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What do you think of Obama after about a year in office?

I am looking for thoughtful reflections. Nuanced. Deep.

He is not the Antichrist and he is not the Messiah.

All opinions (far left to far right) are totally welcome, as long as they are respectful of our president and of other posters; otherwise, I will edit and/or remove them. I don’t normally do this, but I am specifically looking for a higher level discussion.

In other words, this will be a rant-free “thread.”

My odd Forrest-Gump-Life led me to interact with him in the 80’s in Chicago when we were both community organizers on the South Side. I was with Grand Boulevard Community 76 (Betty Booker and Co.) and he was with a church group in Roseland. We had meetings at the Urban League to coordinate efforts with other organizers. I was in housing preservation and grant writing. We are almost exactly the same age. I’m zany. He was very serious. So there wasn’t much affinity. We weren’t close, although there is “organizer-solidarity” in these situations, and I forgot all about him until the big speech at the Democratic Convention when I tried to place him from my memory. I did visit his church (fairly often) and that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another time.

I am looking for a broad, high quality debate on his character and his effectiveness.

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Christmas Eve worship at Robinwood Church in Huntington Beach, California, 2009

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Want to get a broad ranging discussion going.

In the wee hours of the morning I got a tweet from the President indicating that the Senate had just passed comprehensive health care reform.

I have more questions than answers. What are your thoughts? All opinions welcome.

My questions and comments:

1) Is America too big for a national plan? Is the reason it works in Europe and elsewhere that those countries are smaller?

2) We have a functioning “junta” or “cartel” of health insurance companies which continue to mess with me personally. I’m the healthiest almost-50 year old I know (oldest person I know who shreds the half-pipe snowboarding), and my premiums are an outrage. I just tried to switch companies to get a better rate and got refused. Am sure I’m not alone. What’s your experience? Especially those, like me, who are self-employed.

3) This cartel did everything it could to block any reform. The cartels have to be broken. That is the job of government. Where is Teddy Roosevelt when we need him?

4) American health care is only good if you have a solid government/public job, an exceptional employer, or are simply too wealthy to care about insurance. Otherwise, you may as well live in Cuba or Poland.

5) Our lack of ability to insure our population has led to bizarre use of emergency rooms as public clinics. This costs all of us.

6) Billing is outrageous; ask for an itemized medical bill and you won’t believe what you get charged for sheets of paper and cotton balls.

7) No nation spends as big a percentage of our income on health care as we do.

8] Christian conservatives have a bizarre allergy against health care reform. It’s as if Jesus wants us to call our Senators to keep the cartel in power.

9) Our biggest health concern is obesity. Fat is the “new normal.” The cost of this, long term, is a bill we cannot, as a society, pay.

10) The government is not totally useless. They put a man on the moon. They whupped the Nazis. They built the interstate highways. They designed this internet. We have socialized fire departments. Socialized traffic lights. Health care? What do you think? And, “government is useless” is not an intelligent reason not to go there. There may be good reasons why government should not regulate health care, but blanket cynicism is not helpful in a nation with government “by the people.”

11) When I lived in Chicago, there was a free hospital–Cook County General. Whatever happened to hospitals like that in our big cities?

12) Before you complain about Canada’s system, have you actually talked to a real Canadian about it? Or just listened to talk radio?

I don’t, obviously, have answers. What do the rest of you think?

I hang out with theologians and pastors a lot.

They often bandy about the term “The Gospel” as if it were a fixed commodity on which we all agree.

So what is this “Gospel?”

Gospel means “Good News.” But what Good News are we talking about?

Jesus, in Mark 1:15, kicked off his ministry by suggesting that the gospel was the fact that the Kingdom of God was near.

Conservative Evangelicals seem to imply that the Gospel is the Good News that Jesus died for us. If we say yes to this, we go to heaven. If we don’t, then…well…

It seems, in the New Testament, that there is a Gospel which Jesus preached, and then there is a Gospel that was preached about Jesus. The two come together a bit in John 3:16, but we wouldn’t want to reduce all of the Bible to one verse.

If we don’t preach the Gospel simply enough, we get lost in vague piety and religiosity.

If we preach it too simply (without any nuance) then we collapse the entire Word of God into a simple transactional contract that does not do justice to the depth of our relationship with God.

