Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Monday, February 27, 2006

They done good

Well, I have to give props to the emerging church group. They made a distinction between "Gen-X" churches and what's developed into "emerging", and they got the latter right. It's definitely much more a philosophy than an actual way of doing things. And there are some inherent contradictions, such as them wanting to encourage people to get out of the church building into the community, but they offer amenities at the church building most nights (granted, they are "hip" amenities such as yoga). Also they are all about empowering the people in the church to use their gifts and take ownership, but the majority of them really are stuck as personality cults. I know the leaders don't like it, but that's just usually how it winds up.

I think it's definitely got merit, and churches such as cota who still do liturgy while being indigenous to their surroundings and offering a true community experience (including several people living at the church and in group houses) are probably on to the next wave of what the church needs to become so it won't die.

I am bothered, though, by the idea that the laity can run things better than the clergy, and that liturgy should be dropped as much as possible in favor of "experience," and that church buildings/hierarchy/Christianity-as-religion somehow automatically equals bad. All of these things, in their proper context, with humility and in moderation, are extremely helpful in building up the body of Christ. That's probably why they've been around 2000 years, as has this faith. I don't like it when people just want to drop something that's proven its worth. That's a shallow view of history and dangerous to the church. There is a reason our rituals work - they affect us on a deep level, because (I believe) they were inspired (just as much as Scripture!!!). ACK! The heresy police are knocking at m'door!

Actually, speaking of heresies, what is up with this doctrine of "oneness"?? There was a presentation on Pentecostalism today and they talked about how at least one branch, PAW, believes this oneness thing which essentially sounds like Unitarianism. Definitely they deny the Trinity. And I'm not saying whether that's right or wrong, but I really gotta ask why are these people allowed at Fuller? I mean, the Trinity is a creedal statement. It's not like it's some weird offshoot doctrine. It's pretty darn central to the church from almost the very beginning.

So you tell me, why can a person who doesn't believe this foundational part of most branches of Christianity get to come to Fuller but a person born gay can't????

I mean, gee, I might as well stop believing Jesus is the son of God, or in the existence of the Holy Spirit! Sure couldn't get me kicked out of my school!!

However, I piss people off constantly for intimating that the sacraments are somehow central to the Christian life, or that they were instituted by God as Her way of reaching out to us. Naw, I should forget about Eucharist and Baptism - what really counts is speaking in tongues, right?!? Hell, if the HS has manifested in me and I yell out a bunch of gibberish nobody (even myself) can understand, that makes me way more a true Christian than someone who believes some crazy notion like the triunity of the Godhead!

I tell ya. Sometimes the things we come up with....we're just weird.

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

Say it isn't so! My weather email came today predicting ONE HUNDRED PERCENT chance of rain tomorrow! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Tomorrow is the MultiFaith Fair that I've been planning for months! It's my hugest thing of my internship and the thing I was completely in charge of. And it is outside. And if it rains, there's no backup plan, it just gets cancelled. That's it! Kaput!!

ARRRRRRGHHHHH!

This is not allowed! We've worked too hard - and it was going to be so cool! With Mardi Gras theme and we bought all these beads and masks and fun stuff. And I got all these people to perform and sit at tables explaining their religion. It was going to be so much fun!

Surely, between the 15 or 20 faiths represented, SOMEBODY has got to have some pull with the Almighty!!

Of course, our Secular Alliance will be able to have a big laugh at all of us. :-)

And I'm sure Pat Robertson would say it's because we are glorifying false religions.

This SUCKS! Pray for sun!!! I know God can do it!!!!

It won't go away

I don't know if it's kismet or fate (are they the same thing?) or God or what, but the whole situation of Africa simply will not leave my life. And that's a good thing. I'm going to keep preaching on here about it until more of us are signed on to help. Because it's completely ridiculous what's happening over there considering our resources.

I met another person intimately involved with a group over there, and this time I am really excited because the group is not only concerning AIDS and Africa but also is Interfaith! Wow! What a great connection. It's the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, and I met one of the board members and we're striking up a tentative acquaintance (based originally, actually, on his art collection, which is the coolest). Here is a newsletter that describes some of his work over there. With a healthy baby niece and nephew of my own, I cannot imagine the horrors this family is going through:
http://www.thegaia.org/news/archives/august2004.htm

We are indeed blessed.

So yeah, Africa keeps calling. I'm trying to listen. I'm just opening my ears to every call around me and spreading as much of the word as I can.

Re: Palestine, today I found a class that I really, really want to take that's during the same week as the trip. So that pretty much seals the deal on that one. Which is fine - I'd rather the final reason be academic, since that's truly my vocation at the moment.

And besides, as horrible as I feel about the situation in the Holy Land, the true cry of my heart is for Africa and AIDS. And hey, while we're at it, what's up with The Constant Gardener not being nominated for Best Picture??? (all I can figure is it came out too early and lost steam - but seriously, I enjoyed it, and Walk the Line and The New World more than any of the 5 nominated films. Sigh...someday they'll learn their place and hire me to give out awards)

Oops, see how I can devolve into caring about the stupidest American shit? But that's what makes me a well-rounded person, right? (quite literally)

Anyway, I overslept (which is a great thing - I've been sick so I needed it!) so I've got to get my butt in gear for class. Today I get to go listen to presentations on, among other things, the emerging church. Gee, I wonder which emerging church they will pick? The one that's based completely on artifice (candles, hip music, and stations=emergent! Oh, and of course a reference to the Matrix) or the one that's about radical indigenous community (like our buddies at cota). We shall see. I noticed them with Dan Kimball's book, so my money's on Door #1.

I gotta finish my cota movie and spread the word about the real way to do this!!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Did Jesus attribute any importance to his death?

That is the question I have to write a 4-6 page paper on today. 4-6! This is a dissertation topic!

I think I'm going to focus it on the words of institution at the Last Supper - you know, get my little liturgical theology kicks. Of course it's not going to be exhaustive - but with a 4-6 page limit, you can't possibly look at all the support for a yea or nay answer to this question.

Anyway, I had a few initial thoughts that aren't going to wind up in the paper because I've taken this new tack (and actually, I think the evidence is against them - they're just what I think, but apparently the Bible disagrees. Damn. Hate it when that happens). Since they won't go in the paper, what better place to put them than on here? So here's some food for thought at 8:40 on a Saturday morning!

Did Jesus attribute any importance to his death? Yes, but. He saw it as a necessary end to his mission. But he didn't recognize it alone as the only reconciling act of God to humanity.

