A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Pope Benedict the 16th has recently called for Christian unity, but such a message is being undercut by his relationship with groups working to break apart the Anglican communion. He has recently held meetings with reps of the Traditional Anglican Communion, a group representing 400,000 rightwing Anglicans who have severed relations with Canterbury. He's also has registered support for the American Anglican Council, the group which hopes to kick the US and Canadian churches out of the communion.

Attempts at previous meetings with the TAC was blocked under Pope John Paul II because it was thought that such a thing could undermine the relationship with Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. But the new pope, has supported this movement, apparently in the hopes that the TAC could be act as an Anglican-Rite Catholic Church in communion with Rome. If this new pope is really interested in unity then not supporting groups working to break up other churches would be a good first start.

In more hopeful news Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Baha'i, Jews, UUs and Zen Buddhists worked together in northern Michigan this last weekend in what was known as Earth Keeper Clean Sweep. It involved thousands of folks taking in 20 tons of hazardous waste from people's homes and farms. And this last week, representatives of various world religions from Islam to Buddhism to Christianity met in South Africa to encourage interfaith work in ending conflicts and promoting peace in the region.

Chuck Currie highlighs an important action by Faith and Community Voices Against Poverty. They are asking people of faith nationwide to stop what they are doing at 2 p.m. EST on Wednesday, April 27, to pray for a budget that does more to support children, the poor, families, the elderly, veterans and persons with disabilities. In a world where religions are coming apart to conflict, stories like this give a bit of hope and a glimpse of what happens when religions work together to tackle the problems we face.

Monday, April 25, 2005

This last Sunday I joined the local UCC congregation. The connection with the new members being received and the celebration of Whole Earth Sunday made for a festive, celebratory service that I'll definetly remember. The language in the book of service which new members go through could have been a barrier but the pastor did several things in the service and in communication with the us that sought to include the diverse understandings of the church.

Interfaith Voices is putting on a day long conference called "Progressive Religious Voices: Religious Values Promoting Liberty and Justice for All". They'll be a whole slew of workshops from church organizing to how to frame issues of faith and morals to community development. It's being held on May 7th at the Fourth Universalist Society in NYC. If you're in the area it'd be a good way to connect up with other religious progressives who are trying to make a difference.

I wasn't able to make it to Louisville to protest the Frist's misuse of religion yesterday but there's coverage of the event which suggest there was great turnout and media coverage as well and a surprise last minute visit by Jim Wallis. In other good news, the UCC is considering a proposal to endorse gay marriage in this country at their up and coming convention. The vote would be the first in the mainline. A prophetic act in today's religious climate.

And Pope Benedict the 16th has condemned and urged resistance to the Spanish's government move towards gay marriage. Sounds like Raztinger is living up to the concerns that some have raised about his papacy. And with the movement of pharamacists around the country lecturing women and denying them prescriptions, in particular, contraception, one piece of legislation seeks to end this practice. It's worth calling congress in support.

Friday, April 22, 2005

I just purchased a Disciples of Christ hymnal from a used book sale for a dollar and have found a treasure trove of songs and prayers. Since April 22nd was Earth Day I thought I'd post one of the hymns which seems to have pertinence on such an occassion. It's titled Restless Weaver, which is one of the better symbols of God I've come across:

Restless Weaver, ever spinning threads of justice and peace; dreaming patterns of creation where all creatures find a home; gathering up life's varied fibers, every texture, every hue; grant us your creative vision. With us weave your world anew.

Where earth's fragile web is raveling help us mend each broken strand. Bless our urgent, bold endeavors cleaning water, air and land. Through the Spirit's inspiration offering health were there once was pain-strengthen us to be the stewards of your world knit whole again.

When our violent lust for power ends in lives abused and torn, from compassion's study fabric fashion hope and trust reb orn. Where injustice rules as tryant, gibe us courage, God to dare live our dreams of transformation. Make our lives incarnate prayer.

