Archive for June, 2008

Dobson’s Rhetoric is Damaging to Democracy

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

Dobson’s rhetoric is damaging to democracy

Christian Piatt – The Pueblo Chieftain

James Dobson has done it again.

It’s no real surprise that Barack Obama, the presumed democratic nominee for president, is in Dobson’s sights. There are so many things about Obama, his past and his policies that fly in the face of what Dobson and his cohorts espouse. In a recent CNN website article, however, he took a moment to pick out some issues in particular.

The head of Colorado Springs‘ Focus on the Family claimed Obama was guilty of distorting the Bible when he suggested that the rule of law cannot practically be based solely upon the Bible. To make his point with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, he pointed out that a nation governed by the literal rules of scripture would justify slavery, and would make eating shellfish an abomination.

Dobson resented Obama’s position suggesting that he was making a relative mockery of the Bible’s authority by picking out what he called “antiquated dietary codes and passages from the Old Testament that are no longer relevant to the teachings of the New Testament.”
So if I understand this correctly, James Dobson, who claims the inerrancy of the entirety of scripture, is saying that there actually are parts of the Old Testament that are no longer relevant? Pray tell, then, which ones we should deem irrelevant, and which ones we should still embrace? And who exactly is the arbiter of this weeding-out process? Who has the authority? Further, who doesn’t interpret scripture with some of their own agenda, simply by reading it?

If you recall, Jesus said he did not come to get rid of the old law, but rather to “fulfill it.” Though there are many takes on what exactly this means, along with every other phrase in scripture, many scholars agree that Jesus’ fulfillment of the old law meant that he was taking authority to another level, so to speak. Obama does not suggest ignoring parts of the Old Testament, but rather than perhaps the Sermon on the Mount is more relevant to modern-day governance. It is Dobson who claims certain texts are “irrelevant.”

As if his condemnation of Obama’s take on the Bible was not enough, he topped it off with some old-fashioned name-calling, suggesting that Obama leads by the “lowest common denominator of morality,” that he deliberately is “dragging biblical understanding through the gutter,” and finally that his understanding of the Constitution is nothing more than “fruitcake interpretation.”

It’s not as if Dobson simply is trying to tear down the democratic candidate for the benefit of republicans, either. He already has claimed he will not vote for McCain, so in essence, if he can’t find a team who will take him on his terms, Dobson is resolving to take his toys and go home. 

Though I’m using a trite metaphor, it’s actually a disturbingly serious situation. The situation is more like a village under siege that opts to burn their own spoils to a cinder, rather than watch the enemy have any chance at them. The risk, then, is that a generation of evangelicals who have been otherwise politically active will determine it’s better to do nothing than it is to stay engaged and work within the system for what they believe. More than a blow to either major party, it’s an Achilles’ heel for democracy itself.

The name-calling is one thing, but effectively urging your followers not to participate in exercising their constitutional right to vote is entirely another. If you don’t like McCain or Obama, fine. Write someone in on the ballot, but for goodness sake, don’t sit at home and do nothing.

Review of MySpace book by Bob Cornwall

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Young adults, that group of Americans under the age of forty, have become an increasingly difficult target for churches to reach. The cultural, social, and generational differences of this cohort are striking when compared with the cohorts that have come before them. Christian and Amy Piatt write from within this generational matrix about issues of faith and culture, offering words of warning and of hope.

Christian is a writer and consultant, while his wife, Amy, is founding pastor of a Disciples of Christ congregation in Pueblo, Colorado. They bring to this book years of working with youth and young adults, and their own experiences inhabiting this generation. They make use of statistics and stories to bring to life the spiritual realities of those adults under forty. Unlike the book, UnChristian, Christian and Amy are sympathetic to the life choices and concerns of this generation. They’re realistic but not judgmental – indeed, even as the authors of UnChristian recognize, this generation is turned off by judgmental and hypocritical religion. They also affirm the spiritual quest of a generation that is truly “spiritual but not religious.”

