Saturday, May 31, 2008

Friday, May 30, 2008

10,000 Hours

That is apparently how long it takes to get good at anything:

Before I became a writer, I assumed that some people (Nabakov, Updike, Bellow, etc.) were natural writers. They were born speaking in pithy prose, with taut sentences and interesting verb choice. But then, after reading all the usual Bellow masterpieces, I started reading his early novels. And I realized that even Bellow had to learn how to write. Nabakov juvenalia is similarly flawed. (Early Updike is still pretty fine, so maybe he's the exception.)

And then, once I started writing, I realized that writing is no different than any other craft or skill. It takes time and effort and the ability to tolerate lots of mistakes. You need to write lots and lots of bad sentences before you can begin to write some good sentences. (And I'm only beginning to write some good sentences.) In fact, I'm pretty convinced that K. Anders Ericcson's theory of expertise - it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice before you can become an expert - is pretty much a universal rule of human nature. It applies to golfers and poets, violinists and editors. The brain is a slow and methodical learner. As Bob Dylan put it, "there's no success like failure". What he meant, I think, is that success depends on the ability to tolerate failure. Lots and lots of failure.

That is Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex. His blog post concludes with an excellent YouTube clip of NPR reporter Ira Glass talking about what it takes to master a craft. It is worth a view.

The Shack

I haven't read The Shack by William Young. It is a best-seller and according to an article in today's USA Today it is raising the hackles of some evangelical leaders:
The Shack— centered on dialogues between a miserable main character, Mack, and three unorthodox characterizations of the Holy Trinity — telescopes Young's transformation to a man spiritually reborn and aware every moment of God's love. It slams "legalistic" religions, denominations and doctrines. It barely even mentions the Bible.

Instead, Mack's secrets, lies, pain and fears are swept away in a 48-hour encounter in the woods with a sassy black woman who embodies God the creator. Jesus is portrayed as a big-nosed carpenter in a plaid shirt; the Holy Spirit is an Asian sylph called Sarayu.

So why are critics calling it heresy?

They say Young's surprise hit, which has been in the Top 50 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list for 10 weeks (it's now No. 17), promotes a wrong-headed view of universal salvation, as free to all as an open bar at a party.

They read Young's message as saying you can just discover Jesus' love inside yourself, turn your life over to him, and you're on your way to heaven. No need to put in time in the pews or know theology.

Albert Mohler, a leading theologian of the Southern Baptist Convention, which takes the Bible literally, trashes The Shack in his weekly radio show, calling it "deeply subversive," "scripturally incorrect" and downright "dangerous."

Says Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle: "If you haven't read The Shack, don't!"

Driscoll, whose multi-campus non-denominational church is packed with 6,000 people each weekend in the least-churched corner of the nation, says he is "horrified" by Young's book. He says "it misrepresents God. Young misses the big E on the eye chart."

To Driscoll, doctrine is essential, like a fence the Almighty erects to safeguard the saved from error...

Mohler, Driscoll and other evangelicals pick The Shack apart plank by plank.

No, God can't be a presented as a woman. No, the three parts of the Trinity did not all become fully human. Yes, there is a hierarchy in the Holy Trinity with God the Father in command. Yes, God will punish sin.

God can't be portrayed as a woman? Haven't these people ever heard of Wisdom? And what is with the doctrinal fence? Is it electric, or a dog fence, or a prison fence? I tend to think of doctrine more like that proverbial millstone around the neck.

Young just shakes off the criticism:

"I don't want to enter the Ultimate Fighting ring and duke it out in a cage-match with dogmatists. I have no need to knock churches down or pull people out," he says.

"I have a lot of freedom by knowing that you really experience God in relationships, wherever you are. It's fluid and dynamic, not cemented into an institution with a concrete foundation."

"But it's not about me. I have everything that matters, a free and open life full of love and empty of all secrets."

An Inconvenient Truth, the opera.

An Italian composer is turning Al Gore's book and documentary into an opera. I'm having a little trouble visioning this, but then, I'm not an opera composer. I like enjoy watching/listening to operas. It's been 25 years since I've been to Italy--and never to Milan. I'd go to the premier at La Scala in a heartbeat!

Here's the story from the Associtated Press...

By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press Writer

MILAN, Italy - Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli says he believes operatic treatment of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" will help people see the world's environmental predicament from a fresh point of view.

"Opera makes you reflect," he said in a phone interview Friday. He is working on an opera based on Gore's book and film about climate change.

Artists in general "make you see things differently, make you see things in a new light. When we see a painting by Francis Bacon or a film of Sydney Pollack, we get a very precise idea of the problems of our century," Battistelli said.

