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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Back to Business: Desmond Tutu on Climate Change and Poverty

I saw this video and felt a singular weight of conviction: now that the election is over its time to talk less about Joe the Plumber from Ohio and more about José the campesino from Honduras; less about middle class tax breaks and more about breaking the cycles of war, poverty and disease in Africa.

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Sarah Palin’s Crusade

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

When her critics point out that Governor Sarah Palin is inexperienced on matters of foreign policy they tend to note what she hasn’t done —she seldom has traveled outside the United States. In fact The New York Times reports that Governor Palin had to apply for a passport before traveling to Kuwait and Germany to visit deployed members of the Alaska National Guard in 2007. She also visited Ireland on that trip—The Wall Street Journal says she was there just long enough to refuel her plane—and it’s fair to assume that she’s seen the parts of Canada between Alaska and Idaho.

Governor Palin never has been to Iraq and she’s never visited any of America’s most important allies. Even though their population is roughly equivalent to that of Memphis, Tennessee, Alaskans must engage in foreign commerce, yet Palin has not visited Alaska’s trading partners. I have no idea if Palin has received foreign delegations to Alaska. I’ll leave it to more astute political observers to decide if what Sarah Palin hasn’t done qualifies her to set our nation’s foreign policy. I am a religious commentator. My job is to point out that, what Sarah Palin has done (or, more precisely what she has said), suggests that this affable hockey mom is theologically ill-prepared to lead on matters of foreign policy; and the American people should be singularly concerned if Sarah Palin ever is in charge of representing the United States in its relationships with the Muslim world.
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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

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

Obama and Wright: the Best Thing Written So Far

My friend Jim Bennett is a Presbyterian minister who teaches American Religious History at Santa Clara University, here in the Silicon Valley. Jim’s area of expertise is race and religion in America, which makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor.

This morning the San Jose Mercury News ran an opinion piece written by Jim that is, in my opinion, the very best bit of writing on the issues surrounding Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If you read nothing else on the subject, read this essay.

Yesterday, Jim and I had lunch together in downtown San Jose at a Vietnamese hole in the wall called (and I’m not making this up) Duc Phuc. Hearing Jim talk about Jeremiah Wright and about Obama’s recent speech on race has left me convinced that we are living in momentous times, witnessing what may prove to be a pivotal point in the history of race in America. Never before has so prominent a politician spoken so candidly and forcefully about race in so public a manner. Thanks to YouTube, Obama’s speech is being watched by millions of viewers. What Barack Obama said on Tuesday may not get him elected President, but it certainly has to potential to change American forever.

Jim and I were classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary. After seminary, Jim went on to earn a PhD at Yale. Having Jim as a friend has instilled within me the conviction that everyone should be friends with an historian. Historians are able to frame current events within historical context in a way that provides us with the wisdom of ages.

Click here to read Jim’s piece in the Mercury News. Then come back and leave a comment on this website.

Mavericks: Surfing and the Economics of Joy

This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 14, 2008.

Here’s the extent of my surfing experience: in the center of my coastal hometown there is a monument to a kid who died surfing in the sixties. It’s a small memorial that sits on an island at the confluence of the village’s two main streets. Most people from the town are unaware of its existence, but that little memorial haunted me just enough that I never learned to surf. Also, when we were in the tenth grade, my friend, Saul, went surfing over lunch break and was washed out to sea. A couple hours, later members of the local volunteer fire department picked him up off the rocks at the base of a ninety foot cliff. Saul was fine, but it cemented the idea in my mind that you had to be nuts to surf, at least in the waves off of the Mendocino coast where the water is treacherous, rough, and very cold.

Nor have I looked to the surfing community for wisdom. My friends who surf tell me the experience is profound and often mystical, that it is humbling and transformative to be in the presence of the ocean’s power, but it always has seemed to me that the great spiritual insights of surfing don’t translate to those of us who never have experienced the thrill of riding a wave, whose feet are rooted in the soil, or whose noses are forever poked into the pages of books.

But last Saturday’s surfing contest at Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California has changed my opinion of surfing’s potential to transform the world. 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.
verse:
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

chorus:
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.

verse:
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

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

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