The book’s title is key to the book’s message. Social networking sites, like MySpace and Facebook, are front and center in the life stories of this generation. This is a digital world, even virtual world. Communication is instantaneous, and yet community is often difficult to create. This is a generation that is reachable, but it’s unlikely to come to the church – to reach them the church must go looking for them. But, in inviting them into the community, older generations must understand that the physical plant, rituals and history are of less importance. Sacred space can be created wherever this generation gathers. All of this makes communication between generations difficult. The authors write:

Today’s twenty-year old generally has less in common with someone twice his or her age than ever before. Further, people resist traditional definitions and labels, creating a fuzzier notion of what exactly we’re talking about with regard to young adults (p. 5).

In spite of these differences and difficulties, it’s possible to reach out to those aged 18-40. But, to do so requires listening before talking.

In a series of chapters, the Piatts take us into the lives and needs of this cohort. They help us understand their longings and concerns. As other studies have told us, this is a group that eschews absolutes and is comfortable with differences. For mainline churches to reach them, space must be made for diversity. Churches that put less focus on creeds – churches such as the Disciples – will benefit, as will churches that allow them to tell their stories. As for God, Young Adults often see a disconnect between their view of God and Christianity as a whole. They believe in God, but not in the church and its definitions. Utilizing the Baylor University matrix of God -types, they suggest that the most likely views of God in this generation are either the Authoritarian God or the Distant God, but they’re interested in connecting relationally with God – they’re just not sure how this can happen, and they don’t think the church can help them.

In seeking to reach them, we must be aware that prepackaged ideas don’t often work. And just because they like Starbucks doesn’t mean they’ll come to Christian coffeehouses. To connect churches must provide community, support, welcome, and an encouragement of the imagination. Ironically, while traditional church might not connect well, ritual has its place – but only if it allows for the release of the imagination. More than anything, there is a seeming need for connection with the generations that came before. In many ways this is a generation that has not developed strong personal habits –especially in regard to sexuality and money — and they long for mentors who will help them wrestle with important issues in their lives. Indeed, churches that will address such issues with openness and grace can find important entrees into their lives.

In a chapter on addiction, the Piatts point out the real problems that young adults are having with addiction – whether it is issues of drugs, alcohol, gambling, and eating disorders. They ask the important question: Where is the church? That is, why isn’t the church taking proactive steps to reach out to and support those facing addiction.

Why must we wait for the judicial system to say that these young people need help? Do they have to be arrested in order to receive treatment? Is this the message we send? In a haplessly reactive culure, the church must be a proactive source of hope and healing for these young people, empowering them with the tools they require for self-care before they face these high-risk factors. We must also be there for their families, both before and after a crisis is recognized. We should be on the front lines, helping teachers, parents, and other caretakers collectively identify risky and self-destructive behavior before it eve becomes an issue relegated to the court system (p. 105-106).

Here is a way of connecting, but only if it’s authentic care.

Of course in a book speaking to connecting with young adults, it’s appropriate to talk about music. Music is and always will be a primary expression of spiritual energy and ideals. That churches have been fighting for years over what is appropriate is almost a truism. We recognize it to be true, but find it difficult to have a conversation. In addressing this issue, Christian Piatt writes as one who is a musician and who has spent time working in the music business. He has a strong sense of the role music plays in our lives, and reminds us that much of what passes as Christian music is deficient in quality and content. The issue addressed here is an important one, because the church faces the question of the degree to which music must be distinctly sacred in order for it to be appropriate for church. He suggests four different views, ranging from purist to separatist, while he finds himself somewhere in the middle, in positions he refers to as spiritual reflective and incidentalist.

