Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The 12 Days of Christmas Hoax

Given that in my last post and the newsletter column this week, I wrote about 12 Days of Christmas, I feel the need to make this request: Please do not send me an e-mail that purports to tell the true secret meaning behind the song, the 12 Days of Christmas!

I get this every year and I have bad news for you folks. It's not true! Every year well-meaning people send me e-mails telling how during the persecution of the Catholics by Protestants or the persecution of Protestants by Catholics some time in England the persecuted group developed this song as code for their beliefs that they could sing to one another.

I know, I know, it would make more sense if it were true. Lords-a-Leaping, anyone? But it's not. So please spare me the details.

Don't believe me? Click here.

Grace and Peace,


The 12 Days of Christmas (12.18.07 Dialogue Column)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

Have you ever wondered about the 12 Days of Christmas?
Sure, I think we’ve all wondered about who would give someone a partridge in a pear tree, but I’m not talking about the gifts. I’m talking about the 12 days. What is that about?

The 12 days of Christmas are not the twelve days prior to Christmas. If they were, we’d probably have to change it to the 30, 60 or 90 days before Christmas given the fact that the stores seem to pull out their Christmas decorations in September. No, the twelve days of Christmas run from Christmas Day until the Day of Epiphany, January 6. Epiphany and the season that follows celebrate the Wise Men from the East bringing their gifts to Jesus symbolizing the universal nature of God’s love in Jesus Christ being for people of all nations. The twelve days between Christmas Day and Epiphany are meant for the celebration of the Christ child’s arrival and the abundant love of God symbolized by that birth. Prior to the development of the modern retail juggernaut, Advent was a somber time and the twelve days were the times for feasting and merriment.

It’s good news to me that we get twelve days to celebrate Christmas. Given the line of work I’m in, the season of Advent is a busy time of carrying out special events and trying to finalize administrative matters for the end of the calendar year. I always breathe a sigh of relief every year when the last notes are sung at the Christmas Eve service, because that means (hopefully) that I have no more ministerial duties to perform and can simply be with my family. Even though Advent is a meaningful time for me as a minister, it is not a relaxing or meditative time for me. I could use some time after Christmas to reflect upon what the season is about.

Perhaps you feel the same way. For many people, the weeks leading up to Christmas are filled with busyness that leaves them tired and worn out. You may have breathed your own sigh of relief when it is all over. Christmas cards have to be addressed and mailed. Christmas parties and concerts have to be attended. Presents must be bought, and if you have small children, they must be put together (often the most stressful part of Christmas comes when parents argue over whether or not to consult the assembly instructions). Even doing good deeds of charity can add to the holiday stress. Maybe you too could use the twelve days after Christmas to reflect upon the spiritual meaning of the day as well.

After Christmas when the decorations are coming down and you’ve already hit the after Christmas sales, why not take some time out to find some stillness and quiet? Why not make the twelve days of Christmas a time for you and God together? After the cacophony of Christmas music and commercial marketing, this could be a time for you to refresh your spirit.

Grace and Peace,


The Gospel vs. the Religious Right

Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post has a really good column today where he asks the valid question of whether the values of the religion-draped Republican party match up with the values of Jesus Christ as presented in the Gospels.

Among other things, he asks, how can Bush doctrine of preemptive war and torture square with the Sermon on the Mount?

He also takes to task the Republican presidential candidates who appear to be in a contest to see who can be the cruelest to illegal immigrants and their children. He writes:

Yet the distinctive cry coming from the Republican base this year isn't simply to control the flow of immigrants across our borders but to punish the undocumented immigrants already here, children and parents alike.

So Romney attacks Huckabee for holding immigrant children blameless when their parents brought them here without papers, and Huckabee defends himself by parading the endorsement of the Minuteman Project's Jim Gilchrist, whose group harasses day laborers far from the border. The demand for a more regulated immigration policy comes from virtually all points on our political spectrum, but the push to persecute the immigrants already among us comes distinctly, though by no means entirely, from the same Republican right that protests its Christian faith at every turn.

It is a fearful and confusing time in America, as with all such times it is easy to score political points through talking tough, promoting vengeance and using violence. Let's hope somebody of one party or another can choose a better way in 2008.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, December 17, 2007

Huckabee Breaks the Needle Off of the God-o-meter

I've been staying away from the presidential campaign lately on this blog, just because...well, when I think about it I can't stop yawning!!!!! I can't decide who thinks I'm more stupid the talking head analysts on TV or the candidates themselves. Yet, I have been stirred from my malaise by the invocation of the divine by the Rev. Mike Huckabee.

If you take a look at the God-o-Meter (see left)--the really cool collection of articles on all the candidates and religion maintained by Time Magazine and Beliefnet--Huckabee just about breaks the needle off the "theocrat" end of the machine.

Once upon a time, I think I may have been first in making the "I Heart Huckabee" joke here on this blog. I believe it was for an interview he did on NPR where he came across as a common-sense sort of guy who actually cared about poor people. He certainly didn't win me over then, but I was interested. I remained wary, however, because before his political career, Huckabee was the president of the Arkansas Baptist Convention--not exactly known for an open-minded celebration of pluralism in a free democracy. Then Huckabee flew into the Bermuda Triangle of media coverage that was any Republican besides Romney or Giuliani, until all the Religious Right voters in Iowa realized they might have to pick between a Mormon and a pro-choice, twice-divorced Catholic. Then, with Huckabee's rise in the polls and marketing of himself as a "true Christian leader" as opposed to say, Romney, suddenly people are paying attention to him again--including me.

I have to say that a kinder, gentler Republican is appealing to me, but I've come to believe that Huckabee is peddling the same type of "Compassionate Conservatism" that W. handed out in 2000. Groups like the Family Research Council are lining up behind him--always scary when religio-fascists count themselves as your supporters. When Huckabee refused to recant his 1992 statement that people with HIV/AIDS should be isolated from the rest of society, he pretty much tipped his hand regarding pandering to the Religious Right with a barely-veiled judgment of homosexuals. (The Washington Post had a really good editorial on this point.) Huckabee stated recently that in 1992 we didn't know much about AIDS is ridiculous. I can recall debating the issue of allowing students with AIDS in schools back in the Ryan White days of the mid-1980's in my middle school debate class. I was 13 and I new more about how AIDs is spread seven years earlier than Huckabee did.

Huckabee came out with the usual type of blasphemy that candidates who hang out with too many Falwell/Dobson/Robertson/Land types always seem to do. He has begun to claim that God wants him to be president. When asked by a Liberty University student for an explanation for his surge in the Iowa polls, he replied, "It is the same power that helped a little boy with two fishes and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people. And that's the only way our campaign could be doing what it is doing." UGH!!!!!

If God is the power behind a candidate, then, if that candidate wins, he or she is both beyond reproach and immune to criticism—because, of course, that person is seen as divinely appointed or anointed. The politician's actions are synonymous with God's will. This opens the door for political silliness (God desires tax cuts) or hubris (God favors our political party)—as well as making God responsible for a host of reprehensible or potentially evil acts in the forms of injustice, oppression, or war.

So, what's the alternative to this kind of thinking? Is God removed from politics? Hardly. Again, Diana Butler-Bass:

It is possible to recognize providence in politics, while leaving room for nuance, humility, and mystery. Instead of seeing God as causing specific actions, it seems preferable to understand providence as the unfolding of God's story through time—a tale of sin, reconciliation, justice, and peace from creation to the end of history, of which God shares with us the narrative trajectories, not the specific twists of plot.

In this story, God does not control human actions as a divine puppet master. Rather, as human beings encounter the story, we change and our actions begin to conform to God's narrative of shalom. In this way, God's intentions unfold as we practice faith in humble gratitude that God has invited us into the story. Providence is not divine Mapquest or supernatural tom-tom. Rather, providence is a pilgrimage of God's people in time as they seek to live in mercy, kindness, and grace—and that is where God's will is made known. Not God's finger, providence is the breath of God, the spirit enlivening human beings to do justice.

