Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Riemans Remembered

Mourning the loss of friends killed Christmas day on icy Indiana roads:
Family and Northview Church of the Brethren mourn couple known for their thoughtfulness, generosity and nonconformity

By Will Higgins
Posted: December 31, 2008

Northview Church of the Brethren is small, the kind of place where a good half of the members are volunteers.

This week, still reeling from last week's terrible news, they've been particularly busy, borrowing folding chairs from Mennonites, setting them up in the church basement, baking casseroles and pies by the score, and lining up a eulogist.

Their co-pastors, Phil and Louise Rieman, died Friday when their car slid on a patch of ice and struck an oncoming truck. They had been on their way to North Manchester to visit relatives.

"It's an event where your head hears one thing, but your heart says, 'No, it can't be,' " said Sally Schrock, a longtime member.

Phil was 64, Louise 63. Their funeral, at 11 a.m. today, is expected to draw about 400 mourners, which is far more than the 90-member church can comfortably accommodate.

The Church of the Brethren is similar to the Quaker church, with its emphasis on living simply, helpfully, thoughtfully, peacefully -- "really living one's beliefs," Schrock said.

The Riemans did just that.

Several years ago, when Schrock complained that her job was unfulfilling -- she handled billing for a group of anesthesiologists -- Louise urged her to quit and "follow your heart."

Schrock followed the advice. She started a nonprofit that provides housewares to people as they move from homelessness into apartments.

"I wouldn't have done it without Louie," Schrock said. "She kept saying, 'Forget your paycheck,' and 'Trust you're doing the right thing.' "

The Riemans, who had three children, now grown, never sweated over money. They ate well from their huge vegetable garden -- and fed others. On Sundays, they'd bring a haul of zucchini, peppers and tomatoes to the church for folks to take home.

They were content driving a '92 Volkswagen Rabbit.

Phil never wore a tie.

The authors represented in their small study -- besides several Bibles, its shelves contain hundreds of worn volumes -- reflect their open-minded intellectualism: Thomas Merton, Reinhold Niebuhr, Bertrand Russell, Kahlil Gibran.

As pastors, the Riemans led churches in Iowa and Indiana and worked in the Sudan, the Congo and Uganda -- "not to 'save the heathens,' " said their son, Ken, "but to help them preserve their culture and language."

The Riemans routinely withheld roughly half their income tax payment from the government as a way to protest U.S. military spending. They paid the difference to peace groups, civil rights groups, food banks.

That didn't sit well with the Internal Revenue Service, which from time to time sought to garnishee their wages, a move that the churches that employed the Riemans always resisted. In the 1970s, the IRS sent agents to the Riemans' house and seized their car.

"Mamma and Daddy advocated a nonconformity to the culture and its notions of success," said Ken, who's now a Church of the Brethren minister in Seattle. "That creates tension with the culture."

But personally, the Riemans were hard to resist. For all their earnestness (they couldn't get enough of Joan Baez and Peter, Paul and Mary), the people who knew them say, they had charisma and a keen sense of whimsy.

For example, they encouraged neighborhood kids to use the church grounds as their playground. When Phil found kids were using an outdoor stairwell as a urinal, the sign he posted said: "This is not a good place to pee."

Years before the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday became a national holiday, Phil would call his kids' schools and offer to put on a program marking the occasion.

"Daddy would come in with his guitar," said Cheri, the Riemans' younger daughter. "It was kind of embarrassing at first."

It wasn't long, however, before he'd have taught the kids not only a bit about the civil rights movement but also the words to "We Shall Overcome."

And by the end of the program, as he strummed his guitar, the children would be singing the song robustly and holding one another's hands.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Isn't it About Time to Separate Church and State at the Inaugration?

Just another pastor fiasco for President Elect Barack Obama--this time with Rick Warren, Obama's selection to deliver the inauguration invocation.

Don't Grinch Out!

From The First 30 Days today...

Saying Yes to Love

Now, we don't know about you, but we've always found the holidays to be a bit cringe-worthy when it comes to proposing. A diamond under the tree or on the eighth night of Hannukah is nice, we suppose. And getting down on one knee at the stroke of midnight is sweet, if uninspired.

If you're in a relationship and have just proposed (or are about to) congrats to you! You've invited a very special kind of commitment into your life. If you're uncoupled this time of year, take heart. You don't have to Grinch out every time you hear of someone else's happy ending. Think about ways to bring more love into your life in the next few days and throughout the year.

According to the venerable C.S. Lewis, there are four kinds of love—Affection, Friendship, Eros and Agape. We all understand the ins and outs of most of these loves well. Affection is what we feel for family, mostly. Friendship is perhaps the best kind of to Eros, of course, which we all hope for! And Agape is Big Love—the kind reserved for you and a higher power, an unending and boundless love that takes time and practice to learn.

So, as we head into a year full of potential and possibilities for love, which "love" do you want to focus on? Is there a need for greater communication with family members; a way to show more affection for the poor and marginalized in your city or town? Think through each of your friendships and how the love there might be improved. If you are in, or hoping for, a relationship, what might you desire from eros? And lastly, will this be a year of spiritual growth for you, where you discover what it means to love and be loved wholeheartedly?

We hope the year ahead is filled with love for you. After all, what other reason is there to be here, now, together?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Robin Williams on Obama

A bit dated but I just saw it.

In the Spirit of the Season

Over at the right-wing WorldNetDaily news, I learned this morning that I am a spiritual ancestor of Baal worshipers:

Ritualistic Baal worship, in sum, looked a little like this: Adults would gather around the altar of Baal. Infants would then be burned alive as a sacrificial offering to the deity. Amid horrific screams and the stench of charred human flesh, congregants – men and women alike – would engage in bisexual orgies. The ritual of convenience was intended to produce economic prosperity by prompting Baal to bring rain for the fertility of "mother earth."

The natural consequences of such behavior – pregnancy and childbirth – and the associated financial burdens of "unplanned parenthood" were easily offset. One could either choose to engage in homosexual conduct or – with child sacrifice available on demand – could simply take part in another fertility ceremony to "terminate" the unwanted child.

