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Archive for February, 2015

Ultra-rich Kim Kardashian, sort of a poster girl for excess wealth and celebrity and media coverage of her ilk.

Ultra-rich Kim Kardashian, sort of a poster girl for excess wealth and celebrity and media coverage of her ilk.

If you went to the Sunday, Feb. 15 “HOME” page at The Houston Chronicle’s no-pay, on-line edition, you saw that the big “lead story” on what amounts to a front page was one headlined:

“Ultra-rich kids show off toys”

It was a story about rich “kids”–twenty-something darlings, actually–who share social media selfies and other pictures of their fabulous adventures in glamorous hot-spots around the world, complete with pictures of the extravagant “toys” they buy along the way.

The Chronicle’s blurb beneath the Instagram pictures snapped by these fabulously wealthy young folks was:

    “These ‘Richstagramers’ have a message: Their winter is better than yours. With their parents’ money to burn, they jet-set around the globe, and promptly post their exploits on social media for the world to see. Enjoy.”

[NOTE TO AMERICA’S HOMELESS KIDS: Yes, their winter is way better than yours, homeless kids on the frigid streets of America! Get a job!]

* * * *

Once you had “enjoyed” this kind of news(?) on the Chronicle’s digital front page–this at a time when Houston’s biggest industry, which is oil, is slashing jobs every day–you could click on to one of these stories right beneath that lead story:

The ridiculous stuff wealthy people buy

(True to the headline’s word, wealthy people pay ridiculous money for ridiculous stuff; but then, we’ve known that for many years thanks to the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalogue.)

Check out Houston celebrity selfies

10 lessons to learn from the rich

Mind you, this was the dominant “news” package on Sunday afternoon, when news was breaking that some seriously nasty people had beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya, a “hot-spot” of a way different kind.

* * * *

Look, news feature stories have their place. That place is just not on the front page of a major newspaper that is the only one in town in one of the biggest, oil-rich cities in the free world. And it’s sure not supposed to be a newspaper’s role to lift up a slacker of a “kid” with too much of daddy’s money to burn as somebody to aspire to be.

The Chronicle, a paper where I enjoyed much of a rewarding and I dare say somewhat successful career in print journalism, does do a lot of solid, professional reporting, when it’s not glorifying the Houston Rich and the Rich of The World, the class that gave us the so-called “Masters of the Universe” on Wall Street, who helped to create a lot of new wealth, only to create some disastrous new poverty.

And in the interest of fair and balanced blogging, I’ll acknowledge that the best papers in the word—-perhaps the socially conscious New York Times more than most–have a long history of glorifying wealth, fame, extravagance and celebrity. They just don’t do it almost daily on the front pages of any digital editions, as The Chronicle has taken to doing.

I must say once more for the record that there’s nothing wrong with being rich, even “ultra-rich,” since it’s not money that is the root of all evil, but greed and lust for money and the power of it to corrupt even, say, preachers who start out with little money and a lot of Christian humility, only to lose their way when the offering plates overflow and the books and videos turn some serious money. And then there’s priests who take vows of poverty and run with the rich while living like the rich. (Bless you, Pope Francis, for being a reformist who could be an example for a lot of preachers in tall-steeple churches in my own beloved Protestant denomination.)

I’ve always maintained that I want to be rich, even “ultra-rich,” because I like to think I’m an incorruptible preacher, knowing good and well that nobody on this side of the Kingdom is incorruptible.

Still, I like to think I could live a more comfortable and convenient life and ensure a better life for my kids and grandkids while putting my wealth to work making the world more comfortable, convenient and just for a lot of people who don’t have the means for comfort and conveniences in life.

Conveniences like clean water as opposed to the kind that kills, or creature comforts like food or a roof. I’m talking about the kind of “comfort food” that can relieve “food insecurity” in America and reduce starvation rates in places like Haiti, where “mud pies” made of dirt and shortening are ingested by children to mimic what feels like somewhat of a fuller stomach.

* * * *

So I don’t hate the rich, which ain’t to say I won’t rap them (and newspapers) every chance I get for excesses at the expense of the poor and powerless. Hating on the rich usually stems from the sin of conscious or unconscious envy or reverse snobbery anyway.

And I’m not a fuddy-duddy killjoy. I watch my share of TV shows and read or follow stories about the rich and famous myself. Like most news and information consumers, I get a certain pleasure from following news from the celebrity- and glamour-related media. I’ll be tuning in to the Oscars next week to be dazzled like a billion viewers, rich and poor, in far-flung places around the world, by Hollywood’s “beautiful people.”

