The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan's Dangers

From his pseudo-election in 2000, I have had grave concerns about the foreign policy agenda of The Decider. Although delighted at the choice of Colin Powell as the first African American Secretary of State, I like the rest of the nation became quickly aware that Powell's moderate positions would have little influence on the neo-con world of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld. Responses following the Sept 11th, 2001 attacks merely confirmed my discomfort, and then the war in Iraq exacerbated my concerns.

Fast-forward to 2007. While Bush and Co. exaggerated the potential nuclear threat of Iran at the same time that their own intelligence suspected that Iran's nuclear program was halted in 2003, Newsweek presciently announced that the most dangerous country was Pakistan. In a cover story in October, Newsweek's writers exposed the volatility of a nation that already has nukes. Since October, the danger has intensified, as President Musharraf has done everything including imposing martial law with the United States standing in the wings offering coddling words of support. No, The Decider did not technically support the suspension of the Pakistan constitution, but he did allow Pakistan's Decider to ... well, decide. Today, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. And with her assassination, the volatility escalates.

I am not a foreign policy maven. I understand the intricacies of these matter on the most superficial level. But as a citizen, I certainly wish I could have more confidence in the people who are supposed to be the experts in Washington. My advice to them is that maybe they should read Newsweek. (Or listen to the State Department, as a friend of mine who is a career diplomat has told me to add.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Vulnerable God

Christmas Greetings from Leslie D. Callahan.

Of the Christmas lessons, the one from John 1:1-14 shows us Jesus Christ at his most transcendent and most vulnerable. The story begins not with Nazareth and the Annunciation or with Bethlehem and the birth of Christ, but in eternity where Word of God existed in the beginning, making the world that we all occupy. The Word was with God and the Word was God. Without the Word nothing was made. But the Word did not remain remote, over creation and apart from it. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus Christ, God became concrete.

In becoming so much a part of creation, Christ must have known that his identity could be misunderstood and misappropriated. God in Christ must have known that there would be some who could not receive the divine because of the particularities of the human flesh – his gender, his ethnicity, his age, his marital status, his class, his religious affiliation. Still others would deny that Christ was a real human at all because of the divine nature expressed in him. And yet, knowing that his own would not receive him, and others would never see him, still the Word of God became flesh – touchable, viewable, sensitive, and mortal flesh – and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. God became like one of us.

In this holy season, as we celebrate the arrival of the One whom we did not expect, in a form we almost did not recognize, we who have beheld his glory and received the power to become the children of God must likewise prepare ourselves to take risks and become vulnerable. No, everyone will not receive us. Yes, we too will be misunderstood, our words misappropriated, and our identities rejected. Being accessible and touchable opens us up to the possibility of being injured or even killed. But we are comforted in the knowledge that God through Jesus Christ knows exactly what we feel. Wherever we go in his name, he goes with us and goes before us. Christ has been there first

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Holiday Politics

I know I am not the only one who is flabbergasted by the sheer length of the presidential campaign season during this cycle. We have 11 months to go and I am already sick of the debates and the interviews and the policy statements. I was skeptical about the jockeying for primary placement and am weary of the primary season before it even begins.

But one unanticipated consequence of this elongated campaign is the Holiday ads. It wasn't bad enough to have secularization and materialism as challenges to the meaning of Christmas. Now we have to have politicization.

Mike Huckabee's floating cross and invoking of the birth of Christ as a part of his appeal to the craziest aspects of right-wing Christian politics should make any believer sick. Hey, Mike, didn't you know that believers are supposed to be hidden behind the cross, not to have the cross eventually obscured by their big heads? Then, there's the Giuliani ad. Suffice it to say that "fruitcake" is a proper conclusion.

Although I find the Obama ad adorable, the Hillary Rodham Clinton ad amusing, and the John Edwards ad instructive, I still don't want to have to deal with politics on Christmas.

Why can't we just take a break?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Guns Do Kill People 2


The story of the shooting death of Dyshon Boyd, a 4 year old who accidentally shot himself to death with a gun that belonged to his father, is another example of the reality that bullets kill indiscriminately.