Modern liberalism deviates little from its ancient predecessor. While its macabre rituals have been sanitized with flowery and euphemistic terms of art, its core tenets and practices remain eerily similar. The worship of "fertility" has been replaced with worship of "reproductive freedom" or "choice." Child sacrifice via burnt offering has been updated, ever so slightly, to become child sacrifice by way of abortion. The ritualistic promotion, practice and celebration of both heterosexual and homosexual immorality and promiscuity have been carefully whitewashed – yet wholeheartedly embraced – by the cults of radical feminism, militant "gay rights" and "comprehensive sex education." And, the pantheistic worship of "mother earth" has been substituted – in name only – for radical environmentalism.

These must be desperate times for conservatives.

HT Steve Benen

Friday, December 19, 2008

Inaugration Preparation

Here is a news story about the poet who will write and then read for the Obama inaugration on 1/20/09.

Take the Higher Road!

Here is some more sage advice from The First 30 Days: Everyday Change newsletter today. I need to heed it!

Avoiding the Family Feud

You aren’t really going to go another ten rounds with Dad at the holiday table this year, are you? Bury the hatchet, already. Antacids are getting expensive.

Who do you have a bone to pick with? Uncle Al? Cousin Jeremiah? Granny Hilda? Let’s face it, you’re itching to blow off some steam. This year, keep it bottled up inside, so we can watch it blow out your ears.

No really, let it go already. You can’t make the past go away, but you can keep things cool, for the sake of everyone around you.

Assuming the other person isn’t the reasonable, levelheaded individual that you are—and no one is, right?—take the initiative yourself. Calmly approach your fellow feuder in the sweetest voice you can muster up and propose the following: Let’s put aside all our resentment and sarcasm and make it a point to talk and listen to each other respectfully, shall we?

Making relationships better is largely up to you. Who knows? The other person might just be waiting for you to make a move, or perhaps they are trying to muster up the courage themselves. In the best case, you get to renew a relationship. Worst case scenario? You can always pick up where you left off after the holidays.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I.Q., E.Q. and...Sperm Quality?

What makes you so think you are so smart? (Or not.) Well, it turns out there may be more variables involved...

I can't wait to read the full article about this study conducted on Vietnam vets that was excerpted on this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Myrrh--Gift fit for a king?

At PBS (Progressive Bible Study) this morning we were reading the Matthew version of Jesus' birth story. We were noting the variances in footnotes about the 3 Magi gifts. I had not remembered that myrrh was a gum resin from a tree or shrub rather than a spice or fragrance.

Because my spouse is a research chemist that works with resins and their properties, I thought I should do some research on myrrh so we could perhaps we could discuss the "scientific properties" of myrrh at the dinner table tonight.

So here's the scoop on myrrh...

Myrrh Gum - 100 caps
From Nature's Way
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Product Details
Encapsulated Myrrh gum tree resin. This is the same myrrh gum frequently mentioned in the bible it is obtained from trees found only in East Africa and Arabia. Myrrh gum is frequently used for both it"s aromatic and herbal properties. It was also used anciently as an antiseptic for sore throats and as a mouthwash. Myrrh (commiphora myrrha & abyssinica) has antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and wound healing properties and may be beneficial for candida, thrush, fungal conditions, mouth and gum disorders, gingivitis, immune response, respiratory conditions, the digestive system, stimulating menstrual flow, tonsillitis, sore throat, asthma, and may help build strength, focus and clarity during times of trouble.

Myrrh Gum, Gelatin, Millet, Magnesium Stearate.
Product Research:
Nature's Way Myrrh Gum. Used anciently as a mouthwash. Myrrh (commiphora myrrha), is frequently mentioned in the Bible, and an important item of trade in the Middle East for centuries, this aromatic gum resin is obtained from certain trees found only in East Africa and Arabia. It is still used for both its aromatic and herbal properties.

Take two capsules three times daily, preferably with food.
Do not take Myrrh Gum or products which contain high amounts of Myrrh for extended periods due to stress on the kidneys during elimination.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

JoePa -- 3 more years @ PSU

Hot off the A.P. wires as posted on ESPN. Since I'm an OSU fan as far as The Big 10 goes, I will let LiberalPastor make the comment on this story. I'm just "spreadin' the news"!

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno has a new three-year contract extension to go along with his new hip.

The Hall of Famer and winningest coach in major college football history has agreed to a new deal with the university, the athletic department said Tuesday in a statement.

Built-in leverage?
The language in JoePa's new deal probably gives Penn State some leverage if things go south for the program, Adam Rittenberg writes. Blog

The agreement will provide "for the opportunity of Coach Joe Paterno leading the football program through the 2011 season," the statement said. JoePa turns 82 on Sunday.

"It was also agreed that the parties might re-evaluate their circumstances and alter the arrangement by either shortening or extending its length as necessary," the statement said.

The agreement ends months of speculation about Paterno's future since his current deal had expired following this season. University president Graham Spanier and Paterno had announced in the spring that Paterno didn't need something in writing to stay on a job he's had a record 43 years.

Yet contract questions still dogged both sides until Nov. 22, when Paterno said after the Big Ten title-clinching win over Michigan State that he planned to return in 2009.

He had hip replacement surgery the next day. Back on his feet and easing back into his coaching routine, Paterno told reporters last week that he wasn't worried about getting an extension done before the No. 8 Nittany Lions (11-1) play No. 5 Southern California in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Citi on New Year's Day.

"If we can work out something that they are comfortable with and I'm comfortable with before the bowl, fine," Paterno said. "I just get tired of recruits asking me, 'How long are you going to be there?' But most of them are fine."

Terms of the extension were not announced.

Records released by the State Employees Retirement System last year put his 2007 salary at about $512,000. The state data did not reflect other sources of compensation such as bonuses or outside income.

By salary alone though, Paterno's contract is nowhere close to those of other big names such as Alabama's Nick Saban, the highest-paid coach at $4 million a year.

As for his health, Paterno has said he is feeling fine and that rehab is going well. He's eager to get back to the sideline, where he hasn't coached from since late September.