But come on, Houston Chronicle and so many others in the media. The excessive coverage of people living ostentatious lives is excessively poor form.

And yet, as a philosophical and theological matter, I wonder what the reaction would be from we the American people if we were inundated–day in and day out–with serious, meaningful, illuminating media coverage and “lifestyle” stories about people in our own America who are barely scraping by, if not living so far down in the socio-economic scale that they don’t have a home?

What if the Houston media dominated the front page and TV news broadcasts with as much or more focus on Houston’s poor, and on social ills stemming directly from poverty, as it focuses on meaningless drivel about the rich?

How about stories about the daily lives of busboys or dishwashers at work in the 5-star banquet rooms of hotels where politicians raise billions of dollars for thoroughly corruptible politicians on the left and right alike?

How about mixing things up with stories about sweatshops in poverty-plagued countries that keep the prices of consumer goods in America affordable? Where are those stories played up to an excessive extent on the front pages and the media in general?

Obviously, there’s more public interest–the public being you and me–in the mindless escapism of reading or watching news about the rich and famous, complete with so much juicy gossip.

And oh yeah–how we love to see the rich and famous fall from grace while the media pile on like 300-pound defensive lineman.

The preacher in me has to say this: We have seen the enemy, Pogo, and it’s the season for Christians (Lent) to confess and turn and think about what Jesus and the great Jewish prophets who were his predecessors would have to say about the State of the Union as portrayed in the media.

* * * *

The old newspaper scribe in me is “old school” and idealistic enough to believe that a newspaper’s primary mission comports perfectly with the prophetic tradition in the Judean-Christian tradition: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That entails the constant revealing and speaking of truth to power. And it so happens that “powerful” and “rich” are typically synonymous.

A newspaper or news agency is supposed to be the watchdog that keeps the rich and powerful as well as government in check, lest they run over the powerless poor and marginalized and weak among us—what Jesus described as “the least.”

If we’re honest, we all have to confess that we don’t like too much serious news anyway, and least of all news about the poor and marginalized and all that riff-raff on the perennial “other side of the tracks.” So the media give us what we want—a lot of puff stuff and drivel like stories about narcissistic kids who grew up in gated mansions and who have too much time and too much of daddy’s money to burn, or stories about “10 lessons we can learn from the rich,” including many of the rich who wear diamond crosses around their necks.

The cross of Christ does make for some nice jewelry, and never mind that the real cross was soaked in the blood of a young man born in a barnyard to a humble and poor mom and dad who promptly had to illegally cross borders lest they had their heads chopped off and quite possibly served on silver platters.

As a reporter-turned-preacher, I wonder what Jesus–the great “Afflicter” and thorn in the side of the corruptible or corrupted rich and powerful–might make of all this?

Or the Apostle James–who grew up with Jesus–who wrote in his short but powerful epistle:

    “My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really
    believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

    — James 2: 1-7

This tasteful diamond cross pendant is only $7,500, and scrubbed of  the blood of Jesus. I've no problem with the rich, as so many people of devout faith are generous and humble do such admirable good works with their wealth. My problem is with greed and excess, especially at the expense of the poor and powerless.

This tasteful diamond cross pendant is only $7,500, and scrubbed of the blood of Jesus. I’ve no problem with the rich, as so many people of devout faith are generous and humble do such admirable good works with their wealth. My problem is with greed and excess, especially at the expense of the poor and powerless.

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The Christian Holy Season that begins on this Ash Wednesday can’t be commercialized, trivialized and vulgarized the way the culture has done all the above to the story of the birth of Jesus.

Remembering that “we are dust and to dust we return” to initiate a genuinely somber holy season is too much heavy fare for stimulating sales and advertising or for exploitation by self-anointed, chest-thumping Christians on a news channel who purport to be saving Christmas in a “War” of their own making.

That such a “War” makes for greater ratings that make for greater profits and Christmas bonuses is like giving yourself an extravagant Christmas present.

The Holy Season can't be commercialized, trivialized, vulgarized and exploited.  Watercolor by Christian artist James Tissot (1836-1902)

The Holy Season can’t be commercialized, trivialized, vulgarized and exploited. Watercolor by Christian artist James Tissot (1836-1902)

Ash Wednesday is based somewhat on Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18, where Jesus says:

“Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven.”

