Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers walking, searching for eternal truth

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scientific Proof and God

Someone asked what proof I had of God's existence.

I answer the same way I usually do about this question.

Are you asking for the scientific method to be applied to test God's presence? If so, then I doubt I can give a satisfying answer because it's comparing apples to oranges. It's not a good technique in this situation. For example, the scientific method doesn't prove that a song is good, a landscape is serene, or a picture is lovely.

It's not a matter of faith in God's existence. Faith applied in the modern way seems so bizarre. It's as though I'm asked to believe something contrary to scientific evidence. I don't have faith this way. This is faith in antagonism with scientific methodology. My faith is irrespective and independent of scientific methodology because the aforementioned inappropriateness of the test.

Without any testing, however, I witness evidence of God every day.

  • I hear a good song
  • I walk a serene landscape
  • I view a lovely picture

These tests work for me, they matter to me and they give me faith to know that there is something indefinable operating somewhere out there.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health Care "Debate"

I don't understand the current tone of the health care debate. We seem to be debating about whether the government should not participate in the health care business. I thought the point was to discuss US health in general, which is unfortunately short of the mark compared to other advanced economies of the world.

Here are some thoughts that I just wanted to jot down.

  • Many think: Things are fine as is

    I find this to be the sentiment of those with good health care. I accept that, but the selfishness astounds. For those without health care or with inadequate health care, it's a nightmare. They certainly don't seem happy with status quo. As a small business owner, I am also frustrated by the enormous cost of providing health care to myself and my employees. It's not that I don't want to do it, it's just the cost that's so egregious. Moreover, it's disturbing whenever I hear (and I hear it a lot) that people use health care as a decision making factor when looking to change jobs or further their education - that's just downright economically inefficient for a capitalist market.

  • Many think: Keep government out

    This is a legitimate concern. What the current legislation seems to be doing is offering an alternative to the open market in health care. Interestingly, the government does this in other economically vital areas: finance and higher education. Many people in America would not be able to afford homes or finance college without the option of government assistance. Bond markets would not function as effectively if we did not have Treasury bills as alternatives. These instruments are out there and they have not destroyed private lenders or the bond market.

    As such, why is a government option in health care going to kill private industry? It doesn't have to do so and it's wrong to assume that it will.

  • Many think: It will cost too much

    Yes it will. Quite a bit. But currently, when you consider the number of people who are not receiving adequate health care, what is the true cost to the economy, much less our faithful hearts? The cost is currently quite high. Conservative estimates put the uninsured (not the under-insured) at 20% of the working population. If that 20% were healthier they would and could be more productive.

    Imagine a minuscule 2% improvement in productivity from these folks (one week more productivity in a year due to access to medical advice and medication). That means a 0.4% increase in GNP alone just in labor productivity. We're talking a $57 billion dollar improvement on a $14.3 trillion (2008) economy.

    I'm no economist and I simplify outrageously, but it seems like we can afford at least this amount as a reasonable investment.

  • We aren't talking about alternatives any more

    If the status quo isn't sufficient, have we really exhausted alternatives? If the idea is to use the government to combine millions of the uninsured into a huge insurance pool, then why aren't there significant private offerings. Why can't the government subsidize or encourage that?

  • People hate insurance companies

    Insurance companies have to keep the costs low and have to assume that people are cheating the system. Consequently, people hate the perceived run-around for payments to the health care system.

    The government isn't rushing out to hire doctors. They're out to offer an alternative to insurance companies. That does mean that they open themselves up to the ire and vitriol held for insurance companies. Why on earth would they want that ? Only those "on a mission" to do something would want that...

  • Tax us equally

    I'm a small business owner. Big companies have great deductions but not me. Level the playing field. Either tax the big companies, tax the people receiving the benefits or give me an equal deduction or credit to offer these benefits.

That's all for now. I hope people believe that it's a moral responsibility to care for those who cannot do so. Given that basic moral stand, there are many ways of meeting this obligation, but we repeatedly fall short and have not yet succeeded. I pray that should people agree these two statements, we can further the debate in an atmosphere of constructive problem-solving rather than acrimony and finger-pointing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

General Convention 2009 - Things I Learned

It was my first General Convention, and the 2009 Anaheim Episcopalooza was something that brought many lessons home to me. Though I have a "normal" secular job in the IT world, with employees and customers across the nation that depend on our services and products, I am drawn to matters of faith, unity, and diversity of opinion. As such, though I only attended three days of the conference, I in spirit paid a great deal of attention to the tweets and press releases arising just a mere 30 miles away from my Pasadena offices.

Rather than bringing form to these many lessons, here are some highlights, memories, and opinions that I dare not forget.

1. Integrity Eucharist service - see other blog posting.

2. Bishop Barbara Harris - what a sermon! I've never fully experienced Father Ed Bacon's comments at my All Saints Pasadena parish until now: I indeed had a "Glory Attack" during her talk.

3. The faces of joy, wonder, and awe of the congregants at the service. People were visibly moved and filled with the Holy Spirit. I came in thinking that these church politicians would be somewhat distant and reserved but was surprised at their reaction to the rather evangelical fever of that night.

4. There are many more small progressive churches across this nation than I had imagined. I heard witness from rectors and priests describing their efforts for social justice, in places I would have considered inhospitable to such notions.

