Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not So Typical Christmas Eve Activities

For most pastors Christmas Eve is a busy evening of preparation and services. This pastor had a slightly different kind of busy evening:
The Dallas pastor facing felony charges of burglarizing a church member's home on Christmas Eve said Monday she had no criminal intent.

Sandy McGriff, 52, said she was trying to protect valuables at the home of her longtime friend Serita Agnew and made a horrible mistake.

Police accuse McGriff of stealing more than $10,000 worth of fur coats, designer purses and electronics from a home in the 2200 block of Village Way near Kiest Boulevard and Lancaster Road. She was also charged with resisting arrest.
She claims she was in the neighborhood driving by the house when saw two men entering and leaving the victim's house and decided to take the valuables to protect them. She also claims that she had no need to steal valuables. This additional piece of information would seem to buttress her second claim:
She said she pulled her black Jaguar into the driveway and walked around the home. That's when she saw the broken kitchen window.
I can't say I have ever known a pastor who drives a Jaguar. In any case you can watch a video of the pastor in front of the fur coats telling her side of the story.

Monday, December 20, 2010

unChristian America

Ross Douthat surveys two recent sociology of religion books on the state of Christianity in American culture and comes to this conclusion:
...this month’s ubiquitous carols and crèches notwithstanding, believing Christians are no longer what they once were — an overwhelming majority in a self-consciously Christian nation. The question is whether they can become a creative and attractive minority in a different sort of culture, where they’re competing not only with rival faiths but with a host of pseudo-Christian spiritualities, and where the idea of a single religious truth seems increasingly passé.

Or to put it another way, Christians need to find a way to thrive in a society that looks less and less like any sort of Christendom — and more and more like the diverse and complicated Roman Empire where their religion had its beginning, 2,000 years ago this week.
This is an assessment I have shared with my congregation on numerous Sunday mornings and it is a common refrain in post-modern church circles as well as the anabaptist circles I have contact with (where the assessment is greeted by a rowdy cheer growing out of a belief that this is precisely where Christianity belongs).

It is worth pointing out, though, that there is at least one enormous difference for Christianity between now and then: then it was a new movement with a unique message about God and about how to live together in the world. It's organization, its member-care and its outreach were all revolutionary. As Rodney Stark has reminded us the Christians made a very real-world positive impact on the culture; the citizens of Rome had never seen anything quite like the Christians before.

In marked contrast, today, as we Christians find ourselves in the West increasingly marginalized and having to make the case for why anyone should participate in our communities, a large part of the challenge comes from carrying around 2000 years of baggage. It is one thing to to be a brand-spanking-new Christian and have to contrast yourself with the pagans and Jews everyone knows; it is another thing altogether to have to explain how you are different than thousands of different Christian sects and perhaps more importantly how you choose to account for the accretions of two thousand years of Christian culture, a culture that for all its accomplishments has at moments a shameful history on many issues.

Sometimes I wonder if a new religion might someday burst on the scene in the way Christianity did 2000 years ago and rock the world. Or perhaps it already has and is just waiting for its Paul. Or perhaps that new religion is science and technology and the manner in which we live, work and play in its world and accept its worldview.

In the meantime those of us in Christian communities must choose what to do with our baggage and how to respond and hopefully thrive in a challenging culture. I am sure it is my own particular heritage bleeding through, but I think the way forward is going to be found in communities that gather for food, stories, music, art, and ritual, that focus on serving others, and that teach and practice non-violence. There is nothing earth-shattering in this; it certainly isn't new news or coming from the latest marketing research, but it is faithful to Jesus and the best of our Christian culture, and when it is done well it just works.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It is finally done, thanks to Joe Lieberman, among others. With the military set to accept all without regard to sexual orientation, can the church be far behind? It will be interesting to see if this changes the conversation any, especially with God and country Christians. Including some who claim the COB label.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Our War Machine

