Friday, July 27, 2007

Some good remarks from Benedict XVI

Given my recent post on Benedict XVI's recent remarks about churches other than Roman Catholic ones, I have ot say that it was nice to read something by him that I agree with. I just read an excerpt on the God's Politics Blog of his remarks about the current wars taking place in the world, and it's brief but profound.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, July 26, 2007

God will play a major role in The Simpsons movie

Here's another Simpsons post. With all the run up to the movie release, there's a lot of stuff in the media right now.

Today on Fresh Air, there's an interview with Al Jean, one of the long-time writers. In the discussion, there's talk about Ned Flanders--Homer's evangelical Christian neighbor and the role faith plays in the TV show. Also, Jean says that God plays a significant role in the movie--literally God is a character in the film, and the God presented in the film is one who acts in history to help people--in this case the people of Springfield.

Also, in the next post you'll find a trailer for the new movie. I'm experimenting with posting video straight to the blog from YouTube. Beware--it's funny, but just like the TV show, it's meant for older viewers not for small children.

Grace and Peace,


The Simpsons Movie Trailer--warning NOT for small children

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

D'OH! Remember When Bart was Offensive??

Remember, when Bart Simpson was considered a threat to children everywhere? I recall a kid somewhere getting kicked out of school for wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt. Those days sound quaint compared to what's out there now. I consider myself a real fan of The Simpsons and I think, if anything, many of the values of the show are better than plenty of other stuff that the morality police don't even bat an eye over (Has anybody seen the graphic violence and sex on CSI or Law and Order: Special Victims Unit lately?) Marge and Home remain monogamous and faithful to each other. Despite their shortcomings they actually love their kids and want the best for them. They even pray and attend church regularly--religion plays a bigger role in The Simpsons than almost any other show on TV. I have a great book called The Gospel According to the Simpsons that makes some very good points in this regard.

Yet, it was considered offensive back in the day. I guess just because it was a cartoon--albeit one that was never intended for kids. Now, shows like Family Guy, South Park and the lineup on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim have taken adult-targeted cartoons to a level way past what The Simpsons has ever done. Yet, even cartoons that are made for kids these days exceed what The Simpsons offer in terms of humor that is inappropriate for kids, at least in my opinion. When I tape Little Einsteins for my 4 year-old, I cringe at the commercials for other shows on The Disney Channel. Thankfully, he's oblivious to most of it, but he won't be for long. Maybe I'm getting old or maybe it's just because I'm now a parent, but Bart Simpson is the least of my worries about what kids are exposed to. I know, I know, Bart would tell me "Don't have a cow, man!"

Still, I think there is a lesson here in how trivial the morality police and culture warriors of talk shows and conservative interest groups really are. They protest a given thing at a given moment to capitalize on an emotional and rather pointless emotional fervor and then do little if anything to solve real problems in society. The latest rock band or book may offend such groups but kids still go to bed hungry in our country and with inadequate health care.

In any event, I'm looking forward to the movie. here's a link to it--WARNING: it's not made for children. Also, there's an interesting article in today's Washington Post with the writers of The Simpsons that talks about the good/bad old days when The Simpsons was considered bad for society.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Loving First Christian Church's Neighbors--Dialogue Column 7.24.07

Last week was a wonderful week in the life of our church. We helped carry out two ministries that demonstrate that First Christian Church is a community of believers that cares deeply about the community around us. We showed that we are interested in moving outside of the walls of our church to follow Christ’s teaching to love our neighbors.