I never fully "Hearted" Huckabee anyway, but with this kind of "divine right of kings" claims, the governor and Baptist minister ensures that I never will.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. Andy Borowitz has a great column that reports Huckabee has chosen Jesus as his runningmate in 2008. Here's a taste: The Reverend Pat Robertson, a supporter of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, said he was "blindsided" by the news of Huckabee's decision: "I talked to Jesus last night, and He didn't mention anything about it."

Give Rice, Learn Vocab!

It's my day off, and I've spent about an hour and a half today playing an addictive vocabulary game at Granted, I learned about the site on NPR this morning so I'm sure that means that most of the on-line world has been aware of this for some time.

Nonetheless, if you're new to it like me, here's how it works: you play a multiple choice game testing your vocabulary and for every question you get right the site donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. So far, the site has given over 9 billion grains of rice away which can feed hundreds of thousands of people.

I made it to level 46! Good to know that my GRE and SAT skills are still intact.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, December 14, 2007

ONE (Dialogue Column 12.11.07)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

One love, one blood, one life... One life with each other: sisters, brothers.

One life, but we're not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.

One, one.

I’ve confessed before that U2 is my favorite band and that I find great meaning in their songs. The lyrics quoted above are the chorus from the song “One,” and hearing these words sung in an arena full of 60,000 fans during one of their concerts was a truly spiritual experience for me—one that rivals what I have experienced in church.

The interesting thing about the song “One” is that the lyrics in the verses are very dark. They speak of separation and estrangement. Yet, when the chorus begins and the music rises, the song becomes optimistic to the point of ethereality. It confidently asserts the connections we share with one another as human beings and perhaps even with the divine.

When the lead singer and lyricist of the band, Bono, was interviewed about the popularity of the song, he expressed his surprise that people connected with it considering the rather dark lyrics. He guessed it was because of the chorus. Somehow it spoke to people’s desire for connection and belonging at a very basic and essential level.

I believe he’s right, because that is certainly how I feel about the song. I’ve been to five U2 concerts and sang my guts out when this song came around right along with the strangers on every side of me. In that moment, the connection we shared was electric.

I’m thinking about the song “One” this second week of Advent and what I believe it says about the human condition—and for that matter, what it says about the divine condition. Christians have spoken of God in terms of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit so often and so successfully that we often forget as believers that according to the doctrine of the Trinity, they are all different aspects or persons of the same God. As we celebrate Christmas, we can get lost in the metaphor of “Son of God” and forget the deeper mystery: the child born in Bethlehem was not God’s offspring but God in full. That newborn child was God coming to be ONE with us.

The miracle of Christmas is that God loves us enough to experience everything we experience from birth to death. Surely God could have already conceived of what it would be like to be human, but conception—even by God—is still an abstraction and therefore not the same as reality. God really wanted to be ONE with us. God loves us that much.

We might be able to conceive of what it would be like to live in a developing country where the luxuries we take for granted in America do not exist, but imagining such a thing is far different from actually living it. I’ve known a number of people who have chosen to go live in such places right alongside the people they have come to serve. Living in that kind of “ONE-ness” takes a considerable amount of love. Such cases are perhaps the clearest examples of God’s love I know.

We experience glimpses of this kind of love during worship at church. As we share our joys and concerns with each other, we are known to one another and we experience God through one another. It is a blessing to be known by others who care for you.

This Christmas season, let’s “carry each other” just as God carries us. May Christmas remind us that we are “ONE.”

Grace and Peace,


Peace, Grace and Anne Lamott (Dialogue Column 12.4.07)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

I'm behind on posting in general and posting Dialogue columns in particular because of the ice storm. Here's last week's column:

This Sunday, we light the second advent candle, the candle of peace. My sermon is entitled “The Courage to Believe in Peace,” and I will be speaking about Jesus’ instructions to be peacemakers in the world, in our community and in our relationships. Although all people give lip service to the idea of peace in the abstract, far fewer are willing to do the hard work of making the kind of peace that values the God-given worth of all involved. It is much easier to attack than it is to talk to someone else as an equal, both at the interpersonal and national level. Whether we invade another country as a nation or assassinate the character of another person as an individual, pain and violence are the broad and easy path to take. The narrow and difficult path offered by Jesus takes much more effort, and it takes courage to believe such a path is possible at all.

Now that my eyesight has improved to the point that I can read again without too much effort, I’m catching up on books I set aside last January. One of them is Anne Lamott’s latest book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. It provides an example of peacemaking that was meaningful to me. In one essay, she uses the metaphor of a garden to describe her heart. In this garden would be beautiful wildflowers, a compost pile, scattered headstones covered in ivy and moss, and some piles of trash she’s been meaning to clean up. In her emotional trash heap are several friendships that ended badly. As she has matured, gotten therapy and come to know Jesus, she has learned that “a willingness to help clean up the mess we’ve made is a crucial part of adult living.”

So, when she felt the “nudges” of the Holy Spirit to make amends with a couple she had fallen out with years earlier, she resisted. She confesses how she had acted badly towards her friends, because she was jealous of their wealth and success. “Jealousy always has been my cross, the weakness and woundedness in me that has most often caused me to feel ugly and unlovable…I know that when someone gets a big slice of pie, it doesn’t mean there’s less for me. In fact, I know that there isn’t even a pie, that there’s plenty to go around, enough food and love and air. But I don’t believe it for a second. I secretly believe there’s a pie. I will go to my grave brandishing a fork.”

Fork brandishing or not, Lamott eventually did go on to write a letter to her friends apologizing for her part in their breakup, a letter without judgment, recrimination or criticism—only apology. At the time of the book’s printing, she had not received a response. She writes, “Maybe they forgive me, maybe they don’t. But I finally, finally forgive me, sort of-ish…forgiving myself makes it possible to forgive them too. Maybe this is grace, or simply the passage of time. Whatever you want to call this, I’ll take it.”

I believe that this is one of the ways God calls us to make peace. As we light the peace candle on Sunday, I hope you will join me in thinking about the ways each of us can help the miracle of grace to occur.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Romney on Religion

As I'm writing this, Mitt Romney is making a speech designed to reassure evangelical Christian members of the Republican party about his Mormon faith. Although the media likes to frame this speech as a sequel to JFK's speech to Baptist ministers about his Roman Catholic faith, there are really big differences between the two. Kennedy spoke about a separation of church and state to reassure his conservative Christian audience, but Romney will make no such appeal, because he can't--not if he wants to win over the Religious Right. The Religious Right has changed American politics arguing that religion should be intertwined with politics and not just any religion but their particular brand of conservative Christianity. Given the differences between the beliefs of the Latter Day Saints and evangelical/fundamentalist Christians, I don't see how Romney can hope to truly assuage their anxiety over his beliefs.

I was sent a great article on Salon by Andrew O'hehir that makes just this point--only more eloquently and with more background context. It really helps put Romney's dilemma in focus.

I have to say that I feel no sympathy for Romney. He may share similar values with the Religious Right on social issues, but when you seek to make a deal with a particular group that will not allow for any religious views to have power besides their own, you get what you bargain for. Give me a candidate that argues for a common respect for the pluralistic nature of our country when it comes to religion and sees government's job to be protecting and enabling that pluralism rather than limiting its scope or scale.

Grace and Peace,


Science, Faith and the Fundamentalists of the Right and Left

I regularly find myself in the role of contrarian. When I'm with conservative Christians, I'm branded a liberal because of my beliefs about the Bible and social issues. When I'm with more liberal Christians, I'm looked at with dismay and confusion over why a seemingly educated and enlightened person such as myself would still believe in things like the divinity of Christ, the trinity, the resurrection, miracles and anything that smacks of the supernatural.

