Friday, October 30, 2009

With God on Our Side (2004) (History of the Conservative Christian Political Movement)

I found this documentary to be absolutely fascinating because I’ve been perplexed by the embrace of Republican politics in recent years by conservative Christians. This documentary meticulously traced the development of the affiliation of conservative Christians with the GOP through interviews with many of the most influential members of the Religious Right. But frankly, even after watching the film I’m still perplexed. Watching the film, I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Everything was mixed up, nothing made sense. The dialogue was like Jabberwocky. I just don’t understand how one can believe Jesus’s teachings lead us to support the policies of the GOP. If he were here, I certainly don’t believe Jesus would be endorsing any political party or politician; he did not advocate meddling with Caesar but was submissive to secular government. Moreover, the GOP’s positions have never seemed pro-God to me, so this particular political alignment just baffles me.

With God on Our Side traces the history of the conservative Christian political movement and seems to suggest the first spark was the Supreme Court decision disallowing institutionalized prayer in the public schools. This notion stumped me. When I was in elementary school, there was no institutional prayer, but I prayed all the time for God to help me traverse all the mundane challenges of the school day. However, in a pluralistic society, I cannot imagine why anyone would want teachers, administrators or even students to lead public school classes in group prayers. Now that I am a parent, I want my husband and me to take the lead in our kids’ spiritual formation—with the support of their Sunday school teacher and our pastor. I simply cannot fathom why the “school prayer” issue would galvanize devout Christians to rally around the Republican Party.

The film also describes Billy Graham’s implicit endorsement of Nixon as a watershed moment for the intersection of conservative Christians with GOP Party politics. However, Jerry Falwell is interviewed in the film and describes that Graham himself would later say that decision was a mistake. After viewing the rest of the film, I was confused why the rest of the prominent conservative Christians interviewed did not learn from that mistake and subsequently refrain from embracing politicians.

The film chronicles the conservative Christians’ short-lived excitement and then complete rejection of Jimmy Carter. This was also confusing to me. They seemed to be convinced of the sincerity of Carter’s beliefs, but dismissed the importance of their common faith in favor of a series of political litmus tests of questionable biblical authority. That rejection of Carter was even more confusing to me as the film describes their embraced of his opponent, Ronald Reagan, in 1980. Reagan was divorced, not even a church-goer and was married to a devotee of astrology. In essence, the conservative Christians chose a secular Hollywood actor with smooth oratory skills over a devout, born-again Christian from the South. I just don’t get it.

As With God on Our Side described the increasingly close alliance with the GOP in the 1980s, I actually began to feel bad for the conservative Christians interviewed. It seemed so clear that they had compromised their most sacred beliefs in vain, and were used by the politicians they supported. The film makes it clear that the Reagan administration wooed conservative Christians prior to elections, but after elections ignored their political agenda in favor of economic policies that were not the concern of the conservative Christians. However, instead of realizing the folly of such a close political alignment, the film shows that conservative Christians in the late 1980s and 1990s turned to new strategies to gain greater political influence and government power. Such efforts culminated in the rise of George W. Bush.

Matthew 18:1-5

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
He called a little child, whom he placed among them. And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes a humble place—becoming like this child—is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

John 6:15 (New Living Translation)

When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

Luke 23:39-43 (Today’s New International Version)

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. "
Jesus answered him, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power by Dr. Tony Campolo

Despite its relative brevity, I found this book to be quite powerful. Dr. Tony Campolo is a scholar of sociology, and the author of many books. Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power is a tiny book that could fit in your pocket, and is only about 80 pages in length. It succinctly makes the case that Christians ought not seek power to exert influence, but should instead choose the path of sacrificial love.

Campolo begins the book by reminding us of the events surrounding Jesus’s death. It was the Jewish celebration of Passover. The local Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, asked the crowd to choose which prisoner they wanted to free during the celebration. The New Testament tells us that there were two candidates: Jesus and Barabbas. Campolo explains that in seminary he learned it was odd that the Gospel writers refer to the other candidate by his last name, Barabbas (which meant “son of Abbas”), and did not use his first name. Some have observed that this anomaly might make sense if Barabbas’s first name was Jesus, which was a common name at that time. Perhaps the Gospel writers were attempting to distinguish between two men with the name first name. This theory inspired the book’s title and provides a metaphor explored in the rest of the book.

Campolo offers readers a biographical sketch of these two men. They lived at a time when Israel was suffering under brutal oppression and tyranny by Roman conquerors. Both men were from the town of Nazareth, which was known as a hotbed for radicals. Campolo compares Barabbas to Osama bin Laden; Barabbas was essentially a terrorist trying to challenge the Roman authorities through violent means. Campolo characterizes Barabbas as a tough hothead, who must have been fairly charismatic to attract a following of fellow terrorists, the Zealots.

In turn, Campolo characterizes Jesus Barjoseph (i.e., the son of the couple Mary and Joseph) as sharing Barabbas’s “zeal for revolutionizing the nation,” but having chosen to effect change in a vastly different way. He explicitly rejected Satan’s offers of worldly power; he quoted Scripture and declared that he would save the world through sacrificial love instead of exercises of power. Campolo explains Jesus Barjoseph rejected the use of coercive power in favor of self-giving love on the cross. The book notes the wisdom of that choice; the violence of the Zealots ultimately was disastrous for the Jews. In A.D. 70, a Jewish revolution was defeated in bloody fashion by the Romans. The temple was destroyed and thousands of Jews were massacred.

