Friday, December 12, 2008


The holiday season is often cited as the most stressful time of the year for American adults. Among the reasons for this is the expectation that we purchase gifts for all our friends and family and then impress them with our behavior and appropriate attire. While giving gifts is a wonderful thing, due to the sheer volume involved, the cultural imperative to buy everyone different objects at the same time seems to result in mania and the exchange often meaningless presents that are given primarily to check someone off the shopping list. Advent becomes a whirlwind of activity and Christmas is turned into the day of collapse--the day when we see if we survived the self-imposed gauntlet.

This seems counterproductive to the message of Christmas, and especially counterproductive to the message of Advent. Advent, Latin for "coming" consists of the four weeks leading up to Christmas, "Christ's sending." It is a time of the days getting shorter. It is a time of reflection on the darkness the world and in our own lives. But in the midst of this, Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of God's promised hope in this world, the coming Christ, the light that is not overcome. Christmas is the celebration of the days getting longer, the celebration that future will be brighter than the past, the celebration that greatest power in the universe--love--is found in the form of a little baby. Christmas is a festival of new life.

Yes, giving gifts is a good way to celebrate new life. By let them be gifts born out of contemplation. Let them be gifts born out of a yearning for a brighter world. Let them be gifts which proclaim that God is not found in the palaces of kings, or the towers of merchants, but in the fragile form of human beings. Let them be gifts of Christ's sending.

Two websites that give advice on how this might actually happen: Advent Conspiracy and Alternatives for Simple Living.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Advent Coffeehouse

Every year during Advent, PLTS takes over the local coffee shop, Brewed Awakening, and celebrates the darknening of the world, the coming of Christ, and the immanent end of the semester through singing, storytelling, and lots of jokes.

Musical acts available for viewing by: Student Body President Chris, Nick, Kara and Jon, the Kirstens, Eric, and Holly, DC, and Doug.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Community Organizing and Lutherans

Two weeks ago, Rev. Lucy Kolin, a Lutheran pastor from Oakland, stood in front of Congress and, with the support of a thousand congregations across the country, asked Congress to prevent the foreclosure of 2 million homes.
How is it that a pastor from a small congregation on the west coast ended up leading a protest in Washington D.C. and being interviewed on CNN? Community Organizing.

A few years back the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland started a listening campaign with the help of People Improving Communities Through Organizing (PICO), a community organizing network. The congregation discovered that its parishioners were deeply concerned by the fact that housing in Oakland was prohibitively expensive, meaning that parishioners were being forced to move away and the surrounding community was in a state of decline. With the realization that members of the congregation had a common cause, and grounded in the conviction that you can't serve your neighbor if you don't have any neighbors, the congregation began researching, conversing, and connecting, so that now their demands for affordable housing for all people have been heard by city officials all the way to United States Senators. All of this because they decided to listen to the concerns of the members of their congregation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Blog Incarnate!

Now that the election is over, I have the opportunity to talk about something that occurred a couple weeks ago:

On Oct. 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther is said to have nailed a list of complaints about the
universal church to his chapel door, thereby igniting the Protestant Reformation. 491 years later, my congregation invited others to do the same. To this end, they placed a large wooden door outside of the Chapel with paper, markers, and tacks, and a sign encouraging all passers by to post their own their own theses upon the Church.

The picture shows the door after two days. After the door have been out for two week it was entirely covered with comments which were presented before the congregation:

Try to understand and love even those with whom we disagree however fervently.

No war in this world.

Buildings, Houses, People.

Peace. ☮

God’s love outweighs any sin.

He makes people. God.

The church must lead a change in our culture of consumption to convert our economy away from accumulation of worthless stuff to sharing of resources.

That we as Christians live completely with much more than enough while others are in need.

Let’s destroy the idea of “sin.” It is harder to believe that God likes us exactly for who we are, with no exceptions, than to think otherwise. Perhaps we are fine, just as we are.

Impression :) .

The extent of our love is the limit of God’s omnipotence. May we unbound God’s salvation that all creation will be free to praise God’s victory of love.

I choose love, life, and alignment with God’s plan.

To know God is to do justice.


The church needs to change to meet the needs of the people instead of expecting people to change to fit into the church.

All churches should understand that love, acceptance and brotherhood of all fellow humans is the most important lesson of Christ.

We need the church to boldly proclaim peace!

Walmart. And people’s need for it.


Those churches dedicated to God’s love for all people are called to be prophetic voices, not complacent voices.

Jesus would choose for our first priority that all beings everywhere have water, food, clothing. (Everyone gives $1. Give collect to favorite charity.)

Let birdies free and help animals to be happy. Leave animals in peace.

Peace shall reign.

Modern day church has become a bunch of people pleasers instead of people who desire to “please God,” who is holy & righteous (Galatians 1).

Being pro-life should mean sustaining a culture of ALL life.

I object to the inaction of millions of well mannered Lutherans who stood by as our nation conducts an illegal and immoral occupation in Iraq.

Homosexuality is forbidden by the Bible. Repent and Jesus forgives with infinite love. & if you don’t repent, Jesus kills & tortures you in eternal hellfire. Amen. God is love.
Stop human slavery.

Jesus Loves Everyone! So, too, the Church, our Lord’s representative on Earth, should strive to show Love to all, without words of judgment, intolerance or hate.

The church should be subverting nationalism, not supporting it.

The commandment was to love another, not judge one another. ☮

As we gather to worship You, our worship may enable our empathy with our fellow creatures.

