Sunday, December 23, 2007

Finding Faith with Ecclesia Ministries

The Washington Post has posted two important videos about Ecclesia Ministries, a ministry of presence to and prayer with the homeless founded in 1993 by the Reverend Debbie W. Little. Check these poignant videos out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Exciting! A People's History on TV

A People's History of the United States is a very important book and one that I was encouraged to read when taking classes at the Servant Leadership School in Washington, DC.

I later heard the author Howard Zinn, Marian Wright Edelman, and Julian Bond read "Voices of A People's History" at my favorite D.C. restaurant/bar/coffeeshop/performance space Busboys and Poets. A television series based on "A People's History" is an excellent idea.

Published on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 by Variety
Howard Zinn’s ‘History’ Comes to TV
Documentary Miniseries to feature Damon, Vedder

by Michael Schneider
from CommonDreams

Production is finally set to begin on a long-delayed TV version of Howard Zinn’s landmark 1980 tome “A People’s History of the United States.”1211 05The four-hour documentary miniseries — titled “The People Speak” — will include performances by Matt Damon, Marisa Tomei, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Josh Brolin, David Strathairn, Kerry Washington, Eddie Vedder and John Legend.

Zinn will host the longform project, which begins shooting next month in Boston. Project, to be exec produced by Zinn, Anthony Arnove and First Tuesday Media’s Chris Moore, has not yet been sold to a network.

Damon and Moore have been looking to adapt “A People’s History of the United States” on television for nearly a decade.

Damon, who lived next door to Zinn as a child, and Ben Affleck included a reference to Zinn and “A People’s History” in their Academy Award-winning “Good Will Hunting.” Soon thereafter, the scribes and Moore (also a “Good Will Hunting” producer) sold a 10- to 12-hour miniseries to Fox based on the book.

“A People’s History” was slated to run on Fox in 1999, but that didn’t happen; later, HBO developed a three-part version but eventually passed as well.

The new adaptation will draw from both “A People’s History,” and sequel tome “Voices of A People’s History of the United States,” which Zinn wrote with Arnove. Miniseries will center on the actors and musicians as they read from the books or perform music related to their themes: the struggles of women, war, class and race.

The longform will mix the performances with photos, interviews and archival footage.

“This project is about Howard Zinn, his books and using that body of work to remind and inspire us all that this is a country built on dissidence,” Moore said. “Howard’s work deserves to be on film, and it is time that we paid tribute and captured the struggles of the people.”

Zinn, whose books chronicle the struggles of Native Americans, women, workers and other Americans, said he’d like to continue to inspire activists.

“Our hope is that these words from the past will speak passionately and clearly to the needs of the present,” he said.

Cinetic Media is handling domestic sales for “The People Speak,” which is also being readied for a DVD release after its initial TV run. Artfire Films’ Art Spigel, Ara Katz and Dan Fireman are on board as producers; David Baerwald will provide the music score.

© 2007

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sorrow & Hope

This weekend has been a blend of hope and sorrow. First, the sad part. Last week there was a major oil spill in the San Francisco Bay when a container ship crashed into the Bay Bridge causing enormous damage to our ecosystem. Click here to donate funds or to volunteer to help in the clean-up. Volunteers have experienced some frustration but more opportunities are emerging for people to get involved.

On Friday, a friend and I visited the San Francisco Green Festival where we met up with Ben Corey-Moran from Thanksgiving Coffee Company. The event gave us hope that creativity and commitment can help move us toward a better future. The work that Ben and Thanksgiving Coffee are doing to promote fair-trade and interfaith partnership was one of many inspiring examples on display. The weekend event was organized by Global Exchange and Co-Op America.

Yesterday evening we went to see Man From Plains an inspiring documentary about Jimmy Carter and his work striving to help foster peace in the Middle East. Go see this film if you can.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Marching for Peace

Members of the Episcopal Diocese of California are gathering this morning at Grace Cathedral with Bishop Marc Andrus to process down to Civic Center where we will join hundreds of thousands in calling for an end to the war in Iraq. Thursday night Grace hosted 300 people of faith for an Inter-Religious Prayer Service for Peace in Iraq, organized by the Inter-Religious Working Group of the October 27 Coalition. Displayed on the labyrinth of Grace Cathedral were boots representing the thousands of U.S. troops killed in Iraq, the names and faces of Iraqis killed were also part of the exhibit. Let's bring an end to this war and work hard for nonviolent solutions to global challenges. Frankly, I'm tired of attending marches against this war. Before the invasion began, I attended huge marches in Washington, DC, and New York as a seminarian with numerous classmates and professors. I'm frustrated that the media and government for the most part ignore us and the growing majority of Americans who want this war brought to an end. But it is my community of faith that inspires me to be persistent.

Over at God's Politics, influential evangelical pastor Brian McLaren has written a strong piece encouraging Christians to challenge those who are beating the drums of war against Iran. Check it out and share widely.

Monday, October 22, 2007

preserving the sanctity of what???

Turns out that one of the bank rollers of an ultra-right-wing group seeking to break-up mainline Christian denominations (because of our progressive stances on same-sex unions and the ordination of women) is having some problems preserving the sanctity of his own marriage. This is sad, very sad.

Various Scaife affiliated foundations have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years to schismatic groups like the Institute for Religion and Democracy. Perhaps the money could have been better spent on say health care for the poor or HIV/AIDS drugs and education?

Good Lord deliver us!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Good News

There are two great news videos on the broadening of the evangelical agenda in the United States over on God's Politics. Another interesting online resource is Speaking of Faith, their program on the fascinating 20th century Pentecostal evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, is worth checking out. My grandfather was fed by her ministry both physically and spiritually as a young man in Los Angeles during the Depression.

Last week, author Garry Wills visited Grace Cathedral for a special forum on American Christianities, you can read more about that here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

inspiring guest

This morning the clergy of Grace Cathedral were joined at our regular weekly meeting by Archbishop of Cape town The Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane. The Archbishop is visiting the Diocese of California this week and will be present for our annual convention. Archbishop Ndungane is a passionate leader for global justice and reconciliation, learn more about his inspiring biography and work here.

Here's a recent news story about the Archbishop of Cape town's visit.

Episcopal bishops who have sidestepped a divisive debate over women and gays should now focus on the developing world's needs, says a South African archbishop who is visiting the Bay Area.

"For most of Africa what matters is whether there is a plate of food in front of them," said Njongkonkulu Ndugane, archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of Southern Africa.

"There is abuse of children, abuse of women. They don't even know where New Hampshire is, let alone America," he said as he relaxed Tuesday in a wood-paneled chamber at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

Ndugane, 66, challenged the Episcopal Church in 2003 to accept the consecration of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, and has been a champion of the rights of gays and women within the faith.

Check out the full story here.

Click here for more on the Episcopal Diocese of California's convention.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In Desperate Times, a concert for Peace

Great story on yesterday's concert for peace at the National Cathedral.

At Washington Cathedral, Pop Music, Politics And Prayers for Peace

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007; C01

"Thanks for coming to give peace a chance," David Crosby told the crowd of more than 2,500 at Washington National Cathedral, before he and Graham Nash launched into "Lay Me Down."

To kick off last night's Pray for Peace concert, John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington and the evening's emcee, quoted Nash: "No person has the right to take another person's life in the name of God." Churches and religions should be instruments of peace, not war, he said.

When people gather to pray for peace, "what you are praying for is an end to war," Chane said. He said it was not an antiwar event, but a moment to call on nations to lay down all arms. "War," he said, "is the ultimate declaration of human failure. What we are saying is: Enough is enough."

With white hair and dark clothes, and flanked by pulpits, Nash looked a little like a singing televangelist. "I would like to congratulate Bishop John Chane for being brave enough to do this," he told the gathering.

