Sunday, May 31, 2009

Who Will Break from the Pack?

Which evangelical leader will it be?

To break free of the pack's stranglehold?

To finally recognize the groundbreaking Bible studies done in the last thirty years and all the related issues of justice and fairness?

Which evangelical leader will it be who finally stands up and speaks out, like Peter at Pentecost?

To finally say, with force and love, "We've been wrong on the question of gays and lesbians. It's high time for us to get it right, to receive everyone with open arms, and to move on to a better day."

Might it be Bill Hybels at Willow Creek in Barrington, IL? He did it years ago with women, when he declared, "It's not about gender, it's about gifts. If you have the gift to preach, then preach!" He paid quite a price for that, but today's evangelical community has benefited immensely by Hybels' vision, courage and leadership.

Might it be Rick Warren at Saddleback in Orange County? I doubt it. There's too much at stake for him, and I suspect Orange County money has him by the throat.

If Billy Graham were 15 years younger, he might do it. When he tore down a rope dividing an auditorium into black and white, he led the way in America's struggle to break free from segregation.

For a few moments, Ted Hagard might have been the one to finally speak out and speak up when his charade was revealed, but he caved under enormous pressure and hightailed it out of town with his scarlet letter, H, sewn to his career. Might he redeem himself some day? Perhaps; only time will tell.

What about Rob Bell and the Mars Hill Community. He's certainly breaking ground and taking the lead, sometimes at great peril to his career, in a lot of categories. He's brave, creative, and willing to work well and unconventionally with the Scriptures. Time will tell.

Maybe Erwin McManus at Mosaic in Los Angeles, a creative community of faith in the heart of the city. He's had so many chances on this one, but nothing yet.

There are a host of other evangelical leaders scattered around the county who lead strong ministries - Ken Wilson from Ann Arbor Vineyard, Mark Brewer at Bel Air Presbyterian, who might someday make the break. Ken Wilson is surely pushing hard in his community for a greater diversity and understanding of the faith. Mark Brewer is leader Bel Air into new avenues of vision and service for the city of Los Angeles.

Who will break from the pack finally?

I feel a great sorrow for the evangelical community - they have painted themselves into a corner on this one, and no one seems to know, exactly, how to get out and save face.

Sort of like the Roman Catholic Church - after centuries of saying "Latin only" and "No meat on Friday," they changed - it wasn't easy, and they didn't exactly save face. But hats off to them for making the transition.

There is no way to save face in such an improbable position.

One can only say, "What I believed then, I believed with all my heart, but times change, and so do my understandings of faith, God and the Bible. I'm moving on to some new attitudes and doctrines. Let's build bridges and heal the wounds."

Western churches did it with slavery; many did it with women, though some still hold on this one. And while the liberal end of the church has pretty much worked its way through the biblical and theological matters pertaining to ordination and marriage for the GLBT community, the evangelical church struggles and stumbles along, increasingly frustrated with a position increasingly difficult to defend.

Perhaps like Pentecost, it will take a strong visitation from the Holy Spirit.

And to whom shall that visitation come?

Who will be the first to break from the pack?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

California Supreme Court and Prop 8

Could California's Supreme Court have done anything else on May 26?

It would have pleased me dearly if they had, but we've tied their hands with a political system that strikes me as seriously flawed.

California has crafted a fourth branch of government for itself - in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches, Californians (and I now r one) have established law by initiative and simple majority vote - it's the law now, and the judicial branch of the government is charged with its interpretation and its defense, even when said law might be distasteful and discriminatory.

That the Supreme Court originally declared unconstitutional the ban on gay marriage reveals where the court is on the matter, but the passage of Prop 8 changed everything.

The 6 to 1 vote to uphold the initiative the only one they could do. Their unanimous vote to uphold the 18,000 marriages was equally important - for those 18,000 marriages occurred under the law - that there are now 18,000 GLBT marriages in California, with all the rights that pertain thereto, will surely raise a host of complicated questions, made even more complex by what other states have recently done.

But for me, there's a large issue hidden here - it's the proposition process itself.