After comparing and contrasting the two men in the biblical story, Campolo asks readers: “Do we want Jesus Barjoseph, who comes in love, or Jesus Barabbas, who comes in power?” He notes that by nature people seem to understand and feel secure with power. Indeed, power is the choice made by most of us. Campolo discusses the truism that whoever exercises the most power in a relationship exercises the least love, and whoever expresses the most love is exercising the least power. But he points out that the use of power rarely succeeds in the long term; it primarily instills fear, which can eventually be overcome. Campolo asserts that those in history who have accomplished the most have done so without coercive force but through nonviolent love: Jesus Barjoseph, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Campolo speaks out against modern American Christians whom he says take up the ways of Barabbas in trying to impact society with Christian values imposed through the exercise of political power. Instead, he advocates that with regard to personal moral issues, Christians ought to use loving persuasion rather than powerful coercion to get people to live according to what we believe is right. Campolo states he wants “people to freely choose what they believe and do, as long as it doesn’t threaten the property or physical well-being of others.”

Which Jesus?: Choosing Between Love & Power was published in 2002, not long after the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th. In the book, Campolo observes that it had become “dangerous to quote Jesus Barjoseph in many churches since September 11” because many Christians did not want to hear that we are supposed to love our enemies, do good to those who would harm us and return good for evil. Campolo warns that we are embracing the ways of Barabbas, and dismissing the words of Jesus Barjoseph as “unrealistic ideals.” Campolo makes a persuasive case for the transformative strength of love to bring lasting, positive change to our world.

Matthew 5:14-16, 38-48

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972)

At our church’s recent service in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, our pastor mentioned in passing the Franco Zeffirelli film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which depicted the life of Francis. My husband and I had never heard of it, so we rented it shortly thereafter. Stylistically, the film was a bit dated, but we really enjoyed the substance.

My husband and I have always been drawn to the story of St. Francis (Francesco di Bernardone) because of his emphasis on the fundamentals of Christ’s message: the unimportance of material things and loving God’s creation (human and otherwise). The film certainly focused on these aspects of Francesco’s life, but also did a good job of putting his life in historical context. Living in the United States in the twenty-first century, I don’t find particularly shocking Francesco’s decision to renounce his birthright to live a life of simplicity ministering to lepers and other marginalized human beings. But in Francesco’s day, that decision was astounding and deeply disturbing to many.

In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when he lived, the church had become a hierarchical institution that resembled and rivaled earthly kingdoms. As dramatized in the film, bishops and dukes engaged in power struggles and had separate armies. The wealthy enjoyed positions of privilege and the poor were neglected--even in church. In the film, one of Francesco’s closest friends and first followers was another son of privilege who returned from the Crusades embittered by the experience. Francesco and his followers essentially dropped out of traditional society. They roamed the area of Assisi singing praises to God, restored a dilapidated church, and lived off the food given to them by others. They wore rags and were filthy. Local people of influence complained that Francesco was corrupting the cream of the crop of Assisi.

The climactic moment of the film comes when Francesco and his followers walk to Rome and gain an audience with the pope. The Vatican resembled an earthly king’s ornate court. Francesco and his group arrived with dirty bare feet and tattered robes. The night before their audience, they slept on the street in front of the Vatican. When they were admitted, they looked out of place amongst all the finely dressed people in the pope’s reception hall. When Francesco quoted scripture to them, the people in the hall were aghast. They considered it blasphemy and heresy to have quoted the words of Jesus to them. The film ends after the pope throws off his elegant robes and steps off his throne to speak with admiration with Francesco and humbly kiss his filthy feet.

In a time when the church had established an earthy kingdom of great power, just repeating to the powerful the words of Jesus was shocking and even dangerous. In an odd way, it seemed reminiscent of the situation in the United States in the early twenty-first century.

Mark 10:35-37, 41-45

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory."
When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

John 13:1-5, 12-17

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sojourners Blog & Colbert’s Satire of Justice Scalia

The Sojourners website features a blog called “God’s Politics.” It has a variety of short articles not published in the magazine. I enjoy reading it when I have time.

The link below this paragraph pulls up a post from the “God’s Politics” blog that discusses Justice Antonin Scalia’s recent remarks at oral arguments in the Salazar v. Buono case, and contains a clip of Stephen Colbert’s very funny satire of those same remarks.

For those unfamiliar with the Salazar case and/or the legal issues raise by the case, a little background may be helpful.

The United States Constitution is our nation’s most fundamental legal authority. Adopted in 1791, the First Amendment to the Constitution states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

(emphasis added) This one compact provision contains several distinct guarantees, but the first is commonly referred to as the “Establishment Clause” because it prohibits the establishment of a national religion or even the preference of one religion over another. The Establishment Clause was enacted due to our Founding Fathers’ rejection of the European tradition of churches that were officially sanctioned by the government. Membership in the state church was typically required to hold government posts, and was often a pragmatic necessity for acceptance and advancement in civil society. During the Colonial era, the Church of England had been imposed as the official church of the colonies. The Founding Fathers thought that approach to religion was unwise. They preferred freedom of conscience and freedom of religion instead of a state-sponsored religion. (Indeed, many social scientists point out that in societies where religion is free from government meddling, religion tends to flourish most, but where religion is supported or endorsed by the state, religious devotion tends to be much weaker.) Additional information about the Establishment Clause can be found at the link below this paragraph.