It was a little weird, seeing rock musicians stand under the crucifix in a cathedral where magnificent sermons have been delivered and where dead heads of state have been mourned.

"This house wasn't built for the blues," Kevin Moore, known as Keb' Mo', said during a sound check.

But the church folks did the best they could. The sound was top-notch and the walls behind the musicians were splashed with lava-lamplike lights. The atmosphere was enhanced by red- and yellow-robed Buddhist monks moving about the cathedral.

Jackson Browne and Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls also performed on the raised platform in the sanctuary. Tibetan monks chanted, leaders of various faith communities spoke of peace and others prayed publicly and privately.

Before the service, Browne said he was singing in opposition to the war in Iraq and the proposed war in Iran. Many people feel the Iraq war "has been a huge mistake," he said.

"These are desperate times, calling for desperate answers," Nash said. The first step to peace, he added, is dialogue. "I'm 65 years old. . . . My time is passing." He said his activism now is on behalf of his three children.

Music can be a form of prayer and both transcend regions and religions, the performers pointed out. Keb' Mo' exhorted the crowd, in song, to "hand it over" and "get on your knees and pray."

There was a guitarist and a hand drummer. Crosby's son, James Raymond, played keyboards. Crosby and Nash sang "Jesus of Rio" and a new Nash song, a musical prayer titled "In Your Name." Then Crosby picked up a guitar and they sang the heavenly "Guinnevere."

Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), who once belonged to the Top 40 band Orleans, appeared in a dark suit and tie and fit right into the strange melange of politics, pop music and prayer. He led the congregation, with inspired guitar work and vocal help from Nash, in a song: "We are all one tribe."

Browne and Nash performed a haunting version of "Crow on the Cradle" and were joined by Crosby for "Lives in the Balance." And many of the night's entertainers gathered for the finale, "Teach Your Children."

The story behind the music: The Dalai Lama was speaking at Washington National Cathedral in 2003, when Chane looked down from the dais and recognized Nash and Crosby in the congregation. He invited them to his office after the event. A former professional musician himself, the bishop plays drums in a midlife-crisis band, the Chane Gang. Nash saw Chane's drum set in the office and the two began talking about the power of music.

As part of the celebration of the Dalai Lama receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush today in recognition of his resistance to Chinese rule, Crosby, Chane, Nash and Browne planned the concert for peace. Proceeds will benefit the Cathedral Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation and the International Campaign for Tibet.

Before the concert, Crosby was asked why they had chosen to perform in the cathedral instead of a larger venue. "This isn't about being big," he said. "This is about something very unusual -- energizing the churches to stand up for their flocks. We need churches to stand up for us, and say stop the killing."

In the grand sanctuary, Crosby appeared small. "I have a lot of trouble with organized religions," he said, but his faith has been renewed by Chane. "He's got real courage, to say war is not the answer. I feel comfortable here," Crosby said.

Singing for peace, Moore said, "is what we are supposed to do."

Music has power, like religion or speech, he said. "And with that power comes responsibility."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Blogging has taken a back burner recently as I have been learning more about the Bay Area. Thanks to my new friend Griff, a seminarian and organizer for the Episcopal Diocese of California's Commission for the Environment I have been nudged to attend a number of gatherings focused on the environmental situation in San Fransisco's Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. There are serious concerns being raised by local residents, faith leaders and environmentalists about asbestos dust in the air due to construction at a nearby shipyard. The dust is causing many health problems especially for children and the elderly. The entire San Francisco School Board recently passed a resolution calling for a temporary halt of the construction until testing of the community takes place. To read the School Board's resolution, click here. You can read more about yesterday's press conference here.

Please pray for all those in Bayview-Hunter's Point community and learn more about what many view as a serious issue of environmental racism.


There are always great posts on faith and politics at the God's Politics blog. Two particularly resonated with me having recently met Stephen Zunes, an amazing professor of politics and chair of Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Please check out Jim Wallis' piece sharing the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks about Iraq and Iran and Brian McLaren's post on Torture. If we are going to have real change in the United States it will be because we really listened to voices urging us to pursue the way of peace.

On October 27 across the country there will be massive demonstrations for Peace. Many from the Episcopal Diocese of California will be marching alongside our bishop. On Thursday night, October 25 there will be an inter-religious prayer service for peace at Grace Cathedral. Also this month, the Washington National Cathedral on the other side of the country is hosting an exciting concert for peace which you can check out here.

Below are the details about the October 25th prayer service in San Francisco.

Salaam, Shalom, Solh, Paz, Peace
Inter-Religious Prayer Service for Peace in Iraq

Thursday, October 25, 7:00 p.m.
Grace Cathedral 1100 California St. (at Taylor)
San Francisco

Join people from all colors of the religious spectrum as we pray together for peace in Iraq. Since polls show that more than 70% of Americans want an end to this conflict, it is vitally important that this sentiment be visibly expressed. As people of faith, we will pray and we will act.

Brought to you by the Inter-Religious Working Group of the October 27 Coalition.
Co-sponsors include the Episcopal Diocese of California, American Friends Service Committee, Kehilla Community Synagogue, United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance, Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Inter-Religious Witness for Peace in the Middle East, Network of Spiritual Progressives, Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned, Tikkun Community, Jewish Voice for Peace, American Muslim Voice and Global Peace Partners. Other endorsements are pending and welcome.

For more information about (or to volunteer with) the END THE WAR NOW Mobilizations in SF and 11 regional centers across the country taking place on Saturday, October 27, visit or or call Jim Haber at the number below.

and march with us...
There will be an inter-religious contingent for the march gathering at the Friends Meeting House just 2 blocks from the start of the march and even less from Civic Center BART/Muni. 65 Ninth St. between Market and Mission. Gather at 11:00 am. We'll leave for Civic Center at about 11:45. Clergy are encouraged to wear your stolls, collars, or robes. Wear comfortable shoes.

For more information about or to or to endorse the Inter-Religious Prayer Service for Peace in Iraq, contact Jim Haber at, 415-828-2506 or Allan Solomonow at, 415-565-0201x26.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Learn from the Elders

From "The Elders" website:

Despite all the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place. We – The Elders – will endeavour to support those people and do our best for humanity. - Desmond Tutu

Out of deep concern for the challenges currently facing all of the people of our world, Nelson Mandela, Gra├ža Machel and Desmond Tutu have convened a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackling some of the world's toughest problems.

Please check out the Associated Press story about "The Elders" visit to the Sudan. Click here to read "The Elders" arrival statement.

KABKABIYA, Sudan — Former President Carter got in a shouting match Wednesday with Sudanese security services who blocked him from a town in Darfur where he was trying to meet with refugees from the ongoing conflict.

The 83-year-old Carter walked into this highly volatile pro-Sudanese government town to meet refugees too frightened to attend a scheduled meeting at a nearby compound. He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into the town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.

"You can't go. It's not on the program!" the local security chief, who only gave his first name as Omar, yelled at Carter, who is in Darfur as part of a delegation of respected international figures known as "The Elders."

"We're going to anyway!" an angry Carter retorted as a crowd began to gather. "You don't have the power to stop me."

U.N. officials told Carter's entourage the Sudanese state police could bar his way. Carter's traveling companions, billionaire businessman Richard Branson and Graca Machel, the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, tried to ease his frustration and his Secret Service detail urged him to get into a car and leave.

"I'll tell President Bashir about this," Carter said, referring to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Carter later agreed to a compromise by which tribal representatives would be brought to him at another location later Wednesday. But the refugee delegates never showed up.

The Darfur conflict began when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government, accusing it of decades of neglect. Sudan's government is accused of retaliating by unleashing a militia of Arab nomads known as the janjaweed _ a charge it denies. More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in four years of violence.