There is a chapter that wrestles with the question of who is called to serve. Not only is there a looming crisis in ministry – an aging clergy isn’t being replaced by younger clergy – but the definition of who might serve is changing. That is, the ordination of both women and gays is in play, and for the most part the views of young adults are open and expansive. Finally, in a chapter entitled “Church of the Prodigal Child,” the Piatts discuss their research methodology, tell some stories of young adults who are open to the church, but who also tend to be disassfected. In essence they return to the premise that this is a generation that is more spiritual than it is religious. It is a generation open to alternative spiritualities, but also wants to pray, study, engage in community and social justice. Looking at American history, they discern five themes that define America’s religious instincts, instincts that are very present in this generation: 1) “Personal autonomy”; 2) “Sensibility over creeds”; 3) “Impatience with organized religion”; 4) “Present applicability”; 5) “Fascination with the metaphysical” (p. 156).

We often talk about young adults as the church of the future, but in reality they are the church of the present. If the church doesn’t engage them – which involves listening with respect – there won’t be a church in the future. The Piatts offer us an excellent primer on the faith and desires of this broadly defined cohort. They write with energy and commitment. This is a book full of compassion and grace. They call a spade a spade, but do so without judgmentalism. Anyone wanting to connect with younger adults will want to read this excellent book. That the Piatts are Disciples, like me, only makes it better!

Not saying goodbye: Just so long, and thanks

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Not saying goodbye: Just so long, and thanks


Back in 1998, when I first came to Pueblo to work as an educational consultant for the school district, I sent a handful of writing samples to the Lifestyle editor, with the hope of picking up some arts reviews, and maybe a feature or two.

Unlike many editors with whom I have worked in the years following, this particular man responded quickly, positively and encouraged me to jump right in.

After teaming with the other Pueblo Chieftain reviewers for several months, the editor offered me the opportunity to do a feature story on a local student with special needs. The final product, though less than groundbreaking, was a real boost for a guy in his 20s hoping to make a career out of his passion for writing.

By the end of the 1998-99 school year, I was transferred to Seattle, and then Denver, and finally to Fort Worth, where I stayed while my new wife completed her seminary schooling at Texas Christian University. The work I had done with the Chieftain was the foot in the door I needed to break into doing work for several other papers and magazines in the years to follow.

In 2004 we were called as a part of her ministry back to – of all places – Pueblo, so I gave my old friend and editor a ring. He not only welcomed me back into the fold, but offered me my first chance to write my own weekly column. From there, I’ve had the privilege to go on to write columns and other pieces for several magazines and Web sites, as well as pen two books, edit a series of forthcoming young adult books and even consult on a new translation of the Bible. The field of professional writing is a lot like establishing credit; everyone wants you to have prior experience but few want to offer you the opportunity to gain it.

Marvin Read was that person for me. He not only took a chance on me, but he also encouraged me, even when my work was hardly up to the standards that it should be, perhaps because he saw some potential worth cultivating.

I honestly believe that I owe a debt of gratitude for the many rewarding opportunities that have followed since he allowed me to scribble down some reviews of “Annie” and other local productions, some 10 years ago.

Marv also has been a good friend, and though, with his departure this week from many years of service at the paper, he will no longer serve as my editor, I hope to maintain the bond of friendship we have shared. He is a man of great patience, wisdom, love and faith, and his contributions as a community leader and speaker have done much to promote tolerance, peace and a more ecumenical perspective to faith in our modest city.

Though I’m hardly impartial, I can say with confidence that Marv has developed one of the most engaging, thoughtful and substantive faith sections I’ve ever seen in a daily newspaper.

He’s consistently stood behind his writers, even when he didn’t entirely agree with them, recognizing that the freedom to share and debate ideas was paramount. He has taught me much about journalistic integrity, literary discipline and about how to find and hone my own voice as a writer within the greater American faith forum.

Marv will be missed by many, and certainly by me.

At the ripe young age of 70, he’s finally embracing the much-deserved rest that a lifetime of hard work has afforded him. If you see him on the streets of Pueblo, which you likely will, shaking hands on the sidewalk of dc’s on b street or working on a double scotch and water at one of the local taverns, make sure to let him know that, even though he may not have his mug on the front page of the Life section every Saturday, he’ll hardly be forgotten any time soon.