Paterno stayed vague about how much longer he thought he could coach.

"There's no reason for me not to think that I can go for a while," he said. "Now how long is a while? I don't know."

Counting Paterno's 16 seasons as a Penn State assistant before taking the head-coaching job in 1966, the 2009 campaign would be JoePa's 60th year on the Nittany Lion coaching staff.

Also Tuesday, Penn State sophomore Aaron Maybin was selected a first-team AP All-American. The defensive end is fourth in the nation with 12 sacks.

Center A.Q. Shipley was picked to the second team, while guard Rich Ohrnberger and receiver and return man Derrick Williams were named to the third team.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

Let's Not Waste Another Crisis

Over at TPMcafe, they have assembled a group of progressive economic heavy-weights including Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Robert Reich to talk about what needs to be done to get the economy going again. All those posting seem to agree that we are going to need a massive stimulus package to get us out of the deepening recession. But I was particularly interested by these comments by Robert Reich:
I can't help wondering, though, if we'll need something more. Keynesianism is based on two highly-questionable assumptions in today's world. The first is that American consumers will eventually regain the purchasing power needed to keep the economy going full tilt. That seems doubtful. Median incomes dropped during the last recovery, adjusted for inflation, and even at the start weren't much higher than they were in the 1970s. Consumers kept spending by borrowing against their homes. But that's over. The second assumption seems even more doubtful: that, even if middle-class Americans had the money to continue the old pattern of spending, they could do so forever. Yet the social and environmental costs would soon overwhelm us. Even if climate change were not an imminent threat to the planet, the rest of the world will not allow American consumers to continue to use up a quarter of the planet's natural resources and generate an even larger share of its toxic wastes and pollutants.

The current deep recession is a nightmare for people who have lost their jobs, homes, and savings; and it's part of a continuing nightmare for the very poor. That's why we have to do all we can to get the economy back on track. But many other Americans are discovering they can exist surprisingly well buying fewer of the things they never really needed to begin with. What we most lack, or are in danger of losing, are the things we use in common -- clean air, clean water, public parks, good schools, and public transportation, as well as social safety nets to catch those of us who fall.

You don't often hear economists, even progressive ones, talk about the virtues of consuming less. But I think this is the kind of conversation we need to be having in our homes, our houses of worship, as well as in the places where political decisions are being made. We can't continue to spend and consume at the rate we have been since at least WWII. As Reich says, the world won't have it and the earth can't take it.

I think, though, that we need to be careful not to adopt a tone that suggests that this economic downturn is good for us because it is forcing us to re-think our priorities. There is nothing good about people losing their jobs and homes. There is nothing good about the growing crisis in healthcare and the deepening numbers mired in poverty. There are growing numbers of hungry, frightened, and desperate people. It isn't "good" for us. I have already heard this said by too many people, and not surprisingly these people all still have jobs.

There may come a time in the future when we will look back and we will be able to say that something good came out of this very bad situation. If we don't "waste" this crisis. If we don't do what the Bush Administration did with 9/11 when it took that tragic moment that briefly united the country and the world and instead of using it to end our dependence on foreign oil and forge peace in the Middle East, actions that would have strengthened the country and made the world more peaceful, used it instead as an excuse to act out some deranged neo-con fantasies about American imperial hegemony in the world.

Once again we are being presented with one of those once-in-a-generation opportunities to effect significant positive change in the country and the world. We can give meaning to the suffering that millions are experiencing in this downturn if we move our economy onto a more solid green footing and if we invest significantly more money in those things that Reich says we have in common. These actions would significantly improve the quality of our lives and put lots of people to work in productive jobs.

Our spiritual communities have an important role to play here. This kind of conversation is right up our alley. Reich is right; it is possible to live "surprising well" with less. Not nothing, mind you. Let's not try to make a virtue of poverty. But we don't need all the toys to be happy. We can find joy in crafting and gardening and cooking and reading and listening to music, etc., and doing it all in the company of friends and family. We can multiply the joy by finding ways to share our abundance with those who are less fortunate. We are not consumers; we are earthy, spiritual people; we know what is important and what is not.

So let's not waste another crisis. Let's give our children a more simple, green, and meaningful world to live in.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Swinging Vicar Ousted

The same Michael Bird from the previous post takes note of the ouster of a vicar of the Church of England (quoting from a news article):
A Church of England priest who appeared drunk at three church services and told fellow clergy at a Christmas party that she and her husband were “swingers” has been banned for scandalous behavior. The Rev. Teresa Davies, formerly a team vicar serving St. Martin Church, Welton, Northamptonshire, was found guilty by a church tribunal and may not serve in any clergy role for at least 12 years. She officially resigned in August. “Throughout this process we have offered Teresa Davies appropriate pastoral support,” the Diocese of Peterborough said in a press statement. “We hope that she and her family will be able to move on in their lives.”
He can't help but take a potshot at the Episcopal Church:
I could imagine this in the USA (in TEC they would probably make her a bishop!)...

American Evangelicals Are Different

Michael Bird is an Australian-born evangelical who teaches New Testament in Scotland. He talks about the difference between evangelicals in America and around the world: dear friends in North America have to learn that outside of North America the things that they regard as badges of evangelicalism may not necessarily be badges elsewhere. For example, nowhere outside of the USA is "inerrancy" the single defining issue for evangelicals. The UCCF statement of faith in the UK refers to the Scriptures as "infallible" not inerrant. At the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem where an international group of Evangelical Anglicans met together, their statement of faith referred to the "sufficiency" of the Scriptures, but there was no reference to inerrancy or infallibility. Ironically, these are people who are besieged by real liberals (not N.T. Wright, Peter Enns, Norman Shepherd, or those Federal Vision chaps, I mean real liberals!) and they do not associate an orthodox view of Scripture with pledging one's allegiance to the Chicago Statement or to B.B. Warfield. Now, if you ask the average non-American evangelical what they believe about Scripture, I think you'll find that they regard it as "true and trustworthy" in every meaningful sense, but without necessarily resorting to the well-worn mantra of the "inerrant autographa" (though I imagine that they might just as well affirm it even if it's not their default setting). In other words, American evangelicals (reformed or otherwise) need to try understand themselves as being one small fish in a much bigger ocean and not expect non-Americans to line up with their own parochial theological proclivities. Moreover, there are also some things about North American evangelicals that Christians outside of North American cannot comprehend: 1. Only north american evangelicals oppose measures to stem global warming, 2. Only north american evangelicals oppose universal health care, and 3. Only north american evangelicals support the Iraq War. Now, to Christians in the rest of the world this is somewhere between strange, funny, and frightening. Why is it that only north american evangelicals support these things? Are the rest of us stupid? It makes many of us suspicious that our North American evangelical friends have merged their theology with GOP economic policy, raised patriotism to an almost idolatrous level, and have a naive belief in the divinely given right of American hegemony. North Americans would do well to take the North-Americanism out of their evangelicalism and try to see Jesus through the eyes of Christians in other lands.