What follows below is a primer on Ash Wednesday from United Methodist Communications writer Joe Lovino.

I’d also commend to you a think piece (click here) about the meaning of “repentance” writ by Frederick Schmidt, a friend who happens to be one of my favorite Christian writers and thinkers.

Have a Holy Day.

    A http://www.UMC.org feature by Joe Iovino

    One Wednesday a year, sometime in February or March, you notice someone at work, school, or elsewhere with a smudge on her forehead. It looks as if she missed a spot when washing. Then you see another who looks as though he needs to glance in the mirror. By the time you see the third, you realize it is Ash Wednesday and these passersby must have received the imposition of ashes.

    This practice we use to mark the first day of Lent may seem odd. People go to church mid-week to have a cleric place dirt on their foreheads.

    In the early days of the church, it was even more dramatic. Pastors did not dip their thumbs into the ashes to draw the shape of a cross on your forehead. Instead, they poured or sprinkled ashes over your head.

    Under any other circumstances, most would run from ashes. We avoid cleaning fireplaces for fear of the filth from them, yet we participate in this practice that is growing in popularity. In fact, the receiving of ashes seems to connect with all sorts of people.

    Several United Methodist pastors will be taking their vials of ashes to the street this Ash Wednesday, to meet people where they are.

    In Clearwater, Florida, the Rev. Emily Oliver of Skycrest United Methodist Church will be applying ashes to the foreheads of those who drive into the church parking lot on the morning of February 18.

    In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Rev. Kim Kinsey will spend much of her day on the busy sidewalk in front of Christ United Methodist Church with her pyxis of ashes. Last year she made the sign of the cross on the forehead of one she describes as “tattooed head to foot,” and adults from a nearby housing complex for those with developmental disabilities.

    Why ashes?
    In “A Service for Worship for Ash Wednesday” in the United Methodist Book of Worship, two suggestions of what worship leaders may say as they make the sign of the cross on another’s forehead are offered: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” and “Repent, and believe the gospel.” Each points to an aspect of what the ashes represent.

    Remember that you are dust . . . .
    Ashes were an ancient symbol of our humanity. In Genesis, we read that God formed human beings out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word translated dust, is occasionally translated ashes elsewhere.

    When Abraham felt the need to acknowledge the difference between him, a human being, and the infinite God, he referred to himself as dust and ashes. “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord,” he said, “I who am but dust and ashes” (Genesis 18:27).

    . . . . and to dust you shall return
    Our humanity also calls to mind our mortality.

    After expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the first human beings are told by God, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV). We know the day is coming for each of us when we will return to dust.

    We wear black as a sign of mourning. Ancient people wore ashes. For example, a priest named Modecai puts on sackcloth and ashes to grieve the many deaths he sees coming from an order King Ahasuerus gives to kill all Jewish people (Esther 4:1-3). The prophet Jeremiah later calls the people of God to “roll in ashes” as a way of mourning the coming devastation from an opposing army (Jeremiah 6:26).

    Receiving the imposition of ashes is a powerful way to confront our humanity and mortality. They remind us that we are not God, but God’s good creation. In them we recognize that our bodies will not last forever, and come face-to-face with the reality of our eventual death.

    Repent. . . .
    Ashes also signify our sorrow for the mistakes we have made. People in ancient times wore sackcloth and ashes as a way of expressing their repentance of their sins.

    When Jonah reluctantly preached to the people of Nineveh after the giant fish spit him up on the beach, the King and his people put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. God saw this act of repentance and spared the people (Jonah 3:1-10).

    In the New Testament Jesus mentions this practice. Warning the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida Jesus said, “if the miracles done among you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have changed their hearts and lives and put on funeral clothes and ashes a long time ago.” (Matthew 11:21 CEB).

    The dried palms from the previous Palm Sunday are burned to make the ashes used for Ash Wednesday.

    When we participate in the service of ashes, we confront our sin. We recognize our inability to live up to all God has created us to be, and our need to be forgiven. No matter how often we go to church, how far we have come in our spiritual journeys, how accomplished we may feel, each of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

    The psalms waved the previous Palm Sunday to welcome Jesus as our King, have been burned to form the ashes. In some sense, they serve as a reminder of how far we fall short of living up to the glory of Christ.

    On the first day of Lent, we come before God recognizing our humanity and repenting of our sin.

