Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I will not obsess, I will not obsess, I will not obsess...

I've had a few friends confess that they are obsessed with the upcoming election in different ways. While others are obsessing about the economy and financial matters.

Therese Borchard has given those of us with OCD tendancies some helpful coping strategies on her Beliefnet post today.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Future of Newspapers?

The Christian Science Monitor is ending its daily:
After a century of continuous publication, The Christian Science Monitor will abandon its weekday print edition and appear online only, its publisher announced Tuesday. The cost-cutting measure makes The Monitor the first national newspaper to largely give up on print.
I read the sports and local section of the Star Tribune every day and then go online for everything else. We kept the paper coming while our kids were living at home because we wanted them to see us reading the paper and we wanted to talk with them about what we were all reading. They got the lesson, I think, about the importance of keeping up with current events, but it is unlikely they will go about it the same with their kids.

Things Eight-Year-Olds Should Not Be Doing

Christopher Bizilj died after losing control of a recoiling Uzi submachine gun as he fired it at a pumpkin.

At a gun show in Westfield, Massachusetts, with his father and a gun instructor looking on. A tragic reminder that there is nothing common about common sense.

RIP Tony Hillerman

Dead at 83 of pulmonary failure. Twenty-some years ago a friend gave me one of his novels to read and I began following the crime-solving of Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee. Hillerman's novels were hard to put down and he used his excellent writing skills to entertain and teach respect for native American cultures.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Desperate Times for the Christian Right

The Christian Right is getting desperate:
Terrorist strikes on four American cities. Russia rolling into Eastern Europe. Israel hit by a nuclear bomb. Gay marriage in every state. The end of the Boy Scouts.

All are plausible scenarios if Democrat Barack Obama is elected president, according to a new addition to the campaign conversation called "Letter from 2012 in Obama's America," produced by the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family Action.

Would you trust your family to these people?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hooked on Phonics

Making the rounds:

My five-year old students are learning to read. Yesterday one of them pointed at a picture in a zoo book and said, 'Look at this! It's a frickin' elephant!'

I took a deep breath, then asked...'What did you call it?'

'It's a frickin' elephant!
And so it does...

' A f r i c a n Elephant '

Hooked on phonics! Ain't it wonderful?

MN Congressional Delegation Victimized

Minnesota made national news yesterday after vandals spray-painted graffiti on the homes of four US Congressional Representatives and both US Senators. Fortunately, if anything can be considered fortunate about it, it was a bipartisan act of vandalism as both Dems and Reps were hit. Conservative columnist James Lileks deciphers the meaning of what the vandals wrote:
U R A CRIMINAL RESIGN SCUM PSALM 2." Let's decode this message together!

The vandal was referring to the Uranus Resistance Army, which has secretly fought interplanetary conquest for decades...

The notation Psalm 2 sent many people to the Bible, or Google -- if that's not redundant for the online generation -- expecting some damning verse with piercing pertinence: "And the Lord saith unto them, take not a tenth part of thy gold and use them to make a mark on the ears of swine, for both pork and earmarks are an abomination."

But it's not a particularly relevant passage. It means something to the miscreant, of course, but unless you're talking about the "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?" line, it doesn't make an impression. Because the heathen are always raging. Especially if we define "heathen" as the people with whom we disagree.
Uranus Resistance Army sounds about right to me.

Why McCain Chose Palin

Kathleen Parker writes for National Review, William Buckley's creation. She has already taken heat from the NRO crowd for saying that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be a Vice President. Today she tells us why it was McCain didn't see this and chose her as his running mate:
Finally, writer Robert Draper closed the file on the Sarah Palin mystery with a devastating article in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine: ‘The Making (and Remaking) of McCain.’

McCain didn't know her. He didn't vet her. His campaign team had barely an impression. In a bar one night, Draper asked one of McCain's senior advisers: ‘Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?’

The adviser thought a moment and replied: ‘No, I don't know.’

Blame the sycamore tree.

McCain had met Palin only once — in February, at the governor's convention in Washington, D.C. — before the day he selected her as his running mate. The second time was at his Sedona, Ariz., ranch on Aug. 28, just four days before the GOP convention.

As Draper tells it, McCain took Palin to his favorite coffee-drinking spot down by a creek and a sycamore tree. They talked for more than an hour, and, as Napoleon whispered to Josephine, ‘Voila’

One does not have to be a psychoanalyst to reckon that McCain was smitten. By no means am I suggesting anything untoward between McCain and his running mate. Palin is a governor, after all. She does have an executive resume, if a thin one. And she's a natural politician who connects with people.

But there can be no denying that McCain's selection of her over others far more qualified — and his mind-boggling lack of attention to details that matter — suggests other factors at work. His judgment may have been clouded by ... what?

Science provides clues. A study in Canada, published in New Scientist in 2003, found that pretty women foil men's ability to assess the future...

It is entirely possible that no one could have beaten the political force known as Barack Obama — under any circumstances. And though it isn't over yet, it seems clear that McCain made a tragic, if familiar, error under that sycamore tree. Will he join the pantheon of men who, intoxicated by a woman's power, made the wrong call?

Had Antony not fallen for Cleopatra, Octavian might not have captured the Roman Empire. Had Bill resisted Monica, Al Gore may have become president and Hillary might be today's Democratic nominee.
It's an old, old story.

Friday with Sampson and Sadie

I haven't posted cat pictures for awhile, so here are a couple. One reminds us of what they spend most of their time doing. The other reminds us of how it is that they made their way into our homes in the first place.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Another Republican for Obama

Brad DeLong making a prediction in light of former Bush White House Press Secretary Scott McLellan's endorsement of Obama, joining the many Republicans who are jumping ship for this election:

AP--October 24, 2008: WASHINGTON: "I am supporting Barack Obama," said Vice President Richard Cheney. "I have been the worst vice president in American history, and my running mate has been the worst president in American history. So I know a lack of quality when I see it."

"For the past five years," Mr. Cheney went on, "John McCain has clung to me and Mr. Bush like a leech--in his eyes, we could do no wrong. That's dishonest. That's dishonorable. So this November 4 I and my entire family will be voting for Barack Obama."