13 Ways to Make Friends

We are now deep into the Holiday Season. Many of us experience a feeling of blues or loneliness during the holiday season for a variety of reasons.

Some have difficulty connecting with people in a meaningful way during the holidays. Despite the hustle and bustle (or because of it) we don't get time to meaningfully connect with people--unless you are stuck in a corner at a cocktail party or seated across from someone at a dinner party. Otherwise it is just meaningless small talk.

Others are sad because we are missing loved ones separated by the 3Ds-- death, distance, and disease. We remember the "ghosts of Christmas past and know that some of those people are not with us to celebrate the holidays, others are lost to dementia or serious illness that renders them unable to celebrate as they have in the past. Still others know that they can not be with their family due to war, economics, or weather or a combination of all of these reasons.

Today has another wonderful post by Terese Borchard in her column from Beyond Blue on how we can make friends this holiday season.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Sparrow Hawk

Actually, it is not a Sparrow Hawk, or Kestrel, but a Cooper's Hawk. Cooper's Hawks are frequent visitors in our back yard where they lunch mostly on House Sparrows. Every winter our back yard turns into a sparrow slum as anywhere from 20-40 birds spend the day feeding at the feeders. I am happy to share them with the hawks as they compete with the Cardinals, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and finches that I am wanting to feed.

As I shared here some years ago, it was also a Cooper's Hawk that ate one of our Cockatiels that I forgot was sitting on my shoulder when I opened the front door. Out went the Cockatiel and down came the Cooper's Hawk. Probably the easiest meal it ever had.

Friday with Sampson and Sadie

They haven't shown any interest in their beds since last winter. Winter is back, and they are back to sharing a bed.

The Newsweek Kerfluffle

I haven't commented yet on the recent cover-story Newsweek article that is causing so much stir among those who blog and write about religion. Over at Beliefnet, Tony Jones provides a good rundown of the varied responses. The Newsweek article by Lisa Miller signals a changing focus for Newsweek, as it moves intentionally to become more of a partisan opinion magazine. Hence, article is italicized since Miller's piece isn't really reporting; it's commentary.

This change is signaled by Newsweek editor Jon Meacham who essentially says in his defense of Miller: "bring it on." I guess time will tell whether this strategy will work for Newsweek. It certainly has lit up the blogosphere.

I was intrigued by the response of Darrell Bock to Meacham's piece. Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Bock tells us in his blog post that he wants to tackle the substance of this comment by Meacham:
Briefly put, the Judeo-Christian religious case for supporting gay marriage begins with the recognition that sexual orientation is not a choice—a matter of behavior—but is as intrinsic to a person's makeup as skin color. The analogy with race is apt, for Christians in particular long cited scriptural authority to justify and perpetuate slavery with the same certitude that some now use to point to certain passages in the Bible to condemn homosexuality and to deny the sacrament of marriage to homosexuals. This argument from Scripture is difficult to take seriously—though many, many people do—since the passages in question are part and parcel of texts that, with equal ferocity, forbid particular haircuts. The Devil, as Shakespeare once noted, can cite Scripture for his purpose, and the texts have been ready sources for those seeking to promote anti-Semitism and limit the human rights of women, among other things that few people in the first decade of the 21st century would think reasonable.
Bock responds:
By lumping the issue of slavery, sexuality and gender into parallels with race and gender, not to mention hair cuts, he suggests that just reading the Bible at the surface is not good enough. This linkage is not new and evangelicals have noted the hermeneutical questions tied to it for some time. In 2001, William Webb wrote Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals with an eye directly on this supposed equation (and overgeneralization). He argued that these three issues are not handled nor are they to be read as being hermeneutically equivalent because of the manner each issue is handled within Scripture. Yes, some have handled them the same, but a careful reading shows that the grounding for slavery did not appeal to the same types of arguments as discussions did on the role of women and homosexuality. Even more, by far the strongest arguments and statements are made about homosexuality in comparison to the topics of either slavery or women.
I haven't read Webb's book so I can't comment on it. But to Bock's statement that the strongest arguments and statements are made about homosexuality, I would simply respond that this may be true and they may still be wrong. Shouting louder or holding the strongest convictions does not make one right. It remains the case the Biblical writers did not know what we know about sexual orientation. "Exchanging natural relations for unnatural" implies a choice. Homosexual orientation is not a choice.

It is worth noting that Bock does not directly address his views on the issue of sexual orientation here. In fact, it appears that Bock doesn't want to go down this road at all. He seems to say that sexual orientation as we understand it is not even addressed in the Bible:
I am not sure if Meacham’s starting point reflects a Judeo-Christian religious case beginning point or a modern starting point. Where is the case that from a Judeo-Christian perspective sexual orientation is intrinsic to a person’s makeup? Where is the religious text that says this?
The Bible, Bock says, addresses the issue of sexuality in terms of its functional role in a divinely ordered society where male and female are created in order to make a family. The biblical writers are concerned with survival of the species. What is the best environment for raising children?
The desire to pursue a virtuous society, which I think is a goal all good people should have, should not play favorites in dealing with questions where virtue may be distorted or lacking. And that is precisely the debate that needs to take place in our treatment of this issue. We should be concerned not merely with what makes for freedom, but what societal structures make for a more healthy society, and for a beneficial environment for our children.