The radicals are not always right. But the conservatives are always wrong. We can always do more and better.

Warm spiritual greetings—The worst problem is that those of us who are willing to be involved with peace and justice campaigns are inadequately supported by the larger Christian community. Particularly at volatile, large venue direct actions, protests, and demonstrations, and attenuating service efforts, support for participants is next to nothing. Where’s the solidarity for those on socio-political and in more recent years, environmental, front lines? I think it’s wonderful to
be close to Christ. Where are the rest of you? Posted by Berkeley Catholic worker, recently returned from organizing in Denver and 6th visit to Washington DC confronting the confusion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Face painting for ☮. Work for peace. Music, art, dance for ☮. Jesus is the prince of peace. Pray & meditate for ☮.

Peace festivals with international food.

The Bible was written by human beings, who are fallible even if they serve an infallible God.

Love is the only absolute.

Love, and else will work out. This is true.

Reason and direct observation should guide our beliefs, not various interpretations of supernatural events long ago.

Since the Catholic Church has never attempted to deny the civil rights of divorced heterosexuals, what is really behind their support of Proposition 8?

The church must lead a change in our culture of consumption to convert our economy away from accumulation of worthless stuff to sharing of resources.

Unborn babies being killed, and their mothers stuck with no choice but abortion.

More tolerance, no strings attached welcome. God loves everyone—no exceptions! Peace for all. Justice for all. Food for all. Shelter for all. Love for all.

Separate the church from the system.

God’s love and grace is for everyone … so … health care should be available to everyone one.

Squeaky (he’s nice!). More peace! Less war!

Be open to, listen to, see those around you.

Put out the fire, 1st by water, then by fire.

No strings attached welcome.

I’d like to be able to be Christian and not have to hide it.

Care for EVERYONE – the hungry, the sick, the poor, those who are different from us, those whose opinions differ. True action, welcoming open hearts – in our church & in our world.

Church shouldn’t be about gathering once a week at some building to have someone tell us a certain way to live our lives with a set of rules … BUT … church should be about doing our best to love and serve our neighbors unconditionally … As a fellowship of followers of Jesus Christ!

Peace. ☮ No war.

The Christian church began as a subversive movement against the Roman Empire, which had co-opted the Jewish elite. But now the church is corrupted by power. We need to quit being co-opted by the American empire and work for peace instead.
What posting resonates most with you? What would you add?

Friday, November 7, 2008

ELCA Presiding Bishop's letter to Obama

Presiding Bishop’s Statement on 2008 Presidential Election

Americans have chosen a new president in an historic election. I congratulate Senator Obama on his election to our nation’s highest office, and express gratitude to Senator McCain for his continuing commitment to public service. I commend both for participating in our nation’s democratic process, which serves our venerable tradition of the peaceful transfer of power.

We look to the future as a nation troubled by economic crisis and continuing wars. Such complex realities call for both humility and ingenuity. In the midst of these challenges, we as Lutherans also look to the future as a community of faith and a people of hope. We bring to the public square a longstanding and effective commitment to serve our neighbors and a conviction that government is instrumental in God’s purpose for humanity when public officials work for justice, peace, order and the common good.

Scripture is clear about what should matter to us as Christians in public life: hospitality to strangers, concern for people in poverty, peacemaking and care for creation. From these core biblical values, I appeal to President-elect Obama to establish the following priorities for his administration:

  • a response to the current economic crisis with special focus on low-income people
  • a robust diplomatic effort to restore U.S. credibility abroad
  • a fulfillment of the promised U.S. funding share of the Millennium Development Goals
  • strong support for alternative energy research to end our dependence on oil and establish a new green economy
  • fair and humane immigration reform
  • serious re-engagement with a peace process for Palestinians and Israelis

I call on all members of this church to join me in committing to work with this new administration across the broad spectrum of our Lutheran partnerships and networks. Remain active in public service, be in conversation with each other and within your communities on these issues, and engage members of Congress and this administration through this church’s advocacy ministry. Pray for President-elect Obama, Vice President-elect Biden, and their families, and for their work and service on behalf of our country.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes We Are

Hope splashes the streets
Joy drips from the lampposts
Houses cannot hold us
Hell, gravity can't hold us
'Cause tonight we stormed the fortress of our apathy
Today is our generation's D-day
Today we took the myth that patriotism was fear, and hate, and sloth, and we smashed it
We smashed it with a vote in our hands and our voice on our blog, our twitter, our phone, our blackberry.
And in the broken shards of four-years-then-eight, we found American pride,
just sitting there, ticked we'd taken so long.
Now red, white, and blue bleeds in our eyes
and bites on our hearts--hard enough that we have no choice but to sing our love for this country.
So as we spew out of cars to reach the hands of brothers and sisters we never thought to see before, as drums and honks and banjos end our silence, our chaos dance is a mosaic pasted on the sidewalks, the storefronts, the traffic medians, and the asphalt soil from which we grow our liberty.
Because today we are free.
Today we are America.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

"I am (Obama)"

While the students at PLTS are undoubtedly some of the finest in country, today I have to give a shout out to UCC seminarian Julian DeShazier, a.k.a J.Kwest, of the University of Chicago for his new song, "I am (Obama)."

J.Kwest - I Am (Obama) from Endangered Peace on Vimeo.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Clergy say "Vote NO on prop 8!"