The issue of religious symbols on government property has generated a number of court cases over the years. The First Amendment guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion ensures that churches and individuals can display religious symbols on their own property. However, the Establishment Clause prohibits such displays on government property (e.g., courts, parks, etc.) because such displays are an implicit endorsement of a particular religion. The link below this paragraph provides more information about the legal issues in such cases.

The Salazar case involves a challenge to the presence of a Latin cross about six feet tall on the top of a prominent rock outcropping on federally-owned land in the Mojave National Preserve in California. The case was brought in 2001 by Frank Buono, an observant Catholic who displays a Latin cross in his own home. Mr. Buono has served his country through out his life; he is a veteran and a retired employee of the National Park Service. He brought the suit because he objected to the implicit governmental endorsement of one religion by allowing the erection of a prominent religious symbol on government property. While the case was pending, Congress designated the cross as a war memorial to honor World War I veterans. Additional information about the Salazar case can be found at the link below.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Salazar case. At that time, Justice Scalia made several comments that seemed to diminish the religious significance of the cross and insinuate that the cross was merely a secular symbol. The Sojourners “God’s Politics” blog post above criticizes Justice’s Scalia’s comments and includes Stephen Colbert’s comical satire of Scalia’s denial of the religious symbolism of the cross.

Parenthetically, in interviews, Colbert has professed to be a man of faith. He is a practicing Catholic and has taught Sunday School.

John 19:17-18, 30, 20:11-16 (New American Standard Bible)

They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means, Teacher).

1 Corinthians 1:17 (New American Standard Bible)

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

Colossians 1:20-22 (New American Standard Bible)

And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sojourners Magazine

Periodicals are not my favorite type of media because I frankly find it hard to keep up with them. There are already so many things to do without adding to the list. But Sojourners magazine is worth it. They have challenging articles on social justice issues with a decidedly Christian perspective.

In my experience, at least some who embrace or are lumped under the label of “progressive Christian” do not recognize the divinity of Jesus, seem to borrow greatly from other faiths, and/or view Jesus as simply a wise teacher. That is certainly fine for them, but personally that is not quite my cup of tea. I think Jesus was more than just a nice guy or even a prophet. I’m admittedly more “conservative” and “traditional” in that way. As a result, I am sometimes wary of writers and writings that get placed under the “progressive Christian” label. However, Sojourners has a perspective that is “Christian” in the traditional theological sense of the term. Their articles reference Scripture to analyze various social issues. The cover story this month involves biblical insights in favor of health care reform under the title “Lord, When Did We See You Sick?” The current issue also has great articles on building a sustainable peace in Afghanistan and on George Schultz’s vision to eradicate nuclear weapons.

To me, another appealing aspect of Sojourners is that it is ecumenical. The writers and the people featured come from a variety of Christian faith traditions. The magazine features insights from Catholics, Evangelicals, Methodists, nondenominational Christians, and Mennonites, among others.

Sojourners magazine is published 11 times a year. It is also available on-line at the link below.

Luke 14:13-14 (New American Standard Bible)

"But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

Matthew 5:9 (New American Standard Bible)

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Deuteronomy 15:7-8 (New American Standard Bible)

"If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and shall generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

...So Goes the Nation (2006) (Discounting Bush's Intelligence)

Another interesting aspect of this film was the discussion of the fact that many Democrats disrespected George W. Bush because they considered him to be dumb. Former Clinton administration advisor, Paul Begala, explained that many Democrats discounted George W. Bush’s intellect even though he actually had tremendous campaign insight. Begala noted Bush’s great talent was that he could “connect with people.” By contrast, Begala said that the Democrats tend to take a “more intellectual” approach to campaigns.

The film showed footage of Kerry supporters holding campaign signs with caricatures of Bush and the label “idiot.” A Goth young woman snickered that Bush’s SAT scores were lower than hers. She complained it was ridiculous that she felt she was smarter than the president of the United States. And a scruffy looking young man screamed at the camera, “Two [types of] people vote for Bush, rich people and *&%^$#@ idiots.”

Affable Kerry supporter, Evan Hutchinson, pointed out that this type of campaign message was incredibly “insulting” and “patronizing” to a lot of Americans. He noted that Bush came across as a normal guy, so picking on his foibles conveyed an elitist tone. Hutchinson said it was equivalent to picking on many of our fellow Americans who also liked trucks and guns.

Similarly, Begala expressed exasperation with pro-Kerry supporters who whined about Bush’s lack of smarts. He noted that we don’t cast our votes based on intelligence.

Leviticus 26:19

I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze.

Proverbs 11:2

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.

Proverbs 16:18

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

...So Goes the Nation (2006) (Exploitation of Evangelicals, Hypocrisy)

In great detail, the film recounts the 2004 presidential election, and explains how George W. Bush narrowly beat John Kerry. The film’s title refers to the political truism: As Ohio goes, so goes the nation. Ohio has long been a bellwether state reflecting the political sentiment of the nation. In 2004, the state was critical to Bush’s reelection. He narrowly won Ohio, which gave him the requisite number of electoral votes to beat Kerry.

The filmmakers interviewed a number of people—famous and not—who were involved in the 2004 presidential election. The film particularly documents the election via the contrasting experiences of several campaign workers in Ohio. Leslie Ghiz was a charming, well-heeled middle-aged woman with a drawl, who described the influence of her late father in drawing her to the GOP, as well as her admiration for George W. Bush as a “father figure.” By contrast, Kerry supporter, Evan Hutchison, was a very amiable, grungy-looking twenty something from Brooklyn whose beat-up car had only one functioning door. They both worked around the clock for months in Ohio to bring victory to their respective candidates. Ghiz worked directly for the Bush-Cheney campaign; Hutchison worked for Votemob, a 527 organization.