Pics of current – and future – Piatts

Sunday, June 15th, 2008
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Talking trash and faith’s call to action

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Talking trash and faith’s call to action


More often than not these days, faith communities recognize that environmental issues must be taken on by them, and not relegated to the government to solve.

Commercials such as the one featuring the Revs. Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson speaking together about global warming indicate that care for our world is a growing concern across the social spectrum.

There are a number of issues with which faith communities can assist and have a significant impact – right here in Pueblo, Colorado.

Perhaps the most obvious local concern is water, and we’ve seen some religious leaders step up and speak out, particularly for marginalized communities such as Pueblo’s East Side, which suffer the most when Fountain Creek swells with sewage from our neighbors to the north.

Another looming issue is global warming, and how we as a nation will address it. As reported recently, Congress is debating a series of bills to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically over the next 40 years. While the overall concept is hopeful, there are some potential disparities that we must anticipate, particularly as a less affluent, “working class” community. The so-called “cap-and-trade” system seeks some sort of middle ground, allowing cleaner industries to sell pollution credits to heavier polluters such as coal-fired energy plants and cement manufacturers. Though the net effect for the nation is positive, there’s a real potential for a tremendous imbalance, to the detriment of poorer communities.

Given the fact that companies generally locate higher-polluting industries in more depressed economic areas, this means that those towns who host such industries likely will see little improvement in their local environment, given the fact that it’s more cost-effective to buy pollution credits than to retrofit old factories with cleaner systems.

Another potential positive of the bills is that they include credits that can be used to invest in “green” technology research, using some funds from the cap-and-trade system to pour money back into smarter, cleaner energy. The drawback for poorer communities is that, in general, technology-oriented investment benefits communities with workers who have advanced degrees, which usually are more affluent to begin with.

So while communities such as ours get more pollution, the bigger, richer cities get more money for more jobs. If we as faith community leaders are in truth advocates for the disenfranchised, then this is a concern that we cannot let our legislators and other public leaders leave unaddressed.

Finally, the way we deal with our trash in Pueblo is, to be blunt, embarrassing. There’s a strange fixation in Pueblo I’ve never seen in any other community regarding people’s near-obsession with not being told what to do with their trash. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with the closure of a local dump, those who fail to take responsibility for their own waste cause piles of refuse to grow in prairies and along roadsides.

There are those vigilant souls within the city and county governments who have fought for years to have a community recycling program, but there other “garbage civil libertarians” who believe it’s more important to allow people to haul their own trash than to honbor our responsibility to reduce our environmental impact.

The issue is this: Most recycling industries require a certain guaranteed volume of recyclables to be available in order to justify the expense of establishing and running a plant. This might mean that a mandate requiring everyone to use a trash-hauling service would have to be enacted in order to lure a recycling business to Pueblo. There are, however, a select few in the city who seem to resist this concept to the bitter end.

If the concern is economic, certainly some of the tax revenues from a recycling plant could be converted into subsidies for poorer residents to cover the cost of trash services. If, however, the conflict is over matters of tradition and personal preference, then that’s just careless selfishness.

One of the greatest assets Pueblo has is a relatively clean environment and a high overall quality of life. If we want it to stay that way, we may have to fight for it.

Revolution – Spoken Word #2

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Be a new voice of the revolution,
Not just a pawn of the institution,
Standing up strong against persecution,
Making more meaningful contributions.
Let’s unravel this convolution
Of justice that leads to more confusion
About what’s real and what’s illusion,
Come, be a part of the revolution.

Who am I to stand up against the face of power?
Who are you to tell me I’ve got to sit back down?
Who am I to question figures of authority and
Who are you to pull my feet back to the ground?

This is not a test.
This is not a drill.
This demonstration of lyrical skill
Flowing like a toxic spill
Growing like a landfill
With my tongue as my quill,
We will distill this will until
It fills our souls,
Tramples the traces
Of indifference from faces,
Filling empty spaces, seeking graces
From higher places.

Be a new voice of the revolution,
Not just a pawn of the institution,
Standing up strong against persecution,
Making more meaningful contributions.
Let’s unravel this convolution
Of justice that leads to more confusion
About what’s real and what’s illusion,
Come, be a part of the revolution.

