Archive for February, 2007

What Lies Beneath the Platform for Life?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

What lies beneath the platform for life?

By Christian Piatt

Originally printed in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, now running for president in 2008, came out with his position on stem cell research. In a nutshell, he feels that adult stem cells, as well as only those embryonic cells previously committed, should be used. Use of any other embryonic cells, which are harvested from early-stage embryos, should be disallowed.

Though vague partisan lines have been drawn around this contentious issue, folks from either side of the aisle have bucked the status quo of their peers, coming out for or against embryonic stem cell research. The burning question seems to be whether or not the loss of potentially viable embryos is worth the lives they may save through scientific innovation.

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of emotionally-charged political rhetoric completely missing the mark.

Topics such as stem cell research, abortion and other related issues are becoming increasingly prominent foundations points for political platforms. Clearly, religious leaders too have taken positions and dug their heels in. No presidential candidate will get through the gauntlet to the White House without stating their views about such polarizing concepts.

On the matter of stem cell research, the entire debate is off the point. What really is at issue is that thousands of embryos are created, frozen and stored at fertility clinics for future use. At such a point when they are no longer viable or are not wanted by the donors, they are thrown in the garbage. So now, instead of using these embryos to save lives, they’re lining a dumpster.

Why, then, is the debate focused on stem cell research rather than whether or not people should be allowed to employ science to make babies?  A few people raise this, but hardly anyone listens. That’s because it’s not only less exciting, but there’s a chance it would be more politically damaging to even consider taking people’s right to fertilize as they see fit away.

Better to haggle over something about which most people are interested but don’t know enough to have an informed opinion. If it wins votes, that’s really all we seem to have time for, nearly two years away from the election.

Along these same lines, the debate about abortion has become more a shouting match than a discussion. It’s no longer about discourse, but rather about who ultimately will have enough muscle to win. Even the moniker, “pro-life” suggests anyone who does not share the same ideals is “anti-life.” All who are against life, please raise your hand.

Some leaders are adopting what has been called the “platform for life” to woo the religious right. In part, it is based on matters such as these noted above, but equally fascinating is what seems to be absent from this agenda. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but everything I’ve read and heard about the platform for life focuses on abortion, embryonic stem cells and assisted suicide.

Nowhere have I found mention of capital punishment or gun control. Does anyone think issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, gang violence or substance abuse addiction deserve a place on the platform for life?  How about the prevention of hate crimes, poverty or obesity? What about global climate change, water quality or genocide?

It’s easy to talk about scientific research about which we know painfully little. It’s equally attractive to slap two labels on an issue as complex as abortion and to draw a line in the sand. It’s easy to tie a handful of social positions together with a bow, only to dangle them out the window to see which candidates will bite.

What’s hard is dealing with the social roots beneath issues such as abortion, poverty, violent crime, abuse and hate. It’s overwhelming to consider how to begin repairing a system that evidences its brokenness in such tragic ways.

It’s safer to argue about the color, size and shape of the bandage than to deal with the wound that lies beneath.

Was Disciples’ Last Supper an act of defiance?

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Our understanding of what participation in Communion or Eucharist means varies widely, as do the ways in which – and the frequency with which – we practice it.

As a Disciple, I’ve become accustomed to taking Communion as part of every worship service. As the spouse of a minister, I run as much of a risk as anyone that my observation of this sacred rite will lose some of its significance.

The Greek word koinonia is defined as Christian fellowship or communion with God or with fellow Christians, said in particular of the early Christian community. Socrates remarks on the importance of koinonia when he says, “Heaven, earth, gods, men – all are held together by communion, friendship, orderliness, temperance and justice, prompting us to call the whole world ‘cosmos,’ order.”

This value of koinonia was shared both by Plato and Aristotle, although they had somewhat different takes on its role and interpretation. But one fundamental truth in which they both believed was that true communion – the societal bond rather than the religious ritual – stood in opposition to oppression.