5. The exhibit hall carried gorgeous, marvelous, luxurious textiles. I only suspected this in the past, but I think I need to freely come out of the closet as an Altar Guild-oriented, gold-thread loving aurumvestiophile (priestly drag queen)... Those garments and altar coverings and wall hangings were so beautiful and inspiring. Art clearly has its place in the church, as it so quickly stimulates our attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

6. The House of Deputies was the upper house? It was so rowdy and loud and confusing. It's the clergy and laity, and they clearly want to be heard. The only problem is there are a lot of people that need to be heard.

7. The House of Bishops was the lower house? It was so subdued and clubby. During the debate over blessings, my mind fantasizing a scene that I have previously pondered: the Board of Directors at Augusta debating what would happen if an African-American golfer ever would win it all at the Masters.

8. Asian-Americans? There were Asian-Americans at the convention in the exhibit hall. Outside of the exhibit hall, well, they were at Eucharist. But I still definitely feel outnumbered at the convention. It's more of recognition on my part that the urban and coastal states have far more Asian-Americans than the rest of the country and that national organizations such as this church highlight that regionalism.

9. Wonderfully helpful clergy. Father Jim Newman of St Bede's (Los Angeles) practically dragged me to the House of Bishops debates and answered all my questions regarding the proceedings. He recognized my understanding and interest in the Parliamentary procedures and encouraged me to consider participation at the diocesan convention. More importantly, he introduced me to Bishop Barbara Harris (see #2).

10. Bishop Steven Charleston - Another amazing sermon, this time on the environment. I must agree that a tremendous amount of energy is spent fighting battles that distract us from real issues at hand.

11. Why aren't Episcopalians recognized for their sermons and marvelous theology in action? We need to convince our non-Episcopalian colleagues that old stereotypes just don't fit with much of our church today.

12. Twitter mania. Found so many interesting uses of twitter at this convention. Thanks to the oppressed opposition in Iran for showing us how Twitter can organize people in such an organic way. And thanks to: @integrityusa @johnclint @revsusanrussell @episcopalcafe @vagabondfaith @josephpmathews

13. Lunch-hour Eucharist had a funny moment for me on one day. I stretched out my palms during communion and was handed the Host from large loaf of bread. Not an unusual occurrence, expect this piece was about the size of 1/2 bagel. I clearly did not know how to handle such a large "wafer". I must have been staring at the bread as I walked to the chalice, because the chalice bearer sort of giggled at the look of fear in my eye. And let it be said, I've never looked at the communion bread with fear before or doubt I ever will again. "I could use some butter" passed through my head. After a few moments I eventually was able to take the wine. Note to self: Ask someone about proper protocol if someone chokes on the holy Host.

14. There were many interesting brochures from the various Episcopal seminaries. I continue to assess, ponder, and pray about my needs and calling. For yes, I am feeling called, and it frightens me.

Back to my comments about distraction from real issues at hand. I definitely think that discrimination hurts the church's missions. But I think this not because of issues regarding institutional preservation or institutional integrity. I think it hurts the evangelical nature of the church and those of us who want to make the church do something.

The young people of today care deeply about things that they consider secular. They are energetic, passionate, and well educated. They are also more liberal and frighteningly worldly (thanks to the Internet?). If we are to enlighten them of the saving power of Christ, if we are to maintain stewardship over our earth and help those in need, then we cannot afford to scare off the young and marginalize the outcasts. If all are welcome at this table, then all are needed to bring in the harvest.

All hands on deck people, we have some important work to do!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Integrity Eucharist 2009

As a church singer, I don't usually remember most of the events or services that I participate in. I get very into the music, as the Holy Spirit moves me, and I vaguely try to watch the service so that I don't get too lost. However, last Friday's service at the 2009 Episcopal church General Convention, a triennial event, struck me with particular joy and thankfulness for gifts granted to me.

It was a Eucharist service, with communion, brought to us at the Anaheim Hilton by Integrity. It was full of ubuntu incense, multiculturalism, love, and Christ. Episcopalians from across the country formed a standing room only congregation of perhaps 1600 people.

Bishop Gene Robinson celebrated the Eucharist. Integrity President Susan Russell and Integrity Founder Dr Louie Crew gave moving welcomes and invocations.

The sermon was outstanding, brought by the Episcopal Church's first female priest, retired-Bishop of Massachusetts Barbara Harris. This sermon was honestly poignant, assertive and frank. For the first time in my life, I had to restrain myself from standing and shouting "Allelujah", as I was sitting directly behind the Bishop during her sermon...

I found the music to be thoroughly uplifting. For those unfamiliar with All Saints Pasadena, our music program is exemplary and though we only practiced during the 45 minutes preceding the service, we were familiar with most of the program. I am blessed to sing with the All Saints's Coventry choir (and have previously been with the other adult choir, Canterbury). Members from choirs formed the Integrity choir this evening.