Dyshon was his father Djuan's shadow. Although Djuan had trouble with the law, and was scheduled to face charges for dealing drugs, he apparently was a present and active father to his son. Unfortunately, Dyshon wanted to be just like Dad. He found his father's gun in his coat pocket. And a few hours later the 4-year-old died having shot himself in the throat.

Every person who owns a gun must take seriously the reality that the gun is more likely to shoot someone you love than it is to protect them. A Washington Post article in 2006 noted that more than 500 children die annually from accidental gunshot wounds. If you have a gun, make sure that it is inaccessible to children. Lock it up and don't assume that you have hidden it so well that they simply will not know where it is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bad Advertising

Somebody should tell believers that if they are going to advertise their spiritual connection they should try not to have a bad attitude. I was on the golf course in a Southern state this afternoon. The cart path crossed a street in a subdivision whose house line the golf course. I stopped on the sidewalk and gave the right of way to the driver of a car. In addition to letting her pass, I also smiled. She gave me a nasty look. I watched her car go by. License plate: GOD4ME. I chuckled and thanked the Lord for something to blog about.

When I told the person I was playing golf with, she told me about the time she blew her horn for someone who had a bumper sticker that said, "Honk if you love Jesus." The driver of the car flipped her off. He must have forgotten that he loved Jesus.

These are silly examples of a more serious issue. Whether we have bumper stickers and license plates or not, the way we behave reflects on the organizations and even religions we claim to represent. All of this reminds me to try not to be bad advertising.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why I Don't Like Mike


I'll admit it. I almost got snookered. He seemed like the only truly nice guy in the Republican mix. I heard myself comparing him to the best human being who ever has been the President Jimmy Carter. It must have been that Southern charm and pastoral demeanor. He even had some nice things to say about Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton as people and as parents, which made him seem fair. So despite my suspicion of Republicans in general and Southern Baptist, evangelical-courting Republicans in particular, I began to like Mike Huckabee. Now I'm not saying that I would have voted for him. I didn't like him that much. But I almost liked him, especially when I compared him with the mean-spirited arrogance of Rudolph Giuliani.

Here's what changed my mind. I didn't flinch initially when I heard that he had supported the parole of convicted rapist Wayne Dumond, who later raped and murdered at least one woman. I figured that Huckabee had made an isolated bad call with tragic results. That is the danger of being in leadership; sometimes your actions have devastating, but unintended consequences. But after I read an article that described the political pandering that was actually behind the Dumond release, I decided that Mike is just as corrupt as all the rest. Although Huckabee avers that he could not have known that Dumond would rape again, especially since he believed that Dumond might erroneously have been convicted because the victim was Bill Clinton's distant cousin, there was ample credible evidence that Dumond had raped before. Huckabee's public support for Dumond's parole was not the well-meaning error of a person who believed in forgiveness, rehabilitation, and the efficacy of castration (Dumond's testicles had been removed before his arrest). It was crass politics - deadly politics.

Then there was his statement about quarantining persons infected with HIV. The biggest problem with this statement is when he made it. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, especially when it comes to deadly, communicable diseases. But by 1992, a person running for the U.S. Senate should have been sufficiently informed about AIDS and how it is contracted to know that quarantining would be unnecessary and cruel. To me this represents either willful ignorance or pandering to other people who are willfully ignorant, and frankly this country should be tired of that after 7 years of George W. Bush.

In sum, Huckabee is the charming version of all the hate-filled, ignorant politics that has sadly come to dominate the GOP. I know that there are Republicans who are thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, and just. Mike Huckabee just isn't one of them. Sorry, Mike, I'm taking you off my "friends" list.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Oprah for President (of something)

I haven't decided who I'm loving in the Democratic field for 2008. I actually have a fair amount of contentment with the platforms of Obama, Clinton, and Edwards. I would be delighted to break the tradition of a white man as President; but I also like John Edwards. And I don't dislike the next few contenders down the list either. But I do need to say a word about Oprah.