He began work on the opera a year ago, and the Milan opera house La Scala plans to present it during the 2011 season as part of celebrations for the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification in 1861.

"I thought it could be a good idea to deal on this important occasion with a subject that involves not only Italy but the world," Battistelli said.

The opera will be told through characters and not a narrator, he said.

La Scala's chorus will figure prominently, and Battistelli said he plans to include the figure of the former U.S. vice president in the story.

"It will be about the tragedy of our present situation," Battistelli said. "It is a great challenge, of course, to write an opera on such an unusual subject. It is certainly not the story of Romeo and Juliet."

Battistelli, 55, has worked frequently in Germany and England, besides his native Italy. He briefly was the artistic director of the Arena in Verona until last year, when he left because of conflicts with the new city administration.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gay Marriage Tipping Point

I think we are reaching it. Although the California Supreme Court is being accused of over-reach in its decision to overturn a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, the court is hardly left-wing; 6 of 7 judges are Republican appointees. And the latest poll indicates the state's voters are coming around to supporting gay marriage.

Meanwhile New York's governor David Paterson has ordered state agencies to begin rewriting policies so they comply with a state appeals court decision that said New York must recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions like Canada and California.

Even Bill O'Reilly is running out of reasons to oppose gay marriage.

Everything in Moderation!

The title of a CarePages article I received today is "Why Men Rule". Naturally, as a woman, this title peaked my interest. Was the writer stereotyping men (and women at the same time)?

Here's the article...evaluate it for yourself and feel free to comment!

10 male traits we could all use in daily life
Some people accuse men of being lazy for sitting on the sofa, but men argue that they’re merely using the time to regenerate and take care of themselves. Summarizing classic male traits may seem like shameless generalization, but we could all learn a thing or two from male-specific behaviors. Here are 10 to get you started.

Keep emotions in check
Certain situations require emotional detachment, especially at work. Sometimes, a poker face can help prevent others from getting overly-stressed out or overwhelmed. If you stay calm, everyone else will stay calm, and you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand.

Ask questions and challenge
Men like to ask questions and play devil’s advocate sometimes—not to antagonize or to argue—but to explore different points of view. It can help to get a new perspective on things.

Be confident
From an early age, boys may feel more comfortable than girls in speaking out without the fear of mistakes to hold them back. Later in life, some see this as men being more aggressive than women. But we could all learn from a little more self-confidence. Everyone has worthy contributions to make in daily life. A little bit of cockiness every once in a while doesn’t hurt.

Focus on solutions
Women often communicate to vent or share, while men look at communication as a means to an end to provide a solution. While venting certainly has its place, it can help to focus on a game plan when you’re really trying to make an important decision. Break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks and keep your eyes on the prize.

Make eye contact
The next time you’re faced with an uncomfortable situation, don’t avert your eyes. Instead, face things squarely. Staring down a situation for what it is can help you get through it with grace and positive energy.

Be the strong, silent type
We’ve all been there: feeling uncomfortable with silent pauses. Men don’t feel the need to talk just for the sake of talking. Standing back and being quiet sometimes means that you’re just taking it all in. Don’t feel the need to fill up the air with words. But when you do have something to say, by all means, say it!

Be a team player
Men might understand the spirit of teamwork faster than women. Many played organized sports while they were kids and have learned how to set common goals and work together. Not a bad skill to have.

Express anger sometimes
It’s okay to express a little anger to blow off steam. Women can sometimes bottle up their anger, only letting it pop long after they've built up a reservoir of resentment. Don’t worry so much about the other person. It’s okay to show you’re not happy. Then you can be done with it and move on.

Be a straight-shooter
Women are sometimes accused of expecting men to be mind readers. They hint and used veiled metaphors—then get hurt when men don’t figure things out. In reality, men are literal creatures who ask for things directly and specifically, so they expect others to do the same. What a refreshing concept.

Accept a compliment
You seldom hear a man replying to a compliment with a “Oh this old thing?” retort. Men love compliments and even fish in the conversation to get a few. Women have a tougher time accepting compliments without shooting back a qualifier. We all should own it. Smile and say thank you.

No Women Allowed

As a newer member of the Church of the Brethren, I found this article about the "violation" of Mount Athos to be sadly tragic on several levels.

ATHENS (Reuters) - Four Moldovan women accidentally violated a 1,000-year-old ban on females entering the all male monastic community of Mount Athos, when they were left on Greek shores by human traffickers.