Last week, clergy and religious leaders from a variety of traditions came together on the steps of San Francisco City Hall to speak out against California proposition 8, a proposed constitutional amendment which would alter the state constitution to strip the right of marriage from same-sex couples. The reasons for opposing proposition 8 varied from making a clear moral and theological argument, to simply stating that there is more than one religious perspective on this issue, to rejecting the government's attempt to tell religious communities who they can and can't marry.

I was particularly pleased to see a strong Lutheran turn out, both among seminarians, laity, and ordained clergy. Perhaps most uplifting was seeing ELCA Bishop of Northern California and Nevada Mark Holmerud (the guy in the purple shirt) boldly denouncing proposition 8 and declaring his support of same-sex couples.

Lutheran clergy in southern California also speak out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Response to the Draft Social Statment on Human Sexuality

Last week about a third of the PLTS student body met to discuss the proposed sexuality statement. We had small group discussions, after which I spoke to many individuals. A common sentiment that I heard was that while people were comfortable with the theology of the statement, they felt it was poorly applied. In fact many people felt that this document should focus solely on the theology and refrain from attempting to apply it for every context in the denomination. As such, I have drafted a possible response. Please read it and comment on whether you feel it reflects the desire to separate the core theology of the document from the application. Also please comment on the language and phrasing used in the response.

A Response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

from the

Student Body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary

Having gathered together in communal discernment, the student body of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary offers this response to the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality. We affirm the Draft’s foundational theological and ethical framework found in sections I-III as well as Section V’s call for people of faith to foster social trust. However, we feel that much of Section IV failed to follow from the framework set out in other sections of the document. Furthermore, having applauded the Draft’s insight that human sexuality is deeply shaped by social contexts (528-578), and its awareness that this country’s conventions of family structure and marriage were historically created (673-4, 1151-2), we were disappointed that much of Section IV attempted to define currently dominant standards of sexuality as normative for all people, particularly in the topics of commitment and sexuality, marriage, intimate sexual relations outside of marriage, and same-gender committed relationships.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America contains within it a multitude of social contexts with vastly divergent pastoral needs. Just as the one gospel of Christ inspires different communities to respond in praise in different ways, so too will a common theology of sexuality manifest itself differently in different communities. No one document will be able to adequately, or even responsibly, attempt to apply a theology of sexuality to every context. Instead, local communities should be encouraged and resourced to discuss and apply the theology to meet their own contextual needs. Section I seems acknowledge this, saying that the document offers “a foundational framework that will help [this church] discern what it means faithfully to follow God’s law of love in the increasingly complex sphere of human sexuality” (27-9). We therefore propose the following changes to the Section IV of the Draft in order to separate what we see as the foundational theology from attempts to create a blanket application for that theology.

Section IV

  • Remove lines 950-990a. This subsection attempts to prescribe how trust should grow in relationships. We feel it is presumptuous to set out how something as personal is trust is developed in individual relationship, particularly by reducing it to what is essentially a mathematical formula. Furthermore, what is described did not speak to the experience of many members of the student body. We recommend that, just as for families, what be emphasized is not what form relationships take, but whether or not they provide safety, shield intimacy, and build trust (682-686). The manner in which this occurs will vary from context to context; the social statement should encourage individuals to discern how best to achieve this with the support of their communities.

  • Remove lines 996-1178. These subsections have two underlying problems. First, they universalize the particular cultural understanding of marriage as a life-long, legal, heterosexual, monogamous, and emotionally intimate relationship. Second, after stating that sexuality is fundamentally relational and an indelible feature of our very being, these sections imply that sexual intimacy outside of marriage is inappropriate, thereby making marriage the telos for all people (831, 840). Once again, we recommend that relationships be measured their ability to foster trust, not the form they take. Individuals should be encouraged to find communities of support and discernment for their relationships.

As communities apply this theology, we wish to emphasize two more aspects to guide their discernment.

  • Though these statements are already present, we recommend that the social statement further emphasize that this church will not tolerate any form of abuse or exploitation, as well as discrimination and exclusion because of a person’s sexual orientation or relationship status.

  • We recommend that the social statement further emphasize that all relationships are subject to the brokenness of sin and that therefore trust will always be violated in every relationship. As the church we are called to help individuals struggle through this reality, confronting brokenness when it appears, and seeking healthy reconciliation.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sexuality Statement Draft

The PLTS student body is holding a discussion about the ELCA's Social Statement on Human Sexuality draft on Tuesday, October 7, at 7:00pm at the Delaware apartments courtyard. To aid in this process, this post contains:

The link to the official ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality Draft (approx. 46 pages)

The link to the official executive committee's summary of the statement (approx. 3 pages)

My understanding of the Sexuality Statement Theology in a Nutshell (approx. 0.5 page)

My Key Phrases and Ideas of the Sexuality Statement (approx. 8.5 pages)

An open letter written by the PLTS student body to the ELCA in 2005 when this social statement was in the planning stages. (approx 1 page)

A response by Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA --A Christian Ministry affirming God's love for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities), that does not dispute the theology of the statement, but responds line by line to the phrasing and application of the theology (approx. 10 pages)

My response which addresses the underlying theology of the statement (approx. 2 pages)

The online response form for the social statement which asks for comments section by section

Responses due by November 1

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sins of the Father

At PLTS we are constantly encouraged to understand how the Gospel speaks differently to different needs in different communities. We do this first by trying to determine what the "problem" is within a community, and then examine how their conception of Jesus as a savior fixes the problem. For instance, if a community feels that the problem with their existence is ignorance, they will want Jesus to be a great teacher; if the community is concerned about mortality, they want Jesus to be a bridge to immortality; if the community is concered about being conquered, they want Jesus to be a protector.

