Friday, January 07, 2005

PA Closing State Hospital for the Mentally Ill

I honestly don't know enough about this subject to say if it's a good thing or not. Some very responsible people are lined up in favor of it. They say the money and the resources are there to care for the people streeted by the hospital's closing. I'm all in favor of keeping as many patients in the community as possible; for too many years, the psychiatric hospitals were dumping grounds, convenient warehouses for people nobody could--or cared to--treat.

So why don't I feel good about this?

Perhaps it's the rushed timeline: the hospital is set to be closed within a year.

Perhaps it's the sneaking suspicion that the hospital's 550 acres of real estate will somehow wind up in the private sector.

Perhaps it's some kind of reflexive empathy for people whose mental illness is, always has been, far worse than my own.

You tell me.


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Welcome to our New Governmental Visitors!

I'm assuming that our readers from NIPR.mil & doj.gov are on their lunchbreaks?


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Today is Friday, January 7, 2005:  the day after  the feast of the Epiphany in the western church, and Christmas Day in the East.  If you haven't gotten your sweetie a Christmas present yet, stop by World Vision's great gifts site, and send some farm animals to the Third World in his/her name.  Better yet, pick up a emergency gift for tsunami victims.




Today's Categories:


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Tsunami

Religious groups continue to step up to the plate for relief efforts: the Catholic Diocese of Boise has joined the Catholic Relief Services effort. CRS has pledged $25 million, which is $10 million more than...oh, never mind.


The UMC is chipping in $750,000, and as mentioned above Christi Charity/World Vision is reworking its Christmas gift program to help victims. And if you're not doing anything tomorrow, you can stop by Grace ELCA in Elmore Ohio. They're hosting a pancake breakfast for relief efforts.


Mmmm, Lutheran pancakes...


GetReligion has some excellent thoughts on the theodicy issue:

Even a story of a premature baby, born as its mother was fleeing from the surging waves, sets Rosenbaum's teeth on edge. Because the child's father praises "God's grace" for allowing the baby and the mother to come through alive, our modern-day wannabe Job launches into the following: "If you believe that God intervened to save this one little life, you have to believe that He chose not to intervene to save the lives of all the other children. He wanted them dead."


I'd issue some kind of grand retort here but, like I said, this stuff just does not move me. That people are rotten, or that the earth shakes, it seems to me, do not count for much against the possibility of a good and loving God whose actions in this world are not always easy to discern or explain. Jeremy Lott


and our favorite, from tmatt:

Caught up in the disaster, they had no time for religious ceremonies of any kind. In Sri Lanka, as in coastal southern India and along the beaches of Indonesia, there was only time to dig huge holes in the ground and shovel in the dead. "In this kind of tragedy, there is no religion," said Syed Abdullah, a local imam in the ancient south Indian port of Nagapattinam, where Muslims, Hindus and Christians have lived together peacefully for centuries. "Let the dead be buried together. They died together in the sea. Let their souls get peace together."


We wish we could say all the reactions had been so savory. Here's Rush Limbaugh's reaction, via the Gutless Pacifist:

I have been suspicious of these numbers from the get-go. First day, 12,000; then 14,000; then 50. Then 60 then 100, then 140 -- there was even a number, 400,000 thrown around out there. And it just -- who's verifying this?


And here's a release from Pravda Agape Press, headlined "Tsunami Survivors Desperate for Help, Open to Gospel".


So now we've established that the tsunami was not only an opportunity to deride other people's religions, it's also an opportunity to criticize the media and an opportunity to evangelize.


Nice.


For our money, we'll stick with this kind of religious response:




Thanks to Catholic News Service for the link.


Christianity Today, as always, has the most thorough roundup of links.


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Religion & Homosexuality

The story getting the biggest play in the past couple of days is the court case against Repent America and some associated protestors arrested at last October's OutFest in Philadelphia. (Figures. Two of them are from Lancaster County.) Coverage here and here, and that doesn't include the literally dozens of Conservative Christian links up on the issue.


An American Family Association lawyer is representing the protestors, and argues that the US Department of Justice was improperly involved in their arrests. Not surprisingly, some other folks dispute that.


The figure in the center of the controversy is Repent America's Michael Marcavage. Many on the right are hailing Marcavage as a Christian hero, both mainstream and not.


They may want to rethink their support, however. We'll spot Marcavage his previous arrests here and here; they were in the context of protests, RNR has friends who've been arrested hundreds of times the same way. But honestly, does the Religious Right want to be associated with someone endorsed by the Army of God, or one who defends convicted sex offenders with these words: "Citizens should be concerned about how a man can be tried and convicted on the testimony of a 14-year-old"?


Ew. That was FF's first link to a Free Republic page. We may need to take a shower break.


That's not all the news in this category, though. Westboro Baptist is planning to protest in Helena MT, over that states' Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex domestic partner benefits. Typically, they're not just protesting at the Supreme Court, though: they're also going to the University of Montana and six local churches.


Last: Oliver Stone sez that his Alexander flick tanked due to "raging fundamentalism in morality." Funny, we thought it was because the movie stank. Well, at least our...er...friends with good taste got this out of sword and sandals epics: 365.com has video of Brad Pitt donning armor in "Troy."


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Denominational News

The Missoula Independent, of all places, has a lenghty profile of a local UCC congregation that's seen its weekly attendance rise from about 250 to somewhere between 325 and 350 people since the elections.  What was that I heard about liberal churches dying?


Chuck Currie carries UCC President John Thomas' warning about complacency, however:

The deeper danger for us is that we will grow content with a message of inclusion and welcome. An invitation to a community of amiable tolerance is certainly to be preferred to the mean-spirited exclusion around us, but as our prayer suggests, the hands we reach forth are to be an embodiment of the outstretched arms of Christ in his passion. The welcome we extend is to a baptism that names us children of God and members of the church, a baptism that does not bless us and the culture in which we live, but reshapes us for costly discipleship, resisting those elements of our culture that demean, diminish and destroy. The invitation we give at the Table is not an offer of friendly dinner conversation, but an encounter with Jesus, crucified and risen, and with a vision of the realm of God that contends with the violence and injustices of our day. The Jesus who never turns anyone away is the same Jesus who asks us to take up the cross.


Go read the entire letter.  Thomas is no piker at theological reflection.


And lest we be accused of slanting the good news, here's a story from the WSJ opinion page (via Amy Welborn) on rising enrollment at religious-affiliated colleges.  We're not so sure that the rise in quality & quantity of students can be attributed to these schools attractiveness--competition is up across the board--nor does this seem limited to just conservative schools.  But hey.  Good is good.


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Religion & Politics

Catholic leaders and others in Connecticut are speaking out against the upcoming execution of a serial killer.