Is the starting point for this discussion one that simply says that sexual orientation is a given for all who welcome this route for sexual orientation, or is this discussion far more complex, with this appeal being too facile. Why not suggest another starting point? That the divinely created world is filled with the intended diversity of male and female, which in combination makes up humanity in the image of God. So this cooperation is part of what God intended by marriage, since the core marriage text of Scripture does speak of a man and a woman being brought together. Surely if God exists and speaks (something that is a given within the Judeo-Christian tradition), he could have made it more clear that gender does not matter when it comes to marriage—and there is no such text anywhere...
Regarding the goal of creating a healthy society for adults and children I couldn't agree more. That is what we all want. So, show me the evidence that gay marriage is unhealthy for society or that raising children in homes where there are two fathers or two mothers harms the children. David Brooks has made this argument more than once. If the goal is to provide a healthy social fabric for adults and for children, then we should be embracing, in fact, insisting on gay marriage.

Regarding Bock's comment that surely God "could have been more clear" if gender didn't matter in marriage, the obvious response would seem to be that surely God could also have been more clear if God didn't think slavery was such a hot idea. Why did it take Christians nearly two thousand years to figure out that slavery and racial discrimination is not part of God's intent for the way we treat one another? Was God unsure? Were we still in an experimental phase when the Bible was written? Was God playing favorites then? No slavery for the Israelites but it wasn't such a big deal in the rest of society? Surely God could have been more clear about this rather important human issue if slavery is the great moral evil we all know it to be today.

Bock makes it clear, like many evangelicals, that he doesn't appreciate the link liberals often make between biblical writings on slavery and on homosexuality. So, why is it that liberal Christians like me always want to link the slavery issue with homosexuality when we talk about Bible texts? Because everyone agrees today that slavery is immoral. There is no debate. But there is also no debating the fact that the Bible isn't very good on the issue of slavery. There is no blanket condemnation of slavery; in one form or another it was part of the fabric of life in the ancient world. And slavery is one issue where the New Testament doesn't correct the Old Testament. Jesus doesn't speak to it and Paul accepts it as a continuing reality in Roman society.

The Bible writers, including Paul, were wrong on the issue of slavery. It is perfectly clear to us today that slavery is not part of God's will for us. It is perfectly clear that on this great moral issue the Biblical writers were caught in their historical context. To understand the Bible on the issue of slavery you have to read it in its historical context. You can say that God's intent was clear. In fact it was signaled very early in the story of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. "Let my people go." But the biblical writers were never able to clearly see and say that when God said this God meant all of God's people.

So learning to read the Bible on slavery is a non-threatening (for us) object lesson on the skills we need to bring to bear when we engage in biblical interpretation. But once you go down this road with a moral issue like slavery, you realize that you also need to go down the same road with moral issues like homosexuality and the status of women in church and society. If the biblical writers could be wrong about slavery, and it took Christians so long to figure it out, could they also have been wrong about homosexuality? About women? The answer is yes.

A Parting Shot by Lame Duck Senate Republicans

Senate Republicans killed the Big Three Bailout negotiated by the White House and Congressional Leaders. They supported a $600 billion bailout for the financial industry but nixed a $15 billion lifeline for the auto industry. It makes perfect sense to me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Fundamentalist Humor

Mark Pinski, author of The Gospel According to The Simpsons, takes aim at the notion that fundamentalists, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, don't have a sense of humor. He notes these examples of in-house humor:

Brad Stine is an angry, braying stand-up comic whose best-known venues are Promise Keepers rallies that have drawn thousands of evangelical Christian men to coliseums. He once admonished conservative churches that were burning Harry Potter books: "Here's a good rule of thumb: If Hitler tried it — maybe go the other way." His first book was titled Being a Christian Without Being an Idiot: 10 Assumed Truths That Make Us Look Stupid.

Shazia Mirza, a British stand-up and practicing Muslim, has taken the greatest risks.

"Last year, I went to Mecca to repent my sins, and I had to walk around the black stone," she told one audience. "All the women were dressed in black; you could only see their eyes. And I felt a hand touch my bottom. I ignored it. I thought, 'I'm in Mecca, it must be the hand of God.' But then it happened again. I didn't complain. Clearly, my prayers had been answered."

Via GetReligion (They are currently in server limbo so no direct link to this blog post is available.)

What the Brethren Could Learn from the Chabad Movement

Among those massacred by terrorists in Mumbai were Hasidic Jews who were members of what is known as the Chabad movement. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal Lucette Pagnano recounts his own experience worshiping in a Chabad House after 9/11 and then talks about the Mumbai deaths and the philosophy behind the movement:

I thought of that sense of safety and comfort as I watched the horrific events unfold in Mumbai, and specifically at the Chabad House.

I am absolutely certain that Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his pregnant wife Rivka, massacred by the terrorists, had also set up a safe-haven. Theirs was a retreat for Jews living in and around Mumbai or even those who were merely passing through.

I would venture that's one of the secrets behind the Chabad movement's extraordinary growth -- that they build little sanctuaries for lost Jews, alienated Jews, secular Jews, Jews who have no interest in traditional religion.

Chabad has redefined religion in part by getting away from the notion of large, formal temples to establishing places of worship that are small, intimate and, above all, deeply comforting; they have made religion personal.

And so, even as some other branches of Judaism and other religions have withered, they have ventured to the far corners of the earth: Siberia, Alaska, Kiev, Odessa, Ho Chi Minh City. But no matter where the Chabad house the philosophy is always the same -- to bring even the most alienated Jews back into the fold.

You go to a Chabad house and you can count on being invited to Friday night dinner by the rabbi and his wife. The model emphasizes old-fashioned notions of community and home -- the sense that religion is not a once-a-year affair but a way of life.

They have made inroads even among the militantly secular, I suspect, precisely because of their sense of conviction. No matter where they are in the world, in the Chabad houses of Siberia or Southampton the rabbis wear the traditional black hats and dark suits, the women long dresses and wigs. There is little attempt to blend in or assimilate.