Did Jesus think his death was important? Yes, because of what it would cause to happen. Because it would open the way for a new understanding between humans and God, a relationship based on love and communion, on giving of Godself, over old sacrificial ways. Jesus' life, more than his death, was important. Jesus' incarnation was probably the most important moment of all.

To say that Jesus went to Jerusalem specifically to die is a somewhat defeatist position, relying too heavily on his death as being the primary action of his earthly ministry. Surely there was more to the Incarnation of God than a plan to be killed by people (no matter how much that dying might accomplish).

So we may indeed say that Jesus attributed importance to his death, and certainly knew it was a likely possibility if not inevitable based upon his radical reorientation of societal norms.

However, we must qualify these statements by refraining from making death Jesus' only - or even primary - aim in living. The importance Jesus attributed to his death had to do with what he knew this inevitable act would excite in his followers. His death, ironically, would provide them with the necessary push to move the global mission forward. His resurrection especially would provide impetus for forward motion of the new covenant of God with humanity. Had Jesus no purpose other than to die, his disciples would not have had much to go on in creating a world changing movement. His goal was first to teach, to train, to make apostles - and then, to push them out of the nest with the radical act of allowing his own death (with the subsequent miracle of resurrection).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Interfaith Impediments

Can one participate in interfaith work while still believing in truth?

This is a question that I'm dealing with. One of our students has begun feeling uncomfortable in the group because she's conservative (politically) and believes her religion is best. That's perfectly okay with the rest of us. In fact, we purposely look for students who are strong in their beliefs because they can teach the rest of us the most about their tradition, and also will usually find their faith strengthened by being part of our council.

Our hard and fast rule is that nobody is there to convert anybody. However, the students do tend to relax their ideas about exclusive truth claims. I've found my own ideas about ultimate truth challenged and about how God relates to humanity expanded. It's very hard to sit across the table from a devout practicioner of another religion, week after week, and still be able to say that person has no access to God or is fooling him or herself. You do start to wonder if maybe God has reached into the world in a few different ways...maybe still believing your way is best, but also being unable to deny not only the devotion but also the fruits in these others' lives.

But by the nature of the group mostly liberal (politically) students join up in the first place. And mostly they do not represent Christianity. Other proselytizing religions come - Muslim, Jewish - but the Christians pretty much stay away. We have only 2 Roman Catholics and an LDS purely representing Christianity. We also have a Christian guy who is there representing a spiritual exploration group, and another who was raised in a Muslim/Christian household (so obviously he knows how to straddle the line). We lost our Episcopalian to a study-abroad program, and our two Presbyterians to busy schedules. We never had an Evangelical, despite my fervent attempts to recruit someone.

I don't know how we can be more friendly to more conservative religions. I'm sure it's very hard for our LDS rep who is about the only conservie in the group these days (although the Baha'i and Muslim faiths are also pretty conservative). Recently a few students met with our Religious Directors (clergy/etc who help run the student groups) and they were asked how they deal with conflicting truth claims. Our Jewish rep was saying how they're all pretty liberal and open to other beliefs, but the LDS girl stopped him and said that she believed in truth and believed her religion had it. Which is the kind of lovely moment that we hope for when we have these students on the council, but I think it made her feel like a weirdo.

Nobody should be made to feel that way for simply trusting in their faith. That's quite unfair.

So I'm wrestling with this. We're losing more conservative people and maybe that's just the nature of the beast. But at least the Catholics and Muslims will sit at table with the rest of us - the Evangelicals won't even show up! They refuse to participate in our multi-faith events, as if they could somehow be tainted by contact with other religions.

I do sense a reluctance, even in my Fuller colleagues, to engage other faiths in dialogue. I don't know if people are scared or what. Maybe they fear becoming like me. :)

I've only had great experiences with people from other faiths and they have taught me so much. It's those of my own tradition that I have trouble with.

But I do also bear some blame for helping to create this atmosphere that is intolerant of intolerance. The plain fact is, everyone has a place at our table and in practice it does come off as everyone's opinion/belief being equally valid. That's threatening. And we think the students can handle it but I'm watching one crumble under the weight of it and that breaks my heart.

What should I do? What would you do? What would Jesus do?
(ha ha couldn't resist)

Actually now that I think about it, our group is really a motley crew. We have:
a Zen Catholic
a Hindu interested in Buddhism and Christianity
another person raised Hindu who now leads an nonsectarian meditation group
a spiritual explorer who was raised Catholic
a Jew raised Catholic/Jewish
a Christian raised Christian/Muslim
a Buddhist who is also Episcopalian
an Episcopalain who is also Buddhist
an athiest raised Christian
a Christian who's representing a multifaith spiritual exploration group
and a Baha'i, and they consider all religions equally valid.
The only straight up one thing people we have are the LDS, Muslim, and the other Catholic.

This is it people - this is what religion looks like on a college campus today. These students have been raised with mixed notions and they are seeking even more ways to be spiritual. Rather than one way, most go with several to see what works best. Christians bemoan this state of affairs. But I wonder....

Should we let ourselves be threatened? Or should we find a way to work within it?

By not showing up to the table, Evangelicals are giving up their voice. They are losing the opportunity to be one among many paths that a student can choose. Now perhaps they have no interest in being one among many - it's my way or the highway. But the reality is, you can't really think that way anymore. Not in our global pluralist culture. You don't have to say the others are right, but it wouldn't hurt to at least offer your option too.

That's what I think anyway. I wish Christians would at least stand up and say yes, we're a choice too!

Bleh

So my body decided to give out a couple weeks early this term. Usually it waits at least until finals week. But now maybe I will be well for finals and spring break. That would be a treat.

It's just a cold. Yesterday I felt like utter kaka but today I'm a bit better. I'll tell you, I never got sick so much when I had (good) health insurance. It's like Murphy's law.

Of course my body is working against me. What's the one thing I need? Rest. What happened last night? Total insomnia. No sleep. Even took 2 halves of my Trazadone and nuthin'. Yet somehow right now, though I don't exactly feel refreshed per se, I feel at least alert enough to sit here wasting time talking to you instead of doing my homework!

I can trace this thing right to the culprits, too - the person who I sat next to in Gospels on Tuesday and my internship supervisor with whom I spent the rest of the day Tuesday. Both were very much in the middle of a cold. And they shared.

But I have to admit that I haven't been exercising (had to quit Curves b/c they raised our rent), nor is my pre-finals menu of mostly fries and beer probably helping much.

Still.

Unclog my nose
Say I'm breathing again
Undo this cold you caused
when you wiped your nose
then you touched my hand
Unclog my head
I couldn't breathe all night
Unclog my nose....my nose....

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Carnival

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Get ready for this week's Progressive Faith Carnival!

