed that his motives for doing so were purely patriotic; or if a CEO of a drug company explained a sudden drop in prices by professing her undying compassion for those unable to afford her company's products. Discerning a difference between people's professed aims and their real aims is just what intellectuals do.

Yet when someone does something nasty and claims to have done it in the name of religion, our leading atheists suddenly become paragons of credulity: If Osama bin Laden claims to be carrying out his program of terrorism in the name of Allah and for the cause of Islam, then what grounds have we to doubt him? It's not like anyone would lie about something like that as a strategy for justifying the unjustifiable, is it?

And while we're at it, the thinking continues, let's not look too closely at the many other statements by Osama that link his program to ethnic rather than religious shame -- to his sense that the Arab people have declined in the world and need to have their pride and power restored. After all, surely if religious sentiment were erased from the world, ethnic prejudice would instantly evaporate as well -- wouldn't it? Mr. Dawkins certainly thinks so: He is on record as saying that if we simply ceased to teach religion to our children we would soon have "a paradise on earth."

I think the definition of sarcasm can be found somewhere in this post. But the question Jacobs raises is a good one: how important is religion, really, as a motivating factor in our lives? As someone who also takes his religion seriously, I can confess with Jacobs that religion is still only one of many personal and social factors that influences my life moment by moment. I am not simply chanelling the unfiltered voice of God in my life. At any given moment I am being influenced by a multitude of internal and external "voices," only some of which I am aware of.

It is also the case with Jewish and Christian scriptures, and I would assume with the Qur'an too although I don't know it as well, that you can find there justification for doing good deeds or bad deeds. The scriptures mirror the human condition because they were written by humans, although they attribute to God the source of their inspiration. But what we get out of them and what we do with them is influenced by our psyche, our genetics, our upbringing, our social circumstances, and a host of other factors. Jacobs is right to suggest that taking religion out of the equation would hardly lead to nirvana.

Jacobs' post drew a thoughtful reply from razib at the blog Gene Expression. Razib fleshes out Jacobs' post by making several additional points. First, attributing religious motivations to actions is difficult because it isn't easy to define what we mean by religion. While the new athiests think belief in God is silly, it is the religious attributes of zeal and unquestioning devotion and acts of bigotry and prejudice that really get them riled. Yet these are religious attributes shared by Nazis and godless Communists and some modern-day atheists. We are all religious in one manner or another.

His second point is that we really don't know enough about ourselves and our motivations to simply claim religion or any other factor as a primary cause:
Human psychology is complex, and our decision making process is not driven by a unitary rational agent. Most importantly, we do not have easy access to our own subconscious mental processes which shape the course of our decisions, though we freely manufacture explanations which give us a sense of the reasoning behind our decisions.
His third point is that the same religious tradition can lead to vastly different implementations of faith and practice among different groups of followers at the same time or over different periods of history. This suggests, again, that there is much more at work here than mere religion. Personal and social factors and our moment in history influence our take on religious texts.

Finally, he thinks that if religion broadly defined has one "purpose" that crosses sectarian and theological divides, it is the way it helps us define ourselves as part of a common group:
...The details of the hundreds of commandments which Orthodox Jews follow and the multitudinous interpretations of the implementation of these commandments is less important than the fact that the ritual lifestyle entails separation from those who do not adhere to said rituals. The details of the Nicene Creed are less important than the fact that some accept it, and some do not.

The ingroup-outgroup dynamics in world religions lead to the emergence of fictive kinship. Anthropologists and sociologists have done a great deal of work about the functional importance of religious groups for individuals in terms of generating social networks and undergirding civil society. Social networks and the emergence of civil society are not necessarily features of religion, but religion is sufficient to generate both, so its utility is rather clear.
Point(s) taken. I get up on Sunday morning and go to the church of my choosing because I want to be among people who share the same basic values. Those values are important to me; they influence the way I use my time, spend my money, and think about a host of problems and issues at home and in the world. And yet... why do I really do the things I do? There are so many other factors besides the values that I have chosen to internalize that play a role in my thinking and decision-making. It is a vast over-simplification to attribute to religion alone the good or bad I do.

You Can't Take it With You!