Police said Monday the women -- aged between 27 and 32 -- as well as a 41-year-old Moldovan man were smuggled from Turkey by boat to the Greek Orthodox community of 20 monasteries, long off limits to women. The reached land Sunday.

"They told police and the monks they were sorry but they couldn't have known this was a no-women area," said a police officer, who declined to be named. "They were forgiven."

Monks spotted the women late Sunday and alerted police. Under Greek law, the violation of the ban on women on Mount Athos, considered Orthodox Christianity's spiritual home, is illegal and can be punished with up to two years in jail.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Worldwide Tobacco Free Day

While looking at the World Health Organization's website researching malnutrition with my daughter for a school project, I discovered that this Saturday is World No Tobacco Day.

After my father's death from complications following surgery for esophegeal cancer back in 1990, each year I "celebrated" the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout by writing a relative or friend who was addicted to nicotine a letter encouraging them to give up tobacco for a day and to attempt to quit smoking. It was my way of remembering my father and helping others at the same time. (The ACS day on 11/17 is just five days from my dad's birthday on 11/22 so the connection seemed natural.)

Here are the details on the WHO's World No Tobacco Day. For further information on this and other international health topics, visit their website.

World No Tobacco Day
31 May

On 31st May each year WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day, highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce consumption. Tobacco use is the second cause of death globally and is currently responsible for killing one in 10 adults worldwide.

The theme of World No Tobacco Day 2008 is Tobacco-Free Youth. Young people are aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry which spends billions of dollars each year marketing its products. To protect the world's youth from experimenting with tobacco and becoming regular users, this year's World No Tobacco Day campaign calls for a ban on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.

WHO created World No Tobacco Day in 1987 to draw global attention to the tobacco epidemic and its lethal effects. Tobacco is the number one preventable epidemic that the health community faces.

Related links
- World No Tobacco Day site
- WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative
- More about tobacco abuse and control

Prayer for Today

From Beliefnet as usual...

Lead Me to Peace

Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill my heart,
my world, my universe.

Appropriate for many faiths

Monday, May 26, 2008

Virtual Labirynth

I was looking for some meditations to use while walking a labrynth and "stumbled" upon this site put together by the Labyrinth Society. When it's raining or you are having your knee replaced or otherwise bedridden and cannot walk a labyrinth, you can go here and take a virtual meditative walk!

The Fickle Finger of Fate

When I was 10 years old back in 1968--40 years ago--I saw the pilot for a new t.v. show. At the tender age of 10 I said to myself, "Wow, this is going to be BIG." (The Humphrey presidential campaign should have talked to me as a free consultant representing my non-voting demographic.) The show was Rowan and Martin's 'Laugh In'. It was a show that crossed the Generation Gap of that era.

Dick Martin, the comic genius behind Laugh-In, and the show's co-host, died yesterday. He and his brand of dry humor will be missed, but fortunately reruns of Laugh-In and The Bob Newhart Show which he created or directed will live on!

Note: I had to remove the link to the CNN obituary of Dick Martin because it was no longer available.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just a dumb animal? No way!

This story was too irresistable to pass without posting. A number of liberalchurch members including liberalpastor are owners of bird(s). I thought this Associated Press article would bring a smile to their faces today. The member who is a criminal defense attorney will also get a kick out of this too!

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- When Yosuke the parrot flew out of his cage and got lost, he did exactly what he had been taught -- recite his name and address to a stranger willing to help.

Lost in Tokyo, Yosuke the parrot was able to give his name and address to get taken home.

Police rescued the African grey parrot two weeks ago from a neighbor's roof in the city of Nagareyama, near Tokyo. After spending a night at the station, he was transferred to a nearby veterinary hospital while police searched for clues, local policeman Shinjiro Uemura said.

He kept mum with the cops, but began chatting after a few days with the vet.

"I'm Mr. Yosuke Nakamura," the bird told the veterinarian, according to Uemura. The parrot also provided his full home address, down to the street number, and even entertained the hospital staff by singing songs.

"We checked the address, and what do you know, a Nakamura family really lived there. So we told them we've found Yosuke," Uemura said.

The Nakamura family told police they had been teaching the bird its name and address for about two years.

But Yosuke apparently wasn't keen on opening up to police officials.

"I tried to be friendly and talked to him, but he completely ignored me," Uemura said.

Cancer News

As far as we have come in the struggle to find a cure for cancer as well as improve treatment options, news of a cancer diagnosis still hits hard. So it is with news of Senator Ted Kennedy's brain cancer. The youngest Kennedy brother never had the political flash of his siblings John and Bobby but he became a master legislator in the Senate and a massive progressive political presence in his own right. The prognosis sounds grim. Prayers for him and his family.