The conflict has also affected Darfur's neighbors, Chad and Central African Republic. On Wednesday, French officials said a force of 3,000 European troops could begin deploying to those countries next month to protect refugees and other civilians caught up in the spillover violence.

One official said the operation would coincide with the start of the long-awaited deployment, expected this month, of a 26,000-member joint African Union-UN force in Darfur itself.

Tensions are running high after rebels overran an AU peacekeeping base in northern Darfur over the weekend, killing 10 in the deadliest attack on the beleaguered force since it arrived in the region three years ago.

Most of the Darfur refugees appeared too frightened to speak to Carter's team in Kabkabiya, a North Darfur town that has long been a stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia.

Branson said some refugees had slipped notes in his pockets. "We (are) still suffering from the war as our girls are being raped on a daily basis," read one of the notes, translated from Arabic, that Branson handed to The Associated Press.

The note said that on Sept. 26, a group of girls had been raped, and a refugee had also been shot two days ago. Branson said it had been handed over by an ethnic African man.

The visit by "The Elders," which is headed by Nobel Peace laureates Carter and Desmond Tutu, is largely a symbolic move by a host of respected figures to push all sides to make peace.

Tutu led a separate group to a refugee camp in South Darfur, where he told British Broadcasting Corp. radio that the joint AU-U.N. force was needed immediately to bolster the overwhelmed African force on the ground and help restore stability to the area.

"It's awful that AMIS (African Mission in Sudan) should be allowed to be here when it is so inadequately equipped _ I mean they couldn't evacuate their injured from the camp after the attack because they don't have military helicopters," he said, referring to the rebel attack on the AU base in northern Darfur.

The U.N. mission in Sudan deemed it too dangerous for Carter to visit the refugee camp. Instead, he flew to the World Food Program compound in Kabkabiya, where he was supposed to meet with refugees, many of whom were chased from their homes by militias and government forces.

But as the meeting was set to get under way, none of the nongovernment refugee representatives arrived, and Carter decided to walk out into the town to try to talk with them.

"We are in the security field. We're not that flexible," said the security chief, Omar, after the confrontation ended. He said Carter already breached security once by walking to the school and would not be allowed to breach security again.

"This illustrates the challenges that communities and humanitarian workers face in Darfur," said Orla Clinton, spokeswoman for the U.N. Mission in Sudan who witnessed the incident.

Carter later returned to the North Darfur capital of El Fasher and where he was planning to meet with community representatives later Wednesday.

"The Elders" delegation is trying to use their influence at a crucial time _ with peace talks in Libya and the deployment of the AU-U.N. peacekeeping force to begin later this month.

Carter said he felt the trip was proving effective. He said al-Bashir told him this week that Sudan has committed $100 million to a fund for Darfur's reconstruction and another $200 million has been pledged by Chinese diplomatic allies.

Carter said the main goal of the three-day visit to Sudan was to seek guarantees for free and fair elections throughout the country in 2009. Observes fear the elections could be postponed and warn this would imperil the fragile peace in southern Sudan and worsen the conflict in Darfur.

The 2009 vote would be the first democratic election in Sudan since al-Bashir came to power in a military and Islamist coup in 1989. Carter said al-Bashir vowed to allow the election to take place during a private meeting between the two in Khartoum.

"If the CPA fails to fulfill its commitment to free and fair elections and democracy in this country, all other efforts will be futile," Carter said, referring to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended 21 years of civil war between the government and Christian and animist rebels in the south.


Associated Press Writer John Leicester contributed to this report in Paris.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Today, Matt and I welcomed our friend Bernard back to San Francisco. He's found an apartment for a few months across the street from the library, as a retired professor he seems thrilled to have easy access to lots of books, old newspapers and such. After walking around the city of Francis today, I was glad to discover Steve Earle's new song "City of Immigrants." Below are the lyrics, check his new album out.

City Of Immigrants

Livin’ in a city of immigrants
I don’t need to go travelin’
Open my door and the world walks in
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
Livin’ in a city that never sleeps
My heart keepin’ time to a thousand beats
Singin’ in languages I don’t speak
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
City of innocents
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
City of immigrants

Livin’ in a city where the dreams of men
Reach up to touch the sky and then
Tumble back down to earth again
Livin’ in a city that never quits
Livin’ in a city where the streets are paved
With good intentions and a people’s faith
In the sacred promise a statue made
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Constantly spinnin’
City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants

All of us are immigrants
Every daughter, every son
Everyone is everyone
All of us are immigrants - everyone
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
River flows out and the sea rolls in
Washin’ away nearly all of my sins
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of black
City of white
City of light
Livin’ in a city of immigrants
City of sweat
City of tears
City of prayers
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of stone
City of steel
City of wheels
Livin’ in a city of immigrants

City of bone
City of skin
City of pain
City of immigrants
All of us are immigrants

Happy Birthday St. Paul's on-the-Hill!

The church where my family attended in Virginia celebrated 40 years yesterday. From Sunday School to youth group, serving as an acolyte and participating in neighborhood service projects --- St. Paul's on-the-Hill was where my family found spiritual nourishment, inspiration and support through good times and bad. Though I am now on the other side of the country, I am very grateful for having been formed in the faith by this thriving church in the Shenandoah Valley.

Small church reaps big gains

By Jessica J. Burchard
The Winchester Star

Winchester — Every seat was filled during Sunday morning’s service at St. Paul’s on-the-Hill Episcopal Church.

An estimated 120 new and old parishioners filed into the basement of the church at 1527 Senseny Road to celebrate 40 years with a festive service at the site.

Joan Inger, a member of the church’s 40th anniversary committee, said the size of the congregation gives the church an advantage.

"From the beginning, including today, we’ve always been a small church," she said during the service. "But God does good things here."

Inger added the church has raised up five priests and two nuns since it was established in 1967.

The celebratory service was led by the Rev. Hilary B. Smith, who came to the church four years ago.

At the start of the service, Smith said St. Paul’s has thrived because of its commitment to its cause.

"This church is the body of Christ, visible to the world," she said. "Churches do well when we focus on the bigger picture and the mission God has set before us."

The mission of St. Paul’s is to help people nurture their relationship with God.

Prior to coming to St. Paul’s in 2002, Smith had worked in larger churches. She attributes the intimate and accepting atmosphere of the church for its continued success.

"This is a church where people can come and be who they are," she said. "We bring out the best in one another."

Smith’s philosophy has attracted many new parishioner’s to the church.

Joan Blair, of Stephens City, has been attending St. Paul’s on and off for three years. She and her family moved to Virginia 31/2years ago from West Virginia.

"We considered a few different churches and we just felt the warmth from Hilary," she said. "My husband is actually the one who found it and he was very impressed with it."

Blair observed the service and took communion while her two children were in the Sunday school program.

"There’s usually a mix of people here," she said. "They’re very welcoming to people with children."

St. Paul’s has undergone several changes in the past few years. In 1995, it became independent from its sponsor, Christ Church.

Recently, Smith has added several more convenient service times to the church’s calendar. The weekly service schedule is 7 p.m. on Wednesday, 5 p.m. on Saturday, and 8 and 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Having more opportunities to attend church fits into modern life, Smith said.

"People are so busy. A lot of them cannot make it to Sunday services because their children have soccer practice or something," she said. "We try to give them chances to come that work with their schedules."

St. Paul’s is at 1527 Senseny Road. For more information about the church, call the church office at 540-667-8110 or visit

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Presiding Bishop at Grace Cathedral

Today was another rich and full day at Grace Cathedral, with the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bishop of California Marc Andrus at the Forum and the 11 a.m. service. You can hear both the Forum and the service online at

The Presiding Bishop's homily was provocative and gave me a renewed appreciation for angels. You can read the text of the homily here.

