Thursday, November 29, 2007

Islamic foolishness

15 days in jail and deportation for a 54-year old female British teacher in Sudan who allowed her pupils to name a class teddy bear Mohammed.

One Sudanese replied: "We responded much the same as you would if someone would have named it Jesus."

Granted, a teacher allowing her class to name a teddy bear Jesus might be tasteless and inappropriate, but no where in the civilized world would she be sentenced to prison and deported, barely escaping 40 lashes.

Wouldn't an apology have sufficed?

Cultural tolerance has limits - honor killings and female circumcision are not acceptable anywhere. Like slavery in the United States - long defended by Bible-believing Christians - we have learned that such a practice is ignorant and cruel and has no place in our world.

I don't pretend to understand Islam ... and I, as a Christian, support inter-religious dialogue. As a universalist Christian, I don't fuss about heaven and hell, which frees me to deal with the heavens and hells we create here, especially the hells-on-earth wherein millions spend their meager allotment of time.

I suppose the Islamic world often feels under attack from Western influences, both secular and religious, and there are portions of the Christian Church that believe all other religions to be false, and their adherents need to be converted.

The US invasion of Iraq and our saber-rattling over Iran doesn't help.

But this incident reveals some of the deepest perversions of the human spirit latent in religion. I hope that Islamic scholars and women and men of enlightened character will raise their voices and bring renewal to their great faith.

Change can't come fast enough!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How Dare You!

How dare you interrupt my life!

How dare you get in my way!

Who do you think you are?!

Who's the "you" here?

It's the fog ... and the delays it caused at LAX.

I'm just amazed at how easily people express anger, resentment, frustration to the cameras, as if they and their little lives were the center of the universe, that everyone and everything ought to march to the beat of their drummer.

The age of entitlement?

We've managed to now raise several generations who are morally self-centered and feel mighty good about themselves ... the ultimate insanity of the self-esteem engine churning out best-selling books, propelling TV gurus to fame, and putting each of us into the center of our own little universe - alone, frightened and angry.

Ironically, the "United" States is becoming a nation of disconnected folks, united to none but themselves, which makes as much sense as tying a shoe with one hand.

The book, Bowling Alone and other such commentaries on the American Way, reveal serious fault lines in the Republic.

Which reminds me - the heart and soul of the American Dream was created in the furnace of religion and Enlightenment ... the deep reservoirs of faith and responsibility - driven by bright minds with high moral resolve.

Which reminds me - perhaps people of faith and Enlightenment can once again bring about renewal for the nation ... if we can capture again the words of Jesus: "You are the salt of the earth" and "You are the light of the world."

I wonder ... when the world looks at me, when it listens, or at least hears, my words, what does it think of Jesus, the One whom I profess to love and follow?

The nasty little world we're creating will be renewed only by people of great minds and hearts ... who transcend their lives because they belong to something vast and great - like the human race - and practice the walk of peace and contentment, with the creative energies to change things for the good.

Which reminds me ... if God is at work in all things for good, then I'll find good in the fog.

Wherever I am, wherever I go, "I am with you always" said Jesus.

Sit back, relax, take a deep breath.

Thank God for the fog!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Right Wing Failure

I've never been able to calculate the equation: that anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-choice sentiments, added to pro-execution, pro-war, and pro-torture, add up to anything good.

Throw in a little Jesus-talk and vague references to prayer, and a lot of people go gaga!

But truth will out and the times, they are a-changing!

The failure of the right is painfully evident in the chaos of our country - an economy ever-weaker vis-a-vis the world, a national reputation ruined, 40 million uninsured Americans, the obscene gap between worker wages and CEO robber barons, the greed of celebrity preachers and the silly complaining of Christian talk show pundits.

I'm not expecting Camelot, but we can do better.

The rest of the civilized world has universal health care and enough taxes to care for the citizenry. Our allies work tirelessly at diplomacy, finding a way through a crisis, managing their world quite well.

It's time for America to be America once again ... to be utterly humble before the God in which we trust, to be loving and caring of one another - to strive for the public good and live with a little less.

New voices are heard ... there are stirrings of the spirit ... is this not of God?

I believe so.

Like the theo-cons, I have faith, too. And so do millions of Americans - not the scathing, in-your-face kind of faith touted by the right, but the faith taught by Jesus ... and Mohammed ... and Buddha ... and the Dalai Lama.

I'm a Christian, and the last time I read the Bible, it reminded me that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life ... not me, not my faith; not the church nor its many books, its prelates and its pronouncements.

That such things belong to Jesus is a freedom from spiritual bondage for all the world ... Jesus for all the world ... in every faith, in every heart ... in every decent act of kindness and mercy, in every calm thought and positive decision, in every prayer and every hymn ... in Tibetan prayer cloths and a well-worn prayer book ... in temple, mosque and church ... with rabbis and mullahs, priests and pastors.

A new day is dawning.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rich Televangelists

Paula White, Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, and Eddie Long are all being scrutinized for lavish life-styles under the suspicion that ministry funds have been siphoned off to support personal extravagance.