Apparently, liberal Christians aren't the only ones who feel like their religion has been hijacked sometimes.  Witness this from Dar al Hayat:

The milestone has been turning for the past century and we still don't know its face and we still don't know where the track of its freedom is. There were four explosions in Riyadh and we still don't know who the perpetrators are. Did they come from within our societies or did they come from abroad? Why do these people find a fertile soil in our lands and why do these people find supporters amongst us? All these are questions that should be addressed with transparency. It is about time to stop saying that these people are from within our societies and are lost and we should bring them back on the right path. Why should be we bring them to the right track after they have incited fear in our secure cities?


What these people really deserve is death. They deserve to die as a punishment for what they did to us. Let us start by identifying things with their names, and let us start searching for solutions for our predicaments. These people are our children and part of our nation, but they are terrorists. They live comfortably amongst us and their allegation is always the same; religion. They hide behind religion and have in fact abducted religion. You find that they identify and impose the religious rituals according to their own interpretation. However, today and everyday, an explosion such as in the city of Riyadh, I start to doubt the religious interpretations and religious methods that these people utilize. These people are following the same pursuit of President Bush: "You are with us or against us."



We don't agree with the "deserving death" part, but it is interesting to hear echoes of American struggles in the Middle East.


Michael Newdow has refiled his Pledge of Allegiance case, and is also taking aim at prayers at the next Inaugural.  Does this guy know how to stir the pot, or what?


We take our hats off Jesus' General for the umpteenth time.  He's found perhaps the best shot from Alberto Gonzalez' recent press conference:




We couldn't have said it better.  So we won't.


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This 'n' That

A remarkably small bag this afternoon: if you need information on polygamy, the Utah AG has a helpful brochure for you to read. Not that, y'know, we're endorsing it or anything. Mrs. Pastor would kill us...


And if you've got any money left over from tsunami donations, you might want to consider tossing a few bucks Ani DiFranco's way. She's trying to save a church in downtown Buffalo:



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Thursday, January 06, 2005

Textus receptus

If you liked the "What's in the Bible" discussion below, Bishop C.C. Tidings has more to add here.

Go. Read. Don't forget to kiss the bishop's ring.


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Who's Christian? Pastor Dan's Sermon for Sunday

for those who are interested:


Acts 10:34-43 January 9, 2005


I like how one of my commentaries sums up this morning's lesson from Acts:


In one sense, this passage has virtually nothing to do with... the Baptism of Jesus. Only by stretching v. 37 can we arrive at a reference, however allusive, to the actual baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. In a deeper sense, however, this passage has everything to do with recalling the baptism of Jesus, for that baptism carries with it the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 3:16), a promise that is richly fulfilled in the baptism of the Gentile Cornelius.


I realize that it's difficult to make sense of something like that without having any of the context of the story.

So let me break it down for you: God has called the Centurion Cornelius to join the fledgling Christian community. There's just one problem with that: there is no Christian community. They're Jews, and Cornelius has not met the requirements for becoming a Jew. All those requirements are too complicated to get into right now, but here's the basics: there some 600+ rules and laws in scripture that strict Jews abide by, including circumcision. And if you don't abide by those rules, you are considered unclean.

Because you're unclean, the strictest of the strict Jews aren't supposed to hang around you. You might contaminate them, and they don't want that. So just before our passage opens is Peter's famous scene on the rooftop: three times, he sees a sheet of filthy animal parts coming down from the sky, and hears a voice telling him what God has made clean, you must not call unclean.

He's still trying to dope out what that might mean when a couple of Cornelius' soldiers turn up, asking him to come to Cornelius' house. And Peter's still not convinced that he ought to admit Cornelius to the church, but then the Roman tells him that God himself spoke to him and told him to call Peter by name.

Well, that's enough for Peter.

He launches into a quick recap of the Christian faith: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him," he says. Actually, what it says in the original Greek is something like "I am coming to grasp that..." or even better, "I'm getting the drift that..." Peter's working this stuff on the fly, hoping to get caught up to God before he (Peter) says something truly stupid.

In any case. Don't miss the importance of what Peter's just said here. God shows no partiality; anyone who has faith and lives an upright life is acceptable to him. End of story.

If you stop to think about that, it's a radical statement. I mean, can anyone here honestly say they've never had the thought cross their mind: old such-and-so doesn't belong in church? There was a woman in one of the churches I've served who married into a large and rather judgmental family. Her husband didn't attend, but she did. Well, she had an affair with one of her kids' teachers, and was about to break up her marriage when the teacher dumped her. She and her husband have patched things up, and they're working hard at keeping their marriage afloat, but do you think that woman's ever coming back to that church? Not while hubby's grandma and about twenty of his aunts are there.

We've all got biases, in other words, and it only gets worse when you move away from individual cases to more general categories. If you ever hear yourself saying the words, "maybe they'd be more comfortable with their own kind," look out! You are on mighty thin ice, and God's liable to drop some nasty scraps of food on you.

So Peter's got it right when he describes Jesus' core teaching this way: "You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ--he is Lord of all." We first experience God in our local community, but as we go along, we discover--or we ought to discover--that God is present for all people. For everyone.

Yes, them too.

God didn't come to exclude anyone from his love and care, according to Peter. Jesus "went about doing good and healing those who were oppressed by the devil." And God too knows what it's like to be the target of shame and wrath: "They put [Jesus] to death by hanging him on a tree." That's a reference to Deuteronomy 21:23, which says "cursed be everyone who hangs from a tree." Jesus, by many people's standards, is the lowest sort of criminal, one who was executed and so is cast out from God's eternal love and mercy.

To that, and to his resurrection, we are witnesses, Peter says. And furthermore, we have been commanded to testify that he is the one ordained by God, and so too the prophets of the Old Testaments also testify.

Before he can get another word out of his mouth, the Holy Spirit falls upon everyone there, much to the astonishment of the Jewish Christians. So what else can they do? These Romans have received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and they might just as well receive the baptism of water.

Which doesn't mean the acceptance of gentiles into the church is a done deal. Peter has to go and defend his actions in front of the other leaders of the church in Jerusalem, and later on, Paul will come seeking approval to do missionary work with non-Jews.

Even today we struggle with the question of who should be in the church and who shouldn't. Do you have to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" and accept him as your personal Lord and Savior before you can be a Christian? Do you have to vote a certain way? Think a certain way? Behave a certain way? (My favorite story about that involves a friend of my sisters, who came over to our house one day and found my dad drinking a Pepsi. "Can ministers drink Pepsi?" she wanted to know. Why yes. Yes they can.)