The first group I've sort of given up on ever being able to explain myself to--rare is the conservative Christian who is willing to actually listen to my thoughts on when, how and in what way the Bible is or is not God's word, the necessity of science and critical thought, etc. I'm getting about to the same point with this second group--there's a certain hardness of positions that comes from the other end of the religious spectrum as well--at times, I'd say that some liberal Christians mirror fundamentalists in their refusal to consider anything beyond what their presuppositions allow them to consider. Neither extreme seems to acknowledge that they even have presuppositions.

Each in their own way require faith to believe what they hold to be true. The fundamentalist believes that God can act in any supernatural way God wants to at any time and with no limitations. Such things as the laws of physics, carbon dating, evolution, etc. all become threats to their presuppositions. On the other end, liberal believers espouse a God that mirrors that of the Deists--little more than a watchmaker--wind up the universe and let it go. Jesus was a wise teacher and prophet but in no way divine. His miracles were ordinary events that were viewed as supernatural So on and so on.

Although the conservative position could be charged with being stuck in a pre-modern universe, the liberal view could in the same way be charged with being stuck with a worldview that mirrors the Enlightenment values centuries ago. This "enlightened" or modern worldview privileges the scientific method and rational inquiry while at the same time looking with disdain upon anything that could be described as non-rational (as opposed to irrational) and cannot be explained by the laws of science.

Yet, all the time, scientists admit what they do not know and the best and most humble admit that some of those things may beyond our ability to ever know. I read a really nice example of this a little over a week ago in the NY Times. The author Paul Davies in his column "Taking Science on Faith," admits that the laws of physics may govern how our universe functions but such questions as "why are these laws the way they are?" and "what established these laws?" and "why these laws and not others?" remain outside of our ability to know. It's a prime example of scientists holding a certain view of the universe without any understanding of why things are the way the are.

In other words, based on their experience (albeit experience tested in laboratories and through mathematics, etc.) they have certain tenets they hold to be true. Based upon my experience, I still believe in a God that can and does act in human events. Can I prove it in a laboratory? No. But much that passes for scientific knowledge cannot be proven in a laboratory either.

None of this means that I am anti-science or threatened by the amazing breakthroughs in knowledge that occur everyday. All that it does mean is that I refuse to say only that which can be scientifically proven is allowed to exist. If that were so, much of what we humans cherish most about existence would be declared as unreal and foolish.

I'm glad to celebrate what we can know and hopefully some day in the future will know, while at the same time rejoicing in what remains unknowable or at least unexplainable.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, December 3, 2007

Bible Verses as Horoscope

One of my daily chuckles is looking on the St. Joseph News-Press editorial page for the Bible verse of the day. Occasionally, the verse is significant--a saying of Jesus or a summary statement of Paul or something by the prophets, etc.--something that can stand alone and have meaning. Usually, however, it's a random verse plucked out of its context and therefore with little or no meaning whatsoever. It's like they have a random verse generator or a really bad verse-a-day calendar that they're working off of.

Today's verse was Exodus 26:30, which reads:

And there were eight boards; and their socket were sixteen sockets of silver, under every board two sockets.

Anybody got an idea what's going on in this verse? No, it was not the Ancient Israelite home improvement guide, but rather the making of the tabernacle in the wilderness. This is not exactly what I use for my spiritual devotions each morning.

When I was a kid, my father and I started reading the Bible together each day. (That's the kind of thing you do when you're a preacher's kid.) We started at Genesis--which is largely action-packed and got into Exodus which starts out with the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea and all that. Then we got to the tabernacle and how it was made and we pretty much ended up giving up the whole project of reading the Bible each morning together. It's pretty freaking dull. I don't think I've eve heard a sermon on the frame construction of the tabernacle. It never occurred to me and my father to just skip ahead or start somewhere else in the Bible and read there.

The sort of verse-plucking that we find on our local paper's editorial page amounts to about the same thing as looking at your horoscope. Some days, what it says may apply to your life, other days its general enough that it could apply to any one's life and then other days it makes no sense whatsoever. Somehow, I think we should expect more from our study of the Bible.

I'll keep looking at the verse of the day, however, if for nothing else, so I can chuckle at how absurd some of the choices are.

Grace and Peace,


Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Right to Bigoted Speech

As is often the case, I was looking through my old e-mails looking for one thing in particular and I found something else that I had meant to make use of but had forgotten about. My inbox is sort of a dead letter office for articles, e-mails, etc. that I find meaningful but don't know what to do with. This time, I came across a column by Bill Tammeus that I had e-mailed myself. This one came out several weeks ago and was his response to the recent verdict against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka.

Tammeus' column is worth reading, because he opposes the verdict and expects Phelps and his gang of buffoons will win their appeal. Tammeus has been a target of this group of bigots himself, so I imagine it can't be easy for him to support their right to free speech. I find myself in great sympathy with Tammeus--who expresses his disgust for the group of so-called Christians but supports their right to express their beliefs. I really just want their hatefulness to go away, but only by facing such bigotry out in the open and in the light of day can it be overcome. Besides, as he points out, once society starts down the path of outlawing certain kinds of speech, then it is a that much closer to outlawing the legitimate expression of ideas that may simply be unpopular. Let Phelps, his goons and his brainwashed offspring have their say, so their words can be revealed for what they are: hateful idiocy.

Anyway, check out Tammeus' column. It's well worth reading.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy New Year! (Dialogue Column 11.27.07)

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Oftentimes, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.


You may think that I’m rushing things a bit. After all, we just got through with Thanksgiving and are now fully on the road to Christmas, so why am I talking about New Year’s Day? Sure, the calendar on the wall doesn’t flip over until January 1, but the calendar of the church starts anew this Sunday. I’m speaking about the liturgical or worship calendar, of course, and not the fiscal year of the church. The liturgical calendar starts every year on the first Sunday of Advent, which happens to be this coming Sunday.

Centuries of tradition by various churches and denominations have boiled down more or less to a worship calendar that begins with the season of Advent (four Sundays prior to Christmas) and runs until Advent begins again the next year. Through the church year, we move through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and the Sundays following Pentecost, often called Ordinary Time. This practice varies by denomination. For example, the Orthodox or Eastern churches use a separate system of dates for their seasons than churches that trace their development to the Western church. Some churches and denominations do not follow these seasons at all. For example, the Baptist churches I grew up in paid little if any attention to these seasons. Yet, among churches like ours, it is common to find each of these seasons marked with different traditions and for the church year to begin anew four Sundays prior to Christmas Day.

Thinking about beginning a new year at a time when our culture is madly intent upon concluding its year can be a difficult task. It is hard not to think of the year ending on December 31st when everything from your vacation schedule to your taxes ends that day too. Yet, I believe that there is wisdom in beginning to think of a new season and a new year prior to Christmas. We can set our spiritual clocks and calendars that guide us internally to a different rhythm than the deadlines that so dominate our lives culturally and economically.

We begin our worship year in Advent, the season of anticipation for what God will do in our lives and our world. We remember the longing for peace and justice in ancient Israel and celebrate how God answered those desires in Jesus Christ that first Christmas. We also look to our future as we await a time when God will conclude God’s work in the world to bring peace and justice today.

Then with Christmas Day, we begin the practice of reflecting upon the life of Jesus when he walked among humanity during his earthly ministry. We wonder anew at the mystery of God becoming human and experiencing our joys and pain. In Epiphany, we celebrate the spiritual light of Christ that came through the incarnation of Jesus Christ and reflect once again upon our God who continues to surprise us and speak to us in new ways. In Lent, we recall Jesus’ steady movement towards suffering and death in order to demonstrate God’s love and to experience the worst the powers of evil had to offer. In Easter, we celebrate God’s ability to triumph over death and to bring hope where all hope is lost. Then at Pentecost, we begin a season where we take notice of how God’s spirit impacts our lives in subtle and dynamic ways, especially as we experience God’s presence in the spiritual community we call the church. After that we start all over again.