Below is a story from the San Francisco Chronicle:

In S.F., presiding U.S. Episcopal bishop affirms same-sex unions

Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer

Sunday, September 30, 2007

On Sunday - the deadline set by church leaders for the Episcopal Church to roll back support for same-sex unions - the U.S. church's presiding bishop spoke unequivocally at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral that there would be no retreat.

"All people - including gay and lesbian Christians and non-Christians - are deserving of the fullest regard of the church," the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori declared during an hourlong discussion before services. "We're not going backward."

Jefferts Schori said these are the views of the church's bishops as well as of its lay members - who have increasingly affirmed rights for same-sex couples. As such, Jefferts Schori's comments served as the punctuation to a historic day.

What will happen next is unknown. But a number of U.S. bishops on Friday declared that they are unifying the scores of breakaway churches that view homosexuality as sinful. They are seeking alternative oversight from conservative leaders based abroad.

"A schism of sorts seems inevitable," said the Very Rev. Alan Jones, dean of Grace Cathedral, who moderated the Sunday discussion with Jefferts Schori.

Anglican Communion leaders issued a communique in February for the U.S. Episcopal Church's bishops to state by Sept. 30 that the church would not authorize rites for same-sex unions or approve gay clergy as bishops. Conservatives viewed it as an ultimatum. Some have suggested that the Episcopal Church's price for noncompliance might be lesser status within the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, the body of churches whose roots are in the Church of England.

The issue of whether gays and lesbians in committed relationships can have their unions blessed by their churches may be the single most divisive issue in U.S. Christianity today. Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran denominations all are torn over the issue. But it plays out dramatically on a global scale among Anglicans, who are the largest, most unified Protestant body in the world.

Jefferts Schori and other Episcopal bishops believe the Anglican Communion is defined by a tolerance for a wide set of beliefs. They believe the communion should continue to minister to a variety of views.

"The pastor's job as shepherd is to mind the whole flock," Jefferts Schori said, referring to a biblical parable of a shepherd who goes searching for one lost sheep. "I am continually, prayerfully reminded of those who are wandering off. The job of the church is to reach ever wider to include the whole."

That Jefferts Schori would be in San Francisco on the deadline day was a coincidence: She had accepted the invitation to come over a year ago, long before the Anglican Communion's leaders issued the communique on same-sex issues in February. But her views, the Episcopal Church's direction and the setting all affirmed each other.

"It's an accident in some sense, but it's a blessed accident," Jefferts Schori said in an interview about the significance of her speaking Sunday in San Francisco.

The 27,000-member Diocese of California, based in San Francisco, has ordained more gay and lesbian clergy than any other. Priests in the diocese - which includes San Francisco, Marin, San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa counties and part of Santa Clara County - have blessed same-sex unions for more than three decades.

Those practices, once on the margins of the Episcopal Church, have become the mainstream.

The church's House of Bishops gathered in New Orleans last week to discuss how to respond to the communique. They chose to maintain the status quo: They would "exercise restraint" by not consecrating any gay, partnered candidates for bishop, and they would not authorize "any public rites of blessing of same-sex unions."

For conservatives, the statements were hollow because it allows priests to privately bless same-sex unions.

"This is neither prohibition nor restraint," said a statement issued Wednesday by the Right Rev. John-David Schofield, bishop for the Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin. "It is simply turning a blind eye."

Conservative bishops and priests in the United States believe Anglican leaders in Africa hold a truer understanding of Christ's teachings.

"The church in the West has lost its way," the Right Rev. Robert Duncan, the bishop of Pittsburgh, said on Friday, in announcing the new coalition. "The church in the 'Global South' is utterly clear about what it is to follow Jesus Christ."

Jefferts Schori said on Sunday that she sees the path of Christ in a different manner.

"Jesus hung out with people on the margins," she said. "He hung out with people who were unacceptable to the Judaism of his time.

"He didn't spend a great deal of his time seeking to throw people out. My sense of what it means to follow Jesus is to love the image of God in our neighbors and respond to the needs of the image of God in our neighbors."

Jefferts Schori is skeptical of the fate of any breakaway churches or diocese, saying Duncan's efforts would be the latest in a line of splinter groups that failed.

"There's such a long history of splitting that it would be a sign of the Spirit's movement if he were able to gather them into a coherent whole," she said.

"American Protestantism is characterized, unfortunately, by the desire to fracture," she said. "There's a piece to American character that we have to have fully defined, black and white, precise understanding. And that's not a terribly Anglican characteristic."

Many of those gathered Sunday applauded Jefferts Schori, saying they support her views and believe that the direction of the church will ultimately lead to full equality - having formal, authorized rites for same-sex unions.

But some view the current treatment of gays and lesbians as tantamount to second-class status.

Christopher Hayes, 40, of San Francisco said he and his partner of 13 years are in the planning stages of their same-sex union, a ceremony that will take place in Grace Cathedral. But he feels frustrated by the state of events.

"I want to hear that we're not satisfied with where we are right now," he said.

Jefferts Schori said the time is not right - yet - for such a moment.

While some conservatives may leave because of the church's views, she said others may be drawn to the fold.

"Decisions the church as a whole makes can open the door wider for people who have not been part of a faith tradition or this part of Christianity. ... The church always is changing."

E-mail Matthai Chakko Kuruvila at

Saturday, September 22, 2007


The past week has been incredibly busy in preparation for Camino, a national Episcopal young adult gathering being held at Grace Cathedral. Today, lots of really wonderful people from across the country showed up, danced, sang, prayed, and learned about ways we can together work for a more just and peaceful planet. There's lots more going on tomorrow and Sunday as well.

Tonight, during a delicious meal, an entertainer/activist on a bicycle rode into the Cathedral Plaza played some sweet tunes, rapped, and got many of us up and out of our seats. Learn about this fascinating guy and his creative work here and here. My friend Jo introduced Lyra (another member of Camino's Design Team) and me to Paul at the Revolution Cafe a few weeks ago in the Mission.

Also, check out the Episcopal Life story about Camino here for more on what is to come. I'm especially excited and grateful that there's a significant group of people from Virginia in San Francisco for Camino including my good friend Paris.

Bishop Marc Andrus (who has made an important statement on the current Bishop's Meeting going on in New Orleans) will join the Camino gathering on Sunday as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Doctor Who as a parable of Christ

This morning Matt was thrilled to share this story with me. I think he's likely the greatest fan of Doctor Who in North America. If you don't know the program it is well worth checking out, longest running science fiction television series ever.

Church hosts Doctor Who service
A church is to host a Doctor Who-themed communion service aimed at young people.

St Paul's Church in Grangetown, Cardiff, was once used as a filming location for the BBC Wales-produced series.

The "cafe-style" service for people in their teens and early 20s, will feature music and clips from the hit show.

One of the organisers Fr Dean Atkins, said as a saver of the world, Doctor Who was "almost a Messiah figure".

Two years ago, the Anglican church was used as a location for the Father's Day episode of the first series, in which a giant reaper creature attacked wedding guests at the church.

I love the series and it has such a great following that we couldn't resist doing something for young people on a Doctor Who theme
Parish priest Fr Ben Andrews

Fr Atkins, youth officer with the Diocese of Llandaff, said: "In the series there are lots of references to salvation and the doctor being almost immortal.

"We are using the figure of Doctor Who as a parable of Christ."

The language used in the series also lends itself to exploring the Christian faith, he said.

He added: "Christ is a kind of cosmic figure as well if you like, somebody who does not travel through time but all eternity is found in him.

"He is a kind of encapsulation of the beginning and the end, in fact he existed before time began and he will exist when time ends."