    . . . believe the gospel

    While this may sound fatalistic, it is not the end of the story. Lent leads to Easter, the day we celebrate that though our bodies are temporary and our lives are flawed, a day of resurrection will come when we will live in the presence of God forever.

    One Wednesday every year we go to church remembering who we are, and hopeful of who we can be.

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Brian Birdwell, a Texas state senator who sponsored one of the two god-awful gun bills being greased for quick passage in Texas, said in debate on one of the bills that he was standing up for “rights that are granted from God.”

He’s hardly the only lawmaker in Texas who is convinced that gun rights are God given.

As one of my colleagues in ministry said on Facebook, “I must have missed that in seminary.”

Sen. Birdwell and the other legislators who believe this kind of theology would make some good ayatollahs.

Militant proponents of open-carry laws went around to lawmakers’ offices the other day and made such threatening and intimidating comments to those opposing their “God-given rights” to carry that legislators have since installed panic buttons in their offices.

What would Jesus think?

God approved this message.

God approved this message.


Here’s the story from The Houston Chronicle’s Austin Bureau reporter Lauren McGaughy:

AUSTIN – Sporting a pair of red, white and blue patent leather “freedom boots,” Amy Hedtke sat for hours in the Senate hearing room Thursday before her two minutes at the mic to urge state lawmakers to summon the fortitude to pass unlicensed open carry.

Earlier, the now-seemingly ubiquitous gun activist Kory Watkins promised fierce primary challenges to any Republican who opposed it, while Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia argued the opposite, stopping just short of calling the proposals an unfunded mandate on local law enforcement.

But while the sometimes rancorous nine-hour hearing prompted more than 100 people to pack the state Capitol on Thursday to voice their opinions on the Lone Star State’s gun laws, the fate of “historic” open carry and campus carry bills was all but decided before the first witness even sat down.

As expected, the Senate Committee on State Affairs approved both proposals by a partisan vote of 7-2.

The only dissenters were Democratic Sens. Judith Zaffirini of Laredo and Rodney Ellis of Houston.

Senate Bill 11 by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would allow concealed handgun license holders to carry on college campuses. Senate Bill 17 by Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, would legalize the open carry of handguns with a license. Under current law, it’s legal for Texans to openly carry long arms like rifles, but the same has not been true of handguns for more than 125 years.

Both now are headed to the Senate floor, where the Republican-dominated chamber will hear a spate of amendments expected to add restrictions to the proposals.

First time passed in Senate
Thursday’s vote was historic, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, marking the first time an open carry bill has passed in the Senate, and if approved by both chambers it will serve only to underline the rightward shift the Legislature took after last year’s election.

“I made a promise to help pass both open carry and campus carry and have worked hard on the issue,” Patrick said in a statement late Thursday. “We are now one step closer to passing these two historic bills out of the Senate.”

While the final vote tally was expected, the public testimony often was quite the reverse, with opponents conjuring images of the Wild West and pro-gun activists demanding lawmakers give Texans back their “God-given rights” to bear arms.

Watkins, the controversial leader of Open Carry Tarrant County, made an appearance sans his signature trilby hat and told Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike he and his group would seek to oust them if they voted to require Texans to pass a background check and secure a license to open carry handguns.

“I will walk around until my feet bleed to make sure you’re never an elected official again,” said Watkins, who has gained state and national notoriety – and elicited plenty of criticism – for his controversial tactics in pushing unlicensed open carry, what advocates call “constitutional carry.”

Much of the debate over the two bills, however, was marked by less-inflammatory rhetoric. Early in the day, top law enforcement officials disagreed over Estes’ bill, with Garcia and Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo raising concerns with both bills and Sheriffs’ Association of Texas President A.J. Louderback of Jackson County supporting them.

Legalizing the open carry of handguns “is going to deplete me from responding to an already growing community,” said Garcia. “Law enforcement already has great challenges with limited resources.”

Acevedo made a veiled reference to the open carry groups who packed the room when he said “it’s a very small but vocal community that supports it,” urging lawmakers not to “assume that noise equates to support.”

Campus shooting survivors
Most of the higher education leaders and college students who testified before the committee also had concerns about the bills, citing the unique campus environment that already encourages heightened emotions and fears. Claire James, née Wilson, a survivor of the 1966 University of Texas at Austin tower shooting, also spoke against allowing concealed handguns on campus.