The first ministry took place last Sunday at First Lutheran Church where we co-sponsored a screening of the documentary The Lost Boys of Sudan. By partnering with the Sudanese Community Association, First Lutheran and Francis Street First United Methodist, we demonstrated that it is not only possible but advantageous to everyone involved when Christians look beyond differences of doctrine and culture to help one another. It was wonderful to see First Lutheran’s sanctuary packed with people watching the film. Estimates were over 250 people attended. Even better was the dinner afterwards downstairs where life-long Americans and Sudanese newcomers alike shared food and stories. I am deeply grateful for those from First Christian who came to serve and help out at this event, especially Lynn, Dave and Theo Tushaus for preparing a huge quantity of soup! It was also wonderful to see a picture of our own Marilyn McMillen on the front page of the paper accompanying the story about the event. Yours truly also got a little press coverage, although in the newspaper article it was a quote of me asking about the menu rather than saying anything spiritually profound and on KQ2’s Live at Five they identified me as “Roger Lenander of First Lutheran Church.” The good thing is that our church’s name was out in the community as a faith community that cares about all people regardless of their national or ethnic background.

The second ministry took place at Nature Park at 10th and Powell where we led Vacation Bible School for neighborhood kids. We had 18 children take part; some kids were from our church, some were from the neighborhood and some were from Representatives of Christ Church across the street from the park. Matthew and Brenda Gregg, along with the many volunteers, deserve credit for organizing a fun week of crafts, songs, Bible stories and games. Although 18 kids is a perfectly respectable number for a VBS held by a church our size, it is only a fraction of the number of children within a few blocks of the church that need to learn about how much God loves them. Rather than being discouraged or intimidated by the number of children around us that we need to reach, we should instead feel proud that our church’s first significant attempt to reach out into our neighborhood went so well! VBS went smoothly and the children present had a great time. A number of kids simply showed up, because they were walking by and saw the fun going on. We also made connections with a fellow church in our neighborhood that we can partner with in the future. VBS was a wonderful first step of many future steps that First Christian must make in order to be the body of Christ in our neighborhood.

Together, let us continue to demonstrate the great love we have as a church for all of our neighbors.

Grace and Peace,


Maybe a Hindu prayer will actually help the Senate to do some good

On July 12, a Hindu clergyman offered the opening prayer for the U.S. Senate. He was interrupted by protesters who had to be removed by security. Once they were gone, the prayer continued.

It appears that the American Family Association had a campaign to stop a Hindu prayer from happening, because it would contribute to the United States turning away from its Judeo-Christian values.

The first question that comes to my mind is why groups like the AFA are so invested in the whole America is a Christian nation thing? Actually, I have a number of ideas--trying to prove America is a Christian nation means that as a Christian you would be a part of the powerful majority and power equals money and influence, also stirring up intolerance of different faiths is a great way to make money and again, generate power, such prejudice has been a part of this nation from its inception, finally such views operate from the perspective that only Christianity, or at least a mono-theistic religion, can possess real morality--the truth is people of all religions and no religion can be moral, good Americans.

Another question this incident raises for me is why did this take so long? America is a nation of many faiths and our government is supposed to represent and serve people who are from all of them. Why is it that just now a Hindu clergyman is offering a prayer when Christian clergy have been doing it for so long. In more recent years, Muslim and Jewish clergy have offered similar prayers. One of the great strengths of our country is supposed to be a respect for all religious minorities and that all are free here. If our government is supposed to protect our pluralistic religious culture, why isn't their more diversity in those who offer prayers before government?

The final question I have is should anyone of any faith be offering prayers before the Senate? There is supposed to be a separation of church and state--no matter how much conservative Christian groups wish to deny it. Although these prayers are largely symbolic and do not represent a strict government endorsement of a particular religion, symbols matter. It seems to me that if these prayers are going to happen, then every reasonable effort should be made to include every faith in our nation rather than a few. Should Scientologists be allowed to lead prayers? What about voodoo priests? What about African traditional religion? What about Buddhist meditation? If everybody doesn't get an equal chance, then doesn't this mean government is privileging the few over the many?

As a Christian, I believe individuals can be Christians but nations cannot. At most, they can have a majority of Christians living in them, but nations cannot make faith confessions--not with any real integrity. Also as a Christian, I do not need my government to hold prayers from my tradition. I only need the government to allow me to worship as I feel led by God.