Here's just another example of how many people have more "issues" that are connected with money than they have with other stumbling blocks. Here's just another example of how money gets entangled with presumptive immortality. But, as far as I'm concerned, any reason to throw a party and invite your friends/neighbors over is not a bad one!

From Reuter's Oddly Enough News...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Father's Day this Sunday 6/15/08

With Father's Day in the U.S.A. coming up this Sunday, I decided to post this article about a society in Japan trying to save marriages after the divorce laws in that country recently were changed. This article which is a few months old, popped to the surface while I was web surfing over the weekend.

Take heed American dads in committed relationships! It's a friendly warning from your counterparts in Japan who ask some tough questions and give some good advice!

Here's the article that I actually read first. I like the club's 'mantra' it made me smile! Unfortunately, this article from a buisness magazine leads you to believe the modified behavior of men in Japan is "all about the money" and less about love.

Tragic Irony

The Southern Baptists are meeting in Indianapolis, IN this week. Amid the flooding including one death, this is a tragic irony. I'm sure there will be much "end time" talk among the S.B. faithful.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Slow Down, You Move too Fast!

Are these lyrics from a Simon and Garfunkle song from the 70s? Yes, but also it is the new mantra of a movement to save time, lives, and even democracy so says it's proponent. I couldn't agree more! This is definitely an important topic for our Pastoral Leadership Team and our Wellness Ministry leader to find some creative ways to spread this message and implement it.

I guess one of the primary ways would be to encourage/reward people to "take a sabbath"! Whether it be on a Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. or a Sunday morning at 10 a.m., take a pause and take time out for yourself with a large or small group of others at Open Circle!

Friday, June 06, 2008

For Such a Time As This

My church newsletter article this week:

By almost any measure we are living through a stretch of difficult times. The economy is stalled. People around the country are losing their homes to foreclosure. Gas prices and food prices are rising. So is the unemployment rate. Natural disasters have hit close to home in Hugo, MN, and around the globe in China and Myanmar. We are continuing to pay the price for a human made disaster in Iraq. This is the short list off the top of my head. If you are looking for ammunition to be pessimistic about the future, there is plenty to be found.

I am not pessimistic, though. I am realistic. We are living through difficult times. People we know and people living far across the globe are hurting. For many of us, a way of life we have taken for granted is being challenged. We will almost certainly need to simplify our lives and make changes in the way we consume resources. We will almost certainly need to make some sacrifices now if we care about the future of our children, and if we care about the enormous suffering of many in our world.

It is for such a time as this that our spiritual practices and connections prepare us. Prayer and meditation and scripture reading and community building and acts of service do not solve the problems of the world. They connect us with the deeper truths of our existence. Among them: There is no substitute in life for love and friendship. If we want our world to be more peaceful a good place to begin is with ourselves and those we are closest too. There is very little in the world that we can change but the one thing we can change is how we see and respond to the world around us. There is usually a vast difference between what we think we need to be happy and what we really need to be happy.

There is no guarantee - there is never any guarantee - that the world is going to get better. It is inhabited by humans like us, after all, and we have a great capacity for making a mess of things. This is where that misused and misunderstood notion of original sin comes from.

But there is also reason to be hopeful about our future. I am just old enough to remember living through another very challenging stretch of history in our nation: the 60's. Forty years ago this week Robert Kennedy was assassinated. 1968 also saw the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The decade say us mired in the midst of another war entered under false pretences. It also saw runaway inflation and riots in the streets. And yet...

Spiritual practices and connections made a real difference then. Martin Luther King, Jr. drew upon the spiritual resources of his faith and the practical teachings of Ghandi to lead an army of peaceful protesters in the street who turned the other cheek in the manner of Jesus: they resisted injustice and just as importantly resisted the impulse to strike back violently. The short-term result was the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts that marked the legal end to discrimination against blacks. If ever there was a better example of the power of spiritual discipline to effect inner change that leads to outer change I can't think of it.

And it gets better. This past week the sacrifices made 40 years ago paid an enormous long-term dividend. For the first time in the history of our country a black man will be on the ballot for President of the United States. Barack Obama is a very gifted politcian. But he is standing on the shoulders of those of a previous generation who did not despair in the midst of trying times. They dug deep into the well of their spiritual resources; they made personal sacrifices on behalf of their children and future generations. And today one of their children is running for President.