As someone new to California for only 22 months, I had heard about propositions in the news, but had little sense of how the process functions - now I know, and I think it stinks! I think it's unconstitutional! It subverts the very character of American government - we are not a pure republic - we are a representative democracy, with elected officials to do the work of government on our behalf.

Sometimes they fail; sometimes they succeed, but driving the State of California with propositions is a formula for disaster, turning the ballot box into a hyper-politicized and thoughtless means of crafting law, subject to the one who's likely to spend the most money!

Lets do away with the three remaining branches of government - let's do it all by proposition ... or, let's admit how disastrous the process is, and return government to the proper means of a governor, a legislature and the courts.

Having said that, I'm utterly disappointed in the hardship now imposed again upon the GLBT community - and I'm equally saddened by my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) which again, though by a much closer vote, denied ordination to practicing gays and lesbians.

And should the measure again come before the California voter, likely in 2010, I will join in marches and meetings, I will write and speak on behalf of the GLBT community and marriage equality, I will sport my bumper stickers and do all that I can to support the implementation of marriage equality for all Californians.

And I will also add my voice of dissent to how California crafts its laws. What we have seen in Iowa and Vermont and other states is how it should be done - even now in Nevada where the governor vetoed a marriage rights bill.

However I might feel personally, this is how America works, and works best, and though it be sometimes sluggish and even contrary to its own identity, we work through three branches of government - they initiate the law on our behalf. If we don't like it, we vote 'em out. But to write law by initiative and simple majority vote cripples the other three branches of government.

The current system has become a political playground and the victim of big money.

We can do better, and though the proposition process has long been a part of California history (1911), and though it has served well a variety of causes, I really wonder if this is the best way to manage our affairs.

The following quote says it well:

Governor Hiram Johnson championed the initiative process in 1911 because he wanted a grass-roots way for Californians to act when politicians refuse to or to overturn laws the Legislature passed.

It typically takes $4 million just to gather the required hundreds of thousands of valid signatures of a petition -- millions more to get voters to pass or reject it.

Professor Floyd Feeney is an expert on California's initiative process who says Governor Johnson would be shaking his head today.

"He would disliked the fact that money plays such an important role in getting things on the ballot today. Volunteers have a lesser role than they used to," said Professor Feeney, J.D.

Initiatives are risky. Only 32 percent of them have passed since 1912, including the famous Proposition 13, which limited how much property taxes could go up in California.

But even supporters of the initiative process acknowledge the downside.

Opponents to Proposition 2, the farm animal initiative, say it's hard to fix the flaws within poorly written measures.

"You do not get the opportunity for those refinements that may be necessary as time goes on. Almost every body of law has unintended consequences," said Richard Matteis from the California Farm Bureau.

Unless the initiative process is changed, California voters can expect long ballots every election.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Next Supreme Court Justice?

The New York Times has an interesting article about Michigan's Governor, Jennifer Granholm as a potential Supreme Court Justice.

Having lived in Michigan until 2007, I watched her negotiate one of the most difficult governorships in the land - what with Michigan's severe economic crisis (in part, created by her predecessor, Republican Governor John Engler), failing state-wide infrastructure, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his shenanigans, a deeply conservative Republican majority in house and senate energized by a strange coalition of Detroit's Roman Catholics and their anti-choice positions on everything and super-wealthy Dutch Protestants on the west side of the state.

She has negotiated one land mine after another with style, spunk and vision. She's been an extraordinary governor in the worst of times, maintaining her balance, her humor and her determination to guide Michigan through it's greatest test. She's been able to build coalitions, win the respect of opponents and gain the confidence of the voter. Does this qualify her to be a Justice?

While it's hard to say clearly what kind of Judge she'd be, Governor Granholm is worthy of consideration.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Auto Companies and Their Dealers

Several days ago, I asked a good Michigan friend and writer:

When Chrysler or GM drop a dealer, or do not renew the contract, what happens? Is that dealer out of business? No more cars delivered? Could they buy cars from GM or Chrysler and resell them?