Grace and Peace,


Monday, July 23, 2007

The Theology of Benedict XVI

I've had a number of people ask me about my thoughts regarding Pope Benedict XVI's (do you put an apostrophe on Roman numerals to show possession???) statement last week about churches that do not happen to be Roman Catholic. My reply has been one of boredom, really. Back before Benedict was Benedict he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and when he went by his former name he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (I think I got that name right). Essentially he was a leading Roman Catholic theologian, and as such, he published works that were conservative--many times extremely so--on issues of sexuality, birth control and the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church over other churches, denominations and religions. Despite Pope John Paul II's (there goes that apostrophe with the Roman numerals) gestures of openness and tolerance, Ratzinger was behind the scenes being quite intolerant, sexist and other unfriendly things. So, frankly, I was not surprised to see him making official as pope what he had already done as a cardinal and theologian.

I try to be cautious when speaking critically about another faith. I am an outsider and there are more than a few nuances that I do not understand and cannot understand unless I am on the inside. However, the Roman Catholic acquaintances I have tend to view Benedict with a mixture of grief and exasperation. They just feel the Vatican is less and less relevant to their own faith and connection to the church and its rituals.

I'm saddened whenever a faith group, especially a Christian one, speaks without humility and declares that it alone possesses the true or right path to God. Jesus had more than a few things to say about people who use their faith to exclude and judge. I'm much more interested in religious leaders that are able to stick to their own principles and beliefs while having the courage to listen and learn from people who believe differently.

James Carrol, author of Constantine's Sword and other works, had a nice column in the Boston Globe last week in response to Benedict's pronouncement. He's more of an insider than I am, so I'll recommend his words as a more careful and personal critique than my own. Here's the part I liked best:

Once we realize that doctrines of orthodoxy evolved over time, we stop treating them as timeless. Indeed, once we understand ourselves as belonging to one religious tradition among many, we lose the innocent ability to regard it as absolute. Once our internal geography recognizes that, however much we are a center, we are not the only one, we have no choice but to affirm the positions of others not as "marginal to our centers," in a phrase of theologian David Tracy, "but as centers of their own."

Faced with such difficult recognitions, religious people can retreat into fundamentalism or throw out religious faith altogether. Or we can quite deliberately embrace what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a "second naiveté." This implies a movement through criticism to a renewed appetite for the sacred tradition out of which we come, even while implying that we are alive to its meaning in a radically different way. Pope Benedict is attempting to restore, by fiat, the first naiveté of "one true church." In an age of global pluralism, this is simply not tenable.

I've read many commentators on Benedict's views that describe his efforts as rolling back the reforms of Vatican II. According to Carrol, Benedict is rolling them all the way back to the Council of Trent which was held in 1545. What? You're not up on your councils and decrees? Trent was essentially a response to the Protestant Reformation and as you might guess they weren't too keen on it. To find out more, here's a summary courtesy of Wikipedia.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Wilco's new album

Thanks to a few friends who are major fans, I've gotten to know the band Wilco aver the last few years. Once I heard their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, I was hooked. In addition to their music, I really appreciate the mixture of spirituality mixed into singer Jeff Tweedy's lyrics. They've got a new album, Sky Blue Sky, out which I haven't heard yet even though the band has been streaming it for free on their web site for some time.

Grace and Peace,


My Brilliant Quote on the Front Page of the News Press

I've been in town for six months and I've already made the front page of the News Press. Granted, my quote was not really the most profound thing I've ever said, but I'm there!

In case you missed it, there was an article by Clinton Thomas about the screening of The Lost Boys of Sudan and the meal afterwards. We ended up sitting across the table from each other with a couple of the Sudanese folks. So, he quoted some of my dinner conversation.

Was it a reflection upon the eternal curse of humanity's violent nature? No.

Was it a question about the relationship between the Sudanese civil war and the current crisis in Darfur? No.

Was it a request for more information about the incredible and tragic journey of the Lost Boys from war-torn Sudan all the way to St. Joseph? No.

Here's the quote:

The Rev. Chase Peeples of the First Christian Church was one of many in attendance who enjoyed the diverse menu.

