Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Daniel I. Pevar, 1976-2010

Grief hits us again.

My nephew Dan was a gentle, creative and caring man who died suddenly Monday, a victim of bipolar disorder.

I have no words for this. I am grateful that, after it looked like I would not be able to travel back east for his funeral, circumstances now make that possible.

Dan is the middle son of my sister Susan and her husband Marc. In honor of their Jewish faith, in memory of my beloved nephew, in shared sorrow with his parents and his brothers, I link to this prayer in that tradition, written by a college friend of mine.

It is called "For the Bereaved."

Last night, Dan's father told me: "Cherish your sons."

And so I say that to whoever stops by this place: Cherish your children.

Amen, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Greetings from Space

(Thanks, Will!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Deck Us All...

I remember when this first ran. Consider it my Christmas Card to everyone.

h/t Roger Ebert.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I love this

h/t, Kay at Sunshine and Starlight

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quote of the Day

From Presbyterian minister John Shuck:

Now that the military says gays can be soldiers, I wonder when Presbyterians will allow them to be preachers of peace?

Do tell, indeed!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'A Church for Atheists'

The Rev. Andy Pakula explains in a very nice post how Unitarian/UU churches welcome atheists as well as theists.

It reminds me of a story I heard from an Englishman (Andy happens to be in England, too, but he is originally from the U.S.) when I was at my Church-Away-From-Home sometime last year.

My English acquaintance told me of his friend who had moved in retirement from London to a small community up in the North of England.

As the retiree got to be known in the community, someone realized his general acumen and approached him about joining the vestry of the local Anglican church.

Flattered, the retiree nonetheless demurred. "I'm an atheist," he explained, apologetically.

His inviter was unperturbed. With a shrug and a wave of his hand, he responded, "Oh, that doesn't matter!"

My Episcopalian mother, and one of the priests at her church, found this story as funny as I and the man who told it to me did.

Monday, December 13, 2010

'Do as I Do...'

DairyStateMom directs me to this post by Andrew Sullivan, which in turn links to a Weekly Standard article.

The article itself is a review of a book aimed at Christian parents (and, by context, I'd infer mostly Evangelical parents more than Mainline ones). I'll stipulate that the book's author might define the "life-changing, culture-challenging demands of the gospel" a bit differently than I would, and instead just highlight the same quote that Sullivan does:

Parents who show, by their words or their actions, that the tenets and practices of their faith are vague, unimportant, or only tenuously related to daily life, produce teenagers whose faith is vague, marginal, and unlikely to shape their actions and plans in any significant way ...

Mormons, by contrast, challenge their teenagers and require a lot of time, study, and leadership from them. Mormon parents rise at dawn to go over their church’s history and doctrine with their children. More than half of the Mormon youth in the study had given a presentation in church in the past six months. They frequently shared public testimony and felt that they were given some degree of decision-making power within their community. They shape their plans for the immediate future around strong cultural pressures toward mission trips and marriage. Whatever one thinks of the actual beliefs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it seems obvious that both adult Mormons and the teens who follow them really, really believe.

One thing that this quote skates over is the extent to which traditional Mormon beliefs (and those of certain other high-loyalty religions) are rooted at least partly in authoritarianism -- or at least, that's my perception.

So, a question for us UUs and Progressive Christians, and those of any other faith who seek to decouple our belief system from authoritarianism:

Are there lessons that we, too, can learn from this, that we can implement in a non-authoritarian way?

Some friends yesterday explained in a talk at my church why they (he raised Catholic, she raised as a secular Jew) opted for a UU church for their children (and themselves) instead of choosing a non-religious upbringing in which they would simply learn about religion on their own and make their own choices. He said, You can't really understand religion unless you grow up in a religion of some kind. And having that structure gives you something to question and even rebel against, which is healthy.

I liked that a lot. And I think there's a connection here...

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 3: Idealistic Pragmatist? Or Pragmatic Idealist?

From the late 1970s onward, in my days of working for daily newspapers, I took the ethical admonition to stay out of political activism very seriously. So I would follow political campaigns on my own time, and I would vote my hopes (and my fears), but I stayed away from any deeper involvement.

In graduate school in 1982, students were assigned to one of several teams producing a newspaper or other news product covering the November '82 elections. Since we were in New York, the lead story was the govenor's race to succeed Hugh Carey. In that extraordinarily tight race, Democrat Mario Cuomo defeated Lew Lehrman, a Reaganite Republican who, if memory serves, funded much of his campaign with his own money. I think there was little doubt that many of us in the grad school privately preferred Cuomo, but I also would argue that, for the most part, the stories we produced for our journalism "laboratory" were fair and largely unbiased. (I do recall one of our number, however, speaking disparagingly of "all the cheering from the pressbox" -- a probably accurate if a bit hyperbolic assessment. And I don't even know that that guy was anti-Cuomo -- it's as likely that he, who like me had already worked in the business, just felt his professional ethic of objectivity tainted.)

In elections that followed, my choices at the ballot box reflected an evolving and not particularly organized or disciplined political outlook. In 1984, living and working in New York State, I was intrigued by Gary Hart's desire to modernize the Democrats' image, but in the primary wound up choosing Jesse Jackson, knowing full well that the vote was symbolic. That fall I voted for Mondale, hoping against hope that he might actually win. Four years later I voted for Jackson in the primary again, admiring his effort to add struggling blue collar workers -- whose travails I was covering in my daily newspaper assignments -- to his Rainbow Coalition. Yet when I pulled the lever for the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis that fall, I was not merely choosing some lesser of two evils or acting out of loyalty to the Democratic Party -- the practical, pragmatic, and technocratic ethos of his campaign appealed to me as well. It honestly struck an idealistic chord in me.

In 1992, after considering Tom Harkin, who had the strongest pro-labor message, I voted for Jerry Brown in the primary -- skeptical of his flat tax, but appreciating his outsider argument and his zeroing in on big money. I thought Brown had done a credible job, too, of speaking to workers and voters being displaced by the economy. It remains fascinating to me that his appeal fell flat with many blue-collar voters while capturing the interest of those of us with higher incomes and with college or professional degrees.[Here's an interesting summary, from two years ago, of Wisconsin's pivotal role in past Democratic primaries.]

Very soon after Brown narrowly lost the primary to Bill Clinton, I happened to travel to Peoria, Illinois, to cover the Caterpillar strike. While I was there that week, Clinton came in, met both with company and union officials to urge them to settle, then shook hands along a picket line and held a news conference at an airport hangar. Sometime before I'd heard on the radio some of a fairly lengthy talk Clinton had given at some sort of policy-wonkish forum and been impressed by his rhetorical skills. But I hadn't been especially impressed by him in the early rounds of the primary campaigns and was embarrassed by the emerging Gennifer Flowers scandal. All that changed in Peoria, where in just a few superficial hours -- and with no one-on-one exposure to him, just the news conference as well as a few brief opportunities to observe him close-up as he spoke with individual voters -- I had found him to be mesmerizing. The day after his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, I called up a former Democratic legislator in my community and privately asked how I might get a job with the campaign. He gave me some contacts, I faxed a resume, but I heard nothing and decided not to pursue it further. As the polls that fall showed a likely Clinton-Gore win, I started keeping track of the predictions in a file, mostly with the suspicion or fear that the Democrats might pull defeat from the jaws of victory and there might be a story to write in the aftermath about the inaccuracy of polls.

