Obama Wins! Yes We Can, Yes We Did, And I’m So Proud

Never have I been so happy to be an American, never so proud to look at my daughter, Mimi, who is almost seven, and say to her, “remember this night for as long as you live. Tonight Americans have done something extraordinary, historic, brave, and long-overdue. We have elected a president who isn’t white.”
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A Pastor’s Plea: Choose Hope

This column also ran on UPI’s religion and Spirituality Forum.

It’s ten minutes before worship on a Sunday morning. I’m fussing with my Geneva tabs, zipping my robe, double-, no, triple-checking to make sure my reading glasses are in my breast pocket, and the phone on my office desk rings. I know I shouldn’t—for years now my wife’s been trying to train me to ignore ringing phones—but I pick it up anyway.

Foothill Presbyterian Church,” says I.

“Daniel! Did you get this crazy mailer?” It’s my friend, John, the pastor over at the neighborhood Methodist church, who should be getting ready for worship himself.

He doesn’t have to describe the envelope in question. The same packet—testimony to the weirdness of this election’s waning days—arrived in the Saturday afternoon post and was waiting on my desk when I arrived at church.
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Proposition 8: Evidence of Change

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

Talk about change.

When Californians go to the polls in a little more than a week we’ll be voting on one bit of change that is more than just a presidential campaign’s hopeful rhetoric. If things go the way I hope they will (and some polls suggest they may), voters in the Golden State will reject a ballot measure—Proposition 8—which calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
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Cultural Jihad*: Nothing to Fear

*A note on the use of the word “jihad”: “jihad” means something like “faithful struggle.” For Muslims, “jihad” is a positive word unassociated with terrorism or violence of any kind. In this column I use the word as it is misused by many non-Muslims, that is, as a synonym for holy war, especially when such war is directed at the West. I’ve done this because I don’t know how to talk about the concept of “cultural ‘jihad'”–a figment of paranoid non-Muslim imagination–without using the awkward name given to the phenomenon.

So a pastor, a rabbi and an imam walk into a crowded, fancy hotel ballroom in California’s Silicon Valley…

Each clergyman says a few inspirational words and offers a prayer of invocation. The men of the cloth then embrace and seven hundred folks in the room clap and cheer because the three of them— the pastor in his faux-linen dog collar, the rabbi in his crocheted yarmulke, and the imam in white robes beneath an ankle-length gabardine overcoat— present a compelling image, a brief reminder that options beyond antagonism are readily available for the spiritual heirs of Abraham.
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In Memory of a Camera

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum

In a slightly different form, this piece also ran on KQED FM’s Perspectivesseries on October 3, 2008

I’m not sure I’d want to turn back the clock on technology, but on a recent trip to the park with my three-year-old son I was moved with nostalgia when I saw an older gentleman taking photographs with an old-fashioned single-lens-reflex camera.

Jealous of his film, the photographer took his time, gazing through the viewfinder, adjusting his tripod and fussing with dials. This is something I remember well. It wasn’t that long ago that I took pride in my ability to shoot decent photos with a Pentax as old as I am—a camera that once traveled the world with me, bumping my hip as I walked along the Sea of Galilee, and braving the weather on Scotland’s Western Isles, where the rain was so severe that my boots were wet for a month, but my camera dried out just fine. My SLR came with me to Switzerland and Italy, and twice to China where it recorded the adoptions of my two daughters.

But parenthood requires many snapshots, and I have replaced my Pentax with a digital Panasonic with a Leica lens and lots of memory. Continue reading

Religion and Global Warming: A Wager

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

Sometime this fall, HarperCollins’ imprint, HarperOne, will be releasing a “Green Bible,” in which all of the scriptural passages that speak to the Christian responsibility to care for creation will be printed in green letters. Also bound between the eco-friendly covers of this Bible will be several essays and a couple of poems by great Christian thinkers such as St. Francis, Desmond Tutu, and Wendell Berry.

