Finding a way to win

A completely off topic post, and one that I am sure will come back to haunt me.


An Old Dinka Proverb

Like Anne Lamott, I've been a yellow dog Democrat for most of my life, and have never once voted for a Republican. Ever.

So I was suprised this week when, in an email exhange, someone accused me of being a Bush supporter. It's probaby because of my concerns about stem cells, and my self-admitted prejudice against Kerry--he's the kind of elitist, "I know what's best for you," I care about the poor but spend my off-days skiing in Aspen kind of Bostonian that I couldn't stand when I lived in Massachussets, and can't stomach now.

OK, so I've admitted all that. Let me also say that my politics, and my religion, resonate with what Ron Sider told the Nation in an article entitled "Closing the Religion Gap"

"I don't think God is a Marxist, but frequently the Bible suggests that people get rich by oppression or are rich and don't share what they have--and in both cases, God is furious."

I also worry, that my Evangelical tribe has stopped reading the Bible. Or at least the parts that don't have to do with homosexuality. In the gay marriage debate, the story of S&G (Sodom and Gommorah is often used to show the Bible's view on homosexuality. (Hence the word, sodomy).

Fair enough. But here's what the Bible also says about S&G, from the few verses ahead of Isaiah 1:18, the beloved passage that reads, "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be whiter than snow":

Isaiah 1: 10-18

Hear the word of the LORD , you rulers of Sodom; listen to the law of our God, you people of Gomorrah!

"The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me?" says the LORD . "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.

Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD . "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Here's how I read that -- ignoring the plight of the poor, the hungry, the oppressed, the widow-- really ticks God off. It wasn't just a few gay men trying to rape Lot that brought down God's wrath on Sodom. It was economic injustice as well. And that's the third rail of Evangelical Christianity. God's not just concerned about charity--justice matters. And an economy (like the US economy) where CEOs make 300 times what their lowest paid workers make, is not one that pleases God. It's an economy that is likely to get God really irate. It's definitely not in our country's best interests to get God irate.

This whole post, started as a way to explain this story from the Christian Science Monitor, about a reporter's encounter with Ghazi Suleiman – "a devout Muslim and one of Sudan’s top human-rights lawyers"

After starting off with "“Ah, you are from America. Thank God for George Bush!” Suleiman gives his take on the war on Iraq, and why he loves Bush.

A few of of his key points:
    The ouster of Saddam Hussein has "put pressure on leaders all over the Muslim world to loosen political and religious strictures". In Sudan, that means the government has started to "lessen its enforcement of sharia law and its harassment of political dissidents, he says. “I have more freedom because of the war in Iraq.”
  • Bush "understands the problem with Islam”--since good Muslims are not supposed to "raise arms against the state"--the faith is used "as a machine gun politically to suppress the masses.”
  • "Islam is a good religion," he adds, “but it must be watched. It must be caged.”

Then there this interpretation of the war from a friend of Suleiman, based on a proverb from the Dinka tribe, (one of Sudan's largest people groups.)

There’s an old Dinka saying, he says: “If you do something wrong to me, I forgive you. But I know that someday God will make you hit the son of a chief on the head. Then the chief will punish you.” Some Dinkas believe, he says, “that the Islamic world has hit the son of the chief on the head – and now they’re seeing the wrath of George Bush.”

Don't know if he's right, but it's certainly an interesting perspective.


Cleaning Out My Email

With a couple of pressing deadlines in the last week (and a few left to go), I've been behind on the blogging. Here's a few stories that have been stuck in my email:

  • Trading prophets for "profits" a group of investors have decided to "deliver" Grand Canyon University from financial ruin by making it the first for-profit Christian college in the US. Grand Canyon's new chancellor is Rev. Tommy Barnett of First Assembly of God in Phoenix. Reverend Barnett was asked whether a for-profit Christian college violated the Bible's injunction against trying to serve both God and mammon. "If you use mammon for good purpose," he answered, "then there is no reason in the world not to make profits."
  • The pastor of a megachurch in North Carolina resigned after admitting he plagiarized sermons.
  • This site offers tips on Missionary Dating
  • Jesus host a talk radio show in LA

One other thought. David Anderson, a longtime religion writer and editor of Religion New Service is retiring this week, and will recieve a lifetime achievement award from the Religion Newswriters Association. I first met David about five years ago at a meeting of the Associated Church Press, when some editors and writers were having a few beers and smoking a few cigars in the hotel lobby, and having a wonderful evening of laughter and conversation.

A great reporter and editor, David gave me some of my first freelance assignments, and I'll always be grateful to him.


Archbishop Shaken in Boston

There's no easy answer to the economic, social, and spiritual problems facing the Archdiocese of Boston these days--as this story about a visit by Archbishop Sean O'Malley to St. Peter Lithuanian Church illustrates. The picture accompanying the story tells it all--Archbishop O'Malley with a wearied look on his face, after leaving St. Peters abruptly after "a heated exchange of words with a female parishioner.

St. Peters is one of 357 parishes being closed in Boston, where the sex abuse scandal, declining mass attendance, and shrinking donations (the diocese lost $14 million last year).

They, like several other parishes, are not giving up without a fight. St. Peters was built and financed by Lithuanian immigrants--whose children and grandchildren feel they have been betrayed by the diocese, as this earlier piece reports:

It's as if our whole culture, our ethnic identity, is like a piece of dust, an inconvenience that can be just flicked away," said Gloria Adomkaitis, 59, a third-generation Lithuanian who grew up on G Street in South Boston. "Maybe we don't have as many people as the Vietnamese or Hispanics, but we deserve consideration, too. We don't deserve to be obliterated because the archdiocese decides on a whim that we don't need to exist anymore. That's hurtful, whether you're Lithuanian or another ethnic group."

On a related note: the average weekly mass attendance of the parishes being closed in Boston is 559--which, if they were Protestant churches, would make them thriving congregations. Why they are not thriving, and how the sociology of a Catholic parish differs from a Protestant church, would make a fascinating study.


The Power of Paper Clips

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm going to see this movie. It's called Paper Clips, about school in the small town of Whitwell, Tennessee that started out to collect 6 million paperclips, one for each person who died in the Holocaust. By the time the project was finished, they'd collected 31 million from around the world, and been thanked by Holocaust survivors for helping the world remember their stories.

From looking at the trailer, this film seems to show the power of simple, human storytelling--no gimmicks, special affects, or stors--just people telling their story.


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