"Now if you will excuse me, I have to go see W. and convince him to do the same..."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What This Election Means

For black Americans:
For me the most moving moment came when the family in front of me, comprising probably 4 generations of voters (including an 18 year old girl voting for her first time and a 90-something hunched-over grandmother), got their turn to vote. When the old woman left the voting booth she made it about halfway to the door before collapsing in a nearby chair, where she began weeping uncontrollably. When we rushed over to help we realized that she wasn't in trouble at all but she had not truly believed, until she left the booth, that she would ever live long enough to cast a vote for an African-American for president.
Early voting in Indiana.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Here's a great new tune/video that is making the rounds on the internet via You-Tube.

Reading the English subtitles while watching the video is fun, but even without knowing the English translation, it's a great song!

Where Can Muslims Buy Homes And Pay No Interest?

From Christians. Via GetReligion, more and more Muslims are turning to Habitat for Humanity to buy homes because they can fulfill their religious obligation to pay no interest on their loans. And now they are getting involved with Habitat to help build houses:

The 54-year-old Eritrean immigrant with five children thought his only option was to save enough money to purchase a home outright, with cash earned from his job at a security company.

Then he heard about Habitat for Humanity. For some Muslim immigrants like Nurhussien, the Christian homebuilding charity that offers zero-interest loans has become a real godsend.

"The way Habitat deals fits exactly to our requirements," said Nurhussien, who bought a home earlier this year from the northern Virginia chapter of the group. "It's not free. It is no interest. It's good for me and whoever has the same belief."

In northern Virginia, a majority of 12 families who bought condominiums at the local Habitat's latest development, including Nurhussien, are Muslim. In Nashville, local Habitat executive director Chris McCarthy said the city's large population of Muslim Kurdish immigrants has embraced the nonprofit. Over 10 percent of the group's mortgage holders are Kurdish.

And Muslim leaders are responding by offering labor to build homes, financial support and more to Habitat. Since 1976, the nonprofit has offered homes based on people's need, their ability to pay and their willingness to help build the houses and attend classes on topics such as budgeting.

A hopeful story about Muslim-Christian relations.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bush the Radical

There are 94 days left in the Bush Administration. I remember thinking - 8 long years ago - that if Bush won it would likely be a reprise of his father's administration, conservative and not agreeable with my political views but something we could live with. Was I wrong.

There has been nothing conservative about Bush. Whether you are talking about domestic policy or foreign policy or just temperament, Bush has been a radical. He has willfully ignored and flaunted precedent and law at every turn - on going to war, torture, firing US attorneys, signing statements, and more. Even his recent response to our economic crisis is radical, although in this case it seems like the right thing to do.

You might think he would be a bit chastened by the huge mess he has left us with. But no, he is still at it. This time he is ignoring a law he doesn't like that proscribes discrimination by religious groups that accept government money. Once again we have a legal memorandum from the Justice Department that says "screw the law":
In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.

The statutes for some grant programs do not impose antidiscrimination conditions on their financing, and the administration had previously allowed such programs to give taxpayer money to groups that hire only people of a particular religion.

But the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to antidiscrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate.

The document signed off on a $1.5 million grant to World Vision, a group that hires only Christians, for salaries of staff members running a program that helps “at-risk youth” avoid gangs. The grant was from a Justice Department program created by a statute that forbids discriminatory hiring for the positions it is financing.
World Vision does a lot of good work. But if they want to feed at the government trough they should have to follow the law of the land and open up their hiring to non-Christians. But what does the law mean to this administration?

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Battle of the Church Signs

You have to click on it to enlarge it.

No Comment Department

U.S. Representative Tim Mahoney (Dem., FL) is in the midst of a tough re-election fight and is in trouble for having an extra-marital affair. He was asked how many affairs he has had. This is the kind of answer that doesn't get you re-elected:
"You're asking me over a lifetime? I'm just saying I've been unfaithful and I'm sorry for that," he said.

Our Vast Universe

For eight years astronomer Dan Long and his colleagues have been mapping the universe in the most comprehensive effort of its kind to date. The Sloan survey, as it is called, has brought order to the universe in terms of understanding what is out there and where it is. The numbers boggle the mind:
In its five terabytes of data are 217 million individual objects, including 800,000 galaxies (which themselves contain billions of stars and planets) and 100,000 quasars, objects once so rare and strange that they weren't detected until 1962.
What have they learned about the universe that they didn't already know? Apparently not much:

Despite all the Sloan discoveries, none has challenged the prevailing theories about how the universe got started and how it operates today, he said. Could it be that humankind actually understands the structure of the universe? Or could all the labor and thought behind Sloan still be too primitive to pierce the real mysteries of the cosmos?

The questions haunt him. "We discovered lots of things, but I don't think we found much that we didn't expect," he said. "I'm not sure what that says."

Somehow I doubt that we understand very much yet.

(Photo: X-ray (left) and Optical (right) Images of Veiled Black Hole. The left hand panel shows the Chandra X-ray Observatory image of a powerful point-like source of X rays. The Hubble Space Telescope image (right panel) shows the spiral galaxy with which the X-ray source is associated. The X-ray source is located at the center of the galaxy, and has a deficit of low energy X rays, consistent with absorption by a thick cloud of gas. The combination of powerful X-ray emission, absorption of low energy X-rays, and the relatively normal optical appearance of the galaxy suggests that the source is a rare type of black hole called a Type 2 quasar.)

The Financial Rescue Plan from A to G

Brad DeLong has a very succinct and understandable description in The Guardian of the financial rescue plan as it has unfolded thus far. We are now at Plan F:

It was time for Plan F. If the prospect of buying up mortgage-backed securities did not boost asset prices and bring banks enough investment profits to create confidence that they were not all going bankrupt next month, governments could invest public money in the banks whether they liked it or not, thus making them so well-capitalised that their failure would be inconceivable.

The American left - the Dean Bakers, the Paul Krugmans, the Doug Elmendorfs - had been calling for Plan F for a month. With the failure of Plan E's passage to move markets, monetary economists from Chicago to Berkeley to Cambridge united in their demand for Plan F. Gordon Brown and Alasdair Darling in Britain led the way, closely followed by the rest of Europe, thus forcing the hand of Paulson, who was ideologically opposed. He had not moved into 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue thinking that he would one day wake up to find himself part owner of and living in sin with a whole harem of banks addicted to the hard stuff that are derivatives built from mortgage-backed securities.