We all have ways of judging who "really" is a Christian, and who's not. And in the end, they say more about us than they do about God.

What Peter learns in this passage is that God's grace does not flow only within the social boundaries we have constructed. It falls upon whom it pleases, and the faithful are not to say no to that grace, for Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Not of some, but of all. For although Jesus appeared at first only to the disciples, those same disciples were given the task of becoming witnesses of what he had done, and of spreading the word of what had happened to the whole world.

And so it is with us. God calls us and empowers us in our baptisms to tell the world around us that no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life's journey, God will show no partiality, but will find acceptable in every group anyone who has faith in him and does what is right: to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

Let us go forth this morning, then, secure in the knowledge of our baptisms and with the power of the Holy Spirit upon us, prepared to be witnesses to the mysterious love and grace of God which knows no bounds, and rejects no person, but offers the forgiveness of sins to everyone who believes* in him.

Yes, even them.

Even you.

Even all of us. Amen.



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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Today is Wednesday, January 5th, 2005: The 339th anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, the tenth and final Sikh master, and the last day of Passion '05 in Nashville.



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MLK Alleged Marital Infidelities: Prove This To Me

Another good one from grannyhelen:

We're rapidly approaching the King Holiday, which falls on January 17th this year. Intermixed among schoolchildren reciting the "I Have a Dream" speech and the posthumous accolades rightly heaped upon this man of peace and nonviolence are threads of the "flawed King". The reckless King who had extramarital affairs, even when he knew the FBI was conducting surveillance on his every move.

Why, people ask, did King cavort around when he knew the government was lying in wait for him? Why indeed.

I ask a different question: why do Americans so willfully accept that a black man of such mythic proportions did sleep around on his wife, without skepticism or examination of the facts at hand?

Everyone from Michael Eric Dyson to David Garrow to Stormfront has carried these allegations forward to the present day. Adam Wolfson, editor of The Public Interest, cites the evidence for these claims in an otherwise excellent article on King:

The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover's direction, and with the official authorization of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, wiretapped King's phones. Some of these records are still under government seal, but we already know a great deal about what the FBI unearthed, since the agency at the time shared its findings with journalists and congressmen. In its campaign against King, the FBI went so far as to send King a tape recording of one of his supposed trysts and a letter encouraging him to take his own life.

So, basically we've got the FBI's word on the matter. For many folks, I'm sure this is sufficient. But not for me. Here's why:

1. Motive

According to the Church Committee report:

"From December 1963 until his death in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the target of an intensive campaign by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to "neutralize" him as an effective civil rights leader. In the words of the man in charge of the FBI's "war" against Dr. King:

No holds were barred. We have used [similar] techniques against Soviet agents. [The same methods were] brought home against any organization against which we were targeted. We did not differentiate. This is a rough, tough business."

The Church Committee report goes onto explain Hoover's personal stake in this matter of discrediting King:

The FBI campaign to discredit and destroy Dr. King was marked by extreme personal vindictiveness. As early as 1962, Director Hoover penned on an FBI memorandum, "King is no good." 9 At the August 1963 March on Washington, Dr. King told the country of his dream that "all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm free at last."' 10 The FBI's Domestic Intelligence Division described this "demagogic speech" as yet more evidence that Dr. King was "the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country." 11 Shortly afterward, Time magazine chose Dr. King as the "Man of the Year," an honor which elicited Director Hoover's comment that "they had to dig deep in the garbage to come up with this one." 12 Hoover wrote "astounding" across the memorandum informing him that Dr. King had been granted an audience with the Pope despite the FBI's efforts to prevent such a meeting. The depth of Director Hoover's bitterness toward Dr. King, a bitterness which he had effectively communicated to his subordinates in the FBI, was apparent from the FBI's attempts to sully Dr. King's reputation long after his death. Plans were made to "brief" congressional leaders in 1969 to prevent the passage of a "Martin Luther King Day." In 1970, Director Hoover told reporters that Dr. King was the "last one in the world who should ever have received" the Nobel Peace Prize.

Additionally, it appears that King's "personal conduct" was the lynchpin to the most effective efforts of the FBI's to discredit King. The Church Committee cited the importance to the FBI of using Dr. King's "personal behavior" against him:

"Our investigation indicates that FBI officials believed that some of Dr. King's personal conduct was improper. Part of the FBI's efforts to undermine Dr. King's reputation involved attempts to persuade Government officials that Dr. King's personal behavior would be an embarrassment to them."

The FBI's insistence on sharing this information with the press and prominent politicians further illustrates how important it was for the FBI to prove that not only did King have extramarital affairs, but that the nature of them was purportedly "over the top" and "repugnant", including spreading allegations of sleeping with white women, and sleeping with prostitutes the evening of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. It is clear that the dissemination of this image of King was vital to the FBI's efforts to discredit him, therefore the FBI had motive to fabricate information where necessary in order to tarnish King's reputation.

2. Means

The central question to this issue is, "could the FBI really lie about someone to this extent"? King family attorney William Pepper cites in his book, "An Act of State" that there is some evidence that the FBI put pressure on King to stay overnight at the Lorraine Motel, as they had put the word out through friendly media that King did not support black-owned businesses because he stayed in white-owned hotels like the Rivermont. Indeed, Pepper has said that King never stayed overnight at the Lorraine:

"Martin King was naïve, totally naïve. He never stayed overnight at the Lorraine Motel. He came there for day meetings but never stayed overnight. I know this because I know the black detectives who used to guard him and where they were. I know where he stayed every time he was in Memphis. He never stayed at the Lorraine. But he came to the Lorraine on the third of April because he was told This is where you have to go to show your solidarity with the poor people and stay overnight Martin, don't go to the Rivermont or one of those other hotels. He was supposed to be in a court room, 202, down below where he was safe, protected. And somehow, mysteriously he got moved to room 306. Because there was a `request' that he be moved to room 306 so he could have a better view. He was manipulated. He didn't have proper security. Of course he paid the ultimate price."

As Dexter King cites in his book, "Growing Up King", evidence presented in King v. Jowers trial transcripts also cites that Dr. King's room was moved from a protected bottom floor room to a more open room on the second floor, based on a telephone call from "someone in King's entourage". No one has ever identified who this caller was.

Therefore, I also believe that if it is possible that the FBI could have had a hand in assassinating Dr. King it is also possible that they could fabricate all-too-useful evidence of King's alleged "infidelities". Frankly, there is better factual, objective evidence of voter fraud in Ohio than there is of King's alleged extramarital affairs, so until someone can point me to more a compelling source than the compromised FBI, I cannot hang the title of "adulterer" over King's head.



--ed. note: We do not support the theory that the FBI had a hand in King's assassination.