Speaking of cancer news, I also noted this morning in the paper the passing of Hamilton Jordan, who died yesterday 22 years after his first diagnosis with cancer. Jordan was Chief of Staff for President Jimmy Carter and the primary strategist behind Carter's 1976 election victory.

I met Jordan at the White House in the spring of 1977 as part of a delegation of Pennsylvania college volunteer coordinators. He made an immediate positive impact on us as we were all there dressed in our Sunday best, ready to meet the President, when into the room walked Hamilton Jordan sporting bell-bottomed jeans, a tee-shirt, and sneakers. We cheered. The President was dressed more "presidential" when he arrived. That very same casual dress and demeanor led an aunt of mine who had just left the White House after working for Nixon and Ford to declare the end of civilization as we know it. She was absolutely repulsed by Jordan and his folksy ways, and none to happy that her nephew was a Carter supporter.

In any case, prayers for the family of Hamilton Jordan as well.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Power of One

When you are feeling like you are small and can't make a personal impact to make the world a better, more just, place...please remember this example of a homemaker in New Jersey.

We can each find some way to make a difference in bettering the lives of others--and ourselves at the same time!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Prayer for Today

From's prayer circle today...

Prayer for Life's Journey

May we know that it is the journey that is important. May we find our own truths and the divine within ourselves and in doing so help our fellow travelers to find their own. May we see each other through spirit and not through worldly eyes. Namaste

- Beliefnet member DivineJourney

Appropriate for many faiths

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Are You Reading, Are You Reading, Brethren, Brethren?

If you are reading this post by clicking the link from the Coffee and Conversation section of the liberalchurch newsletter, we thank you! (Well, actually we thank you even if you got here by visiting the blog without reading the church newsletter.)

But those who got here via the liberalchurch newsletter, please post the answer to our contest question by clicking the "post comment" icon below and typing the answer.

Disclaimer: There are no winners for this contest. (On the up side--that means there are no losers either!)

I need some space!

I am in--and have been in conversation with others who have been in--marriage counselling with their spouse. A few minutes ago I happened upon this article by chance--syncronicity one might say. I am still laughing as I am typing.

While I love camping and yurts and Buddhist principles as applied to help me live a better life, I just want to say to these two people, "Why don't you just get some computers and start a blog?!"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bragging on my Alma Mater

This may be seen as a cheap plug, but I have a few friends whose kids are considering college at this time so I post this as a point of information and help to them in guiding their kids. I just read in an article online that my alma mater, The College of Wooster, is adding a new major area of interdisciplinary study, neuroscience. I'm proud my school is leading the way in this important field. Oh, to be young again!

Struggling with Prayer

I have always struggled with the concept of prayer. When I was a child my prayer life was very simplistic--a conversation with God to help me or to ask for some request for myself or others. I have tried to move beyond that, but I have not had a whole lot of luck over the past 40 years.

About 12 years ago, Linda, who was a member of FormerChurch who had just completed a spiritual direction certification led a women's group 6 week class on what prayer practices were most compatable with your personality type. I found this class to be very helpful and mind-expanding--however it still didn't help someone who fights a routine become ritualistic in their prayer practice. I learned about Lecto Divina, Labrynths, prayer beads and rosaries, etc. But I never developed a routine.

I just took Beliefnet's quiz on prayer and personality. It was quick and fun, but didn't give me much insight or a refresher to those types of prayer that I was introduced to during that Prayer and Personality workshop series that Linda led.

I'm still a seeker when it comes to communicating with God. I suspect this is because I am still trying to define what God means to me--so without that understanding, it becomes hard to communicate!

President Leads by Example

Finally the President tells us how he has sacrificed during the war effort:
President Bush said yesterday that he gave up golfing in 2003 "in solidarity" with the families of soldiers who were dying in Iraq, concluding that it was "just not worth it anymore" to play the sport in a time of war.


This morning I was reading an article in my newsletter from the Sierra Club that Hawaii has passed a measure requiring water heaters to be solar powered. I'm excited that this state is leading the way in renewable energy initiatives through their state government. I pray that more states will follow their lead!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A More Perfect Union

Via Dunker Journal, a conservative COB blogger, I came upon this post by UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge. If you want to see a text-book example of proof-texting, cherry-picking a quote to prove a point while taking the quote completely out of context, this is it. Proof-texting is usually done by people who quote passages of the Bible out of context, but in this case Professor Bainbridge does it with a speech by Barack Obama. Here is the cherry-picked quote from the speech:
I believe in our ability to perfect this union because it’s the only reason I’m standing here today.
This is from a speech delivered by Obama after the most recent primaries where Obama won in North Carolina and Hillary won in Indiana.

