Saturday, March 03, 2007

Welcome to politics...

This morning I got an email from John Edwards campaign. I dig Edwards, don't think he has a chance, but I like him. What I didn't like was the content of the email. Below is a recording of what Ann Coulter said at a dinner for the conservative political action committee. I can't get my mind around it. How can this woman be a best-selling author? How can politicians court her approval? How am i supposed to react to this? I mean this chick is the one person who can raise the bile and disgust in my mouth more than any other, and yet, I am called to love her and see her as someone made in the image of God. How do you do that? I don't know how. It's that same mystery surrounding the Amish who forgave the sicko who killed their children. I don't know how one develops, nurtures, grows a heart of love. I want to, but I don't want to. It's easier for me to demonize Ann Coulter than see her as human, let alone a child of God. Far easier to see her as evil. Yet, I am called to this. How do you stand up for the right & truth and still love your enemies? Can you have enemies for that matter? Jesus didn't. I don't know. I'm angry, frustrated & confused. Angry at Coulter. Frustrated with God for giving us this burden. And confused that there is no easy answer.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sacred Space

I was listening to a Mennonite sermon on the iPod yesterday and it was wonderful. It was wonderful. First off, it was a generally great sermon- place is Trinity Mennonite & their pastor is the one that wrote that book BD reviewed over at Real Bruthas. The church is in Glendale, AZ. I'd really like to ask our friends ric & sue (or son mike) to check the place out to see if it's as cool as it sounds on the podcast. The otehr reason it was wonderful was because it forced me to be quiet. In true Anabaptist fashion, Shane Hipps (the pastor) recalled the Quaker tradition of practicing silent contemplation. I spent the last 2.5 minutes of my drive (of 5 minutes) in silence. How ironic is it that it took listening to an iPod to get me to spend some quiet time with God? There I was driving with my headphones on, listening to dead air- and savoring it. I'm pretty messed up, I decided. However, those few minutes prompted me to go back to a site I'd bookmarked a year ago- Sacred Space, a wonderful wbsite that Juli R introduced me to through their blog. Man, it was good to go there. I realized how much of my time is spent in busyness and sound. The churches I frequented (with the exception of the Anglican ones) filled every quiet moment with sound. I realize I desperately need quiet, if I am to worship. If I am going to hear God at all, I need to get rid of the distractions. The cool thing about sacred Space is that it forces the reader to savor the idea of meditation. Something I pretty much suck at because my mind flits form one thing to another. Anyway, this whole thing is essentially a thanks to Juli and an invite to check it out (and while you're at it, why not listen in on Trinity Mennonite's sermon on Lent?

I try to let go of concerns and worries
that may be dragging me down at this present moment.
I place any concerns I have in Gods hands
- at least for these few minutes of prayer.

To be conscious about something is to be aware of it.
Dear Lord help me to remember that You gave me life.
Thank you for the gift of life.
Teach me to slow down, to be still and enjoy the pleasures created for me.
To be aware of the beauty that surrounds me.
The marvel of mountains, the calmness of lakes, the fragility of a flower petal.
I need to remember that all these things come from you.


p.s.- Does it screw up my contemplative post to mention that Lost was friggin' great tonight? I love this show.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What if...? A New Messiah of Titanic Proportions