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The Case Against Alberto Gonzalez

From grannyhelen:
"The Abu Ghraib thing was largely something that affected the media more than anybody else. Most of the people in this country realized this is war, and most of what went on over there is not torture, and in many cases what went on to extract information actually ended up saving people's lives. It's a war, for crying out loud, and the American public is largely understanding of this. It is the left and its media contingent that thinks this is a huge, huge problem for Bush." - Rush Limbaugh, January 3, 2005


Limbaugh, in his piece today, warns of the upcoming furor from Democrats and the left over the nomination of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, and chocks this up to little more than political gamesmanship. Says the owner of the golden EIB microphone:

"What did I tell you? That if Bush won reelection, the libs are going to try to impeach him and get him thrown out of office; they're going to use Abu Ghraib as a means of doing it, and here's step #1: Reshow these videos during the confirmation hearings of Alberto Gonzales."


Not that he goes into steps 2, 3 and 4 of this vast liberal conspiracy. He's content enough to outline the resistance to Gonzales as Attorney General as step #1...and the rest will follow.

What does this mean for those of us who are opposed to Gonzales on legal, moral and ethical grounds? We must voice our opposition to this candidate with as much fact and documentation as possible, in order to provide a clear and convincing logical argument to this nominee, so that the far right's charges of political gamesmanship can be shown for the extreme emotional appeals that they really are.

The case against Gonzales' nomination can best be made, in my estimation, in his repeated justification of granting unprecedented and over-reaching power to the Executive Branch, skirting around protections enabled by the separation of powers as outlined both in our Constitution and in case law. Before the draft memo of August 1, 2002 - otherwise known as the "Torture memo" - John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel of the Justice Department, wrote a memo shortly after the September 11th attacks that stated that "President Bush had the power to deploy military force "preemptively" against any terrorist groups or countries that supported them--regardless of whether they had any connection to the attacks on the World Trade Towers or the Pentagon."

Newsweek goes onto report that this memo, entitled "The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them", argues:

"...that there are effectively "no limits" on the president's authority to wage war--a sweeping assertion of executive power that some constitutional scholars say goes considerably beyond any that had previously been articulated by the department. Although it makes no reference to Saddam Hussein's government, the 15-page memo also seems to lay a legal groundwork for the president to invade Iraq--without approval of Congress--long before the White House had publicly expressed any intent to do so. "The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of Sept. 11," the memo states."


Newsweek additionally states that "...neither the White House nor the Justice Department has ever disavowed--or for that matter publicly discussed--the similar assertions of presidential power in Yoo's Sept. 25, 2001, memo." It is important to note that the scope of powers outlined in this memo go beyond the joint congressional resolution passed on Sept. 14, 2001, which specifically granted the President authority to respond to the terror attacks of 9-11.

In the January 2, 2005 San Jose Mercury News, Yoo himself goes on record to defend the infamous "Torture memo", which he explains in this article that he helped draft. He explains the insistence that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to either the Taliban or Al-Qaida as follows:

"The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel -- where I worked at the time -- determined that the Geneva Conventions legally do not apply to the war on terrorism because Al-Qaida is not a nation-state and has not signed the treaties. Al-Qaida members also do not qualify as legal combatants because they hide among peaceful populations and launch surprise attacks on civilians -- violating the fundamental principle that war is waged only against combatants. Consistent American policy since at least the Reagan administration has denied terrorists the legal privileges reserved for regular armed forces.

The Taliban raised different questions because Afghanistan is a party to the Geneva Conventions, and the Taliban arguably operated as its de facto government. But the Justice Department found that the president had reasonable grounds to deny Taliban members POW status because they did not meet the conventions' requirements that lawful combatants operate under responsible command, wear distinctive insignia, and obey the laws of war. The Taliban flagrantly violated those rules, at times deliberately using civilians as human shields."


What he fails to address is how the above rational against applying the Geneva Conventions to the Taliban and Al-Qaida bled over into confusion regarding the use of torture and the application of the Geneva Convention to the war in Iraq, which had an army of lawful combatants. As Human Rights First, a human rights organization opposing Gonzales' nomination, states, "...Gonzales played a role in creating uncertainty about whether the Conventions' legal protections apply to detainees in Iraq." It specifically cites the memorandum of March 19, 2004 by Jack Goldsmith III, head of the Office of Legal Counsel. The "Goldsmith memorandum" specifically clarifies the policy on relocation of "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions. Among other things, Human Rights First states that the Goldsmith memorandum:

"...argues that any protected person under the Convention, whether an Iraqi or not, may be transferred out of the country, so long as the military has not accused the individual of wrongdoing. Article 76 of the Fourth Convention provides that "protected persons accused of offenses shall be detained in the occupied country." The Goldsmith memorandum tries to evade this prohibition by concluding that the United States may remove a person from Iraq where the intent is only to interrogate that person for something short of an "indefinite" period - an approach that permits the US military to simply designate all protected persons for interrogation and remove them from Iraq, and out of sight from the ICRC, and any accountability."


But again, if, as Yoo argued previously in the memorandum entitled, "The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them", that there are "are effectively "no limits" on the president's authority to wage war", then this unique interpretation skirting the intent of Article 76 of the Fourth Convention should really come as no surprise. It is, in fact, quite consistent with the view that "...the President's broad constitutional power to use military force to defend the nation, recognized by the Joint Resolution itself, would allow the President to whatever actions he deems appropriate to pre-empt or respond to terrorist threats from new quarters", as Yoo argues later in this same memorandum.

Let's be clear about this: John Yoo's words and opinions are not the core issue here: what is under examination is Gonzales's acceptance and endorsement of these words and opinions, until their extremism became evident in the wake of Abu Ghraib. Indeed, Newsweek reports that not only did Gonzales accept the August 1, 2002 "Torture memo" drafted by Yoo, he worried, "Are we forward-leaning enough on this?" Meaning in the wake of the Administration's tough rhetoric after September 11, was this opinion aggressive enough in its approval of certain otherwise questionable interrogation tactics in President Bush's war on terror?

Although Gonzales has recently recanted some of his previous views as being "too extreme", and although the Justice Department has recently revised some of their previous stances on torture, most notably that "only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constitute torture punishable by law", this does not exonerate Mr. Gonzales from scrutiny, given his previous endorsement of extremist policies that the Supreme Court and many other legal experts have seen as over-reaching and un-Constitutional. Indeed, as retired Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, former judge advocate general of the Navy said, this change of heart at Justice Department, "doesn't protect Gonzalez. It indicts him." A further indictment of Gonzales's legal legacy is the request, reported by the Washington Post, from the CIA and the Pentagon to find a "...more permanent approach for those it is unwilling to set free or turn over to U.S. or foreign courts." This plan to detain suspected terrorist for their lifetimes was attacked by Republican Senator Richard Luger, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called it, "...a bad idea." He further went onto say, "...we ought to get over it and we ought to have a very careful, constitutional look at this."