It can be jarring to run into them on the streets of Southampton or South Beach, strolling in their religious garb, trying to ignore the stares of women in halters and fashionably dressed men in Bermuda shorts and sandals.

This article is interesting because it gives us a window into missionary Judaism, which is something you don't see very often. But as I read it I couldn't help but be reminded of the similarities - and differences - between these Hasidic Jews and my Anabaptist ancestors and relatives who made it a point to wear distinctive clothing to avoid assimilating with the "world." Of course the practice lives on among the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, and plain Brethren.

Like the Anabaptists, Hasidic Jews attempted to freeze history at a particular point in time by keeping the dress of their founding period while the world of fashion moved on. What was common attire in its day became a mark of distinction in later times. Among my Brethren ancestors the matter of dress was once very important. It is more than a little amusing to read the minutes from the big Annual Meetings in the 1800s and see how much time was devoted to discussing the propriety of making minute changes in clothing. Any change that appeared to follow the fallen culture was rejected. After the big three-way split in the 1880's, the largest group that became known as the Church of the Brethren began to leave behind the plain dress and assimilate with regard to attire. Many Brethren men, though, still wear the distinctive beard with no mustache (the mustache was commonly worn by military types) and if you travel east to Ohio and Pennsylvania you will find Brethren who dress somewhat plain. We still have that "set-apart" mindset in our DNA, as do Hasidic Jews.

But for some reason we do not share their missionary passion. When I read about the Chabad House movement where hospitality, community, and spirituality are offered in the heart of the cities, I think that this ought to be the perfect model for the Brethren. It fits our Anabaptist and Pietest DNA perfectly. But for some reason we don't get it. Even as our rural churches decline and our children move to the cities to find work, and we lose them to other denominations, there is not a flicker of interest shown at a denominational level in following our children there and setting up hospitality houses, house churches, or any enduring presence. We love to go into the big city to do service projects; we are great at that. But apparently we'd rather die than risk being corrupted by actually setting up shop there and making urban America the focus of our mission. The more I watch what is happening within our denomination the more I become convinced that we really don't believe we have anything important to offer to the world. If we did we could learn something from the Chabad movement.

A Prayer for Today

May We Feel Compassion

May each of us find our true path and learn from our mistakes (karma) and accept each other's evolutionary pathway and not feel, show, or express disapproval with the choices the other makes.

May we feel compassion instead of hatred, love instead of anger, and an acceptance not only of others but of ourselves as well. May each of us do all of the above in a mindful way.

- Beliefnet member lgalexander

Source: Beliefnet prayer circle

Newsweek 12/15/08

The newest issue of Newsweek apparently has a cover story supporting gay marriage by their religion editor according to this posting on the More Light Presbyterian listserve that just arrived in my inbox. Here's the post from the MLP Associate Director Toby Rogers...

Dear Friends:

Have you seen the new issue of Newsweek (Dec. 15, 2008)? All I can say is wow! If you haven't already read it, you are in for a treat! The cover story, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage" by Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller is extraordinary. As to what the Bible says or doesn't say about homosexuality and marriage, Miller did her homework and went back to the Scriptures to see for herself. And in just a few well-crafted paragraphs, she completely dismantles decades of traditionalist subterfuge, misdirection, and flat out misinformation about what the Bible actually says.

Here are some of the highlights from the article:
"Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married -- and a number of excellent reasons why they should..."

"The biblical Jesus was -- in spite of recent efforts of novelists to paint him otherwise -- emphatically unmarried. He preached a radical kind of family, a caring community of believers, whose bond in God superseded all blood ties. Leave your families and follow me, Jesus says in the gospels."
"Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition (and, to talk turkey for a minute, a personal discomfort with gay sex that transcends theological argument)."
"In the Christian story, the message of acceptance for all is codified. Jesus reaches out to everyone, especially those on the margins, and brings the whole Christian community into his embrace."
"The practice of inclusion, even in defiance of social convention, the reaching out to outcasts, the emphasis on togetherness and community over and against chaos, depravity, indifference -- all these biblical values argue for gay marriage. If one is for racial equality and the common nature of humanity, then the values of stability, monogamy and family necessarily follow."
The only major point of contention I had with the article is when Miller writes, "Jesus never mentions homosexuality…" A growing body of biblical scholarship suggests that Miller is incorrect on this point. Read Matthew 19:12 again where Jesus talks about "eunuchs who have been so from birth…" The term "eunuch" seems to refers to many different types of sexual minorities in that era. The evidence from Matthew 19:12 suggests that Jesus sees and accepts sexual minorities and urges us to do the same. John 19:26-27 also offers some provocative possibilities for further study.

Now of course traditionalists will write angry letters to the editor and generally try to shout down Miller for having the temerity to speak truth to power in the public square. But what this remarkable Newsweek cover story shows us is that this debate has tipped. If a religion writer at a middle-of-the-road news magazine can argue the Biblical case in favor of gay marriage this powerfully (and indeed more Biblically than many of the traditionalists in our own church) -- then it's all over but the shouting.

Please take a moment to read the full article and share it with your friends.

Peace and justice,
Toby Rogers
Associate Director
More Light Presbyterians

Party Survival Guide for Introverts

This Sunday afternoon is LiberalChurches' annual church Christmas Potluck Party. This year, it will be held at the church after worship rather than in someones private home. There are quite a few self-proclaimed introverts who are in the LiberalChurch family and a few "closeted" introverts as well. To help them with their social anxiety, I'm posting this link from today's offering from Everyday Change with tips on how to make this time of celebrating our friendships and the season less anxiety producing and more enjoyable for those who may be dreading the afternoon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prayer for The Homeless

This past Sunday LiberalChurch had a guest speaker from the Simpson Shelter (for the homeless). As the temperatures dipped down to zero here in the frozen tundra last night, let us each remember all the homeless people around us (most of whom are invisible to us) who are suffering.

Prayer for the Homeless
O God, as Naomi and Ruth journeyed from one land to another seeking a home, we ask your blessing upon all who are homeless in this world. You promised to your chosen people a land flowing with milk and honey; so inspire us to desire the accomplishment of your will that we may work for the settlement of those who are homeless in a place of peace, protection, and nurture, flowing with opportunity, blessing, and hope. Amen.