In fact, of course, the polls were largely accurate. And pretty much from then on, I've been inclined to believe them, whether I wanted to or not.

I found the Clinton presidency maddening. I admired his rhetorical skills and his gift for outwitting his ideological foes. I was frustrated by -- yet, paradoxically, I fundemantally empathized with -- his tendancy to compromise with conservatives over policies such as the admission of gays and lesbians to the military. I distrusted his free-trade economic philosophy but recoiled from the anti-foreign (in this case, meaning anti-Mexican and anti-Asian) language of some of free trade's harsher blue-collar critics. And I admired his choices for the National Labor Relations Board, for Labor Secretary (Robert Reich), and his appointment of a commission to examine labor law and policy -- a commission whose ultimate recommendations for easing the ability of unions to organize were a dead letter after the GOP takeover of Congress in the 1994 mid-terms. And don't even get me started on the Lewinsky/Starr episode.

Midway through the Clinton years I went from being a full-time newspaper employee to a full-time freelancer. Because I still wrote stuff that touched on politics at least some of the time, I continued to restrict myself from political activism. But I also continued to vote from a peculiar place of idealistic pragmatism.

When Bill Bradley sought the Democratic nomination in 2000, I found myself really excited -- and voted for him in the Wisconsin primary even though he'd already dropped out. (I had no interest in the Nader Green Party run, despite having several acquaintances who thought it was time for a real third party. I wasn't happy with the Florida outcome,of course, but I was also not as reflexively inclined to blame Nader for that as others were.)

You might think, based on the history I've already taken far too many electrons to lay out, that in 2004 I would have supported Howard Dean. Yet for reasons I'm not even sure of, he didn't really grab me. In the fall of 2003, I was far more interested in Wesley Clark, seeing him as a candidate who could more skilfully navigate the treacherous waters of an opposition presidential campaign in wartime. We all know how that worked out. But Dean? Nah. Dennis Kucinich? With sincere apologies to my dear sister, who was a Kucinich supporter that year, not a chance.

DairyStateMom and I were dating by this time, and a niece of hers (whom I'd met at Christmas 2003) was a campaign staffer in Iowa for John Kerry. But when the Wisconsin primary rolled around, John Edwards was still a contender, and I liked his economic message. As it turned out, both Edwards and Dean lost to Kerry in this state.

That fall, heartsick over the Bush presidency, I for the first time put a presidential campaign sign in my yard, for Kerry. In the days leading up to the election and election day itself, I forgot my polling lessons from 1992 and convinced myself -- along with millions of Kerry voters across the country -- that he really might win. In the personal depression that followed the outcome, I was all but immobile for days. But that, too, passed, and soon after the election I was on my way to Washington to profile an up-and-coming young member of Congress from my state.

And that is where I'll pick up the story next time.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Edward N. Broadfield, 1947-2010

I have two sisters. The younger, 7 years older than me, is now with her husband an observant Orthodox Jew. The elder, 9 years my senior, is a Quaker.

And now, a widow.

On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Day, after four weeks or so of his not feeling very well and (if I have my facts right, and I might not) an inconclusive visit to a doctor a while back, my brother-in-law woke up feeling very ill. My sister rushed him to an emergency room. And there, After an overnight stay at the hospital, unexpectedly and of an as-yet-uncertain cause, he died.

Ed was a big teddy bear of a man, a soft-spoken African American who has lived most of his life with disability, having lost one eye to previously undetected glaucoma in basic training after he was drafted in the late 1960s. (He received a medical discharge and lifetime Veterans Administration medical care soon thereafter.) His work was primarily in a volunteer capacity, engaged in the operation of the Friends Meeting that my sister and he have been longtime members of, and as a community mediator.

He was as spiritually centered as any person I've ever known.

In my family, he was the person who took the greatest interest in, and most seriously, my love of trains and model railroading. He'd been a train buff himself as a teenager.

I remember him fondly as well for two other gifts he gave me in my youth. He explained American football to me (my father had little to no interest then in professional sports, although he watched the amateur Olympics with enthusiasm). And when my father was away on overseas study for a year and I began asking my mother and my sister about sex, Ed was drafted to explain it to me. He did so with grace, compassion, tenderness and deep respect that was worthy of the best OWL facilitator anywhere.

When my oldest son was born, it was no question who should be his godfather at his dedication, and Ed fulfilled the task in his own quiet way.

In a note to family and friends about this news, DairyStateMom said this:
Ed was at our wedding; those of you who celebrated with us that day might remember a big, soft-spoken African-American guy with an enveloping hug.  I think a regular hug from Ed for all would go a long way toward solving the most intractable problems of human relations.
I couldn't put it any better.

Rest in Peace, Ed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sorry for the long hiatus

It wasn't intended, exactly.

I've had a rush of work and deadlines to meet, and that's not over yet. I will be resuming my meditation on politics soon, but not quite yet.

And now I'm grieving, and will share more about that, soon, too.

Whoever you are with, please, always, remember this: Live those moments as though you might never see them again. Because you don't know when that will be true.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 2: The Card-Carrying Anarchist and the Centrist

The Card-Carrying Anarchist had been an on-and-off friend since I was in 3rd grade or so. We had met in Sunday School at my Episcopal church; his father taught then at the same college as my father did. We later crossed paths again when I was in about 6th grade and he was in 7th. He was of Italian descent, at least on his dad's side; there were Pa. coal miners somewhere in his background, I believe.

Now, in my junior year of high school (his senior), we ran into each other again, in my psychology class. In the years since we had first met, he had immersed himself in radical history and politics. He had read Bakunin, the Russian anarchist theorist, and was already a member of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World -- hence my nickname for him. (I kind of wish I'd been clever enough to think of that as a nickname for him at the time, but alas it was only in retrospect.)

We wound up sitting together at lunch most days. It was election season and I wore my McGovern button

every day in a school where "Nixon Now" and "Nixon -- Now more than ever"

buttons were far more common. The CCA wasn't impressed. "Don't Vote -- It only encourages them," was his motto.

The CCA was my principal tutor on the subject of radical politics and class consciousness. One day when I used the disparaging term "redneck," he corrected me, pointing out that the term was a dismissive insult to working-class whites. From our conversations -- and from some of the reading it inspired -- I began to learn a bit more about some of the obscured parts of American history. When I returned to the Quaker high school in my senior year, he was still in the area; I did a report for my history class on the IWW and brought him in as a guest speaker. My classmates didn't quite know what to make of him.