A New York Times article about the television program "Heroes" sees the popular program as speaking to the frustration of many young people who see their parents generation as causing global catastrophe, “Heroes” gives its fans cathartic validation: You inherited a screwed-up world, and it’s not your fault.

With many parallels in the show to AIDS, corporate exploitation, and global warming, all caused by the Baby-Boomer generation villains, the article's thesis is fairly compelling.

So what's the problem this community sees? Perhaps having bad parents? Jesus could then be the surragate mom and dad.

Perhaps it's that people have become so radically individualistic that they have ignored their relationship and responsibility to the rest of creation? Perhaps our generation's Jesus is the great community organizer, uniting all people into one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Preaching Particulars

During a worship service about a month ago, my pastor encouraged the congregation to join coalitions of disabilities groups around the country in boycotting the film "Tropic Thunder" for its treatment of people with mental disabilities. Several parishioners expressed discomfort with the church prescribing such specific action to its members.

Yesterday, as part the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice my congregation hosted an immigrant worker who spoke about her experience trying to survive in this country. Afterwards, the intern pastor preached a very prophetic sermon in which he called for employers to provide their workers with living wages and benefits that would ensure workers' health and security, he also called for governors to promote laws that would ensure the same thing. Specifically he mentioned supporting the workers of the Port of Oakland. Some of the same parishioners who had been concerned about the church calling for support of the boycott were very pleased and excited by the exhortation to employers and governors.

This may simply be a case of the parishioners not being employers and governors and hence not feeling the thrust of the sermon directed at them, while they were all movie-goers, and thereby actually challenged by the call to boycott. However, it does beg the question, when a sermon calls the congregation to action, what is appropriate?

Let me suggest a few categories to consider:
animate political specifics (specific political parties and candidates, i.e. support Ralph Nader and the Green Party)
inanimate political specifics (specific laws, resolutions, and bills, i.e. support resolution 38, which raises the minimum wage by $0.50/hour)
political generalities (goals to be achieved through government but without specific means, i.e. the government should raise the minimum wage)
social generalities (goals without specific means to achieve them, i.e. work to eliminate poverty)
social specifics (specific non-political means to achieving goals, i.e. volunteer at the local food shelter)
moral generalities (personal virtues that are encouraged, i.e. respect the dignity of the poor)
moral specifics (means to foster moral virtues, i.e. each morning pray for the homeless people that you've seen in the streets)

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Rhetoric of Liberation

Post-modern deconstructionists make it their goal to reveal how ideologies and narratives mask and support power stuctures. Feminists scholars in particular have sought to overthrow patriarchal normativity in order to liberate women. With the nomination of Sarah Palin, the Republican Party has taken on the rhetoric of feminism in ways that do not match previous statements in order to support a platform which many feminists feel actually harms women.

The fact that various ideologies and organizations can use the same rhetoric to support different ends suggests that the rhetoric has no inherent value in and of itself and is instead merely a tool. This is something that Christianity has struggled with for some time. Historically many people have distrusted religion because of their awareness that politicians have used it solely as a means to power. I fear that a similar awareness of the use of feminism may lead to a distrust of those seeking to promote equality between genders. However, I believe that feminism, like all movements of liberation, is grounded in the Gospel of God's love for all people. God's love elevates no person above another. All movements of liberation, like the Gospel, will inevitably be twisted to support one institution of power or another. This is why God has given us doubt. Doubt is the gift that allows us to question the constructions of humanity and discern the grace of God. Doubt empowers us to identify when messages of hope and freedom are used by political, religious, economic, and social institutions to pacify and oppress. So despite what the Republican Party (among many other institutions, including the Democratic Party and the Church) would have us do, I encourage each of us to go about our day doubting. Doubt feminism, doubt religion, doubt the ideals you hold most dear, so that through doubt we might find courage to hope, and through hope have the strength to live the Gospel of liberation.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where's the blogging?

If you've been checking this blog for activity and haven't seen any, it's because the converstaion is happening two posts down in the comments of "My Faith and Politics." Join the fun!

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Tastless and Offensive"?

That's what the Obama Campaign thinks of this New Yorker cover; but the magazine claims it is satirizing right-wing scare tactics. What do you think?

Friday, July 11, 2008

My Faith and Politics

Obama has been useful recently for inspiring a lot of conversation. Landon, a good friend of my mine, recently sent me the following letter:

I rather liked this article:
feel like Obama's argument is one that you would give: that in a pluralistic
society, even if a strongly held belief is motivated by matters of faith, it
should be argued for in the public realm by means of arguments that can be made
on common ground. Having spent a lot of time arguing with Dobson's followers
(Dobson's Focus on the Family is based in Colorado Springs), I know first hand
that they are not willing to engage debate at that level; they will cite the
bible as their only point of argument and consider the matter to be settled,
regardless of the faith or lack thereof of the person with whom they are
debating. I think that a lot of my frustration and resentment of religion and
religious people would be absent if I had grown up around people who were
willing to engage with me on common ground, rather than around people who think
that if you don't treat their interpretation of the bible as absolute truth then
you are going to hell.
My response:

Thanks for the article--I appreciate your articulation of why you found Dobson's followers so frustrating; I think it is sentiment many of us share. I do indeed feel that if you are going to argue convictions based on faith in the public realm, you should do so in terms that can be made on common ground. However, my own understanding of my faith and its implications as shaped by a Lutheran understanding of Christ makes this a more complex issue. Before I talk about my faith in the public sphere, let me first explain a few things about my faith:

1) I believe that humans can only love if they have first been loved.