Restless Weaver, still conceiving new life-now and yet to be-binding all of your vast creation into one living tapestry, you have called us to be weavers. Let your love guide all we do. With your Reign of Peace our patter, we will weave your world anew.

The National Council of Church's has a helpful resource site. More than 2,000 congregations will celebrate Earth Day this year with special worship experiences, education programs, and other environmental activities. One of those congregations is the UCC church, which I'll be joining this coming Sunday.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

In response to the rally with Frist and religious right leaders in Louisville Kentucky on April 24th, the Clergy and Laity Network is having it's own rally/service on the same day and in the same city. Known as Social Justice Sunday it's taking place at Central Presbyterian Church at 318 W. Kentucky St. at 2:30 pm. The event will include speakers such as Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, former head of the National Council of Churches and Rev. Albert M. Pennybacker, head of the CLN.

The more folks who can attend the more likely the national media will notice the religious reaction against this misuse of religion. There might be regional events around the country also in response which is worth checking out. Faithful America also has a letter campaign to Frist to urge his withdrawal from the event and to your senators to express your views on the way religion is being treated as of late.

A recent series by the Washington Times reveals a problem one sees in the reporting of the culture wars. They tend to pass this conflict off as one between the religious vs. secularists. But there just is not enough atheists in the US for this to be a contest at all. If there was a coverage of mainline Protestant and Jewish groups which take similar stands and do common work in terms of the first amendment, a more accurate picture would be painted. Instead religion and the religious right are collapsed together.

A vaccine which could save the lives of countless women is being opposed by the religious right? Apparently one of the leading causes of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is sexually transmitted. For the vacine to work women would need to have the vaccine before sexual activity and folks like the Family Research Council thinks this promotes pre-marital sex. Fear of women and sex trumps the saving of lives, says something about the nature of the religious right.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Cardinal Ratzinger has been selected as the new pope taking on the name of Pope Benedict the 16th. His work as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly known as the Inquisition, points to the rightward direction of the church. In the 1980s he moved against liberation theologians, in the 1990s he moved against religious pluralism and in recent years has gone after gays and liberalism. Here's hoping that his reign as chief pastor of the church differs from his role as head doctrinal enforcer.

"The vulgar usage of (God), the way it is tossed around by people all the while, takes away the significance that it has had for the great thinkers and devoted souls who have lived by it. That’s true of every idea that is pointed to the highest attainments of human life.

Precisely because these ideas do have this majesty of significance, they are taken over by the demagogue, trying to get people to do what he wants them to do. They’re used by all kinds of people to give significance and importance to what they have to say. And especially is that true today." This was from a talk by HN Wieman in 1965 and it somehow seems all too applicable in 2005

A number of religious voices have spoken out against Frist's use of God to get Bush's judicial nominees through, including the Rev. Robert Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches. The Reform Jewish movement, the ADL and the Interfaith Alliance have also raised the dangers of making political disagreements serve as litmus tests for religious faith.

And George Will paints a picture of modernity vs. the church, never leaving open the possibility that there might be dangers and good things to be found in both quarters. Modernity is painted as libertine while the church is painted as authoritarian, both descriptions appear to miss the mark in that it removes the social basis of modernity and the semi democratic nature of most religious groups.

He also asks if democracy can be sustained without a belief in the transcendant. If the transcendant acts, as H. Richard Neibuhr proposed, as the absolute which relativizes human claims, interests, projects than one can see the importance of such a belief for democracy. But if it simply absolutizes our present beliefs, which seems to be the case today, then the question ought to whether democracy can survive such a belief? Can free inquiry and dialogue operate with this belief?