Take a moment this week to breathe and reflect upon God’s movement in your life. Seek to attune your spirit to the work of God. Adjust your soul’s calendar to God’s marvelous ability to offer us new life and new opportunities for change as we begin this new year.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

St. Bono in the News

In Sunday's sermon for World AIDS Day, I mentioned that one of my own personal saints is Bono, lead singer of my favorite band, U2. Bono has decided to cash in whatever cache his celebrity status can give him to raise awarness about extreme poverty in developing nations, especially Africa, and the worldwide AIDS epidemic--again, especially in Africa. I quoted from one of the speeches that he's made over the last few years on the subject (if you follow the link you can watch the entire speech on video):

This is not a cause, it’s an emergency…Six and a half thousand people dying a day may be Africa’s crisis, but the fact that it’s not on the nightly news, that we in Europe or you in America are not treating it like an emergency… that’s our crisis…Though Africa is not the front line in the war in terror, it could be soon…Despair breeds violence, we know this. In turbulent times isn’t it cheaper and smarter to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later? ...You see, the scale of the suffering numbs us into a kind of indifference. What on earth can we all do about this? Well, much more than we think. We can’t fix every problem, but the ones we can, I want to argue, we must. And because we can, we must. This is the straight truth, the righteous truth. It is not a theory. The fact is that ours is the first generation that can look disease and extreme poverty in the eye, look across the ocean to Africa and say this and mean it: we do not have to stand for this. A whole continent written off — we do not have to stand for this. History, like God, is watching what we do.

"I think knowing the Scriptures helped," Bono says of his conversations with more conservative legislators. His father was Roman Catholic, and it was his Protestant mother who regularly took him to church before her death when Bono was 14. "I think I could debate with them. I hope they had appreciated that, and they knew I had respect for their beliefs. Even if I wasn't the best example of how to live your life, they treated me with respect. I'm nervous of zealotism, even though I have to admit I'm a zealot for these issues of extreme poverty."

Bono seems to provide for many in official Washington a form of inspiration, reaching into those corners of the soul to find whatever remained of the sense of optimism and altruism that drove them into public service in the first place. What Bono demands in return is the means to save the lives of millions.

"Why are people listening?" Bono says. "Because I actually believe in America and they know it and I'm not sure if they do sometimes. It is a little odd and eerie to have an Irish rock star recite the Declaration of Independence like it's a great poem, but it is a great poem. And that poetry is what's missing from political dialogue right now. And this country is parched, parched from the lack of such political lyrics, and I'm going in saying, 'This is who you are.' "

Who are we as Americans? Who are we as Christians? Who are we as American Christians? It may take an Irish rock star to remind us these questions matter.

Feel like jumping on Bono's bandwagon? Check out the One Campaign and sign the pledge.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Getting Government Out of the Marriage Business

The gay-marriage debate has died down for now, since the Religious Right has been unable to drum up much business using it as a bogeyman lately. The issue may have lost its sexiness for the mainstream media or the interest groups who seek to manipulate it, but the issues raised by that debate remain. What interest does the state really have in deciding who can be married? For that matter, what does marriage really mean? Is there a real difference in the legal world between marriage and civil union or some other term? Is there a difference in the moral or ethical realm? Such questions remain unanswered.

I was in New York when the debate broke out in earnest a few years back, and I had to do some thinking of my own about the issue, especially when two Unitarian ministers went to jail for performing a same-sex marriage ceremony. What would I do if some of the gay couples I knew asked me to perform such a ceremony? If I performed such a wedding as a religious ceremony rather than a civil one--what would that mean for me ethically or for that matter, what would it mean to the state legally? I came to the conclusion, that if I believed in the couple's relationship, I would perform such a ceremony--but in a religious not a civil sense. Since the state didn't recognize such unions, I saw little need to press the point.

Since that time, I've also come to an additional conclusion, namely, that the state doesn't really have any business deciding what marriage is or can be--outside of issues of child custody and inheritance, it's none of the state's business.

As Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, pointed out in a recent op-ed column, the state already recognizes in many respects couples who live together for any length of time as legally married in terms of custody of children, division of assets in separation, etc.

She writes, "Using the existence of a marriage license to determine when the state should protect interpersonal relationships is increasingly impractical. Society has already recognized this when it comes to children, who can no longer be denied inheritance rights, parental support or legal standing because their parents are not married...Possession of a marriage license is no longer the chief determinant of which obligations a couple must keep, either to their children or to each other. But it still determines which obligations a couple can keep — who gets hospital visitation rights, family leave, health care and survivor’s benefits. This may serve the purpose of some moralists. But it doesn’t serve the public interest of helping individuals meet their care-giving commitments."

She also gives a brief snapshot of marriage through the centuries, and until very recently, it was the church that decided what marriages were recognized in the eyes of God. The state's concern was not in legislating morality but in dealing with issues of inheritance and taxes. Once the state got into the business of deciding who could be married to whom, the door was opened to all sorts of laws about marriages between people of different ethnic groups. In my mind the opposition to same-sex marriage amounts to the same sort of prejudice.

I say let the government get out of the marriage business. It's the word "marriage" that raised so much of the rancor among opponents to same-sex unions/marriages after all. So, let the government call all unions "civil unions" and let religious institutions determine what a "marriage" is. Let the state focus upon what are its concerns--namely taxes, inheritance and child custody, etc. and let religious communities make up their own minds about what is moral, immoral, sacred or profane.
As it stands now, the state legally calls a union a "marriage" as long as its a man and a woman, but I would hardly put the "marriage" of someone like Pamale Anderson on the same level as many couples I know--both straight and gay--who are not married in the eyes of the state. The divorce rate should tell all of us that many unions recognized by the state do not live up to what can really be called a sacred commitment or covenant between two people.

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, November 24, 2007

I'm grateful for the News-Press Article on World AIDS Day

I'm grateful to News-Press reporter Lacey Storer for her story in today's News-Press about tomorrow's worship service where we will observe World AIDS Day.

I've wanted to observe the day in worship ever since I heard about several churches in New York that did so when I worked on Long Island. Around NYC, the gay and lesbian community was more visible than St. Joseph and due to a lot of lobbying and sympathetic press coverage the needs of people with HIV/AIDS are better known. I guess it's newsworthy here--unfortunately. It would be nice if every church was observing the day and marking how Christians through ignorance and intolerance have helped this scourge to spread across the earth.

To be fair, I'm not sure that this is the first time First Christian has observed the day. It certainly is not the first time that the church has faced the issue in a public way. Back in the early 90's, the church started the Interfaith Care Teams with the purpose of caring for the needs of people with HIV/AIDS. That organization is now Faith in Action and the work they were doing in regards to HIV/AIDS has been taken over by other groups and organizations. I'm proud of that history at First Christian and glad to write a new chapter in my time here.

We'll see how tomorrow goes.

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Lazarus on the Doorstep

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. Luke 16:19-21 NRSV

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus. I don’t think of myself as rich in economic terms, even though I know I am compared to how most of the people in the world live. Jesus’ parable invites each of us, no matter our income, to see ourselves in the rich man who ignores the beggar on his doorstep. The rich man throws away food that the beggar is literally dying to have.

