Rain Dance

You may have heard that California is experiencing a devastating drought. Sure, we’re using social media to share photos of ourselves cavorting on the beach in Santa Cruz, wearing swimsuits on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday so that loved ones in, say Ohio, will hate us, but things are getting really serious.

Groundhog Day was the only Sunday so far this winter when it has rained in San Jose during our church service. After worship, as I greeted members of my congregation, a man shook my hand and told me he’d heard local Muslims had been praying for rain.

It’s true, and the Muslims weren’t the only ones. Every protestant pastor in California worth her or his salt has been petitioning the almighty for precipitation since December; local Roman Catholic bishops have been directing the faithful to pray for rain, and in East San José a local Aztec dance troupe has been performing traditional pre-Columbian rain dances in the parking lot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church across the street from my house.

Even my sister, who, last I heard, religiously self-identified as “none of the above” posted on Facebook a photo of her son wearing a raincoat and rubber boots and standing in a puddle. The caption on the photo said “Here’s hoping for a wet February!” That counts as a prayer in my book.

There really is nothing good to say about a drought. In Mendocino County, where I grew up, some communities are likely to run out of water just in time for summer, which will complicate even simple tasks like getting a drink or using the commode–that is, of course, unless all of our prayers are answered and we get a very wet spring.

I am not confident our prayers will be answered, however. Though I am religious, I am not superstitious. I understand that no prayer, however earnest and sincere, is an incantation with a guaranteed result.

But here’s why I keep praying for rain. I like knowing that the longings of my soul are shared by such a wide and varied community. If, in this world so riven by conflict and vitriol, my progressive Calvinist supplications are joined by those uttered by people who pray facing Mecca and Jerusalem and Benares; if Sikhs and Catholics and Buddhists and non-believers all can agree that we need a little bit of moisture from heaven, and if that common desire for rain–or even a heavy mist–can cause us to forget our acrimony, even for a short time, then something like a miracle has taken place.

And I’ll take a miracle wherever I can find one, even if, come August, we won’t be able to flush our toilets.

Judgement Day, May 21 (It’s Not the End of the World, and I Feel Fine)

This blog post was originally written for the Perspectives program on KQED FM in San Francisco, California.

I don’t know what its like where you live, but in my neck of the woods–the San Francisco Bay Area–we’ve witnessed a proliferation of billboards announcing: “Cry Mightily Unto God! Judgment Day is Coming on May 21! The Bible Guarantees It!” Apparently someone read the Bible, made a few assumptions, took an illogical leap of faith, did the math, and came up with a calculation: Jesus is coming back, and soon.

This, of course, is nuts. Continue reading

Ron Schiller, Truth Telling, and the Problem of Fear

This piece first appeared on the Thoughtful Christian’s Gathering Voices blog. It also ran on the Huffington Post

By now you may know that Ron Schiller, a fundraising executive for National Public Radio, said a few things that got him into trouble. He suggested that the right flank of the Republican party, particularly that which is affiliated with the Tea Party, is affected with a serious case of Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia.

Since the video went public, Schiller, who was unaware that his comments were being videotaped in a sting operation meant to discredit NPR, quit his job early, NPR apologized, and NPR’s CEO resigned.

The whole affair has caused introspection on my part, because as far as I can tell, Schiller said what is merely obvious, what I’ve said more times than I can count in my work as a preacher, writer, and activist. Do I also deserve an angry response? Should I resign from my job? Continue reading

I Love the Bible, I’m a Calvinst, and I Support the Ordination of Gays and Lesbians

Since beginning my gig as a Huffington Post blogger, I’ve not been very good about updating this blog. I’m going to try to be better about that! This piece first appeared on the Huffington Post on January 27, 2009.

My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) currently is engaged in a church-wide discussion about whether or not we will allow local congregations and regional governing bodies — called presbyteries — the freedom to ordain gay men and lesbians as lay leaders and as ministers. Our highest governing body, the General Assembly, has approved this proposed change but now it must be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries in order to become church law. The last I checked, 15 presbyteries had voted in favor of allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in church leadership positions and 19 had voted to maintain the status quo.

On Jan. 22, my presbytery, the Presbytery of San José, voted for ratification. As we debated the issue, several people stood up and expressed what I think was genuine sadness at the fact that, while they know and love many gays and lesbians, they could not vote to include gays and lesbians in positions of church leadership. To do so, they contended, would be a rejection of scripture and would be unfaithful to the Calvinist tradition.
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Immigration Reform: We Can Do Better

This blog post also ran on the Huffington Post.