Progressive Faith Blog-Con 2006 Carnival

This week's carnival is hosted by Pearlbear. Submit your links to ProgFaithCarnival - at - yahoo.com.

We also need volunteers to host the Carnival for upcoming weeks.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Unprayed Answers

Hey, it's better than unanswered prayers, right?

So I floated the idea of TA'ing for my favorite professor today and he was really into it! In fact, next quarter (yikes - one month from now) he's teaching a class I've taken and thinks I might be able to do that one. Wowsa. It would be such an honor...and actually something I think I could do very well. Of course it's pretty good for my career, too, especially if it winds up being academic, which is feeling more and more right these days.

Yesterday I chatted with my internship supervisor about the ordination process, which she is very good about bugging me about. She suggested I talk directly to the people who were on my committee rather than waiting to hear back from the church staff. Not to go behind their backs or anything, just to say Hi and see if these people are still interested in pursuing the discernment thing with me. I know how busy the ministers are and they probably just don't have time to deal with me right now. It feels good to have something proactive to do about it, instead of just waiting for other people to help me.

And finally last night I was meeting with the powers-that-be at USC Religious Life and the Dean mentioned a rabbinical student had contacted her about a paid internship with their office. She was running the idea past my supervisor, and fortunately Elizabeth said, "Well if we pay anyone it should be Stasi!" And Rabbi Susan hadn't even thought of that but thought it was a great idea. So they have this huge national Interfaith Conference next year, and they are going to see if there's a way to hire me to work on it part-time!! Either as a consultant a few hours a week or maybe even half-time which means full benefits. Oh, how I miss my USC benefits! And what a treat to work on this conference. It's so up my alley.

Anyway, good stuff is happening. I can't even get all that freaked out about my last couple weeks' overwhelming workload because things are just dropping out of the sky and saying Hello! Be happy!

May God also answer your prayers you don't think - or dare - to pray.

Movie to see

I've been meaning to tell you that I watched the best movie over the weekend - Millions. Most people haven't heard of it (in my recommending it to profs, that is), but it's outstanding and I recommend it very highly. It's completely appropriate for families with pre-teen or teenage kids. I think it would hold the attention of teens, yet it has no explosions! Imagine!

Yes, it's very good, I even loved the kid actors in it - not annoying. So go find it and watch it!

Hail Geekdom

Well, I've been running into a lot of scholarly geekiness lately. Yesterday my prof was telling us all about the inside jokes in several indices of NT scholars' books (like EP Sanders referencing the blank pages in another book, and another person's rebuttal which is a bit complicated to explain here). Reminds me of the stuff people look for in movies - the little references in Pixar films to their other projects, continuity mistakes, etc etc.

Anyway a friend forwarded me a couple very geeky posts. But since I'm a little bit geeky, and I'm guessing a few of you are, I thought I'd share, risking being banned from the cool kids' table forever. Oh well, it would be nothing new.

The theology of kissing
The philosophy of kissing

And while we're being amused, this set me off in uncontrollable giggles and has completely taken me away from the chapters I'm supposed to be reading this morning. It's Landover Baptist's movie guide! Now I will say that it's pretty raw and not for everyone - and can be quite mean-spirited towards Christians. Clearly some haters wrote parts of this site.

Nonetheless, the way they can find a homosexual agenda behind every single movie Hollywood releases is pretty damn funny (you know, because "Kong" rhymes with "Dong"). Or check out the Return of the King review, which had me in tears. I wonder if I know the Baptist mole at New Line? It's quite possible.

Anyway, I leave you with this, from the review of a very popular Pixar film:

"Instead of running around looking for a little fish named Nemo, why don't you try finding Jesus? You unsaved morons!"

Monday, February 20, 2006

Another Case Study

For this reflection paper, imagine you are the senior pastor of the congregation you consider to be your church home.

Rachel and Dan are a couple in their mid 20s in your church. They are faithful members and have a dynamic faith in Christ. They have announced their engagement and have approached you to officiate their wedding. You have met with them regularly for pre-marital counseling and to plan the wedding. As you begin finalizing details of the wedding two months before the ceremony, they go to a friend’s wedding and return with an idea for their ceremony: they would like you to serve them communion after they take their vows, but think that the size of the congregation (over 200) for the wedding would prevent everyone from receiving without it taking too long. In other words, they want to commune only, not open it to the entire congregation.

How do you respond? What are the historical and theological precedents for this practice? How does this square with the theology of the Lord’s Supper in your own tradition? How does the fact that a wedding is worship service in your church play into your response? If you respond without granting their request, what pastoral approaches do you take in your approach?

Does it matter if the bride’s mother is the church chair? The groom’s father a new Christian?

If you require communion for all, how do you fence the table? (that is, who is allowed to commune?)

I'll post my answer in a couple days.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

More about Initation rites

I was just having an interesting conversation with J about initiation. I'm reading a chapter from James White about historical beliefs on fencing the Eucharist table, and in discussing the communing of children he brought up the issue of mental capacity. At what point do churches with believer's baptism and requirements for cognitive understanding prior to communing allow those with mental disabilities to participate in these activities? It's one thing if you're a child who'll eventually grow up and understand. What if you'll never advance developmentally past the point of 7 or 4 or even 2 years old? Are you out of the body of Christ? Is it not important or possibly to be baptized or to take communion? What does this say about our ecclesiology - and our inclusion? What about Jesus' work - he would frequently forgive sins prior to healing physical disabilities. Does this have implications on the discussion?

Anyway that got us talking about our own initiations, and I realized that mine actually included an additional step beyond baptism, confirmation, and first communion: praying the Sinner's Prayer or prayer of conversion. In my life, they happened in this order: 3 or 4 years old, prayer of conversion ("ask Jesus into your heart"). 8 or 9, baptism. Junior High, confirmation. And I don't remember when I first took communion, but it was probably after baptism. I think that was part of our belief system, to be baptized first. Hard to remember now. And I may have those years off (if someone who remembers is reading, correct me).

And that seems to be the pretty typical case in many of my friends' children's lives. Somehow this prayer of conversion is allowed - even encouraged - years before anyone would remotely consider baptizing these children. So what is that about? How can you supposedly be a Christian for several years prior to baptism and communion? (I guess it's a lot less important when those are "ordinances" not "sacraments") As best as I can remember, there was something about a private confession just between you & God (or Jesus), and only when you were ready for public profession of faith did you get baptized.