"This is good, it tastes like our beef stew," Mr. Peeples said to some of the Sudanese at his table. "I can't quite figure out the bread. It almost has a sour taste. What's in it?"

That's right. It's me wondering why the Sudanese bread tasted sour. Oh well, at least the church's name got on the front page.

The really important thing--all joking aside--is that the story got on the front page and the Sudanese people in our community could get attention and notice as a real gift to St. Joseph. I appreciate the good coverage from the paper and the good article from Clinton Thomas.

It was a great event Sunday night The turnout was awesome--I'd guess 250 people. A serendipitous thing that happened was that so many Sudanese from across the country could make it to St. Joe. Unbeknownst to us when we planned the event, the Miss Southern Sudan Pageant was held on Saturday in Kansas City. Over 3000 southern Sudanese were there and anybody with a connection to the folks in St. Joe drove up I-29 on Sunday. It was definitely cool.

Grace and Peace,


Friday, July 13, 2007

Interviews with William Sloane Coffin

I finally got my sermon from July 1 in a form suitable for distribution. Look for it on Sunday. The sermon is titled "A Lover's Quarrel With America" and I took the title from something William Sloane Coffin said to describe his feelings towards America. (Actually, I should confess that I got the idea to use Coffin's quote from the minister I worked with in NY, Jimmy Only, who used it as a sermon title last year. I copied his use of the quote, but I assure you this sermon's strengths and weaknesses are my own.)

William Slaone Coffin was an author and theologian and minister and social activist who died last year. He was a military intelligence officer in WWII after which he became a minister. He was a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights era, chaplain at Yale during the Vietnam-era and organized protests against the war, and later became the minister at Riverside Church in New York. He even inspired the character of Rev. Sloan in the comic strip Doonesbury.

In my search for the source of Coffin's quotation--I never did find when/where he actually used it first, although it is the title of a documentary about Coffin, maybe I need to see it--I came across two interviews of Coffin that are worth reading, watching or listening to.

1. An interview with Bill Moyers on the PBS show NOW where Coffin talks about his impending death.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, July 12, 2007

Learning About Darfur

Getting ready for Sunday's screening of The Lost Boys of Sudan at First Lutheran Church at 3 PM, it's appropriate to share a little bit here about Darfur.

I joined the Save Darfur Coalition two years ago. Of course, I had read about the genocide in this part of western Sudan but had done little more than shake my head about it. Then I got to know a number of folks at my last church who were Armenian-Americans. The generation of their parents had been completely wiped out during the Armenian Genocide by Ottoman Turks in the early twentieth century. I had never heard about it before--that's because little is written about it--Turkey and even the U.S. government have never officially acknowledged it happened. When I learned of the pain my parishioners still felt from this great crime, I felt a personal connection to current events involving genocide.

Then I read an op-ed in the NY Times by Nicholas Kristof about the genocide in Darfur that included pictures of men, women and children who were killed be the Sudanese government. One of the corpses was a little boy that reminded me of my own son Julian. I knew I had to act at that point. It just seemed absurd to me that yet another genocide could occur with the world fully aware of it yet doing nothing to stop it.

So, I wear the bracelet. I write my senators, congressmen, President Bush, Condaleesa Rice, etc. And I sit amazed by the fact that the genocide--mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape on a massive scale, etc. continues.

When I came to St. Joe, I was thrilled to find out that there were Sudanese folks moving here. Although they are from southern Sudan and not from Darfur, they too are victims of the Sudanese government which fought a brutal war against southern Sudan for over twenty years. They are here as refugees because of the brutal acts of the Khartoum government. I felt that perhaps God had used my own small work on behalf of Darfur to prepare me to minister to the Sudanese I would meet here.

The southern Sudanese are Christian and the people in Darfur are Muslim, but some of the southern Sudanese St. Joe feel they must work to help the people of Darfur since they share the status of victims of the Khartoum government. They also feel it is a way for them as Christians to reach out to Muslims and work towards reconciliation in their home country. Yet, I've learned this is also a thorny issue for others of them. The 22 year civil war in Sudan was between north and south. Some from Darfur fought on the side of the north against the south, so while most southern Sudanese would agree the genocide is a terrible thing, the wounds are too fresh for many to advocate for Darfur.