Also in Kerry’s camp was Miles Gerety, a Connecticut baby boomer public interest lawyer who came to Ohio for a few days before the election to serve as a legal advisor to the campaign. He noted the parallels between the presidential elections of 1968 and 2004. He characterized them as pivotal because in both years the decision about the next president was going to determine the direction the country would go while it was quagmired in a misguided war. Gerety worked largely in minority neighborhoods in Ohio where the Democrats were concerned about potential efforts to disenfranchise new voters. Amidst the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gerety asked with incredulity whether we as a nation were seeking to spread democracy abroad while trying to stop it at home.

Early in the film, there was a brief visit to rural Ohio. Among others, small business man, Larry Hawkins, was interviewed. He shared that when he was a child his grandfather had explained the differences between the two major political parties: Republicans were for the rich and the Democrats were for the working man. As Hawkins himself never got rich, he had aligned with the Democrats. The film interviewed a few other small town residents before shifting to the highly organized campaigns in the major urban centers of Ohio.

The climatic moments of the film showed the election night parties in the urban centers. The Kerry campaigners were jubilant; the whole election had come down to Ohio and Kerry was doing very well. Meanwhile, the mood amongst the Bush supporters was very tense and worried; things did not look good for their candidate. Late in the evening, however, everything shifted as results poured in from rural Ohio. It became apparent that Bush had actually won. The film explained that rural Christians had come out in great numbers for Bush. The filmmakers went back to talk to Larry Hawkins; he and his wife had just voted for Bush. The couple explained that the election had come down to a choice between a “full wallet or a live child.” Hawkins elaborated that God was not going to bless an “immoral country.” Meanwhile, back at the urban GOP campaign party, Ghiz confessed to having consumed “a bottle of wine,” expressed disappointment that there was no cabernet, and insisted on a new glass for her merlot.

The end of the film describes how the election came down to rural people who felt their values were threatened. Intriguingly, earlier in the film, Ghiz had noted the Bush campaign’s exploitation of the gay marriage issue and its promise of an amendment to the Constitution to “protect marriage.” She noted Gavin Newsom’s granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples in San Francisco had really spurred a backlash across the nation, and she rhetorically asked what his goal had been in trying to advance gay rights in one of the most liberal parts of the country. Speaking well after the 2004 election, she said:

Notice there’s no marriage amendment. I mean, where is that now? This is all about strategy. It’s how you win people over. This has nothing to do about right and wrong. And you know, it’s all about how you keep a Republican in the White House. And that doesn’t make it right, unfortunately. But politics just isn’t fair.

Psalm 34:12-14 (New International Version)

Whoever of you loves life

and desires to see many good days,
keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from speaking lies.
Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Proverbs 6:16-19 (New International Version)

There are six things the LORD hates,

seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,

a lying tongue,

hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,

feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies

and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Matthew 12:33-37 (New International Version)

"Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Messengers: Portraits of African American Ministers, Evangelists, Gospel Singers, and Other Messengers of the Word by David Ritz and Nicola Goode

Author David Ritz and photographer Nicola Goode have compiled a beautiful and inspiring coffee table book that would work well as a daily devotional. The book contains twenty-five vignettes of African Americans who have devoted their lives to serving the Lord in various ministries. These “messengers” speak frankly of struggles they have had in their lives and difficult challenges they have had to overcome. They describe their faith journeys; they explain why they believe in Jesus and why they chose to devote their lives to God. Their honesty and sincerity are both humbling and encouraging to the reader.

Author David Ritz has assembled a diverse collection of individuals to feature. The “messengers” included in his book come from a variety of faith traditions—African Methodist Episcopal, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, the Church of God in Christ, among others. Those featured include scholars and professionals, as well as those with only a rudimentary education. They include people who teach in higher education, lead congregations, are gifted in music, as well as those who minister to the poor and the grieving. They include men, as well as women (several of whom initially struggled against God’s call to them to serve in church leadership). Ritz also features individuals who have personally struggled with their own sexual orientation, and the condemnation of homosexuality and bisexuality by many Christians.

Accompanying the vignettes are Nicola Goode’s simple black and white photographs of the featured “messengers.” Ms. Goode’s photography not only helps put a face with a name and narrative, it also adds an elegant, artistic accompaniment to each vignette.

I found David Ritz’s own Introduction to the book to be quite compelling. He describes his faith journey beginning as a Jewish boy who first embraced Jesus at a Mahalia Jackson concert, through an adulthood plagued by demons and addictions. He explains that he became a Christian as he wrote Messengers, and describes how his faith sustained him through a cancer diagnosis shortly after his baptism.

Messengers is a relatively short, but beautifully compiled book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it highly.

Proverbs 2:20 (Today's New International Version)

“Thus you will walk in the ways of the just
and keep to the paths of the righteous.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning by Kerry Kennedy (Continued)

Although many vignettes in Kerry Kennedy's book were inspiring, others had a vastly different impact. I found Bill Maher’s profile to be extremely sad. Politically, I agree with Maher on some points. But his hostility towards God and Christians is heartbreaking to me.

I was even more profoundly saddened by the profiles on Gabriel Byrne, Frank McCourt and Dan McNevin, who each described their horrifying childhood experiences of sexual abuse by priests. Understandably, the impact of such unimaginable trauma at such a young age is devastating to the victims’ faith in God, as well as their trust in the institution and the people who comprise the church. I actually read this book just before the death of Frank McCourt, and have been haunted by his words in Being Catholic Now:

Now I believe that when you die there’s nothing--oblivion and memories.

