04 July 2014


Last Sunday, my sermon title was “Faithful Patriotism.”  I included a quote from the movie The American President (1995), which stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd.  He says this during a televised speech:  “America isn’t easy.  America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ‘cause it’s gonna put up a fight.  It’s gonna say, ‘You want free speech?  Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

On Independence Day, we celebrate the American Revolution.  Those of us of a certain age remember the logo in 1976 which marked the bicentennial of the revolution.  (I was 11 years old on that particular July 4th.)

For people of faith—and certainly for Christians—too often the love of country gets confused with the love of God.  We too easily equate those things.  In my sermon, I also quote Dan Clendenin:  For those who love and serve a Lord encompassing all space and time, it’s hard to claim “that God loves your own country more than…other countries.”  It’s difficult to go along with “confusing and conflating God’s loves with national values, and invoking God’s wrath against your enemies.”  It’s not easy to settle for a God who is that small and spiteful.

Can we foster a patriotism that celebrates the truly great things about America?  Can we work for a patriotism that doesn’t simply shout, “U-S-A!” at every turn, but rather works for more creative and faithful ways of making decisions than with the tired old methods of threats and war?

That’s the path to a real revolution! 

(The lower image is from www.goddiscussion.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/patriotism.jpg)

13 June 2014

buried alive

“Solitary confinement locks prisoners in a cell for 23 hours a day, sometimes with an hour alone in an exercise cage.  Food is pushed through a small slot in the door.  Meaningful socialization is completely denied, while phone calls and visitation are extremely limited.  Those who have survived it describe the experience as being ‘buried alive’…  Prolonged isolation destroys a person’s mind, body and spirit and thus flies in the face of basic Jewish values which embrace human dignity, rehabilitation and reintegration and reject excessive and destructive punishment.”

That’s how Rabbi Rachel Gartner describes prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes referred to as being put “in the hole.”  She looks at it through a Jewish prism.  Working with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, comprised of numerous faith communities, Rabbi Gartner understands that torture in prisons is rampant. 

The International Day against Torture, on the 26th, will soon be here.  Please remember that being buried alive is a terrible way to treat any human being.

22 May 2014

I don't want to hear that

In his book, Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, Peter Steinke talks about the effect of anxiety on our thinking process.  He discusses two parts of the brain that especially are involved.  There is the amygdala, in the lower part of the brain.  When we perceive danger, it kicks into action.  It doesn’t take the time to weigh alternatives; it demands quick response.

Steinke also looks at the left prefrontal cortex, which is most fully developed in humans.  He calls it “holy tissue.”  This is the part of the brain that can envision the sacred, the highest level of consciousness.  Unfortunately, the amygdala, for a number of reasons, can overwhelm the left prefrontal cortex.  Anxiety can hinder our ability to reason.  He has this reflection:

“Early in my consulting work, I made the mistake of thinking that if I presented issues to a congregation clearly, the people would respond appropriately.  What I discovered is that not all people in a given situation will find clarity comforting.  Even if the information is quite clear, if it runs contrary to someone’s viewpoint, they will contest it.  Their own emotionality overrides their thinking capacity.  Their emotionality limits the thinking brain’s capacity to focus on the facts.  The survival brain will protect us not only from bodily harm but also to challenges to our world of insight and meaning.” (63)

I suppose we all have had our moments when we could say, “I don’t want to hear that!” 

(The image is from www.eddycrosby.com/2010/01/18/emotions)

08 May 2014

cosmically uncontrolled

I’ve been thinking about the conversion of Saul in Acts 9, in particular where he is literally led by the hand after being blinded by the light.  He is not in control.

I’ve also been watching the wonderful TV show Cosmos, in which Neil deGrasse Tyson picks up the mantle of Carl Sagan.  I especially liked the most recent episode, “The Lost Worlds of Planet Earth.”  Our friend Neil takes his ship of the imagination to the ocean floor, and he explores the deep time of the past.  Earth has been many different planets—and still is.  It will continue to evolve into different planets in the future.

Life on Earth has, at times, been a questionable proposition.  Asteroid strikes, toxic gases spewing from beneath the surface, ice ages, and other events that we would call hazardous have been part of the biography of our planet.

The scientist Stephen Jay Gould once spoke of the 60 trillion contingent events that eventually led to the emergence of Homo sapiens.”  (I’m not sure where he got that number, but it’s probably as good as anything else.)  The episode of Cosmos mentions the effects of the Sun and the other planets.  The gravity of Venus and Jupiter affect the Earth’s orbit.  A multitude of other factors have had, and continue to have, their say. 

Ultimately, we have very little control.

30 April 2014

sterling silver

When I heard NBA commissioner Adam Silver say that he was banning LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling “for life” from the team and the NBA, the word “wow” almost involuntarily came from my mouth.  The pundits were speculating that he might issue an indefinite ban and perhaps strengthen it later.

Besides his over-the-top, caricature-style racism, Sterling is the worst kind of sports team owner.  He has admitted that his purchase of the Clippers was purely a business decision.  He has shown very little interest over the years in turning the team into anything resembling a contender.  Now that the Clippers are a good team, it seems appropriate that he is being shown the door. 

I can think of two owners in Dallas, Mark Cuban of the Mavericks and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys, who have Texas-sized egos.  But no one can claim that they are not passionate about their teams and the leagues in which they play.