Parish priest Fr Ben Andrews said: "I love the series and it has such a great following that we couldn't resist doing something for young people on a Doctor Who theme.

"Lots of people think that young people are the future of the church.

"This kind of event will show they are part of the church of the present and have an important part to play in its future.

"We are building on the past but always looking forward."

The service takes place on 23 September at 1830 BST.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/09/12 15:07:33 GMT

Sunday, August 26, 2007

along the way

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend time with colleagues from Grace Cathedral at the Friends of Sabeel Regional Conference in Berkeley. What an amazing gathering of articulate voices for justice and peace in Palestine/Israel. The conference's theme "Breaking Down the Wall of Silence: Voices We Need to Hear" describes well what took place at St. John's Presbyterian Church. I was most grateful to hear Mubarak Awad, Palestinian founder of Nonviolence International, Cindy and Craig Corrie (parents of martyred peace activist Rachel Corrie, Huwaida Arraf, co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement, and Anna Baltzer, a Jewish American scholar and peace activist. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that someone I had been introduced to earlier this week at Martin de Porres House of Hospitality, Chris Brown, was among the panelists connecting the nonviolent movement for Palestine with the African American experience and the movement to end Apartheid in South Africa. This was a very moving and hopeful gathering that reminded us all how very important a just and peaceful resolution to Palestinian/Israeli situation is to the future of this planet. An author and scholar that I would highly recommend to anyone interested in learning more about what is happening and what can be done both locally and internationally is Stephen Zunes. I have been reading the excellent work of Professor Zunes since I was a student at Virginia Theological Seminary (on regarding the build up to the war in Iraq. Zunes responded almost immediately and regularly to the numerous false and twisted assertions made by the Bush Administration regarding weapons of mass destruction. I was delighted to meet him at the conference yesterday, purchase his book "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" and learn that he is the son of an Episcopal priest.

Serendipitously, I have begun communicating via social networking sites and web chat with Palestinian friends made many years ago while attending a youth course at St. George's College in Jerusalem. My prayer is that these newly developing and rekindled connections will help stimulate action both personal and collective for peace. Recalling the words of Nelson Mandela, "education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world," may we each seek to educate ourselves and our communities about what is happening around the world and consider how we might help bring real progressive change for all.

To learn more about Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem please click here. Sabeel is an Arabic word for way, spring, or channel.

The photos and the graphic below are from Jewish American scholar and activist Anna Baltzer's website.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Faith & Nonviolence

We don't get cable so I did not get to tune into the CNN miniseries called "God's Warriors" although I did get to view a few web videos. As one who believes (along with many New Testament scholars and Christian theologians) that Jesus taught and practiced nonviolence I am always troubled when the violent among us are given more space to express their views than those who choose the narrow path of peace. This public discussion is so important and we need more interfaith engagement not less. There are three excellent posts over at God's Politics that engage the intersection of faith and violence, please check them out here, here and here. One is about the latest Bourne film, which Matt and I both thought raised valuable questions. As Gareth Higgins author of the Bourne piece writes,

The Bourne Ultimatum provocatively reminds us that an uncritical approach to, for instance, defense, or economics, or prison, or immigration policy involves ceding ownership of one's life to "the authorities"; doing it "just because they say so." All too often, refusing to ask questions about the status quo only serves to keep injustice in its perfect equilibirum. Unthinking patriotism or ideology of the kind that allows secret sins – whether of deceit, or conspiracy, or killing - to be carried out in our name because "the country" depends on it meets its match in Jason Bourne.

On a related matter I am very grateful that Virginia Senator John Warner, a fellow Episcopalian has stood up and called for troop withdrawals from Iraq. This is significant in large part because Warner is a Republican. May more people of both parties learn from his example.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Power to the Peaceful

For Bay Area people, here's something to look forward to...

I've been a fan of the Indigo Girls for a long time and am excited about hearing more from Michael Franti, who is organizing this amazing event in Golden Gate Park. A few years ago, one of the Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers spoke (and sang) with her Dad at Washington National Cathedral. You can check that out here.

latest sermon

Click here to listen to my most recent sermon.

Click here for this past Sunday's Gospel text.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

blowing in the wind

It has taken me a little while to get back to the blog after the week away. Beginning with the sounds of a "Jesus Boot Camp" outside our tent (we were literally surrounded by screaming kids in camouflage our first morning at the campground), somewhere in the middle we visited my brother in L.A. and it all ended with Matt on stage with Rufus Wainwright!

Our brief visit to the L.A. Catholic Worker was wonderful, we want to return there for a longer visit sometime. Everyone was very welcoming to us and we had the chance to view Father John Dear's documentary "The Narrow Path" with the summer interns. The film is definitely worth watching if you have the opportunity. Jeff, a long time member of the LA Catholic Worker whom we met briefly is in jail right now for participating in an all night sit-in encouraging a House member to stop funding the war. Please join us in praying with him as he "is dedicating his jail time to the memory of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." After the film Matt and I linked up with my seminary friend Rachel and then Christopher led us to Venice Beach for dinner. (The photo below is of Christopher, me, and Matt left to right)

There's been a lot to blog about this week, but the story below was particularly frustrating to me revealing the ongoing tension between certain forms of Christianity and the struggle to treat all people with dignity, respect and love.

Church Cancels Memorial for Gay Navy Vet

ARLINGTON, Texas — A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.

Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright. But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.

"It's a slap in the face. It's like, 'Oh, we're sorry he died, but he's gay so we can't help you,'" she said Friday.

Wright said High Point offered to hold the service for Sinclair because their brother is a janitor there. Sinclair, who served in the first Gulf War, died Monday at age 46 from an infection after surgery to prepare him for a heart transplant.

Here's the full story.

If this mega church's actions make you "mega" frustrated too I encourage you to join me in 1) praying for everyone involved, especially those who are grieving 2) sending an email to the pastor encouraging him to publicly apologize and 3) sharing this story with others.

The recent LGBT Presidential Forum hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and attended by most of the Democratic candidates was a sign of hope this week that things are going to change for the better in this country for all, including megachurches. If God can change Paul from being the chief persecutor of Christians to the church's leading evangelist, God can change even the most anti-gay churches and pastors into places and people of blessing, acceptance, and love.

THIS JUST IN: I just received an email from Susan Russell saying, "Lutherans to allow pastors in gay relationships". AWESOME! Here's the story.

Monday, July 30, 2007

time away

Matt and I are heading south for a short camping trip and then to visit my brother Christopher in L.A. who is wrapping up his summer of work with the Catholic Worker House near Skid Row (yes, that's my bro up a tree).

Matt's not as fond of camping as I am, so keep us both in your prayers. On the way back up to SF next weekend we're going to a Rufus Wainwright concert.

In addition to soaking up the beauty of the California Coast, I hope to finish reading Mark Scandrette's Soul Graffiti and the last two Harry Potter books. Matt's re-reading A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and a Doctor Who comic book. What are you reading this summer?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

colorful day

The morning started with helping (along with a few others from Grace Cathedral) Precita Eyes set-up for their Urban Youth Arts Festival. Fortunately, this all happened in Precita Park which is close to our apartment so Matt walked me there after a latte from Nervous Dog.

I've been so inspired by Precita Eyes' incredible work since moving to SF. In the midst of all the people setting up and the youth gathering around eager to spray paint, I met Susan Cervantes. Susan founded Precita Eyes over 30 years ago. What a tremendous witness for care, creativity, community, and collaboration. I'm looking forward to learning more from Precita Eyes and from Susan.