DeLong thinks there is a good chance F will work, but if not there is Plan G:
If Plan F fails, we move to Plan G: we pull the Keynesian fire alarm and begin an enormous government infrastructure building programme in the whole North Atlantic to keep away depression.
Krugman already thinks we are going to need it.

Beer is Proof that God Loves Us and Wants Us to be Happy

Courtesy of a friend I have a tee-shirt with these wise words of Ben Franklin. Of course I have also seen the same saying with wine instead of beer which just proves that Ben covered all the bases. In any case via a GetReligion article about beer and beer-brewing monks I found the delightful website of the Lost Abbey Brewery in San Marcos, CA. Very amusing. I will have to see if I can find their beer. Here are their ten commandments:
1. The most imaginative beers are our crusade
2. We believe we are all in this together
3. We strive for honesty and integrity in our lives like you
4. Fresh beer is great, aged beer is better
5. Now that you have found us help us spread the message
6. There is good and evil in the world - our beers are good
7. Passion isn't something you can buy at the corner store
8. We believe an inspired life is worth living
9. Life is about choices, The Lost Abbey is a great choice
10. We are not perfect, but no one is

In Defense of McCain

Andrew Sullivan posted this letter from a reader, talking about McCain's obvious anger with Obama:

McCain was so angry Wednesday night, he looked unhinged at times.

The question is: Why? Clearly, this is nothing new. But last night was nearly over the top. What is seething down underneath there?

You know I'm all for Freudian, Shakespearean and Jungian analysis (with a large dash of Orwell thrown in for good measure) - and god knows McCain has plenty to analyze - but I woke up this morning with this simple thought:

McCain is just indignant. To his mind, Obama has given him his personal word on several matters - public financing, town hall meetings, and of course the infamous lobbying reform bill - and in each case, Obama has broken his word. His personal word. His man-to-man word. Or so McCain sees it.

To McCain, Obama has proven himself to be nothing more than a slick, "eloquent" liar, a man of little or no character, a snake-oil salesman. McCain's problem is that in the debate context, he can't just say out loud what he really thinks, or rather, what he really feels - he has to bottle it up, and that's why he looks ready to blow. He is. Read his 2006 letter to Obama over Barack's withdrawal from the lobbying reform bill, below. McCain is livid - he cannot accept what he understands as personal "betrayal". And to his mind, Obama has done this to him over and over again, as I noted.

Now, we might look at this syndrome, and feel reinforced in our opinion that McCain is far too volcanic, far too temperamental, far too emotionally immature to sit in the Oval Office. At least, I do. But as with all things, there's almost always a grain of truth on both sides, and given that this country, left and right, has a very bad habit of choosing to deny the shadow side of it's own actions, and ignore the clay feet of it's chosen heroes, I have to ask myself: to what extent is there some grain of truth in McCain's indignation? Maybe in the end I'll conclude that it all says much more about McCain than it does about Obama - but I will remain a liberal of doubt, and watch Obama carefully. However much I admire him, however much I hope from him, he gets no free passes - and the McCain asterisk goes in the book. That is the only way to keep this process honest.

My guess is that Obama has a cogent response ready for all of this. Nevertheless it is worth keeping in mind the "shadow side" of Obama. He, like all of us, has one.

Our Challenging Times

Newsletter article this week:

President Ronald Reagan was fond of saying that the ten most frightening words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you." My how things have changed. In the last few weeks we have witnessed the largest intervention of the government into the markets since the Great Depression. Brought to us by a Republican administration. Welcomed by Wall Street as well as main street. I think it is safe to say that we are in for some hard times ahead.

It remains to be seen how bad things are going to get but I think it is safe to say that everyone of us is going to feel the effects of this downturn in someway or another. We may have job losses, pay cuts, kids or parents looking to us for help, less freedom to do what have taken for granted, etc.

I think it is very important for us to be intentional about staying connected. One of the worst things that can happen when times get hard is that we allow our fears and problems to isolate us. We are embarrassed or paralyzed by fear. Talk to your friends. Check in on one another. I think we will need to be think about ways we can be more intentional as a faith community about staying in touch.

We may all be living with less for awhile. While this may feel like a burden it also presents us with opportunities to re-examine priorities and to get creative about making do with what we have. We had a group looking at simple living last year; it might be good to bring this back and create some "simplicity circles." We might also talk about ideas for food preparation and holiday preparations where less is more.

This Sunday as we continue our stewardship emphasis for the fall I am going to be reflecting on Matthew 6:25-34. This is a passage that on its surface sounds something like a "don't worry be happy" message. But in the context of the larger message of Jesus it speaks to learning to have an internal attitude of trust and gratitude and an external program of caring and justice-making. I think it is a timely message.

I hope that we will use this moment of economic challenge to deepen our faith and our community. I welcome your suggestions for how we can do this. If you have a response or idea feel free to post it here in comments.

Letterman and McCain

David Letterman has been hammering John McCain repeatedly on his late night show after McCain canceled an appearance at the last minute and lied about the reason for the cancellation. Last night was to be the kiss and make-up moment as McCain made an appearance on the show and essentially apologized for canceling. But Letterman wasn't quite ready to make nice:
Questioning the premise of McCain's relentless guilt-by-association attacks, Letterman noted that people in public life can't necessarily be held accountable for everyone they've interacted with. When McCain protested a bit, Letterman asked two highly relevant questions: "Did you not have a relationship with Gordon Liddy?" and "Did you attend a fundraiser at his house?" McCain, looking confused, conceded to having "met" Liddy. After a commercial break, McCain added, "I know Gordon Liddy. He paid his debt, he went to prison.... I'm not in any was embarrassed to know Gordon Liddy."
Liddy is a convicted felon and unrepentent about his days as a dirty trickster for Richard Nixon. I am guessing the evening didn't quite go the way McCain had hoped it would.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Imagine No Religion

It's easy if you try. Especially when you read this kind of news:
The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.
GetReligion reports that Hindus have complained to the NYTimes for their reporting on this while not reporting on Christian violence against Hindus. A plague on both their houses.

Taxing the Rich

This is a reply to Steve at Undeception, where we have been having a conversation about the merits of taxing the rich. I am posting it here because I wanted to include this graph that I can't include on his comment section.