And then there is the matter of fact that the four “bios” of Jesus are called “Gospels.”

What is, for you: this “Gospel?”

Not a rhetorical question. Please have at it.

As the climate conference concludes in Copenhagen (picture above is from the last day of the conference), I have a number of questions.

Perhaps you have answers.

  1. Hasn’t the Earth always warmed and cooled in big cycles? Weren’t there glaciers in places where it is warm now? Wasn’t there an ice age (very) recently?
  2. Isn’t it therefore a little “above our pay grade” to think we can regulate the temperature like a thermostat and stop those cycles?
  3. I grew up in a town with terrible air pollution (Kellogg, Idaho). It had devastating affects on the plant and animal life nearby. Huge lung problems for a small town.
  4. Do you think it’s impossible that our emissions levels have affected the climate? Why?
  5. No matter how you answered #4, and given #1, is it truly reversible? Partially?
  6. If we really can “dial the climate back” what would be the economic cost (we’d have much less transportation freedom, etc.)?
  7. Perhaps there was a good reason that the ancients built their cities upstream from the beach (Rome, London, Paris). Perhaps we shouldn’t build cities there (New Orleans, etc.)?
  8. Have you noticed that pro-business conservatives and pro-environment liberals read the data differently? Agendas pre-determine what our conclusions are. The right “wing nuts” see a global conspiracy and the left wing chaos-crazy-protestors are being their usual “attractive” selves.
  9. Wouldn’t our quality of life go up if we spent less time in cars?
  10. Is it fair to withhold family cars from Indian and Chinese families? They want them and are beginning to be able to afford them. Combined, they have 10 times the population of the US. What will that do to global air quality?
  11. What are the costs, socially, when conservative Christians appear, as a group, to be against a clean environment?
  12. No matter what the data, wouldn’t it be a good idea to clean up the air and the water? Wouldn’t that be helpful for everyone?
  13. Is a cooperative, binding, global effort to do so necessarily anti-American or apocalyptic one-world-government stuff?

Let me just say I am dubious about the data on global warming. It is way too politicized to be objective. The big picture is very complex. Too many variables.

But cleaner air and water, long term, in a fair and shared effort that counts the cost, seems like a good thing to me.

Your thoughts?

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Church activity levels in North America have always fluctuated.

This is not an essay on the global church, where exciting things have happened.

This is not an essay about Europe, which has its own dynamics vis-a-vis Christian activity.

North America’s ecclesial (church) vitality was always contrasted, in the past, with the “dead” church in Europe. It was also viewed as the “source” of the Global church.

American evangelical Christianity has always been seen as somewhat muscular, with the chiseled face of Billy Graham leading the parade.

It’s too early to tell, but there seems to be a shift in the weather, a change in the climate.

Church attendance appears to be experiencing the biggest drop in recent memory, and the financial climate of the country is contributing to a “perfect storm” which is putting the squeeze on a lot of congregations.

The Christian movement has also been strengthened (both economically and in terms of creativity), in the past, with a robust retail branch: books and music. The changes in technology have crippled these once mighty sectors of publishing, and you’ve certainly seen church bookstores close in your city.

Church leaders are in denial, and as is usually the case in such environments, point to the exceptions. There are big and growing churches all over the place. However, almost all of them are in areas of large population growth and suburban tract house cosnstruction.

National mainline church denominations, brought into being in the late 19th century by easy rail travel, are still holding voting conventions as if air travel and the internet had not yet been invented. Small wonder that the “votes” at these meetings get so much pushback from the grass roots. You can trace the decline curve of these archaic “railroad” organizations as an inverse line to that of air travel and video/TV/computer screens.

Roman Catholics have had their own problems, with the scandals and all. They have also lost huge numbers of young people, especially in the Northeast. Latinos will save the day, you might suggest. But half of the Latino Catholics who immigrate here ditch the RC boat and go Pentecostal or secular.

Evangelicals are the last of the three major groups to feel the pinch. A generation ago, if you had “contemporary worship” and small groups, your church would grow. If your theology was conservative, that helped too. Now, this “recipe” has reached diminishing returns. The church growth movement is over.

Here are some reasons I see. Please add your own to the comments. Let’s figure this out together.