We sang
Wade in the Water - arranged by Carl Hayward
Wana Baraka, - traditional Kenyan folks song arranged by Shawn Kirchner
Sanctus - from Misa Bilingue, Kevin P Joyce
Savior of the world, save us - Community of Taize
Take, Oh Take me as I am - John L Bell
Sweet Hour of Prayer - words William W Walford, Music William Bradley, arranged by James Walker
Lead me, guide me - Dois Akers, arranged by Richard Smallwood
Nada te turbe - Community of Taize
Breathe on me, Breath of God - Nova Vita, Lister R Peace
Siyahamba - South African folk song

We also sang an unfamiliar processional song, along with a Cantor: Amen, we praise your name, O God, by Gobingca George Mxadana. Check out a supershort clip.

The words were:

Amen sia-kudu-misa! Amen sia-kudu-misa!
Amen, ba-wo. Amen, ba-wo. Amen, sia-kudo-misa!

The procession included drums and worked itself throughout the entire crowded ballroom.

Here's another short musical clips I found.

My Full Blog

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Just do it

Michael's dead. We won't see his moonwalk this summer. Nor shall we see any innovation that may have been in store.

But without much elaboration, must we really see the world media (and I ask this while sitting in a bar in Paris) profit so thoroughly from his death?

I'm disgusted... I have to think about it some, but everyone from CNN's King to Sharpton all seem to be exploiting Michael Jackson's death. It's wrong.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Protecting the Sanctity of Marriage

Some thoughts went through my head as I surveyed the pummeling that the institution of marriage took this week.

* Today, the rather fiscal though not very religious conservative Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford admitted that his week-long disappearance can be attributed to an affair with a woman down in Argentina. His leadership of the Republican governors club as well as his presidential aspirations are history.

* Last week, the rather religious though not very fiscal conservative Republican Senator John Ensign admitted to an affair with the wife of an employee. Though he tried to force another Senator to resign for sexual impropriety (Larry Craig), he himself did not resign, though his presidential aspirations and his chairmanship of a powerful committee are history.

* Yesterday, a highly public reality tv couple "Jon and Kate Plus 8" announced their impending though not surprising divorce. The fate of the many children remains unknown. Adultery is highly suspected.

A lot of noise indeed.

So what did I notice?

* Those who were born gay had nothing to do with these marital problems.

* Adultery seems to be a common issue in these marital problems.

* People who live in the public eye are held to a higher standard of morality than we care to admit.

* Heterosexual divorce rates are astonishingly high. Though the exact numbers vary depending on the study, the scale seems consistently saddening:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

* Gays cannot marry in most of the United States. Their divorce rates are therefore unsurprisingly low against the overall gay population. What are the divorce rates are for those who are legally permitted to marry? Not enough information is available yet.

* Should Americans criminalize or penalize adulterers? Adulterers clearly create havoc. Should divorce again become a stigma?

* Should Americans make divorce more difficult once more?

* Why are irresponsible heterosexuals allowed to enter a sanctified state of marriage whilst thoroughly committed and loving gay couples, many of whom would be married in their churches if the government allowed, barred from such a commitment?

* Why are heterosexuals continually allowed to diminish the sanctity of marriage? The reality tv shows, the Vegas supermarket weddings, the shotgun weddings - - it's disgusting and blasphemous.

Nuf said for today

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Where is the Kingdom of God and when do I get to see it?

So I was posed this question on a Facebook message...

Here's a question I'd like to bounce off you. In the AM I've been reading through Mark. This morning I was reading Mark 14:25 in The Message and the NIV. In this passage, Jesus seems to imply that he is not yet in the Kingdom of God.

However, for the past year or so I've been thinking that the "Kingdom of Heaven" doesn't necessarily refer to a place in the afterlife and that we can be in the Kingdom of Heaven now if we understand Christ and live by Christ. All other references in Mark (up to 14:25, so far) fit with this (4:11, 4:26, 4:30, 9:1, 10:14-15, 10:23, 10:27, 12:34).

Your thoughts? Is the Kingdom of Heaven an afterlife-only thing? If not, how does 14:25 get reconciled?

For a common discussion, I have Mark 14:24-25 in the NIV :
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

Matthew's reference to that fateful Passover dinner was similar at 26:29. It was stated during the Passover dinner.

Seems like my friend's basic question was : When was the Kingdom of Heaven supposed to occur?

First, I just want to make sure I understand the phrase Kingdom of Heaven. I have to assume that it's in reference to the Kingdom of God. Mark and Luke prefer using the phrase Kingdom of God and it's Matthew that uses the phrases Kingdom of Heaven.

As such, it depends on your translation and reading of that phrase. I concur with many scholars who believe that the Greek words translate better as "Reign of God" or "Dominion of God" rather than an actual nation with a monarchal God in a Palace. It's a phrase that's pretty much New Testament jargon, since there are hardly any references to a coming kingdom in the Old Testament.

Second, where is this domain or reign? To some it's in Heaven, and to others it's on Earth. It's a tormenting question that I think affects many folks and is one of the basic ones used by people to figure out which church they find comfort and compatibility.

To me, Heaven is Earth fully realized. Just as Man redeemed is Man fully realized as he was originally made by God, so is the Earth. I tend to environmentalism because I see much of the New Testament asking us to be shepherds to the world and the needy and that the original covenants demanded we take care of and sanctify the earth.

When Jesus said he wouldn't drink wine, it's even more relevant when compared to John 9:1-5 (where he says he's the vine, God's the gardener and we are the fruit or wine). John's verses make Mark sound like we the fruit are not to be united with Christ the vine until He is in the Kingdom of God.