“I was never able to bear children again,” said James, who was eight months pregnant when former Marine Charles Whitman shot her through the belly on that fateful August afternoon. Virginia Tech alumnus Colin Goddard, a survivor of the 2007 shooting perpetrated by Seung-Hui Cho, also spoke against the bill.

At the urging of Patrick, Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp also weighed in on the proposal. He broke with precedent by saying he wouldn’t personally be concerned if campus carry was passed, and confirmed the system would take no formal stance on the bill.

New UT System Chancellor William McRaven, a retired Navy SEAL and former head of U.S. Special Operations Command, has taken a decidedly different stance on the issue, sending a formal letter to top leaders that the bills would make college campuses “less safe.”

At the conclusion of the hearing, the senators agreed to amend Birdwell’s bill. If both bills are passed and signed into law, the amendment would ensure open carry is still banned at colleges and universities.

NRA lobbyist Tara Micha said the national gun rights group agreed with that decision: “I would agree with what Sen. Birdwell said that it has never been our intent with concealed carry on campus bills to sneak through open carry on campus.”

With an increasingly conservative state Legislature, both bills are likely to pass this session. Even the committee’s Democrats noted the probable outcome. Ellis, joking about halfway through the day-long hearing, said his status in the political minority would mean he would likely be packing if the proposals prove successful.

“If it does pass, I assure you I will be open carrying,” he said. He then urged his colleagues who vote against his bills to arm themselves as well, to a few uncomfortable chuckles.

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A biblical "fool for Christ" who felt close to God in sharing the suffering of hurting people.

A biblical “fool for Christ” who felt close to God in sharing and relieving the suffering of hurting people.

All the others news paled today, all the intense hand-wringing over a journalist/celebrity and Jon Stewart’s “shocking” announcement that he’s leaving the Daily Show (how will the Republic stand?) and where to buy the best Valentine chocolate features, and of course, the ongoing news about Kanye West and poor Beyonce and the latest, over-the-top Grammy Awards.

I watched the grueling press conference in which the loved ones of Kayla Jean Mueller spoke by turns of her free-spirited, fun-loving side and her serious, God-loving, compassionate activist side, and was promptly reduced to tears as one by one and two by two they stepped up to the mike to pay tribute and remember her.

    “I will always seek God. Some people find God in church,” she wrote to her father on his birthday in 2011. “Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”

Here are some of the quotes from the family statement:

    We are heartbroken to share that we’ve received confirmation that Kayla Jean Mueller, has lost her life.

    “Kayla was a compassionate and devoted humanitarian. She dedicated the whole of her young life to helping those in need of freedom, justice, and peace. . .

    “Kayla was drawn to help those displaced by the Syrian civil war. She first traveled to Turkey in December, 2012 to provide humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees. She told us of the great joy she took in helping Syrian children and their families.

    “We are so proud of the person Kayla was and the work that she did while she was here with us. She lived with purpose, and we will work every day to honor her legacy.

    “Our hearts are breaking for our only daughter, but we will continue on in peace, dignity, and love for her.

    “We remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely and who remain in our thoughts and prayers.

    “We pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria.”

Videos and more here about this high-quality woman.

I don’t pretend to know what to do to put an end to ISIS and its sickness in terms of responding militarily as well as economically, politically and any other way.

Spiritually, I do have the power to join Kayla’s family in praying for a peaceful resolution to the horror house in Syria and the region that the 26-year-old and too many other Americans and other Westerners and a Jordanian warrior have given their all for in their pursuits of truth and peace and justice.

To many people that power of prayer seems like nothing except foolishness but a “fool for Christ” like Kayla would get it.

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Belize has seven distinct ethnicities coexisting in odd harmony.

To learn more about these seven peoples of BZ click here at this link and click on any of the seven links you’ll find there.

Mestizo dancing

Mestizo dancing

Postcards from Culture Day at St. Andrew's Anglican School, San Ignacio, BZ

Postcards from Culture Day at St. Andrew’s Anglican School, San Ignacio, BZ

An old legend about a spirit lady in neighboring Santa Elena acted out with dancing.

An old legend about a spirit lady in neighboring Santa Elena acted out with dancing.

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Teachers joined in on the dancing

Teachers joined in on the dancing

In the "Maya Room": Students were required to decorate seven rooms with posters and demonstrations to educate other students and visitors about the customs and traditions of Belize's seven ethnicities and distinct cultures, which are: Mestizo, Creole (Kriol), Garifuna, Maya, Dutch-German Mennoite (and other Mennonites), Chinese and East Indian/Lebanese/Syrian (and many who are Hindu).