If we could prove conclusively that your life ends with your last breath, it would change the whole course of history. Nobody would give a shit if there’s no afterlife.

...I saw the antics of the Church and began to think more and more about the contradictions. I began to find a great lack of love and too much fear, in the Irish Catholic Church especially. It was inconsistent, because love is the central theme of Catholicism. I didn’t find it, and I had to go another more human direction.

I feel more and more aware of the mystery, and I am reconciled to the oblivion that is coming. I see no proof of anything else, if it is a matter of faith. I admire people who have faith in God. It must be a great comfort to them, but I had to get out from under the fear and the guilt.

I pray that the bitter hostility of people like Bill Maher and the utter despair of people like Frank McCourt instill in all of us who make up the Christian church that our failures and any hypocrisy have profound consequences. When we who comprise the Body of Christ fail so dramatically to reflect the selfless love and compassion of our Lord, not only do we fail to be the light of the world as we’re called to be, but we also condemn others to hopelessness and misery. This is particularly the case with respect to children, who are among the most vulnerable and most impressionable in our society.

Mark 10:14 (Amplified Bible)

“Allow the children to come to Me--do not forbid or prevent or hinder them--for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 6:42 (Amplified Bible)

"Or how can you say to your brother, Brother, allow me to take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the beam that is in your own eye? You actor (pretender, hypocrite)! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Being Catholic Now: Prominent Americans Talk About Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning by Kerry Kennedy

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The author, Kerry Kennedy, is one of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s daughters. She describes her own faith journey as a Catholic Christian in the book’s preface. I was moved by several portions of her autobiographical narrative, including the description of her reaction to the news of her own father’s death:

I ran into my room, buried my head in my pillow, and instinctively began to pray. For my father and mother. For our family. And then I remember clearly, praying, ‘God, don’t let them kill the man who killed Daddy.’

Preventing vengeance is a mainstay of the Catholic faith, even to an eight-year old.

Kerry Kennedy has compiled profiles of thirty-seven other Catholic Christians. In so doing, she has chosen a real cross-section. There are famous people and many who are not in the public eye. There are people who fall to the left on the political spectrum and others who fall to the right. There are lay people, clergy and religious. There are practicing Catholics (of various degrees of devotion), and those who have drifted away from the church or affirmatively embraced other faiths.

From a spiritual perspective, some of the profiles are frankly more interesting than others. I found the narratives describing the spiritual journeys of Bill O’Reilly and Dan Aykoyd, for example, to both fall flat. O’Reilly describes his childhood “cat-and-mouse game” with the nuns who taught him, and the fact that he considered the priesthood for “maybe ten minutes.” In explaining what Catholicism has meant to him, Aykroyd describes raiding an abandoned Catholic orphanage of religious art to decorate his apartment as a young man, and the reactions of the Ottawa narcotics police who later raided the home.

Nonetheless, many of the other profiles were much more compelling. I found Donna Brazile’s narrative of growing up as an African American Catholic in the Deep South (before and after integration of the churches) to be fascinating, as was her reaction to learning that she was not eligible for the priesthood. I also found her personal description of her continued faith and its influence on her life’s work to be inspiring. Martin Sheen’s description of his slow but passionate return to his Catholic Christian faith was very moving as well. Similarly, I was even encouraged by Peggy Noonan’s own return to her Catholic roots, and the influence her renewed faith has had on her life.

I was also fascinated by the profile on Robert Drinan, with whom I was not previously familiar. He died in 2007, and appears to have been quite a Renaissance man: a lawyer, priest and a progressive congressman. I was equally impressed by the profile on Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick who stated:

You can’t be an authentic Catholic unless you’re committed to the right to life. And this right is more than just being born. It involves the right to grow, to be educated, to have a family, to exercise your dignity, to work for a living, and to make a contribution to society. You can’t forget about people once they are born.

Romans 12:19 (Amplified Bible)

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for [God's] wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay (requite), says the Lord.

James 2: 1,15-16 (Worldwide English)

My brothers, you believe in our Lord, the wonderful Jesus Christ. So you must not think one man is better than another.

Perhaps a brother or a sister needs clothes and has no food. Perhaps one of you says to them, `God bless you. Be warm. Eat all you want.' But what good is that if you do not give them what they need for their bodies?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Romero (1989)

In college, I was baptized in a Paulist parish in Austin, Texas. It was a terrific parish near the state capitol and the University of Texas campus. Both famous politicians and some of the city’s homeless residents were parishioners of record.

The Paulists are a wonderful order. Their mission statement is dedicated to reconciliation, ecumenicalism and evangelization. When I was in college I did not perceive them as being particularly “liberal”--they were mainline Catholics when it came to church doctrine on abortion and homosexuality, for example. But the “L” word is sometimes used to describe the Paulists by particularly conservative Catholics, who tend not to be very fond of them. At the retreat just prior to my baptism, I do remember the presiding priest touting Martin Sheen as an example of a “good Catholic,” which is probably something that one would not have uttered in a more conservative context.

The next year, our parish welcomed a new Paulist brother just out of seminary, who took his vows at our church. At that mass, he lay prostrate on the ground as the congregation sang a beautiful “Litany of Saints” to ask for the prayers of saints the young Paulist admired. Within the Litany, he had included the names of Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero—neither of whom had been canonized. I was not really familiar with Oscar Romero at the time, but there was an independent film about his life that had come out a few years before. It happened to have been produced by Paulist Productions.