We corresponded for a time when I was in college and he had moved to New York to become a union organizer for the Garment Workers. But when it came to politics, while I found his ideas intriguing and ideals inspiring, I never made the commitment he did to fundamental radicalism. The closest I came was a brief flirtation with joining the Socialist Party, headquartered in Milwaukee at the time, and another with the equally brief presidential aspirations of populist Democrat Fred Harris in 1976.

But just as I had cast off the Nicene Creed as too constricting in describing my religious beliefs, I found myself reluctant to commit to any particular political party platform. To be sure, I always preferred Democrats when it came time to cast a ballot, but I wasn't drawn to the active organizing activities for any of the candidates on my campus.

Instead, I stumbled into journalism via the campus newspaper. Many things appealed to me about that craft. I loved writing, but I felt hopelessly incompetent at having to be "creative" (even though I was a composition major and took classes in Fiction and Playwritng). The best short story I ever wrote was basically an only lightly fictionalized account of the personal turmoils of another high school friend. Working for the college paper, I didn't have to make things up.

And I liked the idea of "getting all sides" to a story -- and the detachment it required. I absorbed the then-dominant ethic of "objectivity" with ease.

Degree in hand, I found a newspaper job. I payed close attention to national politics, but as an observer more than a partisan. I had voted for Carter in 1976, and largely admired his attempts to emphasize human rights in international affairs and energy conservation in the domestic sphere. I didn't particularly understand the economics of the time, from either a socialist or a capitalist perspective.

By 1980 I was subscribing to The Nation and Mother Jones, but I read them with the same reserve that I approached politics -- sympathetic to their basic outlooks, interested to learn more, but not deeply immersed in their world view.

Ted Kennedy challenged Carter from the left for the Democratic nomination that year, but I wasn't all that engaged with that fight. Instead, I was intrigued by the campaign of a local congressman, John Anderson, who was challenging Ronald Reagan for the Republican nomination. Illinois had an open primary, allowing me to choose either the GOP or the Democratic ballot, and for the only time in my life I took a Republican one, voting for Anderson.

By now I had become completely disenchanted with Carter, and thought I would probably vote for Anderson's third-party candidacy in November. But when the time came to enter the voting booth, I thought to myself, "well, if I'm going to vote for a loser, why not one that I can feel a wholeheartedly support?" And so it was that in 1980 I picked Barry Commoner of the newly formed Citizens Party.

Looking back on that time, I find myself regretting, a lot, that I didn't vote for Carter's re-election. Not that it would have made a difference.

And this is where I'll try to pick up the story next time... even as I absorb the political changes of November 2nd, 2010.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Meditation on Politics, Part 1: Hating Politics

This is a post I've been putting off writing since practically when I started this blog.

I've been putting it off because I don't know exactly what I want to say. I've been putting it off because what I want to say covers such sprawling territory I don't know where to start. I've been putting it off because I know so painfully well how much I don't know.

But I've come to the point where I can't not start saying something.

This is likely to be pretty raw -- in the sense of not being more than very lightly edited. As a writer I often massage my message before I unveil it. That's been less true of this blog, and I think it will be even less true of this post or series of posts.

So. To begin.

I've come to hate politics. I engage in what's going on just enough to do my job as a journalist, some of which involves writing about the media. But otherwise I keep myself at an ever-increasing distance. When NPR comes on in the morning at 5 a.m., I shut it off, and DairyStateMom is kind to indulge me. (Of course, she will get to hear the same cycle during her 1-hour commute to The Big City a couple of hours later, but still -- I appreciate her accommodation even so.)

I do occasionally get sucked in during the day to certain political news items, whether on the NY Times or Washington Post websites or on more specialized sites, blogs, etc. Sometimes I post a link on Facebook to some matter that I find especially trenchant, but I'm fairly restrained about that, too.

But for the most part, I tend to push away from my mind much contemplation about what's been going on politically.

I am constrained from direct activism on account of my journalistic work. I'm a freelancer, so that is arguably more of a personal choice. (I could, after all, choose to freelance in areas that don't overlap politics.) But because of the topics I tend to write about -- maybe even want to write about, it could be argued -- I feel it more appropriate to keep arm's length. (Two exceptions: In 2004 I put up a Kerry sign on my lawn; in 2006 I would wear a discreet button opposing the state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage -- but never to interviews.)

That seemingly necessary detachment may contribute somewhat to my aversion to politics these days, because to some extent that aversion is driven by a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness. If I worked in another field, perhaps I might find myself throwing myself into some volunteer political activism, so that I might be able to say to myself, "I'm doing all I can to help bring about the outcomes I prefer / stop the outcomes I fear..."

As I have on other subjects, I find it most helpful to start with autobiography.

I grew up in a politically engaged home. I often say my parents were Stevenson Democrats (as in Adlai -- the guy who ran against Eisenhower in 1952 and '56), but it would be just as accurate to say they were Roosevelt Democrats, too. It's probably pretty safe to bet they never voted for a Republican in my lifetime, but that didn't keep my father from paying close attention to the other side. I recall listening to the Republican convention on the radio with my father in 1964, and hearing Clare Booth Luce ("Mrs. Luce," my father said, telling me who was speaking) giving what must have been an endorsement speech for Barry Goldwater. (My clearest memory from that time is when she referred to him as "the wave of the future," and my father recoiled, recognizing the title of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book that saw Fascism as inevitable and counseled submission to it. I was in 3rd Grade that year. That fall My Weekly Reader had an article about the election with big side-by-side head shots of LBJ and Goldwater on the cover. A friend of mine drew pictures of devil's horns on Goldwater and a halo and wings on Johnson, and I followed suit. There may have been kids who did the opposite; I cannot recall with certainty.

In 1968 I went to bed on election night not knowing for sure who had won the presidency; it was the first question I asked my mother when I awoke the next day. Of course, we weren't happy.

In 1972, a junior in high school, I volunteered for the McGovern campaign. I have three specific memories from that time: A Saturday morning spent calling voters to identify their preference ("You gotta be kidding!" said one woman when I asked if she planned to vote for McGovern in the election, before slamming down the phone); a trek through some neighborhood in my [very Republican] rural southeastern Pennsylvania community to hand out fliers; and a depressed election night at local HQ watching the returns on a black and white TV (as I snuck sips of beer from the refreshments cooler). I wrote a morose, rambling and probably not very coherent memoir of the evening -- the very next day, if memory serves -- and showed it to my English teacher (whose politics were very definitely not left of center).

That junior year was fateful in certain ways. From 8th grade through 10th grade, I had gone, instead of to the local public school, to a Quaker school in Delaware. For 11th grade -- for reasons that were, I believe, mostly financial (certainly not academic ones) -- I was sent back to the public school, with the promise that I could return to the Quaker school in my senior year (which I did).