But that's where the aftermath of Mark 14 matters to me. Christ died. The Pentacost drop shipped the Holy Spirit into our lives. A new promise was established during Mark 14 at the Last Supper. The Crucifixion sealed the deal and Pentacost brought God, Christ and Man together.

So Christ did enter the domain of God. And he walked on it among his disciples here.

This, to me, means that Jesus did usher in a new era, a new reign. The point of Mark 14:25 was that Jesus would not touch the fruit until He saw the Kingdom. It wasn't about us seeing the Kingdom. And since He did, He the vine can touch us the fruit once more.

I believe we are supposed to be realizing the promise of this era but we are not. I think we're called out to love another and the world, all as Jesus outlined, to do our part of the promise.

Our failure to do so keeps us of realizing Heaven here on earth.

So is it an afterlife only thing, as asked? To me, unfortunately, yes, but only for now. I think it's an afterlife only thing because we continue to not fulfill the two commandments that Jesus identified (Love God, Love one another). I think Jesus brought the dominion here to Man on Earth because of His death and Pentacost (He did reach the kingdom). But we don't benefit from it because we haven't shown ourselves to be proper stewards of this kingdom.

Our Kingdom can be here, but we must first prove ourselves to be model citizens.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

God does not dial 1-866-IDOLS

An interesting comment appeared on an article regarding the American Idol tv show. I was just checking to see if what the press was saying about last night's contest, where three contestants competed for two spots on next week's final contest. Yes, I enjoy the show very much, as apparently tens of millions of Americans also do.

I read this one article and was intrigued by the first reader comment.

I have been a follower of Danny Gokey since the tryouts! He is so very humble & I think he is so much better because of it. Granted, Adam is an excellent showman (showdog) but that's just what he is.............a SHOWDOG! He is arrogant, he is overbearing, and he don't know which he wants to be. Now, you figure out that.....because I can't! And ...yes,I know exactly what I just said. I love Danny Gokey! Danny is favored by God & God's children. It just happens that way.He is a child of God & is blessed by God. We will all be praying for Danny Gokey. It's not about people feeling sorry for Danny that will win it, it's about voting for Danny because he is so humble & stands for God. We should all take the stand for God & vote.....DANNY Gokey!

Now, as you may know from my blog, I'm a Christian and have strong opinions about our world and our Creator. I'm pretty certain that I've had my share of flinches whenever a boxer, singer or football player thanks God for their ability to win a contest. It just doesn't jive with my theology.

But this person made the effort to assert that a contestant will win because they are favored by God. I find this odd. Does that mean God favored Hindus when he chose Slumdog Millionaire and Ghandi as Best Movies in the Academy Awards? Is a person favored by God not susceptible to excessive pride? Isn't a reality contest that encourages citizen voting going to favor the showman or "showdog"?

I'm one of God's children and say so every day. I am not praying for Danny Gokey because I have more important people and situations to pray for. I am not taking a stand for or against God by selecting the winner of a singing contest one way or another.

This is ridiculous really. When there are people starving on the streets and worrying about their jobs, we're asked to pray for a singer to win, even though he's already favored by God. It's almost blasphemous to me to think that people think of God so lightly and so frivolously.

Last I heard, Kris Allen was a leader at his Christian church, too. Is he less favored?

Adam Lambert grew up in San Diego, a conservative bastion in California that funds alot of religious issues across America. Are the people of San Diego less favored?

I'm tired of seeing God minimized and trivialized. It's no wonder so many children stray from Christianity, when they hear God's power discussed so lamentably. I mean, really, the show is called "American Idol", which is not exactly consistent with one of the Ten Commandments and its prohibition against false idols.

I write this blog entry because I for one WILL take a stand for God. I do not want His name to be used in vain. I do not think God dials 1-866-IDOLS...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Shaken, and Stirred - Christianity and Torture

I'm finally able to put down some words regarding the release of The Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate by the Pew Forum. It's a study with a somewhat small sample of under 800 people that seems to indicate that a large majority of evangelical Christians strongly agree with the belief that torture can usually or sometimes be defended. Mainline Christians form only a slight majority, but a majority nonetheless. Secular folks form a large majority -- against torture. Moreover, the study seems to show that the more often you attend weekly Christian church services, the more likely you will defend torture.

I simply don't understand how Christian beliefs can defend torture. After all, we're not talking about realpolitik policies, about secular governments, about the presumed guilt of those being tortured. We aren't discussing the efficacy of torture or the differences in political parties. The study supposedly showed a simple correlation between Christian identity and support for the use of torture.

The press releases from Pew started coming out last year. I guess they really wanted to make a splash with their findings, so they waited for a nice slow news week to really knock it out of the park. The results certainly caught everyone's attention. It's all over the blogs. And this weekend, Rector Ed Bacon at my church in Pasadena (All Saints Episcopal Church) chose to bring it up in his sermon. And now, even I am moved to write about it.

Since everyone from the Huffington Post and Fox News has an opinion, I figure I'm not alone.

But my thoughts were slow in finding form and substance. It wasn't until I saw Hugo Schwyzer's post that I was able to put my thoughts down. In an outraged, passionate way, he described what he saw as irreconcilable differences between Christianity as he practices it and the "enhanced interrogation techniques" as the US practiced it.

