Friday, September 28, 2007

Why Aren't We Invading Myanmar/Burma?

I've been reading with a sense of dread the news out of Myanmar/Burma this week. The crackdown by the military despots in charge there seemed inevitable to me. If they will attack Buddhist monks, what won't they do to crush dissent?

Yesterday, I signed an Amnesty International petition for our government to do more and for the U.N. to do more--although President Bush did use his speech at the U.N. this week to protest the brutal regime and to call for new sanctions. Although, why he has stepped up against Myanmar/Burma and has remained essentially silent on places like the genocide in Darfur is beyond me.

It seems from this side of the globe that there is little that a concerned average citizen can do to prevent the brutality in Burma. I've signed petitions and bought fundraising items to help free the imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, etc., and I pray. there seems little else to do.

In the meantime, I ponder things like why is it that the human rights abuses of Sadaam Hussein were (and still are) used as a major justification for the war in Iraq and the atrocities of Myanmar/Burma or the government of Sudan merit economic sanctions at best? The answer is obvious, of course, Myanmar, Sudan, Rwanda or any number of other places were atrocities occur but remain largely ignored by our government are in places that are not sitting on a giant reserve of a natural resource like oil or in a location crucial to American foreign policy. America's language about caring for human rights is used in a cold and calculated manner to advance other interests and rarely for justice's sake alone.

If the regime in control of Myanmar is as bad as Bush said this week at the United Nations, why aren't we invading or attacking? Similar language was used to describe Sadaam Hussein's burial policies and to urge people to support the war. Such appeals should automatically make us suspicious, because in reality, our government, no matter the party, will do what it feels it needs to do for its own best interest--if that topples a regime that brutalizes its people all the better, but don't look for us to invade or threaten military action when only human rights are at stake.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that we invade Myanmar, although I would support peacekeeping troops in Darfur, or that we go and invade every country that has a dictator, all I am trying to do is point out our nation's hypocrisy.

As Christians, if we really believed the people of Myanmar were our neighbors, would we do more to support them? Probably. What more could we do? I'm not sure.

Grace and Peace,


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Surgery Results

Here's the mass e-mail I sent out today on life post-surgery:

Dear friends and family,

The surgery went well. According to my surgeon my retina remains attached and all looks good. The new lens inserted for the cataract also did what it was supposed to do.

I'm not lying on my face for two weeks--so that's really good news. I am, however, in a good deal of discomfort at the moment.

In addition to the cataract stuff, they took out the silicone oil which has been holding my retina in place for the last seven months. In its place they put another gas bubble in. (You may recall I had one of these in back in January--but this time I didn't have to lie face down.) The surgeon says my retina is doing what is is supposed to do and the gas bubble is just a temporary thing for safety's sake.What this all means is that for the next 2-4 weeks I'll have the bubble in my eye which means it's like looking through a really distorted fisheye lens. Everything is really blurry. Over the coming weeks it will dissipate and be absorbed by my body and then I'll know how well I can actually see with my retina back in place and the cataract fixed.

I can basically do anything I want in the meantime, except lift things or exert myself in any way--don't want to detach the retina again or blow the sutures from the cataract part. At the moment, I'm in a great deal of discomfort because of the sutures. It's like the worst itch I've ever had but on my eyeball and it's taking all my effort not to tear at it. Also, I'm pretty nauseaus. I'm assuming both of these things will pass.

Thankfully, I listened to my wife and asked someone else to preach tomorrow so I'm taking the next few days to recover.

Some folks have asked about my other eye--the one without all the problems. Since birth, that eye has been pretty weak--corrected it is only about 20/80 and it is a wandering eye that depends upon my right one(the one having the surgery) for tracking and direction. This is why I look at you a bit sideways. So, really, it's not as if I have another perfectly good eye to compensate. If the right eye doesn't get better, then I won't be up to driving, reading, seeing distance etc.

