In Praise of My Dashboard Jesus

This column is also published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.  On January 27, 2009 this piece was broadcast on the Persepctives program on KQED FM in San Francisco, CA.  Give a listen!


I don\'t care if it rains for freezes...Something in our nature inspires humans to collect religious trinkets—talismans and relics that remind us of life’s transcendent mysteries, or icons through which we glimpse the divine. I’ve got dozens of such pious knickknacks—everything from a small collection of large Bibles to a cross necklace—but I suspect the most important of my faith-based souvenirs is a plastic dashboard Jesus figurine that sits up on the back of my stove between an empty bottle of Calvin beer from Geneva and my daughter’s Albert Einstein action figure.

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

Religious Food for Thought

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and spirituality Forum on July 23, 2007.

If book sales can be trusted as an indicator of the American mood, then Americans are starting to care deeply about food. In 2006, Michael Pollan’s definitive tome on good eating, The Omnivore’s Dilemma was a runaway best seller; since its recent publication, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver’s gastronomic musings of a year’s worth of local eating, has spent eleven weeks (and counting) on the New York Times’ best seller list.

The economic impact of the newfound American obsession with food goes beyond our reading habits. The UDSA reports that the number of farmer’s markets has grown by more than 100 percent over the last ten years. Whole Foods, an international supermarket chain specializing in what Michael Pollan calls “industrial organic” food is a booming success, and the Disney/Pixar film “Ratatouille” cooked up for its creators nearly 50 million dollars in profit over the course of its debut weekend.

What is missing in America’s foodie mood is a strong articulation of why eating well should matter to people of faith. Continue reading

Oppressed to Kill

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Fourm on February 19, 2007.

I’m worried that the contemporary religious fixation with oppression may be starting to affect the Protestant tradition that is my spiritual home.

On a recent trip to Geneva I took time to contemplate my Calvinist spiritual roots by spending a few hours in prayer at the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, where Calvin preached, I visited the “Reformation Wall,” a monument to all things reformed, and I perused the International Reformation Museum, all in the happily-realized hope that a journey into the heart of Reformed Christianity would invigorate my spiritual life. Continue reading

Joan of Arc: Heretic, Saint, Terrorist.

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 29, 2007.  It headlined UPI’s mainpage that day as well.

In the foreword to his thought-provoking and very readable forthcoming biography of Joan of Arc, Joan: the Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (due out from HarperSanFrancisco next month), Donald Spoto makes the following claim about the “Maid of Orleans”:

Joan fought and died to preserve the identity and particularity of a sovereign place; Continue reading

A Pastoral Letter to Ted Haggard

This letter was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on November 13, 2006. It also aired on the “Perspectives” program on KQED FM in San Francisco that day. The bold print in the text is the part I added to the Perspective piece when I sent it to be published on the UPI Religion and Spirituality site. An audio file of my KQED Perspective is available at the end of the text, courtesy of my friend JJ Chacon.

Dear Ted Haggard,

In the wake of your recent ecclesiastical discipline, you have promised to place yourself under the direction of your fellow pastors during your season of rehabilitation. I am a pastor, but since I don’t expect you to ask my opinion, I’m writing you a letter instead.

Continue reading

Armageddon Outta Here!

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spiritualiy Forum on September 25, 2006.  It also headlined the religion section on UPI’s main page that day.

In Southern California, the marketing empire that has arisen to promote Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ wildly successful Left Behind books has found a way to earn money by packaging religious bloodshed as entertainment in the form of a video game due out in November, just in time to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Over the weekend I played a demo version of the forthcoming game. It was, in a word, cheesy. Continue reading

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

Katherine Harris on God and Politics

This piece was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on September 4, 2006. It also headlined the religion section of UPI’s homepage.

Thanks to Judy Brooks for alerting me to Katherine Harris’ views on the separation of church and state.

On August 24th The Florida Baptist Witness published an interview with Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State (she of the butterfly ballot and dangling chad). Now, she is a member of the United States House of Representatives, and is a candidate in this week’s primary election for the Senate.

The interview is worth reading for its presentation of Ms. Harris as a startlingly inarticulate religious fanatic. Contained in Rep. Harris’ musings, as recorded by the Witness are dozens of ideological and rhetorical blunders that are tempting fodder for a religiously progressive pontificator, but none is so inviting as her suggestion that the separation of church and state is a lie. Continue reading

'Faithless!' – Battle Cry of the Religious Right

This column was published by UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on August 21, 2006 

“WAKE UP CALL! Christianity in America won’t survive another decade, unless we do something now!” This is according to a bit of junk mail that recently crossed my desk. Billing itself “a call to arms,” the flyer asked Christian “Generals” (presumably pastors like me) to unite, heeding the battle cry by paying good money to attend one of several meetings organized by a traveling road show of prominent evangelical speakers alarmed by the dwindling number of youth projected to be evangelical adults in the not too distant future.

According to the flyer, a study has suggested that only four percent of what it calls “this generation” will grow into evangelical adulthood, as compared to the current crop of evangelical adults, who claim a full 34 percent of America’s grownup population.

Continue reading