Bainbridge uses this quote to launch into a commentary about the imperfectibility of humanity because of the biblical doctrine of "the fall." Nowhere is this more true, he says, than when we are talking about the appropriate role of government; government should not be in the business of perfecting humanity:
The Framers therefore created a system of government replete with checks and balances designed to ensure not that our nation was eventually perfected, but that it would survive the imperfections of its leaders and people...

Finally, all too many people who talk about perfecting a society strive to do so through the vehicle of government. Personally, I do not believe the government can make people, institutions, or societies better—let alone perfect. After all, government is itself comprised of fallen men and women whose imperfections are precisely the reason good government is shackled with checks and balances. Unconstrained, government attempts to create a “Great Society” destroy communities, disintegrate the little platoons that inculcate virtue, atrophy both man’s ability and desire to control their own destiny, and limit choice.
But wait a minute. What did Obama really say in the speech? Read it yourself. Here are a few addition quotes not mentioned by Bainbridge:
The people I've met in small towns and big cities across this country understand that government can't solve all our problems – and we don't expect it to. We believe in hard work. We believe in personal responsibility and self-reliance...

I trust the American people to realize that while we don't need big government, we do need a government that stands up for families who are being tricked out of their homes by Wall Street predators; a government that stands up for the middle-class by giving them a tax break; a government that ensures that no American will ever lose their life savings just because their child gets sick. Security and opportunity; compassion and prosperity aren't liberal values or conservative values – they're American values...
Does Obama see value in a larger role for government than the professor? Undoubtedly. But the professor completely ignores the more nuanced argument that Obama makes in this speech about the role of government. He finds a quote that suits his purposes and runs with it. Context be damned.

It is worse than that. Obama has been using the phrase "a more perfect union" in many of his speeches, particularly his race speech given in response to the Jeremiah Wright controversy. His use of the phrase in this latest speech - without the "more" - needs to be seen in the context of the overall narrative of his campaign where he has been using the phrase repeatedly. Obama is really not arguing that government can make us perfect.

And as the professor certainly knows Obama is simply drawing on the words from the preamble of the US Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,[1] promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Apparently the founders the professor refers to in his blog post seemed to think it was a pretty good choice of words to use to introduce the founding document of our government. Again, context is important.

I also want to take issue with this quote from his post:
As a Christian, Obama should be aware of the full implications of The Fall. He should know that government is not a vehicle for perfecting humanity or human institutions, but rather a vehicle for ensuring that the baser elements of human nature are restrained. If government does that, it has done all that we can expect of it.
First of all, the professor might want to consult Calvin or Zwingli about this sentiment. There have been plenty of Christian thinkers who took seriously the doctrine of "the fall" and who also had much more confidence than did someone like Luther in the appropriate role of government. There has never been one simple take-away about what "the fall" means for the role of government.

Secondly, the professor ignores an event in recent American history that proves that government can be a vehicle for perfecting ( as in moving towards a more perfect) humanity, the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960's (Civil Rights Bill of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965). Prior to the passage of these bills the practice of segregation was the law of the land in the south. Behind the practice of legal segregation was institutional racism, fear and hatred of blacks codified into law, justified on religious grounds, naturally.

The Civil Rights movement raised the consciousness of the nation about the immorality of racism and segregation, but the legislation signed into law by LBJ forced an end to segregation in the schools and at the ballot box. Of course, you can force a person to do something against their will without it having an effect on their heart and mind. And there is no doubt this was the case for some whites who remained, and remain to this day, racists. But can any serious argument be made that on the whole this legislation, forced unwillingly on people, led to a change of hearts for many. Government was most certainly the vehicle for bringing about a more perfect union. Thanks to this law many people stopped being racists; a change forced by law led to a willing change of heart. Just ask former Alabama Governor George Wallace (OK he's dead but he is exhibit A).

Finally, just a word about the awful attempts to create a "Great Society" mentioned by the professor that "destroy communities, disintegrate the little platoons that inculcate virtue, atrophy both man’s ability and desire to control their own destiny, and limit choice."

It is a common refrain of the right that the LBJ's Great Society was bad for America. But for whom? Ask the blacks who were enfranchised by the Voting Rights Act, which was part of the Great Society. Ask the millions of seniors who are guaranteed basic medical coverage under Medicare. Ask the millions of Americans who breathed cleaner air and drank cleaner water thanks to environmental legislation passed as part of Johnson's Great Society.

