Friday, December 24, 2004

GISS and Classism

Reader gordbrown writes in a comment below:
One of the things I learned from reading Karen Armstrong's "Battle for God" was how much fundamentalism is rooted in populism. Mainline churches are the religion of the elite, evangelical churches are the religion of the street. So, while I am incapable of checking my brains at the door in order to go to church, I am also more aware that my disdain for emotional responses to God's word is rooted in classism.

I think gord's onto something here. My own reaction is part agreement, part not.

It's not necessarily classism that runs differing tastes in worship style. As someone once said, culture is the vessel for all religion. And given the cultural diversity to be found in the United States, it's only logical to assume that our religious practice will adapt to meet the needs of various groups within the larger society. Different strokes for different folks. There is no one right way to worship God.

That being said, yes, there probably is an element of mistrust and even disdain for evangelical worship among sissified elites such as myself. Doesn't have to be so; for example: many Catholics, elite or not, would turn up their nose at "contemporary worship." And John Ashcroft, who is by any measure a member of the elite, is famously a member of the Assemblies of God.

But yeah, education and middle class status tend to form a particular sort of cultural taste, and that in turn influences our worship preferences. And yeah, progressive Christians need to be careful not to let our natural cultural biases turn into snobbism against the "intolerant" rabble. gord doesn't note it in his comment, but that's particularly true as we talk about black and Latino churches. They tend to more evangelical worship, but often also to political agendas more in sync with progressives than their white counterparts.

So there's the agreement. The disagreement is this. The UCC, for all its elite leanings, at least challenges itself on matters of inclusivity. I might be mistaken on this, but when was the last time you heard of the Southern Baptists or the Assemblies of God actually commit themselves to a program of being intentionally welcoming to people of color or the disabled? When was the last time you heard of an evangelical church that challenged itself to root out subconscious racism, or to practice love for gays and lesbians, whether or not they agreed with their "lifestyles"?

More important, I suppose, I'm not content to let this issue slide into just another episode in the culture war. I don't believe there is such a thing, in the first place. The supposed war is nothing more than a bunch of relatively small disagreements tricked up to build the careers of elites on both sides of the divide. Most Americans are in agreement on cultural issues, converging on a messy middle ground that some folks describe as a "tolerant traditionalism."

The message of the GISS ads speaks to exactly that middle ground by emphasizing the "tolerant" side of the equation. I've spoken to some very traditional people in my own congregation who are wholeheartedly on the side of the UCC on this issue. They're tired of having their society hijacked by those who may agree with them on the issues, but who are not willing to entertain different paths for other people.

In the end, I come out at the same place as gord: that God is still speaking ought to be a challenge to us all, across social and economic strata, and let us pray that we can live up to that challenge.


UCC Commercials Update

Since I saw a couple of letters to the editor on the subject of the UCC's recent God Is Still Speaking tv ads, I thought this might be a good time to bring everyone up to date on the advertising campaign and the parallel campaign to pressure the FCC to actually promote its core mission:  preserving the airwaves as a public trust.

As many of you may have seen during last night's "ER" rerun, there's a new GISS ad out.  You can see it by clicking on the link above.

Yup, the ad is running on both NBC and CBS, even though the core message is essentially the same as the "Bouncer" ad.  For some reason, the two networks decided that the second ad was less objectionable.  The UCC national offices are just as puzzled as we are.

There are GISS radio ads running as well, and I believe one or two more tv ads in the works.

According to the "Still Speaking" blog, the UCC's church finder web program has received over 100,000 hits as of 12/20.  That number is sure to spike this week, as families look for a church to attend on Christmas Eve.  They don't have data yet, but they claim that the response they've received in various forums has been overwhelmingly positive.  I can agree with that, based on reactions around here.

Meanwhile, the Accessible Airwaves project has seen 4,668 letters go out to the FCC.  

The only dark spot in an otherwise sunny sky is that they've only raised about $15,000 of the $100,000 they need to keep the battle going.  If you'd like to pitch in to remedy the situation, go here.

And if you'd like to tell me what you'd like to see in the next round of ads, use the comments below.

And with that, a Merry Christmas and good night to all!  I'll be thinking of you as we light our candles and sing "Silent Night" tonight...


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Light blogging over the holidays

I'm still fiddling with the site, and I have a wedding and a funeral to attend to next week. I'll get stuff up when I can...