Both Father Ed and Hugo were ashamed and scandalized by the findings. I'm not so much ashamed as baffled and enormously saddened.

But, as I've reviewed the blogs and literature in the past week since hearing about the Pew study, contradictions seem to abound. I usually understand the consequentialist argument to be mostly inconsistent with most Christian doctrine. Whether it's from my Roman Catholic upbringing or my fascination with fundamentalism in high school or my collegiate libertianism, I've understood typical Christianity to disavow calculated ends-justify-the-means utilitarianism.

I recall a Pat Robertson sermon where he debunked Marxist thinking because of such amoral philosophy. I use amoral as he would have, but consequentialism does anticipate a greater good as a consequence of the possibly immoral behavior that caused it, so there is to me a real and definite moral structure there. After all, isn't Christ's death the ultimate "ends justify the means" sort of thinking that would please a John Stuart Mills?

But most of torture's Christian apologists don't talk from a right is right and wrong is wrong perspective. Rather than the expected deontological assertions, I was surprised that most seem to bring up political, non-Christian utilitarian arguments. Saving lives matters more than the torture of a single person, whether that person has guilt, guilt by association, presumed guilt, or innocence. This moral weighting of good and bad actions seems more consistent with the secular world than the Christianity world.

These arguments even come from folks who also argue that abortion under all circumstances is immoral. I'm terribly confused by this. This is a reversal of typical positions, to me, and it confounds me.

To be blunt, if one can save the life of one person by torturing another, then it seems easier to justify that the life of a mother can be saved by killing a fetus (killing at best, torturing and killing at worst).

Maybe I'm missing the point. Is it because the typical torture victim is a non-US citizen? If so, then I'm more worried if racism or xenophobia plays a part. Are we saying it's ok to torture people if they're not Americans? Not Christians?

Again with the comparison to abortion, what if the mother of the fetus were a non-US citizen and non-Christian, and the about-to-be-an-American fetus (with its mother) were currently in America? And why or how could Christian behavior be based on one's legal nationality anyway? Are the souls that our missionaries seek to save of a second class nature in God's realm? All this seems even more odd when Paul was so adamant that Gentiles and Jews are both saved by Christ.

So if abortion can or cannot be discussed in absolute terms, why or why not torture? The "under certain circumstances" phrase used in the torture justifications has typically been seen as one given by so-called wet liberal Christianity and secularism. (I've understood Liberal Christians as being folks like Episcopalians, Lutherans and Methodists. Oh wait, George W Bush and Dick Cheney were both Methodists. Interesting.) But in this topic, the phrase is found all over the blogs that defend torture, on ethical grounds or not.

What of the presumed innocence of the tortured person? The discussion on this aspect seems to treat is as an under-whelming inconvenience. It seems far easier for defenders of torture to assume that the person being tortured is somehow deserving of this treatment because they have already been found guilty of withholding information. Moreover, since "time is of the essence" arguments are put forth, innocence is largely irrelevant anyway.

Would any of these arguments been used by the British during the American revolution? Perhaps. We were fighting in a largely guerrilla fashion after all. Had the term existed then, I'm sure some of the British would have called us terrorists.

Would we apply this thinking to American citizens today? If a US citizen could stop a criminal act by divulging information, wouldn't waterboarding be justifiable? Would 183 acts of waterboarding be justifiable (the number is supposedly how often one person was waterboarded during the preceding federal administration)?

Is the number of torturous acts permissible directly related to the number of lives in question? Can you torture one person to save one person? If the number of lives threatened aren't known, is that unknown number to be treated as millions of people. Do we torture a person if we think Hiroshima and Nagasaki will land on our shores?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki of course are the ultimate in irony in the torture debate. Imagine the background story: Millions of innocent, unsuspecting lives are at stake. Every soldier you come across may have information on how this dastardly deed will be performed and where and when. Clearly, following the teological arguments most Christians seem endorse, it's justifiable and right to torture every one of those soldiers to prevent the nightmare that happened.

Since those soldiers were not tortured, two cities got nuked. Those who did not die immediately suffered miserably for the next two decades as radiation poisoning punished them for being in the wrong place. Casualties of war is one thing, but these innocent civilians, children and adults, bore the burden of cancer and other maladies for years after. All of this could have been avoided through torture.

If I am to read this correctly, 1940s Japan had every right to torture every American, Filipino and Australian soldier within any notable distance from its shores. WWII Japan had a moral entitlement and duty to torture scientists who could somehow prevent the situation.

Moving away from history, since utilitarian positions are acceptable when it comes to torture, do they apply to children? I recall many a times when a team of kids would encourage a slower, less skilled child on. That's nice. That helps everyone. And then they go too far. They do it in anger and fear. They bully the child to do better. They yell, punch, taunt, push. They want the team to win, and this one child's not going to keep them from winning. The greater good is that the team wins, isn't it?

And, if a child knows who will be causing a terrorist act (as many children in other parts of the world are in fact deployed as mules and messengers in war), is it acceptable to torture a child? Why the adult and not the child? Both might carry the same amount of useful information. There is an equal amount of benefit. The person to be tortured is just far smaller and far younger.

I think my final confusions over the study swirl around the responses of the non-Christian respondents. The folks who attended church least frequently or who were self-identifying as non-Christian were the least likely to endorse torture.