2) I believe that having been loved, humans will respond with love.

3) I believe that God loves all people unconditionally as was revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and that God's love is present and active in the world today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

4) I believe that humanity is subject to the brokenness of sin, which is the heart curved in upon itself. Because of this sinfulness humans try to place limits and conditions on love. This occurs notably in the Bible, a series of documents which both I and my denomination feel are divinely inspired but which are written by culturally-conditioned humans who are subject to sin and hence twist to their own images and purposes the Gospel of God's unconditional love.

5) Having experienced God's love, I desire to go forth and love others as God as loved me (doing so with the knowledge that I am, and will be as long as I live, subject to sin and never perfect in my love; yet God loves me anyway and gives me strength to keep trying).

6) In political terms, what this means is I try to foster a society which will encourage people to love as much as possible. The question then becomes how does a society do this.

7) While I feel the Bible (and other non-Christian religious documents) present useful insights, because of 4) I am wary of taking Biblical suggestions for our context whole-cloth.

8) This leaves me pretty much in the same place as a lot of secular humanists. I must rely on psychology, economics, sociology, and history to try to figure out what policy decision would really have the desired effect. In this sense, my beliefs motivated by matters of faith can and should be argued for in the public realm by means of
arguments that can be made on common ground.

9) However, there may be people who do not feel that the goal of society should be to foster love (I pray that this is not the case,but it may be). I am not sure there is any rational way to convince someone through argument of this one of my beliefs. In these situations, I can only love those who disagree with me and hope my trust in 2) is well founded.

10) I know for a fact that there are many people who disagree with 1)and 2) for theological, philosophical, and "common sense" reasons.These people believe that fear and punishment can be effective (and sometimes even necessary) means to produce love. Once again, I do not believe that I can convince someone of 1) and 2) (or 3), for that matter) through argument. Instead, all I can do is love those who disagree with me and trust in my faith.

11) Alternatively, I feel it is often useful to argue for a policy based on reasons that may not actually be common ground because you do not share them but your opponent does.

12) In conclusion, yes, I do agree that if you are going to argue convictions based on faith in the public realm, you should do so in terms that can be made on common ground. Furthermore, I do feel it is important that people of faith bring their convictions to bear on the political process. However, personally, I think people are only willing to listen and engage with open minds with those who disagree with them when they have first been loved as individuals within a community--but then, that's why I'm in ministry, not politics. ;)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On the recent California Court Ruling Concerning Gay Marraige

This is the best commentary I've read on the matter.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Talking to People

Earlier this morning, President Bush gave a speech at the celebration for the 60th anniversary of Israel in which he criticized talking to organization with whom the United States is in conflict, saying:
Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
While I have never been much of a fan of Bush's foreign policy, I've become concerned that this "shut up and shoot" form of diplomacy has become so ingrained in our culture that even democratic presidential-hopeful Hillary Clinton has repeatedly tried to discredit Barack Obama for considering the possibility of talking to foreign nations with whom the United States does not see eye to eye. Obama's own response to such attacks is to invoke the names of powerful American presidents who maintained dialog with their rivals; however, I think a more principled discussion on the topic could be had.

While I acknowledge that there are some people who are beyond human capacity to turn from violence, I do not believe this is true for all "terrorists and radicals" and I most certainly do not believe it for the broader social networks that allow them to gain power.

I think Bush's reference to Nazi Germany is a useful one. By the time Hitler rose to power, it is indeed unlikely that a conversation with an American senator would have convinced him to stop his plans for world domination. However, if the victorious countries after WWI had been willing to pay more attention to the unrest in Germany, Germans may have been less willing to elect Hitler in the first place. Indeed, after WWII when the allied powers worked to rebuild Germany and Japan, the two countries became great allies of America.

The great wars between nations of the 20th century are not perfect analogies to our current situation, but I do feel that much could be gained by speaking to the leaders and people of nations and organizations that wish America and its allies harm, and finding out how to address the sources of their discontent instead of shutting off dialog and letting animosity ferment in solitude until it erupts in violence.Clearly, this topic can never be a black and white discussion that applies to all situations, and I'd be interested in listening to people discuss nuances (or flat out disagreeing with me).

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cartoon Truth

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Church News of Note

The United Methodist Church has voted to enter into full communion with the ELCA! Now it's up to Lutherans to reciprocate.

Obama and Wright's Cat's Cradle

Recently there has been a lot of controversy over Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright who was the former pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama. Having been criticized earlier in the year for some of his comments about the United States, 9/11, and AIDS, Rev. Wright has recently gone on a multiple day publicity tour defending his views.

While Obama initially tried to reject Wright's views without rejecting the man, he is now strongly distancing himself from the pastor altogether saying, "“I’m outraged by the comments that were made [by Wright] and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”"

While Obama may consider his relationship with Wright to be changing unexpectedly, Wright told Obama last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.”

The story of two great men trying to improve a country, one through politics, one through religion, who started off as good friends and then become bitter enemies reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novel "Cat's Cradle," in which Lionel Boyd Johnson and Corporal Earl McCabe shipwreck on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo. The island lacks any natural resources, value, or political organization and is inhabited by an impoverished and demoralized population. In an attempt to improve the lives of the islanders, Corporal McCabe becomes the island's political leader and overhauls the legal and economic systems, and Lionel Johnson creates a new religion called Bokononism, to which the whole island converts. However, Johnson asks McCabe to outlaw Bokononism and Bokononists (everyone on the island) on pain of death. The islanders' existence, which materially never really improves due to the island's lack of resources, becomes spiritually fulfilled as they live out the constant drama of the harsh dictator's brutal oppression and the Bokononists' noble struggle and miraculous near escapes.