Progressive Protestant has mentioned the possibility of reading the Neibuhr brothers, especially in today's religious and political climate, such texts seem pertinent. I'm interested in doing so and I wonder if Christ and Culture by H. Richard Neibur or Radical Monotheism and Western Culture, a text which is online, might be the place to start. I'd like to start posting on such texts, though I admit that as my semester draws to a close my posting schedule is likely to get far more sporadic than I'd like.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Empirical Friend has done a number of posts on the religious naturalism of Henry Nelson Wieman and how it could connect up with Quaker thought. To expand a bit on his postings, there is mention Wieman's idea of the four folded basis of creativity. The last is the deepening of community. This starts when there is a recognition that God is at work in contexts and in lives different than my own.

When we recognize this in someone else, we try to learn from them and take on their perspective through communication, to try to see the world a bit as they see it. In doing so, my world is expanded to the degree that I can incorporate this into my past experiences and notions of the world. From this a new vision can be created which encompasses the experiences and perspectives of myself and the other.

Deepening community occurs because of the inter-communication where shared experiences are had. Also how I act in relation to the other has been modified so as to take in their concerns and interests and they have likewise been modified in this interaction with us so that our actions and interests become inclusive of each others, making it possible to live together with a bit more harmony.

I wonder if such a vision could help out the Anglican communion? Btw Progressive Protestant has a great idea which hopefully can take shape this summer and draw folks. He's interested in a gathering, perhaps in Chicago, of progressive God bloggers. I'm into it and if other's are, they should stop by his site and express an interest. And he's posted a photo of me, him, and Chuck Currie meeting up in St. Louis this weekend for bagels & conversation.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The naked exploitation of religion by the GOP continues to reach new lows. This time it's Sen. Bill Frist, whose joining religious right leaders in a telecast program next Sunday which will claim that Democrats are blocking passage of several Bush judicial nominees because they are against "people of faith". A number of folks will share the stage with Frist including James Dobson and Al Mohler.

Such folks apparently take themselves to be speaking for people of faith. What about those religious communities which have historically valued separation of church and state, civil and equal rights, etc. including the mainline Protestant and Jewish groups in this country? We don't exist in this story. It's also a move which shuts down discussion because it makes any Bush nominees immune to criticism.

The Clergy and Laity Network is calling for prayer vigils on April 24th, the day of the telecast to express opposition to this misuse of religion. I noticed that this telecast is occuring in Louisville, KY, which is not too far from where I live. I'm likely to go up to the event if there's some rally or expression of opposition by propgressive people of faith. I'm not sure about possible details, but if anyone wants to meet up with me and others in opposing this event e-mail me.

And in other news: conservative Presbyterians were saddened to discover that a church trial against a pastor from TX who was being investigated for blessing same sex marriages will not happen. And an update with the Jane Spahr trial. Apparently on March 31 the prosecution and defense agreed to a 120 day mediation period to avoid the trial route if possible, so my info on this situation was outdated. Sorry about that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Anglican Archbishop of Wales asks a question worth pondering. "If the church of God can't conduct a debate in a civilised way when it claims to be a reconciled and reconciling community - what message does that give to the world? We cannot as a church call for compassion, peace and justice in our nation and in our world if we as Christians do not exemplify those virtues in our own lives and in our dealings with one another."

And a school district in Delaware provides an example of what happens when you're a religious minority in too many places across this country. A Jewish family sued the district after they had teachers who pressed upon their students their religious views, gave preferential treatment to those students who were members of a local bible club, and had prayers in much of the major events throughout the school year.

"If they don't like it - go to another school," one resident said of religious minorities. This is the public face of religion, one which cannot possibly conceive or imagine life through the eyes of another person, of another faith, so they never can imagine the problem when government is endorsing and pushing religion because it's always their religion which is being pushed. This is why the value of the first amendment cannot be under stated.

Wolf Blizter of CNN questions Paul Begala's Catholicism, since he's a liberal on the network. Astounding. Does being a liberal preclude you from faith according to this journalist? Given the cable news record on covering religion, one would think the answer is yes. Besides Keith Olberman recent piece on the UCC, it's almost unheard of for a liberal religious perspective to get an airing on cable news these days.