If only Alberto Gonzales had felt similar reservations as Senator Luger, it is very probable that we would not have had the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or the "ghost detainee" program of secret detentions, as noted by Human Rights First. As more reports surface about the Bush administration's possible condoning of torture in the war on terror, it may be necessary to launch an investigation of what the President, the Vice-President and the Cabinet had or had not authorized in terms of the use of torture. The person to lead such an investigation would be the Attorney General. And it only makes sense to have an Attorney General who wouldn't have to recuse himself from such an investigation.

In answer to Mr. Limbaugh: this is not a political witch-hunt leading up to an impeachment of President Bush. This is about getting to the facts of how our soldiers ended up torturing prisoners, and whether this practice resulted from communication - or miscommunication - from the Executive Branch. This is about protecting America's reputation as the world's leader in defending human rights.

This is about our rights, our freedoms and how we conduct ourselves as human beings. To equate this with political gamesmanship is to spit on our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, and it is to negate the sacrifices of so many of our young men and women, who gave their lives to protect these documents and what they stand for.

We need to fully examine the facts surrounding what Alberto Gonzales did as White House counsel. Our men and women fighting this war on terror, and the American citizenry, deserve no less.




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Tsunami

Reports are beginning to roll in on amounts raised for tsunami relief. FF read somewhere total private donations from the US exceed $200 million. Chuck Currie sez the UCC's pledged $300,000 while Catholic Healthcare West has kicked in $250,000 alone. Church World Service has given $1,000,000 and pledges $5 million more. Meanwhile, Medecins Sans Frontiers has put out the word: we've got enough to fund our efforts! Give to somebody else.


Some people have all the luck.


For sheer generosity, though, we think it's hard to top the Buddhist congregation in British Columbia, who hope to sell their temple for $500,000 and donate the money to a Canadian government matching fund.


Meanwhile, the debate over the politics of relief efforts continues. Common Dreams thinks tsunami victims might end up being hurt by the squeeze the mess in Iraq puts on governments and charitable groups, and considers the question of US stinginess. Alan Keyes' blog disagrees, as does Beliefnet's Loose Cannon.


We've written here already that this back-and-forth over who's generous and who's not is counterproductive. But we have to ask conservative commentators: where are you getting the notion that Jan Egeland was chastising the US? Seemed pretty clear to us that he was taking all the developed nations to task, and not just on the tsunami.


Seriously. Where does this come from?


The LATimes and WaPo have similar considerations of religious perspectives on the disaster. The first is better than the second, in our humble opinion.


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Religion & Politics

Get Religion has an interesting post about pro-lifers, and why they might support Roe v. Wade. Short version: keeping abortion legal but morally unacceptable may produce fewer abortions than simply outlawing it.


Chuck Currie passes on a copy of an open letter from some 225+ religious leaders opposing Alberto Gonzalez's cabinet nomination.


Typically, Jesus' General is not pleased:

I see that Chuck Currie and over 250 other "religious leaders" are expressing concerns about Our Leader's choice for Inquisitor General. It's like they think torture is a bad thing. Thank the Lord that they are outnumbered by Godly men like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who devote all of their efforts to fighting the twin scourges of homosexuality and Darwinism.


FF only has a couple of things to add: Church Folks, figure out a way for other folks to sign your statements! And Chuck, bubbalah, use extended text boxes!!


Here's a story that's sure to get a lot of play: the Bush administration is pushing states to increase the share of grants they disburse to faith-based groups. It is the law, but FF wonders why we're getting reports that even groups in Georgia and Alabama that receive FBI dollars say they're not faith-based? Or that most of those dollars go to already-established organizations that more than likely would have been funded even before those initiatives? Those groups even include county government, for goshsakes.


You don't suppose the whole "Faith-Based Initiatives" thing could be a shallow attempt to grab political capital by laying claim to the mantle of piety while avoiding any extra layout of cash, do you?


Nah. Couldn't be.


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Catholic News

Only two quick hits here:  it's being widely reported the Catholic diocese of Orange County has settled sexual-abuse claims to the tune of $100 million, a record so far.  See here for more links.


CNS is reporting that up to 23 Catholic bishops could retire in 2005.  What that means for the shape of American Catholicism is anyone's guess.


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This 'n' That

Neither here nor there, but the United Methodist Church is mourning the loss of Shirley Chisholm and Robert Matsui, both of whom were Methodists.


Pam sez that several "marriage commissioners" in British Columbia have resigned, rather than perform same-sex civil ceremonies. But there's usually a waiting list for commissioners, and all 20 of 'em have been replaced.


Nice wedding pictures, by the way.


Warning: up to eight children's program stars may be gay! Thank God Jesus' General is on the case:


We're watching you, Bob. Wait, no...


The Plymouth [Wisconsin] Review has a great editorial about a Christian cartoonist's "run-in" with a surprisingly generous Annie Gaylor of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. FF had to laugh: we grew up down the street from the Gaylors, and we sang in the State Capitol Christmas Pageant FFRF sued over. You can't imagine how beautiful the acoustics can be in a marble dome...


The Church of the Brethren and several other historic peace churches recently took a meeting with the Selective Service. Apparently, there was an "invitation by Selective Service for the Church of the Brethren, as a historic peace church, to develop a plan for alternative service opportunities."


According to one Brethren official:

The council understood from the background material given that Selective Service, or the Bush administration, have no plans in the offing to institute a new draft...There have been discussions during the past two presidential administrations of the eventual possibility of some kind of general national service. Selective Service officials explained to General Board staff that they want alternative service opportunities to be in place if and when such a program would be launched.


Why is that not reassuring?


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Freeper Bait

An anonymous correspondant made this comment on our diary on "What's in the Bible?":

Nothing like a little revisionism.


Since we've been reading and appreciating Jesus' General lately, we thought we might respond in the General's style:

Dear Anonymous:

Good on you for masking your true identity while challenging this evil false teaching.  You never know what those sissified French Christ-haters might do to you if they got ahold of your e-mail address.  


And you wouldn't want to actually dialogue with them!  Heavens, no!  They might somehow subvert your true manliness.  Before you knew it, you'd be reading Marcus Borg and shopping for cheap, poorly-made furniture at some Swedish megastore.


Commenting anonymously is the safest strategy.


Yours in Intelligent Design,

Pastor Dan.


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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

What's in the Bible?

Building on an idea started here before Thanksgiving. Hopefully, this is the first in a series of articles on "the Bible for progressives."