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

We're out there

Vaugn Thompson of Icthus has a great idea. I keep finding more and more "faithforward" blogs out there, and we all seem to think that we're alone.

But that was John the Baptist calling in the wilderness, not us. Get over it.

We are not alone. (Speaking of which, thanks to Fredrick Clarkson for sending me the link.)


I just thunka something

Random thoughts in re: the UCC's "God Is Still Speaking" ad. More specifically, some of the backlash it's provoked from the Religious Right.

A conflict mediator once told me that people who place a premium on living a moral life can irritate the shit out of the people around them. Even if they have no intention of judging others, their deeply-felt commitments can come across as implicitly judgmental. Having grown up with any number of hippies, peaceniks, sandal-wearing Jesus freaks and activists, that rang instinctively true.

So I'm not without empathy for the Southern Baptists and other denominations that feel like the "GISS" ad cast an accusatory finger their way. Conservative evangelicals are no more racist than anyone else; in fact, they're probably more racially diverse than the liberal mainline denominations. Some of that has to do with where various churches have their strongholds; Southern Baptists and Methodists are racially integrated at least in part because they're based in the South. Episcopalians and the UCC, on the other hand, are typically stronger in northern--and less racially diverse--areas.

But all that said, to hell with the Southern Baptists and the other denominations getting their undies in a bunch over this ad.

If they're going to whine about feeling judged, they might as well hold up a mirror in front of their faces.

How long has the American public had to listen to the smug moralizing of Jerry Falwell?

How long have we had to be told that we're not "really" moral because we believe in tolerance, grace and mercy? Because we believe in not legislating our religious beliefs? Because we're not Republicans?

Screw 'em if they can't take a joke.

If the Religious Right wanted to respond positively to the "GISS" ad, they'd highlight their true diversity: among the poor and those recovering from substance abuse. For all the carping I (and many like me) do about conservative evangelical churches, there's no disputing that they do a magnificent job of drawing into the fold alcoholics, former drug addicts, the most street of people. They are to be commended for that work, and they could rightly point to it with some pride as their particular strength in the practice of welcoming.

Instead, they've responded by milking the persecution complex for all its worth. This, while claiming to be in the ascendancy in American politics and society.

Nice work if you can get it.


Pray, brothers and sisters

I bid you pray for:

  • Parents with children's problems, both large and small

  • Those disturbed by the world their children and grandchildren will grow up in

  • Those overworked at the end of a semester, or as they prepare for tenure review or other professional obligations

  • Those who miss peace, love, and understanding

  • Those whose friends and families have been diagnosed with serious disease

  • Those suffering from discrimination due to mental illness, and those who are depressed

  • Those facing financial shortfalls at Christmas, especially those who cannot afford a present for their children

  • Those suffering from serious illness, especially lupus, cancer or fibromyalgia

  • Those who must care for the seriously ill

  • Those who cannot feel the presence of the divine in their lives

  • Those craving political change

  • Those mourning the loss of friends
  • The families of the men and women killed in Tuesday's attack in Iraq, and for all who have lost a loved one in an unnecessary war

  • The family of Mrs. Smith, who died today at the age of 74 after a painful battle with cancer.

Gracious and loving God, we pray for all these things, spoken and unspoken.  May our hearts be ever open to the needs of your people, and may we live in service to them, compassionate people.  Comfort the suffering, restore justice to the world, and bring us peace.  We pray these things in the name of Emmanuel, our God-with-us.



Christmas Eve Meditation

In part riffing off KidOakland's Christmas Message.

Isaiah 9:1-7

It's been a sad couple of days.  Early Tuesday morning word came that a bomb had killed 22 people, 18 of them Americans, at a mess tent in Mosul.  Later that same day was a phone call from the chaplain at the Brethren Home:   Mrs. Smith was in the last stages of dying.

It's hard, honestly, to be weighed down with thoughts of death and at the same time get oneself into the joy and thanksgiving of Christmas.  Aren't we supposed to be happy this time of year?

I'm not complaining.  Mrs. Smith's family, and the families of those killed in Mosul, have far more on their shoulders this Christmas than you or I.  As if it weren't bad enough that she had to die just four days before Christmas, it was also her grandson's birthday.  Again, I'm not complaining.  There are other people who are far worse off than us.