Essentially, people could not come together in true communion while in a master-slave relationship. Koinonia required a leveling of power, a dismantling of hierarchy, so that all are equal in the community. This, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle suggested, was the foundation of justice, order and a realization of the basic greater social good.

This inheres different significance into the ritual practice of the Last Supper. It is not simply a discipline to reenact Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. It is his final rebellious proclamation that together as a unified (re-membered) body of faith, and by re-envisioning (remembering) Christ’s final acts, we are not only all one, but are all equal in the eyes of God.

This koinonia is stronger than the oppression exacted upon the Jews by the Pharisees or the Roman Empire. It is empowering, and stands in the face of any outside force that would challenge it. In sharing this meal, by drawing his followers together, and in asking them not only to do this with him, but to always do it and remember, he offers hope.

It’s been suggested that the meekness of Jesus often is misunderstood. On the one hand, some consider his “turn the other cheek” charge to be a demonstration of passive submission.

On the other, it is seen as a nonviolent expression of power in itself. By turning the other cheek, Jesus actually presents his offender with a conundrum. To strike again with the right hand, the aggressor would have to use the back of his hand, which was viewed as cowardly or weak. To strike with the left hand, which was considered evil or unclean, was vulgar.

Other examples of Jesus’ subversive nature can be pulled from the Gospel texts, though such interpretations are open to question. In the end, we take what we will from all of these biblical stories, based upon our own experience, instruction and personal bias.

Regarding the Last Supper, this kind of understanding not only demonstrates Jesus’ historical and philosophical wisdom and knowledge, but also his ability to see beyond the present, toward a future of which he was an integral part.

Did he know the future? Scripture suggests he didn’t.

Did he have a pretty good understanding of people and the many ways in which they would likely interpret, manipulate and even abuse his legacy? Based on the way things turned out for him, we can assume he expected lots of us not to get it.

This is just another of those human lenses through which we gaze upon the stories with which we are left. Oftentimes, I want to see a dissident revolutionary, so it’s no surprise that’s what I find.

I could be wrong, but I like to think of Jesus sharing one last meal, while at the same time sticking it to the establishment.

LOST “Flashes” and “Stranger” Thoughts

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

My initial thoughts are that tonight’s LOST episode, “Stranger in a Strange Land,” was as weak as last week’s was good. It’s annoying enough when they have an episode dominated by sappy relationship stuff, but this one was overflowing. When the sappy strings hit toward the end with Juliet and Jack on the front of the boat, I expected Jack to lean over the edge and yell, “I’m king of the world!”


Positive things first. Desmond’s “Flashes” episode last week was awesome. I love the little tidbits about determinism and how revisited patterns may not fall right into place, but the universe has a way of “course-correcting.” This lays all kinds of groundwork for possible overarching themes. However, given that the creators have said there’s no time travel involved, I’m not sure what’s up. It was definitely a mind-twister though to have Desmond going back to past times, yet still remembering things that hadn’t happened yet. It’s the best of Lost when they grapple with reality, perception and the link. More please.

so, what did we learn tonight?  Jack got a tattoo from an alley lurking ink goddess voodoo chick doubling as a wannabe prostitute. Never mind that he’s a fierce pragmatist, yet wants a mystical seer to ink him for life with his aura. Never mind that he’s in Thailand, meanwhile she puts Chinese characters on his arm (the two languages aren’t even historically related). Never mind that the translation the Sherriff of the Others told him that his tattoo means something it doesn’t actually say (his tat is real, and is taken from a poem written by Chairman Mao circa 1925, and refers to eagles flying and the like). True, the symbols on his arm are Chinese, but it doesn’t fit with his back-story in Thailand.