But J was really taken aback that I wasn't immediately baptized when I prayed the prayer. He said at his church, Southern Baptist, your prayer wouldn't "count" unless you were willing to get up and publicly confess your faith. Thus, the two always went together. Which is at least a bit more consistent. And I guess in his church, you wouldn't be encouraged to pray the prayer until you were at an appropriate age for baptism, which is defined as an age with cognitive understanding of the faith. I think his prayer/baptism was at 5 or 6 years old.

Anyway, I'm now questioning whether I like my friends telling their children to ask Jesus into their hearts. I got a letter from a friend rejoicing that their son, who is probably 3 or 4, had done so. But I don't know if it's really a very good idea. Seems like it causes confusion. For one thing, there's no external thing to point to to say for sure whether it was done or effective. This is why most people I know pray the conversion prayer several times throughout their lives, especially during high school at youth camps when the pressure's on, but really any time one feels one may be drifting. If salvation is based on a private prayer only, it's nerve-wracking to think you may have done it wrong, or how could you possibly have done it right when you could barely talk at 3 years old??

I remember a friend who did it every year at Vacation Bible School so she could get whatever prize they were awarding that summer. That's so funny to me now.

But seriously, that's why baptism and/or confirmation and/or first communion are better - they are public, they are ritual, they require external signs and circumstances. They are recorded and witnessed by other people. You can point to them and say Yes, it happened, and I know it was done right.

Anyway, those are a few more thoughts. I never thought about the Sinner's Prayer as an initiation rite before. What do you think?

Stuff we've recently said

"The solution to liturgical abuse is always education not reformation."
(John McAteer)

"The strongest evangelical statement I've made has frequently been 'I don't know.'"
(me)

Baptism Case Study

I'm going to go ahead and post my paper now, since it's long turned in. Those of you who are Episcopalian, hope I did right (please be gentle!) - note that the point was to talk about my personal theology of baptism and not only my denomination's. And thanks for all your helpful suggestions, some of which made it in. I really liked the idea about the Easter Vigil rubric but it came too late to be incorporated into the paper.

Those of you who aren't Episcopalian (or Christian), check out our funky ideas! Ha ha! We're wild and crazy! We like to dunk people in water then say they've been possessed by a spirit!

Seriously, my parents would just die if they read this. O how far we stray from the (mis)information of our youth.

Okay, enough. Here it is.

Case Study #1: Baptism

John and Maria plan to baptize their infant, and John has requested rebaptism due to personal faith renewal. In responding, it is important to affirm John’s spiritual journey, and the piety behind his request. As a church we are delighted that he has recovered a strong commitment to his faith. Indeed, his request for rebaptism shows that he grasps the significance of the sacrament as an act of incorporation into the church, union with Christ, and forgiveness of sin.[1] He is certainly on the right track. Pastorally, we may also recall the cautions of Tertullian, who believed infant baptism to be “unwise because the sponsor may not be able to fulfill their vows, and of course the child may grow up and denounce the faith.”[2] In John’s situation, his sponsors or his church community may have failed him, and we want to be sensitive to any healing that he is searching for by requesting this ritual.

From a theological standpoint, I would explain to John that baptism is a once-for-all act: “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”[3] In fact, it is the very act performed earlier in his life which has brought about the renaissance he’s recently experienced. The Holy Spirit came upon him at baptism, and has been working within him even during the years he felt distant from God. His spiritual reawakening is a direct result of his earlier baptism, an affirmation of his having received the Spirit at that event.[4] He is truly “living into his baptism.”

Fortunately for John and Maria, they’ve chosen a church with rich liturgical resources that can provide the experience John is looking for within the proper ritual and theological context. I would recommend a combined rite of baptism for baby and Reaffirmation for John.[5] The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer provides for Reaffirmation as part of the baptism service, making this an easy – and approved – combination to provide. The service is especially meaningful because it will allow John to make his affirmations both for himself and on behalf of his baby simultaneously, even as the entire congregation reaffirms their baptismal covenants, cementing their support of the new family in their life of faith. John would have sponsors from the church body, and he, Maria and Godparents would be acting as sponsors for the child.

It is only at the actual baptism and prayers over John that the rites will diverge, and these words make clear the difference between them. Baby is “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism,” but to John we say, “John, may the Holy Spirit, who has begun a good work in you, direct and uphold you.[6] This prayer acknowledges the lifelong effects of baptism – John was sealed by the Holy Spirit, and now that same Spirit has rekindled his passion for God.

In preparation for Reaffirmation and baby’s baptism, John (with Maria and sponsors) would undergo a truncated catechumenate process – not as lengthy as that for an adult convert, but a series of classes nonetheless that explain the promises and sign-acts of the ritual. John will learn that the primary action taking place in any sacrament is God's. Yet we are not without responsibility: we must accept God’s offer of relationship by participating in the sacrament. This is undertaken with utmost seriousness on the part of clergy, candidate, sponsors, and congregation, which is particularly crucial when the one baptized is an infant (as John may know from good or bad experience).

John will also learn about the symbolism and history of baptism in his classes. For instance, when we anoint the baptizand’s forehead with oil in the sign of the cross, we are hearkening back to Jewish tradition, in which converts were marked with the Taw, a symbol of the name of God. “The sign is like a brand signifying ownership: the one baptized now belongs to God forever.”[7] The sacrament of Baptism is the moment when one becomes a member of the Body of Christ, and this was true for John (whether baptized as an infant or believer). Because of our American love affair with individualism, faith has mistakenly skewed towards individual commitment. The Anglican vision sees incorporation into the Church as vital to salvation; salvation is not a personal choice that gets one into heaven, but is sharing in the life of God. The Church is the Body of Christ; it affects and upholds an individual’s mystical union with God, inaugurated in baptism. What is foremost in John’s Reaffirmation is not his personal story but rather him reclaiming his rightful place in God’s cosmic story.

The only situations in which John’s initial baptism may be considered ineffective would be if it were done without water or without invoking the trinity. Once again, the Episcopal Church provides a liturgical solution to the problem:

If there is reasonable doubt that a person has been baptized with water, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (which are the essential parts of Baptism), the person is baptized in the usual manner, but this form of words is used
If you are not already baptized, John, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.[8]

Apart from this (somewhat unlikely) possibility, the first baptism of John stands sufficient for his inclusion in the Body of Christ (with the attendant saving grace), and the appropriate step for his current faith journey would be a ritual Reaffirmation of Faith.
Additional Note:

When I discussed this case study with an Episcopal priest, she pointed out to me that Confirmation may actually be the proper step for John, if he hadn’t been confirmed but only baptized as an infant. This is one area where his baptism being “believer’s” could make a difference in the situation, since frequently believer’s baptism does involve some kind of confirmation process. In a situation like this, we would have to find out about the baptism itself and also whether he’d been confirmed or not, and decide based on that information whether to Confirm or Reaffirm (or Receive). As I had already finished the paper above, I chose to add this additional note rather than get into all the “what-if’s” in the body of the paper.

