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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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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The Problem with the Tim Tebow/Focus on the Family Comercial

OK. So I know that a lot of people were making a big deal about the fact that Tim Tebow and his mom, Pam, were going to be featured on a pro-life commercial during the Suberbowl. I was less worried by the politics than I was by the fact that the video showed Tim Tebow tackling his mother. I know they were trying to be funny, but domestic violence doesn’t really seem like something about which we should be laughing.

Frank Schaeffer Takes On the Fellowship

Frank Schaeffer is saying what needs to be said:

I’m proud to say that Frank has written the foreword of my forthcoming book.

To be fair, the President did take on the proposed Ugandan law that would make homosexuality a capital offense. Here is his speech

It is a very good speech, but I do wish he’d been more forceful on the Ugandan issue.