I know, I’m nerding out like some crack-head trekkie, but dammit, they require a lot from their viewers, and episodes like this just don’t do it justice.

what else did we learn? Kate boinked Sawyer because she felt bad he was going to die. Kate feels bad for leaving Jack behind. Karl feels bad for leaving Alex behind. Jack feels bad because Juliet is now donning the Others’ equivalent of the Scarlet “A.” Great, everybody feels bad, and we learned nothing of importance.

The introduction of the second set of others was interesting, but we already knew that was coming. Why could they not have shown some of Juliet’s trial instead of pouring on the pathos with all the relationship nonsense?  Now that would have been interesting.

I’m still keeping the faith. Next week looks great, though I was pretty excited about tonight after the “Flashes” episode. Seven more days, and I guess we’ll know.

I’m such an unbelievable nerd, I’m almost ashamed of myself.

Waking up to our evangelical roots (My Disciples World column)

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Waking up to our evangelical roots

For those who embrace it, evangelicalism represents a religious, social, and even political movement that is at the core of our collective moral well-being. For opponents, it is tantamount to a four-letter word.

Historically, “evangelical” has been synonymous with “protestant.” In Europe, evangelical churches are distinguished from reform churches that follow in the footsteps of the likes of John Calvin, and subsequently Jonathan Edwards. Today, the term is associated with belief in the inerrancy of scripture, the centrality of a personal conversion experience, and faith in the blood atonement of the crucifixion.

Evangelicalism was once a movement more than it was an institution. In response to many of the doctrines of the Anglican Church in the 18th century, the First Great Awakening gave rise to the Methodist Church. American spiritual leaders such as John Wesley felt compelled to guide our fledgling nation back toward a Christ-centered faith, having become discouraged by the proliferation of alternative practices such as deism, which was embraced by – among others – a number of the founding fathers.

While the early evangelical movement did emphasize all of the values noted above, there was also a call for what was considered a rather radical approach to social justice. This included empowering women in church leadership, the abolition of slavery, and a tireless commitment to the poor within one’s community. Rather than the movement serving as a platform for public policy, it was a reassertion of the core values of the Christian faith which, in turn, were to guide our daily lives as individuals, and as a body of faith.

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two great religious revivals took place that gave birth to yet another surge in commitment to the American Christian experience. The first meeting was at Credence Clearwater Church in Kentucky in 1900, followed a year later by a much larger revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky.

This was the spark that ignited the movement known as the Second Great Awakening, and it was from this ferment of spiritual fervor that our denomination first came to be. Again, the focus of this re-imagining of the evangelical Christian role in America was one of justice, hammering away at issues such as racial and gender equality.

I had the opportunity last year to worship at the small church in Cane Ridge where this revival that included upwards of 20,000 people took place. I was with a group of young adult church leaders, and each day a different group led worship in their own cultural tradition. The evening service at Cane Ridge was led by our African-American brothers and sisters.

Some of us who were not as familiar at the time with the history of the Cane Ridge revival made our way up to the balcony of the cramped log cabin structure. But before worship began, the leaders asked all of us to join them in the front.

“No one sits in the balcony tonight,” they explained. It was only later that I understood why.

For nearly two hours, we sang, laughed and cried together as we worshipped God. Together, we gave thanks for the blessing of community, and for the gesture of our religious ancestors who called the African-American congregants down from the balcony during that revival to worship as a united body in Christ.

There are those in the young adult community who believe the Church is positioned for a Third Great Awakening. There are also some who feel our connection to Cane Ridge and the early evangelical movement is over-emphasized. For me, one who is relatively new to Disciples, it offers a connection to a religious ancestry which helps me transcend the present climate of religious partisanship and dogmatic bickering.

It also serves as a charge for those current and future church leaders. Christianity’s great moments in modern history have come not when we focus on establishing boundaries of social decency, but when we challenge, and even cross over, boundaries of ignorance, inequity and oppression.

We are an evangelical church, but only insomuch as we live out the radical justice to which we are called by Christ. It is in serving that we are awakened to our purpose as Christians, and it is through daily acts of justice-centered obedience that the world will ultimately catch the spark of faith which we so urgently wish to share with them.