The Cold War officially ended in 1989. Remember all that talk then about the peace dividend? We never saw it and, according to new book by Tom Englehardt reviewed by Brad Birzer at The American Conservative it doesn't matter who is President or in control of congress, we are now a nation perpetually at war:
The events of 1989 should have offered the West some breathing room, a time to rethink the purpose of our nation and reinvigorate republican ideals. Instead, the past two decades, under Republican and Democratic administrations alike, have revealed America and the West as morally and spiritually bankrupt. Plunder and torture best symbolize the bloated American Empire of the last 20 years, a force that exists merely for the sake of self-perpetuation. Our standing in the world has declined precipitously. At home, many are angry and want to change, organize, and harangue. Despite their best intentions, they stand impotent, comprehending neither the past nor the present, looking at the future—when not navel-gazing—with understandable dread.
When voters elected Barack Obama in 2008, his supporters acclaimed him higher than a prophet; he was messianic. As one fine and intelligent person—an expert in high tech as well as a farmer—wrote to me in immediate post-election euphoria, “Brad, why are you so upset, don’t you realize that we finally have a chance to end war and poverty, permanently?”
What the Obama administration has delivered, of course, is not only the continuation of the policies of the previous three administrations but a profound exaggeration of them. If anything, we suffer more violations of our privacy and civil liberties now than at any time during the Bush administration, all in the name of a national-security state that keeps the populace in its place while perpetuating war abroad.
In his soul-searching, illuminating, and often depressing look at the unholy ménage of Demos, Leviathan, and Mars, Tom Englehardt probes deeply into the war culture of Washington, D.C. He notes that only two positions have any real voice in contemporary public-policy debate: those who want more of this and those who want more of that. The key word is “more.” As Englehardt writes, when it comes to conflict overseas “however contentious the disputes in Washington, however dismally the public viewed the war, however much the president’s war coalition might threaten to crack open, the only choices were between more and more.” More drones, more troops, more nation-building.
So much for campaign promises and the new messiah who would end war and poverty permanently. The first military budget Obama submitted, Engelhardt notes, was larger than the last one tendered by the Bush administration. “Because the United States does not look like a militarized country, it’s hard for Americans to grasp that Washington is a war capital, that the United States is a war state, that it garrisons much of the planet, and that the norm for us is to be at war somewhere (usually, in fact, many places) at any moment.”
While I remain an Obama supporter and in many ways this about-to-end congressional session is going to go down in history as a historic one for progressives, Obama has deeply disappointed on the war front.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Epic Failure

Said Without Irony

Time's Swampland gives us this statement from Senator Jim DeMint:
"You can't jam a major arms control treaty right before Christmas," DeMint tells Politico. "What's going on here is just wrong. This is the most sacred holiday for Christians.
We certainly wouldn't want any kind of arms reduction treaty that promotes world peace signed on the eve of Christmas. Not when we have worked so hard to pass far more pressing and appropriate-to-the-holiday legislation like extending tax cuts for the rich. It is priorities like these that tell you all you need to know about what the Senator knows about Jesus and why he thinks that Christmas is the most sacred holiday for Christians.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wings and Claws

It was a foregone conclusion after the recent election that the rich were going to get to keep their tax cuts. Under the circumstances I think Obama got the best bargain he could get, although I welcome the righteous anger coming from the left. I just wish they - congressional dems - had more spine when it really mattered last summer, but they never brought up the tax cut bill then.

In any case the most organized and influential group in Washington these days are the rich, which include a majority of our legislators. So it is no surprise that they got their tax cuts. But I came across this passage from Walter Rauschenbush's The Theology for the Social Gospel this morning and it seemed apropos:

Ordinary sin is an act of weakness and side-stepping, followed by shame the next day. But when it is a source of prolific income, it is no longer a shame-faced vagabond slinking through the dark, but an army with banners, entrenched and defiant. The bigger the dividends, the stiffer the resistance against anything that would cut them down. When fed with money, sin grows wings and claws. (p.66)