One more reason why the separation of initiation rites proves troublesome!

[1] See White, James F., Introduction to Christian Worship 3rd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000), 217ff.
[2] Lecture: “Initiation” (Johnson, CH 507).
[3] The Book of Common Prayer, 298.
[4] A belief based upon Jesus and believers receiving the Holy Spirit at some point in their initiation process: see the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism or baptism stories in Acts 8, 10, and 19.
[5] Note that special arrangements would need to be made as Reaffirmation is done by a bishop.
[6] BCP, 310.
[7] Webber, Christopher, A User's Guide to Morning Prayer and Baptism (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1997), 41.
[8] BCP, 313.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sad news

My friend's dad died. Heart attack. She was so close to him. She's my age. He was young. It was sudden and unexpected.

My problems are so lame.

I know what you did last weekend...

I went to a retreat with seminarians from Jewish and Catholic seminaries. I guess I was representing Protestantism, though I'm not really the best candidate for that.

I actually was kind of advanced for all of it - purely because I've spent so much time in real Inter-faith dialogue (I didn't really consider this group inter-FAITH) this year. The things that were amazing or difficult for others were things my kids taught me a long time ago. So it was all nice, but a little bit retread. And it kept bugging me how Christian/Jewish it was - no Eastern perspective, not even Muslim. It felt very exclusive. I mean, I guess it's cool if you've never met a Jewish person or a Catholic, but if you regularly dialogue with Swamis and Buddhist Monks, this group comes off as pretty tame - and very homogenous.

So anyway at one point I'm talking to this guy who's a catholic, and we're all about liturgy, and how great it is, and how much fun it is to be sacramental theologians. We're lightly ripping on the low church ideas about baptism, etc. - all in good fun, you know, just enjoying "our way" best.

At one point I said something about not being Catholic and working my way there, and he said Oh you're Anglican, you're close enough. Anglicans are fine.

But then somehow he made a distinction between Anglicans and American Episcopalians and I said well that's what I am and he stopped in his tracks.

You're Episcopal? You said you were Anglican!

I tried to explain, but from his body language and sudden change of tone I could see I had suddenly not become a Christian to him. He learned I was liberal and there went his opinion of me, down the toilet. He even chastised me for going to a conservative school like Fuller and told me I deserve whatever trouble I get there.

At one point, he even sneered, "Weren't you guys kicked out of the Anglican church?"

And I had to explain No, not the Episcopalians, the churches that split were kicked out because they voluntarily left the communion. Well they weren't even kicked out, they just left.

Which he argued with, telling me no, he was pretty sure we were kicked out.

And I said no, the Americans were chastised for moving forward with Robinson's ordination before the Communion was ready for it. And the Africans were chastised for taking our churches into their dioceses, which is against the rules of the communion. And both of us were asked to sit out of one meeting.

And we wrote a very well-done statement about why we did what we did.

But that interchange pretty much ruined the weekend for me. I already had enough trouble sleeping and was not in the best of moods. Then this little encounter happened and I just want to go home. Here's what I wrote in the throes of emoting:

I'm pretty much done with this whole experience. I feel crappy. I almost left the next session because I was on the verge of tears. Yet again, I don't belong, I'm not accepted, and my brand of Christianity doesn't count. When I tried to tell him that I care about the creeds and the Bible and I really wrestle to biblically explain my liberal social positions, he snorted: I'll bet you do.

What a jackass! He even said, rather sarcastically, "Well I guess I can still talk to you." This is not following the rules of civilized dialogue.

Well anyway thank God for the Jews, because they rescued the day. I had lunch with a great group of students from the University of Judaism, and they were so cool. I guess because they were, although from a conservative school, much closer to me politically and socially.

I don't think I'd go again, it just wasn't that valuable of an experience for me and would probably be better for someone else. That said, I'm really happy I met the people I did and I hope to stay in touch with them. It never hurts to have a rabbi in your pocket, right?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I'm a big chicken

I feel so pathetic. I've talked this great game on here. If you read this you've heard me going on and on about my deep desires to do something for the world. I talk about my heart breaking for Africa and being restless and wanting so badly to get out and make a difference.

I found CPT and met the Hebron guy, and then met other people and my friend wants to go with me, and we were going to go together and it's the right length and a time when I could go and it's dirt cheap ($2000 inc airfare for 10 days) so that I could even pay it out of my own pocket if I didn't raise support.

And now I'm chickening out. I'm just getting scared. I met a bunch of Jewish seminarians over the weekend and they'd all been to Israel, and they were all advising me strongly against going. They said it's just a powder keg right now. And chances are something will go down this summer, right during the time I'd be there.

I wanted to go because it's dangerous. They told me it's the front line and I said yeah, that's why I'm going. But they said they understood the sentiment but it's not worth it. They even said the settlers there are assholes who will not care who they hurt. There's a huge chance of getting caught in crossfire. It only takes one person doing the wrong thing on either side and it all explodes.

And you know I've been sitting on this application for months and I just can't get myself to finish it. I don't want to be scared. I don't want to be a wimp. But am I even doing this because I'm called, because I care? Or am I trying to show some kind of bravado? Or worse, and most likely knowing me, am I doing it for attention??

I don't want to give up on these feelings I've had all year. I feel like a loser. My friends are in Papua New Guinea. My brother's gone to New Zealand the last couple years. Even my sister spent 6 weeks in India working in an orphanage.

What do I do? Squat. When I travel, I go to Paris and sightsee and spend a month's rent on one dinner. I go to Scotland and pretty much do the same (except the dinner part - that's more a once-a-life thing).

The world is so big and so needy and I just wanted to get out there and help somewhere. Maybe there's another org in the Holy Land that is in a safer area (I was told it was pretty much just because it was Hebron that it was so bad). Maybe one of these Africa feelers I've put out will yield something. I don't know.

I just feel like I'm going to be so lame if I do nothing but go to school this summer. I know, I know, that's what I'm doing right now, and it's noble and all that. But I really thought I might have started caring. I thought I was bigger than just a person who wants a degree to better herself. I wanted to help someone.

It's just things keep coming up and stopping it, not unlike my ordination process. I have all these deep wants but nothing is working out. I even feel stupid if I just find someplace to help this summer here in town. And that's dumb! I should be really happy to help wherever! Why do I need the glamour of an exotic locale to do God's work? It's just God's work!