Sarah McLachlan “World on Fire”

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

OK, the first two attempts to post this in different ways failed, so we’ll go with a good old fashioned link:

New podcast interview about my book

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

If you’re interested, you might enjoy checking out the interview I did this morning with three LOST podcasters. They each have posted the interview on their respective sites (links can be found on on the “Interviews” page) and I’ve also posted the direct link to the feed if you want to go straight to it. You can also subscribe to at least one of the podcasts via itunes if you use that, so it will download to your MP3 player. Again, check out my personal site for links.

In the near future, I will be doing a similar interview with Lostcasts (, one of the biggest Lost podcasts in the country, so I’ll be sure to alert you when this interview is up and ready.

Let me know what you think.

‘Friends of God’ portrays church on warpath

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

‘Friends of God’ portrays church on warpath

Alexandra Pelosi’s new HBO documentary, “Friends of God,” portrays dimensions of evangelical Christianity about which many of us have heard but may have never seen.

Pelosi’s trek across (mainly southern) America is equally amusing and distressing.

The documentary has particular relevance today, given that one of the principal figures in the piece is Ted Haggard, former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Before getting caught in a tawdry scandal involving sex and drugs, Haggard availed himself to nearly any media outlet in the country who sought his perspective on God and morality.

“This week, we have HBO with us,” he says, filmed during a worship service. “Last week it was CNN and next week it’s the History Channel or someone else.”

Haggard believed that his open-door media policy and frank approach to proclaiming his beliefs were key to evangelism. Little did he realize that, one year after the taping of this movie, he would be caught violating his very own principles.

“We say moral purity is better than immorality. We say telling the truth is better than telling a lie,” says Haggard. “We are the ones with the role to say there is a moral plumb line and we need to rise up to it. That’s also why secular people are so concerned when the church doesn’t fulfill its own moral stand, like if a pastor falls into corruption or becomes dishonest. Even secular people want godly people to be authentically godly.”

Chalk it up as one more example of religious hypocrisy.

There’s plenty more of interest, not the least of which involves wrestling for Jesus. A group of professional wrestlers tour the country, putting on displays of strength, agility and dramatic violence, followed by a call to commit one’s life to Christ.

The leader of the group, a burly, sweaty man in a spandex unitard, claims that approximately 10 percent of every audience for which they perform is saved. Who knows what he bases his claim on, but he believes what he is doing works.

Hot rodders for Jesus debate the age-old question: “What would Jesus drive?”

Pastors in pith helmets and khakis present arguments to young children about how dinosaurs and people lived side by side, and how the Earth is only a few thousand years old. Behind one minister delivering such a talk, the words, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it,” are emblazoned in bold across a giant screen.

Those 10 words summarize the theology of most of the folks portrayed in the film.

One criticism of the film is that it portrays a fringe group of evangelicals that don’t represent the broad spectrum of such Christians in America. However, if only the tens of thousands shown in the film alone share such militaristic sentiments, it’s enough to raise an eyebrow.

Throughout the film, phrases such as “cultural war” meet with seas of nodding heads and enthusiastic applause. Though it can be argued that evangelicals seized the reins of American power in recent years, there is a pervasive sense of dignified martyrdom.

There is, as portrayed by the film, a movement afoot to reclaim the nation which is believed to have been founded on their own principles. One touring concert, called Battlecry, draws five-figure crowds of youth across the country, urging them to fight for what they believe, at any cost.

“This country is the best country in the world,” says one self-proclaimed conservative comedian. “It’s better than Europe; that’s why we left.” Cue the standing ovation.

Still wonder why the rest of the world views Americans as arrogant, self-righteous bullies? Flags and crosses blend into a single amalgam of theocratic fervor, portraying a section of our country that believes it’s their preordained right to press their agenda by any possible means. After all, they’re friends of God; how could they possibly be wrong?