The implication is that religion works best when it is actively pitted against the loyal opposition of a "hostile" government. Or in the words of the Books of Bokonon:

"So I said good-bye to government,
And I gave my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason."

A conspiracy theorist might claim that the tension between Obama and Wright is actually intentional on the part of the two men. But even if it's not, it might be a good thing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Exibiting Death

A friend of mine pointed out this article to me.

Apparently a German Artist is looking for a volunteer to be on display while he or she dies.

It seems to be causing quite a bit of controversy, but it does seem like an excellent way to help people come to terms with dying in a culture that tries to ignore death. But then again, presenting death as an art display might just desensitize people all the more...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How full of a communion?

The ELCA is very active in ecumenical work. It currently has full communion with five other denominations, and is considering full communion with the United Methodist Church. Personally, I think building bridges between faiths, and especially between denominations, is essential for the Church.

However, Rev. William G. Rusch, lecturer in Lutheran church history and polity at Yale Divinity School and former executive director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs feels that the ELCA cannot be in full communion and dialog with everyone (for reasons of limited resources, if nothing else).

Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the Montana Synod said that the ELCA needs to be care not to lose focus and "be clear why we are doing what we are doing (and) how it relates to our mission as the ELCA."

Honestly, I think Bishop Crist has a good point. Why do we seek ecumenical dialog and unity?

For me, it is a basic emotional matter of not being able to take communion with my family when I visit them in Mexico and we all go to a Catholic Mass. It is also a spiritual concern that every time we divide the Church into more denominations, we break the body of Christ--and for some reason we seem to do it over and over and over.

But perhaps there are good grounds for denominations dividing, or for the ELCA not to have full communion and active dialog with all Christian (and even all religious) bodies. I'm not sure that I'm convinced of that, but perhaps you can offer some reasons.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Conservatives More Generous Than Liberals

To begin with, let me state that I believe that we are called by God to care for the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and the marginalized. I also believe that we can do more good collectively than we can as individuals. I favor government administrated redistribution of resources so that the costs of caring for all God's children can be shared by all so that it does not become an unbearable burden for any. By most definitions this makes me "liberal."

Therefore I was dismayed to learn of the recently published, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism by Arthur C. Brooks in which Brooks presents findings from studies that suggest people who self-describe as "conservative" donate more time, money, and blood to charity than people who self-describe as "liberal."

A couple articles discussing the book are available at the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Philanthropy, but to give a quick run down of the books findings:

• Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

• Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

• Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

• Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

• In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

• People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

The articles lack some critical information, such as what constituted a "charity" in the studies. However, if non-profit political lobbying groups were included in the studies, the implication would seem to be that on average liberals are willing to pay more taxes, but only if everyone is forced to do it collectively; if no one else has to give money, liberals won't do it. What this means for our society is that when liberals fail to muster the political clout to raise taxes, we take less individual responsibility for ensuring that the needs that would have been covered by taxes are met. Conservatives, on the other hand, appear to actually take more individual responsibility for ensuring that the needs of society are met when there are not taxes to cover those needs.

I would by no means encourage anyone to become conservative based on this book, but what I take away from this is that while voting, our liberal mentality is great, but if resolutions to provide state funding fail, we need to take a cue from our conservative sisters and brothers and provide direct assistance to social services in addition to working to change the government.

An enlightening bit of information on this subject is the finding that religion is actually the greatest determining factor in altruism, not political views (unfortunately, it just so happens that a large percentage of conservatives are religious whereas a smaller percentage of liberals are). Secular conservatives are actually the least generous group.

I would suggest that the book's finding can find partial explanation in that people who attend church/synagogue/temple/mosque meet regularly with a community that reminds them of the needs of others, encourages aiding others, and provides readily available means to aid others. In the fast paced, sanitized, and isolated world of suburbia, cars, and indoor entertainment, it can be easy to feel passionate about an issue without actually having to confront it or actively participate in it. Attending a religious gathering can and should be an opportunity to engage with people and communities both on a local and global scale.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

We Want Pets!

Friends, Seminarians, Lutherans!

Long have the good men and women of this seminary yearned for the simple friendship of animal companions. Humble students pine for canine comrades which they have left behind or for feline confidants who might comfort them as they struggle in their service to the divine. And is it not right and salutary that the modest servants here of our Creator should enjoy the company of those critters, who, with all of creation sing the praises of our God most high?

But our administration says "NO!" It says, "No, you cannot bring the hamster in whom you learned to see Christ's presence in all things." It says, "No, you cannot bring the cat whose gentle purring pulled you depression." It says, "No, you cannot bring the dog who taught you unconditional love through slobbery licks."

Well, I say, "YES!" I say, "Yes, we shall embrace animals as sisters and brothers in God's love!" I say, "Yes, we are called to bring Christ's comfort to the afflicted, and yes we know that pets have great power to soothe the suffering soul, and so yes we shall partner with animals in our ministries to give hope to the hopeless and joy to the dispirited!" I say, "Yes, we shall make this seminary a community where pets are celebrated and have a place to live among their furless friends!"