My friend replied with the following, and with his permission, I share it with you; it's a fascinating story that evolved over the decades. The American automotive scene - a permanent fixture for 100 years, is now dramatically changing ... hope you find this note as helpful and as informative as I have.

Thanks Darren!

The short answer? The dealer is out of business. No more GM cars delivered. GM ends the relationships to cut the number of dealerships carrying their product. Dealerships are the retail outlets for the automotive companies. Their operations fall under franchise laws that vary from state to state. Ending contracts with dealers can prove costly in some states depending upon how well the franchise laws protect (or are written in favor of) the dealerships.

In the past when dealers closed or went out of business on their own accord or on that of GM's, typically GM redistributed the closed dealer's inventory over the remaining dealerships. But with last week's announcement, we're in uncharted territory. So the $1,000,000 question this week is, where will GM bury all the bodies?

How do you redistribute so many vehicles over over the remaining dealerships? How can so many fewer dealerships handle servicing all the GM cars already out there? What can consumers expect in terms of service? There will be a lot of parking lots filled with GM cars where there had once been dealers.

The long answer? The GM-dealer relationship is quite convoluted. Mainly, because, dealerships are a franchise who operate under franchise laws.
But, unlike coffee or restaurant franchises, dealers don't 'produce' anything. They are a retail outlet. If you have a pizza franchise with Little Caeser's and you can sell pizzas faster than you can make them because your town loves you and your pizzas, you sort of own your destiny. At the end of the day, GM calls the shots on the product line, MSRPs (Manufacturers' Suggested Retail Price) and the number of retail outlets (dealerships).

With auto dealers (who only sell product, they're not producers), the automaker 'sell's the cars to the dealers who in turn sells them for a slight mark-up, usually only a few % really. There's not much reward in selling cars in of itself, so the dealers historically have relied on volume - like everyone else in automotive. Remove the volume and there just isn't much upside. But the dealers' real bread and butter comes servicing what they sell. It's why the conversation is so difficult. In many cases, dealers have really cemented themselves into the local community.

So the other night my father-in-law asked me, "What does GM care if Joe Schmoe wants to have a dealer or not? Who cares if there's 1,000 dealers or 2,000 dealers, or 3,000 dealers? It's not costing GM any money to run these dealers right?"

Well, yes and no. And this is where it gets convoluted with franchise laws, production output (push demand) at the GM factory and sales (pull demand) at the retail outlets - supply/ demand equilibriums.

If GM 'stocks' dealers with cars, the same dealer this year is selling 50% less the cars sold a year ago, then it means you have the same amount of dealers this year but they are selling 50% of the volume compared to last year, which means dealers are hemmoraging with inventory - so it's a race to the bottom on price. And if your GM factories are continually adjusting (or closing) due to slumping demand, then GM's retail outlet network naturally has to adjust for the demand. The dealership, in of itself, might not be costing GM any money to operate. But the dealer can't survive - the volume isn't there. And GM watches it's retail network become framented, over-stocked, 'under-priced'. For demand shifts like the one we've experienced, something has to give.

When it comes to closing dealerships, GM gets to decide which is a source of controversy. GM may choose one dealer over another, not necessarily on performance, but also on the dealer's lot and showroom size and location (since they'll have fewer dealers).

Since the early 2000's, we've had enough production capacity in N.America to produce 18 million vehicles/ year with demand being around 16 million/year peaking in year 2002-ish if memory serves (it's a little cooked these days). Demand has been severly dropping the last three years and fell off a cliff with the credit/ mortgage crisis in 2008. We're expecting demand for only 9 million vehicles!

Capacity was 18 million, demand now = 9 million. We're literarly cutting in half in the middle of the night. Even when the economy stabilizes and even sees an up-tick, we only expect demand to increase to 10, 11, maybe 12 million vehicles and that is purely speculation.

After it all shakes out I suspect the auto industry here in N.America to be like that in Europe; 6 or 7 smaller, niche auto companies (Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Honda, Fiat-Chrylser, Hyundai) vs. three large Detroit auto companies and a smaller southern auto presence. I don't know if GM will survive - I'm not happy about that - I don't wish it - they have lost much consumer confidence.