- Vienna Cobb Anderson

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Offal is Back

Andrew Sullivan calls attention to the British revival in eating offal, or "variety meats," or the heart, kidney, liver, brains, tongue, and stomach of animals. It reminds me that I grew up eating many of these meats. Liver was a regular part of my diet growing up. Whether it was from a cow, chicken, turkey, or deer, we ate it. And I loved it. Heart was another favorite. I can remember being with my dad deer hunting and carefully saving the heart. It was a treat. Kidney and tongue were never personal favorites. Some years ago, thanks to my wife's Mexican sister-in-law I was introduced to Menudo, which is a Mexican soup made with tripe, or cow's stomach. It is quite chewy and quite good.

Mostly now I am a muscle eater. Which is really too bad. I stopped eating the variety meats I liked because they were "bad" for my health. Heart and liver were high in cholesterol. Although, I still eat the livers of every chicken and turkey I cook. But maybe it's time to revisit my dietary choices. It seems that meat is not the problem; now it's refined sugars and flours. Vitamins are out; eggs are in. Meat is good for you. Offal is coming back. Julia Child and James Beard would be happy.

Who Prays More?

Republicans or Democrats? Via Secular Right, here is the answer:

It seems the answer is that those who identify themselves as "strong" pray the most regardless of party affiliation. Not what you would have expected? I don't know enough about the survey to comment but it would be interesting to find out more about the content of the prayers. Who are they praying too? What are they praying for? What do they consider prayer? I don't pray to a guy in the sky because I don't believe there is a guy in the sky. But on a regular basis I do meditate and I do voice petitionary prayers on behalf of people. If I were asked if I pray regularly I would say yes but I would imagine that my prayers would look different than someone who is more conservative. What do I, a strong Democrat, have in common with a strong Republican? We are not lukewarm in our beliefs; we think our thoughts, deeds, intentions, and prayers make a difference. Just my guess.

Here, by the way, is the best comment to this graph on the site:
Well, here is something kinda weird. I’m an atheist, but I occasionally pray. Probably this phenomenon can be explained from my growing up in a family that was (very casually) Christian. I generally start out with something like “Dear God, if you do in fact exist (contrary to my best judgment)…”

I only pray on behalf of friends or relatives who are sick, when I have to fly, or when the lottery goes above $100 million.

I am not only a bad Christian, I am also a pretty lame atheist.

The More Things Change...

I am back from vacation and getting caught up on e-mails and news. In no particular order a few brief comments:

1) The Timberwolves are dreadful- Randy Wittman was fired as coach while I was gone and Kevin McHale was "demoted" from Vice President of basketball operations to coach. Why owner Glenn Taylor can't bring himself to fire McHale is beyond me. McHale made one good move his entire career as VP when he signed Kevin Garnett as a kid out of high school, but he has bungled every other decision he has made. Taylor is incredibly loyal, which is admirable, but McHale needs to go.

2) Politicians are corrupt - Not all politicians are corrupt and in fact most are fine, if flawed, public servants. But some are corrupt and some are so stupidly corrupt that you wonder how they ever managed to get elected to office, unless of course they bought or cheated their way in. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested after he was caught on a wiretap essentially selling the US Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder. He even said that if he couldn't enrich himself in a deal for the seat he might just take it himself. There is some convergence here between the arrogance of power and sheer stupidity that makes it possible to think you could get away with this, and to talk about it all over the phone and not imagine that someone might be listening in.

3) The American auto industry is in denial - It appears a bailout of the big three auto industries is near complete; everyone seems to agree that they, because of all the jobs linked to them, are too big to fail. I read about this on the front page of the Star Tribune this morning. On the back page of the Sports section was a full page ad by the Walser Automotive Group, one of the largest auto dealerships in the twin cities. Here, in part is what the ad said:
Part of the Big Three automaker's plan presented to congress details the investments being made in fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles. If gas remains at its current, relatively low, levels will America embrace these new vehicles? Lower demand is a key factor in the drop in gas prices. The drop in gas prices is a key factor in the sale of larger, less efficient vehicles. See where this is heading?

We think folks should be able to own the type of vehicles they need...and enjoy driving. If you own a boat you need to be able to tow it. If you are a carpenter you can't haul your tools and building materials to the jobsite in the trunk of a sub-compact...
The message here is that Americans won't buy those fuel efficient vehicles if gas prices stay low. They want the big gas guzzlers they enjoy driving. But wait, then why is the American auto industry in trouble in the first place? If America wants what the Big Three are building then why are Americans buying Toyotas and Hyundais and Nissans? And who really thinks gas prices are going to stay this low when the economy recovers? The same market forces - increased global demand for oil coupled with the arrival of "peak oil" - is going to push gas prices higher again.

The issue isn't whether you need a big truck or a small car. The issue is whether that big truck or small car is fuel efficient and built with quality. The American auto industry has fought tooth and nail every attempt to mandate better fuel economy in vehicles, arguing that Americans don't want to pay for it. But long before the latest energy crisis hit us with $4 a gallon gas Americans were deserting American car makers for foreign cars. The energy crisis just accelerated the process.

But don't believe any of this silly stuff about an energy crisis or even an economic downturn. Go out there and buy yourself a new Hummer. You know you want one.

Personal Money Management 101. (Please read to your Children)

Here's some "bottom line" writing in an article from that we Baby boomers need to share with our children today. Obviously we Baby boomers didn't learn from our grandparents' mistakes in the 1920s. (Them speculation, us debt.) Now our children suddenly find themselves in the same financial predicament that our parents found themselves in during the 1930s and 1940s--except that our country was going into a war that helped pull them thought. We are hopefully coming out of a war instead. Can we pull each other through this? The least we can do is to properly educate our children about the economy and financial matters!


by Robert Kiyosaki

When I was young, people lived from paycheck to paycheck. Today, it seems like they live from credit card payment to credit card payment.