Anyway, that's enough about my eye history. Thank you to all of you who have called, e-mailed, etc. I just haven't been able to respond individually to thee-mails and haven't felt like talking on the phone. I'm appreciate for the concern nonetheless. I'm especially grateful for the prayers and ask that you keep them coming, because the recovery will be crucial.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. I'm not really looking at the screen--only typing, so sorry for the typos, etc.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Nest Surgery

Below, you'll find the mass e-mail I sent out to family and friends detailing my surgery today. Needless to say, it will be a few days before I'm posting to the blog.

Hi friends and family,

I've been meaning to send out an e-mail for the last couple of days but it has been craxy trying to get things out of the way before my next surgery.

My next surgery is TODAY (Sept. 13, Thursday) at around 2:00 PM CST. So, I'd appreciate any prayers, love energies, positive thoughts or whatever kind of stuff you do, sent my way.

Hopefully, this will be my final surgery on my right eye. As you may recall, my retina detached back in January. After two surgeries, I ended up with an eye full of silicone oil to hold the retina in place while it heals. Now it's time for that silicone oil to come out.

they will be doing two things today, removing the silicone oil and replacing it with something else. Also, they will be fixing a cataract in the eye that developed due to all this poking and prodding in my eye this year.

Depending on what they find today when they get in there, I could have a very quick recovery time as in a day or so. Or, I could once again lay on my face for two weeks. I've already done that once this year, so I'd rather not do it again, but no matter how it goes for me in the short term, it is all just an inconvenience compared to having eyesight in that eye for the rest of my life.

I'll send out another e-mail telling how it went as soon as I can see well enough to do so.

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Christian Love vs. Charity--Dialogue Column 9.11.07

I’d like to share some thoughts that I’ve been wrestling with in recent days. If you read my blog, you are aware that I find inspiration in the writings of the social activist, theologian and Princeton professor Cornel West. Almost twenty years ago, he wrote a critique of American religion that remains just as true today as it was then (if not more so). He described American religion as having lost its prophetic voice—by prophetic he does not mean predicting the future but rather like the prophets of the Bible speaking out against popular culture and political power on behalf of the poor and oppressed. Gone are the days when people of faith led the way to change injustice in society as was done by those who worked for the abolition of slavery, the rights of women, and civil rights for ethnic minorities.

West asserts that in the place of prophetic faith we have settled for charity. It may seem strange to criticize charity since we call it a virtue, but West argues that even though charitable groups accomplish wonderful things, people give either to enhance their own prestige or salve their own conscience. Such impulses arise for “sentimental reasons” like pity. The problem with this type of giving is that it considers only a pitiful person or persons rather than the greater social forces and problems like prejudice, lack of education, violence and corruption that imprison people.

I would argue along with West that giving of our time, energy and money should be done not out of charity that soothes the conscience but does little to solve the problem nor out of self-service to get one’s name on a building or donor’s list but out of deep moral convictions that seek to change our community and world for the better. As Christians, we should endeavor to see others as God sees them: first, as individuals who have inherent worth, and second, as part of a community of humanity that stretches around the globe. Our efforts to demonstrate Christian love should come out of convictions, such as: no person should go without food and shelter, no person should be exploited or used, every person should have the opportunity to live out the potential God has given to them, each person has worth because he or she is created by God, etc. My prayer is that our deep moral convictions will drive the activity of our church and the ways in which we give to it.

Grace and Peace


P.S. If you’d like to read the passages from Cornel West that I refer to you can pick up his book Prophetic Fragments (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988) or read the excerpts of it in The Cornel West Reader (Basic Civitas Books, 1999).

September 11 in Missouri

It's now September 12 and I feel somewhat disoriented. September 11 passed quickly with little time for me to reflect upon it. I've been busy this week trying to get work done before my eye surgery tomorrow, just in case I'm out of commission for a while. So, yesterday was busy.

I'm half a continent away from where the events of September 11 took place and from the people most directly affected by it. Unlike the last five years, I did not spend the evening at a candlelight memorial service in a local park hearing the names of friends, neighbors, coaches, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters--all people who died on September 11, 2001--read aloud by their loved ones. I usually stood in a clergy robe with other ministers and rabbis in the town as we offered prayers and scripture. The high school choir would wait behind us ready to sing Amazing Grace and then God Bless America.