  1. American Christians of the last generation did not have enough children. They fell in love with the pill. Half as many kids means…
  2. Many Asian immigrants (there are exceptions) are not Christian–this has diluted Christian cultural monopolies where they once existed.
  3. African American churches have virtually lost a whole generation of young men–totally unable to capture their imagination.
  4. Christian Conservatives are the least likely group to be able to dialog with a new generation raised in post-modernity.
  5. The evangelistic models of the past (e.g. the “bridge” illustration) no longer work in the current cultural climate.
  6. Contemporary Christian Music has failed, to some extent, to embrace both country and urban music. Most of it sounds very suburban.
  7. Parent/Child relationships are more strained than in the recent past, because there are less children and there is more “parenting per child.” You are perhaps familiar with the “helicopter parent” syndrome. Christian parents often equal non-Christian kids, for this reason.
  8. The first decade of the 21st century was hard on churches (and the country), economically.
  9. Churches have failed to embrace new media. Within a few months, I was able to establish more social media presence than all but a handful of the 20-30 thousand Lutheran pastors out there; with virtually no effort. Culture is being created out there and we are not present. See my essay on Pastors and New Media.
  10. Many churches are over-theological and resist open spiritual and supernatural practice. This new generation is drawn to the supernatural and we try to discourage it rather than channel it.

I don’t have a lot of answers, but this should set up a good discussion.

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Time to rock out to the Bangles (2 minute video length) and get your stoke on!

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CRANK the speakers. This means you!

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So go get a board, already, and join me!

Here’s to the joy of being outdoors, and to sunshine….

It’s not easy…..goin’ steezy….

A lot of us fail to connect with the spirituality and faith of others.

Often we get into conflict with those who don’t pracitce their “piety” as we do.

The word “piety” is a Latin term. It was a highly prized and nuanced virtue, meaning “devotion” or “Spirituality.”

We think that our faith differs from others because of content, theology, politics, or philosophy. And we tend to avoid and mistrust those with a different faith temperament.

The truth is, piety temperament divides us more from others than anything else. We get into arguments with people which stay on the intellecual plane and we don’t deal with the real issues that divide us.

First, it helps to define the three different flavors. They cross all “religious system” barriers.

1) Athletic Piety. These folks use words like discipleship, discipline, and mission all the time. They are evangelistic and zealous. We don’t want to be cornered by them. Left wing or right wing, they tend to be activists and have a cause. Those with Athletic Piety (AP) like books like My Utmost for His Highest. Their preachers love phrases like: if you only knew what was at stake! One more conference! One more book to read! Theology can be an excercise in combat; and many of them gravitate, over time, to Calvin as a guide. Those of you with “AP” will get frustrated with this essay and write a critical comment. Their churches have clear windows. APers contribute a great deal, because without them, who would feed the hungry and transform the world? Their public leaders wear power suits and ties.

2) Cool (or “Deep”) Piety. These are the sophisticates. They prefer Henri Nouwen books and Taize music. If they start to struggle–candles always help; aesthetics in their shadowy churches and shrines are everything. Pipe organs resonate with their very souls. Reflection, contemplation. Ideally, their faith expression would be a succession of Haiku quotes. The sermons in their churches are complex, nuanced, and “oblique,” often with great depth. The first thing they visit in a European capital is the cathedral; and they love stained glass. Their public leaders wear embroidered robes.

3) Warm Piety. This is me, so I’m biased. Please forgive that. There is a lot of human touch (WPers can’t pray for someone without touching him or her) in these faith groups, and a lot of humor in the messages. Their love for the Bible is affectionate rather than theologically rigorous. Rules are just suggestions. People raise their hands when they sing together and talk a lot about a relationship with God; WPers expect God to touch them in one way or another. Testimonies are more important than detailed instruction by the teacher. They love Cursillo weekends and Bible Camp, and they know songs with hand motions. They have the best youth groups. Their mental background music is made up of inspirational, positive quotes. Their leaders wear non-trendy jeans and hooded sweatshirts. They love hugs.

A spiritual community with one “flavor” contracting the services of a leader of another flavor is a recipe for trouble.

We can also be a blend. I can float in the other two flavors without too much distress.

