Thursday, December 16, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
It's Election Night 2010, and I'm watching old episodes of "30 Rock" on Hulu. Which is kind of odd for a political junkie who once made his living in the halls of Congress.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Sometimes the ironies of life are almost too much. Read on...
There is a growing coalition of people in Texas saying that the "payday lending" industry is out of control.
You may have seen payday lenders opening up shops in strip malls near you. In Texas, those lenders are charging low interest rates and huge fees. The result is that the borrowers may end up paying back $600, $700 or $800 on $300 loans. The practice is hugely unjust and unethical and is trapping many people in cycle of debt.
So, a couple of groups in our church have studied this issue, looking at what our scriptures say about lending and borrowing, looking at current payday practices, and thinking about alternative lending practices. Some members of our church are actively involved in the coalition to change state laws.
Then, last week, our church was asked by a local hospice chaplain to host a memorial service for families whose recently deceased loved ones were cared for by a hospice group -- we'll call it "Statewide Care Services" (not it's real name). That sounds simple enough, right?
Well, it turns out that "Statewide Care Services" is owned by "Nationwide Care Company." Nationwide Care Company, in turn, is by "XYZ Multinational." And XYZ Multinational also owns "Zippy Cash," a payday lending company that operates in 19 states. One source says "Zippy Cash" is charging 456% on payday loans in
So, last night, I tossed this out to our a Discussion Group that has been studying payday lending. What do we do, I asked? Do we host this memorial service? Do we refuse on principle? The discussion were very thoughtful. Suggestions ranged from charging them our church rental normal fee plus 456% to putting a line in the bulletin at the service telling them we’re concerned with their business practices to not hosting the service at all. The conversation was good, and there were more suggestions.
The end result is that our congregation is going to send a letter to "XYZ Multinational" telling them that (as a matter of compassion) we will host the memorial service and (as a matter of justice) we would like for their payday lender subsidiary to lower fees and interest on payday loans to 25% or less.
The intersection of theory (opposing payday lending) and practice (hosting a hospice memorial service)... the problem of knowledge (if only we hadn't known so much)... questions about investments (is my retirement fund invested in a payday lender?)... and much, much more...
So, what do you think? Please post your comments, ideas, suggestions, questions...
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Dr. Laura dropped the F-Bomb on her radio show today. A few days ago, she repetitively used the N-word, so maybe you saw the F-word coming. I didn't. Read on.
My third place title for this blog post is, “Forgiveness 101.” But I decided on, “ Dr. Laura and the F-Bomb,” because that’s the most provocative. The runner-up title is, “Christianity Isn’t for Wimps.”
But, since I want to talk about forgiveness, let me back up to a confession. (Confession and forgiveness go together.)
My confession: When I’m out running errands or visiting people during the day, I sometimes listen to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s call-in radio show. I know, I know, she’s a pariah among liberals. (I said this is confession which means I’m admitting my sins.) Dr. Laura has made some egregious homophobic remarks. And her latest babble using racially charged words was unconscionable. Moreover, from time to time she offers her callers advice that I think is socially and emotionally harmful.
But she is also entertaining, provocative, shocking. (That’s her business by the way, to attract listeners so they hear ads and buy stuff.) She also has a knack for cutting through callers’ BS that makes me chuckle. As a pastor I spend a lot of time using active listening, “what-I-hear-you-saying-is” responses. Dr. Laura gets to say, “Shut up.” So, I may listen because I’m a little jealous.
Anyway, I’m not supposed to like her. She’s ending her show, so she’s on the way out. And her history of wacko comments justifies reasons why I should change the station and certainly should not expect anything good from her.
So, there I was today, indulging in my secret, drive-time Dr. Laura fix. A caller phones in to her show to describe a personal life that is shaped by Catholic guilt. Dr. Laura listens, cajoles, and badgers for a while. Then she says that she herself was baptized Catholic but has never practiced the faith. (I think she’s Jewish.) She further clarifies that she is not clergy. Then she drops the F-Bomb.
She says, “Your God is a very forgiving God.” (pause) “So, why aren’t you?”
Wow! The F-Bomb from Dr. Laura. Not what I was expecting. Forgiveness.
I don’t know that she herself is able to practice that fully. She seems pretty ticked about the sponsors who’ve dropped her show and the kerfuffle she’s found herself in. There are probably a lot of people out there in radio land who need to forgive Dr. Laura.
