David Brooks, Nidal Hasan, and the Separation of Religion and Violence

We are on dangerous ground.

In an op/ed piece published in The New York Times on November 11, 2009, David Brooks takes the American media to task for their initial reticence to portray Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan as a radical Muslim terrorist. Maj. Hasan, in case you haven’t been following the news, is the man who murdered thirteen of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas last week. According to witnesses, he shouted “God is great” in Arabic before pulling out his pistol and killing people. Continue reading

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

Barack Obama’s Pastor

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on March 17, 2008.

I imagine this presents something of a dilemma for Barack Obama’s detractors and political rivals: what should be said about The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obama family pastor, who has made incendiary statements about the September 11 terrorists attacks and about Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Continue reading

The Old Rugged Cross

This column was published on April 2, 2007 on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum. It also formed the core of my sermon on April 1. On April 5, 2007 this piece was picked up by a newspaper in the Cayman Islands.  Who knew?

About this time last year I was approached by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a bus stop. The bus was late, giving us plenty of time to talk, and eventually the conversation drifted to the subject of the cross I was wearing around my neck.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, it turns out, don’t like the symbol of the cross. For one thing, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe Jesus was crucified. They believe he was impaled on a stake, and this is an important distinction in their theology. But beyond the proper translation of the Biblical Greek word stauroo (“impale” to them, “crucify” to me), my conversational partners were concerned that I would wear the image of the device upon which I believe my savoir had died. (“My mother gave me this necklace” was not a satisfactory answer). Continue reading