Afterward, I had a great conversation over a tasty enchilada with Niall, a fellow pilgrim from the South Africa Pilgrimage for Peace. Then I quickly headed to Leslie's in Oakland for a conversation about the emergent church movement with a group of Bay Area Episcopalians. On the way home I got to hear Tom's story of how he was led to the Christian faith, his experience of the emerging church at a place called Home in Oxford and his planetary move to work here in SF on video games.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Angelic Troublemakers on Episcopal Cafe

My most recent post is up at Episcopal Cafe. Please check it out, leave a comment and tell us about the Angelic Troublemakers you are inspired by.

“We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”
Bayard Rustin

Thursday, July 19, 2007

every day do something that won't compute

This afternoon after a walk and two really good conversations about urban life and ecology --- I started thinking about planting an urban garden and lines from Wendell Berry's "The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" started popping into my head. Here's the poem/manifesto in full.

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry, reprinted by permission of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.

wood-headness kills

Below is an important piece by retired CIA analyst Ray McGovern. During seminary I was fortunate to take classes led by Ray at the Servant Leadership School in Washington, DC an organization rooted in the ecumenical Church of the Savior.

Published on Thursday, July 19, 2007 by
Bush’s Wooden-Headedness Kills
by Ray McGovern

President George W. Bush is convinced, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that he is on the right course in the war in Iraq and the struggle against terrorism. He says he will not change his mind. Thus, we are at an historic moment; and we would be well advised to see what light historians might shed on our current predicament in Iraq and the basic (but unanswered) question as to why so many people resort to terrorism against us.

Historian Barbara Tuchman addressed the kind of situation we face at this juncture in our country’s history in her best-selling book, “The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam.” (Had she lived, she surely would have updated the book to take Iraq into account).

Tuchman wrote:

“Wooden-headedness…plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Tuchman referred in this context to 16th century Philip II of Spain as the Nobel-laureate (so to speak) woodenhead of all time: “No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.” Comparisons, I know, can be invidious, but Philip amassed too much power and drained state revenues by failed adventures overseas, leading to Spain’s decline. Sadly, Tuchman, who died in 1989, cannot opine as to whether history will see George W. Bush as having displaced Philip as supreme woodenhead. Bush would have a good shot at it, it seems to me.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

In her book, Tuchman emphasized that courtiers can reinforce the ruler’s certitude, as was the case with Philip, and is the now the case with George. And if the courtiers are really good at it, they are awarded the Medal of Freedom-as was the case with former CIA director George Tenet, former Army General Tommy Franks, and former U.S. proconsul in Baghdad Paul Bremer-each of whom richly deserved a Heck of a job, Brownie-type salute. As Tuchman pointed out:

“Once a policy has been adopted and implemented, all subsequent activity becomes an effort to justify it…Adjustment is painful. For the ruler it is easier, once he has entered the policy box, to stay inside. For the lesser official it is better…not to make waves, not to press evidence that the chief will find painful to accept. Psychologists call the process of screening out discordant information “cognitive dissonance,” an academic disguise for “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Bush’s genius is that he knows this instinctively-without having to take Tuchman’s book to read in Crawford. And, by all signs, he likes it that way. That is why he has assembled a truly amazing array of sycophants around him, whose only pedigree is loyalty to George W. Bush.

And that is precisely why we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), in our first Memorandum for the President (Feb. 5, 2003), closed with this admonition:

“After watching Secretary Powell today [giving his speech at the U.N.], we are convinced that you would be better served if you widened the discussion beyond violations of Resolution 1441, and beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Our views, and those of others-like Scott Ritter, who knew more about what had happened to Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” than virtually anyone-made no dent in the wooden head. Not that the president really believed there were such weapons there. If he did, he was badly misled by Vice President Dick Cheney, who was well aware that the “evidence,” such as it was, was bogus. Senior White House officials told my former colleagues at CIA eight months before the war that they needed to focus on “regime change,” not WMD. And the White House did not wish to hear any more about WMD from CIA’s super-source-the Iraqi foreign minister, whom CIA operations officers had “turned” to work in place for the U.S. rather than Saddam.

The Attack on Iraq and Terrorism

In the same 5 Feb. 03 Memorandum, we strongly warned the president (as did many others) of the consequences, should he order our troops to invade Iraq:

“It is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.”

We cited a CIA study done the previous fall that pointed out:

“The forces fueling hatred of the U.S. and fueling al-Qa’ida recruiting are not being addressed…the underlying causes that drive terrorists will persist.”

And we noted that that CIA report cited a 2002 Gallup poll of almost 10,000 Muslims in nine countries in which respondents described the United States as “ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased.” We hoped against hope that someone could break through the coterie around President George W. Bush and give him a chance to hear why “they hate us.” Someone, for example, from the U.S. Defense Science Board, a panel established to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense, which on Sept. 23, 2004 completed on an unclassified study on “Strategic Communication.” With little risk to their day-jobs, that distinguished board directly contradicted the line taken by the president:

“Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf States. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy…”

It is hard to guess whether such straight talk might make a dent in presidential wood. The pity is that the palace guard around him headed by centurion-in-chief Cheney can, and does, keep such information from getting through. Even if the president were to read the New York Times, as many of us still do, he would have had to wait two months for the “paper of record” to put this story on the record and, even then, he would have been shortchanged.

Times writer Thom Shanker, to his credit, wrote a story on the findings of the Defense Science Board panel on Nov. 24, 2004 (better two months late than never). Shanker, too, cited the paragraph immediately above, but only the first and last sentences survived. To someone’s discredit, the offending middle sentence was surgically removed before the paper went to press.

NIE Ducks Key Issues

The latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) titled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland,” is a disappointment, at least judging from its declassified Key Judgments that were made public on July 17. The judgments caused a stir by describing a “persistent and evolving terrorist threat” and pointing out that al-Qa’ida has secured safe haven in the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And then came the “mushroom-cloud” warning:

“al-Qa’ida will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.”

Now that I’ve got your attention, I must tell you there is in the Key Judgments absolutely no hint as to how likely it might be that al-Qa’ida will be able to acquire such material. The message seems to be simply: Be afraid. Let us “assess” and “judge,” but don’t ask us about sources or provenance.

The Unaddressed Why of It All

Worse still, the Key Judgments throw no light at all on why al-Qa’ida or other terrorist groups would want to use such weapons against the U.S. With this key element missing, the paper reads like a long police bulletin: Be alert; heightened threat; terrorists want to do bad things to us. We don’t know if they can; but “we assess” they will try to do very bad things…and don’t ask us why. They’re evildoers; is that not enough for you?

The estimate bears the earmarks of having been drafted originally by law enforcement agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, whose portfolio include terrorist threats to the U.S., and the FBI. There are pitfalls here. There is a tendency to inflate the threat, when one has a parochial interest in building up one’s capacity to deal with it

In the past, the Pentagon would routinely magnify external threats by writing what we disdainfully called “budgetary intelligence” to justify burgeoning budgets. There is more than a whiff of that in the Key Judgments. The National Intelligence Council, which has purview over NIEs, is supposed to monitor this. But there is no sign in the Key Judgments that judicious restraint has been applied.

So, even if the president and Cheney wished to know what actually fuels all this terrorism, they would receive little if any help from this estimate.

Help Needed

And since 9/11, the Michael (Heck-of-a-Job-Brownie) Browns have proliferated in the national security apparatus almost as quickly as lapel flag-pins.

Ms. Fran Townsend, the young woman with the portfolio for terrorism at the National Security Council seems ill suited to the job. She confessed to being frustrated at al-Qa’ida’s success in rebuilding its infrastructure and links to affiliates and the fact that Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants have found safe haven, as the estimate makes clear.

And she was far from comfortable responding to journalists’ questions, as can be seen from her answer to this one:

Q. The president was warned before the war that this was actually going to help al-Qa’ida gain influence…Isn’t that something the president ignored?