But forgiveness is at the core of Christian living. The blustery radio doctor was right. And that’s where the “Christianity is not for wimps” idea comes in. Forgiveness is not all kissy-kissy, huggy-huggy, everybody-hold-hands-and-sing. Forgiveness is hard work. When someone has used racially derogatory terms to refer to you or your family, it’s hard to forgive them. When someone has called your version of the species “sick,” forgiveness is hard to come by.
I had a friend and church member who was prisoner of war during World War II. His living conditions and lack of food were appalling. His ordeal was torment. For the rest of his life, he wrestled with forgiveness.
I struggle with forgiving the people who viciously attacked and robbed my grandfather, an old man who walked with a cane.
No, Christianity isn’t for wimps. Forgiveness is hard work.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Yesterday, the newspaper here in
Let me offer some feedback to that letter.
First, the letter writer says, “Our forefathers did come to
The letter writer next wrote, “Look closely and you will find God mentioned in every document this country was founded on.” Not exactly true. The United States Constitution does not mention God. (However, the Liberian Constitution of 1984 mentioned God in the very first sentence. That was written right before they began to hack each other to bits in a brutal civil war.)
The letter writer went on to say, “The basic premise that marriage is a union between a man and woman was first given to us in God’s word." God’s word is heard in many ways: in Quaker silence, in hymns and songs, in religious traditions. I’m guessing the letter writer meant the scriptures Bible of the Jewish and Christian traditions. And true, marriage is mentioned in the Bible. But marriage seems to pre-date the written scriptures. The Code of Hammurabi mentioned marriage when it was written about 1790 BCE. Even the most conservative Bible scholars would say the first Jewish scriptures weren’t written until 300 years after that. Many biblical historians date the Bible as much younger. So, marriage was around before the Bible.
And, even if we assume the letter writer’s argument that “straight” marriage is the only way to go because it’s in the Bible, we have to be honest: Polygamy and concubinage are in the Bible as well, along with orders to stone children, not eat shrimp, and give all your money away. The Bible is a complicated, remarkable book. Doing something because “it’s in the Bible” can create a big mess.
Then, the letter writer leaves the Bible and goes back to our national documents. He says, “All of our founding documents were written with God and his moral teachings in mind.” This sentence makes me wonder: How, exactly, does this fellow in
Then, referring either to the Bible or to our national documents (his antecedent is somewhat unclear) Mr. Lambert wrote, “These teachings held no place for same-sex marriage.” He’s probably right. Same-sex marriage seems not to have been on the radar of the psalmists, the Apostle Paul or James Madison. But they “held no place” for football, air conditioning, or televisions either.
The writer then says we should toss gay marriage: “It is the American way.” Again, his unclear antecedent makes you think he might be saying gay marriage is “the American way.” But I think he actually means tossing it is “the American way.” He’s entitled to his opinion, and he’s entitled to speak it and to write it to the newspaper. But claiming something is “the American way” is tricky. Slavery was once “the American way.” Not letting women vote was once “the American way.” Locking up citizens with Japanese and German ancestry was once “the American way.” Not having child labor laws was once “the American way.” “The American way” seems to be ever-changing.
Seems to me that respect is a more needed American way. Respect for the facts, respect for changing customs, respect for all God’s children. And more than “the American way,” that should be “the human way.”
Thursday, July 29, 2010
"For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
I think your particular brand of Christianity is the moss-strewn style of your home city, New Orleans. That is, I think you are a Roman Catholic. I admire much about the traditions of Catholicism, but your final sentence there echoes the line attributed to the Protestant Luther: "Here I stand I can do no other."
So, I say, Ms Rice: Don't leave the church. The church needs Reformers like you and old Luther.
I understand your frustration, Ms Rice. I'm the pastor of a church, but I often question my own belonging as well. Regularly I'm shocked by the words and actions of those who claim to speak for the church or for Jesus. They seem so loud. I wonder how I fit in.
You went on to say:
"As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
Let me add my own "Amen" to yours. I think the Jesus (whom you so honestly wrote about in your "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt" book) was not any of the "anti's" you list. He welcomed outsiders (lepers and prostitutes in his day, GLBT persons in ours). He included women (who appeared to be the benefactors who kept him and the boys in bread). He loved people and supported policies (both religious and political) that put people above politics, above rules, above tradition.