What a contrast to one of history's greatest evangelists, Billy Graham, whose humble and humbling message of Christ has saved millions around the world.

In his biography several years ago, Graham made it clear from the beginning that money was to be handled by others, and that he would never be alone with another woman other than his wife.

In a LA Times article (May 28 07) about the new Billy Graham Library and Museum in Charlotte, NC:

As Graham finished the tour, his son Franklin recalled, Franklin asked how he had liked the tribute. The gruff reply: "Too much Billy Graham."

With Graham, at 88, in failing health, his family and friends have struggled to find an appropriate way to commemorate and carry on his work. A humble man who never saw a need to upgrade his cheap suits or his modest mountaintop home, Graham at first shrank from the idea of turning his life story into a tourist attraction.

Only when he was convinced that the project would serve as a perpetual crusade -- a tribute not to him but to Jesus Christ -- did Graham give it his blessing.

"The last thing my father wanted was to have a monument to himself," Franklin Graham said.

A lesson for the Gang of Five under investigation.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Bush, a War Criminal?

Do a Google on "definition of war criminal" and you'll learn a lot.

That Bush ordered a preemptive strike on Iraq sullied the soul of the Republic for years to come. That Colin Powell used faulty intelligence, and now we know, outright lies perpetrated by a single Iraqi chemical engineer (code name: Curveball), is a blot upon our record that will never be erased.

This is America's greatest failure presided over by America's worst President, supported by a gang of thugs, greedy CEOs, religious wackos, and a host of sycophantic minions.

For a long time, I tried to be sympathetic to Bush - after all, being a leader, being President, is never easy, and worse in hard times. But as the months unrolled and new revelations came to light, my sympathy quotient turned down to zero.

I'm still not convinced that Bush masterminded all of this - I believe he was a toady for powerful oil interests and maniacal neo- and theo-cons intent on world domination.

This gang of thugs hijacked the nation and bullied good folks into quiet submission with the 911 and religious-cover cards.

Now there's talk of bombing Iran.

Will this insanity soon end?

Is Bush a war criminal?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Westboro Baptist Church

The right of free expression?

Right along with book burnings, lynchings, and shouting "Fire" in a theater?

The father of a Marine, at whose funeral the sad-faced wackos from Westboro Baptism Church protested, has successfully filed a lawsuit and won 11.1 million dollar judgment against them.

These sad folks, with placards held high, give thanks for every dead soldier; yup, that's right. According to their skewed sense of things, soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because of America's tolerance for homosexuals.

A little festering pocket of hatred, the folks of Westboro, nearly all of whom are related, have lost their bearings with regard to the gospel.

Hatred has a life of it's own, and when welcomed and nurtured with fear and prejudice, it becomes the master.

A chilling reminder to every person of faith - that fervor is a kissin' cousin to fanaticism ... and the only hedge against the drift into darkness is the constant practice of love and kindness.

Looking to Jesus always and again ... who welcomed everyone, who spoke kindly to the woman presented for stoning, who brought Zacchaeus down from his tree, who accepted the bad behavior of his disciples, who stood mute in trial and carried the cross to Calvary, and when pinned to the cross, helpless and alone, He cried out, "Father, forgive them."

Indeed, "Father, forgive the Westboro folk" and may they come to their senses, and if not, may the law suit at least cripple them sufficiently to put them out of business.

And may the goodness of God surround those families who have had their suffering multipled by the foolish and evil machinations of Westboro.

Recovering from WW 2

We've never recovered our sense of balance since WW 2. By balance, I mean a sense of perspective, both of ourselves and the world around us.

I'm thinking about this right now because of today's death of Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, the B-29 used to drop the world's first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, instantly ending 78,000 lives, with many more to follow in the months ahead.

I believe the bombs ended the war in the Pacific, saving millions of lives, both American and Japanese. Though some might disagree, I believe it can be said of WW 2, it was a "good war" and we can be all be thankful for the outcomes.

But lest I drift too far afield, we live with the legacy of that "good war."

Ever since we entered Korea and Vietnam in the flush of WW 2, and failed, we've been looking for another "good war" wherein the "enemy" is really evil and we're the good guys, innocent of guile and endowed with some "white man's burden" of saving the world from itself.

Our current president is drunk on the power of his office, and only the efforts of politicians and army officers have saved us from his malady.

Even now, in the twilight of his tenure, the sabers rattle over Iran. Foolish. Insane.

With an economy struggling to keep its head above water, a military stretched to the point of breaking, a world reputation ruined, the Republican Party disfigured by Christian wackos, this tiny Texas bully reverts to the most primitive of instincts.

God bless Paul Tibbets' family. And God help America recover from WW 2.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Until We Follow Scripture - Part 3

William White, early 20th century journalist, noted that friends often called him wishy-washy. But he wisely noted his “affliction” was the ability to see both sides of an argument.