But what would be the problem with me going to Israel to sightsee, to see the places I study? I mean, really? I would feel like that was stupider than purposely putting myself in harm's way. Or at least more selfish. When actually the latter is probably most selfish.

I don't know. I don't know. The only thing I've known for sure without a doubt in the last couple years is that I'm getting the degree I'm supposed to get. From day one everything has gone perfectly with this MDiv. And I've never had one iota of doubt about getting the degree (about the place I'm getting it, sure, but not the degree itself). I love my studies. I love it so much. And I hate that I feel so guilty about that.

I hate feeling unfulfilled because I'm holding myself to some other standard. I don't even know who's stupid standard it is! I don't even know why I'm beating myself up over this. Why would it hurt so much to let this dream die? Would the world end if I just didn't go?

The other thing that keeps coming up is teaching. I did a presentation today and someone told me that I should be teaching at seminary. That he'd sign up for my classes. And it's not the first time - whenever I present in an academic setting people tell me I'm good at it. That I make tough stuff interesting and passion comes through in my presentation.

And then there's this paper publishing thing. And the looming idea of Phd. Maybe I should just save up my energy for teaching. Maybe I shouldn't try to change the world. Well except change it through teaching. Which is certainly a way to do it.

But if I don't do something with these feelings of pain for the world - besides bugging you guys with my incessant blogging - and wearing my ONE bracelet and telling people why - if I don't actually get myself to Africa or Hebron...have I failed? Have I failed my heart - my desires? Have I failed God? Have I failed you?

Do you need me to make good on all this? Will I be a sham if I don't?

I wish I knew. I wish I knew what to do. I wish I knew how to be good. I wish I had unlimited time and money to do all this stuff I want to do. It's so hard to help when you're poor and busy, both of which school does to you in spades.

I don't know. I'm afraid to tell my friend that I might not want to go. But part of me feels like it would be a relief. Embarrassing, yes, especially to tell the people I've talked to so passionately about this that I chickened out.

Wouldn't it be so much nicer to go to the Holy Land - or anywhere - with J, bonding with him, not running off on my own? That can still be really impactful. I want the life-changing experience though. Or do I?

The biggest problem is that I just can't think that far ahead right now. I have papers due next week, the week after, and then all the big ones the week after that, then finals, then spring break during which I have to finish this movie from my summer class last year, then a whole other quarter to deal with, then I have to get this paper ready for publication...I mean, there's a lot, and that's not even beginning to touch on anything not academic. I don't even know what classes I'm taking next quarter and I register in 1 week. I'm so out of it.

I fear I'm in danger of not living in my present life and I don't ever want to be that person. Yet how do you ever make something big happen that actually requires planning if you're only living in the moment? It's a quandry.

All these people I've met, the signs pointing towards doing something, going somewhere. Am I ignoring the call? Or is there not anything there but coincidence? Do I need to listen harder or do I already know there's nothing to hear?

I don't have any answers. Blogging this out hasn't really helped. I'm afraid the answer is do nothing. And isn't that always a terrible answer?? Isn't that when evil thrives?

Help?

Free speech

Today I heard that a paper in the Middle East is sponsoring a contest for the best political cartoon on the topic of the Holocaust. They say they are doing this to "test the boundaries of free speech."

Too bad it's seriously misguided. For one thing, the papers that published the Muhammed cartoons are probably not edited, published, or owned by Jews. They are attacking the wrong people. They are going with an easy scapegoat. But it will only further the misguided notion that Muslims and Jews are somehow intrinsically at odds. It will only provide further fuel for anti-Muslim sentiment in West, not only because of sympathy for Israel, but more importantly because most Westerners (especially Christians) feel pretty damn guilty about the Holocaust (and subsequent genocides about which we did - or are doing - nothing) and don't care to see it trivialized purely on the grounds that it brings up our feelings of failure for trivializing it at the time it occured.

If they wanted to really get at the heart and soul of Europe, I honestly don't know how they could attack. They can't lampoon Christianity, since it's pretty much dead there. Countries like Denmark are not much more than an abstraction to many people in the world, just one more in a list of names of places they've never been and don't really care.

But of course I don't think they are mad at the papers themselves, or the European nations. Probably it's about the West in general, with our sophisticated understandings of such things as tolerance and free speech. We allow so much to slide that is probably pretty hurtful or disrespectful, in the name of keep our "freedoms". We rationalize everything away, justifying endlessly, when in fact we just want a license to behave badly and treat other people unkindly.

The contest is just a stupid publicity stunt. And it only has the power to harm more than help. It's like violence begetting violence. We all just end up dead.

More sad news

I learned of a distressing situation on Sunday. One of my very favorite priests is having major problems with his congregation. A few people quite suddenly decided to stir up trouble for the gay people at the church (which includes my friend, the rector). These people have been at the church all along and he's never hidden his orientation. They just started making a fuss now, over a year into his tenure there. They've written a letter to the bishop denouncing him and are generally spreading an atmosphere of hate within the body.

His partner said he's never seen Christians act so terribly towards one another. Now I've seen some pretty ugly situations against pastors (usually my own dad), and it hurts tremendously to have the people you love so much turn on you. In this case, the priest is about as gentle and humble as people come. It's horrible that this would happen to him, especially when he cares so much about his flock. My Fuller friends who met him agreed he was one of the most pastoral people they'd ever met. He even forced a couple of them to rethink their position on sexual orientation - not by arguing, just by being.

So please pray that the situation will get better. The letter to the bishop is almost funny, because our bishop is so pro-gay. But it's still no fun when churches divide and Christians act nasty to each other. I can understand disagreement and debate. What I don't think is appropriate is hatred and meanness.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Another one bites the dust

I'm actually really sad about this, because I have friends who attend this church. I've recommended it to people. Fuller people are associated with it. One friend is even interning there. This breaks my heart. Doubly so for it to come out on this day that is supposed to be about love.

February 14, 2006
To the clergy and laity of the Diocese of Los Angeles:
A statement from the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles

I have received word this afternoon that the congregation of St. Luke’s-of-the-Mountains Episcopal Church, La Crescenta, voted on February 13 to sever its ties with the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, and align itself with the Diocese of Luweero, Uganda.

I am deeply disappointed in the actions taken by the congregation and its clergy. We have worked in the past to resolve differences between the rector and parishioners of St. Luke’s and the diocese and the national Church. It is a painful matter to me to know that they have abandoned all attempts at reconciliation, which is at the heart of our Christian witness. We still hope and pray that we may come together again with our brothers and sisters of St. Luke’s Church.