This story comes to my mind, because there are destitute men, many of them homeless, practically on the doorstep of First Christian Church. I’ve had some recent encounters with one of them. His name is Dan, and you may know him as the guy who has several feathers sticking out of his baseball cap and who pushes a shopping filled with all sorts of odds and ends around downtown St. Joseph. I noticed Dan a few weeks ago digging through a dumpster of a nearby business. He wasn’t searching for food but for scrap metal that he could recycle for a few bucks. It turns out his cart is full of aluminum cans, pieces of steel from old machinery and spools of old wiring. He spends his nights moving between shelters, government-subsidized boarding houses and other places depending on the worth of the scrap metal he’s found that day.

I suspect that some in our church know Dan better than me, including fthe acts about his history, family and mental condition that have lead him to this kind of existence. All I know is that he’s been grateful for my attention and our conversations. In our first meeting, I offered him some cans sitting around the church which he was grateful for. The next few times we simply chatted. At our last meeting, I was on my way to Hardee’s for lunch, so I bought an extra combo meal for him. Dan was excited about the curly fries. We’ll see what happens next time.

This holiday season, I’m thinking a lot about Dan and others like him that pass by our church every day. I’m thinking about Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus too. Our church supports some wonderful ministries, such as the Open Door Food Kitchen and Interserv, that help people like Dan, but I sense that God is asking more from us. If you’re like me, you always mean to help out more during the holiday season, but those good intentions get lost in the rush. What if this year we spent some time being intentional about helping someone in need—time normally spent shopping for presents, heading to parties or decorating the tree?
The Open Door Food Kitchen always needs additional volunteers. Interserv always needs additional donations of food this time of year. In fact, Interserv is seeking financial donations so that its new Cold Weather Shelter can open several weeks earlier than planned to provide shelter to homeless people in the winter. These are just a few of the possibilities that exist for you and me to avoid the fate of the rich man in Jesus’ story.

This season I am trying to listen to what God is saying to me about what more I can do to help First Christian Church minister to some of the neediest people in our city. I hope that you will do the same.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, November 16, 2007

Maybe Happiness is a Warm Puppy After All

I'm catching up on my NY Times articles that I missed while away and came across this one by Eduardo Porter about the pursuit of happiness. He asks the interesting question of how we can increase happiness in people's lives. Our culture, government and economics believe increasing income and wealth is the road to happiness, but as we all know, money can't buy happiness. Porter writes that leisure time and important relationships seem to be the leading things that increase a person's happiness, and then he asks why not work to change culture in these areas--he's of course short on specifics.

I believe there's something in the Bible about making time for important relationships and also enjoying life. I wonder if anybody's ever considered looking there for answers? I know, I know, how conservative of me.

Grace and Peace,


TV or Not TV

I was struck by Alonzo Weston's column in Wednesday's News-Press for many reasons. In it he admits his desire for a brand-new high-tech TV and his quest for the best price and best quality. He admits his willingness to stand in line for a long time to get a good deal.

Then he relates his conversations with other people standing in line--but this line is at the Open Door Food Kitchen. He shares their stories of day-to-day survival. Then he tells about how after hearing their stories, he's given up on his quest for a new TV (at least for a while).

Of course, one reason the column stands out is because our church works at the Open Door Food Kitchen twice a month. I try to be there as often as I can. The experience is always humbling--serving the food our church members have prepared. I usually get the spot of handing out fruit for some reason. The folks there that take the bananas, apples and oranges seem to like it because they can take the fruit with them to eat later--when they may or may not have a meal. It is humbling, because my daily worries are not about survival.

I recently had a discussion with a good friend of mine about just this issue. He wanted to buy a big new plasma screen but was wondering if it was ethical to do so, since he is a Christian and there are after all so many people out there with so little. It is a question that is relative for each person based upon what they have or can afford. I don't think of myself personally as rich by any means, but when I consider the majority of people in the world live on far less than I have, do I really need as much stuff as I have? Could I do with having and acquiring less in order to help someone else have the basic necessities of life? I'm sure the answer to these questions are no and yes respectively.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm headed out of town for the next few days, so postings will be more scarce than usual.

While I'm away, here are a few things to consider--

1. Since we are remembering our veterans this weekend, it's worth considering the disturbing article in the NY Times this week that reveals that approximately 25% of the homeless population is made up of veterans. Groups that work with the homeless and ones that work with veterans are preparing for a steep rise in homeless veterans due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article puts an ironic twist on this increase calling it "the other surge." Most of these homeless vets suffer from PTSD or have other problems reintegrating into their civilian lives. This is one more cost to the current war that most people would rather not consider. It is the shame of our country that we expect these men and women to risk their lives for misguided politics and then throw them away when the return home. I suspect that one could easily find vets in the shelters and on the streets of St. Joseph.

2. You may have seen the coverage of televangelist and leader of the Religious Right, Pat Robertson's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani for president. The hypocrisy of Robertson is astounding, considering Giuliani's record of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights--two issues that Robertson has made keystones of his agenda. I won't spend too much time expounding on Robertson's hypocrisy here--Jim Wallis of Sojourners does a better job than I could (although Unlike Wallis, I can never bring myself to respect Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission--a laughable name indeed). Ultimately, I'm less concerned with Robertson's views, which have always been inconsistent and about wealth and power, than I am about what such blatant hypocrisy can tell all of us about our own behavior. It is worth asking whether or not we are willing to compromise principles for the sake of party loyalty? As Christians, we must always remember that our devotion to God must come before any political party or agenda--such human institutions will always disappoint and can never fully square with the love, grace and justice of God. (Personally, I like Andy Borowitz satirical take on this event.)

3. The charge is often made that Leaders in Islam do not speak out against terrorism and violence. The charge is inaccurate. Here's a dramatic story that barely made a ripple in the attention of the world recently. 130 of the top Islamic scholars representing Shia, Sunni and Sufi branches of Islam wrote an open letter to Christian leaders around the world calling for peace and dialogue between Muslims and Christians declaring that the very fate of the world may be at stake. Is there hope for our war-torn world?

See you next week.

Grace and Peace,


Sunday, November 4, 2007

Reports of the demise of the Religious Right have been greatly exaggerated

In last week's New York Times Magazine, the cover story was about "The Evangelical Crackup"--e.g. the collapse of the Religious Right. I decided to go ahead and read it, although I'm so weary about reading about the Religious Right and who they will or won't pick to support among the Republican candidates or what they did at their most recent "values voters" conference.

The mainstream press rarely, if ever, really understands the religious and cultural dynamics at work in regards to the Religious Right. The title of the article alone "The Evangelical Crackup" reveals an ignorance about the Religious Right which is comprised largely of evangelicals but also flat out fundamentalists. Furthermore, evangelicalism as a movement has always included a broad spectrum of belief on social issues that has never voted entirely as a bloc. How can evangelicals crack up if they were never a monolithic whole to begin with?

The article is interesting--chronicling the deaths and retirement of the movements founders (e.g. Falwell, D. James Kennedy, etc.), the disillusionment with the Iraq war, the rise of new leaders less concerned with politics like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels and the emergent church movement. However, given the amount of money out there in the hands of organizations that are a part of the Religious Right (think Focus on the Family) and the influence the movement has had upon culture (think whether or not you've ever heard of the Religious Left? or of Christians voting for anything other than Republican en masse?), I have to think that the real issues at work here are not the death of the Religious Right but rather a bad war policy and the lack of a viable Republican candidate that isn't either thrice-married or a Mormon. Elect Hilary Clinton and the movement that loves to hate her will be back in business better than before.

A better critique than my own can be found at The Revealer, a site about religious journalism run by Jeff Shartlett. His criticism of last week's NYT Magazine and assessment of the Religious Right's impact on culture seems right on to me.

