Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"Just War"

Question: Is there such a thing as a 'just war'? In his Nobel speech, was President Obama right to speak in these theological terms about war? He also stated that 'no holy war can ever be a just war.' Do you agree or disagree?

It is interesting that the December 11th Wall Street Journal headlined “Obama Defends ‘Just War’ as Oslo,” but never addressed what a just war was. The war in Afghanistan is a just war in that it is a war of last resort, waged by a legitimate authority, to redress the wrong suffered in the United States on September 11, 2001. There is a reasonable chance of success to re-establish peace, and the violence inflicted is proportional to the injury suffered. Also, the weapons used in this war discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. This war effort is not a crusade or “holy war,” blinded by jingo-ism or nationalism. The preceding is not true in black-and-white terms, but after President Obama’s speech, we should be willing to trust the information in front of him and the decision he felt obliged to make.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

White House Also A Home

Christmas decorations at the White House include a crèche in the East Room (despite reports that White House social secretary Desirée Rogers suggested that the Obamas were planning a "non-religious Christmas.") Should the White House, whose residents serve all Americans, display a crèche or a menorah or any strictly religious symbols during the holidays?

White House Also A Home
The residents of the White House should feel free to use any tasteful expression of the season that is meaningful to them. They might also want to consider other symbols of major religions represented in the United States. I do not consider the President and his family to be employees of America just because they reside in the White House. The White House is a very important symbol to the American people, but it is also home at present to the President, his wife and two daughters. We are blessed to have them there. I hope their Christmas season is truly joy-filled despite the excessive hustle and bustle that surrounds them even on a “normal” day.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Swiss Minaret Ban: A Wrong Step in the Right Direction

Swiss Minaret Ban: A Wrong Step in the Right Direction

The L.A. Times reported (12/1/09) that by a “national referendum, [the Swiss voted] …with 57.5% of the vote, to ban the construction of new minarets across Switzerland. The ban is wrong and mean-spirited. However, in that it could lead to increased interfaith dialogue, the ban could be a step in the right direction – and can be reversed.

The Swiss can look at other western countries, such as the U.S., to see that despite religious tensions, minarets are legal and beautiful. Their ban speaks volumes about the status of religious expression and understanding in Switzerland.

At this difficult time, it will be important that Swiss Muslims practice tolerance, and intensify efforts to communicate with, and thus educate, their detractors. Humans are threatened by what they don’t know. The Swiss are threatened by the increasing presence of Islam in their country. It seems that Muslims have kept a low profile there. Now is the time for Muslims to speak out in communities – especially in the workplace, where Muslim individuals are known and respected for the work they do. That respect can be transferred to their religion if Muslims would speak appropriately of their faith such as at lunch or on work breaks.

Christian religious leaders in Geneva and elsewhere in Switzerland must lead efforts to increase communication with their Muslim sisters and brothers. Muslim leaders must be sure not to proselytize as they reach into Swiss communities to forge bonds of unity. The vote was taken but the ban is not the end of the story. Hopefully the Christian and Muslin communities in Switzerland can work together for better future relations, as well as an increased presence of beautiful Islamic architecture.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S. Catholic Bishops Stand Up?

U.S. Catholic bishops are defending their direct involvement in congressional deliberations over health-care reform, saying that church leaders have a duty to raise moral concerns on any issue, including abortion rights and health care for the poor. Do you agree? What role should religious leaders have -- or not have -- in government policymaking?

U.S. Catholic Bishops Stand Up in Health-Care Debate?

U.S. Catholic bishops are not alone in their involvement with the health-care reform debate. Many religious leaders, particularly on the right have gotten involved specifically because of the issue of abortion. Interestingly, the conservative proposal I heard gave certain instances where abortion would be acceptable in the health-care package. One of them was in the case of rape. Rape is a horrible, violent crime with terrible repercussions. I wish to be sensitive to that. Yet, is not the child conceived in rape as viable as any little one in an average abortion situation? Isn’t there life present in both cases? So why would the right argue that a woman’s feelings matter in the case of rape, but not in other tough situations? Why is it okay to end the new life in the rape situation, but not in other cases? Tough questions!