In the “Maya Room”: Students were required to decorate seven rooms with posters and demonstrations to educate other students and visitors about the customs and traditions of Belize’s seven ethnicities and distinct cultures, which are: Mestizo, Creole (Kriol), Garifuna, Maya, Dutch-German Mennoite (and other Mennonites), Chinese and Indian (Hindu) and Lebanese and Syrian. In this picture a student shows how the ancient Mayans made masa from white corn.

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Mennonite farm boys

Mennonite farm boys

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Speaking of ethnic and cultural diversity: a couple of friends and neighbors I see most days

Speaking of ethnic and cultural diversity: a couple of friends and neighbors I see most days

Until next time, you of the Cult of the Jitterbug, get out and embrace nature, where God is both hidden and revealed. I'm off to the bush for a hike and God time..

Until next time, you of the Cult of the Jitterbug, get out and embrace nature, where God is both hidden and revealed. I’m off to the bush for a hike and God time.

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Arms of Love Church, San Ignacio

Arms of Love Church, San Ignacio

So do I go to church to be with people of my own kind, my own clique?

That is, do I go to church to be with friends and neighbors who think just like me, dress like me, wear nice jewelry like me and my friends?

Do I go to church to feel somehow entertained by a preacher or singers who dazzle me and my friends with their talents, only to endure the prayers and confessions and Bible readings and such?

Do I go to read and study the Bible and hear the words and the Word that my like-minded friends and I want to hear together? Or do I go in willingness, even eagerness, to have my values challenged by the Bible and a sermon for the sake of honest-to-God spiritual growth?

Do I go to church mainly for me, so that I’ll feel loved and valued by others and have my needs met, or to grow in love for others, even those not of my “own kind?”

In short, is church all about me? Or who?

What about you? Why do you go to church?

“We who are strong,” Paul said, ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself.” (Romans 15: 1-3a)

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100823_bushmuslims2
Here’s something I posted on my FB page today in reaction to the knee-jerk, reactionary responses from Fox News and others who lifted a few words from President Obama’s very good, theologically sound speech at The National Prayer Breakfast:

    The National Prayer Breakfast and National Day of Prayer aren’t about prayer; they’re about partisan, political grandstanding in Washington D.C., the most sinful city outside of Las Vegas and New Orleans.

    Look, I’m by no means an apologist for Barack Obama, but come on–where is George W. Bush, the great friend of Islam, when you need him?

    I mean, I’m sorry, but I can’t see that the President, as Eric Bolling of Fox News put it, practically “blamed Christians for the religious fanatics who are burning men alive. Burying children alive and crucifying young boys.”

    Hearing or reading the remarks in context, Obama was underscoring his main point, that “there is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

    That’s the point that Bolling and other critics of Obama’s remarks conveniently omit in their rush to blast away and diss the President that they seemingly hate so much in their self-proclaimed Christian hearts.

    I happen to share the president’s belief that “sinful tendencies” can pervert and distort faith and faith traditions and God knows and history shows that sinful tendencies have found Christianity and every faith tradition falling tragically short of God’s will for peace and justice. We should never forget the hard lessons of history and especially Christian history in the world and in America.

    How can any Christian like Eric Bolling argue with that–again, if the remarks are read in context rather than distorted to make political points?

    And, again, if you read the remarks in full context, he was making the same point that George W. Bush–who consorted a lot more with Muslim leaders in the White House and even in mosques than any President probably ever will, and was mostly given a pass for it by conservatives, made repeatedly: that America is not at war with Islam. It is fighting individuals who use distorted versions of faith as a weapon.

    Is it too much to ask that we pray for grace and peace among Christians, especially in Washington? Would God hear such a prayer as that?

Here’s the fuller context of “controversial” remark lifted from the lengthy speech to hammer the President with, which the critics ought to read in its entirety for all the good stuff it contains:

    So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

    Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

    So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith. In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.

And what about some of the other parts that the critics ignore?

“And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey. Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.” Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength. I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally. But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us. He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.”

* * * *

Why do the critics ignore this solid condemnation of ISIS and other terrorist groups:

    “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

    “We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.”

Maybe it’s too much to ask for political and faith leaders to come together in Sin City, D.C. without zeroing in for a political kill.

Is it too much to ask that you read this speech in its entirety objectively before you condemn the President of the United States for a very Christian message?

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