Steve, via Kevin Drum, here is a WSJ graph showing the growing gap between GDP growth and median wages over the last 8 years. Contrary to your assertion about capitalism:
What it does promise is a return commensurate with our efforts and ingenuity - and it does this without exception (the proverbial “win-win” transaction) unless the state corners the worker in an alley and takes a cut of his earnings.
It isn't the state that has been artificially holding down middle class wages through any regressive tax policy, it's the magical market forces. Some of it is the growing cost of healthcare. Much is likely the effect of trade and technology. In effect the global economy - or more directly corporations looking either the cheapest or most highly skilled labor - is yanking people around and workers can't keep up. They don't live in the right place or they don't have the right education. It is easy to say that if they just made enough effort and had enough ingenuity this wouldn't be happening but you are essentially talking about the whole middle class in America here, or what used to be the middle class.

Meanwhile, during the last decade the income of the top 1% of Americans has seen their incomes continue to rise virtually unchecked. Are they working harder? Are they more ingenious. Maybe.

But my point is that government has a role here to use tax policy as a means of leveling the playing field. The rich should be paying more - even if we had a flat tax they would be paying more in absolute terms. But I have no problem with setting marginal tax rates higher for the rich and using that money to subsidize healthcare for the poor and/or make strategic investments in infrastructure, technology, and training to create opportunities for jobs here. I am not talking about taking away land and moving people onto collectives or even taxing the rich at rates that shut down the incentive to invest. Everyone making money pays taxes. The rich can and should pay their fair share.

You say:
When businesses grow, jobs are created, and wealth is distributed in a way that is just: by everyone’s explicit choice.
You seem to be forgetting about that that human nature you were talking about in your initial reply to James McGrath. There is never anything "just" about the way wealth is distributed. For one thing, people are born into impoverished areas where choices made by others long before they were born make their "shake" at the American dream something less than fair. On the other hand lots of people are born wealthy and are given every advantage to make a go of it. Then there are those who cheat - think Enron since they happened to get caught. Then there is the government which, often at the behest of wealthy corporations and individuals, subsidizes and protects farms and industries and creates unfair and unjust systems. The list of the ways wealth is not distributed in a just way is long, very long.

Like it or not I think we are in for an extended period of extensive government involvement and investment in the free market. My hope is that the government will use its moment of extra influence to take care of a few problems that are plaguing our economy and making the country more unjust; healthcare in particular. We are already taking care of seniors and veterans and certain Senators who extol the benefits of a free market healthcare system even though they have lived their entire adult lives being taken care of by the government. The time has come to do with healthcare what Roosevelt did with Social Security. I think it is the Christian thing to do!

Joe the Plumber

Joe is probably going to be sorry for his brief moment of fame. The city of Toledo requires plumbers and contractors to be licensed and he isn't. And apparently he owes back taxes.

Progressive Christian Politics

Via the blog links in Exploring Our Matrix I have gotten myself into a discussion about whether it is Christian to be "stealing" from the rich to take care of the poor.

OK to be Liberal Again

Joe Klein at Swampland:
We have had 30 years of class warfare, in which the wealthy strip-mined the middle class. The wealth has been "spread" upward. The era when Democrats could only elect Presidents from the south, who essentially promised to take the harsh edge off of conservatism, is over. Barack Obama is the most unapologetic advocate of government activism since Lyndon Johnson--which is not to say that his brand of activism will be the same as Johnson's (we've learned a lot about the perils of bureacracy and the value of market incentives since then)--and he seems to be giving the public exactly what it wants this year. Who knows? Maybe even the word "liberal" can now be uttered in mixed company again.
What is happening on the world economic front is almost like a Nixon going-to-China moment. If a Democrat were in the White House while this economic tsunami was washing over us and he or she responded by bailing out corporations and nationalizing banks with enormous infusions of government money, conservatives would be apoplectic talking about socialism and communism. But it is a Republican administration that has taken us down this game-changing road. Which is fitting because it is conservative laissez-faire economic policies that has brought on this mess. The problem, to be clear, isn't capitalism, it's un-regulated capitalism.

In any case, the game has changed. It is plain for all the world to see that the government has an essential role to play in the economic marketplace. It is plain to see that big government is necessary. And we are likely to see more government "intrusion" in the markets and on mainstreet during the next decade, much as we saw during the Great Depression when government spending ramped up significantly and government regulation of the markets increased greatly.

It is going to be much less difficult to make the argument that some kind of government-backed form of universal healthcare is the best solution to the healthcare mess. It is going to be much easier to say "in mixed company" I Am A Liberal.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

100 Years From Now

Yesterday I speculated about what 100 years of advances in evolutionary science would bring us. Today I see this book review of Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku:

In this highly readable and exciting work, Kaku builds a case for achieving Arthur C. Clarke’s 3rd law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Kaku shows how the terrain of the impossible, typically found only in science-fiction, is being systematically conquered by science. Force-fields, teleportation, robots, time-travel, and starships are dealt with seriously and on a time continuum: how long until we achieve these. By classifying these various “fantastical” ideas into three different ranges of time, Kaku argues for when we’ll see them.

Class 1 Impossibilities: technology that is not possible today but within the realm of physics. These are possible within a century or two. In this class, Kaku lists force-fields, invisibility, phasers and death-stars, teleportation, telepathy, psychokinesis, robots, ETs and UFOs, starships, antimatter and anti-universes.

Class 2 Impossibilities: Technology that lies on the cusp of our knowledge of physics. These are possible perhaps within millennia or millions of years. In this class, we find faster than light travel, time-travel, and parallel universes.

Class 3 Impossibilities: Technology that violates known physical laws. Here we find perpetual-motion machines and precognition. That’s it, only two.

Are you thinking what I am thinking?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Enlightened Burnsville - NOT!

I was out of town this weekend and missed the big McCain rally in Lakeville, just down the road from my home. So I missed the sorry exchange between McCain volunteer Gayle Quinnell and McCain when she apparently tried to label Obama as a Muslim terrorist and McCain grabbed the microphone from her. Good for him for not putting up with this kind of bigotry.

I just read this followup between Quinnell and several correspondents:
Gayle Quinnell: I went to the library in Shakopee and I got lots of ... three pages of information about Obama.