Are their positions as such because they are totally manipulated by the liberal media? If so, then are the Christian respondents just as manipulated by Fox News?

Are secular folks generally pacifist? That could explain their aversion to torture, as it would be consistent with their moral structures. But it certainly seems a gross oversimplification. Besides, the horrific genocides of the past century were done by secularists whose ends justified the means.

Irrespective of how the less- and non-Christian world finds torture unjustifiable, I'm shaken that self-identifying Christians sound less like my beloved Matthew 22:36-40 than the secular folks. And what exactly then do Matthew 7:12 (Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets), Luke 6:31 (And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise), and Luke 10:25-28 mean to Christians? Even a non-literalist like myself has to ask "Don't these verses mean anything any more?"

No, I cannot condone the torture of an individual, guilty or innocent, for the presumed greater benefit. In my love of Christ, I cannot imagine how the Lord would ever say that it's plumb ok to waterboard. I do not want to be the Roman crucifier. I do not want someone to do it in my name. I will not be the first to throw a stone.

And, to simplify, torture does not pass the simplest and oldests tests in morality.

Torture doesn't pass the standard set by Confucious: Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself
Torture doesn't pass you out of this Karmic cycle of rebirth
Torture doesn't pass the test of the Golden Rule
Torture doesn't pass the test: What would Jesus do?

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Reading list for Lent

Not exactly standard fare to be sure...

Khalil Gibran - The Prophet
John Shelby Spong - Jesus for the Non-Religious

I've finished the Gibran and am in the midst of the Spong. Quite a contrast so far and quite fun to compare my emotional reactions to both.

Stay tuned. I'll update you on my thoughts I hope by Easter!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Synthesis. Musicals in time for Lent

I'm only a cock-eyed optimist

Sorry to throw out lyrics from Dick and Oscar, but it certainly was a weekend that I can only describe as affirming. I didn't expressly select plays that somehow made me think of faith, but perhaps it was my subconscious at work. With Lent rapidly approaching, I had no idea that I was buying Broadway tickets that would certainly give me something to think about during this annual fast.

(And certainly I have a tendency to make comparisons where none ought ever be made, so forgive me if I make my contrast too oddly. Or gush. I am a theater queen I admit.)

I went to the Great White Way this weekend and saw "Billy Elliot", "Altar Boyz" and "In the Heights". Not as overwhelming as seeing 7 plays in 5 days with my nephews in London back in 2007, but still pretty intense.

It turns out that these three musicals will give me plenty to think about during this Lenten season. Now I had seen Billy Elliot during that 2007 trip, but had not seen the New York production. The other two plays were new to me, with "In the Heights" a particular concern, since I feared that it would be Rent-redux and far outside my musical tastes.

Thank heavens God intricates his love in the oddest of ways.

Let's go in sequence. I first saw Billy Elliot the movie in 2000 when it was released. I easily connected to the story because I lived in the UK during the 1980s miner strike. Maggie Thatcher was the most polarizing leader I had ever watched, well, until recent years.

This New York musical closely resembled the London offering. It inspired because, to me, it connected to us most strongly when it asserted that
a) God-given gifts must be nourished
b) we must be attentive to God's signs, even in the most unlikely of places
c) it is possible to rise above circumstances that even Job would think worse than his own

For Saturday's matinee, I saw Altar Boyz, which was an amusing satire on boys band. In this situation, we watched a Roman Catholic boy band work its Christian rock magic. It was a surprising delight. The music wasn't challenging, but it was a toe-tapping pleasure. With the talented dancing, you got a good show, good music and cute actors; hey off-Broadway knows how to sell seats.

Altar Boyz was amazingly respectful of religion. Atheists may have watched it as an entirely mocking work, but in no way at all did it actually ever insult faith. These characters sincerely believed and wanted, in their own way. to evangelicize. Matthew was a strong leader, Mark was a loving talent, Luke was the faulty everyman who tries and tries, Juan was a starry-eyed Lothario, and Abraham, well, he's the Jew who wrote great lyrics. How Broadway can you get?

I found the play encouraging because
a) it showed that God works the youth, even with fun-though-slightly-insipid boy-band music
b) I could relate to one of its story lines, that of the "closet Catholic"
c) we saw the bonding strength of Christian community and family.

Lastly on Saturday night, I saw "In the Heights". This was an amazing musical. Its tagline is "No pare, no pare, sigue, sigue", which roughly translates to "don't stop, go on, go on".

Now that's gotta be the most hopeful Broadway tagline I've ever seen.Perhaps that's because it started off-broadway. Or that it's very Mundial Latino. There has not, in my recollection, ever been as diverse a cast, save the United Nations scene in the 1960s campy Batman the Movie.

This play had a song called "Pacencia y Fe" (Patience and Faith). It heroicized family, courage in the face of adversity, community, faith, hope,... I don't know where to stop without this sounding like one of Father Ed's sermons. I was "Epiphing" for almost 3 hours straight.

And I cried. I cried because the sentimental book did not seem a weakness to me. No, it affirmed to me why I believe in the first place.

"In the Heights" asserted
a) bravery, quiet or otherwise, will arise BECAUSE we believe and hope
b) all people, great or small, still aspire and should aspire to the heavens
c) we cannot learn on our own, but depend on the dreams, mistakes and love of those who preceeded us

Perhaps I'm writing this as a part of my Lenten exercises. But I have to wonder what made this weekend so moving to me.