As it happened, that junior year back in the local public school re-united me with a childhood friend, whom I will call The Card-carrying Anarchist (The CCA for short). And that's where I will resume my story next time.

PS: On February 26, 2011, I went through and edited the titles of this series slightly.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some weather we're havin'...

Andrew Leonard at Salon asks

Ah, science. How many latter-day wrecks of the Edmund Fitzgerald are we going to need before we start paying attention again to what it has to tell us?

(Thanks, DairyStateMom!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Witness Speaks

Some year I hope to go to the UU Christian Fellowship annual revival.

These remarks from a speaker there may help explain why.

I especially like how he finishes it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today's Obnoxious Sales Pitch

From Barnes & Noble [we have a membership for discounts, so we get e-mails promoting special sales]. This was the headline on today's e-mail message:

Why Pay Full Price To Make A Child Happy When You Can Save 20% on Any Toy?

Just contemplate that for a minute, if you can.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Bullying

I don't have any purple clothes, or I would be wearing purple today.

I certainly had my encounters with bullies in my lifetime, and to my shame, there have been times when I have been the bully. But I don't have much to say that's original or especially eloquent on the topic.

Instead, I want to acknowledge the best two things I've read about this subject, and the larger issue captured in the "It gets better" campaign, are this today by Coffee Em, and this a few days ago by Desmond Ravenstone.

Both are calls to action. Both are prayer in its best form.

To which I can only say, Amen. May it be so.

Update: When I refer to my own bullying, I'm not speaking in the context of anti-gay bullying. I'm thinking of times in the past when I've lashed out inappropriately in other contexts. Just thought I'd make that clear. Not that it makes it any better.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Another 'Waiting for Superman' Observation

Waiting for Superman truly excoriates the union–in incredibly vicious ways. While there are many areas in which I’d like to see unions become more progressive, I don’t want us to forget that it was the union that brought us pilot schools and it is always the union that fights for better conditions in classrooms (often when districts or even the public is looking the other way). And if the union was so much the problem, why wouldn’t non-unionized states like Texas, South Carolina or Virginia have fabulous schools?

Linda Nathan.

Hear, hear!

Quote for the Day: On Our Polarized Culture and Politics

I recall nearly two decades ago standing up during a talkback, or maybe during Joys and Concerns, to express my distress at the then-dominant mode of political discourse: The reckless demonizing of different opinions.

It has only grown worse, as Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show Being (formerly Speaking of Faith), observes.

What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.

For months I've been planning to write a post on why I've come to hate politics. I still may write that, but this eloquent summary touches on a part of the answer.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

James Freeman Clarke on The Bible

Boston Unitarian's "A Wonderful Epoch" has this inspiring passage on approaching the Bible after one has come to realize it cannot be literally true:
Then we shall be set free from the bondage of the letter, and be able to open our souls to the coming of the everlasting Spirit, which moves where it will, creating light and life in the midst of darkness and the shadow of death.

I'd love to know more about when and where Clarke said or wrote this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

'Sympathy for Garrison'

"Lizard Eater" describes a moment that put her in touch with Garrison Keillor's offense at the altered "Silent Night" that consumed the energies of so many of us last December -- and then wrestles her reaction through to closure. Check it out.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

'Waiting for Superman'

I haven't yet seen "Waiting for Superman," the new documentary about education reform, but what I've heard so far about it makes me skeptical.

Full disclosure: I do editorial work for a group of education scholars who bring both rigorous scholarship and progressive values to the subject of school reform. I happen to believe that their scholarship is far more soundly based than the work of most of the loudest voices in the school reform debates, but my relationship with them arguably makes me biased. For that reason, I don't often directly engage education myself, here or in my day-to-day writing.

But I was heartened to see this rebuttal to the memes that appear to be embedded in the "Superman" movie.

I do not think that public schools are free of problems. But I detest the way the discussion over making them better has become so bound up with failed, market-based ideologies while ignoring the complexity of the problem and the multiple contexts of class, poverty, cultural divides and political dysfunction in which those schools operate.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Question of the Day

From DairyStateMom:

"Why is it that when we talk about blue-collar workers, 'competitive' means wage cuts, and when we talk about CEOs, 'competitive' means higher salaries?"


Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Resonant UU Voice

A while back I mentioned, in declaring myself a Christian, that I was still a UU. Voices and thinkers like The Rev. John Wolf (who began his career in the church I now call home) inspire me in that tradition.

Thank you, David Markham.

Huh!? Smashing for Jesus

As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.

I don't know if the above link will work; it's probably behind a pay wall.

In the event it doesn't, here's the gist of it:

A nearby Assembly of God church held a late afternoon/evening youth event with hip-hop artists, Christian rock groups, basketball, an inflatable play house...

and a spray-painting (on an old trailer) and van-smashing spree.

For as many as 2,000 students in middle school and high school, this was a night to express themselves with activities that, on the surface, could just as easily taken place on meaner streets. But it was all legit.

...There was also the chance to win special prizes, including $15,000 and Apple eMac computers.

But for the Rev. Jon Brown, youth pastor for nearly nine years at the church, the event was really more than a night of fun.

It was giving them a venue that might open a door for kids to turn to God and for some who’ve never been to a church, he said....

Brown said the group is trying to reach kids in the way they understand — socializing with friends, enjoying the moment. While realizing that many come for the entertainment, others do find that they can can accept Christ, according to Brown.

“The ‘Premiere’ is to introduce them to Jesus, many for the first time,” he said.

Now, granted, my understanding of Jesus's message and mission and this church's understanding of the same are likely to be very, very different from each other.

But still!?! What exactly does wanton vandalism -- even if it's with things donated to the church -- have to do with anyone's interpretation of the Gospel?

I'm actually amazed (and, to be honest, a bit depressed) that kids who showed up didn't feel so completely patronized that the whole thing was just a turn-off.

I know from time to time we UUs wonder about how we could better engage our youth to be more connected in our churches.

This is one idea I hope we don't try to copy.

As an aside -- I recognized the name of one of the kids in the story. He goes to the same UU church I do.

If I see either of his parents I'll have to ask what they thought of the whole thing...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Facebook isn't our friend."

Good advice and a tale of woe here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

It's My Birthday

It's my birthday today. A warm and loving card from the always thoughtful DairyStateMom was at my place at the kitchen table.

And an old college friend who maintains a blog of prayers that he composes growing out of his Jewish tradition just happened to post a link to this April prayer today on his Facebook page.

Follow the link for the whole thing. It's called "Regarding Old Wounds" -- and it seems right for a birthday taking-stock time.

Amen, and Blessed Be.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Yet Another Book I Want to Read

Reviewed in the UU World.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hunting for a Book to Buy

My brother-in-law and his wife have given me an Amazon gift certificate for my upcoming birthday. It's a very much appreciated gift.