On Sunday, we will learn about the war between north and south in Sudan and how it led to refugees arriving here in St. Joseph. It is also a good time, however, to work to stop the violence in Darfur. No one helped the southern Sudanese over the last twenty years. Let's hope it doesn't take that long for help to come to Darfur. Visit to find out more.

Below is an excerpt from Nicholas Kristof's op-ed on Monday of this week. In addition to point out that the U.S.--probably the only hope the people of Darfur have of anyone putting pressure on the Khartoum government--still does nothing to stop this genocide, he also points out that since the Sudanese government has found it can act with impunity and face no consequences from the rest of the world, it is just a matter of time before it resumes its war against southern Sudan.

From Monday's NY Times: "Spineless on Sudan" by Nicholas Kristof

In May 2006, President Bush declared: “The vulnerable people of Darfur deserve more than sympathy. ... America will not turn away from this tragedy.”

Since then, Mr. Bush has turned away — and 450,000 more people have been displaced in Darfur. “Things are getting worse,” noted Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a human rights campaigner in Sudan.

One of the most troubling signs is that Sudan has been encouraging Arabs from Chad, Niger and other countries to settle in Darfur. More than 30,000 of them have moved into areas depopulated after African tribes were driven out.

In the last few months, Sudan’s government has given these new arrivals citizenship papers and weapons, cementing in place the demographic consequences of its genocide. And if Sudan thinks it has gotten away with mass murder in Darfur, it is more likely to resume its war against southern Sudan — which seems increasingly likely

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sharing the faith in a Christ-like way--Dialogue Column 7.10.07

This past Sunday I preached a sermon titled “Why I am Uncomfortable with Evangelism.” The title is meant to be startling. As Christians we are commanded by Christ to share our faith with others, so expressing discomfort with evangelism may sound a bit blasphemous to some. Yet, I believe many Christians are just as uncomfortable with evangelism as I am, not because they are ashamed of their faith, but because they do not like what evangelism has come to mean in many churches and for many believers.

For many Christians, evangelism amounts to confronting other people who do not believe the same thing as they do with the “truth.” Instead of approaching a person with different beliefs as an equal and the conversation as a dialogue, this understanding of evangelism reduces conversation to a one-way stream of arguments meant to persuade the other person how wrong they are. If you have ever been approached by someone of a different denomination or religion who hopes to make you a convert, you know how off-putting and even offensive that can be. I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to come across. Besides, operating as a condescending know-it-all in my opinion does more harm than good to Christianity in our culture.

Instead of preaching on a street corner or delivering tracts door-to-door, I believe Christians in our culture have to demonstrate their faith in tangible ways that make a real difference in other people’s lives before they can expect anyone to take them seriously much less listen to them. We must earn the right to be heard. Once we have been granted that right by others, then we have the opportunity to share in a humble and loving way what our faith means to us. Then we can return the grace extended to us and listen to how others’ beliefs make a difference in their lives. Until we are willing to pay others the respect of hearing their stories, how can we expect them to offer that same respect to us?

Sharing the difference that Christ makes in our lives implies that we have actually allowed Christ to make such a difference. It is worth asking whether or not our faith really means that much to us as individual believers and as a community of faith. What difference does being a Christian really make for you? For me, following Jesus offers me not only a direct connection to a loving God but an example of humility and service that contrasts with the self-centeredness of our culture. I feel that is worth sharing, so much so that I want to share it in a significant way with an attitude of humility and service that hopefully mirrors Christ’s own.