We need to pay attention to Oprah, not so much for her endorsement of Obama, but for the way that she has taught us to live purposefully. Although her theology is a bit murky and hard to pin down, her integrity provides a lesson in living. I'm not saying Oprah is perfect, just that there are few people who live in the public eye who so clearly make their decisions on the basis of what they value and believe most fundamentally. She takes risks, exhibits generosity, invests in what matters, and proclaims her version of the truth, even when it's unpopular. (Remember the mad cow fiasco?) Because of Oprah, a lot of people are more aware of significant issues, are reading better books, and are watching better movies, with black characters who are not just stereotypes.

There is something powerful in that.

For a much more detailed and lucid exploration of Oprah and Barack Obama, read Patricia Williams's The Audacity of Oprah , which I read after I had already written this post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The War on Christmas

I should confess at the outset that I am not a big fan of the holiday celebrated on December 25th. I won't bore you with the typical complaints about the commercialization or the secularization of the day. Nor will I reproduce the hackneyed "Jesus is the reason for the season." I will say that I think that a person or family would really have to work hard to celebrate the holiness of Jesus' birth,given all of the ads,television movies, parties, shopping days countdown, and other activities that have become inextricably connected with December 25 in the U.S. Those who know me know that I joyously participate in Advent, a season of reflection, preparation, and expectation of the coming of Christ. I am not boycotting Christmas, mind you; I will give gifts to family and friends, but I try not to put on others nor feel myself the kind of pressure that getting the "right" gift brings.

That being said, let me move on to the point of this blog post. Yesterday the House of Representatives passed a resolution (H Res. 847), co-sponsored by 60 Representatives, recognizing that Christians and Christmas are important. Click here to read the full text. The resolution cites national and international statistics that show Christianity to be the largest of the world religions in terms of adherents and expresses support to the Christian celebration on Dec. 25. But what, I ask, was the point?

My guess is that this was just another skirmish in the (invented) war against the "war on Christmas." My earlier comments reflect my observation that the war to obscure the meaning Jesus' birth by sacrificing the faith of Jesus on the altar of American capitalism has already been won. But that's not what Christians who say there is a "war on Christmas" object to. They object to saying "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." They want to privilege the nativity scene over other religious and secular displays in the public square. They don't just want to celebrate Christmas themselves as their own religious holiday; they want everyone else to be forced to celebrate Christmas whether they want to or not. They want Christmas as a display of Christian hegemony. So this post, by a Christian for a largely Christian audience, is to say: Christian hegemony is itself un-Christian.

Our faith was never supposed to be the religion of the empire, imposed by force on subject peoples. Touting our numerical and political power around the world betrays the Christ who was born in Bethlehem and died at Calvary. Our faith, more than faith of the creche, is the faith of the cross. If we really want to recognize Christianity's importance, then we Christians ought to participate in Christ's humility.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Christians' Image

Like most of the people who are talking about it, I have neither read The Golden Compass nor seen the movie based on it. Consequently, this post is not about either the trilogy of books, nor the first movie adaptation. This post is inspired by a mass email that was forwarded to me by one of my friends who is a minister and who quoted the Catholic League's criticism of the books and the film because of their not very veiled references to the power of the Roman Church and because successful films will likely advertise the atheistic viewpoint of the books' author Philip Pullman.

Here's my problem. Christians are always asking each other to protest stuff like this movie. But where is the ongoing concern and protesting spirit about the other issues?I would like for Christian groups to send mass emails protesting the Iraq war, the exploitation and abuse of women and children, the apathy of many in the world to hunger and the AIDS pandemic, and the myriad other issues that endanger our children and world far more than movie(s) about witches or even atheists.

It says something not too flattering about the body of Christ that we are preoccupied with our image. In this instance, the Catholic Church is concerned about how it is being portrayed and other Christians are asked to jump on board. We care so much about our image, but our image would be greatly helped if we cared more about the Gospel - about people and their material condition as well as their souls. If nobody sees this movie, will we as the church really advance the knowledge of God in the world? I don't think so.