But bankruptcy for GM doesn't mean the end. You don't "go bankrupt". You file for bankruptcy protection. It's a tool to turn an ailing company around. I think GM needs to embrace the bankruptcy discussion and sell it to the public. In the last several weeks, they have in fact been easing into these conversations. The perception right now is that Ford is doing better than Chrysler and GM. That remains to be seen given the volume drop and operating losses. But they have a decent product line and they're winning the PR battle. The Ford names still carries weight. Bill Ford is applauded when he walks through production plants like The Rouge in Detroit. Should peoplle who are loyal to 'American' brand names, want to stay with an American brand name, Ford could possilby gain market share from GM and Chrysler.

But all of this is just one aspect of what is happening in our culture, our economy isn't it? Are we really in a shifting paradigm? Or is 'simplicity' the new marketing pitch? Are we selling that too? Time will tell. Incredible times to live in for sure. Scary too. Really scary. As objective as I can be on these matters, I remind my colleagues, my neighbors and friends, that I too am well in to the game and have as much skin in it.

Take care,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's Easier Being a Liberal

I'm chuckling as I write.

In the last ten days, I've had some fascinating times with "conservatives."

How hard they work to defend their point of view against a legion of adversaries lurking at every turn of the road, hidden in every shadow, sneaking around in the doubts they have (which, of course, must be denied constantly, lest doubt break out like a pimple on the nose the afternoon of the prom).

It's a lot of fierce work being a conservative. No wonder they're edgy. No wonder they're slightly crabby.

It's tough to live fearfully.

I said to a friend recently, "It's a whole lot easier being a liberal."

Liberals concentrate mind and soul and energy on defending and welcoming people. Liberals work hard to keep windows and doors open, which is a lot more fun then slamming them shut, throwing the bolt, turning the key, and latching the chain.

Open doors and open windows are always a lot more fun. It's chaotic, for sure. All those strangers with their odd foods and weird dress, values and ideas different than mine. Goodness, all kinds of people and issues and needs. And poetry and music and dance, too - and love, in all of its remarkable possibilities.

I'm no longer alone when I throw open the door of mind and heart. And I'm no longer in charge of my little kingdom. I'm no longer talking only to myself, or to those who think and sound and walk just like I do, which is pretty much talking to myself.

It's hard to believe in small and narrow ways when suddenly the world is standing beside us - a child in Somalia crying at it's mother's grave; a Tibetan poet humming his prayers; a couple wanting to marry, and they happen to be Jane and Sally instead of Fred and Louise.

It's a whole lot easier to open the doors and windows than keep them shut. Even when shut tight, we still can hear the murmuring throngs and smell their strange spices. Shut them tight, close the eyes, and shout loudly, the world and its wonders knock on the door, peak in at the window and ask, "Anyone whom? We'd love to come and break bread with you."

How I love to walk the streets of LA - sounds and smells from near and far, and a thousand tongues.

It's great to live in such a large world.

Sure, I will continue to believe as I have most of life, but as the years of my life have unfolded, the doors and windows have been opened wider and wider; I couldn't close them now if I tried. They've been painted open!

I've had to add more rooms to my house, and the decor in some rooms seems at odds with other rooms, but it's comfortable enough. And all of these strangers come in with their own food and books and rugs and chairs, and make themselves at home.

Sometimes they don't even know who I am.

Sometimes I don't even know.

But I like to think that not knowing is a gift from the One who knows me through and through. That "my knowing" is just too small most of the time anyhow. That "not knowing" is what open doors and windows are all about.

"Come on in, and I'll do my best. I really don't understand you, but that's okay. You're here, and so am I, and I'd rather welcome you than turn you away, and maybe you can welcome me, too."

Help me grow larger and taller and wiser.

That my heart and mind might have some of the grace I have seen so wonderfully in Jesus my Lord and in the millions of amazing folk who populate the face of this earth - everyone wanting something rather simple: to love and be loved.

I think we can do this.

That's why I'm a liberal!

Who knows who'll come in with the crowds - maybe even God!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pro-Choice? Pro-Life?

