Buddhist Bocce in the Barrio

This week my column is an edited version of the sermon I preached at Foothill Presbyterian Church on April 27, 2008. The text for the sermon is Acts 17:16-34,the story of St. Paul preaching in Athens.

If you ever ask me what I like about the neighborhood in which I live the first thing I will tell you is that around the corner from my house and about three blocks from the childhood home of Cesar Chavez, in my overwhelmingly Hispanic neighborhood, there is a house that has been converted into a Cambodian Buddhist monastery. If you are lucky, when you walk by this house, you can see the monks, all dressed up in their bright saffron robes, playing bocce ball in a court that has been built in the front yard.

This is why I like living in East San Jose: we have a graffiti problem and we have gangs; the slump in the housing market has decimated the wealth of equity my neighbors and I had in our homes, but deep in the heart of a very catholic, very Hispanic barrio, you can find southeast Asian monks, playing an Italian game. To me it’s a vision of the future, and if I’m right, if the future looks like Cambodian monks playing bocce ball in an Hispanic neighborhood, then, to my mind, the future will be a friendly and pleasant place. There is hope for the world. Continue reading

John McCain and Rod Parsley: Sacrificing Peace for an Ohio Victory

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the second in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential hopefuls. Last week I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in “the Fellowship,” a secretive, powerful and sometimes abusive affiliation of our nation’s power elite. This week I’m focusing upon John McCain’s relationship with Rod Parsley, a Mega-Church pastor from Ohio.

Whatever you may think of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—he of the “Goddamn America” homiletics—it doesn’t take much examination to find that Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor was good in many ways. A tendency toward radical theology notwithstanding, Jeremiah Wright’s church provided the Obama family with the kind of spiritual home that every family should have regardless of religious affiliation.

Something similar can be said of Hillary Clinton’s participation in the ministry of The Fellowship, a secretive network of mostly rich, mostly white, mostly powerful, mostly men, who have extraordinary influence in Washington and who have  a well deserved reputation for being creepy.  The Fellowship provided the then First Lady with a place of sanctuary and healing in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal. As a senator, Ms. Clinton’s Fellowship connections have helped her to forge significant and (I think) nationally beneficial bi-partisan relationships. On these two points the Fellowship gets no complaints from me.

There is, however, nothing good to be said about John McCain’s courting of Rod Parsley, the pastor of World Harvest Church, a 12,000 member congregation outside of Columbus, Ohio. Continue reading

Doug Coe, The Fellowship, Hillary Clinton and Why You Should Care

This column was first published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 14, 2008.

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the first in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential candidates.

This has the potential of becoming a huge story: Doug Coe, a man Hillary Clinton has called a “genuinely loving spiritual guide and mentor for many” has been caught on tape praising the personal relationships shared by Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. In the same speech Coe expressed admiration for the dedication of Chinese soldiers who, according to Coe, were forced to chop off the heads of their mothers as a demonstration of their commitment to the People’s Republic of China. Continue reading

Immigration and an Urban Garden

This column first was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Form on April 7, 2008. 

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…(Psalm 24:1)

On Saturday my kids and I planted some tomatoes in our garden.

Well, technically it wasn’t in our garden. We live in a townhouse with no back yard. Our garden is made out of planters on the patio, but this year I want to grow a lot of tomatoes, and I’ve had little luck growing tomatoes in planters. The plants have been healthy and the fruit good, but the yield has been low. In past years our garden’s tomatoes have been an occasional treat: once a week or so at the height of tomato season, I’ve been able to cut up one tomato at a time and serve it with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil and pepper. This is nice, but I want to make salsa and spaghetti sauce. I want to put up cans of tomatoes for the winter. I may regret it come July, but this year I want to be invaded. I want to see heirlooms slowly fester on my counter until the fruit flies won’t leave us alone. In order to get this desired bumper crop my family had to emigrate a few feet, to cross a legal boundary, to sink our fingers into the earth on property that isn’t ours.

So this year I broke the law Continue reading

Religion and Politics in Tibet

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on March 31, 2008. 

“Religion and politics don’t mix.”

This is an American mantra that has been reinforced by the Jeremiads of Rev. Wright God-damning America on the Left and by countless mega church power brokers on the Right God-damning just about anyone who isn’t a straight, Republican, Protestant Evangelical.

Then we look across the ocean and our determination grows. In Northern Ireland, Presbyterians like me are filled with hatred for their Catholic neighbors; the Catholics respond in kind and with bombs. In Kosovo Orthodox Christians and Muslims are poised to resume the age-old practice of killing one another. In the Holy Land religion is used by Jewish Israelis to justify the appropriation of Palestinian and to deprive peaceful Palestinian civilians of human rights. Palestinians—both Muslims and Christians—are inspired by religion to attack Israeli civilians.

Lord have mercy. Osama bin Laden is condemning the entire European Union because of Danish cartoons. Radical Hindus are calling for the expulsion of Muslims from India. Buddhists are killing Hindus in Sri Lanka. The officially atheist Chinese government is killing  Buddhists in the Himalayas.

This brings us to Tibet. Continue reading