Raul Julia, a Puerto Rican actor better known for his work in Kiss of the Spider Woman and the Addams Family movies, played the title role in Romero. Sadly, just a few years after Romero, Julia was diagnosed with stomach cancer, and died of a stroke at the premature age of 54.

When Romero was released, it received lukewarm praise. But again, I’m not a film critic and thought it was beautiful. The movie tells the story of Oscar Romero, a quiet, bookish, aristocratic Salvadoran priest with a reputation for conservatism. In 1977, he was appointed archbishop of San Salvador, a move that was welcomed by the government. By contrast, his appointment disappointed local priests dedicated to the plight of the poor, who aligned themselves with Liberation Theology and/or Marxism.

Soon after Romero’s appointment, Father Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit friend who had been ministering to and organizing the poor, was assassinated. This proved to be a pivotal event in the archbishop’s life. He subsequently became vocal on issues of social justice, speaking out against poverty, torture and assassination of political opponents. He brought attention to the persecution of the church in El Salvador including the torture and murder of priests, nuns and lay people. As Romero sought and received international attention in highlighting these issues, he became more and more of a thorn in the side of the government. Nonetheless, in the film, he is depicted as also unequivocally rebuking priests who embraced violent means. He consistently spoke out for biblical values such as nonviolence. Romero knew the danger he was in due to his vocal opposition of the government’s abuses, but he did not waiver in speaking out. In 1980, he was assassinated dramatically and publicly while celebrating mass. That assassination is dramatized in the climactic moment of the film.

John 15:9-10, 12-13 (New International Version)

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to President Obama

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish scientist and businessman, who is known as the inventor of dynamite. He died in 1896. In his will, he posthumously established five prizes to be awarded on an annual basis: Chemistry, Physics, Medicine, Literature and Peace. The awarding of the prizes generally bestows great prestige on the recipient--as well as more tangible things such as a gold medal and a generous monetary prize. The Nobel Prizes have been awarded since 1901.

In his will, Nobel described that the Peace Prize should be awarded to “champions of peace” who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Past winners of the Prize include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi. The Peace Prize has generated considerable controversy over the years. For example, one of the most visible champions of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, was nominated repeatedly but was never honored. After Rigoberta Menchu Tum won the 1992 Peace Prize, it was discovered that there had been fabrications in her representations of her life story. There have also been criticisms over the years that the Prize is overly politicized as was the case when the award was bestowed on Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, and on Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994.

The Nobel Peace Prize is a secular award, but of course peacemaking is a key Christian virtue and concern. For that reason, it seems like a very pertinent topic for this blog.

Today the Nobel Committee announced its decision to award the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama. The decision has surprised many. The announcement has generally been warmly received by world leaders. However, the decision has already been met with some controversy.

A staple of law school pedagogy is the use of the Socratic Method. In the classroom, professors do not necessarily provide explicit answers to all student questions. Instead, professors are the ones who ask the questions, and their questions are designed to subtly raise issues of importance and/or to help students analyze issues to reach their own conclusions. In my profession, I’m used to asking questions like “What do you think?” and “What will the repercussions of this decision be?” I enjoy hearing the differing views that students offer. They often surprise and challenge my own thinking on issues.

In the same spirit, I would like to ask readers of this blog to share their thoughts on the Nobel Committee’s decision today and/or President Obama’s speech this morning. Please know that comments submitted in the “Post a Comment” feature below are not automatically posted publicly. Instead, I receive them and must approve them before they become publicly available on this blog. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Matthew 5:1-10 (New King James Version)

The Beatitudes

1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “ Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

American Experience: RFK (2004)

I was born in 1969, so I was not on this planet during the life of Robert F. Kennedy. As a result, I have not been terribly familiar with him, and what I have known came to me as history. The PBS series American Experience is one of my favorites. I love documentaries, and they produce some of the best. I was really pleased to come across a documentary they did on the life of Robert Kennedy.

In typical American Experience fashion, the film starts from the beginning of the subject’s life and traces the person’s evolution until his death. The film discusses how close Robert was to his mother, Rose, and how influenced he was by her and her devout Catholicism. He was apparently one of the most religious of his siblings. Robert and the very devout Ethel Skakel married at a rather young age. He was a law student, and Ethel had just finished her undergraduate degree. Almost immediately they began having children and eventually had eleven.

After law school, Robert moved his young family to Washington, D.C. and began his career in government. With regard to his early work for Senator Joe McCarthy’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the film describes Robert has having a strong moralistic sense and being a product of his times. The primary moral foe at that point in history was atheistic Communism. Robert was apparently very fond of Senator McCarthy and personally convinced of the menace of Communists infiltrating our society. The film also notes the influence of Robert’s strong moralism in his work for the Senate Labor Rackets Committee where he investigated and famously grilled Jimmy Hoffa. The film describes Robert’s moral philosophy as being very black and white in those days; there was good and there was evil, but not necessarily much nuance.