Thoughts on “Not in Portland”

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Well, well, the creative team wasted no time in plot development during this episode. It appears, based upon the reatings on the Fuselage website, that most fans found this to be an excellent episode, and I tend to agree, with a qualification or two.

First off, the brainwashing scene was great, smacking of Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange. I played that scene twice over at 1/4 scene to catch all of the snippets on the screen. I’m not exaclty sure, however, how this kind of experiment fits in with what we now know about DHARMA. We know that DHARMA stands for “Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications.” Heuristics is a particular learning model wherein the students learn through direct experience. However, brainwashing would seem to go very much against as heuristic learning system. Maybe it was a means of control or torture, unrelated to the greater initiative. At any rate, it was way cool.

Learning more baout Juliet was a wonderful way to learno more baout the Others in general. We now understand that she came there as a recruit, but that she’s been held against her will for much longer than she planned. We know she’s a fertility expert, which could connect her to theories about DHARMA being involved in life extension, or perhaps developing intranatal syrums to combat major outrbreaks of some kind. Maybe the apocalypse anticipated by the Valenzetti Equation has something to do with a scenario like in “Children of Men,” where rather than killing people on a massive scale, they are rendered sterile?

That’s my new theory and I’m sticking to it.

Oh, and seeing Ethan walk by in the hall of juliet’s apartment was a definite double-take moment. How long had they been spying on her???

On to the lame stuff.  The whole ex-husband-getting-hit-by-a-bus thing was so telegraphed, it might as well have been sent by Western Union. And though it was reasonable for him to die, it’s pretty much cliche to have a guy get hit by a bus. Why not have a giant smoke monster drag him away, screaming?  Come on now. As to the “coincidence” of Juliet suggesting the very thing would happen implies many htings, but I’ll wait to persume too much. Clearly, Desmond had some psychic mojo working, but I thought it had something to do with an island experience. Perhaps folks drawn to the island have these special abilities already in them, and osmething baout the project helps them unlock their existing potential.

But I digress…the bus thing was dumb. Point made.

I enjoyed getting to see more of Alex, and to catch her bantering with Sawyer. However, do we really need another sappy romance?  I know, I’m such a guy, but I was just hoping we would be relieved of the Jak-Kate-Sawyer triangle, when now they dump another one on us. My two cents is stick to the greater mythology, keep the big story moving, and make sure the back stories of characters help us tie together some of the several dozen loose ends we have yet to reconcile.

Overall, I think it was an excellent beginning. less than perfect, yes, but well worthwhile.

Only six more days until another episdode; that may be the best thing of all. No more waiting!

Lost Book review in the Pueblo Chieftain

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

Piatt clearly not lost as he examines program’s meaning


Even though it permeates nearly every facet of our world, it’s easy to dismiss pop culture as irrelevant.

True, it’s often nothing more than the most recent superficial fad, something that never will have true impact on our lives. Sometimes, however, something that appears to be a fad actually has depth.

In his new book, “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” Pueblo author Christian Piatt explores the connections between the ABC television show “Lost” and theology. As he demonstrates, it’s a large and intricate web – not what one might expect from a hit TV show. (Piatt writes performing arts reviews and a weekly religion column for The Pueblo Chieftain.)

“Lost” is, on its surface, the story of a group of people who survive an airplane crash that leaves them stranded on an island. Their first reactions are to figure out where they are and why they are there. Aren’t those the most common questions among those searching for life’s meaning?

Fans of “Lost” know the show is crowded with symbolism. Numbers – specifically, the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42 – have multiple meanings that are good for some, terrible for others. Piatt points out that numbers and other symbols, such as the cross, have great significance in religion.

Piatt explores other areas where the program and theology intertwine, among them fate, salvation, faith and reason. Each chapter in the book can stand on its own and the reader doesn’t need to be a “Lost” devotee to understand it, although the book will definitely hold more appeal for fans of the show. Piatt takes care to explain the characters and relevant plot points in detail. He recommends discussion topics, reading material and specific “Lost” episodes (the series’ first two seasons are available on DVD).