Adam Aigner of NBC News: And what kind of information did you get?

Quinnell: I got to tell you, you call me. It's a long story. I'm afraid of what's going to happen to this country.

Aigner: What would you think would happen? Do you think it would become Muslim country and what would that mean?

Quinnell: It would be bad

Aigner: So even though Senator McCain told you that he didn't feel that was true and you ought to be more respectful, you still fear that?

Quinnell: I still do. Yeah. I'm not alone. I go to Burnsville, the main Republican headquarters and I do a lot of work over there. A lot of sending out mail and talking to people. And all the people agree with what I'm saying to you about Obama.

Aigner :Then do you feel there are a lot of volunteers for McCain who feel that way?

Quinnell: Yes. A lot of them. In fact I got a letter from another woman that goes over there to Burnsville and she sent me more things about Obama.

Aigner: What was on the letter?

Quinnell: Oh all kinds of bad things about him and how, I mean I have to tell you to call me. It's all bad.

Reporter: Are a lot of people getting this letter and are a lot of people believeing it and is that turning a lot of votes or support for McCain?

Quinnell: Yeah I sent out 400 letters. I went to Kinkos and I got them all printed out. And I sent about 400 letters. I went in the telephone book and sent them out to people. So they can decide if they would want Obama.
When I moved to Burnsville 16 years ago this was the kind of sentiment I encountered frequently. I can't tell you how shocked I was to be in what I thought was a very progressive state and discover in the south metro of the Twin Cities that it was overwhelmingly conservative and often very narrow minded. I attended a DFL (Democratic Farm Labor party - MN's version of Democrats) Senate District meeting shortly after I moved and there were 5 in attendance. Through an elementary school friendship of my daughter I became aquainted with our local state senator who is know a judge and he encouraged me to become involved with Republicans because he said it was really the only game in town. I resisted and am happy to report that the tide has turned here and we are now electing Democrats to state office from my area. But apparently Burnsville remains a center for the forces of darkness in MN.

The End of Evolution?

Albert Mohler wonders if we aren't at the "end of evolution." Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a widely quoted voice within the Christian right. In a recent post he takes off on a tangent ride over a news report about the British geneticist Steven Jones who made international headlines by wondering out loud if human evolution hasn't been stalled. You can read more about Jones and his views over at Scienceblogs here.

Mohler sandwiches this report between a commentary on evolution including these two paragraphs:
The evolutionist is locked into an intellectual box from which there is no rescue. Evolutionary theory is naturalistic by necessity -- everything must be explained in purely naturalistic terms. Only nature can explain nature, and there is no other source of meaning or truth. Thus, in the end the theory of evolution -- and the theory of evolution alone -- must explain everything about humanity.

Evolutionary theory cannot possibly explain the totality of human experience, much less the reality of human origins. Evolutionists -- if consistent -- believe that every human experience, every emotion, every physical attribute, every hope, and every fear is simply a feature developed by means of natural selection.
I think it is worth pointing out first that the science of evolution is not unique among the sciences in looking to nature, and nature alone, to explain nature. Every science does this. In fact this is the whole point - to understand and explain the workings of nature by studying nature. As opposed to looking to the heavens or scriptures or holy men or tea leaves for the answers. I suspect Mohler takes full advantage of the benefits of this practice in his daily life: he checks the weather forecast before going out or traveling, he takes his kids to the doctor if they are sick, he drives a car and flies in a plane. The benefits brought to us by scientists studying nature are many.

Most Christians are long past the point of arguing about whether they ought to be taking their kids to the doctor when they are ill - as opposed to just praying for their healing. But many are still fighting a rear-guard action when it comes to the sciences that seem to challenge the biblical teachings regarding the beginnings of life on earth and humanity's place on the earth. Evolution is one of those lightning-rod sciences. Some see the story of human evolution on the planet over several hundred thousand years as a threat to their literal reading of human beginnings according to the Bible. Others worry that evolution with its "selfish genes" leaves no room for spirituality or beauty or meaning in life.

Mohler likely takes issue with evolution on both those grounds, but he accuses it in this piece of being unable to fully explain the "totality of human experience." I have a couple of thoughts about this.

One is that Christian reflection on the human experience has been going on for roughly 2000 years. That reflection, ancient as it is, was built on the scaffolding of earlier work by Jewish and pagan writers whose work goes back several millennium before the time of Jesus. It is fair to say Christianity has had a huge head start over evolutionary science in thinking about and explaining the workings and meaning of the human experience.

It is also fair to say that some of that ancient scaffolding is looking pretty weak today. At least since 1608 when Galileo trained his telescope on the night sky and saw that the night lights were not fixed to the firmament nor heavenly spirits but stars like our sun and planets like our earth, the biblical scaffolding that explained the workings of our universe has been crumbling. And the church has been resisting or rethinking every doctrine and article of faith built on that scaffolding ever since. Virtually every new discovery in science weakens or breaks some piece of the ancient scaffolding and forces a decision. Do we resist or re-think?

Among the sciences, evolutionary theory is only in its infancy. Darwin published his writings in the mid-1800's. Most early work in evolutionary theory was based on the kind of careful observations that Darwin did with his finches, and the piecing together of the fossil record via archeological discoveries. But it is only in recent decades that advances in a whole range of fields from genetics to brain science to radio-carbon dating and earth sciences has made possible significant strides in closing the "missing links" in evolutionary theory. Our knowledge of evolution is expanding exponentially. Imagine what another 100 years of scientific research and reflection is going to bring us. Imagine what evolutionary theory is going to look like in 2000 years. Does anyone seriously believe that evolutionary theory won't be able to explain "human experience, every emotion, every physical attribute, every hope, and every fear" as a product of evolution?

I think it is naive in the extreme to think that science is going to quit doing what science does best: understand and explain the world in terms of nature. I think it is also naive to believe that "evolutionists" won't eventually succeed in giving us an incredibly rich and complete picture of the evolutionary makeup of our universe including us. There will be no "need" to look outside of nature to understand how we got here and why we do the things we do.

Evolutionary theory and its related disciplines will almost certainly be able to explain why it is that our "selfish genes" evolved in such a way that we care about beauty and spirituality and each other. But it won't - apart from some kind of genetic engineering - make us be able to care about beauty and spirituality and each other.