Grace and Peace,


I made it into "It's Your Call"

Well, I guess I've arrived. I have now been the subject of an "It's Your Call" message in the St. Joseph News-Press. For those of you who aren't lucky enough to live in St. Joe and get the News-Press, "It's Your Call" is a section on page A-2 where they print messages left on their reader response line about articles, letters or other phone messages printed in the paper. It's truly a compilation of some of the most ignorant, hostile and hateful comments uttered around St. Joe and of course, callers don't need to give their names, so they can be nasty in total anonymity. It beats the heck out of me why the News-Press publishes it, but then I don't understand why the newspaper prints Charles Krauthammer either.

I stopped reading "It's Your Call" once I had read it once or twice, but someone informed me this morning at church that there was one about my letter to the editor in regards to the S-CHIP veto. It was anonymous and most of the material was pretty much unworthy of a response, however there was one comment that I feel does deserve a response. It basically said that ministers should keep politics apart from the church. I have to wonder if this anonymous caller would have the same objection if I wrote opposing abortion or gay rights? Also, I will not apologize for advocating accessible and affordable healthcare for every child in America--or the world for that matter. Doing so seems utterly faithful to the best in biblical tradition and caring for children as special in the eyes of God.

Maybe I'll make an anonymous phone call about this subject. Hmmmm.....

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The News-Press Prints My Letter But Cuts Out the Best Part

Well, I am thankful that the St. Joseph News-Press printed my letter to the editor today. I was beginning to wonder if they would print it at all. Given the political slant of the editors, I guess I should be grateful they printed it at all. They did, however, edit out quite a bit of it--in my opinion some of the best parts.

To be fair, I did submit a letter that was way longer than they request letters be, so I did leave myself open to being edited. I feel, however, that most of what they cut out reveals the bias of the editors and obscures a major point I was trying to make. To their credit, they did include my criticism of their own stance on the issue. You can be the judge. Below, you will find what I submitted to the News-Press. The text in RED is what was not printed in the paper.

In my opinion, the edited version ends up being a counterargument to Graves, Bush and other opponents of the bill--which in and of itself is okay, that was one of my intentions with the letter. Lost, however, is the point I was making about the hypocrisy of Graves and others who claim to be "pro-life" and supporters of "family values" but have no problem with children having no access to affordable healthcare. I really do believe that it is immoral to work for anything other than or less than every child (and adult) in our country to have access to affordable health care. As one of my parishioners said recently, "We are not a civilized country if we have children whose families cannot afford health care."

Grace and Peace,


Dear Editor,

Rep. Sam Graves has declared himself to be a supporter of “family values” and the “pro-life” movement, but his recent vote against the expansion of the State Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and support for President Bush’s veto of the bill supporting the program reveals otherwise. The congressman must not really care for families who cannot afford health insurance and he must not be concerned about the lives of children once they make it outside the womb.

Congressman Graves along with President Bush and other opponents of the bill have put their own political interests and the interests of wealthy insurance and pharmaceutical corporations above the interests of America’s children. Health insurance rates and prescription drug prices continue to rise at rates many times the rate of inflation, while the growth rate of most American incomes remains modest at best. All this is assuming, of course, that people without employer-provided insurance can get medical insurance. Have you tried to get health insurance lately? Unless your medical record is free of any and all prior conditions, expect coverage to be denied.

Graves and other opponents of the recent SCHIP bill justify their actions with several misleading charges. The first is a concern that children of illegal immigrants may get health coverage. Yet, instead of working to create a solution to America’s immigration problems that benefits businesses, American workers and foreign workers who seek a better life, Graves and others in Congress would rather put doctors and medical workers in the unenviable position of having to deny help to children who might or might not be here illegally. There is also the question, of course, of whether it is ever humane to deny health treatment to anyone, especially children, based on their national citizenship.

Graves and other opponents of the SCHIP bill love to throw around the charge that the bill would include families making $82,000 a year. Multiple reputable sources show that 92% of those covered would make under $62,000/year for a family of four. The remaining 8% would be in areas of the country where the cost of living is at a higher rate. A family of four that makes between $31,000 and $62.000 per year includes many families that make too much to receive Medicaid and makes too little to afford private insurance (assuming they could get it). $62,000 may seem like a lot in St. Joseph, but add the cost of health insurance to that of out of pocket costs for a major operation and you will find that money gone in a flash.

The final objection of Graves and others (including the News Press editorial board) is that families who could afford private insurance would then move to the government-funded program. To that, I say give me a congressman (and a newspaper) that cares more about the health of children and the pocketbooks of ordinary people than it does about insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

While Representative Sam Graves, President Bush and other opponents pull out the empty rhetoric of “Hillary-care” and “socialized medicine,” the health of millions of American children is at stake—children that were not covered in the past and will not be covered in the future if the opponents of the current bill have their way. Ensuring that every child has access to affordable health care should not be up for debate in a civilized country. To work for anything else is immoral. I urge all Missourians who truly value families and believe that a “pro-life agenda” should include a healthy life for all children to speak out against the actions of Rep. Graves and President Bush.


Rev. Chase Peeples

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What Happens to Convictions When Death Comes to Call

There was a provocative article in Sunday's NY Times about Cheshire United Methodist Church in Cheshire, CT. The church's membership and ministers have been active and vocal in their opposition to the death penalty. They have protested executions and had events where members signed documents asking that if they were murdered prosecutors not seek the death penalty against the person(s) accused of the crime. Yet, these firmly held beliefs were challenged when one of the church members and her two daughters were brutally murdered in their own home.

Two men were caught fleeing the home and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against them. The church has debated how to respond to the killings and whether to speak against the death penalty in this case. The husband and father of the victims was not home the night of the murders and survived to face unimaginable grief. Some members believe the murdered wife and mother killed, who happened to be an opponent of the death penalty on religious grounds, also happened to sign one of the documents asking prosecutors not to seek the death penalty in the event they were murdered. Her house was badly damaged in the fire and no document has surfaced. Meanwhile, the surviving husband/father of the victims has made no statement on the matter, although friends say he would not want the church to make an issue out of his personal tragedy.

It is a heart-breaking story that raises many questions about what happens to our principles and convictions when we are faced with real tragedy and pain. This story demonstrates the real-world complications that come with holding any absolute position on the complicated moral issues of our time. Opposition to the death penalty remains somewhat of an abstraction until you know the victim(s) or you know the accused. Opposition to abortion rights is rather straightforward until you know a woman who has been faced with the difficult decision to have one or not. It is easy to condemn homosexuals--just as long as they remain a vague "them" rather than real people or even family members. It is more difficult to oppose the war when you have a loved one in the military serving in Iraq. When the difficult issues of our world become personal, it becomes more difficult to hold an absolute view.

I don't mean to equate the four issues I've mentioned: death penalty, homosexuality, abortion and war. Rather, I mean to point out that each one is complex, and when we think about the people involved as people rather than as issues or statistics, absolute positions get called into question.

In the case of the death penalty, I remain an opponent of it unequivocally, because I believe all life is sacred and execution amounts to revenge and allows for no reconciliation or restoration. I also believe that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that the death penalty serves as no deterrent to violent crime. That being said, I know that if it were my wife or child killed, I would want revenge. God forbid that I ever have to be in that position, but if I am, I hope that I am not in the position to pass judgment.

I have a good friend who is a state public defender at the sentencing stage of death penalty cases. He and I have had many discussions about the difficulty of his job--defending people that he rarely likes and often abhors, because he believes every person no matter what they have done deserves legal defense and because he opposes the death penalty and believes the justice system is often stacked against people who find themselves facing capital charges. My friend admits that if someone he loved were killed in the manner his clients are accused of doing, it would be difficult to hold onto his convictions. Good thing, he would never be asked to defend a case he was close to. When I've asked him what it's like to hear the victims' family speak, he describes it as agonizing. Yet, he also says talking to the families of the defendant is often just as agonizing. The fallout from violence is far and wide even when violence is done by the state in the name of justice.