A. But you’re assuming this is a zero-sum game, which is what I don’t understand. The fact is, we are harassing them in Afghanistan. We’re harassing them in Iraq. We’re harassing them in other ways non-militarily around the world. And the answer is, every time you poke the hornet’s nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you. That doesn’t suggest to me that we shouldn’t be doing it.

Is this what passes for a strategic plan to counter terrorists? If so, it certainly highlights the need for adult supervision in the White House….and for creating the capability to prepare honest, sophisticated estimates, which in turn can enable policies of some vision and imagination.

But all this matters little, if wooden-headedness continues to prevail with the president and Cheney. As long as they are permitted to preside over keystone-cops law enforcement operations, with an occasional military surge here and there, the men and women in our armed forces, and the rest of us, will be in greater danger.

In the end, though, wood is not difficult to drill through with the proper tools.

Thanks to the prescience and courage of those who crafted our Constitution, a wood-tool is available. It is a precision tool that, with some courage, can be employed almost immediately. It is called impeachment, the orderly political process the Founders left to us for use when the president and/or vice president or other high official needs to be removed to save the Republic.

Let the members of Congress, who enjoy calling one another “distinguished,” distinguish themselves by rising to the occasion. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us at another such juncture, that there is such a thing as too late. Too-late has already come to more than 3,600 young men and women in our armed forces, as well as thousands now missing limbs and other once functional parts of their bodies and minds. Not to mention the carnage visited on hundreds of thousands more whose only sin is that they are Iraqis.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he chaired National Intelligence Estimates and prepared/briefed the President’s Daily Brief. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

This article appeared originally on .

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Please pray for our elected leaders tonight as they seek an end to the war in Iraq.

Below is a message from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.


PLEASE Take the time to call your Senator AND an Episcopal Senator

Earlier today (July 17), the Senate began debate on an amendment to the 2008 Defense Authorization Bill which would begin troop redeployment from Iraq within 120 days. The Republicans plan to filibuster the amendment to prevent a vote, so Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to keep the Senate in session all day and night Tuesday (July 17). He hopes to force an up or down vote on the Levin-Reed amendment to redeploy most troops out of Iraq by April 30, 2008.

The pressure of the anti-war movement has brought us this far, we must make sure our demands are not lost in the 'drama' of the Senate all-nighter on Iraq. While we think that we'll be in a better position politically if the Levin-Reed amendment passes, the more important part of our message is our demand for an immediate and complete withdrawal of all troops and contractors, and the closing of all U.S. bases.
We hope you can take action today to help keep the pressure in the Senate. Please forward this message widely and activate phone tress or other mechanisms to get people in motion today and tonight. It is important that every member of the Senate hear from us!

Call your Senators with this message:For Episcopal Senators click here
* Bring all U.S. troops and military contractors home from Iraq on a firm, immediate timeline!
* Tell Republicans to allow the Levin-Reed amendment to come to a vote.
* Tell Democrats and Republicans to support the Levin-Reed amendment as a step in the right direction. Emphasize that their work is NOT done. The Levin-Reed Amendment does Not end the occupation and it leaves too many troops and all military contractors behind in Iraq.
Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121 - Thank you so much, these calls are important!

Monday, July 16, 2007

hiking, swimming, eating and singing

This afternoon Matt and I went for a hike near Mount Tamalpias in Marin. Afterwards, we went for a quick dip in the Pacific and then had dinner at a little restaurant/pub. The coolest thing about the pub in addition to great food and beer was that they kept playing our favorite music, starting with Gillian Welch, followed by Nick Drake, and then to our complete surprise the Magnetic Fields.

Friday, July 13, 2007

affordable housing in the Mission

Today as I walked home from the BART Station along Mission Street I saw a large gathering at the intersection of Mission and Cesar Chavez. Standing with colorful signs this enthusiastic, diverse crowd of immigrants, senior citizens, youth and young people sought to highlight the need for real affordable housing in SF. The demonstration was organized by the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center and a variety of other groups including Queers for Peace and Justice.

For more information about these efforts to encourage affordable housing and locally owned businesses on the corner of Cesar Chavez and Mission Street click here.

Here's a recent opinion piece in the Guardian by the Executive Director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

In a few weeks the faith communities of San Francisco will be standing together with the Bay Area Organizing Committee to stand up in support of affordable housing, health care and fair paying jobs for working people and families in SF.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

episcopalians via media

There are two inspiring posts over at Episcopal Cafe's "The Lead" blog. One is about former Tennis Star now Episcopal Nun Andrea Jaeger, the other is an interview with Anglican/Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu by Brad Pitt in the July issue of Vanity Fair. Check them both out here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

God & Country

A new friend of mine sent this to me yesterday. Very important, moving piece by University of Virginia professor Charles Marsh. Share widely.

God and Country
By Charles Marsh
The Boston Globe
Sunday 08 July 2007

What it means to be a Christian after George W. Bush.

If God's on our side, He'll stop the next war.
- Bob Dylan

Early one Sunday morning in the spring of 2003, in the quiet hours before services would begin at the evangelical church where I worship in Charlottesville, Virginia, I opened files compiled by my research assistant and read the statements drafted by Christians around the world in opposition to the American invasion of Iraq.

The experience was profoundly moving and shaming: From Pentecostals in Brazil to the Christian Councils of Ghana, from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East to the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, from Pope John Paul II to the The Waldensian Reformed Church of Italy and the Christian Conference of Asia, the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global ecumenical church spoke in unison.

Why did American evangelicals not pause for a moment in the rush to war to consider the near-unanimous disapproval of the global Christian community? The worldwide Christian opposition seems to me the most neglected story related to the religious debate about Iraq: Despite approval for the president's decision to go to war by 87 percent of white evangelicals in April 2003, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts poll, almost every Christian leader in the world (and almost every nonevangelical leader in the United States) voiced opposition to the war.

In their enthusiastic support of the White House's decision to invade Iraq, evangelicals in the United States practiced an ecumenical isolationism that mirrored the prevailing political trend. Rush Limbaugh may have pleased his "dittoheads" in mocking the dissenting pastors, archbishops, bishops, and church leaders who stuck their noses into our nation's foreign policy, but the people in the United States who call themselves Christian must organize their priorities and values on a different standard than partisan loyalty.

These past six years have been transformative in the religious history of the United States. It is arguably the passing of the evangelical moment - if not the end of evangelicalism's cultural and political relevance, then certainly the loss of its theological credibility. Conservative evangelical elites, in exchange for political access and power, have ransacked the faith and trivialized its convictions. It is as though these Christians consider themselves to be recipients of a special revelation, as if God has whispered eternal secrets in their ears and summoned them to world-historic leadership in the present and future.

One thing, however, is clear: Any hope for renewal depends on the willingness to reach out to our brothers and sisters abroad. We must reshape the way we live in the global Christian community and form a deeper link to the human family and to life. To do this, we must begin by learning to be quieter, and by reaffirming the simple fact that our faith transcends political loyalty or nationhood.