I think it's because I started with a play that said "Life sucks. Maybe if God gave you a gift, your family and community will stand behind you, and you can escape. And thank heavens, because every one will be out of work for hundreds of miles in the next two years."

I love Billy Elliot. But in context with this weekend, it's somehow profoundly inadequate. What Grace did God have for the miners? He gave them an example of love and community, so that their souls could rise about their circumstances. But their earthly toils were not only dangerous, but unneeded. Turn your attention to the miners' plight (which is easy given this country's current economic meltdown), and you realize this play works only when you focus on Billy himself.

Altar Boyz also emphasized a tight-knit family, in the form of a boy band. It wasn't deep by any means. Nevertheless, the sincerely loving faith was notable.

So was the desire to spread His word.And of all things, the closet-Catholic song closely resembled my own faith issues. I spurned the Roman Catholic church of my family because it did not welcome me. It loved me as a sinner, but could not countenance me living out the life that God had set for me.

So I went into the closet. Not as a gay young man. As a person of faith. I cry every time I think of this. I cry whenever I hear of others who were so hurt by their Christian communities that they find Christ and his message at fault. It was an amazing rebirth for me to discover that God did not plague me as a subset of Mankind unworthy of his Grace, God did not challenge me with an impossible test where the only way to succeed was through constant deception (self and otherwise). God made me in his image and challenged me to spread his word of unfailing love an Grace.

And those Altar Boyz, faulty and amusing to my generation as they are, well, they are sincere in their love of God. Who's to say that the classical and jazz Christian music I sing is better than theirs? They did magic on the soul! If the point is to touch, to nurture, to salve broken hearts, then good grief, the play made its point.

But the focus of Altar Boyz and Billy Elliot was very much about the ego. "In the Heights" was the last play I saw, and it filled the gaps that the other two plays left untouched.

It yells out "Ego schmego". It's not a bad thing to have, but a person's ego can only get them so far. You'll be a big shot in your world, though it's a world that only barely covers a subway map. But instead, by using your gifts, using God's gifts, using the love and strength of a family and a community, you'll be surprised at how much stronger, happier, and satisfying your life will be.

It's a point that far exceeds the first two plays. Perhaps because the author was the, in his words, "the only begotten son of a minister and a church organist". In terms of a satisfying arc of faith and hope, of what Lent teaches us as we approach Easter, it was pretty bitchin.

So, despite my naive, touristy and unsuspecting plans, I had a weekend of Epiphing in the Big Apple. May my Lenten fast and volunteerism at the homeless shelter add to my growth. And I pray that the Lord strengthen in me a little more of that toe-tapping, God-loving, can't-shake-my-faith cock-eyed optimism of life everlasting that all of us are Graced to deserve.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Black Jesus, modified

I heard about an interesting article on Time regarding Obama and the Messianic reaction of so many Americans to his ascendancy to the most powerful office on the planet. It's an interesting piece, as it turns some of the prevailing talking head chatter sideways.

The point of article is that President Obama will not be liberating African-Americans from a psychology of defeatism. Instead, President Obama represents the emergent self-help attitude of African-Americans, and will liberate the rest of the world from their perception that African-Americans are self-defeating.

Two things strike me on this.

First, I don't think the self-help attitude is limited to the African-American experience. In my experience, immigrants to most any land, much less here in the US, try to move beyond their past, try whatever is possible to succeed, and demonstrate less willingness to rely on not-very-understanding governments. Obviously, there are many exceptions, as I'm merely talking about my own personal experiences. But if that self-help attitude is one that helped propel Obama to national spotlight, then I think one cannot avoid the issues of immigration.

"Barry" grew up with a "weird" name, son of an immigrant to this country and of an immigrant to a Pacific island state. He lived abroad for several years as a child. These were just as material to his character as his combined ethnicities. And if you look at his relatives, that's as diverse a potpourri of ethnicities and religions as it comes. As such, the rest of the world should learn not just what African-Americans can bring to the table, but what immigrants can as well. (And, I'm not talking the wait staff).

So, I'm not rejecting the article's notion, just expanding upon it.

Secondly, I do consider the concept of a Messiah to be important here. It's not that Barack Obama is a black Jesus per se. It's that so many people have tagged him as someone who can save us from international ostracism, who can mend the national moral fabric, who can guide us out of our economic wretchedness - - that's what is so striking in its extensiveness.

Let's face it. Many have had a deep need for a modern, secular, economic, political Messiah.

I saw it all around me in 2008. "So-and-so will fix things finally". "Someone come please clean up this mess". It's so biblical in sound.

Did we get the Messiah? No.
Did we get a Black Jesus? No.
Did we get someone who quenches our hunger for someone who can save us?

Perhaps. I was moved by the emotions leading up to and culminating in the Presidential inauguration. So many in the country have invested in Barack Obama from their hearts (because there's not much left to invest from the wallet), that one cannot help but see that we've assigned our need for a savior to him and to his administration.