It definitely is rough-draft material, so take it easy, eh?


I've divided this post into a few questions. Look at what you like, ignore the rest: it builds to a conclusion, but you ought to be able to jump around and still follow.


The questions:




So what is in the Bible?


About 30,000 verses, 750,000 words and over 300,000 textual variants, for starters. Most Bibles run between 2000 and 2500 pages, depending on how much annotation and secondary material they include.


The Bible is an anthology of anywhere from 24 to 75 pieces of scripture, depending on what's included, and how it's counted.


A very broad outline of the various groups of materials in a typical Protestant Bible follows:


Old Testament:

  • History & Origins (Genesis-Deuteronomy)

  • Laws & More History (Deuteronomy-Nehemiah)

  • Wisdom Literature (Esther-Song of Solomon)

  • Prophets (Isaiah-Malachi)


New Testament:

  • Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John + Acts)

  • Letters of Paul (Romans-Philemon)

  • Letters of Other Early Leaders (Hebrews-Jude)

  • Revelation (the Apocalypse of John)


What Christians call the "Old Testament" makes up about three-quarters of the Bible.


As in many anthologies, the Bible contains a wide range of genres: songs, stories, history, science, law, poetry, politics, humor, letters and theory. There's even some horror and spy stories!


In addition to these genres, there are some forms found in the Bible that don't fit well into other categories. The most important of these are gospels and apocalyptic literature.


What there's not very much of in the Bible is what we today would call philosophy or "systematic theology". The people who wrote the Bible wrote their portions for particular purposes, and often for particular occasions. They didn't worry much about reconciling what they wrote with other pieces of scripture; in fact, they seem to have often thought of their writings are pieces of a larger conversation, not revelations of a unchanging, monolithic truth. The charge of contradiction sometimes laid against the Bible is therefore unfair. By design, it is meant to represent many voices, which may or may not agree with one another.


How did the Bible get to be in its current form?

Since the Bible was written, compiled and transcribed by many different people over the course of about a thousand years, there is no "original" text we can refer to. What we do have are copies--lots of them. The earliest of these date generally date back to somewhere between 200-300CE, with the exception of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which go back as far as 250BCE.


Some manuscripts are papyrus scrolls and some are "codices," or "books," as we now call them. They are often incomplete, and many of them reflect variations in the text due to scribal error or editing. In addition, many scriptures exist in somewhat different versions, depending on time and location. For example, to determine the meaning of an Old Testament passage, scholars might consult the "standard" Hebrew text, or versions in Aramaic, Coptic, Ethiopic, Latin, Samaritan, or Syriac. Once they have that meaning more or less fixed, they can take a stab at translating it into the idioms of a modern language.


What we read as "the Bible," then, is really a patchwork of texts painstakingly combed for the best of many alternatives. Most of those alternatives are not very dramatic: is this word "a" or "the"? The important variations are noted and discussed in any good study Bible. (Look, for example, at Mark 14:8b-20.)


Despite all that, it is still possible to talk about the Bible as a unified entity. The text has been more or less stable since around 400CE, when St. Jerome translated the Bible into everyday Latin, an edition known as the Latin Vulgate. This was the standard text for centuries afterward; translations into European languages from the Greek and Hebrew original text were not available (or legal) until the 1500-1600s. The celebrated King James Bible, for example, was the first authorized translation into English.


From there, the Bible has gone through many editions in English. Some of the most important of these in use today are the Revised and New Revised Standard Versions (RSV/NRSV), the New Interpreter's Version (NIV), and the Good News for Modern Man.


Two important distinctions separate different editions: first, if they are drawn from original texts, or are rewrites of English texts; and second, if they are strict interpretations or paraphrases of the original text. Paraphrases can open up meanings "hidden" in odd phrases or unfamiliar references, but they can also distort the meaning of the text or even introduce new ideas not found in the original.


Notice in all of this what we haven't said: that the Bible was dictated to humans by God. That's because that idea of composition simply isn't in the tradition, either in Judaism or Christianity. (It is, however a part of Islam.) Even the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the standard for "literalist" readings, declares that the Bible is inspired, but not transcribed.



That answers part of the question, but how were the books of the Bible chosen?


Through two separate yet parallel processes.  Over the course of several centuries (from perhaps 200BCE to 100-200CE), the Jewish community fixed a canon of twenty-four books.  How that happened exactly is not known. What we do know is that there were several different versions of "the scriptures" circulating.


One of the most important of those versions was the Greek translation known as the Septuagint, so named because of a legend that seventy-two translators working separately took seventy-two days to produce exactly the same translation of the texts.  The Septuagint was the Bible for many Greek-speaking Jews and Jewish "fellow-travelers," who worshiped in synagogues, but had not yet met all the requirements for full conversion.  The Septuagint has many variations from the Hebrew texts, some important, some not.  It is the form of Jewish scripture most often referred to in the New Testament.


The New Testament developed in a roughly similar manner.  Most mainstream scholars believe that Paul's writings are actually among the earliest Christian texts.  The gospels emerged later, as various Christian communities began to feel a need to consolidate and put down in a permanent form their collective memories of Jesus.  


After Paul's letters--perhaps overlapping them--came the gospels.  Most scholars believe that the gospel of Mark came first, and that Luke and Matthew substantially rewrote portions of it.  Though Luke and Matthew worked separately, they seem to share a common source of Jesus' sayings.  This is referred to as "Q," an abbreviation of the German word "quelle," or "source".  Though Q is sometimes described as something like a "lost gospel," its original shape and content are uncertain at best.  In any case, these three gospels are often referred to as the Synoptic Gospels, because they seem to see Jesus' story in roughly the same way.


John's gospel is probably the last to be written, and depicts Jesus' life and message very differently from the other gospels.  Outside the gospels are several letters from the apostles Peter, James, Jude and John to different congregations, and the letter to the Hebrews, whose author and audience are not known.


By about 100CE, the New Testament was complete.


However, like the Jewish scriptures, it took many years for the contents of the New Testament to be formalized.  Marcion and the Montanists tried to pare down the New Testament to a much abbreviated form, while discarding the Hebrew scriptures entirely.  In its response to this challenge, the early church established two important principles:  diversity and continuity.  Against Marcion's synthesized version of Luke, the church kept all four gospels and the New Testament letters.  Against his break with the "God of the Jews," the church maintained its continuity with Jewish tradition by retaining what Christians now call the Old Testament.  The church thus affirmed that Christians and Jews worship the same God.


On the other end of the spectrum, the Gnostics tried to expand the canon to include books of doubtful connection to the Christian mainstream.