In a German concentration camp in 1944, the theologian, pastor, and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer pondered the future of the church in Germany as it lay in the ruins of its fatal allegiance to Hitler.
"The time of words is over," he wrote. "Our being a Christian today will be limited to two things: prayer and righteous action."
Bonhoeffer, who had actively opposed the Nazis since the passage of the Aryan Laws of 1933 and was executed in April 1945, believed that the church had so compromised its witness to Jesus Christ that it was now incapable of "taking the word of reconciliation and redemption to mankind and the world." The misuse of the language of faith had humiliated the Word; any hope for renewal would need to begin with the humble recognition that God was most certainly tired of all our talk.
It is time to give Bonhoeffer's meditations a new hearing. With many other Christians in the United States and many more abroad, I have watched with horror in recent years as the name of Jesus has been used to serve national ambitions and justify war. Forgetting the difference between discipleship and partisanship, and with complete indifference to the wisdom and insights of the Christian tradition, we have recast the faith according to our cultural preferences and baptized our prejudices, along with our will-to-power, in the shallow waters of civic piety.
By the time American troops began bombing Baghdad before sunrise on March 20, 2003, the collective effort of the evangelical elites had sanctified the president's decision and encouraged the laity to believe that the war was God's will for the nation. Evangelicals preached for the war, prayed for the war, sang for the war, and offered God's blessings on the war.
Sometime after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, I made a remarkable discovery. I had gone to one of my local Christian bookstores to find a Bible for my goddaughter. On a whim, I also decided to look for a Holy Spirit lapel pin, in the symbolic shape of a dove, the kind that had always been easy to find in the display case in the front. Many people in my church and in the places where I traveled had been wearing the American flag on their lapel for months now. It seemed like a pretty good time for Christians to put the Spirit back on.
But the doves were nowhere in sight. In the place near the front where I once would have found them, I was greeted instead by a full assortment of patriotic accessories - red-white-and-blue ties, bandanas, buttons, handkerchiefs, "I support our troops" ribbons, "God Bless America" gear, and an extraordinary cross and flag button with the two images interlocked. I felt slightly panicked by the new arrangement. I asked the clerk behind the counter where the doves had gone. The man's response was jarring, although the remark might well be remembered as an apt theological summation of our present religious age. "They're in the back with the other discounted items," he said, nodding in that direction.
I have thought of this visit to the local Christian bookstore many times in the past several years. I remember the outrage I felt when I saw a photograph in Time magazine during the 2004 presidential election of Christian Coalition activists in Ohio. Two men, both white, and both identified as Coalition members, are holding two crosses aloft. The crosses upon closer inspection appear to be made of balloons twisted together. Across the beam-section of one of the crosses was the "Bush-Cheney" logo, and alongside the president's name was the image of an American flag. In the second cross, the president's name appeared in full at the places where Jesus's hands were nailed.

Like Bonhoeffer, I fear that the gospel has been humiliated in our time. But if this has happened, it is not because the message - the good news that God loves us unconditionally in Jesus Christ, that we are freed and forgiven in God's amazing grace - has changed. Nor is it due to the machinations of secularists, or because the post-Enlightenment world has dispensed with the hypothesis of God. The Christian faith has not only endured modernity and post-modernity, but flourished in its new settings.
The gospel has been humiliated because too many American Christians have decided that there are more important things to talk about. We would rather talk about our country, our values, our troops, and our way of life; and although we might think we are paying tribute to God when we speak of these other things, we are only flattering ourselves.
If only holiness were measured by the volume of our incessant chatter, we would be universally praised as the most holy nation on earth. But in our fretful, theatrical piety, we have come to mistake noisiness for holiness, and we have presumed to know, with a clarity and certitude that not even the angels dared claim, the divine will for the world. We have organized our needs with the confidence that God is on our side, now and always, whether we feed the poor or corral them into ghettos.
To a nation filled with intense religious fervor, the Hebrew prophet Amos said: You are not the holy people you imagine yourselves to be. Though the land is filled with festivals and assemblies, with songs and melodies, and with so much pious talk, these are not sounds and sights that are pleasing to the Lord. "Take away from me the noise of your congregations," Amos says, "you who have turned justice into poison."
Psalm 46 tells us, "Be still and know that I am God." Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic work on Christian community, "Life Together," spoke of a silence "before the Word." He affirmed the wisdom of the Psalmist, and spoke of a listening silence that brings "clarification, purification, and concentration upon the essential thing."
After all the talk and the noise, it is time for Christians in the United States to enter a season of quietness, being still, and learning to wait on God (perhaps for the first time).
Bonhoeffer wrote "Life Together" during the years he directed an illegal seminary in the North German village of Finkenwalde. The school's mission was training pastors in the Confessing Church, a reform movement that opposed the nazified German Evangelical Church. Bonhoeffer had served in the Abwehr, the Nazi counterintelligence agency, as a double agent - helping Jewish families escape to Switzerland and organizing a coup attempt against the Nazi regime - and he participated in several assassination attempts on Hitler. For Bonhoeffer, being still in a time of enormous historical and ecclesial crisis was no invitation to idleness or indifference; rather, it was a call to discernment and responsible action.

Indeed, there are times when silence is an admonition fraught with danger. Martin Luther King Jr. warned of the "appalling silence of the good people" and those who turned their faces from suffering and oppression. But Dr. King also knew that careful and respectful speech was born of honest discernment of God's moral demands for the present age - a discernment that begins in humility and quiet introspection.
I came of age in the American South in the 1960s, and the moral values shared by most families in the churches of my childhood were deeply interwoven with our culture's hold on white supremacy. The vigilant and quite often neurotic defense we made of the Southern Way of Life blinded us not only to the sufferings of African-Americans - the victims of our collective self-righteousness - but also to our spiritual arrogance and group pride. We believed that our conception of Christianity and our cherished family values were the most wholesome and pure the world had ever known. Inside this serene delusion, we presumed ourselves to be paragons of virtue, although we rarely lifted a finger to help anyone but our own.
It was unsettling to learn, sometime in my adolescence, that the moral values I inherited as a white Southerner were not the marks of true Christian piety.
When Jesus spoke of the family, he had in mind the new community of God. "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he said one day upon hearing that his family was asking for him. "Here are my mother and my brothers!" Jesus said, pointing to the people gathered around him, who marveled at his words. "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." Jesus knew that loyalty to the Kingdom of Heaven would often require the renunciation of family traditions, habits, culture, and custom.
Today, in the national debate on faith and politics, there are signs of hope as an emerging generation of Christian leaders holds out the promise of a more comprehensively just and moral account of faith than the narrow agendas of the Christian right. In particular, the success of Sojourners magazine editor Jim Wallis's 2005 book, "God's Politics," introduced many Americans to a vibrant culture of progressive Christianity ready to exert its growing influence over national politics and mobilize the churches around global poverty and AIDS relief.
And there are other encouraging signs: Criticisms of torture and detention practices of the US military by prominent Christian conservatives have been symbolically powerful moments. The emerging environmental consciousness among an increasing number of evangelical leaders and laity signals a more holistic social mission.
Even so, as welcome as these developments are, no explicitly partisan movement - left or right - to reclaim the soul of politics can reckon successfully with the grave effects of the Christian saturation of the American public square. Unless conditioned by clear and public confession of our support of the immoral and catastrophic war in Iraq, and our complicity in the humiliation of the Word, these efforts will lack coherence and a vital center.
Franklin Graham, the evangelist (and son of Billy Graham), boasted that the American invasion of Iraq opens up exciting new opportunities for missions to non-Christian Arabs. This is not what the Hebrew or Christian prophets meant by righteousness and discipleship. In fact, the grotesque notion that preemptive war and the destruction of innocent life pave the way for the preaching of the Christian message strikes me as a mockery and a betrayal.
But if Franklin Graham speaks truthfully of the Christian faith and its mission in the world - as many evangelicals seem to believe - then we should have none of it. Rather, we should join the ranks of righteous unbelievers and big-hearted humanists who rage against cruelty and oppression with the intensity of people who live fully in this world. I am certain that it would be better for Christians to stand in solidarity with compassionate atheists and agnostics, firmly resolved against injustice and cruelty, than to sing "Amazing Grace" with the heroic masses who cannot tell the difference between the cross and the flag.

Charles Marsh is professor of religion and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Wayward Christian Soldiers: Freeing the Gospel from Political Captivity" (Oxford).