One of the keys to getting along with people is learning to appreciate the value of the other groups:

-Effectivenes (AP)

-Depth (CP)

-Love (WP)

This is all more or less true in most all faith systems. A warm piety Christian may get along better with a WP Hindu than with an AP Christian who drives her nuts. An AP Protestant has immediate resonance with an AP Roman Catholic.

We often feel that we are in a faith community that doesn’t “match” because we were sent there by God as missionaries to “change it.” Not a good idea. It’s malpractice to try to turn a WP church into an AP church. Help your faith community be the best at its own temperament that it can be.

What about “balance?” Also not a good idea; like putting mustard on waffles. Better to stick with one basic flavor in a church or faith community.

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Click on the above link to see a short video of an excptional idea from a donor at our church.

Instead of being charity-oriented only, shouldn’t churches also show confidence in the local business marketplace?

What are your thoughts?

Biology has yet to experience her Newton; her Copernicus.

Biology has not yet come of age. It just doesn’t feel as if it has “arrived” yet.

Darwin will not enjoy his current “Mount Rushmore” status a few centuries from now. He’s just too wrong about some basic concepts. He’ll most likely end up like Galen (the important guy before they figured medicine out)

For a scientific theory (i.e. evolution) to be so controversial well over a century after its “unveiling” begs the question, “What’s wrong with it?” Darwin’s acolytes are still trying to convince us, and generation after generation, it’s not working.

The truth is, we don’t yet understand “life,” and most people are fully aware of the opaque mystery of the topic at hand. All proposed “definitions” of life are hopelessly arbitrary; in the end, life is pretty strange stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I need to lay my cards on the table–I trust the narrative of the Bible and am a committed follower of Jesus. But that’s not why I have trouble with Darwin and his neo-Darwinian offspring. If I had never seen a Bible, I still wouldn’t buy what they are selling.

It’s just too counter-intuitive.

I’m not the sharpest crayon out of the box, but I can tell stuff that happened randomly (i.e. potholes on the 405) from stuff that got designed (i.e. cool Swiss watches). Life seems way more like the latter than the former. Simple as that.

Many “progressive” Christians try to merge evolution and the Bible. They think they have “solved” the problem by saying, “I can believe in evolution and the Bible.” Problem is, no matter what you think of the Bible, spontaneous, undesigned evolution isn’t true. Why staple God onto a system that doesn’t need one?

First of all, “science” about the past is dicey. On a good day!

Truth is, the past doesn’t exist. You can’t go there. Even if you were Bill-Gates-rich, you couldn’t take me there tomorrow. And time travel will never happen because you can’t go somewhere that isn’t there.

The present is simply all we have. Joe’s Crab Shack here in Newport Beach has a sign: Free Crab Tomorrow. There never is a tomorrow. Only a today.

Science, by definition, is organized observation. We can only observe and measure the present, since that is all there is to see. Science must be “repeatable.” You can’t repeat an observation of something you can’t observe in the first place.

Science is a good thing and I am not anti-science. All truth is truth. But science has been running up against limits, in many areas of study, for several generations now. Science has entered a time of diminishing returns. It has never lived up to what we thought was its potential. It’s just created a lot of yucky chemicals we can’t seem to get rid of. Remember when nobel prizes in science were about cool things like beating polio and figuring out electricity? Nowadays the prize winners “achieve” something like figuring out some nuance in a light wavelength. Diminishing returns. Science is losing mojo.

Complex storytelling (scientific or otherwise) about the “past” is fraught with pitfalls. We always tend to read in what we want to see. I want to see a Creator, and I can easily find one; at least I’m honest about my motives–my opponents, on the other hand, pretend to be “objective.” Immanuel Kant described our minds as “waffle irons” which impose our patterns and views on the runny batter of reality “an sich.”

Pick the opposite pre-supposition to mine (i.e. no designer), and you can “find” that too. Your geometry system all depends on the postulates you pick beforehand; same goes for me.

This is why history is such an “odd” discipline. It is a detailed description of something that isn’t actually there. Add science to the mix, and it gets even stranger. History is written by the victors in life and all storytelling about the past is deeply influenced by our current biases. Our historical interpretation of the past far outweighs any actual evidence; we can write volumes and volumes on Greco-Roman society and we only have a few flimsy pages of actual primary sources from that era (Tacitus, Suetonius, etc.), and most of those earliest manuscripts date from almost a millennium after they were written.

