Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fighting Atheist

Christopher Hitchens fancies himself a qualified critic of faith. Oh well, when my boy was six years old, he thought a blue cape could make him fly.

While raising some questions that people of faith need to consider, Hitchens paints in such broad strokes as to discredit himself. Like the very fundamentalists and such that he disdains, his method is precisely the same: there are only two sides, "theirs" and his. Whether it be the fulminations of a Rod Parsley (I love that name), a D. James Kennedy (God rest his soul) or Osama Bin Laden, the method of angry people is much the same: anger narrows the field to "them" or "us," or "everyone else" and "me."

For further review of this silly book, please see the review in the September 18 Christian Century:

Read it for what it's worth ... not much ... but as a person of faith, I know that it's a good thing to know what someone like Hitchens believes and to honestly face faith's foibles and failings, for they are legion.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Divided America?

Rod Parsley and gang, each vying for the top spot in the latest right wing polls, all have one silly thing in common - they tell us everyone and everything is divided, black or white, red or blue, right or wrong, Christian or satanic.

And, of course, they're on the right side of things, and we can be on the right side, too. Just sign on the dotted line and be sure to pony up a few bucks.

Just another bunch of hucksters blowing into town with snake oil.

Their windbag preaching is a "false dichotomy" creating illusions, firing bad emotions, and misleading thousands of decent folk so desperate for meaning they'll shell out big bucks for a bottle filled with promises. They appeal to the heartache of the poor and to the worst instincts of the wealthy.

American church history has been a free market - from the mundane to the silly, from the best to the worst, and everything in between. It's great, but a free market requires savvy shoppers.

Rod Parsley and gang want to divide and conquer, lots of smoke and mirrors.

They're rewriting American history to give it a more "Christian" twist to justify their rantings and ravings.

They're reconstructionists, hoping to dismantle the separation of church and state to create a theocracy looking and behaving no differently than the Taliban.

They're in bed with the neo-cons in their insane effort to take over the world with America on top.

A sad and dangerous mix of ideas, money and power.

Their day in the sun is waning, however - God be praised.

Pragmatic America will buy only so many bottles of promises before they run the guy outta town on a rail, tarred and feathered.

There is truth, there is beauty, there is faith, hope and love, and it works to build up, lift up, encourage the faint-hearted, opening doors of opportunity, speaking tenderly, welcoming every voice and embracing all, to make this a better world.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Writing the Future

Who hasn’t wanted to re-write the past?

But like a hand imprint in cement, the past is there, unchanging and unchangeable. Like the scars of Jesus. The past can neither be undone nor entirely forgotten.

But if God is at work in ALL things for good, if God can take the cross and all the horror associated with it and channel its terrible energy into salvation for the world, then maybe the past isn’t so severe after all.

Which sets up life for the really good news: we can write our future.

There is always time for new decisions, new attitudes, new choices.

Like the scars of Jesus, our past is our past, but nothing is so terrible, nothing so powerful, that it’s beyond the handiwork of God to channel its energy, negative or worse, into something meaningful and good.

Remember, God is on your side … not merely to please and satisfy, but to make all things new, to use your scars as reminders that God was there, even in the worst of times, and God is with you now, opening doors that you couldn’t open, and creating doors in blank walls, some of which we have to open with faith, hope and love.

Have a good day writing your future and those opening new doors!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Change the World?

Watching a piece on TV about bionic developments - amazing.

Thought: how the world would have changed had America spent its billions on bionic research and building schools rather than war.

Have we made the world safer for democracy?

Have we lessened the factors that create terrorism - specifically poverty and fear?

Guns or butter is always the question, but there's another question: Why is it so easy to spend for guns and so difficult to spend for butter?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Is God Green?

Though sympathetic to Evangelical devotion to Jesus & the text, I've had no regard for their social positions.

So, I'm intrigued by the growing "green" momentum among certain Evangelical quarters.

Presbyterian News Service has an article about it:

Who knows - stranger things have happened.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rain in Sunny SoCal

Moved to Sunny SoCal end of July - lots of firsts, including rain today. Strange. No big deal in Michigan, but since moving here July 26, not a drop. Folks drive on wet streets like folks in Georgia drive on snow - not well. Several accidents today by the church, 80th and Sepulveda - fender-benders, but one car ran the curb and dove into some bushes - I saw some folks, arms a-waving, talking to one of LA's finest. Hope they got things straightened out. An accident sure can ruin the day. Pays not to be in a hurry around here, but most everyone is. Hope I don't catch whatever they have. I'm learning to leave in plenty of time, enjoy the scenery, keep my windows to enjoy the sounds of the city. As always, pay attention to where I am - let the sights, sounds, people, smells - junk and buses, restaurants - homes and strip malls - paint a Kaleidoscope of color on my mind. Enjoy, count the blessings. "Find God in the music!" (advice from my organist).

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the Valley of Elah

What a profound film ... of father's and sons ... the grace of a family ... dignity and hope ... the madness of war and the courage to love.

Oscar-level in all regards.

The most powerful anti-war film I've ever seen without being anti-war - no politics here, just a family: a Vietnam veteran father, a mother - the death of an older son ten years earlier in a helicopter crash, and now their younger son, just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, missing from his base.