Was it perfect? Of course not. The War on Poverty did not end poverty. It created its own problems, including in some cases dependency on government. But as one of Johnson's aides, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., has countered, "from 1963 when Lyndon Johnson took office until 1970 as the impact of his Great Society programs were felt, the portion of Americans living below the poverty line dropped from 22.2 percent to 12.6 percent, the most dramatic decline over such a brief period in this century."

For many millions of American's the Great Society made it possible for them to more fully exercise their individual freedoms, by addressing one of the most pernicious aspects of "the fall," the human tendency to ignore the suffering of fellow humans or worse, to justify it on the grounds of racism or Social Darwinism. Government leveled the playing field.

No, government cannot perfect us (and I don't see anyone saying it can) but it most certainly can help us form a more perfect union.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Interracial Marriage Pioneer Dead

The Washington Post reports that Mildred Jeter Loving died on Friday. Loving's marriage and name is associated with a famous Supreme Court Case:
Today, according to the Census Bureau, there are 4.3 million interracial couples in the nation.

That wasn't true in 1958, when then-17-year-old Mildred Jeter and her childhood sweetheart, Richard Loving, a 23-year-old white construction worker,drove 90 miles north to marry in the District. Pretty and slender, she was known by her nickname, "Bean," and she was already pregnant with the first of their three children.

Loving later said she didn't realize that it was illegal for a black woman and a white man to wed, although her husband might have. "I think he thought [if] we were married, they couldn't bother us," she said.

Nevertheless, when they returned to Central Point, Va., between
Richmond and Spotsylvania, to set up their home, someone called the law.

Caroline County Sheriff R. Garnett Brooks rousted them from their bed at 2 a.m. in July 1958 and told them the District's marriage certificate was no good in Virginia. He took them to jail and charged them with unlawful cohabitation. They pleaded guilty, and Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon M. Bazile sentenced them to a year's imprisonment, to be suspended if they left the state for the next 25 years...

The Lovings moved to Washington in 1959 and lived with one of her cousins on Neale Street NE. They didn't like urban life and yearned to return to their rural roots.

Five years later, while visiting her mother, they were arrested again for traveling together. Loving, who had been following the 1964 civil rights legislation, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to find out if the new law would allow the couple to travel freely. The couple was referred to the American Civil Liberties Union and assigned an attorney, Bernard S. Cohen. "It was a terrible time in America," said Cohen, who was at Loving's home when she died. "Racism was ripe and this was the last de jure vestige of racism -- there was a lot of de facto racism, but this law was . . . the last on-the-books manifestation of slavery in America."

With fellow attorney Philip J. Hirschkop, Cohen took the case to the high court. Cohen said the couple didn't understand the importance of the case to anyone other than themselves. "When I told them I thought the case was going all the way to the Supreme Court, [Richard Loving's] jaw dropped. He didn't understand why I didn't go to Judge Bazile and tell him they loved each other and they should be allowed to live where they wished," said Cohen, now a retired state delegate from Alexandria.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared: "There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. . . . There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause."
It is worth noting what the circuit court judge said when he sentenced them to jail:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix," Bazile ruled.
Some day we will look back on the comments some Christians make today about what God has to say about the "evils" of gay marriage with the same sense of unbelief. They really said that?

You are not a Christian

I am used to hearing some version of this from conservative Christians who happen upon my blog or visit the website or community of Open Circle Church. (You can read a recent backhand swipe at Open Circle of this nature here from a conservative member of my denomination.) If you don't believe in a supernatural God or the virgin birth of Jesus or his bodily resurrection, you can't be a Christian.

But recently I have had the interesting experience of having atheists tell me that I am not a Christian because I don't believe in these things. On two different blogs (here and here) where I have been involved in discussions I (and others) have been told that I am not a Christian. I am not a religious person.

How ironic to hear this charge coming from this quarter. This is coming from people who are completely at home in the world explained to us by the scientific method, a world where new knowledge, new information, new thinking is continually brought to bear on what we know to be true at this moment, with a result that the truth itself is continually evolving. In every field of knowledge known to humanity, this is the accepted and expected way the world works.

Except, apparently, religion. They can't "have" a religious person doing the same thing. They can't imagine that there are Christians whose thinking about God, Jesus, and Christianity has evolved as new information is processed about our global village, or Biblical scholarship and Christian history, or the scientific worldview that we all share today.