In the last few weeks, a lot has been happening in the great American conversation around immigration. A federal court struck down SB 1070, Arizona’s “get-tough-on-immigration-because-the-Obama-administration-won’t-do-diddily” law. Several prominent Republicans have started campaigning against the 14th amendment to the United States’ constitution, which, among other things, grants citizenship to any person born in the Unites States. Then, in the second week of August, both the House and Senate passed an emergency spending bill that will send 600 million dollars to the US border. The money will pay for 1500 border enforcement personnel, it will support the overburdened court system, and it will provide for the monitoring of the border by unmanned aircraft.

Count mine among the Americans who wish to see Washington do something about undocumented migration across our southwest border — not because undocumented persons are harming our nation (they’re not; in fact the United States benefits from illegal immigration), but because each year hundreds of good people die trying to cross our borders. People have been migrating across the landscape now bisected with an international border since long before either the United States or Mexico existed, and they’re not going to stop now. The poverty in Mexico is too extreme, and the economic opportunities north of the border are too alluring.
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How To Buy My Book “Neighbor: Christian Encounters with ‘Illegal’ Immigration”

Friends,

Welcome to my blog!  If you’re interested to purchasing my book Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration (and I hope you are), the best way to find the book is through Amazon, or directly from my publisher at a website called “The Thoughtful Christian.”

Enjoy reading, and let me know what you think.

Best,

Ben

The Human Face of Immigration Reform

Because I’ve written a book about immigration, a lot of folks in my family, from my congregation, and among my friends have asked me to weigh in on Arizona’s recently-passed “get tough on immigrants” law. On several occasions I’ve tried to write down my reactions to Arizona’s law, but I’ve had little luck. I have so many thoughts on what has happened in Arizona that whenever I sit down to write about them, all the words get clogged somewhere between my brain and my fingers on the keyboard.

But I think I may have been saved by a video clip of Michelle Obama and an achingly-sweet second grader from Silver Spring, Maryland.
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Immigration Reform Part 2: Essential Elements for Moral, Comprehensive Reform

This is the second of two pieces I’ve written about immigration reform policy. The fist piece, which I posted on March 19, took a critical look at a proposal for immigration reform outlined by Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham. This piece gives my ideas for what should be included in a moral comprehensive immigration reform.

On Friday, March 19, even as a year’s worth of debates around healthcare were coming to a close, two senators, Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wrote a piece for The Washington Post in which they outlined a bi-partisan proposal for comprehensive immigration reform.

It was a mixed bag. I gave an analysis of their proposal in an earlier post, and, for the most part, I was critical of what the two senators set forth as a first step in the long journey toward comprehensive immigration reform. Such criticism is not particularly constructive, however, unless it is coupled with alternate ideas and suggestions for what actually will work; to that end I have identified five elements that I feel must be included in any morally responsible immigration reform bill.

These five elements come from the introduction to my forthcoming book Neighbor: Christian Encounters with “Illegal” Immigration. (The book, by the way, will not be released until the middle of August, but, thanks to the foresight and quick work of the folks at Westminster John Knox Press, you can pre-order a copy at Amazon.com.) My book primarily is about people and not policy, but it seemed fair, at the beginning of the book, to say which elements I believe should be a part of immigration reform legislation. I came up with these elements after spending a lot of time studying the issues, visiting the U.S./Mexico border, and interviewing dozens people from many different walks of life. Here, then, are the elements I believe must be part of moral, comprehensive, immigration reform:
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Immigraiton Reform Part 1: A response to Schumer and Graham

This is the first of two essays that I will publish on my blog. This essay is a critique of Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsay Graham’s recent proposal for immigration reform. The second essay, drawing from my forthcoming book, Neighbor: Christian Encounters With “Illegal” Immigration (Westminster John Knox Press, summer 2010) will outline the policies that I believe are necessary for a morally sound immigration reform bill.

On March 19, 2010 The Washington Post published a bi-partisan outline for immigration reform. Penned by Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC), the proposal rests on four pillars:

1) the requirement of “biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs”;
2) “fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement”;
3) the creation of “a process for admitting temporary workers”; and
4) the implementation of “a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.”

For the last two years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about immigration. I’ve done a good bit of research, I’ve traveled to the border, I’ve spoken with and interviewed scores of people including several undocumented migrants, and I’ve written a book about what I learned from my research, travel, and personal encounters with migrants (the book, which is being published by Westminster John Knox Press, is called Neighbor: Christian Encounters With “Illegal” Immigration; look for it in stores and online this summer).

Applying what I’ve learned while writing a book about immigration, I can say that Schumer and Graham’s plan is a mixed bag. I’m glad the process of serious immigration reform has begun, and I’m glad that it is bi-partisan so far, but I wish it were more practical and less political, which is to say that while some of the solutions the senators offer are really good, others are either immoral or they make no sense in the real world. Continue reading