Yet tonight I spent more than an hour browsing through my wish list, as well as the recommendations generated by it -- and I have yet to pick what I want to get. Lots of choices, but I find myself saying, "Well, I want to read that, but I don't know that I'll really want or need to OWN it..."

This may be a reaction to having too many unread books in my shelves; I'm not sure. Or perhaps it's a reaction to not wanting to accumulate any more stuff of whatever kind.

Yet I do want to make use of this generous and thoughtful gift...

I hope I come up with something I'm really wanting to buy soon!

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Tennessee Editor Visits Ground Zero

From The Rural Blog, run by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky:

Tenn. editor visits Ground Zero, shares the experience with his readers and takes a stand
"This country was settled by people seeking religious tolerance, a pillar that was built deep into the American infrastructure. Surely we cannot move that pillar, and threaten the foundation, because of 19 people."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"What's Our Story?"

I'm working up to writing something about politics, about which I've been procrastinating since I started the blog more than a year ago.

For now, this, from Doug Muder, to which I was led by nagoonberry. Both are worth another read.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A New Analysis of the Current Politics

This looks like an interesting book.

It's also exactly the kind of book that I've been avoiding of late because I fear it will just depress me.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Beautiful Chalice Lighting Reading

The Rev. Debra Haffner offered this at a service yesterday and on her blog today. While lines it in make specific seasonal references, it could also be adapted for other occasions.

The first words spoken in the Hebrew Bible are, "Let there be light."

Let there be light today as we once again gather in community.

Let us feel the light of each others' lives.

Let us feel the light of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, and the end of Ramadan.

Let us remember those we lost on September 11th.

Let this light remind us to bring our light into the world-our search for truth, appreciation of diversity and full inclusion.

Let it remind us to witness against those who would burn sacred texts, commit acts of terrorism, or deny that every one of us has inherent dignity and self worth.

Let this chalice represent what brings us back to our beloved community-the gifts of friendship, of wisdom, of insights, of encouragement, or support. Let this light remind us of our history, our knowing, our shared silence and our shared laughter, our shared tears, and our shared hopes for our futures.

May our lights be rekindled - as individuals, as friends, as family, as a church community.

Let there always be light.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

What part did you not understand?

God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule.

(Thanks, Will!)

'Bring 'em All In'

This song by Mike Scott of the Waterboys is the most succinct contemporary rendition of the essential message of the Gospels that I've encountered.

It is equally at home in the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Two things I read this morning.

Each spoke to me directly.

How Do We Learn to Love? by Marilyn Sewell.

Admitting to God, to ourselves, by Ms. Kitty.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

I am a Christian

I've actually been contemplating making this declaration for months. But I've been on unofficial and unplanned hiatus from this blog for most of the summer -- a product of distraction, an erratic schedule, vacation, more kid-time, and a thousand other things.

I am a Christian.

I am also, still, a Unitarian Universalist, and I do not consider these two declarations of faith to be mutually exclusive.

I know there are millions of Christians who will tell me that, no, I am not a Christian. But I take comfort in the millions who will accept my declaration of faith on its face.

I do not believe that Jesus died so that I might be saved, by a vengeful, sadistic and petty tyrant of a god, from an eternal torment as a result of an act committed by a mythical ancestor 6,000 years ago.

But I still declare myself a Christian.

I do believe that the planet and the Universe are indeed as many millions of years old as the best scientific evidence appears to show them to be. I believe my ancestors emerged over eons, increasingly complex from once-simple organisms. I believe that their actual coming into being, the entire universe's coming into being, was an act of creation by a supreme and not entirely knowable, distant and overarching yet intimate, creative force and personality for which God is the most familiar name, however imperfect and insufficient.

I believe that many people have walked this planet and been acutely in touch with that force, that personality. I believe that one of them lived about 2,000 years ago, a working class man born into a humble family in the Middle East, in a country under the grip of a foreign oppressor, who grew up to preach a radical message of love, equality, humility, and sharing, a message that called on all to transcend boundaries established by social norms and structures of hierarchy. His message was not, in itself, unique, but it was rendered in a powerful and distinctive voice

That message speaks deeply to me. And so I call myself a Christian.

I do not know in what way Jesus transcended his death on the cross 2,000 years ago. I don't dismiss out of hand the possibility that some sort of real resurrection occurred, although if it did I wonder why it was not more widely recorded even in that time. But, more likely, I believe that what transcended death was the force of his example and the force of his radical egalitarian vision.

These ideas that I embrace are not the product of any original thought. For the last two years I've been on an autodidactic journey through a handful of works of contemporary Christian scholarship. And so I've read, mostly, John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, both Jesus Seminar scholars; and Michael Dowd; and Rebecca Ann Parker and Rita Nakishima Brock. The most recent installment of my curriculum was Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus: a distillation, in a voice and tone that rings with the familiar cadences of the Evangelical pulpit, of the radical teachings I described above. All of the works I've described spoke to me, but Message spoke with the most fervor and enabled me to say:

I am a Christian.

And what now? What next?

While I'm sure I will read more in that vein in the coming months and years, that journey has reached a pause, as I synthesize what I've encountered and make sense of it in my own life.

I will have more to write about some of this, I'm sure, in coming days, weeks and months. For now, it just felt it was time to say what I have said.

And so I have.

"Disestablish Your Congregation"

Dan Harper on Liberal Religion as Countercultural. And I will assert it is as relevant to progressive Christians as it is to Unitarian Universalists.

(And thanks to Will for pointing me to it.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WTF, indeed...

"Your WTF moment for the day."

I have nothing to add to this.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men."

A report in the Washington Post indicates that President Obama remains very private in his religious expression and observance -- in contrast to predecessors and political rivals.

What did Jesus say?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When is the Jedi Council not the Jedi Council?

When it's the Presbyterian Church.

An old story, I know, but new to me.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Taking or Giving?

Last week DairyStateMom's denomination, The Presbyterian Church (USA), held its biennial General Assembly in the Twin Cities. We did not attend, but DSM especially avidly followed news of the event.

At the beginning of the week a worship service was held that included American Indian elements -- with worship leaders who dressed traditionally and called on the four directions. It was mostly well received, although The Presbyterian Lay Committee (a conservative group that also opposes the denomination's move to open ordination in the church to non-celibate gays and lesbians) seemed scornful and condescending in its online news report on the event.

Yet it is clear to us, based on the accounts of those who experienced it firsthand, that the worship service remained a distinctly Christian one, albeit not looking like the tradition with which most white, Western worshipers would be familiar.

Discussing this with DSM got me to thinking about the issue of Appropriation, a topic about which I've had some things to say in the past. What, I wondered, is the difference between this event and the various uses of rituals and materials from other traditions that occur in Unitarian Universalist worship?