May we draw from the same deep spiritual wells and have the courage to make the same kind of sacrifices for the future.

Move Over Guitar Hero and Wii Fitness!

This is exciting news to me for my children. Little do they know it, but the have a very big year of homeschooling of civics ahead of them!

Between Justice Sandra Day O'Conner's new video games on the U.S. judiciary system, the nominating conventions of the two major political parties (one they will watch on t.v. and another they will watch me protest live), and which anticipates to be a heated summer of national, and local political campaigning, this is the year when they will finally connect their political hearts to their political heads--they have some significant catching up to do in the "head" category as witnessed by my younger daughter asking my husband and I Tuesday night at 9:15 while watching the primary election season draw to a close, "Who is that dude anyway?" (She was a ver y disappointed Hillary supporter at that moment.) Appalled, my husband and I both looked at her and said, you better get to know Barak Obama now because he's going to be the next president of the United States of America!

When they get bored and jaded by the partisan politics, they can tune off the media on on to judicial video games!

You've Been Left Behind

Worried about what is going to happen to your unsaved loved ones after the rapture? This website can help put your mind at ease knowing that six days after the big event they will receive a personal message from you inviting them, pleading with them to accept Christ and "snatch them from the flames!" For only $40 a year.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Obama and his Former Church

Steven Waldman of has an excellent post in today's Wall Street Journal about Obama's challenging relationship with Trinity United Church of Christ and its former pastor, Jeremiah Wright:

There’s a tremendous irony in all this for Sen. Obama. Mr. Wright scared voters in Kentucky, West Virginia and elsewhere into thinking Sen. Obama was a strident, anti-white radical who would misunderstand, or harm, white families. (In West Virginia, 51% of voters believed he shares the views of Mr. Wright.)

This misses the one fact about Barack Obama that is both stunningly obvious and yet still profoundly ignored: Sen. Obama is a black man raised by a white family. His African father was absent; he was reared by a white mom, white grandmother and white grandfather. When Sen. Obama looked across the breakfast table in the morning, he saw the same skin colors that the Clinton voters in Kentucky do.

Sen. Obama’s choice of church was tied up in his lifelong quest to balance the reality of his white family and his black skin. In “Dreams from My Father,” he writes, “Away from my mother, away from my grandparents, I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle,” recalling his early journeys away from home. “I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America, and beyond the given of my appearance, no one around me seemed to know exactly what that meant.”

This was not a binary choice between “acting white” or “acting black.” Each community he had a foot in had substrata, and for him, integrating the different communities became a crucial goal – almost as if to make himself whole he wanted an environment that integrated diverse personalities and ideologies.

Sen. Obama notes that Chicago’s black churches provided “an example of segregation’s hidden blessings, the way it forced the lawyer and the doctor to live and worship right next to the maid and the laborer. Like a great pumping heart, the church had circulated goods, information, values, and ideas back and forth and back again, between rich and poor, learned and unlearned, sinner and saved.”

He quietly opposed but deeply understood the views of the black nationalists in his community. “A steady attack on the white race, the constant recitation of black people’s brutal experience in this country, served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair…..It contradicted the morality my mother had taught me, a morality of subtle distinctions – between individuals of goodwill and those who wished me ill.”

Sen. Obama’s claims to the contrary not withstanding, he was quite aware of Mr. Wright’s appeal to, and encouragement of, this separationist view – he quotes a sermon in which Mr. Wright declares “white folks’ greed runs a world in need.” But Sen. Obama was less concerned with the substance of it than the preacher’s ability to bridge many communities. Describing his first encounter with Mr. Wright, he writes: “It was this capacious talent of his—this ability to hold together, if not reconcile, the conflicting strains of black experience—upon which Trinity’s success had ultimately been built.”

I suspect that part of Sen. Obama’s reluctance to separate from the views he clearly disagreed with was a simple cost-benefit calculation: the destructiveness of the ideology was outweighed by the value of Mr. Wright’s ability to pull together the “conflicting strains of black experience.”

In that sense, neither Obama-the-candidate nor his critics have fully articulated the real reason Sen. Obama stayed with the church as long as he did. It was not because he’s a secret Black Panther (he’s not), and if anything he gravitated to Trinity because of his own fears that he was too white. It’s also not because he was shocked – shocked! – to learn of the church’s radicalism (he wasn’t). It’s that Sen. Obama treasures unity above other values, and marveled at Trinity’s capacity to tie together disparate, often hostile groups into a single community.