The complexity of the death penalty has come to my mind recently as I have read the news coverage about Lisa Montgomery--which is a local story here in northwest Missouri. It seems to me that if anybody deserves the death penalty it would be her. I know that if I knew the victim, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, her kidnapped baby, Victoria Jo, or her family, I would probably want Montgomery to die. Yet, since I have some sense of objectivity, I still believe that only God should decide who lives or dies. I'm not sure how my own convictions would hold up if I were closer to a crime like this one, but I stand amazed when I meet people who manage to hang onto theirs in such dark moments.
Here in America, our convictions, ideals, beliefs and principles ask very little of us most of the time. In many parts of the world and throughout history, people of faith and principles have paid dearly and suffered greatly for what they believe. When death comes calling and the stakes really are life or death, what will you believe? What will I believe? What will we believe?

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Letter to the St. Joseph News Press re: Rep. Sam Graves and SCHIP

Below you will find my first letter to the editor of The St. Joseph News Press. I submitted it tonight via e-mail and will drop a snail mail version off at their offices tomorrow. I've been meaning to write it since our representative in Congress, Sam Graves, voted against the recent bill which expanded the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). He also supported President Bush's veto of the measure. We'll have to wait and see if the News Press publishes it or not. I will be sending a copy on to Rep. Graves as well. I'd appreciate your feedback via hitting the comments link below this post. Here's the letter:

Dear Editor,

Rep. Sam Graves has declared himself to be a supporter of “family values” and the “pro-life” movement, but his recent vote against the expansion of the State Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and support for President Bush’s veto of the bill supporting the program reveals otherwise. The congressman must not really care for families who cannot afford health insurance and he must not be concerned about the lives of children once they make it outside the womb.

Congressman Graves along with President Bush and other opponents of the bill have put their own political interests and the interests of wealthy insurance and pharmaceutical corporations above the interests of America’s children. Health insurance rates and prescription drug prices continue to rise at rates many times the rate of inflation, while the growth rate of most American incomes remains modest at best. All this is assuming, of course, that people without employer-provided insurance can get medical insurance. Have you tried to get health insurance lately? Unless your medical record is free of any and all prior conditions, expect coverage to be denied.

Graves and other opponents of the recent SCHIP bill justify their actions with several misleading charges. The first is a concern that children of illegal immigrants may get health coverage. Yet, instead of working to create a solution to America’s immigration problems that benefits businesses, American workers and foreign workers who seek a better life, Graves and others in Congress would rather put doctors and medical workers in the unenviable position of having to deny help to children who might or might not be here illegally. There is also the question, of course, of whether it is ever humane to deny health treatment to anyone, especially children, based on their national citizenship.

Graves and other opponents of the SCHIP bill love to throw around the charge that the bill would include families making $82,000 a year. Multiple reputable sources show that 92% of those covered would make under $62,000/year for a family of four. The remaining 8% would be in areas of the country where the cost of living is at a higher rate. A family of four that makes between $31,000 and $62.000 per year includes many families that make too much to receive Medicaid and makes too little to afford private insurance (assuming they could get it). $62,000 may seem like a lot in St. Joseph, but add the cost of health insurance to that of out of pocket costs for a major operation and you will find that money gone in a flash.

The final objection of Graves and others (including the News Press editorial board) is that families who could afford private insurance would then move to the government-funded program. To that, I say give me a congressman (and a newspaper) that cares more about the health of children and the pocketbooks of ordinary people than it does about insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

While Representative Sam Graves, President Bush and other opponents pull out the empty rhetoric of “Hillary-care” and “socialized medicine,” the health of millions of American children is at stake—children that were not covered in the past and will not be covered in the future if the opponents of the current bill have their way. Ensuring that every child has access to affordable health care should not be up for debate in a civilized country. To work for anything else is immoral. I urge all Missourians who truly value families and believe that a “pro-life agenda” should include a healthy life for all children to speak out against the actions of Rep. Graves and President Bush.


Rev. Chase Peeples
First Christian Church (Disciples of “Christ), St. Joseph, MO

It's De Ja Vu All Over Again--Are We Going to War with Iran?

This week, it seems that the Bush administration has cranked up the imminent threat rhetoric in regards to Iran. Vice President Cheney today used some of the exact same language about Iran's potential nuclear program as he did about the non-existent nuclear program of Iraq. My frustration and fear levels are rising--frustration that the media, Congress, etc. seem to be taking no notice --frustrated that once again Christians who serve the Prince of Peace are ready to break out their Bibles and support another unnecessary war and frightened because if it happened before it can happen again.

Before I was able to articulate and express my own feelings on the matter and thoughts about what Christians should be doing in response, I read the most recent blog post from Brian McLaren. So, instead of offering an inferior parroting of his words, I'll just post the link to his words of challenge to where things seem to be headed with Iran. Click here to read what McLaren says, and then pray hard that we don't have another irresponsible and unethical war on our hands.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Three Quotations on My Mind: Dialogue Column 10.23.07

The following is my column written for "The Dialogue" a weekly newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Joseph, MO.

As we wrap up our stewardship campaign this week, three quotations keep running through my head:

Life is a gift.”—Elaine McCool

“The opposite of poverty is not property. The opposite of both is community.” —Jurgen Moltmann

“Sometimes I think our greatest fear should be God giving us exactly what we want.”—Barbara Brown Taylor

The first quotation was said by our own Elaine McCool during worship this past Sunday as she shared her inspiring thoughts on what First Christian Church means to her and why she supports it by volunteering time and energy, giving financially and praying for its spiritual health. (I forgot to get a copy of Elaine’s words from her on Sunday, but rest assured they will be in next week’s Dialogue. If you missed them, you will want to read them. Even if you heard them, they are worth contemplating a second time.) Elaine is not the first person to utter this phrase, but for me, when the words came from her mouth, they were more stirring of my spirit than any other time I had heard them. Through her many years of life experience, Elaine has learned and lived the essential truth that we exist by the grace of God and that all we have and are comes from God. Gratitude is the proper starting place for any activity we do as Christians, especially when we contemplate what our giving to Christ’s church should be.

The second quotation comes from the German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann, who offers an alternative to our usual way of thinking about the rich and the poor in our culture. He reminds us that God desires more for humanity than rich people giving charity, sympathy or pity to poor people, and poor people receiving these things from rich people. God desires the abolition of the barriers of class and wealth that separate people from each other. For the church, this means being a community of faith where all people, regardless of their economic status, contribute their whole selves to the service of God and humanity. Understood in this way, each person is valued as a child of God and caring for the material needs of one member of the community is not charity but an expression of love between equals. Now that most of the pledges have been turned in, my hope is that each member of our church recognizes her or his own responsibility to God and to others. The amounts pledged may be different, but hopefully each pledge represents a meaningful sacrifice for the work of God in the world.

The third quotation comes from the renowned preacher and seminary professor, Barbara Brown Taylor. She offers us the crucial insight that our wants and needs are different from one another. Often our wants represent a desire for greater comfort and pleasure or simply for more stuff. We want the things that do not bring true fulfillment. Worse yet, these things often insulate us from the joys of knowing other people in meaningful ways and distract us from experiencing the true life we can only have in relationship with God. By giving financially to the work of God in the world, we have the opportunity to examine our lives and reorder our priorities so that our lives are more fulfilling and of greater service to others and to God. Our financial gifts to God can help us to receive what we need instead of acquiring more of what we want.