A lesbian couple gets turned away from a Michigan Catholic church. This sounds like what the UCC ad was addressing. Apparently the ad was referring to what is happening too often in the church. But there is a happy ending in that other area Catholic congregations ended up welcoming the couple when the news of their exclusion was made public. This reminds us that the gospel is still at work in the world, even when the news seems too often suggests otherwise.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

If you visit Philocrites' site you discover that it's UU. If you visit Wesley Blog it doesn't take long to find the Methodist connection. But this site has been fairly vague in terms of institutional connections. There's been an identification with liberal Protestantism as it's found within the mainline churches but that's as far as it has gone.

Some of this is due to the fact that I haven't officially joined a congregation in my time in Illinois. I've been a bit of a church hopper. I have been active with a local campus ministry program which is sponsored by the Disciples, UCC, and Presbyterians but it's been the only religious affiliation I've had here. Now I've found a home in our local UCC and will be joining this congregation in the coming month. So I suppose this can be considered a UCC blog.

The title of the blog comes from UU circles. I've had some involvement with UUism when I was in seminary in Minnesota. The title is also reclaimining language. The word religious signifying a committment to institutional expressions of religion and liberal representing a particular openness to change and revision thus a creative tension exists between the two terms.

The old symbol on my blogstudio site was stolen from Reconstruction Judaism. The movement's founder Mordechai Kaplan re-ignited a particular faith in God which continues to influence my thinking today, in particular his work The Meaning of God in Modern Jewish Religion. More and more a certain vision of ethical monotheism has animated my religious and philosophic interests.

I wanted to be a member of a movement/congregation which has moved beyond the gay debate to tackling the real issues and problems in human existence and can direct people to that reality beyond ourselves which is worthy of reverence. Every denomination is fraught with it's own issues, but I think for now it makes sense to follow through my committments in the UCC.

This site's interest in liberal religious expression, within a wide range of Protestantism and Judaism will remain. And since it's coming on to two years of existence, any suggestions and recommendations in making this site improve is most appreciated. Thanks go to the folks who read this blog, comment, e-mail me (even when I'm bad at responding back to folks) and who affirm my ramblings.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The trial for Jane Spahr, a Presbyterian pastor and director of the group That All May Freely Serve has been set for April 12th. The charge is that she blessed a same sex marriage a while back in Canada. As she notes "Help me understand how why, when a wonderful loving couple, members of the congregation who co-sponsor our ministry, and dear friends who have been together for 20 years invite me to participate in this sacred and civil marriage - publicly marking their integrity and love - why would I ever refuse?"

A defense fund has been established to help with the legal costs associated with the trial. If you want to donate and help out Rev. Spahr and the cause of glbt inclusion in the church send checks: That All May Freely Serve, PO Box 3707, San Rafael CA 94912-3707. In other news an ELCA congregation in California whose minister lost her ordination credentials because of her orientation is considering the idea of leaving the ELCA all together. I suspect we're going to hear of more liberal congregations doing this in the mainline.

And now for the anatomy of a smear. Here's what Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire said "Interestingly enough, in this day of traditional family values and so on, this man that we follow ... was single as far as we know; who traveled with a bunch of men, although there were lots of women around; who had a disciple who was known as `the one whom Jesus loved'; who said my family is not my mother and father, my family are those who do the will of God,''

Sounds like a critique on the rhetoric surrounding "family values" which the right uses. Robinson appears to be questioning whether we find warrant in the NT for such views. But the right took this story up to claim that Robinson said Jesus was gay. How about honesty and debate over the issues which divide us in the church, not made up stories to get one's base even more angry and bitter? Frank Griswold's use of the word demonic in his assessment of the right's tactics in trying to split the Anglican communion have increasing saliency these days.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A number of news items have recently come out which raise the question about the future of education and inquiry in this country. Some science museums/IMAX theaters in the south have refused to play films which mention the role of evolution out of fear of evangelical reactions. A bill is being considered in Florida that would allow students to sue college professors if their views are not represented in the course, such as creationism.