What has changed is that Sen. Obama is now focused on a different, larger community. Whereas Mr. Wright was a unifying figure in one community, he and Trinity Church are powerfully divisive in the much larger community.

Presidential Rivals Team Up For Bll

The campaign is likely to be marked by sharp differences and potentially nasty exchanges, but McCain and Obama are working together to co-sponsor a good-government bill. From The Hill:

Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are quietly working together on a good-government bill despite their campaign-trail battle over who is tougher against Washington’s special interests.

McCain’s Senate office contacted Obama’s office Monday night asking to sign on to a bill opening federal government contracts to public scrutiny, according to three knowledgeable sources.

Before the call, Obama had been working on the measure primarily with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), an ardent proponent of eliminating wasteful government spending and an early supporter and longtime Senate ally of McCain’s.

After learning that Obama and Coburn were introducing the bill without his backing, McCain’s staffers immediately contacted Coburn to express concern and a desire to be named as an original co-sponsor of the update. They then called Obama’s office.

Obama staffers were happy to comply with McCain’s request to sign on, an Obama adviser said, because they knew support from the two presumptive nominees could propel the legislation to passage in the final months of a packed legislative schedule.
It's a good sign. There is a potential for this campaign to be a civilized debate on issues.

PDA's by Lesbians at Ball Game Cause Trouble

Two women attending a Seattle Mariner's ballgame were apparently asked by an usher to stop kissing because a fan found it offensive:
As the Mariners played the Boston Red Sox on May 26, Sirbrina Guerrero and her date were approached in the third inning by an usher who told them their kissing was inappropriate, Guerrero said.

The usher, Guerrero said, told them he had received a complaint from a woman nearby who said that there were kids in the crowd of nearly 36,000 and that parents would have to explain why two women were kissing.

What is to explain? They love each other; they kiss; it's pretty straightforward. If the kids ask questions about what they are seeing it's a teachable moment.

This story calls to mind a poignant moment some years ago at church when a mother of two teenage children, who thought of herself as very progressive, approached me after church and asked me to talk to one of our lesbian couples and ask them if they would stop putting their arms around each other in church. As in one of them reaching around the back of the chair and resting her arm on the chair back behind her partner. It was making their children uncomfortable, she said. I must confess that I responded with a less than tactful question about who was really being made uncomfortable. A couple of weeks later her spouse called and told me they were not coming back.

I Got the Horse Right Here, His Name is Big Brown!

I'll be cheering on Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes this Saturday. He drew the post position which is considered the lucky spot. Perhaps we will have the first triple crown winner in many a year this year! Go Brown!

Mary's Prayer (Not the Mary or the Prayer you are expecting!)

From Beliefnet today...

Keep Us From Pettiness

Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.
Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking.
May we put away all pretenses and meet each other, face to face, without self-pity and without prejudice.
May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous.
Let us take time for all things; make us to grow calm, serene, gentle.
Teach us to put in action our better impulses-straightforward and unafraid.
Grant that we may realize it is the little things of life that create difficulties; that in the big things of life we are as one.
Oh, Lord, let us not forget to be kind.

- Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots

Western Values at Stake

A French court decision reduces women to the status of chattel:
The bride said she was a virgin. When her new husband discovered that was a lie, he went to court to annul the marriage — and a French judge agreed.

The ruling ending the Muslim couple's union has stunned France and raised concerns the country's much-cherished secular values are losing ground to cultural traditions from its fast-growing immigrant communities.

The decision also exposed the silent shame borne by some Muslim women who transgress long-held customs demanding proof of virginity on the wedding night.

In its ruling, the court concluded the woman had misrepresented herself as a virgin and that, in this particular marriage, virginity was a prerequisite.

But in treating the case as a breach of contract, the ruling was decried by critics who said it undermined decades of progress in women's rights. Marriage, they said, was reduced to the status of a commercial transaction in which women could be discarded by husbands claiming to have discovered hidden defects in them.

We need to make room in our increasingly diverse Western world for the religious sensibilities and customs of others. But there is a limit. Centuries of hard-fought gains in civil rights by women should not be given back in the name of religious tolerance.