"No, you can't do that." In religion, changing definitions is not allowed. Religious people are not allowed to think, and change their minds, and explain their symbols and their view of reality in new ways. You can almost feel the heads exploding as they come face to face with a piece of information that doesn't fit their stereotype of a religious person.

Prayer for Today

I liked this prayer from Beliefnet that came to me today and thought I'd share it...

Prayer for Friendship

You have blessed us, O God,
with the gift of friendship,
the bonding of persons
in a circle of love.
We thank you for such a blessing:
for friends who love us,
who share our sorrows,
who laugh with us in celebration,
who bear our pain,
who need us as we need them,
who weep as we weep,
who hold us when words fail,
and who give us the freedom
to be ourselves.
Bless our friends with health,
wholeness, life, and love.

- Vienna Cobb Anderson

Appropriate for many faiths
source: Adapted from "Prayers of Our Hearts" © 1991 Vienna Cobb Anderson. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Wonders of Technology

Last night my son sent me a text message asking me to edit a paper for him. He is a freshman at the University of MN. We used a program by Microsoft called SharedView that allows us both to see his paper at the same time; I could highlight sections that I thought needed rewording, or make spelling corrections myself to his paper; I could see the changes he was making; and we could chat while working. It requires a fast internet connection on both ends, but it is quite nifty.

It just doesn't seem all that long ago when I was typing college papers on an IBM Selectric.

Definition of Christianity

Via Exploring our Matrix, I read this great post by Theo Geek, commenting on another blog post here that says:
I think you’re right to define and emphasize justification by faith alone in Christ alone as the heart of the Christian gospel. That is without doubt or equivocation the fountainhead of everything else, and you don’t get to the rest of the “good news” unless you start there. In other words, to tell someone that it’s not really important to focus on the atonement, but rather that you can be a Christian just by being a “follower of Jesus” and by “living like Jesus” is not Christianity. To be a Christian is to believe in Jesus, repenting of sins and trusting for salvation in his atoning, reconciling, justifying, substitutionary death on the cross.
Theo Geek responds:
A message "to do good works here and now in the social and political realms" strikes me as an extremely accurate description of the content of Jesus' public ministry as depicted in the gospels. The gospels present Jesus' ministry as a campaign over social issues, period. The social gospel is certainly well-founded in the biblical accounts of Jesus' ministry. So, according to the above writer, the Christian gospel is apparently "in serious danger" of being reduced to, well, the gospels. Dang, we surely can't allow that, can we? Apparently not, because as our above writer continues, that is "no gospel at all". Excuse me while I go and cut the four gospels out of my bible. One wonders why Christ bothered preaching "no gospel at all" in the course of his three year ministry...

For me, the most amusing quote in the above is: '[the idea] that you can be a Christian just by being a “follower of Jesus” and by “living like Jesus” is not Christianity.' Excuse me while I go cut the rest of my New Testament out of my bible...
I would just add this Jesus passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
It would seem to me that these words of Jesus might serve as an adequate definition of Christianity. It isn't easy; but it is simple enough to understand.

Nesting Season

Robin in my backyard and eagle at a lake nearby.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Archdiocese Clamps Down on St. Joan of Arc

The conservative clampdown on liberal Catholic Churches continues. Just two months ago the archdiocese forced St. Stephen's to shut down a non-traditional worship service. Now it is St. Joan of Arc, one of the most thriving and progressive churches in the twin cities. Nick Coleman has the story in this morning's Star Tribune:

Dr. Steven Miles, a world-renowned scholar, author and anti-torture activist, has won many awards in his career on the faculty of the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics. But the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has bestowed an especially rare distinction on Miles, one that puts him in excellent company:

He just got Tutu'd.

As you recall, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu recently was barred from speaking at the University of St. Thomas. Now Miles, who has written extensively about torture practices authorized by the Bush administration and who has warned that America is becoming "a torturing society," has received the Tutu treatment.

Miles was invited months ago to talk about torture and its effects on society before masses at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis on Sunday. The invitation was issued by the peace and justice ministry at St. Joan's, which has a tradition of social justice work in the Twin Cities. In addition, Miles was scheduled to speak Tuesday to an adult education class at the church.

But last Wednesday, four days before Miles was scheduled to speak, the archdiocese intervened: St. Joan's was ordered not to let Miles talk before mass. Or Tuesday, either.

He was persona non grata.

According to a spokesman for the archdiocese, Miles was barred from St. Joan's because he supports abortion rights, a position "contrary to the teachings" of the church. Miles acknowledges that, but says he had no intention of speaking about abortion and that he sent the text of his talk on torture to the archdiocese.