But Obama isn't Jesus. He's just someone who befits the zeitgeist. We're in a mood to end the moral squalor of the past few years and a bombastic "bring it on" administration. Obama isn't the Righteous One, but if he'll just act like one for a spell, I think that many in this country is willing to go along with the casting.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coming down off the mountain

It's raining in Pasadena today. Not our typical Southern California deluge. Just a chance to wet down the sidewalks, germinate some seeds, mess up the dust on my car.

And, unlike what I've been doing almost every day for the past two weeks, I won't be taking advantage of the spectacular weather to go on a stroll up the local mountains. It's really easy for me to take short hike, because one trail head is across the street from my home and other trail heads are less than a mile away. So, I've gone up to Echo, down into Rubio, explored hills post-2007 fire, and other fun little adventures.

Oooh, and the views are amazing. One Sunday, I could actually see lines and shadows on Catalina Island from my street. Now mind you, Catalina Island is 40 miles away. And a couple days ago, from atop the Cobb estate on Lake Street, it dawned on me that I was looking at Santa Barbara Island (a little spit of land about the size of Eagle Rock) or perhaps San Nicholas island, way past Santa Monica. I often forget they're even out there, much less see them on these strolls.

Now that's a view.

So why the bummed out mood? Well, the rain dampens the spirits and the hiking some. But also, reality hit after Tuesday's inauguration. There really are a basketful of challenges to be faced. Business is tough, and I'm trying to figure out how to avoid lay-offs. We have two wars, with friends serving overseas in frightful places. And the nation and the states have Kafka-esque budget nightmares tainting everything.

I'd love to bask and revel, as we did the other day. Watching Obama take his place as the most powerful person on the planet did move me. He is the living embodiment of not just African Americans empowerment but of the extent of today's diversity. His family has chinese, canadian, hawaiian, indonesian, african, irish and other interesting mixtures. He's got a rabbi, Muslims, and Christians in his family. Obama's brother in law is a Pac-10 (Oregon State) basketball coach - how "in the times" is that? He went to Oxy, depends on the internet and cell phones, and plays basketball daily. Dang, he really can be a cousin in my family. It's a reason to rejoice.

But it's tough to make a living while hanging out on these mountain tops. It takes hard work to climb up there and you still have mouths to feed. So, despite the glorious views, the gentle breezes and the bountiful joy, there are times when we have to come down and get to work.

So rain on, Southern California. Instead of being bummed, I just need to remember that with the rain and the gloom comes an opportunity for growth, rebirth, nourishment. We can germinate a tiny seedling that may one day be an astonishing tree from which we can seek shelter and shade. And not just for me, but for all who come after me. Bless us all with the water from the skies.

And I will let the optimist in me reign on.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blog during the Inauguration...

And justice will flow down like water

5:30am Exciting day. Getting CNN all set up at the office. Setting up the projector so that we can watch in the office.

8:30am Cheney's in a chair? And nobody is going to push him down the stairs?

8:40am Rick Warren was affirming and not inflammatory. He sounded as though he wanted to reconcile. He used the concept of humility alot.

Aretha's hat is awesome. Sing out and proud! Wow, what a lady!

Biden is a very happy man.

The classical quartet piece was very good. Copland is a great choice. John Williams changed it to "Air and Simple gifts".

9am Justice Roberts screwed up the oath. Obama takes it in stride.

9:10am Obama is very Presidential. He's not avoiding tough language and starts off that way. Yields to hopeful talk. Mentions different religions and non-religious. Not a preacher tone or a chastising tone. Almost like a strong community activist.

Well done.

Camera pauses on Bush. Wonder what he's thinking. "The chopper better have my hunting gear ready" perhaps?

Awesome poem by Elizabeth Alexander.

Rev Lowery delivers the benediction. He's still alive? I remember how he pissed off conservatives during Coretta S King's funeral with his anti-war, pro-elimination of poverty talk. You go dude. I love it when Amos is quoted. Ooh, he ends on a funny rhyme.

9:45am All done. They're heading to lunch and then the parade. Helicopters getting ready to deport Bush to Texas. Oh dear, the crowds below are singing "na na na na hey hey goodbye" - - how very high school football! I guess that's appropriate since so much in America state things in sport talk.

Signing of some documents. Fancy lunch (Hiya John and Cindy). Dianne Feinstein (today's MC) said the recipe page was the most viewed page of the inaugural web site.

We're waiting for the parade. More on the next blog

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Clever People and the Inauguration

OK, so we're used to people thinking that there's a Yes-No, Right-Wrong, Black-White, Up-Down answer to most things. The selection of Rev Rick Warren to perform the inaugural prayers raised an enormous ruckus because he espouses views that are used to take benefits (and to many, rights) away from people. Obama was pressed by many in the gay community to rescind this selection.

Personally, I was vastly disappointed by the selection, but did not see his opening prayers as as a gay rights vs homophobia debate. So removing Rev Warren seemed somewhat of a false objective.

However, the selection of our very own Right Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, to lead invocation at the 3-day Inaugural Ceremony was highly satisfying. One, it showed the influence that Episcopal Church has on the nature of the gay rights vs homophobe debate.

More surprisingly to me, however, was simple and clever way to defuse the issue. As in a big-tent, Hawaiian-style luau where everyone gets to have a stab at the roast pig, President-elect Obama's people have put forward a message that says "everyone has a seat at our table".

The announcement was simple, smart, affirming and appealing. I'm impressed.

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