In this coming week, we have two great opportunities to share our faith through demonstrations of service and concern for others. The first is at the screening of the documentary, “Lost Boys of Sudan,” this Sunday at First Lutheran Church. It is an opportunity to understand and welcome our fellow Christians from Sudan. Furthermore, it demonstrates that we believe our faith transcends all national, ethnic and cultural boundaries. The second is Vacation Bible School. This year we are taking VBS our of the church and into the community to reach out to children in our neighborhood who need to know the love of God. They and their families also need to know that the church down the road also loves them too. I hope you will make every effort to demonstrate through one or both of these events the difference your faith makes in your life. Together, by sharing and listening, we can show how Christ values each and every person.

Grace and Peace,


Our slave-owning founding fathers

I've been holding onto this article since the 4th of July and meaning to post about it. The Washington Post ran an article last week about the archaeological dig going on in Philadelphia of the so-called "First White House." This is the home that Washington and Adams used when the nation's capital was in Philadelphia. The dig has attracted a lot of attention not only because it is where our first two presidents lived but also because of what it tells us about the slaves Washington owned. It's not a flattering picture of our first president. (John Adams, our second president, did not own slaves.)

The dig supports information gleaned from Washington's personal correspondence and publicised in recent biographies. Washington shuttled his slaves back and forth from his home in Virginia to his lodging in Philadelphia in order to avoid Pennsylvania laws that allowed slaves to go free after six months of residency in the state. He his this from his slaves and from authorities in Pennsylvania. Also, he tried to get federal authorise to help him pursue a runaway slave. In fact, this house is where Washington signed the Fugitive Slave Act which allowed slave owners to pursue escaped slaves as "lost property." (See another article in the San Diego Union Tribune)
This side of Washington is disturbing, because it reveals a side of Washington that is cruel and inhumane--images that clash with our popular mythology of him as an honest and just and heroic leader. In a sense, this is a microcosm of our entire history as a nation. Mixed in with incredible ideas about freedom and justice are cruel acts and policies--slavery, genocide against Native Americans, etc. This is what I was trying to get at on July 1 when I preached about the Christian's allegiance to God before the state which I titled "A Lover's Quarrel With America" using a phrase by William Sloane Coffin.

Our nation's history is a complicated one and it must be confronted in all its complexity. Those who claim that our nation is a Christian nation founded by Christians must in all honesty wrestle with the fact that those early Americans, among whom were many Christians, also happened to be capable of extreme cruelty. Washington's legacy of slave ownership is one example of this complexity.

Grace and Peace,


Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Give Me Your Huddled Masses...if they are WASPS

Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History, has a nice column in today's NY Times about the history of anti-immigrant feelings, rhetoric and politics in America. Suprise, suprise, intolerance and xenophobia predate our republic and despite our lofty ideals as a nation regarding the equality of all, WASP's were more equal than anybody else.

The true bitter irony here is that today's establishment figures who brag about their immigrant ancestors yet bash hispanics for their own political gain fail to realize that those self-same ancestors were discriminated against in their own day.

Grace and Peace,


Obama: Preaching to the Choir

Barack Obama spoke last week to the national meeting of the United Church of Christ. Obama belongs to a UCC church in Chicago and is on the campaign trail so it was a nice fit. The UCC has a special relationship with our denomination, Disciples of Christ, and its the denomination I came out of when I came to First Christian, St. Joseph. I'm pretty sure there were more than a few Disciples in the audience.

He had some interesting and dramatic things to say about his own faith. His testimony apparently even impressed conservative Christian commentators. (Check out the article by Terry Mattingly on how Obama's speech played with Pat Roberton's CBN.)

You also can watch a video on-line of Obama's speech at the UCC web site. (There are also videos of speeches by folks like Peter Gomes, Bill Moyers, Marian Wright Edelman and others.)

I have to admit that I really like Obama. He's got his share of campaign gaffes and goofs--what he calls "rookie mistakes", and he is a politician after all, but his speeches--especially his discussion of faith--touch me in a way that seems far more genuine th at what else is being said out on the campaign trail.

Here's an excerpt from his speech from the Boston Globe:

"Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.

"At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage, school prayer and intelligent design," according to an advance copy of his speech.

"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version."

We shall see if my high opinion of Obama remains as the campaign season wears on.

Grace and Peace,