The congregation’s claim on the property of St. Church is Luke’s clearly illegal according to the canons of our diocese and the national Church and to the laws of the State of California. It is my pastoral and fiduciary duty to this diocese to protect its property rights, and we will pursue this matter.

The Episcopal Church is a church of thinking people, and it is inevitable that its members will think differently about many matters of faith and practice. Dissension will not undercut the great work being done by Episcopalians here in the Diocese of Los Angeles, which is a vital and growing branch of Christ’s kingdom, bringing abundance to the people of Southern California.

All about my love

I love to eat. If you ever see me (and there’s lots of me), you could tell. I’m actually feeling my heart beat a little faster because the timer just rang for J’s homemade mac-n-cheez which is my Valentine’s lunch. The man knows the way to my heart, and it is through cheese.

I also got a great Valentine from him. No mushy card for me! Ha! I scoff at your chocolates and flowers, little girls! I got a heart with “I love you” written in the middle…made of buttercream…on top of a buttercream & white cake, my personal favorite in the world. Cake, man! Woo-hoo!!

If you’ve ever been to one of my birthday parties – or worked with me – you know my insane obsession with white cake. It's not that I'm against other cake, it's just not the way to celebrate me. Also I hate fruit in cake. There were huge debates over the relative merits of fresh strawberries versus pathetic little layers of jam. I'll simplify: it all sucks. It's healthy, and it doesn't belong in cake. Period.

Oddly, the year I decided to leave my job was the year I got a chocolate cake with raspberry filling for my birthday party. I’m not saying it was the reason, but there’s always a final straw.

In keeping with the food theme, I thought I’d point you to a couple fun diversions. I’m really impressed with deep end dining, which has jumped from spots on KCRW to this month’s Food & Wine. Wow…a food blogger’s dream come true. Especially b/c he’s one of the few mentioned positively in an article about the crap that passes for food blogging.

Oddly, crap might just be something Eddie Lin would try eating. Just check out a few of his best: the duck fetus, the brains, the menudo, the live tentacles, various ways of preparing blood across the Los Angeles basin…you’ll get the picture.

Then the other wonderful food-blog thing I found thanks to KCRW’s “Good Food” was this entry in which some quite inebriated young men head to In-N-Out and order a 100x100. I am not making this up. And they get it. There is video to prove it. There are photos. It’s beyond nasty. He said it was something like 20,000 calories. So go check it out, and thank the gods that you are not this crazy or drunk.

At least not until tonight.




May you find whatever it is you love - or love whatever it is you find!
Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Help! Polity Question!!

I'm really hoping an Episcopalian is reading right now. I'm working on a paper about baptism. Question: I know that a priest can do baptism when a bishop is not available. Can a priest also do Reaffirmation of baptismal vows, or can only a bishop do that (since it falls more in the category of confirmation)??

Thanks, guys! Just not finding exact directions in my BCP (this is where going to Epis seminary would help).

Since your interest may be piqued, I will share with you my assignment (but I'm not using your answers - well, not unless they are brilliant). I'll post my answer when I'm done, too.

Case Study: Baptism

John has been attending your church for two years since his wedding to Maria, which was in celebrated in your church. John and Maria became parents two months ago and now would like to have their child baptized. Maria has been a devout Christian since childhood. John was raised in the church, but never was firmly committed to the Christian faith. Since being married to Maria and becoming involved in your church, John has had a spiritual renaissance. John was baptized as an infant, but now would like to ritualize his newfound faith by being baptized again, along with his child.

Give your response to John and Maria. Defend your response using biblical, historical and theological sources. Please address at least the ecclesial and soteriological dimensions of your decision. Does your decision change if John was originally baptized as a believer rather than an infant?

[preview: I'm going to recommend John be reaffirmed at his infant's baptism - compromise, ya know?]

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Be a lover not a fighter

Sorry for the long delay. Shout-out to m'new readers (Tink, Ariel...you know who you are).

So anyways, here's a sitch I've been wanting to write on for a week.

It was one of those pre-church fights - the kind on the drive there that's exacerbated by being awake too early on the weekend and the pressure of performing at church. Ministers know this well. Garrison Keillor says, and I'm paraphrasing:

It's not easy being a minister. To preach about love and mercy and look down at a woman who's known you through some pretty rough times, some of your worst moments, and some pretty terrible fights, including one that isn't quite over yet!

There was this disagreement over something minor that I don't recall, and there we were entering church separately (which of course the greeter noticed and commented on - yikes!), and sitting in our pew with all the stuff between us (both material and emotional). Pretty much taking up half the row. Pouting, pissed off, not so much ready to meet God.

Then picked up the bulletin and noticed the day's sermon title: "Hurt". First in a series about things called "Heart Attacks". Boy, my heart was under attack already that morning.

Separate hymnals, separate bulletins. Fidgeting through the Scripture, knowing what was coming - a bona fide genuwine sermon directed Right At Us.

And the rector talked about hurt - how most people who hurt others are wounded themselves. How we usually just lash out because of our own pain. How we can get through even the worst.

She told the story of Horatio Spafford, who wrote "It is well with my soul." And though it's not in our hymnal, we got handouts and sang it together. Most of us. I cried.

Then we inched closer and closer together until during the confession his hand was on mine.

And during the peace we just clung for dear life.

Poor people around us probably felt weird - or maybe they understood. We were acting out the sermon illustration for them, after all.

By the end...shared hymnal, arms locked for the final prayer. Head on the shoulder during postlude.

The hurt...not gone...but healing.

Got a long tangent on mutual subordination today in class. But you know, I think this may actually be the problem. It seems obvious especially when considering the situation. Primarily it's about hurt and misunderstanding and assuming the worst. It's taking offense when none was intended and being impatient and ungracious. It's stupid little things we could easily overcome if we just had the energy.

I'm glad Valentine's Day is coming up. Gave me an excuse to find a sappy card. To think about what would make him happy in an unexpected way.

And to set myself up to be so happy to be in love with my best friend no matter what may be done or not done for me. The gift is the relationship.

No expectations, okay? You hear that? Stop thinking of what you want. Think of what to give.

It's hard.

Monday, February 06, 2006

No time to write

Here's the carnival this week:

http://www.crossleft.org/?q=node/1118

You'll have to go read some other blogs because my life has gotten too insane to have time to write. I'm a bit sad about that. Things are happening - it's not like there's nothing going on. I just can't justify sitting here writing when I have two midterms to write and several major papers I need to start working on. Plus there's that 500 or so pages of reading every week that is really starting to be a drag. Even when it's interesting stuff, it gets tiring, you know?