It was a very different environment on the North Shore of Long Island, where so many Wall Street bankers and traders live and so many of them died due to a terrorist attack. I led worship each week and usually looked out over two widows and their children whose husbands and fathers were killed on 9-11. I taught their kids in Sunday School and took them on youth retreats. 9-11 was never very far away.

In New York, there really was no escaping it. The media sometimes tastelessly other times heroically covered the various politics and griefs as they played out concerning the rebuilding at Ground Zero, the memorial for the victims, the ever present terror alert and the routine but always nerve-racking bomb threats--usually turning out to be some schoolkid's backpack mistakenly left on a train. 9-11 was never very far away.

I started work in Manhasset, NY two and a half weeks after 9-11. The church and the community were traumatized. I will never forget walking into Penn Station and seeing all the fliers up with pictures of the missing. It is like something out of a disaster film only real. National Guardsmen with assault rifles were everywhere. People displayed heroic determination and confused denial in equal measure.

This year all of that seemed very far away, and unlike in previous years I could focus upon other things--and by necessity did so. I recall family members telling me over the phone how unreal it seemed each year on the anniversary and how removed they felt from it. There was a real lack of understanding of why the big deal kept being made year after year--oh they got it intellectually but failed to get it emotionally. The bombing at Oklahoma City seemed more real to them, because it was practically a local story--never mind that it happened years earlier.

I think I have a glimpse of how they feel now. When Jen and I moved to New York, we constantly would see pictures of NY in film and on TV, and then we would poke each other in the ribs and say, "We live there." Not being from New York, it was a fantastical place that seemed unreal, because we only saw it in works of fiction or documentaries about the past. Now, I'm back in the Midwest and once again, New York seems like a far away unreal sort of place.

So does the tragedy of September 11. But, of course, it was and is real. Distance may allow me and so many others to erect emotional barriers between ourselves and the traumatic events of that day, but it still happened.

A toxic mix of fanatical religion and politics resulted in the deaths of over 3000 people. In response, our government took away civil liberties and resorted to torture. Our president told us to go shopping. War was begun with no sacrifices asked of ordinary Americans and certainly not of the politicians approving it. Ordinary people responded to terror with bravery and generosity, but aid agencies and government agencies repaid them with wasteful spending and a refusal to admit any wrongdoing or responsibility.

I may be in Missouri now, but September 11 still happened and is still happening.

Grace and Peace,


P.S. The only insightful thing I found to read yesterday was a piece by David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University. His whole column is worth a read. Here's a taste:

Six years after 9/11, our nation is less secure, less powerful, less free, less respected, less democratic, less constitutional, and less fiscally sound than we were on that bright, clear, terrible morning. . .

And the church? In general, the American churches have lacked the political independence, the discernment, and the courage even to understand and name what has gone wrong, let alone to resist it. A domesticated church has been employable as a servant of the state, even to the point of defending torture.

It seems to me that 9/11 in a way unhinged our nation and sent us hurtling down the wrong path. But the American church bears considerable responsibility for its inability to stand fast on the solid rock of Jesus Christ in the midst of this unhinging -- yet one more reason to bow our heads in sorrow on 9/11.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Haunted Soul of Senator Larry Craig

I know, I know, I'm way behind the curve blogging about Larry Craig. This story is last week's news or maybe the week prior. Well, I get around to things when I can, and I was on vacation for one week of the time between then and now.

The story is now second or third page material, but the punchlines keep coming from comics and elsewhere. This story is still alive, because as was the case with Mark Foley, Craig was a "Family Values" politician who has voted against measures that support civil rights for homosexual people. We love to lave at hypocrites. Of course, we just love to catch famous people with their pants down.