As we look forward to what God will accomplish through First Christian Church in 2008, I pray that through your gifts to the church you will experience the blessings of gratitude, community and receiving what you need from God.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Genocide- and Rock-n-Roll

Once again truth takes second place to political necessity. The resolution in Congress to officially acknowledge the Armenian Genocide is pretty much dead, because of concerns over the war in Iraq. Is it mere coincidence that the Turkish parliament voted to authorize military action against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq during the same week Congress was considering this resolution? If you believe that, I've got some some resort property in Basra to sell you. For those who say it is not the right time for this resolution, I ask, "When will there ever be a good time? When we're out of Iraq? When will that be? When we stop having military interests in the Middle East? When will that be?" Meanwhile, the last of the survivors are dying and even the children of the generation directly affected are dying with no justice.

As I was thinking about the denial of the Armenian Genocide and the long struggle by the survivors, their descendants and the descendants of those who perished in it, I actually wondered what the rock group System of a Down thought on the matter. The popular alternative rock band is made up of Armenian-Americans--the only one I'm aware of, in fact they're the only Armenian-American celebrities I'm aware of--and they're fairly politically conscious. Sure, Sting has the rainforests, Bono has poverty in Africa, but it's interesting to find a genocide on the minds of rock stars.

Well, it turns out that the lead singer of the band, Serj Tankian, has lobbied Congress for a number of years regarding this issue and has some fairly articulate thoughts on the matter. His NPR interview is worth a listen--although the cut that is currently available is fairly rough. He asks if a democracy that denies the truth is a true democracy? Seems like a fair question to me.

Grace and Peace


Peace, Happiness and Stewardship

In this week's church newsletter I included two bits I've picked up from recent news for church members to think about as we complete our church's stewardship campaign.

1. A recent survey revealed that the number one thing Americans wanted for Christmas this year was a computer. “Peace and happiness” ranked second. My first reaction was judgment—typical materialistic Americans! Then I considered what I would have answered had I been asked the same question I realized that the first thing I would have thought of would have been a material object too. Don’t you hate it when you realize your priorities are out of whack?

2. Columnist Bill Tammeus shared statistics on giving in The Kansas City Star this past week. They weren’t good. According to one survey of 11 Protestant denominations in 2000, giving per member came to just 2.6 percent of annual income. I’ve noted before that I personally do not advocate a specific percentage of income to give, but I was taken aback a bit, since this figure is lower now than in the midst of the Great Depression. That’s quite an indictment.

There's a reason Jesus spent so much time talking about wealth and its temptations. His words about laying up treasure in heaven are just remain relevant today--if not more so, given our consumer-driven economy and the availability of goods at unprecedented levels through

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Study Says Young People Find Christianity Judgmental and Anti-Gay--I wonder why?

As I mentioned in my sermon this past Sunday, my family and I happened to be driving through downtown Kansas City on Saturday night. We were driving up Grand past the new Sprint Center where Elton John was getting ready to do a show. Out front were a handful of folks whom I assume were from Rev. Phelps' church in Topeka holding signs condemning homosexual people to hell. They even had a pick-up truck driving around the arena with a giant billboard saying America is now like Sodom and Gomorrah.

I wanted to yell something at them, but my four year-old was in the car and I didn't feel that was a very good example. Also, although it might have made me feel better, it would not have done anything other than make them feel more righteous in their hate. I thought later about them and realized that they were a group of people ungrateful for the grace they have received, but then so are we all at one time or another.

Phelps and his gang are the worst of the lot when it comes to defaming gay people and presenting Christianity as a religion of bigotry, but just because most Christians aren't out there with nasty signs doesn't mean that there aren't nasty things being said in pulpits and Sunday School rooms across the nation.

There's a new study by the Barna group that says the majority of young people in the nation find Christianity to be judgmental and anti-gay. It seems the church's stance on homosexuality is one of the main reasons young people are turned off to the church in general. They recognize the hypocrisy of condemning people for who they are and how God made them They also recognize ignorance when they see it.

The stakes are higher than most Christians care to consider. Not only do American Christianity's narrow-minded views on sexuality leave thousands of people with minority sexual orientations confused, rejected and even suicidal--the irony being that the one place they should find guidance and direction is the place they are most likely to find condemnation--but the church's failure to listen to the experience of these hurting people in our midst reveals the utter bankruptcy of our beliefs to a generation of young people looking for something to believe in. A generation will be lost to the grace of God unless minds can be opened and lives can literally be saved.

After the service Sunday, I was sort of wondering if I should have held off once again mentioning the need for the church to accept and care for gay and lesbian people when a church member I know well came up to me. She took me aside and shared with me that her daughter is gay. It had been a difficult struggle for both of them, but they have both come to accept the daughter for who she is and to celebrate her as she is. She thanked me for what I had to say.

Also, last week I had a church member talk with me about the national event "Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights," which asks heterosexuals around the country to have a week of action promoting equal rights for gay. lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. We talked about trying to make it happen in St. Joseph next year. It sounds great to me!

Who knows? Maybe there's hope that the children and youth of First Christian will grow up learning that God loves them for who they are and desires them to show the same kind of grace to others.

Grace and peace,


Monday, October 15, 2007

The Daily Show covers the Armenian Genocide

This clip has been edited, I guess, so that it doesn't violate copyright laws. The inserted pics that also happen to be not that funny weren't on the original broadcast.

Why the Armenian Genocide matters

I suspect that for most Americans the fuss over a House committee's approval of a bill calling for the United States government to call the mass killings of Armenians during WWI a genocide must have seemed like much ado about nothing. Why the big deal about something that happened almost 100 years ago? Before a few years ago, I would have asked the same question.

I think I've written before on this blog about the time when members of my church in NY gifted me with their stories of the family members killed in the Armenian Genocide. Through their words, I began to glimpse what it is like to have the entire generation of your parents killed and then to have the world ignore the tragedy. Despite the alarms of Christian missionaries and diplomats at the time, the American government did little more than shrug its shoulders at the mass killings. Following World War I, American governments of both poliltical parties have refused to even acknowledge that the mass killings happened, because the modern state of Turkey which inherited the crimes of the Ottoman Empire refused to admit the terrible event happened and because Turkey proved to be such a crucial ally--first against the fascists, then the communists, then Saddam Hussein and now in Gulf War II--America will do nothing to offend its government.

All the while, the survivors of the genocide--a ruthlessly orchestrated series of mass deportations to work camps and then eventual executions that the Nazis used as a blueprint for the Holocaust (The best book I know of on the subject is The Burning Tigris by Peter Balakian. It documents that the genocide was systematic and well-planned.)--along with the children of Armenians who did not survive have waited for someone simply to acknowledge that the genocide happened at all.

The Armenian Genocide does not matter to you, unless it was your family that died in it--or unless you care about justice--or believe that those who fail to understand history are doomed to repeat it.

Today, our local paper (always an astute observer of international events--not!) ran an editorial cartoon showing Democrats messing with Turkish history because they could not make any new history of their own. It is true that the bill is coming up now, because Democrats who have large numbers of Armenians in their constituencies hold places of power, such as Nancy Pelosi, but that does not mean that the cause is any less just. What is horrifying is to hear that Turkey has hired lobbying firms to influence Congress--firms that have big names like Richard Gephart and other former big wigs. Money trumps acknowledging a genocide every time, I guess.

As is so often ironically the case, the only voice out there decrying the absurdity of our government's position in the face of injustice was Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The good news, I guess, Is that after almost a century of nobody caring about the murder of 1.5 million Armenians, the subject has finally risen to the level of public consciousness that The Daily Show is commenting on it. (See my post with the video.)

For Christians, the subject of the Armenian Genocide should strike a deep chord. The Armenian people have an ancient history that includes an early conversion to Christianity. That history not only includes the Armenian Orthodox Church, but also close ties with many Protestant churches thanks to missionary work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is, of course, beside the point that Christians should care simply because there is a genocide involved, but then most Christians in the West seem not to care about holocausts today--e.g. Rwanda, Darfur, etc.

Grace and Peace,