The Christian canon was formally codified in the late 300s, though it's generally believed that an informal consensus was arrived at as early as 200CE.  Though there were some politics involved in the selection of the canon, there were two basic criteria:  apostolicity and use in worship.  Apostolicity means that the book can be at least nominally connected with an apostle said to be its author, but more important, that the book matches with the historical faith as people understood it at that time.


For example, the Western church did not include the Letter to the Hebrews for many years because they did not consider it consistent with the tradition.  They thought it might have been written by Paul, but they weren't sure.  On the other hand, it was in widespread use in Eastern churches, and so eventually the West relented and brought the letter into their canon.  Much of John's work, as well as the letters of James and Jude, were also disputed.


As Henry Chadwick says about the work of the Councils, "Sometimes modern writers wonder at the disputes.  The truly astonishing thing is that so great a measure of agreement was established so quickly."


Wasn't there some stuff left out?


Yes indeed, there were some books left out of the emerging canon. The Pseudopigrapha are "false writings" which were rejected at the Councils because they did not match the teachings of the church at the time they were being considered.  Many Gnostic texts are included in this group, such as the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Acts of John the Apostle, the Gospel of Truth, or the Odes of Solomon.  This category also includes books which were considered worthwhile reading but something short of scripture:  the Shepherd of Hermas, Clement's Letters to the Corinthians, the Acts of Paul and Thecla, or the Apocalypse of Peter, for example.


There are also "extra-canonical" works that were never seriously considered for scriptural status.  Perhaps the most important of these is the Didache, or "teachings," which gives many details of life and worship in the early church.


In the 1500s, Martin Luther placed several Old Testament texts in an appendix to the Bible because they appeared in the Septuagint but not in the Hebrew scriptures.  These are known as the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical books.  Luther also believed that the Epistle of James should be removed from the New Testament, but that change didn't stick.  Today, Catholic and Orthodox Bibles carry the Apocrypha in their traditional places among other scriptures, while Protestant Bibles include them in a separate section, if at all.

The Apocrypha also includes a few books that appear only in Greek and Slavonic Bibles.

Of all the books "left out" of the Bible, the Apocrypha are the most important, because they are still recognized as scripture and used in worship in many churches.


Wasn't there some stuff that got rewritten?


Yes and no.  It's often charged that the Bible has been written and re-written to suit the political needs of whatever editor was working on it at the time, but that's hardly an uncontested notion among biblical scholars.


What is indisputable is that the Bible has gone through many different translations, and translation is not easy work.  As noted above, there are hundreds of thousands of textual variations in the original manuscripts, so even assuming that translators are working with the same materials isn't necessarily safe.


Biblical texts can also be quite obscure:  words appear there and nowhere else, or cultural references in the texts are lost to history, just to name a couple of the difficulties.  The bottom line is that there are many different ways to read and thus interpret the Bible, even when working with the original manuscripts.  So it should come as no surprise that there's a lot of variation from edition to edition.


Many books of the Bible also show signs of editing and/or multiple authorship.  The creation story in Genesis is widely thought to be two separate views stitched together, for example.  The Psalms are probably an anthology, and Isaiah more than likely contains the writings of three separate authors!  The gospels might be the most complicated of all:  they are compilations of stories and sayings that may have passed through multiple layers of telling and retelling by various communities, until they were finally transcribed and edited by leaders within those communities.


Looking back from our perspective on these processes, it's tempting to say that some dominant authority suppressed the "real story" of scripture, leaving us with a sanitized version.

That might be true, but it's the wrong way to approach the Bible as we find it.  For one thing, there's no evidence that anyone felt suppressed.  The contradictions and multiple viewpoints we find in scripture in fact suggest just the opposite: people felt free to disagree with other perspectives, and debate was an accepted part of both Jewish and Christian practice.  Look at Jesus' harangues toward the Pharisees and Sadducees if you need more proof.


For another thing, it's a bit backwards to think that because the Bible speaks against certain viewpoints, it's necessarily a censoring document.  Were it not for scripture and the Holy Mess it describes, we wouldn't have many of those perspectives.  Simply as a historical resource, the Bible is invaluable.  It preserves voices that would otherwise be lost, even if in edited form.

What didn't get rewritten might be more interesting than what did.  Stories such as God's apparent assassination attempt against Moses or the rape of Dinah, or uncomfortable teachings such as Paul's stance on the position of women in the church, provoke us to deeper thought and further exploration that we might if biblical content were easily understood or uncontroversial.


It sounds like what's in the Bible is pretty arbitrary.  Why should it be any more important than any other book about religion?  Why shouldn't we add to it or take away as we see fit?

You'll have to make your own decisions about the spiritual or religious importance of the Bible.  Nobody can make you accept it as your scripture.

That being said, there are a couple of good reasons to leave the Bible the way it is, and to accord it some special significance.


First, as New Testament scholar Luke Johnson points out, having a "closed canon" gives Christians something to organize around.  Love it or hate it, the canon give us a starting point for discussing--and arguing about--what it means to be a Christian.  Along those same lines, since so many Christians do accept the canon as is, it makes it much easier to talk with them about the Bible and hence their religious beliefs if you can agree with them on what that includes.


(If, like Toby Ziegler, you must take issue with wingnut Christians on which is the First Commandment, make sure you have Pres. Sheen Bartlett to back you up.)


Because the Bible has been a starting point for so much of American moral discourse, it hovers over that conversation in a way that other religious works simply cannot.  We might wish there were more diversity in our moral sources, or that they were other than Christian scripture, but that's not the situation as we find it.  On the other hand, religious practice and cultural awareness are shifting.  The Bible no longer dominates the way it used to, and that trend shows no sign of reversing itself anytime soon.  Still, as a practical matter, I think it's best to simply take the Bible and its position as givens and try to work with them as best we can.


That's my argument, and I'm sticking to it.


You may disagree with me if you like.


Conclusion


After all that, what's the point?


Simply this:  that the Bible is a supremely complex and supremely diverse document.  Anyone who tells you that there is a single right way to read the Bible is a fool.


Worse than that, they're a faithless fool.  To reduce the Bible to a WASPy blandness is a form of idolatry.


That's not to say that the Bible is without coherence.  Within its diversity, it does possess a unified theme:  it is a testament to a people's journey with God over hundreds of years.  It records their conversations, not their settled statements of doctrine.  Those conversations are often partial, often frustrating, occasionally maddening, baffling, or downright offensive.  But at the same time, they are rich.  They give us many points of view to consider, force us to struggle with difficult ideas, and push us to grow in many ways.


The Bible, at the last, is not a last and final authority.  It is a starting point for the difficult and often tenuous life of faith, and a companion for the way.  It has much to teach, but in the end, it only has as much authority as we are willing to grant it.  And the kind of authority it has depends on how we read it.