I tell you that at this very moment, seminarians are gathering to rent houses near campus where pets are seen as the blessing they are. So if you long to live again with your creaturely companion, or dream of adopting a lonesome critter, the opportunity is upon you! The time for action is at hand. Email our noble leader, Ellen Ayres, or write a comment on this post. For if two or three of us gather together, the transforming power of Christ is there, and with God's help, we can change this community!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Facelift for Sin

In the past few days, the moral concerns of some major denominations have undergone a shift. On Monday,"a group of Southern Baptist leaders said their denomination has been "too timid" on environmental issues and has a biblical duty to stop global warming." Unlike previous attempts from Southern Baptists to make the environment a moral issue, this statement calling for environmental action was even signed by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Roman Catholic Church has also just updated its list of sins. "Now, the Catholic Church says pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments are on its updated thou-shalt-not list. Also receiving fresh attention by the Vatican was social injustice, along the lines of the age-old maxim: "The rich get richer while the poor get poorer.""

""If yesterday sin had a rather individualistic dimension, today it has a weight, a resonance, that's especially social, rather than individual," said Girotti, whose office deals with matters of conscience and grants absolution."

I have long believed that if the Church is going to define sin as an act (which Lutherans do not), actions with larger social consequences should be right at the top of the list.

However, as religion columnist Claire Hoffman writes:
"As an agnostic who has already spent years feeling guilty for, despite my best efforts, destroying this beautiful earth, I worry for these new converts to environmental shame. Can they handle this sin? It's one thing to feel bad for the sea gulls and the oceans. But if questions of heaven and hell get tied up in recycling and polluting, I fear it could turn this whole green movement upside down. Will pollution become like other sin, something secret that one does and takes pleasure from? Will desire for a large carbon foot print swell now that it is verboten? Will governors suddenly be caught on wiretaps discussing their littering fetishes?

What happens when the mundane daily shame about trash sorting is elevated to sin and conscientiousnesses about green house gases becomes biblical duty? The track record, not so good."

But then, that's why Lutherans define sin as the heart curved in upon itself, and not as a specific action on a list of dos and don'ts.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


On Monday, five luxury houses in a Seattle suburb were destroyed by fires that appear to have been set by the ecoterrorist organization Earth Liberation Front.
A banner was left at the scene of the crime that read, "Built Green? Nope, BLACK! McMansions + R.C.D.’s r not green ELF” According the New York Times, R.C.D. is "apparently referring to “rural cluster developments,” which advocates say help prevent sprawl by limiting development density in rural areas."
I can't help but see the parallels in this act of violence and those perpetrated by religious extremists. Both are instances where a small group of individuals has elevated its ideology beyond regard for others' lives and safety. Both actually violate the stated principles of the groups (in regards to religious terrorists, violating the commandment to love and the sacredness of all life by killing, and in regards to environmentalist terrorists, harming the environment through the carbon released in fires, causing more trees to be cut down in order to rebuild, and in one instance, damaging research done to preserve endangered species). Both often target people who support the same basic principles as the terrorists, but whom the terrorists consider to be hypocrites. Both turn public sentiment against the cause that the terrorists purportedly support.
Terrorism cannot be a means to improve the world. Just as people of faith need to stand up and denounce acts of violence that are perpetrated in the name of their religions, so too do people dedicated to responsible treatment of the environment (in whose number I count myself) need to stand up and denounce acts of violence perpetrated in the name of environmentalism.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

2/13 Rally for food justice

Last Wednesday, after wandering through San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza and accidentally walking into the federal office building (though the security screening did hamper my "accidental" spirit), I finally located the California Food Justice Coalition's rally concerning the Farm Bill. The event was entitled: "Food Advocates Tell Pelosi: This Valentine's Day Have a Heart. Give Us Food and a Farm Bill We'll Love" and was located exactly where it should have been: smack dab in the middle of the weekly farmers' market.

I know what you are asking. What's the US Farm Bill? Why does this seminarian care and why should I? In a nutshell, the Farm Bill is a piece of federal legislation that determines who gets farming subsidies and how much they receive, what kinds of crops are grown and how they are distributed. It allocates money for nutrition programs in schools and low-income communities and tackles questions regarding food access. One shocking fact I learned listening to a speaker at the rally: West Oakland is a community of 30,000 people. There are 53 liquor stores in the area and not one grocery store. No wonder it is difficult for people to make healthy choices! A reformed Farm Bill could help to address this and similar inequalities, insuring that all people have access to organic and locally-grown foods. This rally was not simply about food or farming, but about creating communities that are healthy and just---the kind of communities God wants for us. For more information visit

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

God Rides BART

Ah the Bay Area!

As of December, BART trains have featured advertisements which pose theological questions such as "Can the finite know the infinite?" or "Does God get involved in American politics?" followed by the statement, "God Rides Bart."
According to these somewhat cryptic posters "exists to encourage and facilitate a discussion about God and Life." If you're not comfortable talking to the BART rider next to you, or even your friends and family, the website offers a forum where wired individuals can engage in theological conversation anonymously.
There are currently five topics on the website, each with an initial essay written by the site's authors, one a Southern-Baptist-turned-atheist, and one a "dedicated follower of Jesus Christ" who believes "in the inerrancy of the Bible as the inspired word of god." Visitors can then post comments on the two essays.
While the site's mission statement claims to be an open environment for "Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Jewish, Buddhist, Agnostic or [those who] have never thought about it," the conversations are framed by the two authors whose views on religion are clearly influenced (positively or negatively) by conservative evangelical (in the non-Lutheran sense) Christianity.
Still, the occasional Buddhist and Rabbi does comment, and, as opposed to the majority of online discussions about religion, the conversations are actually relevant and considerate.
The only major shortcoming of the site is that not very many people are using it. So the next time you're riding BART with your Blackberry and are bored, check out

