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

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

The Cost of War, One Breath at a Time.

This piece was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on December 18, 2006.  It headlined the UPI website’s religion section that day as well.  A slightly shorter version of this commentary will air this holiday season on the Perspectives program on KQED FM, a public radio station in San Francisco.

Toward the end of the first week of Advent, when I should have been writing a sermon on the life and ministry of Saint John the Baptist, I found myself surfing the web to a site that gives a real time, running total of the cost of the ongoing war in Iraq.

The total cost of the war—some 350 billion dollars—is a number so large that it is emotionally meaningless to me, but I spent a good deal of time contemplating the speed at which the war’s tally increased by tens, hundreds, and thousands of dollars—amounts of money to which I can relate.

The counter moved too fast for me to get a good measure of the rate of war spending using the sweep hand on my wristwatch, so I used a more elementary and less scientific method, and here’s what I discovered: the United States’ taxpayers spend twenty thousand dollars on the war every time I take a breath. Continue reading

Faithful Conversations

This column was published on UPI’s on October 30, 2006. It also headlined the UPI webpage’s religion section that day.

Americans have a problem when we talk about religion. Most of us think we’re more knowledgeable than actually we are, and, as a result, the plague of stereotypes traps us in our ignorance and foments enmity between religious communities.

Allow me to illustrate the American attachment to religious stereotypes by inviting you, esteemed reader, to play a game of “Religion Trivia:”

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America’s Empathy Deficiency

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Fourm on September 11, 2006

Thanks to my friend Randy Shadoe for passing along the video of Kyra Phillips and for our many enjoyable conversations and correspondences that keep me on my toes!

You too may have seen this one. The President is giving a speech to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and something goes terribly wrong in the CNN sound department. Suddenly we, the viewing audience, are hearing CNN anchor Kyra Phillips in the bathroom. We hear the zip of a garment, the flush of a toilet, and a conversation in which Ms. Phillips dishes some dirt on her sister-in-law.

It wasn’t long before this behemoth of a technical blunder was a momentary cultural sensation as video of the mishap bounced around cyberspace. To her great credit, Kyra Phillips went on Letterman to read a self-deprecating top ten list of excuses for what went wrong.

When I first saw the clip with Kyra Phillips’ private moment drowning out the President’s somber platitudes I laughed. It was great fun until the rusty cog wheels of my recollection began to turn, and through the fog of nearly twenty years of memory I recovered a bit of forsaken knowledge: I went to college with Kyra Phillips. Continue reading

A Prayer For Peace

The following prayer comes from Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders of Salt Films. Marthame and Elizabeth are former Presbyterian missionaries to the West Bank. I hope you will join me in praying in a similar way.

We see Hezbollah move to consolidate their regional influence by inciting Israel, and manipulating the resulting death and destruction for their anti-Israel, religious extremist agenda.
Lord God, may it stop.

We see Israel’s disproportionate and indiscriminate military actions, meting out devastation without regard for civilian life or civilian infrastructure.
Lord God, may it stop.

We see our own government’s failure to mediate, refusing to speak to enemies, enemies whom Christ calls us to love and pray for.
Lord God, may it stop.

Continue reading