A key distinction is that, for the most part, when UUs take other traditional elements and put our own spin on them, it is just that -- a mostly white, Western act of taking and interpreting for ourselves those other traditions. (I acknowledge that there may be exceptions to this generalization.)

In this particular Presbyterian event, however, it was the reverse: The ceremony was led by American Indian Presbyterians. In essence, they were taking something from their own culture and reinterpreting it in a new context in which they also were participants, namely Christianity. Indeed, I see it as a gift they were giving to their fellow Christians in that time and space (which makes the criticism and scorn of it all the more ungracious, in my opinion).

I've been inclined to mostly defend our UU practice to borrow from other traditions in our worship, and I still largely feel that way. But the distinction of making a gift of one's own cultural traditions to a larger context--such as a worship service--versus "taking" from the cultural traditions of others, is an intriguing one, and one that should lead us to some careful thought as we make choices about how we create and re-create rituals in the context of UU worship.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tweeting the Declaration

Slate had a contest. I read about it here. My favorite:

@Boston1775: "We seek independence based on noble and universal ideas combined with petty and one-sided grievances."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Praying for the Sick

DairyStateMom's church has an interesting summer discussion group that meets every Wednesday evening for an hour to reflect on chapters in the book Einstein's God, taken from various programs on Speaking of Faith, by Krista Tippett. Last night we discussed her program on Dr. Mehmet Oz.

There's a little bit in the program about research on whether intercessory prayer helps speed recovery for people, and there was very clear acknowledgment on the part of the discussion group that the evidence is contradictory at best and, more likely, doesn't support a scientifically objective claim that prayer "works." (Interestingly, the topic of the medical efficacy of prayer was also the subject of discussion among members of a prayer group at my own church a month or two ago. )

What's always struck me about the research is the way it typically examines what I'll call "distant" prayer -- that is, the patients participating in the research are being prayed for by others who are not there with them, and who don't even know them. (And to avoid the placebo effect, they're not even supposed to know if they are being prayed for or not.)

I think I understand why that is; the argument seems to be that it's an approach least likely to be subjected to a variety of interfering variables that could taint any findings. Yet I'm still troubled by the attempts to quantify the effects through scientific research. I haven't really been able to articulate this point well for myself, but this morning I achieved a small sort of epiphany.

However well-meaning this research might be, in the end it strikes me as mindlessly reductive. If the final, definitive conclusion seems to be that prayer has "no effect," is everyone simply going to abandon the practice?*

I rather doubt that they will. And I think to simply counsel them to do so would be regrettable at best. I've been witness to great comfort experienced by people who have been prayed for, and if that helps some, I think that's enough, whether it's by placebo effect or by some naturalistic mechanisms we don't understand, or thanks to a supernatural intervention (a possibility that I doubt). I also don't think that prayer is only for the person being prayed for. It is for the person doing the praying.

I'm a very strong believer in science. And in truth, I don't pray much at all (although I'm changing that a bit). But I also think there are some subjects and questions that are beyond the means of science, and simply remain in the realm of mystery. And I think this is probably one of them.

* I acknowledge that there are already millions of people who have no interest in it, as is their right.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Some Pedantry about Language (updated)

I will try hard not to make this a regular feature.

As a practicing English major I will confess to being a fussbudget over certain things. I refuse to allow the use of "impact" as a verb. I follow the Strunk & White dictum about the placement of "however" in a sentence, based on its usage. I insist that "enormity" must be used to refer not merely to the bigness of something, but the bigness and bad-ness of that thing. So Muffy wouldn't come back from Bloomington, MN, extolling "the enormity" of The Mall of America, but her anarchist ex-boyfriend would use just that word to explain why it should be blown up.

And when I hear the word "orientated" I absolutely cringe. It's oriented, damn it! "Orientated" is merely a bastard back-locution derived from "orientation."

(Yet I have seen references to the English preferring "orientated." I don't consider them [the references, not the English] authoritative, so the jury is out on that as far as I'm concerned.)

But until recently I haven't thought about the parallel "obliged" and "obligated." Lately, though, considering the "oriented/orientated" dichotomy, I have begun to think that "obligated" may result from the same sort of word inflation as "orientated." I've seen some comments to support that point of view, but again, nothing definitive.



Well, I did indeed check out the site Joel refers to (not references, thank you!) in the comments [http://www.takeourword.com], and here is what they say about oriented vs. orientated. (You'll have to scroll down the page to see it in context.):

In times like these we turn to the excellent H.W. Fowler's The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (third edition, edited by R. W. Burchfield) for a decision. He examines the words' etymologies (they both derive from the French desorienter, as Will Wagner points out). They both followed the same path to their present-day meanings, which are identical. In the end, Fowler says that the two words are equally interchangeable. One may find that orient is more common in the U.S., while orientate appears more frequently in the U.K., but they are still equal in meaning and correctness.

Perhaps so, but in my opinion "orientated" is still an Abomination Unto The Lord.

Nothing on Obliged vs. Obligated, however.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Evangelical Christianity and Me (Part 2)

I've touched on the role that the Friends (Quakers) played in my mother's religious life. Before we joined the Episcopal church when I was about 5 or 6, my mother was attending a Quaker meeting, and I was going to First Day school (RE) there. I remember that only vaguely. At some point we must have been going back and forth between that and the Episcopal church, because my mother is very fond of telling a story when, coming home from the Friends meeting one Sunday (where I had apparently been very bored), I said to her: "I want to be babatized and go to the Episcopal church!"

I don't have a clear memory of this. Sometimes it seems familiar to me, but I'm not entirely confident that it's indigenous to my memory as opposed to residing there from repetition of the story.

Even after we did join the Episcopal church, my family remained very close to a number of Quaker friends, some of whom taught on the college campus where my father (and later my mother) taught, others whom they'd known from Philadelphia, where my mother had worked as a teacher at a Quaker school.

Then, starting in 8th grade, I attended a Quaker school as well, further cementing my ties with that faith. I think I got three particularly strong messages from my experience with the Friends: Their strong commitment to social justice, the concept of the light of God in everyone, and a respect for pluralism (which I know may not be universal among Friends). Meanwhile I continued to attend the Episcopal church, was confirmed therein when I was 12 or 13, and remained quite happily engaged with it through high school. I also was active in an ecumenical Christian youth group in the community, which had representation from Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists. Our own priest had been a driving force in putting that group together. I am not sure, in retrospect, whether the Baptist church involved was American (Mainline) or Southern (Evangelical), but I rather suspect the latter.

And it was during this time that I continued to encounter strongly fundamentalist peers. Most of them were through the Boy Scout troop to which I belonged, but one of them was a classmate at the Quaker school -- an African American -- who had had a born-again experience in about 11th grade or so and in my senior year tried mightily to convert me. We had many earnest -- and mostly good-natured -- arguments/discussions, but he never did succeed in converting me.