Friday, February 8, 2008

J-term border crossings

During the last week of January, I participated in a conference called "Developing Hearts that Yearn for Justice" in Tijuana, Mexico. The event brought together over 100 representatives from eight different faith traditions to learn about the reality of life on the US-Mexico border and the brokenness of current US immigration policy. The ELCA was well-represented both in the organizing committee and event sponsors. We stayed at Casa del Migrante, a home for migrant men, the majority of whom have recently been deported from lives in Southern California. Speakers from Mexico, Costa Rica and across the United States offered frameworks to help participants understand the issues and imagine our possible responses as people of faith. One afternoon, we visited a community center, bakery and beauty shop organized by a group of women as an alternative to making a livelihood digging through trash in the city dump. We also visited, Cafe Justo, a coffee cooperative based in Southern Mexico, but with a new roasting facility in Tijuana. We learned how important responsible consuming is to producers.

Throughout the conference, I found myself easily frustrated---frustrated by how poorly the United States treats immigrants, frustrated by the complexity of the issues, frustrated by days consumed by talking without action, frustrated by the fact that I was one of only a handful of seminary students in attendance. I know how the story will turn out. God wants so much more for us than what we have managed to create for ourselves thus far. But, I continue to worry. I don't know how things will change, only that they will, and that somehow, a more just world will take the God-centered engagement and creativity of us all. For more information about the conference and on-going ways to be involved in immigration issues visit

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Road Trip!

The ELCA's multi-year and divisive study and statement on sexuality is creeping forward. Everyone I have talked to feels that this discussion has gone on far too long. Everyone in my generation that I have talked to feels that the reason for this stagnancy is that older generations are shackeled to archaic prejudices rooted in ignorance and fear which not only deny the truth of the world, but also the very heart of Christ's message of love for all people. Many in my generation are thus frusterated with the ELCA. To these people, I would like to suggest a means to channel their frusteration.

On March 13, noon, CDT, a draft of the social statement on human sexuality will be released. It will be available at and a copy will be mailed to every rostered leader. A series of hearings will then be held around the country. In these hearings, leaders and members of the Church are invited to share observations, concerns, and ask questions about the statement draft. I encourage everyone who is able, and especially the youth, to attend these hearings and let their voices be heard.

For those of us in the PLTS community, it is important to note that nearest hearing that has been scheduled so far will be in Temecula, CA on March 26, 2008, which happens to be the week of our spring break. It is a 7 hour drive from Berkeley, but might I suggest a road trip? Also, perhaps we could encourage our friends in the Sierra Pacific and Oregon Synods to see the value in scheduling their hearings at a time when the future leaders of the Church would be able to attend...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bishop Brauer-Rieke Accepts Appointment by Governor Ted Kulongoski to the Global Warming Commission

ELCA Oregon Bishop and sometime Cathedral Door commentator, David Brauer-Rieke is now part of Oregon's Global Warming Commission. The 25 members of the commission include 14 non-voting delegates and 11 voting delegates (of which Bishop Brauer-Rieke is one) and are selected "to be representative of the social, environmental, cultural and economic diversity of the state and to be representative of the policy, science, education and implementation elements of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare Oregon for the effects of global warming."

In response to his appointment, Bishop Brauer-Rieke released at three-fold statement:
First of all, I want to thank you Governor for the opportunity to bring a religious voice to the table. Whatever faith background one comes from, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Native American or other, all of us share the common thread of stewardship for the earth. We regard care for the earth to be a profoundly spiritual matter. Members of formal religious communities respect this holy dimension. I want to bring that language and this passion to our work. Secondly, the Church is not just a group of religious people. We are engineers, business owners, teachers, scientists, and farmers; people that offer many gifts. Because of these gifts, our faith communities can provide opportunities for networking and education. Lastly, I want to be an advocate for those who don’t always get heard. Policy changes relating to energy and oil concerns, environmental issues, transportation and taxes sometimes fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable in our society. I know none of us [want] to see that happen.”

He then went on to toot his Lutheran horn, saying "
Our ELCA social statement, Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," offers wonderful guidance for this work. Many key elements of Governor Kulongoski’s 2009 Climate Change Agenda focus on issues and opportunities articulated in this 1993 statement. As people of faith we call our culture to justice for all of God's creation through participation, solidarity, sufficiency, and sustainability. I am proud to sit with this commission as bishop of a church which has been ahead of the curve on such issues."

For more information on the Global Warming Commission, check out:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Clones Approved

"A long-awaited final report from the Food and Drug Administration concludes that foods from healthy cloned animals and their offspring are as safe as those from ordinary animals, effectively removing the last U.S. regulatory barrier to the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs and goats." -- Washington Post
Of course, we are still not likely to see cloned meat any time soon. Cloned animals are too expensive to slaughter on a large scale, and American consumers are still squeamish about the idea of eating living replicas.

Still, it may soon be time for churches to wrestle with the idea of supporting the creation and consumption of artificial life, with the words artificial and life being open to debate. If nothing else, it's a good way to get people interested in a far less sexy but perhaps just as important discussion of being morally conscious about the food we buy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Just for Fun

A friend from college sent me this comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and I couldn't help but laugh...