We'll take that up next time, in "How to Read the Bible".


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Monday, January 03, 2005

Tsunami

Common Dreams (via Speak from the Heart) reports that the tsunami death toll may reach 200,000.


FF thought fair was fair, so we ought to mention, contra Chuck Currie and a few other left-leaning religious bloggers, that the conservative side of the equation actually has been raising funds for tsunami relief.


But then we saw a couple of items that gave us pause. First up, this tidbit from a article on same-sex marriage:

"We fully expect a tsunami of litigation," says Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage. AFM is a nonpartisan coalition seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent the redefinition of marriage. Daniels fears that state and federal judges will invalidate the measures.

So abortion is a "holocaust" and couples suing for the same rights as anyone else is a "tsunami." And Christians wonder where they get the reputation for being uncaring.


Then there's this from Christian cartoonist faithmouse:



It's a good thing this tsunami came along. Otherwise, how would we have an opportunity to bash somebody else's religion?


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Religion & Politics

The Justice Department has released a new memo broadening the definition of torture. In theory, that will limit the forms of pressure tactics that can be applied to prisoners. In practice, do you suppose it might have anything to do with Alberto Gonzalez's upcoming confirmation hearings?


You might wonder why the recent disclosure that the US government doled out $1 billion to faith-based groups in 2003 would fall under the heading "Religion & Politics." This report from WHO-TV in Des Moines might clarify things: it looks like faith-based initiatives was just code for "pork" after all.


FF notes with sadness the death of Shirley Chisholm, who always seemed to us a fine example of a Christian in action.


The Center for Corporate Policy has a list of the Top Ten War Profiteers of 2004. Number 1 reason you should read it: Halliburton clocks in at 7.


Joe Feurherd of the National Catholic Reporter interviews some interesting faithforward activists. RNR wishes they'd come and work on our new blog, or at least wrangle us an invite to some of those Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy conference calls.


Another well-covered story: Dr. James Dobson is targeting moderate senators from red states unless they agree not to block Pres. Bush's latest round of judicial nominees. Chuck Currie gives him what-for, as does Pam, but we think Jesus Politics actually has the right take on the issue. FF shudders at the thought of agreeing on anything with Chuck Colson, but he's right: identifying too closely with one party is demeaning to the Christian faith, and it does put Christians in a conveniently ignored box.


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This 'n' That

Yet another well-covered story: some parents at a Catholic school in Costa Mesa, California are objecting to the enrollment of two sons of a gay couple. We don't have much to add, other than that this editorial provides a fairly solid line of reasoning:

The 18 parents at St. John the Baptist no doubt believe they're right. How might they convince themselves otherwise?

To me, it's obvious: How persuasive can any religious argument be that, as its outcome, results in forcing two kindergartners out of school?

If I were one of the 18, I'd ask myself that question and then follow my heart.


Barna Research Group, an evangelical polling organization that's well-respected in church circles, was recently commissioned by the Southern Baptist Convention to study some religious trends in Kentucky. What they came up with doesn't exactly fit some pre-conceived notions. Max Blumenthal has more. And while we're challenging pre-conceived notions, check out this NPR report: turns out some of the poorest areas of the US are the best givers to charity.


The atheists are organizing! The atheists are organizing!


The Christian Post has the most offensive lede to a story we've seen in a while:

Florida's Second District Court of Appeal Dec. 29 affirmed a lower court's decision not to re-open a case involving the religious liberty of a woman in a vegetative state, Terri Schiavo.

Nice to know that our religious freedom will determine whether the plug is pulled, and not our express wishes. We can only say from pastoral experience: make a living will, folks. Write it down.


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An Autobiographical Note

Ten years ago today, I left Minneapolis for seminary in Atlanta. I boarded my plane with a one-way ticket, two suitcases and directions to a campus I'd never seen before.


It was 8 below when I packed up my rusty Toyota in Minneapolis, but the night I arrived in Atlanta, it was 70 degrees. I thought I was in hog heaven: cigarettes and a gallon of gas were each about $1.00, half their price in the Twin Cities.


I learned a great many things in seminary, beyond what you'd expect: that given the right combination of alcohol and desire, I could be attractive; that sometimes, you didn't even need the hooch to find me attractive; that I was authentically smart and authentically crazy--and that there would always be some who were smarter and crazier than me--that master's students angling to get into a doctoral program in a seminar can be some of the worst people you'll ever meet; and, perhaps not coincidentally, my calling was to pastoral ministry, not academia.


I lived with a murderer in Atlanta, learned to eat Indian food, cracked up a car, worked in the belly of the corporate beast, attended the 1996 Olympics and God knows how many Braves games.


I left Atlanta on a sunny and mild winter day almost exactly four years after I arrived. A few days later, I moved into a rented house in Central PA in the midst of a snowstorm. We almost had to cancel church the next day.


In all the years since I left Minneapolis, I have had my share of ups-and-downs. I'll only mention a few of the ups: in 2000, I married Mrs. Pastor, and later that same year, she correctly intuited that I might be bipolar. In 2001, I met our beloved goddaughter for the first time on a beautiful summer evening. She said about two words to us, then went to rejoin a baseball game. Three-and-a-half years later, she still says about two words to us--and we're talking about going to see her play basketball.


But through all of the struggles, I have had the sense of God's compassion, and a sense of direction in my life. Even better, I have come to learn more and more about how God's love finds its vessel in the bodies of the people I meet. That includes you, gentle readers.


For all that, I am profoundly grateful, and hope that I can live up to the grace I have been given.


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Sunday, January 02, 2005

Brothers and Sisters...

I Bid You Pray:

  • for the more than 150,000 dead from the Dec. 26th tsunami and those who mourn them


  • for the survivors of this terrible natural disaster, that they may find clean drinking water, adequate food and shelter, sanitary conditions, and restored livelihoods, and that they may not be forgotten when the headlines have faded


  • for the leaders of wealthy nations, that their response may be generous, compassionate, and sustained


  • for the friends and family of Robert Matsui in their grief, and that his vision may not be lost
  • for the people of Iraq, who suffer continuing violence in their nation


  • for US servicemen and women, and their families, as violence continues in Iraq and Afghanistan


  • for the people of Israel and Palestine, as a Palestinian election approaches


  • for the victims and survivors of the nightclub fire in Argentina


  • for Michelle Werley and Susan Miller, the first lesbian couple married in an Independent Catholic church in Pennsylvania


  • with joy and thanksgiving for New Year's babies around the nation and the world


  • with hope and great resolve to meet the challenges of the year ahead, and at the last,


  • with deep gratitude for family, friends, and good fortune


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