Last week HarperOne interviewed me for a short video that will be used as part of its advance publicity for the Green Bible.  During the interview I had to answer questions about the connection between faith and environmentalism, and for the most part, I think I gave responses worthy of my being the pastor of one of the most intentionally and publicly green Presbyterian congregations in the United States (and perhaps the world).

On one question, however, I think I stumbled: “why,” the interviewer asked, “should Christians care about global warming?” For an answer I sort of mumbled through what I hoped would make for a good sound byte, something about global warming being an issue in which care for the earth and care for humanity intersect. It’s not a bad answer, but my thoughts about global warming are a little more complex than the answer I gave. Continue reading

Fingerprinting Roma in Italy: A Time For Outrage

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum

“What the duck?”

Those were my exact words (except that I made no mention of water fowl) when, on my car radio, I heard that the newly re-elected Italian Prime Minister’s government, in emulation of Nazi Germany, has begun fingerprinting and registering Roma people living in Italy –—citizens and immigrants alike. (In English the Roma often are called “Gypsies,” a term I’ll avoid using here because most Roma people find the word offensive.)

I’ll admit it: I dropped the F-bomb, the mother of all cuss words. It is language that didn’t exactly match the white dog collar I happened to be wearing at the time (I was driving home from a graveside funeral), but I said it anyway, and I think the sentiment was appropriate, especially for a man of the cloth.

After all, this is 2008, almost seventy years after the Holocaust, when as many as 500,000 Roma people died alongside European Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The human family—especially in Europe—was supposed to evolve beyond such ethnic bigotry. The Holocaust is still a living memory for many people in the world today. What’s wrong with our collective recollection? Continue reading

Salvation by Beer

This post was also published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on June 22, 2008.

In the brave new world of blogging, there is an emerging breed of friendship, one in which a person writes an entry on her or his blog, a complete stranger leaves a response, and, after some cyber chat, the two people meet in person, bringing the conversation out of the internet’s ether and into real life.

This happened to me last Thursday.

Earlier in the week I had published a column in which I quoted a sermon by John Calvin as a way of supporting the notion that Presbyterians ought not break fellowship with one another over our divergent views on human sexuality. The column was (by my standards) well-read and it generated a lot of comments on my website.

One of the responders—who wrote a thoughtful dissent—gave his full name and mentioned that he was planning to be in my hometown of San Jose for the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly, the mammoth biennial meeting of the denomination’s highest governing body. I invited him for coffee but we went out for a beer instead, Continue reading

To the Presbyterians Meeting In My Hometown.

This column was also published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

On June 20th the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will convene its biannual meeting in San Jose. For the following nine days something like five thousand Presbyterians will be in my hometown, working, arguing, worshiping, and partying.

When the General Assembly meets this year I’ll have a front row seat because I have the odd distinction of being the Presbyterian Minister of Word and Sacrament who lives closest to the convention. This is not an accomplishment that makes me eligible for any kind of recognition or honor. I’m not even going to get a tee shirt, let alone fifteen minutes in a pulpit at one of the Assembly’s several worship services, but if my proximity awarded me the opportunity to address the General Assembly of the PC(USA) I’d remind those gathered to be inspired by our Calvinist tradition and set aside any talk of schism. Continue reading

Book Review: “The Family” by Jeff Sharlet

This column was first published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on May 26, 2008.

Jeff Sharlet is the best journalist currently covering American religion. Among those who connect subject to predicate, there are few who do so with Sharlet’s grace, insight, or humor. His recently published book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper Collins, 2008, $25.95 cloth) was every bit as good as I expected it to be. Often, while reading The Family I found myself interrupting the conversations of those around me to read aloud Jeff’s well-crafted insights.

The subject of Sharlet’s book is “The Family,” also called “The Fellowship,” a self-identified “Christian Mafia” which, for seven decades, has operated in the shadows of American power, exerting great influence without accountability or oversight. They are evangelists and powerbrokers with a theocratic agenda, a lust for power, and a strange fondness for such creeps of history as Adolf Hitler, Mao Tsedung, and Genghis Khan. Continue reading