"I wasn't asked about my position on abortion, euthanasia (he opposes it), divorce, papal infallibility or the Nicene Creed," he says. "The issue is whether I have something relevant to say to Catholics on torture."

On that, there is no doubt. Miles believes passionately that torture violates fundamental rights of life and dignity. And causes abortions.

Miles is a geriatrician. But he was a recent vocal critic of a state Department of Health effort to spread false data linking abortion to breast cancer. And 30 years ago when the local Catholic paper threatened to publish the names of doctors performing abortions in the twin cities, he wrote a letter to the editor of the diocese paper asking that his name be included since he supported a woman's right to choose abortion. Miles will instead be speaking at the Carondelet Center in St. Paul, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Friday, May 02, 2008

What Does It Mean to be a Progressive Christian?

My newsletter article for this week:

What does it mean to be a progressive Christian? I get asked this question often. The easiest way to answer the question is to point to the website of The Center for Progressive Christianity where 8 points are listed that give a broad definition of progressive Christianity.

Based on my experience over many years dialoguing with people who name themselves as progressive Christian, I have come to see that there are three distinct markers of progressive Christianity: social issues, biblical scholarship, and God-talk. All progressive Christians I know are progressive on social issues, most include biblical scholarship in their self-understanding, and some are thinking outside the traditional box about God.

For most if not all people who identify themselves as progressive Christians, the primary marker is a liberal attitude on social justice issues such as full inclusion of women and glbt folks in church and society. When they talk about being progressive Christians, at the very least this is what they are talking about. They want to be involved in churches and denominations where everyone is fully welcome into the family of God.

Thanks largely to the work of the scholars of the Jesus Seminar, a second marker of progressive Christianity is using the tools of modern biblical scholarship to read the Bible: learning to read the Bible in its cultural and historical setting, learning to see the different voices and theological perspectives of the biblical writers, trying to get behind these voices to find the "real" Jesus, and working out a faith perspective that is Jesus-centered but that also honors the fact that we don't share the same worldview of the biblical writers. It is possible, for example, to be a Christian and not believe literally in nature miracles and virgin births.

I might add a word here about how important the work of the Jesus Seminar has been to progressive Christian movement. They are not the only game in town in the world of progressive biblical scholarship; there are progressive scholars who take issue with many of the methods and conclusions reached by Jesus Seminar scholars. But what the Jesus Seminar scholars have done that has changed the landscape in Bible scholarship is that they have made it their mission to publish their work in a format that can be understood by everyone, not just academics trained in biblical languages. They sell their books in Barnes and Nobles. No longer is it necessary to rely solely on the church or the pastor for biblical expertise; you can read it yourself. This it what they have done that is revolutionary. People read Jesus Seminar scholars like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan and they wonder why they never hear any of this from the pulpit. They encourage their pastors to share what they know or they go searching for churches where they do hear it. Their work on this second marker has energized the progressive Christian movement.

A third marker is God-talk. This may be the most challenging marker for many who think of themselves as progressive Christians. My experience is that most know what they don't believe. They don't believe in the kind of supernatural God who responds to the prayers of a Jerry Falwell when he prays that hurricanes change course or that the city of San Francisco be punished for being gay-friendly. They don't believe that God created the world in six days. They are uncomfortable with the idea that God sent Jesus to sacrifice him on a cross so God could then raise Jesus from death. They struggle with the question of evil in the world: if God is all-powerful then why does he/she allow evil to happen.

But what then do we believe about God? If God isn't "Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light, inaccessible, hid from our eyes" (great hymn, terrible theology) who, what, and where is God? Some Christians are following the lead of thinkers like John Shelby Spong who talks about a non-theistic Christianity (which isn't the same thing as atheism); God is the metaphorical word we use when we talk about, say, the power of love that is so deep that we only ever taste a bit of it. The experience of God is real; God sitting up in heaven isn't. Others are dabbling in what is known as process theology which seeks to integrate God-thought with a scientific worldview. In process theology God is present in every moment in the unfolding evolution of our world, but not as an outside force who has the power to pop in and change anything at whim; rather God is the invitational force or energy that lovingly lures the world forward atom by atom, moment by moment.

In my own thinking and my own work at Open Circle, I am working at all three of these markers. But I realize that not everyone who participates in our community is where I am at. What is most important to me is not that we all agree on definitions but that we all agree on the importance of creating a safe space where it is OK to share what we know, admit what we don't know, think things through, ask questions, and figure out what we do believe. We have a tagline at Open Circle that speaks perfectly to this: Thinking Encouraged, Diversity Welcomed.