A recent Pew poll suggests that more Americans are now on the Pro-Life side of things ...

Check out this thoughtful opinion in the New York Times ...

Time will tell, but frankly I was surprised, and further polls will give additional insight into what Amerians think and believe.

For a good many years now, Americans have raised questions about abortion and possible restrictions while yet supporting the continued legalization of it.

This morning, I watched a video feed about student protests at Notre Dame over Obama's visit, and one young man who said, "We can't afford to be sending the message that we value power and fame over our Catholic identity."

I already know that the Catholic Church would like to see abortion totally outlawed, and I know that conservative Christians would join their Catholic friends in the effort.

But what would happen if abortion became illegal?

Would abortion go away?

Would the wealthy simply fly their daughters to other countries?

Would the Catholic Church open up hundreds of orphanages?

Would poor women resort to homemade remedies and back-alley doctors?

Let's get graphic: a 12-year old girl raped by her uncle would have to take her pregnancy to term? And then what? Who would care for the child? And so on and so forth.

The Pro-Choice side of it enjoys the position now of opposing what's legal. That's an easy position to hold!

But I have a tough time imaging what it would be like if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

For myself, I stand behind all Pro-Choice legislation, because I am Pro-Life, and I believe that life is best served when we affirm the freedoms of Democracy - even when such freedom may run counter to personal opinion or faith.

I am no friend to the cultural instincts of the Roman Catholic Church, still governed by thought-forms and cultural inclinations shaped in the Middle Ages when the Roman Church called all the shots and used kings and queens to enforce Church beliefs and morality.

I don't think anyone in their right mind would want a return to the Middle Ages, nor would anyone want to see women once again become prisoners of anti-abortion politics, except the far, far, right which has a demonstrably poor record for women and for freedoms.

I'm curious how this will play out, but when I see a young man speaking so fervently of "Catholic identity," I really wonder, and I grow concerned.

Jesus said that we ought to be the "salt of the earth" - and that's a modest metaphor. To flavor life, but not to overwhelm it. Yet there are religious movements, often coupled with far right politics and Neo-con philosophies that would strip away our Democratic freedoms and install a theocracy, similar to the Middle Ages and today's Islamic theocracies - and it's not a pretty picture!

I stand up for freedom on all fronts.

And particularly the freedom of choice! And that is the highest form of being Pro-Life!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Banks Fail Stress Test

According to the New York Times, the best and the brightest have failed the stress test.

How could this happen?

How could the best and the brightest lead us into such a mess?

Or, maybe, are they not the best and the brightest?

Are they just hyper-aggressive, risk-takers who could do no wrong in the laissez-faire Ronald Reagan/George Bush economy? When money was no object, unions were on the run, and for a time, everyone was feeding at the trough of spiraling profits?

If there's a lesson to be learned, let's quit worshiping at the altar of big biz - they're no smarter than anyone else, they have to put on their pants one leg at a time, and they're just as venal, shallow and sinful as the rest of us.

And perhaps it's the last word the befuddles us ... a word expunged from our vocabulary (sometimes with good reason), but a word that nonetheless captures the mystery and power of greed.

What's needed is a crash course in John Calvin's realistic take on things ... check out the following BLOG on Calvin who could have seen this coming:

John Calvin, the Protestant Reformer who was born in 1509, could have seen the global financial meltdown coming from a mile — or mere centuries — away. No, he wouldn't have foreseen derivatives or credit default swaps or the other financial instruments that would have given even Albert Einstein a migraine. But he knew human weakness. Indeed, we are entering a Calvinistic period in American life, one that is falling into line with the insights and innovations of Calvin. Although often depicted as a stern theologian with a pointed beard and strong views about eternal damnation, Calvin was interested in a wide range of issues far beyond the walls of the church, and his ideas reshaped the economic, political and educational life of the Western world. His perspective can benefit us today, in this time of political change and economic crisis.
We were childish in the worst ways ... so, as Paul wrote, "but when I became an adult, I put away childish ways."

Can we do the same?