Yeah, so much is going through my mind right now, things I could write about. But I can't. I have to exercise some self-control. Look, today we are talking about baptism in my worship theology class. Our prof instructed us to leave all weapons at the door. But the pen being mightier than the sword, I might just have to keep a running tally of the fight. If there is one. Which I really hope there is. We'll see.

One other thing I can't get into in a big way but suffice to say that a very close friend and I are having major difficulties and it's weighing heavy on my heart. We're both just being selfish and not treating each other well. There's too much invested in the relationship and that makes fighting scary - so much of you in another person...so much they could hurt you with. Well at any rate, just remember us in prayers. There's already too much fighting in the world for comfortable people like us to be unhappy.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Just listen to Bono

Bono's Remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast

If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

Well, I'm the first to admit that there's something unnatural...something unseemly...about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert...but this is really weird, isn't it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind.

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It's very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned - I'm Irish.

I'd like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I'd like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws...but of course, they don't always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you're here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here - Muslims, Jews, Christians - all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it's odd, having a rock star here - but maybe it's odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was...well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays... and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land...and in this country, seeing God's second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash...in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment...

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical...not about God, but about God's politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick - my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world's poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord's call - and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic's point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

'Jubilee' - why 'Jubilee'?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lord's favor?

I'd always read the scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)...

'If your brother becomes poor,' the scriptures say, 'and cannot maintain himself...you shall maintain him.... You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.'
It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he's met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he's a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn't done much...yet. He hasn't spoken in public before...
When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,' he says, 'because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.' And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord's favour, the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18).

What he was really talking about was an era of grace - and we're still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate - in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn't a bless-me club... it wasn't a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions...making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones that didn't miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children...even [though the] fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet...conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS...soccer moms and quarterbacks...hip-hop stars and country stars. This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened - and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even - that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying...on AIDS and global health, governments listened - and acted.

I'm here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.
Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.
In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than 2 million Americans...Left and Right together... united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King - mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market...that's a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents...that's a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents...that's a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That's why I say there's the law of the land?. And then there is a higher standard. There's the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it's OK to protect our agriculture but it's not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that's what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won't, at least. Will yours?

[ pause]

I close this morning on...very...thin...ice.

This is a dangerous idea I've put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God...vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.
And this is a town - Washington - that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the scriptures call the least of these.
This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

'Do to others as you would have them do to you' (Luke 6:30). Jesus says that.

'Righteousness is this: that one should...give away wealth out of love for him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.' The Koran says that (2.177).

Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.' The Jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: 'The Lord will watch your back.' Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it?. I have a family, please look after them?. I have this crazy idea...

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.

Get involved in what God is doing - because it's already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what he's calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to 10% of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than 1%.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing....

Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Rant

I need to respond to the article Jeff Sharlet wrote for Rolling Stone. This is a super-scary article and I encourage you to read it if you haven’t yet. Go ahead, I'll still be here when you get back.

My gut reaction was: This is not the way our government is supposed to work! Congresspeople do serve their constituents, like it or not. They are not elected to serve God (as if God needed representation in our government!). They are in fact elected by people who vote for them with the understanding they’ll be represented. Saying a Congressman should consider himself as having only one constituent is irresponsible, un-American, and not why we pay their salaries.

But what if they boldly proclaim, "I am a Christian first and then an American/politician"? Well, after I pick myself up off the floor from laughing, I will tell them that if they are a Christian first, they can’t be in politics. Period.

Why? Because when you are elected as a politician you take an oath to serve your country or state or county – to serve the people who elected you. And Christians serve no one but God. So either Christian politicians are lying under oath (not big in God’s book) or they are idiots for thinking they can serve two masters. Idiots who’ve never read the Bible, where Jesus clearly says no dice on that one. No, I take it back – they are not idiots. The people who vote for them are.

And then there’s this idea of putting the country under Christianity – simply crazy. How good are theocracy track records? Let’s just look at the Islamic-run governments, for instance, or the way Europe was when the church and state were in bed together (they don't call it the Dark Ages for nuthin'). America was founded on precious principles of freedom of religion. And it is a pluralistic society people, whether you like it or not. If you want to live in a theocracy move to the Middle East. Please. See how that works out for ya.

In fact, did you see in all the election coverage of Hamas’ victory – did you see why they were elected? It wasn’t because all Palestinians are bloodthirsty and want terrorists running their government. It was because Hamas was the group that ran schools, hospitals, food banks…Hamas was the faith-based charity organization that kept the country fed, clothed, educated, and well while their government did...not those things.

Now I deplore their militant activities. I would never defend a suicide bomber, just like I wouldn't defend an assassination or a missile strike. But I can see where they are coming from - it's a horrible situation. And like it or not, certain arms of Hamas were essentially acting as a faith-based charity.

These American politicians who want to privatize everything – not just social security and healthcare but education, energy, transportation…these politicians are taking us down the same road. Because they are telling us not only to trust them to privatize all these areas of the government, but also to let them kill people for our safety!

Who does that sound like? They are “hunting down the terrorists”…they are waging wars in two countries…they are shooting missiles into apartment buildings willy-nilly. They are Killing in the name of the Safety of their Citizens.

Who else does that? Hamas. Who else privately runs the government services? Hamas.

Sam Brownback and his New Federalists come off a little less rosy when you export them halfway around the world and take away their enormous wealth and First World power. Serves us right if Hamas sets up a violent Islamic state. We would do no less if we could get away with it - we'd just call God by a different name.

We may have helped to make their bed, but their people have to lie in it. Let us pray for peace in Palestine. God's got to handle this one. It's just too big for us.

And you know what? These days, saying that you want Christianity to be the only recognized religion or that you are governing by that faith is the equivalent of racism. To say you won’t govern (or perform in a multifaith celebration!) next to a person of another faith is the same as saying you won’t do so with someone of another color. It’s so incredibly arrogant and offensive!

Yet we teach our students to reject interfaith opportunities as dangerous. We want to keep our wealth out of “Islamic hands.” We want only Christians in office with Christian values (or at least one version of them) running the country, shaping the Constitution (not an inspired document, by the way). We fear what could happen to us, our faith, and our God if a liberal judge gets on the court or a woman preaches or a gay couple marries or God forbid Hollywood makes another entertaining sex comedy.

Is our faith really so weak? Are we so threatened by Baal that we think our God isn’t going to show up and consume the sacrifice, altar, and all the water with holy fire??

We do not believe in God’s power, so we are trying to help God out. That’s always worked out so well in the past…the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Holocaust…

(okay, deep breath…)

I guess you can have at me now. But think about what I'm saying and see if it doesn't make a little bit of ironic sense.