It is important that the Catholic bishops be involved. They represent millions of Catholics in the United States and should make their voice heard. In doing so, they should not limit their voice to the section on abortion. It would equally be sinful if they defeated the abortion piece, just to see the entire health care bill defeated. If the bishops are going to put their toes in the water, they must swim the health-care debate out with the rest of us. In the end, the biggest crime is that 40 million people in this country are not covered by health insurance. That must be remedied. Those of us on the left are not exonerated. We must also contact our senators to see that some form of health-care passes before Christmas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sabboth Sermon (11/15/09)

The choir sang “Steady My Tremblin’ Soul…Steady My Tremblin’ Soul.” We all have people and events in our lives that get our souls a-“tremblin’.” If the question is “How do we calm or steady our trembling souls?” The answer is “Sabbath.”

An example of Sabboth is the hour of worship you’re experiencing right now. You’re not working and not at home. You get to experience inspiring words and music and to re-center on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

When it comes to Sabboth, both Islam & Judaism have a head start on Christianity. They are both religions structured around practices, whereas Christianity is defined around a set of beliefs. Today we look at the practice of Sabbath as a life enhancing building block for your day & your week.

Please settle in. Take a good breath, and relax any tension you may feel in your jaw or shoulders. Stay with me now on this Sabbath journey.
It’s easy to get frazzled from life’s busy-ness. For anyone who commutes or simply intersects with other humans in an intense way, there’s the reality of stress.

So what is a Sabbath? Sabbath is an effective antidote to stress & is different for different people. It can be a place, an oasis, an amount of time – possibly a not being somewhere such as not looking for work or not being at work. It can be “an hour of worship, or it can be a whole day. Ancient writings tell us to remember to “Keep holy the Sabbath.” Yet Jesus tells us that the “Sabbath was made for people” & not the other way around. In Genesis we are reminded that even God rested on the 7th day.

Our dog Buddy is 15 which means in people years, he’s about 75. Buddy has two gears. One is prance – that’s when he gets his twice daily walk outside. He moves with the grace of a dog half his age. Buddy’s other gear is when he’s on the love seat, on his back, with his feet up in the air, snoring. For Buddy, that’s Sabbath. Would you not love to be able to sleep like Buddy…or like the children or grandchildren in your life?

While many adults dash around, young ones are usually still able to sleep very soundly and sometimes in weird positions. They have not accumulated the baggage & concerns of life. They benefit from the built-in sleep capacity that animals display when they’re not on predator alert. Adults are able to re-develop habits and patterns of rest. How do we do this? Jesus says come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Notice the emphasis on rest.

Ask yourself: “Is there any Sabbath time in my life right now?” Any down time? Is there any consistent period of time that is not intruded on…which allows you to rest, recuperate? Maybe it’s bowling time, if you’re an extrovert. Maybe its naps, if you’re an introvert.

Our body & mind together are an exceedingly precious bio-computer which requires downtime. Emerson says that “what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Does that give you even a glimpse of the treasure that you are?

Jesus honored the Sabbath. How about you? “Are you on occasion getting away from the familiar and taking some extended time off?”

Why is Sabbath Needed? We all have problems in our lives – challenging clients, bosses, partners, children, finances, and so on. What allows us to re-create ourselves so we can continually face and effectively deal with the challenges in our lives? Jesus had problems too. Our gospel today reports that one problem Jesus had was with regional religious authorities. He saw their temple system as corrupt. The religious leaders had turned a house of worship into a den of thieves. Temple was to be refreshment for God’s people to ponder and worship the God that loved them so much he had delivered them from bondage and the wilderness.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus was furious and proclaimed no stone would be left upon stone of the temple. Jesus made it clear that no temple was needed to go to God. When he died, the temple curtain was torn in two indicating that no inter-mediary was needed between people & God.

Jesus had real human emotions like we do. And emotions need to be vented or acted upon, or we become like a house furnace stuck on the “on” position. We’re bound to overheat. In our gospel today, Jesus was over-heating. He was angry at the religious system; and this type of emotion needs to be expended for us to relax well.
As any good parent knows, Jesus needed a time out – and he was wise enough to take it. He headed for his favorite places to rest - the Mount of Olives. Of the eight verses in today’s gospel, only half a line is given to the Mont of Olives rest stop for Jesus – a moment of Sabboth.
This points to how pivotal even a small amount of Sabbath time can be – just like a mustard seed, just a little bit of Sabbath time can season or refresh the entire day.