To see both sides requires a great deal of work, intellectually and emotionally. In walking a balance beam, it’s much easier to step off to either side. Maintaining balance is a dynamic process of constant effort; we never reach stasis. On the balance beam, progress is defined, not by deciding to which side we’ll jump, but moving ahead, carefully maintaining our balance by refusing to step off to either side.

Even as I write these words, calling for kindness and regard for one another, I know that some of my colleagues are repulsed by such thoughts – both liberal and conservative, who conceive of victory only as the “foe’s” vanquishing.

But there are no foes to vanquish, only the self!

I don’t know the answer to our current dilemma, but I believe that both sides are peopled with women and men of good faith and good character, each opening their Text with prayer and love, each striving to discern the will of God, each taking the Text in hand and heart, working with it, interpreting it, and seeking to live for the Christ revealed in its story.

That some should be a Peter or a James, that some should be a Paul or Timothy, is no surprise, yet we are one great fellowship of love, and for such love the world waits.

That may be the greatest test we face, a world waiting for our light to shine, for us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Our current points of view ring hollow in the world’s ear, no matter how righteous they may feel to us, no matter how stridently we offer our “truth” as the whole truth and nothing but the truth and characterize those who challenge us as deluded, faithless and fraudulent.

The world waits to see an alternative – “the whole creation groans.”

Are we willing to embrace one another in order to show the world that our citizenship is in heaven, or will we continue to take refuge in our little castles, seeing one another as enemy and rejoicing in our paltry victories?

We have a lot of growing up to do. The Spirit is ready, and Jesus is in our midst – it is our Father’s will to give us the kingdom, if we but surrender our wills and embrace one another in the greater love that Jesus offers. “Love one another as I have loved you” remains the task and the test for those who claim the name Christian.

Until We Follow Scripture - Part 2

“Pride goeth before the fall” is tragically true for all of us, whatever our sentiments and whatever our hermeneutic.

We will never successfully build our tower to heaven, because God, with mercy and wisdom, confuses our language, to spread us abroad. Into every system of thought God builds the Babel principle to foster diversity and to create mutual need.

The diversity is a fact, but the mutual need is a choice we have to make, a choice driven by humility because we see through a glass darkly.

God restricts our take on things, so that love becomes the only glue that holds the Body together rather than agreement of thought and practice.

It’s love that requires us to say of one another: “It’s not my cup of tea, but your cup is just as good as mine.” Though I cannot abide with your take on things, I’ll not separate myself from you or try to cast you out. We will talk with one another until we’re blue in the face, and then talk some more. We will make room for one another, and we’ll find a way to yet live together. We will not go the way of the world by claiming “irreconcilable differences” – such a thought is nothing less than stubborn pride rearing its ugly visage in our souls and a denigration of “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sin tempts us to claim the better cup of tea. Exclusivity feels very good on the surface of things, and it’s on the surface of things that we have to live in order to sustain our prideful judgment of others. Whether we love the Westminster and our detailed treatises on grace or whether we love the barricades and the struggles for social justice, superficial thought is the only way we can preserve our pride of place.

But probe beneath the surface of our claims, and we find a seething uncertainty and a vast discomfort. Manifesting itself defensively in ceaseless judgment of the other, or a humble embrace of the other in spite of profound differences.

Until We Follow Scripture - Part 1

“Until we follow the Scriptures” is a call to arms and a rallying point for both crackpot and saint, and everyone in between. Christian history is replete with tragic examples of despots and bigots, each claiming the name of Jesus and averring their devotion to Scripture.

I follow the Scriptures, and so does my neighbor-in-the-faith down the street, but we may take different perspectives on any number of issues.

Is someone right? The other wrong? Or does Scripture allow different takes on different things?

We all know the old saw: "In Essentials, Unity; in Non-essentials, Liberty; in All Things, Charity," But what does that mean when “my essentials” are your “non-essentials” and vice versa?

We’re all tempted to make our take on things the best and the brightest. Yet, in so doing, we shatter the only thing that holds the Body of Christ together: love, humble, sacrificial, less-of-self-and-more-of-Christ love – charity in ALL things.

I am weary of being told that because I favor the ordination of lesbians and gays, I can’t possibly be faithful to Scripture. Though tempted to hurl the same charge, I refuse. I cannot reconcile our divergent points of view, but love for one another through Christ is greater than our “points of view.”

“Points of view” you say? “No, not points of view. My take on things is not a point of view. My take is simply more faithful to the Bible than yours. My faith is doctrinally and historically more pure than yours.” Of course, and the moon is made of cheese.

Positive Life

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out” (John Wooden).

I love to be around positive people – I feel better, I feel stronger and life looks better.

The practice of a positive life is simple, although it’s a lesson I learn a hundred times a day.

Positive life is a choice, a choice to remember: I am who God says I am, I have what God says I have, and I can do what God says I can do.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Positive Life Pledge: Today, I will make the best out of what happens. I will look for the good, and I will find it. I will trust God with the Spirit of Jesus inside of me helping me. Today, when fearfulness rises in my heart, I will turn form it and send it packing. When overwhelmed with burdens, I’ll lay them down at the foot of the cross and give them all to Jesus.