I think the Jesus to whom you remain committed understands your frustration, your refusal, your quitting. I think he liked people like you (and, I pray, like me). My hunch is that Zacheaus, the woman at the well, the man at the pool of Bethsaida, and others had probably given up on religion too. They probably saw enough quarrelsome, hostile disputatious folks on the inside that they moved to the outside, too. I bet they were quitters. Simon Peter was a big quitter, Thomas was doubter. The rich young ruler bowed out.
And that's exactly the point: Jesus loved the quitters, the failures, the outcasts, the doubters, the people in the edges. Quite honestly, Jesus was the ultimate failure, quitter, outsider.
He failed at convincing the people around him to love one another. They killed him for living out a love that welcomed all to the table. He quit trying to play the power games, the who's-at-the- right-hand-of-God games. Those games of power lead the list of "anti's" you mentioned. Jesus quit (maybe never started) the power games and instead preached a peaceable kingdom. He was the outsider, choosing to be last instead of first, choosing to give rather than to buy, choosing to die rather than to live.
So, interestingly, your leaving Christianity makes some sense. That may be one of the best ways to be a Christian, by bidding the institution adieu, by opting out.
Or, there may be another way... Maybe you find a group of other quitters, other losers, other seekers, other failures. Maybe that's where Christ is found.
Another Catholic writer, another Southern woman like you, Flannery O'Connor, wrote about troubled folks. She described the club-footed, the wooden-legged, the hearing-impaired, the mentally-challenged, even the nymphomaniacal. Often as not, those "grotesques" were Christ figures.
I'm the pastor of a church, and my blog is public, so I hesitate to say this, but it's true -- our congregation is full of losers, maybe not as outlandish as Miss O'Connor's characters, but full of people with questions about their faith, full of people who maybe didn't fit in other places, full of folks with troubles, pains and problems.
On the outside, we may look fairly well put together. But on the inside, I get the sense that some of our souls are as mysterious and shadowy as the characters in your books.
A lot of people in the church I serve would understand your leaving Christianity. What's so impressive about them is that they're always inviting others back in. Not so we can fill up the place (church growth is not always our best thing) and not so we can prove by numbers that we're right (we're no mega-church, and our doctrines may be a little squishy). No, I think the reason is that the best losers, the best quitters, the best failures care about other people in their losing, quitting and failing. Seems to me that's what Jesus was about.
So, Ms Rice, if you ever want to wander back into Christianity -- or at least into some little corner of it, try this congregation here at the corner of Parmer and MoPac in Austin, Texas. It's a long way to make it every Sunday from your home in New Orleans, but we'd be glad to have a quitter like you. Amen?
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Friday, July 9, 2010
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I've always been a self-conscious dancer. Maybe I absorbed those old Baptist prohibitions against it. Somehow, I smiled and faked my way through high school and college (dance-dependent years) and even managed to marry a good dancer.
Super heroes wear capes and fly, right? They're tall and muscular and chiseled, right?
Today was the hardest day of our trip for me, which is strange because today was Sunday; we went to church, and I was scheduled to preach. Should have been easy, right? After all, I'm a preacher; that's what I do. Not that I'm especially good at it, or better than anybody else. But that's what I do. Most Sundays (at home), preaching and leading worship is no big deal. Sure, lots of preparation and worries over the details, but I do it. Three times, most Sundays.
The village of Cachimuel, where we are working, is perched on a mountainside overlooking San Pablo Lake. The village (or "community") stretches maybe two miles or more up the steep hillside. The road is cobblestone, turning to dirt. I've seen one tractor in the community and maybe two cars. The vast majority of the people here (indigenous Otavalan Indians) have no cars. They walk.
Today, we began our work in the village of Cachimuel.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Monday, May 31, 2010
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"I think we certainly should be very sensitive to the fact that the purpose of the military is not to see if we can create social experiments." ~ Mike Huckabee, former preacher, former governor, would-be president, April 9, 2010, expressing his opposition to repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.
"If envious enemies insist on using us as a guinea pig for alien psychological and sociological experimentation, let's not be too impatient though we know beforehand the experiment will be a dismal failure." ~ Alabama Journal, December 18, 1955, expressing opposition to integrated buses.
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The bold italics are mine. But the sentiments are theirs, and sadly they are strikingly similar.