Yet the impact of his persistence was ironic. He had come to believe certain things in the Bible literally, and as I reflected on my very clear understanding that the Bible was not to be taken that way, I found myself examining the creed that we recited every Sunday in my own church. "Born of the Virgin Mary." "On the Third Day He rose again." It was one thing to read the Bible symbolically, but here we were, reciting those phrases and stating unequivocally, "I believe..."

Could I really believe these things? I asked myself. And if I couldn't, wasn't it as absurd to be stating them as articles of faith as it was to believe in the literal creation story, the literal forecasts of Revelation, or the literal notion that only by asserting personal belief in salvation through Jesus Christ could I be spared from eternal damnation?

Although I had only a superficial awareness of other religions (besides Judaism -- my sister had married a Jew when I was a high school freshman), it was at this time in my life that I became very clear on one principle that has stayed with me ever since: With so many religious faiths in the world, I just could not believe that Christianity was the only "right" one and all the rest were "wrong." I concluded that in some way all must have a piece of the greater cosmic truth, whatever that was.**

In my first semester of college, I went once to the Episcopal church near the campus. It was the fall. A guest priest was there that day. I remember nothing of the sermon except one line. Well into his delivery, the priest acknowledged that there were some who sought a "Copernican revolution" in religion, placing Christianity alongside other faiths and taking away its primacy. I found myself nodding in agreement -- and then he followed up: Well, he said, that was absolutely the wrong idea.

I stayed for the end of the service, but when I left the church, I didn't go back. I attended the Episcopal church a few times after that, back home (once because I went to Christmas Eve services with a girl I briefly dated); I attended Quaker meeting once or twice over the next several years, but was bored, missing the liturgy of the Episcopal church if not the wrestling with dogma, however gently couched. I took a Religious Studies 101 class in Interpreting the Bible in my senior year of college -- a class I liked very much. But I felt little interest in returning to the church of my childhood, or to any Christian church in those days. Eventually I found my way, some seven years after I graduated from high school, into a UU church (as I've written about here.)

But over the years, I've continued to harbor a bit of a grudge toward fundamentalism and Evangelical/"Jesus Saves" Christianity.

Why is that?

I've come up with three answers--none of them mutually exclusive, all of them probably a piece of the answer.

1) I felt it both anti-intellectual (especially the rejection of science) and monstrously unjust. (It was only fairly recently -- within the last decade I think -- that I connected the fundamentalist insistence on the literal Adam and Eve story with the Jesus Saves Christology: Without the literal fall, the atonement theory has no meaning. I mention that in passing here.)

2) Somewhere deep down, I may have harbored an irrational fear -- what if the fundamentalists are right? And resented them for sparking that fear.

3) And I resented them for tainting even Mainline Christianity for me, contributing to my loss of faith in a source of real comfort, guidance and meaning during my growing up.

There may, indeed, be yet other reasons I have not managed to articulate for myself. Some days, I think 1) is the most powerful source of my resentment. Others, I find it is 3). Sometimes -- not much any more if at all -- even 2) has raised its head.

The last two years, however, have seen me on a journey back to Christianity. Certainly not the Christianity in which I never believed, and to be sure, not exactly the Christianity of my own childhood and teen years. But Christianity -- in a form that I can claim and embrace wholeheartedly -- nonetheless.

I will write more about that another time.


** Indeed, when I first read Forrest Church's metaphor of The Cathedral of the World (first presented in the book he co-wrote with John Buehrens, A Chosen Faith) some 15 or more years later -- and long after I had become a UU -- the image in that metaphor brought me back to the insight I'd had in high school. I don't have any kind of diary from when I had reached that earlier conclusion, so I have no way of knowing for sure whether I had arrived at it through the same or at least a similar metaphor. But it felt very at home with me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Evangelical Christianity and Me

I've said this before. I was never a fundamentalist, or an Evangelical. But for most of my young adult and adult life, I've harbored a special wariness of the fundamentalist and even the Evangelical approach to Christianity.

I grew up attending an Episcopal church, and also with close association to the Quakers, in Southeastern PA. My mother's father was an Episcopal clergyman whose primary vocation was teaching and writing. He was an associate of some kind of John Dewey (by interesting coincidence, I've been a consultant for the last 10 years to an education scholar who is very much a latter-day Dewey disciple). And his principal written work (besides some letters to the New York Times around the time of WW 1 that I happened to stumble across) was a two-volume history of Christianity. I have a re-bound copy of it in my bookshelves, and I actually managed to read about the first 4 or 5 chapters a few years ago.

My mother (a/k/a EmpireStateMom for those of you who are coming in late) says his basic outlook was that of the Gnostics. I've not gotten a clear understanding of why that is or what about his outlook she equates with the Gnostics.

I open with this digression because my spiritual biography really starts with hers. My mother went to a Quaker college and for years afterward found herself alternately worshiping with the Quakers, the Congregationalists, and ultimately the Episcopalians. I was about 5 or 6 when I was baptized in the Episcopal church and I felt quite comfortable there as I grew up.

My father was an anthropologist who taught at the college level after a few years of doing research in Western Africa. He had grown up attending an Episcopal church, I believe, although I vaguely recall his family might have identified as Presbyterian. They lived in Texas.

From a very early age my father made sure I knew about and understood evolution. He was not hostile to Christianity, but pretty much by the time I had reached an age in which I could understand and appreciate Myth, I understood the earliest Biblical books to be Mythical.

I was in about 7th grade when I began to realize that some classmates in my heavily fundamentalist/Evangelical pocket of the world were not of the same point of view -- that they were absolutely certain that Adam and Eve were real, historical figures. (I even recall some of them quizzing a science teacher on the subject -- and I also recall her saying to them that she was more inclined to believe the biblical version, or something like that. It was a conversation I didn't get involved in at the time.)

Later, and separately from that realization, I came to understood the essential principle of fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity: That the sole, or at least primary, reason for Jesus's coming to earth was to be crucified and resurrected in order to in some way absolve humanity of sin, and that that "salvation" could only be achieved by "accepting Jesus as personal Lord and savior."

As I've noted previously, that was not the message I got from the church I grew up in. The message that I did get was much more indirect -- in retrospect, and not at all certain that I'm getting it right now -- I would say that we were taught that Jesus was God come to earth to help us understand God better. But it was nowhere near as explicit and cut-and-dried as that.

I never bought into the personal savior theory as articulated by the fundamentalists, and I never bought into the closely aligned view that the book of Revelation was a reliable forecast of the future of the world. In high school I first discovered the work of Jack Chick, the fundamentalist cartoonist, specifically from an anti-evolution tract called "Big Daddy." (My father pointed out the many inaccuracies in its reading of the scientific data, and also pointed out the likely intentional way in which the pro-evolution professor is depicted in line with Jewish stereotypes.) I fantasized instead trying to write a tract that would rebut fundamentalist dogma with a liberal Christian social gospel, but couldn't get very far because I really couldn't articulate the message in such simple terms.