Dad hauls gravel in a small Tennessee town - when a soldier, he was military police; a no-nonsense kind of guy - few words, clear and to the point. Upon hearing of his son's disappearance, he heads west to the base. He mets a local detective who persists in following the leads, confronting inertia in both the military and local police departments - just another soldier. But not just another soldier - Hank Deerfield's son!

Tommy Lee Jones reflects the heart of every father - his face conveys every emotion - a man filled with military poise and dignity, looking for a boy whom he loves dearly.

Charlize Theron is Det. Emily Sanders - young, savvy, with a heart - incredible performance.

Go see this film ... and pray for our solders!

This war is doing horrible things to them, to our nation, to all of us!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Faith, Hope and Love

Faith, hope and love.

Faith in God, the God and Father of our LORD Jesus, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, the One who fashioned us out of the dirt of the earth and blew the breath of life into us.

Hope, indefatigable hope, because the One who created us is at work in all things for good, nudging all of us along the right road – the paths of righteousness.

Love, the consequence of the first two.

With our soul stabilized by faith, our spirit suffused with indefatigable hope, we’re free to love. Anxiety is the enemy of love; anxiety drives self-concern and a reduced awareness of others. But faith and hope set us free, free to give, free to live, and free to love.

Not a bad deal!

God be praised!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Love Los Angeles

I love it here.

Haven’t had my radio on much – I love to drive, windows down, hear the sounds of the city – I’m an urban guy.

Saw some guy pitch his trash out the car … someone else dumped an empty cup on the sidewalk … so it goes.

There was a time when things like that bummed me ( still do, a bit), but I’ve learned that getting bummed is a waste of time, a diversion, a distraction that accomplishes nothing, except raising my blood pressure.

Several years ago, I pulled up to a red light on my way to church, behind a car with crude bumper stickers and a tough-lookin’ blond puffin’ away, her radio blaring, and just as I was getting self-righteous and uppity, the message I was listening too said: “Don’t worry about the world and it’s behavior. That’s the way the world is – we’re not likely to change the world, but we can change ourselves.”

I’ve taken that advice to heart – how much time and energy I’ve wasted over the years being self-righteous and uppity. Sure I care, and I’ll do my share in picking up after others and minding my own store.

Which reminds me, my wife and I saw a young lady snag an errant plastic bag on the Santa Monica pier and put it in a garbage can – whoever she was, hats off to her.

I love it here.

A fellow traveler along the 405.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“The Arts in Latin America: 1492 – 1820” is a terrific exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art tells the story of the church in Latin America, a story that saddened and depressed me.

As I toured the exhibit, my spirit grew heavier and darker – this is not the Gospel, this is not what our LORD intended for the church – ceaseless pomp and glory, power and command, a total determination of life, a manipulation of emotions - hardly the church of Acts 2.

Two pieces unsettled me deeply: a portrait of a 19-year old girl entering the convent. On her head a crown of flowers (perhaps added by a later artist) to indicate the glory and the beauty of marrying Christ and entering His service. But the artist (knowingly?) captured something else: in her eyes, fear and bewilderment, like a lamb being led to the slaughter.

A two-piece set captured the burning and rebuilding of a “retreat” for unwed mothers. A huge structure, burning in one frame, and then being gloriously rebuilt in the other. All across the Catholic world, homes for unwed mothers – one of the darkest stories in all of Christendom. Baby factories, and the children born in them were fodder for the church – being raised as priests and nuns. Nothing more needs to be said, but history has yet to tell this tale for an institution that excels in hiding the truth to this very day.

The heavy altar pieces, the statuary – and up to the present time, processions – men shouldering and carrying heavy images – reminds me of something Isaiah wrote: “Some pour out gold from their bags … they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god … they bow down and worship it … they lift it to their shoulders and carry it … they set it up and there it stands … it cannot move, it does not answer … it cannot save from troubles (46:6-7).

On an artistic scale, this is an incredible exhibit, but it comes too close too home for me; everything that can go wrong with religion went wrong in Latin America. Command and control – whether it be the Roman Church in Latin America or a right wing fascist like Pastor John Hagee – is destructive of the church and brings no good to the world.

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm an Evangelical

I’m an evangelical, and I claim that title gratefully.

I believe in Jesus Christ as my LORD and my Savior, I believe in the literal Virgin Birth (God teasing us), the atoning function of His crucifixion (something profoundly good happened), the bodily resurrection (so utterly Jewish) and a literal second coming (when God shall bring time and eternity to the picnic table), the inspiration of Scripture (easy does it on this one!) – but I’ll not fight anyone on such things. I don’t have to defend these beliefs; they’re mine to enjoy and share, but how they work out in someone else’s life is up to God, not me!

I’m also pro-choice on social issues and pro-gay, advocating marriage as a gift and a right for any two adults in love.

I’m tired of some “evangelicals” wearing the title like a gunfighter wearing 45s.

To be an evangelical is to believe in the goodness and mercy of God, and in the freedom of humanity to work it out as best they can … to leave folks alone … and to be the light of the world, gentle and modest, and the salt of the earth – not the whole dadgum stew.

For fresh insights, I recommend Diane Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us.