Obama defends, curtails National Day of Prayer

President Barack Obama is scaling back White House plans for Thursday's National Day of Prayer even as his administration defends the tradition in federal court in Wisconsin. Obama's position has disappointed Christian conservatives, who want the president to do more to mark the day, and an atheist group that wants him to end the tradition.

read more | digg story

Understanding Carrie Prejean

I'm trying to understand the world in which Carrie Prejean lives.

I think she's a victim of the pageant mill and conservative Christianity - both strinkingly about power and beauty, success and victory. 

We now know that she had breast implants weeks before the competition and paid for by the Miss USA California organization:

“It was something that we all spoke about together,” Shanna said referring to herself, Carrie and Keith Lewis, Shanna's co-executive director. “It was an option and she wanted it. And we supported that decision.”

Shanna, a former Miss USA herself, defended the organization's decision to pay for the elective surgery.
“Breast implants in pageants is not a rarity. It’s definitely not taboo. It’s very common. Breast implants today among young women today is very common. I don’t personally have them, but you know — they are,” she added.

According to L. Steven Seiden, Ms. Prejean grew up in an evangelical Christian home in Vista, California and is currently a senior at San Diego Christian College, a small, evangelical liberal arts college in El Cajon, California.  She attends The Rock Church, where she volunteers with their outreach ministries.

According to her interview at the The Rock Church, April 26, her first pageant was at the age of 17.

In looking at the church's website, the Rock Church (San Diego) represents a form of American Christianity that isn't my cup of tea. Yes, many a life has been transformed by these churches, and they've made a lasting contribution to the American scene. But even a clock that doesn't work is right twice a day.

The megachurches of the late 90s rely upon huge attendance numbers, high energy preaching, intricately staged music and drama, suffused with a deep sense of being absolutely right, and, of course, their numbers and success prove it.

Scripture study tends to be content-driven rather than context-aware - so Bible verses are cited and memorized, mostly at random, building a case for or against various things.

Much of the thrust is "successful living," led by leaders who are likely to have had little formal training in Scripture and theology, who are gifted and skilled in communicating basic ideas, with a lot of self-congratulations in all of it (this heightened confidence is part of the ethos - we're right, and that's that!).

Christianity loves to have causes to fight for and against, and when in other ages, it might have been keeping the races separate, decrying the evils of dancing and booze, and keeping women in the home, it's now a battle around the definition of marriage, family and the GLBT community.

In the interview/message given by Miles McPherson reference is also made to "hate speech" - that the current Hate Crimes legislation would make certain biblical truths hate crimes. And goes on to say, "the world is an evil place" and Christians are under attack. The Devil is everywhere (listen to McPherson's commentary toward the end of the interview/message).

Everything McPherson says I would say, too, but in a different context. I'd say it for those who stand up for justice and fairness, who devote themselves to workers' rights and marriage equality - the world doesn't throw open its arms to such things, because maintaining the status quo is vital to the powers that be. McPherson has made his stand on Prop 8 (listen to this part of the interview/message); I've made my stand on defeating it.

Both of us do this for Jesus.

Anyway,  listening to the interview/message, and the applause it generates, it's apparent how the system works - she is one of them, and they stand with her.

So here's 's a young woman caught up in the pageant mill, wanting to be a model, having posed discretely in a topless photo shoot, now with a brand new boob job, opposed to marriage for the GLBT community, all dressed up in Jesus language.

In the message given by the pastor in this interview, using the Book of Esther, it's all about standing up for the truth. Point made well. 

One of the key points in the message, Esther became queen because she won a beauty pageant (and she did; read the book).

This form of Christianity is very much about beauty, power and success.

We ought to pay careful attention to how this kind of Christianity works, or how it always worked - power and beauty - check out the Middle Ages (anointing kings - power; and its beautiful cathedrals and elaborately dressed clergy) and the Inquisition. Given a chance, this form of Christianity would quickly restrict civil liberties and deny the basic freedoms of American Democracy.

Thankfully, the sun is setting on this form of megalomania. History moves on and things change, and we have a chance, God be praised, to broaden the civil liberties and basic freedoms of millions of Americans.

