From the Archives: A Barra Blessing

I have written exactly two bits of travel writing. One of my travel pieces was published on Beliefnet, and the other was rejected by Islands Magazine. Both pieces were written after I took a trip to Scotland’s Western Isles in the fall of 2000. In the heretofore unpublished piece below I make mention of a Glaswegian cover band called Manford Clan[sic–see comments below]. The band has long since broken up, but over thaka Laird and Lady Chafe years the drummer, Craig Smith, and I have kept up a correspondence (he even comments on this blog from time to time). On January 26 I had the great pleasure of officiating at his his wedding to the lovely Michelle Thompson[sic–see comment below] at Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz, Ca. It was a wedding like no other.

My fascination with the Island of Barra began with a story. “The king of Scotland,” or so my father told me, echoing the words of his uncle Neil, “declared that the Isle of Barra would go to the clan whose sailors won a boat race. The first clan to touch the island, could claim it as their own.” The Castlebay from KisimulMacNeils were winning the race, but began to fear they might loose to the Campbells” (or the Stewarts or the MacDonalds—the story changed a little each time it was told) “and so the head of the clan, our ancestor, laid his arm on the gunwale, took out his sword, chopped off his hand and threw it on to the island, making the MacNeils the first clan to touch the island. And that’s why we’re all a little bit crazy.”
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Collective Punishment in Gaza: A Question of Morality

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

As I write this column, Israel’s military has called up reservists and has prepared tanks and artillery units for a possible land assault into Gaza. This follows a weekend in which the same military dropped hundreds of tons of bombs on Gaza, killing or wounding hundreds of Hamas militants; dozens of civilians also are among those killed or wounded.
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Photo Essay: Religion in the Hood

Last week I wrote a piece about dusting off my old Pentax K-1000, loading it with black and white film, and rediscovering the joy of taking photos with film. Here are a few of the photos I took.

For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the religious diversity in my neighborhood, so when I went out to shoot photos with my old camera, I decided to take pictures of interesting religious expressions near my home.

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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

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

Difference In This World

Posted here are lyrics to a song, “Difference in this World” written by my brother, Morgan Daniel. Though he wrote the song in 1996, I first heard it sung over Thanksgiving. I liked the song and asked my brother to send me the lyrics. Here they are.
They could silence my voice
They could turn out my lights
They could censor my songs
And strip all my rights

They could clip all my strings
They could cross all my wires
They could chop up my guitar
to kindle their fires

But they won’t waste their time on me
No, I’m not worth their time, you see
But some place in my heart
I wish I were a part
Of a conspiracy, wish that
They kept a file on me, wish that
They were losing sleep
Trying to keep
Me from making a difference in this world.

They could speak out against me
They could slander my name
They could falsify records
To back up their claim

They could bug my apartment
They could tap all my phones
They could finish me off
And dance on my bones

All that I can do
Is pray and hope that you
Love me despite who I am…not

They could act irritated
They could feign despair
They could blink like they noticed
Just pretend like they care

Defending Religion

This column ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality website on December 4, 2006. It also headlined the main UPI website’s religion section that day.

I no longer feel the need to defend God. It seems to me that God is fairly well beyond the reach of human ill-will, and even if God were not so remote, God hardly would need my help in the face of a human assault on the Divine Person.

But religion is different. Continue reading

Review: “The Book of Daniel” on DVD

This Column was first published on the UPI Religion and Spirituality Forum Website on October 9, 2006

Praise the Lord and pass the popcorn! “The Book of Daniel” has just been released on DVD, and now we can see what all of the fuss was about and what heinous heresy inspired the American Religious Right to rally a successful campaign to have NBC discontinue the much-anticipated show after just three weeks last January.

Here’s the verdict: those who fought to have “The Book of Daniel” axed should be ashamed of themselves. “The Book of Daniel” is a great show. Continue reading