Some background may explain why a brief Sabbath rest allowed Jesus to move from his position of anger to the centered position he held when he gave guidance to his disciples about events to come.

The Mount of Olives is a mountain ridge in east Jerusalem almost 3,000 feet high. It’s named for olive groves that once covered its slopes. The Mount of Olives is where King David fled from his son Absalom. As David went up the Mount of Olives, he wept. This is ironic for this same Mount of Olives is the location where Jesus wept over Jerusalem lamenting that the Jews had not accepted the prophets. What was it about the Mount of Olives that David and Jesus wept there? Perhaps being in the beauty of that natural place, both men w/heavy responsibilities were able to unburden themselves.

Matthew tells us that Jesus spent time on the Mount teaching and prophesying to his disciples. He’d return there each day to rest. Sadly enough, the Mount of Olives is where Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal, for at the foot of the Mount is the Garden of Gethsemane.

This Mount was a sacred, Sabbath spot for Jesus. Going there allowed him to regain his energy and perspective. The same is true of our Sabbath time. Taking such a time-out daily can give us energy and perspective for the entire day.

If you want to pray in “world-class” company, there’s no more powerful role model than Jesus. He communed constantly with his heavenly father – and drew away to nature when the press of people became overwhelming. Jesus’ prayer book is what Christians call the Old Testament.

Here’s a basic prayer method you may find useful. It utilizes the Hebrew Scripture. It’s what I used to do on my train commutes into the loop. There are 31 Proverbs & many more Psalms. I kept a copy of the 1st 31 Psalms & the 31 Proverbs with me as well as small slips of paper. If today’s the 15th & I’m on the morning train, I read & meditate on the 15th Proverb & the 15th Psalm. I then jot down the key points I want to remember on a slip of paper & keep that paper in my shirt pocket. I discretely refer to the slip of paper as needed during the day.
The lectionary psalm for today is Psalm 16. We read earlier that it proclaims that in God’s presence is a “fullness of joy, in [God’s] right hand are pleasures evermore.” This can mean that if we take time to rest & re-new, even the smallest actions in our day can be a “fullness of joy” – a pleasure, when energy and perspective are restored.

When Sally Srok Friedes married her husband she agreed to convert to Judaism. Her book “The New Jew” is the story of that conversion. In it Sally says the following about Sabbath: “Sabbath is about play, rest and relaxation. The laws of Judaism encourage people to take a stroll, sing, attend lectures, read, & make love. It is a time to gather with friends & family without distractions & superficialities like shopping, errands & obligations.” What a marvelous definition of Sabbath.

What’s in the Sabbath for us? Hopefully you will take from these words a better view of yourself and the treasure within which is worth protecting by getting the rest you need. The commandment says “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” Why? Because it was made for you.

Remember to schedule “down” time. A good nap, curling up with a book, a jog, a drive, time with friends & even 15 minutes of daily prayer or meditation – all these can work wonders. The goal is to try to find some Sabbath time in our day, in our week & in the seasons of our lives.

For the last 14 years of my marriage, my main Sabbath has been the 3-4 days at Thanksgiving when we travel 100 miles south to farm country. That’s where Julie’s parents live. In those few days, there’s no regular routine. There are naps in abundance & good home-cooked food. There is card playing & other sorts of merriment. For me this is my annual Sabbath and I look forward to it all year.
I wish you…a good Sabbath…today…this week & this Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Real "Social Security"

The Washington Post: Congress is expected to expand federal hate crimes laws to add "sexual orientation" to a list that already includes "race, color, religion or national origin." Is this necessary? Should there be special laws against crimes motivated by intolerance, bigotry and hatred? Isn't a crime a crime?

Real Social Security: To have real social security, all individuals must feel safe and secure. For this to be, Congress must expand federal hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation. People can’t feel secure if their sexuality is threatened.