Susan Sontag wrote a magnificent essay “On Photography” which talks, among other things, about how it gives us the illusion that we can know the past. Interesting how Darwin’s theory and photography developed (no pun intended) around the same time.

Before this gets too serious, click on this Friends episode that deals with evolution. It’s actually quite profound.

Let’s just come right out and say that all story-telling (including mine) about the past is deeply agenda-driven. This includes secular, mechanistic evolution theories.

We simply have no consensus, in the USA, as to the place of spiritual/supernatural discourse, if any, in the public marketplace. Big agendas are pushing big ideas, but we haven’t even agreed on how to chalk the lines on the football field.

Most of the reasoning on both sides is totally circular. Pre-define science as having no spiritual content, and voila!, you relegate talking about a Creator to the realm of “feelings” and “opinions,” claiming the turf of “fact” for your side. (Theologians do the same thing, BTW)

Who says science can’t entertain supernatural/spiritual/design components? Some grand scientific world congress that imposes this definition on the rest of us? Who gets to decide what science is? Only those who a priori exclude all spiritual content?

Science is nothing more and nothing less than an organized, inductive, collective search for truth by observation, publication, repetition, and consensus. Pre-defining the rules (most narrowly) to ensure your preferred outcome is no longer science.

Pre-defined in non-Designer mechanistic terms, science is no longer worthy of the name “science.” It no longer has the muscle to seek truthful answers to the (big) question: “What are we doing here?”

Getting back to biology–I simply don’t find the argument for evolution convincing.  Neither “mircro (within a species)” nor “macro” evolution.

You can separate out traits (dog breeding, agriculture, etc.), but these are artificially isolated trait groups. Put all the dogs in the world on one of the Hawaiian Islands and in a few generations they’d all look just like their proto-ancestors. There is remarkable consistency within a species.

It seems, from whatever incomplete evidence that we have, that species appear out of nowhere, enjoy a long period of “stasis” where virtually nothing happens, and they they go extinct. These mass “flowerings” of species seem to have happened in a handful of mega-waves over time.

And no one has ever convinced me that one species can become another one. Clearly, it didn’t happen gradually (lizards growing wings ever so slowly over millennia), and if it was a new-species mutation, then it wouldn’t have the right number of chromosomes to mate with anything else (why dogs and cats can’t mate with each other producing any offspring)–it would be a mule at best. And the chances of two identical (male and female) mutations who can mate and be the Adam and Eve of a new species? Please.

Let’s go back to the wings. It would take a bazillion years for wings to evolve to the point where an animal could actually fly (try designing a wing that will lift solid matter off the ground–go ahead). All during that time, the non-flying wings would be a serious liability in terms of survival. And during that bazillion years, the genetics of the animal would be screaming to the offspring not to change anything. Our genes are deeply conservative by temperament.

Real Darwinists have given up on the “gradual change” story and the neo-Darwinists don’t have anything to convince me that mutations (as opposed to gradual natural selection which they have given up) could produce new species. Apparently, species just start, go on for a long time, and die out (looking much the same as when they started).

And micro-evolution going on with humans today? If that were the case, then people in harsh environments (more improvements because of forced adaptation) would be superior to those who have spent thousands of years in “resort” climates. Let the racism begin…

I’m not saying that we’ll never figure this out. I just think that we are all (myself included) missing a really big insight; as big as Copernicus shifting the sun to the middle of the solar system.

I don’t have an answer for the “What are we doing here?” question. I believe God was and is deeply involved. Not because of some old, dusty dogma, but because I encounter supernatural reality on a regular basis, and this reality seems to have focus, personality, and intention. I can’t conceive of this Being having nothing to do with why we are here. And I am not alone. A majority of humans in every time and place (whatever their faith system) relate to what I have just written about spiritual things. They will continue to reject a spiritually-sanitized story about our origins.

Perhaps some truly fresh-thinking person reading this will set aside the tired Creation/Evolution debate and think a truly original thought about what life actually is and how some forms of life relate to other forms of life on earth.

Secular evolution theory, after generations of teaching, has never reached true consensus in our society. It never will. Which begs the question: What’s wrong with it?

Time for some new thinking.

Time for a Newton.

Time for a Copernicus.

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