But something about my encounter with this strain of Christianity marked me for the rest of my life. I was always on the lookout for it; in my late 30s and early 40s I even subscribed for a time to an anti-fundamentalist newsletter. That dogma is a trigger for me, in fact -- provoking a visceral reaction that I don't fully understand.

This didn't set out to be a multi-part post, but I will leave off for now and continue anon.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Beyond Purity Codes

Just tonight I stumbled across an essay that is several months old. I found it from a link on Brian McLaren's blog. I've just finished reading McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus, and I've been poking around the Web to learn more about him. So far, I like what I see.

This item is not by McLaren, but it is by a Christian, and one who challenges Christians who take an esclusivist approach. Money quote:

Speaking as a Christian, you can find plenty of ammunition in the Bible and in the tradition to insist that the point behind faith in Jesus is to be “pure” for God, with Jesus’ blood being that special reagent that will purify us in the ways that we are incapable of purifying ourselves. Okay, that’s one way of looking at it. But it is just as possible, just as logical, just as spiritually coherent to see in the Christian tradition an arc of wisdom that calls us to move beyond the purity codes that defined our ancestral religious practices, instead embracing hospitality, which includes everything from welcoming the stranger, to opening our hearts to those who are “different” from ourselves, to embracing non-oppositional or non-dualistic consciousness, consciousness that celebrates the action of the Holy Spirit in the most unlikely of places, rather than seeking to judge and divide all things into that which is “good enough for God” and that which is not.

Friday, June 11, 2010

No iPad for Me

At a lunch a few weeks ago, someone brought an iPad. I have to admit, it was a very cool thing to look at and to page through.

But just when I thought I might be waivering and cancel my one-person boycott of the iPad, Apple comes to my rescue.

Grow up, Steve Jobs.

Update: I feel compelled to credit Will for the specific way I articulate my sentiments...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Why of Jesus

smijer has a long and interesting post today on the topic of Penal Substitution (which I tend to refer to as Substitutionary Atonement). It's a topic that's been on my "to-blog" list for almost as long as I've had this blog. What I'm writing now isn't that idealized/imagined blog post, but a start.

Growing up an Episcopalian, the notion that "Jesus died for our sins and paid the price to ransom us from hell" was not really the dominant interpretation I got from my church community as a child or as a teen. That's despite the lines in the Nicene and Apostle's creeds that suggest as much, although not as baldly.

But that same message was all around me. I grew up in a rural pocket of Southeastern PA that was culturally akin to the Bible Belt, with a strong fundamentalist and Evangelical presence. So starting in about 6th or 7th grade and through my teen-age years I started coming across tracts setting forth this message and friends for whom it was their central understanding of who Jesus was and what his mission was.

It never made sense to me. In a way that I could not even articulate, it struck me as irrational and even monstrous. Just the requirement that all you had to do -- and the only thing you could do -- to avoid eternal punishment was to make a statement that you believed that Jesus died for your sins seemed absurd on its face and more absurd the more I tried to contemplate and understand it.

The priest who was probably most influential in my religious upbringing -- a wonderful man who arrived at our church when I was about 11 and retired when I was about 16 or 17 -- also didn't think much of it. Not long after he arrived in our town, he asked me about the prevalence of "Jesus Saves" messages all over; while I cannot recall his exact words, it was very clear from the way he asked that he was quite dismissive of that approach. And this was not any kind of closeted atheist, either; he was deeply devout, even for a priest, and it was natural and authentic for him to refer to Jesus, whether in the context of his life on earth or in the context of the eternal, as "Our Lord."

At the same time, however, the fundamental idea of Substitutionary Atonement (although not the term -- in truth, that label is less than a year old in my consciousness) has had a near-obsessive hold on my imagination for all my life -- a consequence of how completely monstrous a concept I felt (and feel) that it was and is. Every once in a while I find myself in the religious section of the bookstore and gazing at new (Evangelical) titles in the subject of basic Christian theology, and I often pick up one or another and quickly comb through for evidence (which I almost always find) that it's serving the same old Substitutionary Atonement wine in a new bottle. When I poke around on the web for church websites (something I do occasionally just as a matter of curiosity, or perhaps because I'm following a link from somewhere else), I'll almost always look first at the "What We Believe" section (if there is one) and then assess how much it does or doesn't follow the SA model. And when I read The First Paul, by Crossan & Borg, last year, it was a revelation to me to learn that the whole notion of Substitutionary Atonement could largely be traced to Anselm, nearly a millennium after the Crucifixion.

Perhaps that's why reading Brian McLaren's The Secret Message of Jesus -- the book I'm currently on -- has been such an absolute delight. It's the first work I've seen by an Evangelical that offers a real alternative to that model. (And from some Amazon reviews I've been reading lately, it appears his newest book, A New Kind of Christianity, may actually reject the Subtitutionary Atonement model outright, although I can't yet say that with any first-hand knowledge.)

Some years ago I heard (second-hand) that Garrison Keillor, in an amusing discourse about the New York subway system, explained why the only preachers on the trains were fundamentalists: You just don't have time for a complex message, so the simple one -- "Jesus died for your sins! Give thanks to God!" or something like that -- wins out.

As I've been reintroducing myself to Christianity through its Progressive strains in the Mainline church, I've thought back to my childhood. I'm glad that my Episcopal upbringing offered an alternative to the fundamentalism in the community around me. I just wish, sometimes, that it had offered an equally succinct and clear statement of that alternative.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thinking Out Loud: Noodling a Story Idea

This is something I've never done before on this blog.

The last few days especially, and for much longer than that generally, I've been following discussions about the anti-racism movement, and disputes over its inclination to ignore or dismiss the subject of class, over on Will's blog. (Here's the most recent such discussion.)

It's a topic that intrigues me journalistically. A big reason for that is my own personal biography. On the surface I'm a suburban white man, and that's mostly how I live my life. But I grew up on the college campus (literally -- we lived in campus housing) of a historically black college that was adjacent to a rural, black village. I have immediate relatives of African descent.

A decade of covering labor and workplace issues for a metropolitan newspaper (and, more sporadically, since that time as a freelancer) has given me insights as well into issues of class and the economy's impact at the street level.

Add to that my sometimes annoying tendency to be pathologically even-handed, a holdover from my newspaper reporting "get both sides of the story" days.

Anyway...as I said, I find myself interested in writing something on this topic, but of course, first, I have to know just a whole lot more than I do right now. And then the question is, for whom? I've got two primarily regional publications I write for, and there's one in particular, based in my state's capital city, for which I think something could be fashioned. And then, what? what's the hook? What's the lede? What's the angle? Especially, the local angle?

Feel free to chime in in the comments. The usual commenting rules apply...