This is where our scriptures with their ancient reflections on meaning and morality play their part. They are of no use to us as scientific manuals. But they do have something to say about beauty and spirituality and morality. They are hardly perfect in this area. They got some things wrong here too. Or it would be better to say that you can see within them an ongoing reflection around these issues and an evolution in thinking about them. For Christians this evolution is captured succinctly in Jesus' sayings "You have heard that it was said, but I say to you..."

As Christians we should welcome the findings of evolution and earth sciences and cosmology. There can be absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to know everything about us that can be known. Learning sits at the very center of deep spirituality. We once learned it "this way" (you have heard that it was said), but now we know differently (but I say to you). This is not to say that there aren't uses and misuses of scientific knowledge that shouldn't be challenged.

I think we should also recognize the likely reality that more and more people are going to be looking for a spirituality - a Christianity - that is completely at home in the natural world. Supernatural, other-worldly understandings of God and Jesus aren't going to cut it. Christians like Mohler will be fighting a rear-guard action for a long time. Christians and Muslims in many parts of the world are still living very much within a pre-scientific frame of mind. It is going to take time.

But going forward I believe progressive Christian communities and fellow-travelers within other faith traditions need to concentrate our efforts on what it means to have and create abundant life here on this planet. It begins with alleviating suffering and taking much better care of the planet. It includes creating more just and peaceful families and communities and countries. It also involves a flourishing of the kind of life that evolution has made it possible for us to see as valuable: music, arts, dance, poetry, etc.

Meaning and beauty and the moral life can all be found here in all their fullness. This is not a threatening piece of knowledge. It is a challenging piece of knowledge for us to make happen.

A Catholic Bishop for Obama

There is more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion. From the National Catholic Reporter:

While American bishops are usually circumspect about declaring their electoral preferences, at least one African prelate currently attending the Synod of Bishops in Rome feels no such scruples. Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, said today he would “obviously” vote for Barak Obama if he could cast a ballot on Nov. 4.

Known as a strong advocate for social justice, Onaiyekan said Obama’s pro-choice record wouldn’t stop him from voting for the Democrat.

“The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life,” Onaiyekan said in an interview with NCR. “You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.”

A past president of the African bishops’ conference, Onaiyekan is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa. During the synod, he was tapped to deliver a continental report on behalf of the African bishops.

Onaiyekan said the election of an African-American president would have positive repercussions for America’s image in the developing world.

“It would mean that for the first time, we would begin to think that the Americans are really serious in the things they say, about freedom, equality, and all that,” he said. “For a long time, we’ve been feeling that you don’t really mean it, that they’re just words.”

Onaiyekan said he’s aware that many American Catholics have reservations about Obama because of his stand on abortion, but he looks at it differently.

“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.

“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.

“It’s a whole package, and you never get a politician who will please you in everything,” he said. “You always have to pick and choose.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Today is a holiday in America. Columbus Day was declared a holiday to mark the date when Christopher Columbus "discovered" America. Of course we all know that this isn't politically correct, because there were Americans native to this land long before Columbus arrived in 1492, but nonetheless, we still observe it.

Today at LiberalChurch, member Paul Larson delivered a message about "Discovery". He asked us to think back to our first "discoveries" as children about our parents, family, and friends. He asked us to recall as some of our vivid childhood memories and then asked us to determine what it was we discovered about ourselves and those around us. He suggested that perhaps these discoveries are the things that keep the memories vibrant in our minds today after many years. Paul reflected on three distinct memories from his childhood and explained what he learned from each of these experiences as a child to the 50+ in attendance for worship this morning.

At the end of the service the 2009 Stewardship Campaign: Living More Simply, Living More Deeply, In God's Love, was launched with the viewing of a new video by Vicky Goplin and the distribution of the Stewardship Folders which will circulate among our households over the next 3 weeks.

Following worship, a group of 5-6 people worked outside to chip/shread dead tree material from summer storms. Vicky Goplin lead a group of over 12 adults and children in a game/song where we passed cups around and answered questions. Vicky explained to the group gathered the Bible had been written in Greek and Hebrew and that certain words used in the Bible at the time they were written have come to mean very different things today. She gave us the example of obey and honor. We talked about the well known passage where children are instructed to "honor their father and mother". To end the lesson we did an exercise where we broke into 2 groups with adults in one group and children in the other and then shared our responses with each other to see if we could discover new things about each other.

Happy October 12, 2008! Celebrate the day that we have each been given!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not Going to the Back of the Bus

Donna Brazile isn't. This morning, the New Yorker video from "If I Were Running This Campaign," the Saturday morning panel featuring NY'er staff writer/moderator Jeffrey Toobin along with some of his CNN colleagues, including Ed Rollins, Alex Castellanos, and Donna Brazile. As the 80-minute discussion wound down, Toobin raised the specter of race in the campaign, and Brazile, 48, let loose with an impassioned exhortation. It was inspiring and moving. Video here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

History According to the Bible

I spend a fair amount of time in Sunday messages putting scriptures in their historical context. One of my standard explanations regarding the reading of the Bible as history is that you have to judge the writers of scripture within the context of what passed for the writing of history in their day. There was no historical critical method then; it was not unusual for writers to write "lives" in the manner of the gospels that were a mix of theology and history, with theology given priority over history; it was not unheard of for writers to write in the name of others (pseudepigraphy) as some of the writers of the NT epistles did; in the pre-scientific world it was not uncommon to resort to miraculous explanations, etc.

Apparently this is not quite true. Via April DeConick I read this article by NT scholar Gerd Ludemann on the historical accuracy of Luke-Acts,. Luke-Acts is a prime example of the kind of biblical writing that needs explaining because there is a plain-for-all-to-see theological agenda in this two-part history of the early Christian movement. And there are obvious discrepancies between Luke and the other gospels and between what Acts says about Paul and what Paul says about Paul. Luke clearly changes his telling of the early Christian story to fit his theological agenda.