And yet, what the scriptures tell us is that the joy and relief of Christmas comes about in the midst of--not despite--the all-too-familiar, all-too-routine suffering of the world.

There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.  In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

God is at work in the midst of the everyday wars, politics, and general mess of life.  He promises to the people of Jerusalem a savior, someone who will rescue them from the armies who occupy their lands.  Another famous section shows how irresistible this liberation will be:

The people who have walked in darkness
    have seen a great light:
those who lived in a land of deep darkness--
    on them light has shined.

Once the dawn has come, the night is no more.

And lest there be any doubt about what kind of savior this will be, Isaiah spells it out for us.  

For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

The Savior of Israel--the child who has been born to us--will come not just to lift Israel out of its misery, but to fundamentally change the equation that creates oppression and war.

Little wonder then that this Savior--whom we Christians confess to be Jesus, the child of Bethlehem--will be named "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace."

"All the boots of the tramping warriors, and all the garments rolled in blood, shall be burned as fuel for the fire."  Oh my Lord, I pray that that might come true.  I pray that our troops might come home from Mosul, and Iraq, and from around the world.  I pray that they might never need their boots again, that their blood-stained fatigues might as well be pitched in a fire as useless.  I pray that your peace might come and never leave us.  I pray that no more families might weep for the soldiers they have lost.

And what of Mrs. Smith and her family?  Is it too much to ask, Lord, that we might restored to the stature of Adam and Eve before they left your garden?  Is it too much to ask that your light might shine once more in the darkness, that what has come into being in your Son might be life, and that we might become children of God, "born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God"?


In the darkness of this night, we come to testify to the power of the light.  In the midst of war, we come to sing praises to the God of peace.  In the midst of grief, we confess that the Word of God, which is light and life and love, became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, in the midst of and in victory over the sadness of this world.  And in all this, we look forward to the fulfillment of the promises made in the birth of our Savior; to the establishment of his kingdom on earth; to his restoration of the world to right relationship with God and one another; to the promise of the resurrection, when we shall know death and grief no more.

As we prepare to light candles and sing "Silent Night," then, let us pray with assurance and joy that the peace of God might flood our hearts and transform our world, and that the light of God might pierce the darkness we feel around us, taking with it all sadness, all loss, all war, all violence, all oppression.  Amen.


Monday, December 20, 2004

Today is Monday, December 20, 2004

Not much happened on this date in religion, but tomorrow is Yule, the ancient druidic celebration of the winter solstice. Also tomorrow, you can see a live nativity in Lodi, California. Free hot cocoa will be served. RNR's own church is supposed to have its live nativity tonight, but given that it's 20 degrees outside and mighty gusty, we're somewhat doubtful that it will actually come off.

In any case, there's not too many links today. Apparently the religion writers are all off hanging their stockings. Oh, well. RNR will take advantage of the lull to bring you a new feature and some "personal" news. Today's categories:

Or click on the post titles to see them on Daily Kos.


Religion & Homosexuality

The Pope sez gay marriage "destroys the fabric of society". Further proof that you don't actually have to be a grandfather to be a crotchety old grandpa.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has founded an AIDS-relief fund. But as the Revealer points out, throwing $132,000 at the problem is...a bit odd.

Contrary to recent reports, Gene Robinson is still planning on attending the next Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Communion's worldwide gathering. However, as Robinson reports, the Conference is an invite-only affair, at the discretion of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Robinson has volunteered to participate in a "reduced capacity" if that will make his presence easier to take for conservative bishops from Africa.

The NYT Sunday Magazine has an interview with Beth Stroud. RNR thinks the interviewer's questions are a bit unfair to the United Methodist Church, and display some real ignorance of what it means to be an ordained minister in a large denomination. We're relatively certain that Stroud would be the first to agree with us. But she, as always, comes across as gracious and deeply spiritual, which is more than RNR can say for itself sometimes.


Speaking Out

The National Catholic Reporter notes the acquital of eight peace activists in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

This press release from the Church of the Brethren carries two items of interest: first, the Brethren office responsible for aiding conscientious objectors was recently visited by an official from the Selective Service. Church officials wanted an explanation of the visit, and met with higher-ups in Selective Service. Their answer? It was a bridge-building visit. No draft is coming. Oh my, no.