Piatt clearly has spent a great deal of time poring over the DVDs, not to mention the time spent searching other sources. His knowledge of theology is extensive, but while he presents a wonderful amount of information in understandable terms, those portions of the book often read more like an academic paper. A more conversational approach in those sections would have improved the 120-page book, perhaps making it more accessible to readers.

“Lost” is not an easy show to watch. There are no quick resolutions; most apparent endings merely lead to more questions. It requires, and spurs, much thought. Piatt does a commendable job of showing how very similar this fictitious, but not superficial, TV world is to the vast, often unknowable, world of theology.

Two years out, and Obama’s already getting trashed

Sunday, February 4th, 2007

We’ve all witnessed the early political positioning of many likely presidential candidates for next year’s election.

Most of the high-profile contenders so far are on the Democratic side, though several Republicans have thrown their hats into the ring. It’s amazing that a day doesn’t go by that we don’t hear something from one of the handful of frontrunners, causing me to wonder how sick of it all we’ll be by the time it’s all over, nearly two years from now.

No wonder we seem to resent politics. It takes way more of our time, energy and money than it deserves. Evidently, however, some people feel like they have no time to lose.

I got one of the most troubling and offensive e-mails this week that I’ve received in a long time about the most formidable male Democrat in the pack, Barack Obama.

Many people are ecstatic about his campaign, which is rare for a freshman senator these days.

Abraham Lincoln came from the same state and had about the same degree of political experience as Obama when he ran for president, but the political machine is a different animal today. Generally there are rites of passage through which one must progress to reach center stage, but Obama has been catapulted into the spotlight following his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address.

There’s no denying that Obama has intense charisma, a strong intellect and a way with words that makes certain of our current leaders pale by comparison. It’s also clear that he’s relatively young at 45 years old, and that he lacks the experience of many of his opponents. Had the e-mail I received focused on these points, or even on his positions on the war, ecology or human rights, I would have respected it, whether I agreed or not. None of this was included, however.

Instead, this missive, which has been forwarded to God knows how many people, sinks to a level of character assassination that was hard for me to believe, especially before the primary races have even geared up completely. His middle name “Hussein” is mentioned three times, and at one point, the e-mail even “misspells” his name as “Osama.” No joke.

It’s also mentioned that his father is Muslim and his mother is atheist. It talks about his parents’ divorce, says his mother married another “radical” Muslim, and that Barack attended a Wahhabi school as a child. According to the anonymous author of this e-mail, this is where all of the terrorists that attack America are trained.

Yeah, the guy’s name is Hussein, which is one of the most common Muslim names in the world. The effort seems to be to associate him with Saddam Hussein, simply because they have the same name. I suppose, by this rationale, we should condemn everyone with the last name of Jones, since Jim Jones ruined that one for everyone.

Also, the claim that Obama went to a Wahhabi school simply is a lie. He attended a madrassa for two years, which is no different than any other religiously affiliated school. Some will suggest differently, but there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.

It appears to me that an intelligent, powerful black man scares the hell out of some people. This sort of polemic has more to do with melanin than it does ideology or family history. The e-mail alone would not be enough to raise my ire, but Fox News actually has carried a report about this. When such ignorant, hate-based slander becomes national news, it’s the sign of a broken system, and unfortunately, it’s only going to get worse.

It’s been said that great minds dwell on ideas, while average minds contemplate events. Meanwhile, feeble minds are content to focus only on other people. Clearly, this e-mail falls into the latter category, but the Internet has given it legs.

While the information superhighway has created a more egalitarian forum for the exchange of information, it also places a greater burden upon each individual to discern the difference between thoughtful ideas and garbage. I hope the majority of the country can tell the difference, and that it matters.