What Hasn’t Changed

Don’t get me wrong. The recently-concluded season of American presidential politics—the longest and costliest in the history of the universe—was a much-needed time of introspection for the American people. After eight years of constitutional degradation, unnecessary warfare, and the erosion of America’s reputation abroad, we’ve needed a period of internal dialogue, and there’s clear evidence that the great national soul search was beneficial for us. In Barack Obama we’ve chosen a thoughtful, intellectually curious, articulate, and inspirational leader at a time when even mediocrity would feel refreshing. Historians will forever remember this election because after 219 years of electing white men to the Presidency, we have elected a man with an African father, and we put two women within spitting distance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So three cheers for introspection; but unchecked introspection can turn to narcissism, and the last thing our world needs is a narcissistic America so self-satisfied, so pleased with the transformation in Washington, that it ignores what has not changed around the planet.
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Sarah Palin’s Crusade

This column also is published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

When her critics point out that Governor Sarah Palin is inexperienced on matters of foreign policy they tend to note what she hasn’t done —she seldom has traveled outside the United States. In fact The New York Times reports that Governor Palin had to apply for a passport before traveling to Kuwait and Germany to visit deployed members of the Alaska National Guard in 2007. She also visited Ireland on that trip—The Wall Street Journal says she was there just long enough to refuel her plane—and it’s fair to assume that she’s seen the parts of Canada between Alaska and Idaho.

Governor Palin never has been to Iraq and she’s never visited any of America’s most important allies. Even though their population is roughly equivalent to that of Memphis, Tennessee, Alaskans must engage in foreign commerce, yet Palin has not visited Alaska’s trading partners. I have no idea if Palin has received foreign delegations to Alaska. I’ll leave it to more astute political observers to decide if what Sarah Palin hasn’t done qualifies her to set our nation’s foreign policy. I am a religious commentator. My job is to point out that, what Sarah Palin has done (or, more precisely what she has said), suggests that this affable hockey mom is theologically ill-prepared to lead on matters of foreign policy; and the American people should be singularly concerned if Sarah Palin ever is in charge of representing the United States in its relationships with the Muslim world.
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Serbia and Kosovo: What Do I know?

On March 3, 2008, this column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum under the title: “A Californian Preacher Mixed Up in the Balkans.”

“OK, now here’s something you don’t see every day,” I said to myself getting off the city bus, unable and unwilling to curb my curiosity at the sight of thousands of people gathered in front of the United Nation’s complex in Geneva, Switzerland, waving Serbian flags, carrying placards covered with Cyrillic writing, chanting and singing. One guy was walking around with a photo of Vladimir Putin peeking out of his half-zipped jacket. “What a hoot,” I thought. 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

Justin’s Bones

This column was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on January 8, 2007

“My God, is there any sin worse than indifference?”–from Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen

Last month, while hiking in the woods along Big River, near my hometown of Mendocino on California’s North Coast, my ten-year-old nephew Justin found the skeletal remains of a young man who had been missing for twenty seven years. Continue reading