But didn't everyone do this back then? Here is Ludemann:
A number of Greek and Roman historians engaged in an ongoing discourse about historical truth, including the issues of intellectual deception and falsification. Moreover, those of the Greek and Roman intelligentsia, though lacking the sophistication of modern critics, had developed clear criteria by which to uncover fraud.
Plagiarism and pseudepigraphy happened; but they were not considered acceptable by everyone. It was the constant task of librarians, Ludemann points out, to uncover fraud. There were historical writers who tried to pay attention to verifiable facts in a manner akin to the writing of modern history. (And yes, I know, that all history writing has a bias.) There were pre-modern histories that did not take for granted miracles; ancients could be as skeptical as moderns regarding explanations of events that resorted to supernatural intervention. Apparently not everyone was doing it.

But the biblical writers were. I don't know how much difference this makes in the way I approach the teaching of scripture. It still needs to be understood in context and it still needs to be seen as a form of story-telling that takes historical events and weaves them into a story that has a primarily theological and apologetic purpose. But I won't be able to say anymore that everyone else was doing it too.

Monday, October 06, 2008

History Lesson on Nonprofit Tax Exempt Status and Churches

Stanley Fish in the New York Times gives us a history and political philosophy lesson about the IRS tax exempt status as it applies to churches and politics in the U.S.A. It's a good read! Now let's hear your comments...

Acquitted: Rev. Edwards found not guilty for performing gay marriage ceremony

Here's some good news from the Presbyterian Denomination:

Presbyterian court says minister did not violate Scripture or church law by officiating at wedding of two women.
by Evan Silverstein
Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian
minister in Pittsburgh, was found not guilty Thursday (Oct.
2) following a trial on charges that she violated Scripture
and the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
when she presided at the marriage of two women.

The nine-member Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of
Pittsburgh Presbytery unanimously ruled that the
constitutions of the PC(USA) and the state of Pennsylvania
define marriage as an act between a man and a woman.
Therefore, judges said, the ceremony could not have been a
wedding ceremony.

“It can’t be an offense to the constitution to attempt to
do the impossible,” said the decision, read by the Rev.
Stewart Pollock, the PJC’s chairman, according to the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Edwards, a parish associate at the interdenominational
Community of Reconciliation, never denied officiating at
the June 2005 marriage ceremony of Brenda Cole and Nancy
McConn, who reside near Wheeling, WV.

Edwards has steadfastly argued that there is no prohibition
on same-sex wedding ceremonies in the PC(USA) because the
courts have said clergy “should not” conduct them —
language she believes is advisory, not binding.

“I am blessed to serve Christ in the Presbyterian Church of
the Reformed tradition, which welcomes the fact that change
is part of God’s good plan,” Edwards said in a statement.
“I pray that the dialogue sparked by this trial will
provide another step along the path as we seek to reconcile
our church with the fine future for marriage God has in
store for us.”

This week’s trial was the second time Edwards faced church
legal action for performing the ceremony.

Pittsburgh Presbytery officials dismissed a similar
complaint during a trial in November 2006 on a
technicality. The presbytery PJC ruled that an
investigating committee filed charges against Edwards after
its deadline for doing so. Edwards’ accusers then filed new
accusations last year resulting in the latest trial.

Edwards, a direct descendant of legendary Puritan
theologian Jonathan Edwards, could have faced a number of
punishments, including removal from ordained ministry, if
she had been convicted.

According to the Post-Gazette the testimony during the
two-day trial at a hotel on Pittsburgh’s north side was
lopsided on the side of the defense. The prosecution called
one witness, a church official who had told Edwards that
she could bless a gay couple, but not marry them.

The defense presented three biblical scholars and
theologians who testified that her acceptance of same-sex
marriage was within the Presbyterian tradition of
interpreting Scripture in its cultural context, the
newspaper reported. They also called an authority on church
law who said that it did not prohibit same-sex marriage.

The prosecution “offered no evidence that the accused
violated [eight Bible passages it cited] or any other
Scripture passages,” Pollock said, according to the

Pittsburgh Presbytery has 45 days to file an appeal.

Edwards said she was pleased the trial furthered discussion
of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the

“If the conversations it has inspired become part of the
dialogue on how our church can fully embrace its gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, I believe this
trial can be a blessing to us all,” she said in the

McConn and Cole, the couple whose wedding Edwards
performed, were present at the trial.

Even if the court called their marriage impossible, “it was
the happiest day of my life. I’m so grateful that Janet was
courageous and compassionate,” McConn told the

McConn, a longtime Presbyterian and former member of Dallas
Presbyterian Church in Dallas, WV, currently worships at a
Unitarian congregation. Cole was raised Methodist but now
is a practicing Buddhist.

“We know no other word except ‘marriage’ that fully
describes what we share,” Cole told the Pittsburgh
Tribune-Review. “It’s a covenant between us and God.”

The Rev. James C. Yearsley, a Presbyterian minister who is
currently serving in Florida, filed a complaint against
Edwards shortly after the lesbian marriage, only to see the
charges against Edwards dismissed on the technicality in

Yearsley submitted a new grievance against Edwards in
February 2007. Seven other PC(USA) ministers and six elders
from Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania and
Washington state signed on to the new complaint, joining
Yearsley as “co-accusers.”

A Pittsburgh native, Yearsley has been pastor of Village
Presbyterian Church in Tampa, FL, since February 2006. When
he filed his original complaint against Edwards he was
serving as pastor at Mt. Hope Community Church, a
Presbyterian congregation in suburban Pittsburgh.

Yearsley attended this week’s trial but flew back to Tampa
before the verdict. Before leaving, he said an acquittal
would signal collapse of church discipline, the
Post-Gazette reported. But he said he would not push for an
appeal or leave the denomination.

“This is the church I was called to serve,” Yearsley told
the newspaper. “I'm a Presbyterian and I'm going to stay
and contend for what I think the church should be.”

Yearsley told the Tribune-Review, “I’m not frustrated; this
decision does not surprise me. This is the direction of our
denomination, and it is accelerating. But it’s the wrong
decision for the wrong reasons. It’s a further attempt to
accommodate culture at the expense of scriptural authority
and belief.”

He described Edwards as “a very gracious, kind soul,” the
Tribune-Review reported.

The Rev. Bob Anderson, interim pastor to Pittsburgh
Presbytery, said he knew some local Presbyterians would be
disappointed in the verdict.

“It’s a very sensitive issue,” he told the Post-Gazette.
“We in the presbytery offices are very sensitive to those
concerns and we will keep this as a matter of prayer as we
go into the future.”