The United States legal system is a system of fences that protect what we value. Because sexuality is a sacred part of person-hood, it is worth protecting. We must guarantee the safety of individuals who are now persecuted because of their sexual orientation.

The extension of federal hate crimes law is a necessary disincentive for those who would criminalize people due to sexual orientation. Many of those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gender, or queer, have been victimized. This is an issue that must come out of the closet, and be discussed. Yet, because sexual orientation has social taboos connected with it, it has not benefited fully from public discussion.

When the U.S. law and justice system takes a position in favor of protecting sexual orientation it will show the value we place on life and identity. Our deepest identity includes our sexuality and should be protected from harassment. Congress must extend federal hate crimes laws to sexual orientation. Only then will we be a step closer to real social security.
U.S. Military – Getting It Right

The U.S. military has a proud tradition of chaplaincy. It is the job of military chaplains to address the pluralistic nature of the spiritual needs of its soldiers and sailors. A young marine recently stated that he was amazed at the chaplains in Iraq who went unarmed with his company into the “hot” zones where everyone else was “armed to the teeth.” It takes “guts” to fight but it also takes a special kind of courage to go into harms way. Yet, this is what the U.S. military chaplaincy corps does to address the spiritual needs of its combatants. The chaplain’s job is to help the soldier or sailor to make meaning out of whatever emotional or spiritual dilemma is facing them. This is a difficult task. The presence of unarmed chaplains also speaks volumes to those who may be of a “non-religious” nature. In living memory, chaplains have faced war with their service people as far back as World War II. This is an area that the military has some real skill in dealing with. America’s soldiers and sailors of many different religious persuasions have answered the call to serve in the military.

There are some faiths that are pacifist in nature which ought to disqualify individuals from serving in the military in combatant roles. Such individuals may serve as paramedics or in some other non-combatant position. The military may not be able to afford chaplains from every religious group, so chaplains must be screened so as to be flexible in their ability to support soldiers whose belief systems differ from their own.

Based on testimonies heard on public radio of soldiers who have been in Iraq or Afghanistan, soldiers repress their emotional side to survive in highly stressful combat situations. As a result, the religious moment in a service or a conversation with a chaplain may be a vital lifeline to the survival of the emotional and spiritual sides of America’s military heroes and heroines. The military should not make the mistake that is happening in America’s hospitals which are cutting back on chaplaincy staffing due to economic pressures. The emotional and spiritual needs of our fighters can not be left to chance. Keeping a strong chaplaincy corps is one area where the U.S. military is “getting it right” and should keep up the good work.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Un-American to Get Flu-shot If Against your Values

Polls may “show a majority of Americans are concerned about the H1N1 virus (swine flu),” but it is perfectly ethical to decline the vaccine. You can have my place in line.

Vote “no” for vaccinations, if you believe that to be the right course. In this case, being “American” is to be held to a higher ethical standard than simply following mob behavior. I value freedom of choice over the misguided expectation of fifty-two weeks per year of good health. I value not being herded into a behavior – such as getting vaccinated - that is possibly detrimental to my health. The science behind vaccinations is not exact: seeking to prevent an illness by putting small amounts of that illness into the body has been shown to backfire. There are schools of thought that blame autism on the practice of getting young children vaccinated.

Vote “yes” for toughening up immune systems via nutrition, rest, and reasonable life-pace. Do medical doctors get trained in any of these areas in medical school? Why must a shot or a pill be the answer to all “dis-ease”-related questions? Why must health-related discomforts be viewed as illness?

My wife has finished her week of the flu, and I am finishing mine. I did not like it, but I prefer it to willingly allowing a medical practitioner or pharmacist to vaccinate me. The only person I am aware of who has received the vaccine is my 85-year-old father who promptly developed flu-like symptoms as a result. “Next!”
-- Mike Hoskinson