I have to agree with Mary Sanchez who titled her column in yesterday's K.C. Star: "Is He or Isn't He? Wouldn't it Be Nice if Nobody Cared?" She wrote:

The feeding frenzy has the whiff of homophobia. Really, Barney Frank should have more gay colleagues in Congress. OK, make that more openly gay colleagues. The fact that he doesn’t says much about what voters, and the general public, are willing to accept. In 2007, our society ought to be enlightened enough to cease being aghast that some people are gay. One benefit would be that U.S. senators and other respectable people would no longer feel compelled to hide their homosexuality, covering it with a loving spouse and family, whom their deception will someday disappoint and embarrass.

She goes on to say:

We’re all having fun with his predicament. We all want to be Jay Leno with this one...But maybe we should be a little less eager to come up with new punch lines. Working toward a place where gay men would be less apt to hide behind the cover of a wife and family would be preferable. Maybe then discretion could return to our private lives, because no one would care anymore.

Here! Here! As much as I want to revile Larry Craig for living a life in secret and then working publicly against people who seek to live openly with that same lifestyle, what I feel more than anything is pity. Sure, the male libido is involved, but is a bathroom stall really any body's first place to hook up? Only somebody looking for anonymity, seeking to respond to their inherent desires in a safe place and possessing no other place in their life for sexual expression would want to get together in an airport bathroom. Craig's actions seem awfully sad and like the actions of someone who wishes they could be authentically themselves but is unable to do so. I end up feeling little besides pity for Larry Craig.

Sure, Craig's efforts to get out of his guilty plea and his political maneuvers behind the scenes strike me as slimy and duplicitous. I felt that similarly about Bill Clinton's squirming refusal to admit wrongdoing. (For an interesting comparison between the two, listen to Daniel Schoor's commentary on NPR.) I'd much rather Craig take the route of Mark McGreevey and admit he's gay and resign. Of course, I also don't know what it is like to be a gay man, and I don't know what it is to struggle with my sexual identity in today's society. Whatever I may feel about Craig's caginess, I have to keep in mind that I really do not know what struggles he has faced with his sexuality.

What I would wish out of this whole mess is that everybody spent less time gleefully watching Craig's weaknesses and more time thinking about the kinds of antagonism that exist in our culture towards people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. Would Larry Craig's life have been different if his church, his political party, his family, etc. had been supportive of him regardless of his sexual orientation? I have to believe that it would.

Grace and Peace,


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Taking Prayer too Far?

I'm a big fan of the public radio show This American Life. Last weekend a friend recommended to me an episode from 2001 that I had never heard before which was about prayer. Actually the broader theme was about whether or not people with secular and religious views can live together. In the longest segment of the program, a reporter goes to Colorado Springs to interview members of New Life Church. Then the members were strategically dividing up their community and praying for others street by street, house by house, etc.

If the name New Life Church seems like a familiar name, well it made headlines last fall when its then pastor Ted haggard (who was also president of the National Association of Evangelicals) was accused and then essentially confessed to having sexual relations with a male prostitute.

The ironies are rich in this 2001 episode that interviews Haggard before his fall and in one of its most powerful moments the segment interviews church members who regularly go and pray outside porn shops for the men who frequent the shops to feel convicted of t heir sin and leave. Hearing Haggard speak about the practice is beyond bizarre considering what happened to him a few years later. Perhaps, he should have been praying for his own sexual temptations.

The reporter on the show goes to Colorado Springs expecting the Christians praying to be gracious folks who pray for others' well-being without asking for anything in return. Some are, but others aren't. In sort of a bizarre look into this type of evangelicalism she interviews Christians who view their walking as spiritual warfare and seek to cast out demons and purify areas polluted by liberal ideas.

In the most powerful part of the episode, she goes into one of the porn shops being prayed for to interview the owner--he reports that business is good in spite of the prayers. She also interviews a customer who used to go to New Life Church before coming out as gay. Strangely and wonderfully, this excluded gay man begins to actually witness to her of his faith and encourages her to differentiate between the real Jesus and the Jesus portrayed by judgmental and prejudiced Christians.

It's worth a listen and it's worth considering whether or not our prayer for others generates from our love for them our our own sense of pride and superiority. Jesus had more than a few negative things to say about the latter.