Medical evidence by doctors which examined Terri Shiavo showed she had no cerebral cortex. Yet the language of the right suggested this evidence was ignored in their efforts to rally their supporters. In medicine, the sciences, and in the universities of this country the possibility of empirical evidence and the results of the best inquiries we have in the subject in question can be stopped if there is a religious group which has decided to target it.

Let's say that the purpose of religion is to search out what features of existence have a salvific quality to it such that we ought to turn ourselves to this if we are to be transformed to the best possible. If so then the knowledge of the world derived from the sciences could prove to be valuable for the religious quest. But today much of religion has pitted itself against the sciences. Thus these conflicts which are affecting our schools and other areas of life.

And many evangelical groups have applaued the voters of Kansas 71% of whom passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Such amendments in other states have been used to end any form of domestic partnerships, usually starting with employees who work for the state. This is the public face of religion...it's an uphill battle for those of us who think that religion can have something positive contribute to the greater society.

Monday, April 04, 2005

It's been frustrating to read the attack against "seculars" by the church and some on the right. There is some room to criticize the events and institutions which have been classified as secular.
But maybe there are things of which we can praise as well. To the degree that the church and the secular can mutually critique and maybe learn from each so as to improve both, all the better.

That would be better than one sided attacks. Below is some quotes from John Dewey's work The Quest for Certainty, where he emphasizes the common world in which the religious and secular live, a world with problems that need cooperation from all facets of life. Seeking to go after a group because they are part of or not part of the church irresponsibily pulls us away from the problems of human life which we all face.

"The historic isolation of the church from other social institutions is the result of pride. The isolation, like all denials of interaction and interdependence, confines to special channels the power of those who profess special connection with the spiritual. In condemning other modes of human association to an inferior position and role, it breeds irresponsibility in the latter.This result is perhaps the most serious of the many products of the dualism between nature and spirit."

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II has just passed away this afternoon. The work he did for reconciliation of the world religions including his visit to the wailing wall and a mosque represents a model for the whole church. And his calls for peace and non violence is a model for the world. But he was not a man without contradictions, as he narrowed the realm of theological debate within the church. Hans Kung who was silenced by the Vatican wrote a piece on how those contradictions affect the future of the church.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I've just started reading a book on Reform Judaism by Dana Kaplan. It's an assessment of Reform Judaism in terms of its recent history and its possibilities for the future. The movement faces the tension of working to be inclusive while retaining Jewish identity, seeking to be connected with a tradition while reconstructing religious ideas and practices to the issues of today. Sounds like liberal Protestantism.

The difference is that Reform Judaism has been growing over the last few decades, making it the largest Jewish movement in the country. Like liberal protestantism they have worked over issues of gay and lesbian inclusion, women ordination, and reconstituted liturgies. I'm interested to see how they went through this process and what could be learned from it.

Apparently a meeting of Conservative Jewish rabbis will be meeting to re-evaluate the movement's opposition to glbt ordination and same sex unions. And 50 clergy from around the state of Kansas have expressed their opposition to a constitutional amendment which bans same sex unions. One Jewish leader said opposition to this was a "no brainer" given their committments to social justice and equality.

It is this sort of relationship of shared values among the mainline and liberal Judaism that I worry about. Israeli disinvestment campaigns in the mainline have recently put a strain on these relations. Is it possible for the church to make a stand for social justice but in a manner which is sensitive to our relations with other religions? It's an issue those of us on the left need to be wrestling with.

I've also added a few sites to my blogroll. Empirical Friend site which while not long in existence, already has had a number of thought provoking posts on theology and quakerism. Virusdoc.net, a site by an evolutionary biologist who is working over issues of faith and life. And there's Progressive Pilgrim Cafe, a site which highlights the role of religious faith and the work of social justice.