The Pinocchio Presidency

The following column was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 28, 2008. Thanks to my Mom, Karen Moreland for giving me the idea for this piece. 

Last Tuesday my local paper, The San Jose Mercury News, published on page 15 a story with the following headline: “Study: False statements preceded war.” The short article told about a study by the Center for Public Integrity that chronicled 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven top administration officials during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. 532 of the false statements exaggerated the threat posed by the Saddam Hussein regime by claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction or by affirming a link between Iraq and Al Qaida, even after such ideas had been discredited.

The report provides numerical support for what long has been known: George Bush, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan would all have long noses if they were magic marionettes. Continue reading

Tacos and the Politics of Immigration

On Thursday, January 17 a slightly shorter form of this column was broadcast as part of the Perspectives series on KQED FM, San Francisco’s NPR affiliate. On Monday, January 21 it was the featured commentary on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum. An audio version of the KQED broadcast of this piece appears at the end of the text version, thanks to  my friend, JJ Chacon. Speaking of JJ check out the photos of a dream meal in Florence from on JJ’s website. Who’d like to join me for a meal like that?

In the coming weeks, as the primaries swing to the South and West, immigration will play a growing role in the drama of presidential politics. The candidates will be proposing immigration policies in an effort to capture the voters’ fancy, but before any of our would-be presidents has the opportunity actually to set immigration policy, I’d like for them to visit me in the barrio where I live in East San Jose. Continue reading

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

Kenya: Whose Gonna Stop the Fire?

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 7, 2008.

We call on the churches of Kenya to do their part in pursuing the common good of their communities and country. Churches have a leading role to play in ensuring respect for human life and seeking reconciliation between neighbours. This is especially urgent amid ominous signs of ethnically targeted hatred and violence. Homes, businesses, public buildings and places of worship must remain safe.

–The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches.

One of the stories reported from Kenya last week is the kind of thing that keeps pastors like me awake at night, twitching and sweating. Following a disputed election, ethnic violence erupted causing a group of men, women and children to seek sanctuary in a church in the town of Eldoret. In a scene painfully reminiscent of the Rwandan genocide, a mob attacked and set fire to the church. As many as thirty people died in the ensuing inferno.

As I look out at the congregation gathered to worship in my church, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with the unnamed pastor who opened the doors of his church to a fleeing crowd only to watch the murder of those under his care and protection. The horror inside that church is beyond my imagining.

Kenya is a mess right now. Continue reading