As for Ms. Prejean, I suspect she'll grow out of this at some point in time - one can always hope!

Or, perhaps, like Anita Bryant, she'll crash and burn, rejected by the world for her prejudice and rejected by her own Christian community (that once used her) because she's no longer beautiful, no longer powerful and no longer successful.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Maine Next? and Marriage Equality

From the New York Times ...

Gay-rights advocates moved remarkably close to their goal of making same-sex marriage legal throughout New England on Tuesday, when the Maine House of Representative voted to legalize such unions.

LinkIn about ten years, we'll be scratching our heads and asking ourselves, "Why all the fuss?"

America is a great democracy, an on-going experiment of freedom and opportunity, that everyone might have a fair shot at life. And what is life, finally, but to love and be loved - to live safely, free from harassment and discrimination - to get up in the morning and make a cup of coffee; read the newspaper or check out the news via the internet - go to work, grab a hamburger, make a life.

There's no getting around a simple sad reality: some Christians mounted a similar campaign promoting slavery as "God's way for the races" and prohibiting women from voting, citing Bible verses and great theologians. In both cases, it was claimed that change would bring about the unraveling of society, the end of the family, and who knows what other evils lurk around the corner if we end slavery and give women the vote!

Within the Christian tradition, an interesting, if not flawed, notion: that the way things are are the way things should be - God's natural order of things, immutable and forever. This was the foundation for the "divine right of kings" and the perpetual serfdom of millions. The Medieval Church saw the world in unchanging terms,, and, of course, it was the church that correctly discerned the nature of the universe and, thus, fought Galileo and others who suggested an alternative to the church's position.

Which is why some Christians so bitterly opposed Darwin, and still do, because Darwin saw nature evolving, changing, and on the move. Indeed, change seems to be the nature of things.

Darwin himself, along with his family, was profoundly committed to ending slavery long before he began his scientific work which, as he saw it, only strengthened his notion that society need not be forever cast in concrete, that things change, and need to change socially, and that societies can evolve and make progress. In other words, slavery was not inherent in some fixed order of things determined by God. Slavery was a great evil, and we had it within our moral and political power to end it!

Why did some Christians write so eloquently in favor of slavery?
Why did some oppose the vote for women?
And fight against their ordination?

Though there are some who still stand by these notions (some still believe in a flat earth, too), most Christians today would agree - it was a misreading of the Bible and a theological mistake to favor slavery and deny women the vote.

Ten years from now, we will be wonder why such a fuss was made about marriage equality!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

D.C. Recognizes Gay Marriage

And the walls came tumblin' down ...

The trumpet of truth ...

The cry of justice ...

And a mighty shout of victory ...

A Washington D.C. pastor, protesting the decision (hey, wait a minute, I'm a pastor, too, and I'm in favor of it, and so are lots of pastors all around the country - it's time the media hegemony of the far right came to an end) - anyway, was quoted as saying: "Once you redefine marriage, you redefine family," said the Rev. Derek McCoy from the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md (see HERE for article).

Well, hip hip hooray, the man is right - all kinds of things will be redefined, and not a moment too soon.

All along the way, James Dobson and Gang have inaccurately defined family - their take on it couldn't be further from the multivalent images of family in the Bible:

Abraham and others practiced polygamy ...
Jesus was single ...
And said, "My family are those who do the will of God."

When a woman piously says to him: "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you," Jesus replies: "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it" (Luke 11:28).

And later in Matthew 22, Jesus reminds us that in heaven, there is no marriage!

And with regard to eunuchs ... these words:
"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can" (Matthew 19:11-12) ... from birth, made so by others, and self-made ... hmmm ... apparently the genitals are not so important.

My conservative friends have fixated themselves on human plumbing - wonder why?

And family?

Take a look at history.

Families come in every variety and size - the American frontier experienced virtually ever version, and then some - death and abandonment were all too common, and folks survived and even thrived. The only thing that counts is love, and the human being, made in the image of God, is capable of much love in a variety of settings.

So why stand in the way?