A State in Decline

Minnesota's experiment with a no-new-taxes legislature and governor has been a notable failure. So says a report by Minnesota 2020, a non-partisan MN think tank (non-partisan in the legal sense; it is a lefty group):
Minnesota has slipped behind other states in employment and personal income in recent years as it spent less on education and other government programs, according to a report released Wednesday by a St. Paul think tank.

While the report stops short of blaming declining public spending solely for lower economic performance, it argues that the slippage refutes the claims of tax watchdogs that cutting taxes and spending would improve Minnesota's competitiveness.

"The economic experiment undertaken by the advocates of 'less government' and 'no new taxes' has been a failure," said Minnesota 2020 in its report, "Minnesota's Slip Toward Mediocrity: Less Investment, Less Return."
The Governor's spokesperson dismissed the report, but it's statistics are hard to refute. And there is one other hard fact that should make the governor's team be a bit more humble: collapsing bridges. Since the I35 bridge collapsed last year and Pawlenty's highly partisan transportation secretary was canned and replaced by a transportation professional, emergency bridge inspections have led to closings or restrictions on The Hwy. 61 bridge in Hastings, the Lowry Avenue bridge in Minneapolis, the Blatnik Bridge in Duluth and yesterday in Winona, the only bridge across the Mississippi to Wisconsin for miles around. The state of our bridges and transportation mess is not just the fault of Governor Pawlenty, it is also the fault of Representative Pawlenty and his party who for years prior to taking over the governor's mansion, peddled their no-taxes mantra and blocked needed spending on infrastructure. It remains very fitting that the Republican National Convention will be here this summer to enjoy the fruits of their failed policies.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Denomination Gets Smaller

From the online denominational newsletter:
First the good news: Membership in the Church of the Brethren dropped by a smaller amount in 2007 that in either of the previous two years, down a net 1,562 members to a total of 125,964 in the US and Puerto Rico. And the denomination's smallest district, Missouri/Arkansas, had the largest percentage gain, adding a net of six new members to grow to 555 (up 1.09 percent).
We are about the size of a dozen mega-churches. To be fair, though, they don't add in membership statistics from churches in Nigeria, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Brazil, and India.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Barack and Hillary

There were news reports today that Hillary was indicating an interest in the VP job. You wouldn't have known it from here speech tonight. It was all about her and the "18 million" who voted for her. She had an opportunity tonight on a national stage to unite the party and to tell her supporters that it was time to turn their sights on John McCain. She didn't mention McCain once. She was defiant when she needed to be gracious.

Barack has no equal in his ability to draw large, young, and enthusiastic crowds. One of my college student church members called me from the Xcel, where he was speaking. She was thrilled; she represents the generation that will put Barack over the top in the general election. It is a hopeful sign to see millions of young people like her caring about what is happening in this country and getting involved in the political process.

Barack was extremely gracious to Hillary and Bill. He acknowledged the service and accomplishments of both of them. He acknowledged the national service of McCain and then took issues with his policies not his person. He spoke again about the need for change. He rose to the occasion of this historic moment. It's just too bad Hillary wouldn't let him have his moment.

Guru Pitka's Mini Sutra on Self Knowledge

Enjoy this mini sutra on self knowledge from Guru Pitka (Mike Meyers).

Meyers and Chopera the Odd Couple

There's a new movie coming out soon called The Love Guru and it sounds like way too much fun! As an SNL fan, Mike Meyers was a favorite of mine. Over the years he's crafted some of the funniest and most memorable skit and movie characters. (My personal favorites were Dieter and Linda Richmond.)

Some Hindu spiritual leaders are a bit bent out of shape by this film. Apparently they must not have a sense of humor. I guess they need to read Chopera's most recent book. I intend to. There is no doubt that we can "get outside of ourselves" and closer to God with laughter--or music or dance or poetry or art or ...

Monday, June 02, 2008

Adam and Eve

With a twist:

A New Day, A New Week

Happy Monday!

I've become a fan of Therese Borchard from Beliefnet who posts a blog titled Beyond Blue (about depression, anxiety, and addiction). She speaks my language and may be helpful to others so I'm sharing her wisdom for today about 5 basics to help curb addictive behavior with other readers of the liberalpastor blog.