Tongues of Fire

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on October 29, 2007.

I’ve spent the last week worrying about fires in San Diego County. Last Monday my mother-in-law woke me up with a phone call at six in the morning. “Don’t worry about us,” she said, “we’re fine, but you’d better call your aunt.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about. I still hadn’t seen the news of the growing fires that ended up devastating the communities in San Diego County where my wife’s parents and my mother’s sister live, but I found out quickly and for several days I was unable to keep my mind at home in San Jose. My wife’s childhood stomping grounds were on fire. All told, four homes belonging to members of our extended family were endangered by the fires. Thankfully, everyone in my family survived the fires without losing any property.

But many, many people were not so lucky. Continue reading

A Refugee Proposal

This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on October 22, 2007
At a recent gathering of fellow Presbyterians I learned that foster parents for unaccompanied minor refugees are in very short supply in the San Francisco Bay Area. These are kids under the age of eighteen who have been separated from their families by the chaos of war, and the county where I live–Santa Clara County in California–is among the few places in the United States where such refugee children are being resettled.

My wife and I currently are being trained in the art of foster parenting for a refugee child, and folks tell us we’re crazy, but bringing such a young person into our home seems like a good thing for us to do. Continue reading

In Memory of a Genocide

This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on October 15, 2007.

Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

When Pearl Aslanian was five, ethnically Turkish Ottoman soldiers entered her village. She watched as they killed her father, and, as the family escaped on foot to Amman, Jordan, she helped her mother bury a younger brother on the banks of the Tigris River.

In March of 2006 I officiated at the Pearl’s funeral and, at the risk of becoming persona non grata in Turkey, I consider it a great honor to have presided at the graveside of someone who was among the last humans able to remember the Turkish genocide of Armenians during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.
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Healthcare Lessons in a Crash

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on September 8, 2007. 

Some time ago a congress of honest men refused an appropriation of several hundreds of millions of dollars to feed our people. They said, and meant it, that the economic structure of the country would collapse under the pressure of such expenditure. And now the same men, just as honestly, are devoting many billions to the manufacture, transportation and detonation of explosives to protect the people they would not feed.

–John Steinbeck, from The Sea of Cortez, 1941

Last month, after a lifetime of riding a bicycle and after more than five years of cycling seriously for pleasure and fitness, I experienced my first real accident. I was riding down a mountain road, going maybe thirty miles an hour, coming out of a blind curve, when I saw a pickup truck pulling into a driveway, across oncoming traffic. The truck was too close and I was going too fast. My brakes locked and I hit the pavement.

I often hear stories about folks in such situations and usually their stories involve visions of God beckoning beyond a blissful light, or perhaps autobiographical images flashing through the mind. My own reaction was more terrestrial. As I slid down the road toward the rolling tires, I was asking myself “how am I going to pay for this?”

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Confronting Ahmadinejad With Peace

This column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on October 1, 2007.
If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18, NRSV)

Just in case you haven’t heard, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, was in New York last week for a meeting of the United Nations’ general assembly and for a little bit of political theater at Colombia University. Continue reading