Why harp and hinder?

Let's redefine family ... let's open the doors and let's pay attention to all the possibilities of Scripture.

James Dobson and Focus on the Family do not have a lock on it.

As for their house, they can live as they wish.

But as for me and mine, I'm delighted with the progress made thus far for the GLBT community.

God be praised.

I am a Christian pastor who loves Jesus, reads my Bible, prays diligently and has long supported gay rights.

As it should be ...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

All Theology is Biographical

At many a point, I wanted to believe that my beliefs were more purely founded - on something called truth, or Scripture, or the Holy Spirit, and that my education, my studies, my determination to know the truth was paramount.

Which, of course, is the heart and soul of theological conflict, as we hurl "bigger and better" Bible verses at one another, along with "pure" reason and god-inspired convictions, which, when added up, make me right and you wrong.

But, then, of course, you might feel the same about your stuff. But, then, of course, you're wrong; you just don't know it. But I do! Ha! And so it goes.

Clearly, all of this is modernism at work - the conviction that reason, which is finally what it all is, even when dress it all up in the robes of faith, will lead us to the truth. And because of that conviction, people have been burned at the stake, congregations split down the middle, denominations embroiled in ceaseless conflict, relationships won and lost and perhaps never won again.

We have forgotten that when Pilate queried Jesus about "truth," Jesus remained silent.

And in one of the most telling of all notes in the gospels, John has Jesus uttering, "I am the truth," and with that, John liberates us from the illusions of modernism. Truth is not a set of data, a collection of theses or propositions - at best, such things can only dimly hint at the truth embodied in Jesus - a deep and profound self-giving love that risks everything for the sake of the other, that puts itself into the hands of a Father who at times seems distance and cruel ("My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?") and dies, “It is finished.”

That's the truth we see in Jesus, and to believe in Jesus, to set our heart upon him, is to move into that kind of love, and, then, suddenly we realize, just how distant that kind of love is from our meager little lives, driven as they are by self-interest (ouch, that's a toughie to admit, isn't it?)

But herein lies the possibility of discovering humility, and humility is the basis of conversation with one another.

That our convictions, which we all love to elevate to the level of god-like value, are profoundly shaped by everything we are ... in some remarkable way, we can say "I am truth" too ... because my truth is really mine - what with study and reflection and years of life and the witness of Christian history, it's still mine, in the sense that it's embedded within, flows through and emerges from my life, with all of its goodness and all of its darkness, its love and its callowness, its self-giving and its relentless self-interest.

As the tax collector prayed in the Temple, "Lord, have mercy," we are our best with those same words when we stand before one another.

I don't know how our conversations about faith and politics, abortion and homosexuality, war and national health care will turn out, but we have a choice to make: to approach one another with the illusion of "my truth" being better and bigger than your truth, or ... the humble admission: "LORD, have mercy upon me" - I am what I am, and I believe what I believe out of the stuff of my life, and my life is both good and fractured.

Perhaps we might all serve our gods better, whatever our faith is, by spending a little more time in discerning the contours of our personal histories - the matrix in which we receive the world, process the information and make our decisions about what we value and how we will live. The kind of home we had; parental influence and the deep undercurrents of family values and styles.

And to see that my life is of no greater value than anyone else's life - and, that my life is just as valuable as anyone else's life - thus, remembering, that we're all in this together.

I don't know how this could affect our discussion, but it might lessen the anxiety, turn down the volume and render us less likely to jump ship, maybe even allowing more room for one another to live “the truth” as it emerges and flows through our biography.

When queried about truth by a hostile inquisitor, Jesus choose silence.

Might the cause of truth be better served if we exercised that response a little more often.

It surely doesn’t mean that I’ll cease thinking about abortion rights and the ordination of gays and lesbians. Nor does it mean that I’m going to be less an advocate for a national, single-payer, health care plan or EFCA.

But to try to say “my truth” as clearly and as humbly as I can.

Perhaps in a common humility, we might help one another along the way, and maybe even grow a little wiser in our self-understanding and a little bigger in our compassion for the world.

As for my wife? She was right all along.