Most of us know that millions of Americans are deeply mired in credit card debt. Many financial experts have said repeatedly, "Get out your scissors and cut up your credit cards." While this may sound like good advice, to me it seems like a painful, short-sighted answer to a more complex problem.

That problem is a lack of financial education. Why don't we teach kids about money in school? Rich or poor, smart or not-so-smart, we all use money. Yet, while there are a few schools beginning to offer some financial education, it seems that most educators believe money isn't a subject worthy of the hallowed halls of our learning institutions.

A History of Credit
When I was a kid, there were no credit cards. Instead, retailers offered layaway plans. My mom would go to a store, such as a furniture outlet, choose the sofa she wanted, and put it on layaway. That meant she put a little money down to hold the sofa, and every payday she'd pay a little toward the purchase. When the sofa was paid for in full, she would bring it home.

At that time, stores also offered "buy now, pay later" plans. This meant my mom could buy the sofa, sign a payment agreement, and take the sofa home that day.

Today, while a few stores still offer such plans or even variations of them, most people simply put their purchases on a credit card. But credit has been a part of American life even before there were credit cards.

A Growth Industry
There are many reasons why credit cards have grown in popularity, including these:

• Wall Street has turned debt into an asset.
Today, your friendly banker issues you a credit card. He then sells your debt to a Wall Street firm, which collects your monthly payments at high interest rates -- which is why it's an asset to them.

The minute a Wall Street firm purchases your debt, your bank no longer has it on its financial statement, which then allows the bank to look for more credit card customers. That's one reason why you get so many credit card offers.

• The purchasing power of the dollar has dropped.
If you've followed my articles through the years, you know that in 1971, President Nixon converted the U.S. dollar from money to a currency. That means the U.S. and other governments can print money faster than you can earn it -- or save it.

In terms of purchasing power, if you earned $50,000 in 1996, you would have to earn $100,000 in 2006 just to stay even. Many people aren't earning more even though prices are rising, so they make up the difference by using their credit cards for everyday purchases.

• When wages go up, so do taxes.
Because the purchasing power of the dollar has dropped, many people work harder, ask for raises, or take on extra work (or a second job) to earn more money. And when they earn more money, they move into higher tax brackets. Today, the alternative minimum tax (AMT) -- first levied in 1970 as a tax against the rich -- is penalizing the middle class. In many ways, the AMT is a form of double taxation. Many working people are now making more money but taking home less because they pay a higher percentage of taxes.

• The cost of retirement has gone up.
When I was young, many people worked for a company with a pension plan that covered them for as long as they lived. If they didn't have a pension plan, they could count on Social Security and Medicare.

That's all changed. Today, millions of workers need to be able to afford their day-to-day living as well as put enough money aside for when they can no longer work.

I Love Credit Cards
Clearly, cutting up credit cards won't address these economic changes or solve America's debt problem.

In the real world, credit cards are essential. It would be extremely difficult to rent a car or make hotel and airline reservations without a credit card. It would also be tough to pick up the tab at a business lunch or shop online without a credit card.

Personally, I love my credit cards because of the financial freedom they allow me, and my life would come to a grinding halt without them.

Fight Debt with Debt
Whenever anyone asks me how to solve the credit card problem, I tell them to fight fire with fire -- and debt with debt. The way I solve my increasing needs for cash is to go deeper into debt -- good debt, not bad debt.

For example, I use debt -- which is essentially tax-free money -- to invest in real estate, which in turn increases my cash flow. Not only do I not pay taxes on my debt, I could also pay no taxes (or very little in taxes) on the income from the debt. Hence I earn more but pay less in taxes.

Obviously, in order to do this you need to know how to use debt wisely and responsibly, and must be able to find great investments that increase cash flow.

The Root of the Problem
Most financial experts will scoff at my "fight debt with debt" approach. They'll say my advice is based on flawed logic, and it may well be -- for most people. But I ask you to step back and take a look at the world of finance. As I stated earlier, Wall Street is able to take your debt and turn it into their asset. That's what financially smart people do, and it's one example of why rich people get richer.

Unfortunately, most people take bad debt and turn it into horrible debt. This is especially true of poor people and people with bad credit, who have access to only the worst forms of debt and pay the highest interest rates on it.

But their problem isn't credit cards -- it's a lack of financial know-how. And at the root of that lack of knowledge is our school system and its archaic curriculum, which is out of touch with the way people really live.

Clearly, advising people to cut up their credit cards won't solve the problem of excessive credit card debt. A pair of scissors won't make anyone financially smarter, but some financial education just might.

-- Robert Kiyosaki

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prayer for Today (adapted from

To Be Involved In Church

I pray that (name one or more) in my circle of family and friends will be willing to be involved with others in a church...

May they be willing to get out of their comfort zone, to find a group or activity to be part of so they can experience the friendship they're meant to have within the church. (1 John 1:7a)

May they be willing to invest in others' lives, desiring to come together as often as they can, so they can encourage and build one another up. Help them not to isolate themselves. (Hebrews 10:25)

Help them see the Church as the body of Christ. In their differences, help them to remember they're each needed to make the others complete—in the church, in classes, and in every small group. Help them reach out to others. (Romans 12:4–5)

May they be willing to connect with others, to open up and share from their hearts when given the opportunity. Help them to love one another in their churches as brothers and sisters in Christ with the kind of love that lays down their lives for each other. May Your love be made complete in them as they extend love to others. (1 John 3:11, 14, 16)

Give them the desire to pursue friendship and love. In Jesus' name, amen.

- Jim & Kaye Johns

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Ecofriendly Fundraiser for LiberalChurch in Burnsville

LiberalChurch is participating in a fundraiser by selling Blue Sky Guides. These guides are GREEN BOOKS with coupons, maps, and resources for living green in the Twin Cities Metro Area. They sell for $20 each and LiberalChurch will receive $10 for each Green Guide sold. If you would like to learn more about the guides, please visit the website. They are full of great information and many opportunities for savings if you would like to try out great eco products and services you've never used before (or that you already use all the time).

If you would like to purchase a book or two for a gift or for yourself, please contact liberalpastor or progressivechurchlady via the blog or e-mail or

It's easy bein' green this holiday season!