The film next explores the strong bond that grew between Robert and his older brother during John Kennedy’s presidency, and the deep despair of Robert when John was assassinated in 1963. To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the film was its description of Robert’s struggles after his brother’s death to find his own voice. During that period, he initially seemed to lack focus and purpose. In 1964, he was elected to the Senate to represent New York, but the role of senator was apparently ill-suited to his temperament. He was impatient and bored by the slow pace of committee work and the requisite deal-making to effect legislation. He was often absent from the Senate, but seemed to find his voice in trying to understand and improve the plight of the vulnerable in society. The film portrays this as a time of tremendous personal growth for Robert. His faith and morals became more nuanced, and he exhibited great empathy for disempowered, forgotten people. He began to focus more on human rights and anti-poverty efforts. He and Ethel visited South Africa where he publicly challenged apartheid. Robert helped start a redevelopment project in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. He aligned himself more with the civil rights movement, and met with Cesar Chavez in California during his hunger strike in support of farm workers. The film portrays the almost desperate hope of many in marginalized communities as Robert finally entered the 1968 presidential race, and the crushing, cruel disappointment after he was assassinated just months after Dr. King. I can only imagine what that double tragedy must have been like amidst the turmoil of Vietnam and the continuing struggles of the civil rights movement.

Matthew 25: 34-45 (Darby Translation)

“Then shall the King say to those on his right hand, Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from [the] world's foundation: for I hungered, and ye gave me to eat; I thirsted, and ye gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was ill, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came to me. Then shall the righteous answer him saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungering, and nourished thee; or thirsting, and gave thee to drink? and when saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in; or naked, and clothed thee? and when saw we thee ill, or in prison, and came to thee? And the King answering shall say to them, Verily, I say to you, Inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it to me. Then shall he say also to those on the left, Go from me, cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I hungered, and ye gave me not to eat; I thirsted, and ye gave me not to drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye did not clothe me; ill, and in prison, and ye did not visit me. Then shall they also answer saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungering, or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or ill, or in prison, and have not ministered to thee? Then shall he answer them saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as ye have not done it to one of these least, neither have ye done it to me.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective Edited & Compiled by Michael Schut

As it was for many people, the period after the 2004 presidential election was not a happy time for me. After four years of disastrous Bush administration leadership, I was incredulous and deeply dispirited that Kerry lost by such a narrow margin. If a Republican draft dodger could beat a decorated Democratic war hero (with a slew of high ranking military brass in his corner), everything seemed hopeless. Our country seemed destined not to veer from its chosen path of dangerous military aggression and misguided economic policies favoring the wealthy but ignoring the rest of our citizenry.

And I was further heartbroken that media pundits were reporting that Christians had tipped the scales for Bush in close races where gay marriage ballot initiatives inspired many to go to the polls. In the popular culture, the notion that Christians were intolerant, mean-spirited bigots was becoming more deeply entrenched, and the true ethos of Christianity was being overshadowed.

As I mourned the results of the election, I turned to my faith. I began to read the Bible on a daily basis--a practice I had always meant to embrace but which I had not previously accomplished for more than a few days at a time. I initially focused on the four books of the New Testament that comprise the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I tried to meditate on what Jesus had tried to teach us and eventually came to have some much needed perspective on the election. I was reminded of basic points: politicians are not always driven by the highest of motivations, they are not always honest, and in a democracy they are limited in what they can achieve. I was not naive and continued to believe that a second Bush-Cheney term brought suffering that might have been avoided with an American regime change in 2004. However, I was also cognizant that a Kerry administration might not have been able to do much better. This time of spiritual growth reminded me that as a Christian I need to be concerned with matters of long-term, lasting importance, and not the results of one election. My ultimate faith rests in God and his truth, not politicians or their promises. Like many, I’m not a particularly patient person, so of course this was not an easy lesson to learn.

During this time, I stopped by a Catholic bookstore near my office one evening after work. I was looking for something encouraging to read, but I was not sure what. I found a book called Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective. It was a compilation of essays by a number of people. None of the authors were familiar to me at that time. The essays were each quite different in style and focus. Many had been originally printed in other publications. As a whole, the book did not always jell. Nonetheless, I was really excited by the concepts in many of the essays. The authors wrote about the spiritual, physical, ecological, and/or economic tolls of our modern consumer culture. In various ways, they advocated a less materialistic lifestyle; based on Christian principles they encouraged an embrace of what some of the authors described as “voluntary simplicity.”

The ideas in this book had a profound impact on me and my family. My husband and I were inspired to read a number of good books on voluntary simplicity, and to embark on a path towards a simpler, happier life. No, we did not sell all our worldly possessions and become Amish. But our family did give away a lot of our belongings, we became more mindful of our responsibility to be good stewards, and we focused more on our relationships with one another and with God. These differences have made such a difference in the quality of our lives. We are very grateful. And in some ways we have George W. Bush and Karl Rove to thank. Indeed, God does work in mysterious ways!

Luke 16:13 (Amplified Bible)
“No servant is able to serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will stand by and be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (riches, or anything in which you trust and on which you rely).”

Matthew 19:21-22 (New International Version)
“Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

St. Francis of Assisi

Some readers of this blog may not be familiar with the concept of saints or may have misconceptions of what a saint is. In essence, saints are just human beings who are held up in some Christian traditions to be special role models for other Christ followers. Saints were imperfect people who often led lives that would not have been considered by some to be very saintly. Indeed, some of them led pretty rowdy lives until they experienced some type of conversion or other transformational event that led them to try to follow the will of God. (Those are the types of saints I personally find most compelling!)