Yesterday I gave my students an assignment that simply reinforced my status as a the preeminent nerd in the class. I asked them to write an alternate history of some aspect of WWII. Take an incident from what we have studied (or you have on your own), and imagine if that event had gone differently- how would history have been changed. surprisingly, the kids really seemed to embrace the idea. I gave them a one page minimum and I had plenty of kids who went 3 pages or more.
I mention this little trifle, not to brag about my powers of engaging students (I'm pretty sure a fellow high school student could have gotten them to do what I did); I mention it because alternate history appears to be a fad of late in the news. Sunday I heard that reputable historian James Cameron, a man whose scholarship is equaled only by his humility, had announced that he had made a breakthrough in archeology. In a week , he would debut a documentary that would change Christianity forever. allegedly, James Cameron has found the final resting place of Jesus, Mary and their son Judah. Despite my immediate incredulity, this made me think: how would history be different if the story turns out true? How would the church respond? While Jesus celibacy is of absolutely no importance to me, the physical resurrection is one of the cornerstones of our faith. I have a feeling that immediately theologians would attempt to reconcile the two ideas: Jesus' death and the story of the resurrection. Now it would be a spiritual resurrection and the Church would find itself in the unenviable position of deciding whic of the "lost gospels" or gnostic accounts they ought to accept as canon.
Of course, I don't believe for a minute this will occur. Statistics aside, the common nature of the names Jesus, Mary, & Judah to 1st century Palestine makes Cameron's claim really extraordinary. Look how many Judases and Marys are mentioned in the gospel accounts- and that's the orthodox canon. It's just silly.
Besides, how can they prove that it was "our Jesus"? You'd need DNA testing or something and who's going to provide them with that? Oh, wait: him. Crap, what if?

I know your lov
e for me is limitless beyond imagining.
You care for me as a loving parent.
Through my smallest Lenten sacrifices,
help me to become less selfish
and more aware of your ways.
Fan the flame of my desire
to draw ever closer to you.
Guide me to seek your love.
pax, jefe
PS- check out the video that accompanies it. Ta-wisted!

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Reasoned , but Warm Frustrated Evangelical Book Review

So in this my final installment of Frustrated Evangelical Book reviews, I examine Tony Campolo's Letters to a Young Evangelical. This book snuck up on me, in a good way. When I started it, I thought it was pedestrian. Campolo begins by outlining what an evangelical is and (typically) believes. At first, I worried that Tony Campolo, the guy who shocked Wheaton and other evangelical college students with an admonishment to care for the homeless that included curse words, had played it safe. Frankly, I was disappointed.
Then it began to evolve. Over the course of the book, Campolo takes on politics, gay marriage, Islamic-Christian relations, gender roles in the church, abortion, and other hot topics. I dug this book. Campolo is honest about his opinion- he decries the homophobic attitudes within the church, but admits he still thinks that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with his understanding of Scripture. The cool thing is that he admits his wife disagrees with him and then gives her rationale why. I appreciated the even-handed tone. As I wrote previously, Balmer's book was angsty and passionate- that's why I liked it. Yet, there is something calming about Campolo's style of writing- sort of like my new favorite fleece pullover. You just feel comforted- even as he tells you there is no easy answer to this dilemma. While it is clear he disagrees with the Religious Right and fundamentalists (he is frustrated that fundamentalists have appropriated the term "evangelical"), he does not sink to name-calling. Nevertheless, he is quick to point out the problems with some aspects of evangelical/fundamentalist theology (i.e. dispensationalism). Campolo, in fact, calls for a new term for those who would take up Jesus' subversive message: "Red-Letter Christians" (take for the fact that the words of Jesus are often in red letters). While this is admirable, I don't think it will catch on, nor am I sure I want it to. Shouldn't we be working to rise above labels? Or at least, why not redeem the term for subsequent generations. Bottom line: great book, and I highly recommend it.

Here is an Orthodox prayer to sign off:
The Father is my hope; the Son is my refuge; the Holy Spirit is my protector. O All-holy Trinity, glory to thee.