Thursday’s PJC ruling follows a similar church court ruling
earlier this year involving the marriage of same-sex
couples. The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, a Presbyterian lesbian
activist from San Rafael, CA, was found not-guilty of
misconduct in April after a trial on charges that she
violated the PC(USA)’s constitution by performing weddings
for two lesbian couples.

The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly
(GAPJC), the PC(USA)’s highest court, found that Spahr did
not violate denominational law when she officiated at the
weddings in 2004 and 2005. Like the Pittsburgh ruling, the
GAPJC found that the ceremonies Spahr performed were not
marriages, so she did not violate the church’s
constitution, the high court ruled.

The six ministers who joined Yearsley in signing his most
recent complaint were: the Rev. David Perry of Coastal
Carolina Presbytery; the Rev. James Coone of Grace
Presbytery; the Rev. Robert Kopp of Blackhawk Presbytery;
the Rev. Jim Tilley of Blackhawk Presbytery; the Rev. Toby
Brown of Mission Presbytery; and the Rev. Mark Hughey of
Blackhawk Presbytery.

One of the co-accusers, the Rev. L. Russ Howard, eventually
withdrew his name from the complaint after the congregation
where he’s a pastor left the PC(USA) for the Evangelical
Presbyterian Church.

The six elders who signed the complaint were: Sarah Beard
of Mountain View Presbyterian Church in Marysville, WA;
Everett Worrell of First Presbyterian Church in Belvidere,
IL; Mark Rouleau of Westminster Presbyterian Church in
Rockford, IL; Robert Gagnon of Eastminster Presbyterian
Church of Pittsburgh; Pamela Easton of Bethany Presbyterian
Church in Loves Park, IL; and Virginia Worrell of First
Presbyterian Church in Belvidere, IL.

Bible Reading Marathon in Rome

"In the beginning" (but in Italian) read the Pope yesterday at the start of a week long Bible reading marathon from the Vatican. You can watch live the continuous stream of multifaith readers in Vatican t.v. Even if you don't understand a word that is being read, Italian sounds like music to the ears anyway. It's almost like a meditation chant.

Friday, October 03, 2008

On the Mountaintop Looking Down

Liberalpastor, just when you thought you were safe, I'm here to announce to your blog audience that today is your 50th birthday--plus one day!

Just be thankful I didn't t.p. your property. (One of my other friends got this public announcement of her 50th birthday from me.) The night before last I determined it wasn't the best approach--plus I was too tired at midnight to go do it. Also, I think someone is no longer "politically correct" when we must all try to not be wasteful of resources.

So consider yourself "got" in cyberspace with this conspicuous announcement of your milestone birthday yesterday.

Readers, if you haven't already wished liberalpastor a Happy Birthday--or even if you have, you can always wish him a Happy 50th Birthday + 1 day--by posting your birthday greeting comment to him here!

The Tan Commandments

At liberalchurch we promote behavior that doesn't hurt but rather supports and encourages the best behavior of others. We don't hold the Ten Commandments over each other like large stone tablets. If liberalpastor ever delivered anything close to a hellfire and brimstone message, we'd likely wonder whether an intervention might be in order because it would be so out of character!

In an effort to support our Wellness Ministry and it's ministry team leader, a woman who identifies as a non-Christian, I thought I'd pass along this website--although it's not made of stone and I'm no Moses--which sets forth the Tan Commandments!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trial Update from Pittsburgh

The Rev. Janet Edwards is being tried by the Presbyterian judicial system for performing gay wedding. Here is the update of the first day of the trial yesterday from the More Light website...

Trial Update: Marriage Performed By Rev. Edwards Is Within the Bounds of Scripture and Tradition

Wednesday, October 01 2008 @ 03:44 PM
This was the message of the first day of Rev. Janet Edwards' trial here in Pittsburgh. PJC member Joan Henderson said in her opening prayer, "We pray for church leaders with the courage of prophets, the empathy of priests, and the persistence of pilgrims." Apt words for a leader like Janet.

The charges against Rev. Edwards allege that she both violated Scripture and acted in defiance of the Constitution. The charges cite eight Biblical passages that she allegedly violated, although they provide no context.

The proceedings opened with motions by the prosecution to close the proceedings to the public, and to postpone the proceedings until a later time. Both were denied by the PJC. The prosecution also asked to be able to present most of their witnesses tomorrow, and so the day was given over mostly to questioning of the witnesses for Dr. Edwards, with only very minimal cross-examination by the prosecution.

First, witness John Matta, former stated clerk of Pittsburgh Presbytery, gave some background about a conversation he had with Rev. Edwards about a hypothetical same-sex wedding ceremony. Witnesses Dr. Deborah Krause (Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament and Dead, Eden Theological Seminary) and Heather Reichgott (doctoral student, Graduate Theological Union) discussed how such a ceremony would not violate Scripture and in fact falls well within the scope of Reformed interpretation of Scripture. Witness Rev. Dr. Christopher Elwood (Professor of Historical Theology, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) discussed how such a ceremony would be well within Reformed church tradition, although Reformed church tradition also includes many who might disagree. Witness Judge Justin Johnson took issue with the incomplete nature of the charges and the lack of evidence presented by the prosecution thus far. Johnson, a veteran of PJCs and secular courts, emphasized that in order to convict Rev. Edwards, the prosecution must demonstrate both what she did, and the mandatory provision that she violated. (W-4.9001 is a definition, not a mandatory provision). Johnson also provided some background information about the 1991 authoritative interpretation of W-4.9001, the Bush decision, the Benton decision, and the Spahr decision.

A room full of supporters seated at round tables watched the proceedings peacefully and in good humor, a fitting background for Rev. Edwards' gentle attitude toward the trial.

(Note: Any errors in the summary above are entirely our own and are unintentional, but this is the precis of today's events as we understand them so far. The PA system at the Priory wasn't working very well for the first portion of the proceedings, and it was very difficult to hear. Stay tuned for further updates!)

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Rev. Booth to the IRS, "Bring 'em on!"

Well, I hope the I.R.S. gives Rev. Gus Booth from Warrod, MN the challenge he has asked for! (I also hope his congregants have their pens and checkbooks in their hands and are ready to fund the church's legal defense of their tax-exempt status.)