One of my favorite saints is St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day is celebrated on October 4th. St. Francis (nĂ© Francesco di Bernardone) was born in the latter part of the twelfth century in an area of Europe that is now within the boundaries of modern Italy. His father was a successful merchant, and in his youth Francis enjoyed a life of relative decadence. While he was still young, however, Francis became disillusioned with wealth and commerce after a pivotal encounter with a man begging for alms in the marketplace. Eventually, Francis devoted his life to ministering to the poor and other outcasts in his society. Francis renounced his inheritance and chose a life of material poverty. Francis is known as the founder of the Franciscan religious order. He is also remembered for his tremendous love for all of God’s creation. He is considered to be the patron saint of animals and the environment.

Yesterday, my church celebrated the life of St. Francis with an annual service to bless the pets of parishioners. It was a beautiful service outside under a large shade tree. There were a large number of dogs (who all got along more or less), as well as a couple of cats, a fish, a snail and a baby tortoise. As birds chirped in nearby trees, our pastor reminded us of Francis’s life of voluntary simplicity and his great love of God’s creation. The sermon focused us on the blessings of animals in our lives, the beauty of the world God created for us, and our responsibility to be good stewards of these gifts.

“Prayer of St. Francis”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Israel Houghton

Music has always been an important part of worship for me. This is quite ironic because I have no musical talent whatsoever and never seem to hit the right notes when I (attempt to) sing. Nonetheless, good music really speaks to me. One of my favorite Christian artists is Israel Houghton. Beyond Houston (where I lived for many years) he does not seem to be as well-known even though he has earned an impressive array of awards and wrote many of the contemporary Christian standards sung in churches across the country. I wish his profile were higher, he is one of the most talented musicians around. The term “musical genius” would not be an exaggeration.

Houghton’s music is known for its mixture of influences and high energy. His lyrics emphasize breaking down divisions among people, and reflecting God’s tremendous love for his people. The tone of Houghton’s lyrics is infectiously optimistic and hopeful. The melodies are also quite catchy. It is hard to sit still and remain quiet when listening to his songs. When they are over, you feel inspired. His songs also have very broad appeal. My husband and I love Houghton’s music. However, our young children love singing along as well. Despite their tender ages, they know all the lyrics.

Israel Houghton also has a compelling personal story. His mother was a white woman from Iowa. In 1971, at age seventeen, she found herself pregnant with the child of her African American boyfriend. To put it mildly, her family was not pleased with the situation; it was suggested that she should have an abortion. She refused to do that, was shunned by her family and moved to California. She was on drugs and broke up with the biological father before the baby’s birth. However, somewhere along the line, she became a Christian. Despite Houghton’s difficult childhood, he was apparently quite strong in his faith. As a young man, he initially had no inclination towards a career in music, but was encouraged by his church to consider leadership in their music ministry. His innate talent eventually led to albums and leadership in the music ministries of large congregations.

Two of our family’s favorite songs by Israel Houghton are “Say So” and “Friend of God.” The links below include lyrics and performances of those two songs, as well as some biographical information about Houghton. Enjoy!

Psalm 40:3 (New Living Translation)
“He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see what he has done and be amazed.
They will put their trust in the Lord.”

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bill Moyers Journal

Frankly, I don’t watch much television these days. As children of the 1970s, my husband and I joke we were raised by the television. And as a young adult, I continued to watch quite a bit. But when I started law school, the challenges were too great. I tried to cut out (or at least greatly curtail) nonessentials that wasted my finite study time—television was the first to go! My husband and I still watched on occasion until we became parents, but at that point in time we became particularly concerned about the influence on our kids of the ubiquitous violence and sexualized images on T.V. Even if we carefully selected appropriate programs, the commercials were often very inappropriate. And frankly, it just wasn’t too interesting, even with dozens of channels. As a result, we canceled cable when our children were young, and at this point we rarely turn the T.V. on anymore. PBS is one of the few channels we ever watch. The programs are generally of high-quality and are interesting. And we don’t worry about inappropriate commercials. Nonetheless, we are very busy and don’t typically get the chance to watch the same program very often.

With all those caveats, there is very little on television that I can recommend to anyone, but I admit that watching Bill Moyers Journal is a real treat for me. To be completely honest, before we cut out cable and re-discovered PBS, I had only vaguely heard of Moyers and was not at all familiar with his program. Bill Moyers Journal consistently explores compelling topics, and devotes a lot more time to them than the typical sound bite obsessed media. In particular, Moyers explores specific topics by interviewing people who have studied them in depth—policy makers, scholars, activists, journalists and other writers. I love books, so one of my favorite aspects of the program is that Moyers frequently interviews authors to discuss ideas about which they have written. The program is often a great way to learn about new, compelling books. Another appealing aspect of the program is that Moyers focuses attention on perspectives that are usually overlooked in the mainline media. As a result, the program always provides a lot of food for thought.

In my opinion at least, Moyers has an interesting background. Like me, he is from the Lone Star State, and he received his undergraduate education from the University of Texas at Austin. For a time in the late 1950s, he worked as a journalist, then went to seminary and became an ordained Baptist minister in the early 1960s. He subsequently served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. After his work in government, he returned to journalism as a newspaper publisher, then as an editor, correspondent and commentator for PBS, CBS and NBC. Ultimately, the majority of his career has been spent at PBS. He has been an outspoken critic of the quality of mainline, commercial journalism, and the influence of the right wing media.

As an ordained minister and a person of progressive politics, Moyers has often explored the role of religion in our world and the nature of progressive religious faith. More information about Bill Moyers Journal is available at the link below to the PBS website.

Psalm 40:10 (New International Version)

“I do not hide your righteousness in my heart;
I speak of your faithfulness and salvation.
I do not conceal your love and your truth
from the great assembly.”