The second item from the same PR release is a brief column from a Church Peacemaker stationed in Hebron. CPMs, if you didn't know it, are brave souls who attempt to keep a lid on conflict in such places as Israel and El Salvador. They have been known to physically stand between ranks of Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youths to prevent confrontations from spiraling out of control. They are, in brief, real Christians, and RNR takes its hat off to them.

Those CPMs might want to do some work with this US military base near Fallujah:



We suppose the image above makes as good a segue as any to talking about the ongoing controversies popping up around the country over religion's place in holiday celebrations.  The Dallas Morning News reports that voters in Mustang, Oklahoma turned down a bond issue for the local school district in large part because the district superintendant removed a creche from school holiday play. FF would have voted the other way, but we have to admit this is how the democratic process is supposed to work.

The WaPo has a decent report here.  It's a good start, explaining that the fuel for these fires might be either conservative activism or liberal overreaction.  That's true, but there's another possibility that so far has been overlooked:  the US, of course, is an increasingly diverse society.  That diversity is beginning to pop up in places where its presence has not been felt before.  

Look, for example, at this story about gays and lesbians in Oklahoma--same state as the controversy above--many of whom are not giving up on the Sooner State after the "moral values" elections.

So keep track of where these stories come from:  we're pretty confident that you'll find that many of them originate in surburban or exurban areas.  Meaning, of course, places that are changing.

Jesus' General is tracking one such story from Polk County, Florida.  The general provides a choice quote from a county commisioner, explaining why he doesn't think Muslim symbols are important in holiday displays:

I don't think I should have to tolerate on my government-funded and financed buildings symbols of people who hate, when I read their doctrine and it says to kill the infidel and they're talking about Christians. I don't think I should have to put those up, nor do I think my children or families should have to do that. I accept Christianity, and I am tolerant of others, but I don't have to promote with government dollars and government buildings other religions. I've got to tell you after 9-11, I'm not tolerant of a lot of things...When people blow up our buildings, I ain't putting those symbols up on there.

He also assures us that real Christians are not shirking their duties:

We have to admit being a bit jealous of General J.C.'s sources.  How does he get the inside scoop on such brave actions, and we're just stuck with Christian Peacemakers?


Tales of the Shut-Ins

Part of RNR's day job is going around to visit members of the church confined to nursing homes, or who otherwise can't make it in to church.  Often, these folks have great stories to tell, which makes our visits a pleasure.  We've decided there's no reason to hog them all.

So:  the oldest member of our church is a retired librarian who recently turned 100.  For many years, she and her husband lived in Midland, Texas.  In fact, they lived right across the street from W. and Laura.  Our Shut-In also taught Sunday School with W.'s mother at the Presbyterian church in Midland.

In any case, she liked George and Laura.  He was a nice guy, and she was almost painfully shy.  Apparently, she's come a long way since then.  Our Shut-In was proud to vote for W. in the last couple of elections, and we're too good a pastor to disagree with her.

But here's the real point of the story:  she told us that she met W. right after he got out of Yale.  Except she's deaf, and can't enunciate very well sometimes, so we thought she said "right after he got out of AA."  

And Godhelpus, we thought we had a scoop to end all scoops.


This 'n' That

This has gotten quite a bit of notice from the blogs, but it's disgusting nonetheless: 44% of Americans believe "the US government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans." (via Americablog).

Peter Steinfels of the NYT has a disgusting commentary on the "God Is Still Speaking" ad flap that recycles much of the conservative backlash against the ad. Apparently, he didn't read the UCC's PR release that described how the ad designers often had to wait 90 minutes while their focus groups vented about being excluded from churches.

Less serious items: Relentlessly Optimistic has some "troubling signs" from Google, and the Thai government is considering adding a warning to packs of smokes sold in that country: "donating cigarettes to monks is a sin." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Booze news: an Episcopal church in D.C. is attracting new visitors after introducing a church homebrew to its "pub Sundays." Sounds like the right kind of church for Bill in Portland Maine. Also this teaser from Ecumenical News International:

Johannesburg (ENI). A large collection of rare whiskies belonging to a South African Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) official will be auctioned to recover some of the two million rands (US$345 000) he took from the church without permission. A court heard this week that Christoffel Hattingh, aged 54, had admitted to a church official he took the money while working at the head office of the DRC in Bloemfontein, the capital of Free State province, the Volksblad newspaper reported.

And with that, we've got to go work on our new blog. Right after we buy a plane ticket to Jo-burg.