Monday, October 5, 2009

Afghanistan, 2009 – Send in the Clowns

Is it time to seize the high ground and bring cultural resources to the Afghani people? Eight years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it is possible that the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been made stronger by our presence. The U.S. President is hearing arguments for increased troop strength. Might this not be a good time to try something different to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people?
Send in the clowns! Instead of 40,000 more troops, send in the equivalent number of U.S. civilians armed only with their crafts – from dance to knitting. Why not an entire circus? Set up regional USO-type shows featuring a host of players who mix with the crowds so that the Afghans are part of the experience as well. We learn from them. They learn from us. The military chaplains could guide volunteer priests, imams, rabbis, and so on - who would interface with the local religious leaders – not to convert, but to conflate – as in blow together. Blow on a pipe of peace together; blow on a spiritual ember of good will.
When it’s winter in Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda move to Pakistan. This may be our best opportunity to gain moral ground with the Afghanis, by making close contact between non-military Americans and the people of the cities and villages of Afghanistan. Bring educators; bring trainers. Bring movies and media. Send in U.S. cultural representatives, including those prepared to listen and celebrate the local customs and values. Send in the filmmakers to put the Afghanis on film that the people may have new sources of pride for the culture of their own ancient civilization.
Where would these resources be obtained? Think back to the overwhelming response to President Kennedy’s call for the Peace Corps. If President Obama were to make such a call for a “Culture Corps,” would he not get droves of “20-something” volunteers who are jobless in a tough economy? Such a cultural exchange would be win-win for those who could return with “service to Afghanistan” stamped on their resumes.
Send architects, builders, and poets. What we are about here is the rebuilding of the heart and soul of a nation. We are walking on hallowed ground. Air force planes that carry large numbers of troops and armament can transport an entire circus across the globe. Send musicians and hula dancers. They don’t have to be our best, but they must have a heart for a people that have survived and struggled for ages. Bring in the clowns - to share and to learn from the Afghani people. This will do wonders for U.S.-Afghan relations, and may help cut the need for more troops in the future.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Go Nuclear: it is Logical, Political and Moral

Logical: the use of nuclear power has proven to be vital in saving lives through medical technology, lighting a city, or powering a submarine. Further discoveries await us in how this energy source can be used in replacing fossil fuels.

Political: President O’Bama was briefed on the most recent Iranian nuclear site even before he was sworn into office. He wisely chose not to use this information against the Iranians, but to continue to focus on bringing Iran into regional and world dialogue. Russia and the United States have 96% of the nuclear weapons in the world, and are negotiating to bilaterally reduce those numbers. This sets a good precedent for all nations to enter into peace-making dialogue, even North Korea and Iran. North Korea is showing signs of coming back to the six-party talks. Iran is displaying lots of bluster, while at the same time showing signs of being willing to talk. It will be important to work with both countries in ways that allow them to preserve their dignity and save face.

Moral: nuclear energy is not good or bad. It is simply energy. The manner in which nuclear energy is used makes it moral by being destructive or constructive. Religious leaders of all persuasions must get into this conversation and help sway the tone toward peaceful vigilance toward more garrulous nations such as North Korea and Iran. This is an issue that can be addressed from the pulpit since it does not endorse any particular political figure.

The 21st century sees an Earth shrinking rapidly due to the speed of communication and transportation. Such a global village must harness all the constructive power available from nuclear energy, and in the process, strengthen cooperation between all nations. I pray that the current trend toward dialogue and weapon reduction continues.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Confession Prayer

Good & gracious God: we humbly come into your presence reminding ourselves that you are worthy of our thanks & praise.

Your loving, creative hand placed us here, and we are not alone.

We are blessed with the companionship of family, friends, co-workers, and even strangers on the street.

We are also blessed with the companionship of other creatures - the birds of the air, the animals we call pets that share our homes.

Because we are imperfect beings, there will always be mistakes we make intentionally or unintentionally that hurt others in your creation.

We come to you sorry for the wrongs we have done.

We ask your forgiveness even for times we have sought your will, yet gone our own merry way disregarding your road signs.

You love and accept us right where we are - just as we are. Help us to know the error of our ways.

Help us to pause to reflect a few moments, and
call to mind a time or two that calls out for healing and forgiveness - no matter how trivial or overwhelming. (PAUSE)

We are truly grateful for your loving, guiding touch in our hearts and minds - that reaches into our inmost beings, even in the very moment when we have the courage to open up to you.

As the birds above, may our lives sing of your creation with ever increasing joy.
As our beloved pets, may we purr with your love & bark with the excitement of the bounty of your creation.

All this we ask in the holy name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.