Grace and peace,


Friday, September 7, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle Rest in Peace

I just read with sadness that Madeline L'Engle died. Not only was she an award-winning writer of children's books like A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, she also was a great writer of fiction for adults. She was a strong woman of faith who spoke and wrote eloquently about the Christian faith and prayer. Her bibliography demonstrates a life spent in passionate pursuit of writing as vocation.

Here are a few quotes from her that I keep around for inspiration.

"To grow up is to accept vulnerability" ( I don't know the source.)

"If our usual response to an annoying situation is a curse, we're likely to meet emergencies with a curse. In the little events of daily living we have the opportunity to condition our reflexes, which are built up out of ordinary things." (from The Irrational Season)

And here's another one by L'Engle that Beth K., a First Christian member, sent me recently

"When we forget the obvious, the little joys, the meals together, the birthday celebrations, the weeping together in time of pain, the wonder of a sunset or of a daffodil peeping through the snow, we become less human." (don't know the source)

And here's one from the NY Times obituary about her that seems a fitting epitaph:

“Why does anybody tell a story? It does indeed have something to do with faith; faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

Here's to the cosmic difference she made with her life.

Grace and Peace,


Getting the Word Out About First Christian Church-Dialogue Column 9.4.07

On September 9, we will have Rally Sunday at First Christian Church. I stretched my brain to come up with a better name than Rally Sunday, but all the names I came up with were too long. Summer’s-Over-So-Get-Your-Rear-End-Back-To-Church-Sunday just doesn’t have the same kind of ring to it. Rally Sunday sounds old-fashioned to me and reminds me of pep rallies in my high school gym, but, as I said, it was the best I could come up with, so there you go.

After thinking about it, however, I’m coming around to thinking that Rally Sunday may be an okay name after all. Sure, it is a means of getting people to come back after their summer vacations and get into the routine of coming to church; yet, it may also be appropriate for what we are trying to do at First Christian. As a church, we are rallying back from several decades of declining numbers in attendance and membership. That decline has occurred most dramatically over the last 10-15 years. During that same time, First Christian went from being a church in the heart of St. Joseph’s commercial and business district to being a church in a declining and abandoned downtown. As St. Joseph‘s eyes turned eastward, the focus shifted away from downtown churches like ours. Furthermore, First Christian’s slow decline in numbers coincides exactly with the decline nationally in mainline congregations, so the challenge has cultural as well as local dimensions. Given these factors, it is appropriate to speak of us rallying together as a church to face the challenges of our present and future.

It may be time for rallying, but despite the challenges we face as a church, there is much about First Christian to be excited about and proud of. We have a long and vibrant history stretching over 160 years; a history that includes actions of the church that not only impacted our community but also helped to shape our entire denomination. We remain an open-minded community of believers that values diversity of belief, individual freedom and people from varied backgrounds. We also have a tradition of social justice that believes sharing the love of Christ must take concrete forms to meet the physical as well as spiritual needs of people. All of these attributes make First Christian a unique voice of faith in our community, but there are many people in St. Joseph that do not even know a church like ours exists. Our future as a church depends upon whether or not we can connect with such people..

In an effort to “rally” our church to face the challenges of the present and future, the Administrative Board took an important step at its August meeting. The board created a new ministry and marketing committee that will be charged with developing a comprehensive long-term plan for getting the word out about First Christian. Its goal will be—to borrow an analogy from the business world—to “brand” First Christian in the community, or in other words, raise awareness in the community that a church with our unique mixture of open-minded progressive thinking, rich history and warm welcome exists. More specifically, they will help to guide us as a church to reach out to people in our community who have only experienced churches as close-minded and judgmental social clubs. We will have to learn as a community of faith how to welcome and care for people who have been hurt by forms of Christianity that were intolerant and exclusive. I am very excited about the work this new committee will be doing to make the most of traditional and new forms of media in order to share the unique and compassionate community of faith that is First Christian Church.

Together, let’s rally and face the challenges of this new century at First Christian Church, just as our spiritual ancestors rose to the challenge of the last one.

Grace and Peace,