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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Scholarly Frustrated Evangelical Book Review

Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come has a couple problems. The first two, while negligible, are slightly annoying and to be honest, I didn't mind the last one. First off, the book has too many subtitles: The full title is actually "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America: An Evangelical's Lament". Frankly, this is annoying. Pick one and stick with it. The other annoyance is the occasional tendency to create straw man arguments. Wile some have criticized him for an excessive amount of this, I saw only one glaring example: when he discusses evangelicals and the environment. rather than simply saying, "Evangelicals have been extraordinarily reluctant to participate in conservation movement, to the extent that it is sinful" or something like this, Balmer says something like, "You would think that evangelicals would be the most active participants in the environmental movement..." This comes toward the end of book where he has systematically dismantled the movement's ideology, so you know that evangelicals are going to be in the wrong. He points out the idea of stewardship as a fundamental part of Christianity. while I agree with this, I also think it's more honest to point out that this (stewardship of God's creation) was never as great a focus, as evangelism and preparation for Christ's imminent return. Also, while evangelicals were certainly late to the table on this issue, so too was the Church in general. It seems somewhat disingenuous, if not intellectually dishonest to create this argument, "you would think..." when the same could (& should) have been said for liberal mainstream churches. The final problem is one I truthfully didn't mind, but I can see how it would be problematic: Balmer's tone. He's pissed. He's pissed at the way his faith tradition has been usurped by the so-called "Religious Right" and it shows. Balmer's tone is one that is fairly indicting. He doesn't try to build any bridges- but that is the point. He doesn't want to build bridges with these people (Dobson, Kennedy, Falwell, Robertson, and others) because they are screwing up something precious- a movement that was at the forefront of the progressive movement at the turn of the century, and now seems more focused on what it is against than what it is for. Being a snarky ass myself, I didn't mind the angry, frustrated tone. Balmer's passion resonated with me. However, I can see how those who are "part of the matrix" (if you will) will not see this book as a call for reform, but as a diatribe against them specifically. Because of this, the book ends up being a case in preaching to the choir- but as a member of the choir, I really enjoyed it.
Particularly fascinating was Balmer's take on the evangelicals' adoption of abortion & homosexuality as causes
célèbres. Balmer maintains that it was seeing the high rate of divorce within evangelicalism that prompted church leaders to downplay their historic opposition to this topic (about which Jesus said much- and always negatively) and decide on focusing on these two topics (it was safe: good Christians wouldn't be affected by either one). And while his cynical explanation of how & when abortion became a hot-button topic has been denied by at least one of the members he claims was present, his observations about how republican administrations talk about outlawing abortion, but never do because it is in their best interests to do nothing was incisive.
In the end, I think its a great book, if flawed. If Balmer had taken a different tone (such as tomorrow's subject Tony Campolo, he likely would find a more receptive audience, but I believe his "lament" is that of a prophet who longs to see his faith return to its world-changing origins and changing the w
orld, helping build the kingdom of God with Jesus is what we are called to do.

Lord God,
you who breathed the spirit of life within me.
Draw out of me the light and life you created.
Help me to find my way back to you.
Help me to use my life to reflect your glory
and to serve others
as your son Jesus did.

P.S.- today is Orthodoxy Sunday- celebrating the end of the iconoclasm controversy. For a GREAT article on icons and their use- check out this site from frederica matthewes-green's website

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Naive Frustrated Evangelical Book Review

In David Kuo's Tempting Faith, the author comes to the astonishing discovery: Religion gets debased when it mixes with Politics. I started reading this book because I thought it was going to be an eye-opening expose of how the Bush Admin was using religion for political gain. It was about that, but in the end, I kept thinking, "Okay and...?" Kuo is so naive that I felt little compassion for his heartbreaking discovery that our political leaders are often disingenuous. I also found myself annoyed by his snarky tone regarding Democrats. I think the book is supposed to show a Pilgrim's Progress (as it were), but I still get the impression that just under the surface, Kuo is convinced that somehow the Republicans are actually more moral (like he just got stuck with a bad batch) than their more liberal counterparts.
Two things I did find interesting/challenging. First, he advocates the same proposal that the Mennonites put forth: take a 5 year sabbatical from politics. Not because we want to show to US culture how bad it is, or how much power the church possesses politically (collectively speaking), but because we need to purify ourselves and make sure that we don't allow ourselves to fal into the same mistakes that he made. Secondly, he rightfully pointed out how imbalanced the African-American churches are toward the Democratic party- allowing their candidates to come speak in the church, but when Republicans do this in white evangelical churches, media (and liberal) alarms go off. It is true there is a double standard. I'm still not sure whether I agree with him on the political moratorium, but I can agree on a church-candidate prohibition. No candidates ought to speak in any churches (and let's get rid of those damn voter guides also!) I think just doing this would help us cut the respective cords that both sides of the Church: liberal & evangelical- have allowed themselves to be united by to the body politic.
I suppose it's easy for me to castigate Kuo- I've ever been that close to power myself. It's easy for me to point fingers and throw stones, but who knows how I would have reacted if I had served in the Clinton White House (or the Obama)? This last occurred to me after I read today's concluding prayer:

Almighty and ever-living God, look kindly on us in our weakness. Stretch out your right hand and protect us with your majestic power. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.

pax, jefe

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Friday, February 23, 2007

Of Books and Bookclubs, Part I

In the past couple months, I've read three books about evangelicalism by evangelicals. I had planned on blogging about them, but the tyranny of the urgent always seemed to get in the way. I've decided that I will review these books- David Kuo's Tempting Faith, Randall Balmer'sThy Kingdom Come, & Tony Campolo's Letters to an Evangelical. If nothing else, it gives me a lesson plan for the next three days. I also have a proposition. I came across this book online:
So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore.

Apparently, the authors (Jake Colsen is a pseudonym) decided to keep their identity secret for a while. So here's the deal. Want to start an online book club? Say by next friday anyone interested reads the first chapter and then we'll decide whether to continue. If nothing else it could be an engaging dialogue (and accessible to all!).

Today's meditation comes from a different source: the Qu'ran (just kidding), it's from A Celtic Lent:

"God is encountered in the ordinary. "Like the ancient Hebrews, the Celts were earthy people who led simple lives. Believing God was involved in all ordinary events of their lives, they prayed constantly asking God to bless whatever they were doing...These prayers often asked for a particular grace for the one praying as evidenced in this prayer accompanying the kindling of the hearth in the morning: 'Kindle in my heart within a fire of love for my neighbor. May the light of love shine out to my foe, my friend and my kindred.' "Surround the routine things of your life with a prayer. As much as possible follow Paul's advice to 'pray constantly,' lifting each thing you do and each person you meet to God for blessing. Bless your children as they leave for school, your colleagues as they work, other commuters on the road. Say a blessing each day for one of the common, everyday things in your life, and ask that as you are blessed, you may in turn be a blessing" to all you come in contact with this Lent, as the days lengthen into Easter.


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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lent , Lost, & a Letter from Clement

So today is the first day of Lent and I have decided that I would attempt to do another 40 days of blogging about "stuff" for the season- in hopes of maybe geting rid of this spiritual malaise that has gripped me. it's tough though, why does lent have to come on Lost Wednesday... I meanAsh Wednesday? i continue to believe this is the best friggin show on television. anyway, i am going to blog more tomorrow. I think it'll be about mennonites. and ipods. Until then here is the scripture that I am going to try and meditate upon before I go to sleep.


From a letter to the Corinthians by Clement, 1st century

Let us fix our attention on the blood of Christ and recognize how precious it is to God his Father, since it was shed for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to all the world.

If we review the various ages of history, we will see that in every generation the Lord has offered the opportunity of repentance to any who were willing to turn to him. When Noah preached God's message of repentance, all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed, but when they repented, their prayers gained God's forgiveness for their sins, and they were saved, even though they were not of God's people.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the ministers of God's grace have spoken of repentance; indeed, the Master of the whole universe himself spoke of repentance with an oath: As I live,I do not wish the death of the sinner but his repentance. He added the evidence of his goodness: House of Israel, repent of your wickedness. Tell the sons of my people: If their sins should reach from earth to heaven, if they are brighter than scarlet and blacker than sackcloth, you need only turn to me with your whole heart and say, "Father", and I will listen to you as to a holy people.