Speaking of negative publicity, that's what Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long ought to be thinking about as they refuse to disclose the financial details of their so-called ministries. Joyce Meyer got it right when she decided that answering Sen. Grassley's questions bespoke transparency, a concept that projects a much better image than hiding behind high-priced lawyers. Dollar and Long look like the accused who legally may invoke the 5th Amendment right not to self-incriminate but by doing so actually looks guilty because he/she remains silent. The question of whether they can legally avoid answering the already-publicized questions is beside the point. There is a bigger moral and ethical and evangelistic question that needs to be considered.

I cannot speak to the designs and purposes of Philip Pullman. But I can safely say that the antics of preachers like Dollar and Long, the perception of Christian cover-ups, and Christian apathy towards the hurting of this world have done more to promote atheism and blasphemy than any book or trilogy Pullman will ever write.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Incredible, by Definition



in·cred·i·ble /ɪnˈkrɛdəbəl/
–adjective
1. so extraordinary as to seem impossible: incredible speed.
2. not credible; hard to believe; unbelievable: The plot of the book is incredible.
[Origin: 1375–1425; late ME < L incrédibilis. See in-3, credible]

—Related forms
in·cred·i·bil·i·ty, in·cred·i·ble·ness, noun
in·cred·i·bly, adverb

—Synonyms 2. farfetched, astonishing, preposterous.

incredible. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Retrieved December 05, 2007, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/incredible

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Second Time Around

This is not the time to fall asleep on The Decider. All who think that because the Bush administration only has one year of power left or that the midterm elections of 2006 significantly curtailed his remaining power should pay attention to the unfolding drama leading up to military action against Iran.

There is a frightening sense of familiarity about the rhetoric The Decider and his neocon cronies use when describing and exaggerating the threat that Iran represents. The exaggeration became apparent to the world with the report of American intelligence experts that Iran's nuclear program has been on hold since 2003. Of course, the President had access to the newest reports before they became public, and admits to having heard about changing information as long ago as August. Yet he does not acknowledge that the experts' conclusions should call his policies and his plans into question. In a newsconference today, President Bush demonstrated that his mind has not changed.

The inability to change one's mind when presented with new information is unconscionable in any adult, but especially in a leader whose decisions have a worldwide impact. As I pondered this issue while listening to NPR in the car today, I experienced a sense of conviction that I ought to be praying differently for the President. Intercessory prayer is, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace." (from Bonhoeffer's, Life Together)

But I am reminded too of the words of Jesus who tells us to watch as well as pray. So don't go to sleep on George W. Bush.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

World AIDS Day


On December 1st every year, we commemorate World AIDS Day, taking the time to reflect upon the progress being made in treatment, education, and community awareness about the AIDS pandemic and pausing to remember those whose lives the disease has already claimed. In 2007, there is some good news: the number of people living with AIDS has leveled off. But there there is no cause for resting on our laurels.

Around the world 33.2 million people live with HIV, adjusted downward from the 2006 estimate on the basis of UNAID's more accurate methods of tracking infections. Two-thirds of those who live with HIV, 22.5 million people, are in sub-Saharan Africa. And 1.7 of the 2.5 million HIV infections in 2007, or 68%, occurred in Africa. In Africa, AIDS is the primary cause of death.

Although the pandemic in Africa dwarfs the crisis in the United States, complacency here is dangerous, especially for the African American community. Washington, DC has the nation's highest HIV-infection rate, with numbers that continue to grow. (See Newsweek article.)

"Leadership" is the focus of World AIDS Day this year, and the leadership of African American spiritual communities is still needed for the dissemination of information and care. Are we better at understanding and addressing the issues associated with AIDS than we were 25 years ago? Yes. Have we arrived at the place of knowledge and comfort that will save lives? Not yet.

There are hopeful signs, sometimes in unexpected places. Much coverage has been given to the AIDS summit organized at Saddleback Church in California. Rick Warren, prompted by his wife Kay, has taken on the issue of AIDS in a way that I hope will inspire at least a few of the people who have looked to him for leadership through his mega-sellers The Purpose-Driven Church and the Purpose-Driven Life. And of course there is the ongoing work of Balm in Gilead, which for 18 years has been providing leadership to the African American and other African diaspora faith communities.


For more information about the worldwide AIDS pandemic, see http://www.unaids.org/en/