Who am I to live a faith of radical justice?
Who are you live in fear instead of trust this?
Who am I to bring new life to a dying planet?
Who are you to carve your rules in slabs of granite?

This is not a dream.
This is not a joke.
This demonstration of collective will
Starting quiet, then growing shrill,
Like following Elijah up the hill
Once you have seen you cannot sit still.
Truth grabs your mind,
Where once, you were blind,
You see a new design,
Seek and you shall find,
But once found, won’t be left behind.

Be a new voice of the revolution,
Not just a pawn of the institution,
Standing up strong against persecution,
Making more meaningful contributions.
Let’s unravel this convolution
Of justice that leads to more confusion
About what’s real and what’s illusion,
Come, be a part of the revolution.

Resist – spoken word #1

Sunday, June 8th, 2008


Resist the urge to splurge
Instead of purge,
Hold back the surge
Of materialism,
Fueled by rabid capitalism
That builds for you a prison
Of desire, barbed wire
Touched with the fire of lust for “more.”
Simplify, ask “Why should I have
A tenth pair of shoes
When others have none?
Or a gas-guzzling monster, just for fun
While others bleed oil at the point of a gun?

Resist the urge to stay silent,
When the world’s violent powers
Rain down showers of fire
On innocents, mired in poverty,
Abandoned by liberty
And by those who refuse to see
Reality, yet go to church on bended knee
Thanking God for what’s given to me.

Resist the urge to accept
When secrets are kept,
Told to no one except
The powerful, privileged, prosperous few.
Question authority.
Go beyond the majority.
Stand up for the minority.
Use your power for the powerless.
Give hope to the hopeless,
Voice to the voiceless.
Refuse to accept less
Take no rest ‘till we’re all blessed

Resist your own resistance,
Your desire for distance
From the pressing persistence
Of poverty, hunger, genocide,
The great divide of the classes,
The freezing, huddled masses
Whose cardboard homes we pass as
We walk on by, and try to deny
We’ve seen anything but Christ himself
In their eyes.

Resist the A-list mentality,
The elitist banality
Of a superficial reality.
Know your own worth,
You, this blessing from birth,
Created of earth and divine breath,
Bigger than death, a vessel of grace,
No matter your clothing labels,
How well you know your times tables,
Or can’t even afford basic cable.
These fables of false value
Forever shall you shed, setting your head
On a higher course, a greater goal,
Put a twist on power’s fist.
Force it open, reach it out,
To those we’ve missed,
Whom privilege has not yet kissed,
Though others insist
You’re a hopeless idealist,

Parenthood and planning don’t always cooperate

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Parenthood and planning don’t always cooperate


My wife, Amy, and I found out a few weeks ago that we’re going to have another baby. We’re excited, but already, plans have begun to change.

We had a previous vacation planned to Pagosa Springs before we learned she was expecting. Our favorite things to do in Pagosa are to relax in the hot springs for hours every day, take some naps, have a couple of drinks on the porch at sunset, go out to eat and maybe hit the springs again before bedtime.

The thing is, if you know anything about women in their first trimester, Amy was not up for eating out. The term “morning sickness” is misleading, since the nausea and vomiting aren’t restricted to an exclusively pre-noon activity. She’s also not had a drink since she found out she was pregnant, which is good for the baby, but throws off our vacation routine a bit. Strikes one and two.

I figured at least we could put in some extra hang time at the springs, but the baby messed that up too. You’re not supposed to let your body temperature go above 100 degrees or so while pregnant, so we were relegated to the couple of lukewarm kiddie tubs instead of doing the ones we usually frequent.

Thanks a lot, baby. While we made our way through a re-invented vacation, our son, Mattias, was having some quality time down on his Grandma Suzie’s farm in New Mexico. It’s heaven on Earth, especially for a little boy, but there are plenty of opportunities for mischief.

According to Mattias and his cousin, Miko, Mattias just walked by and said “hello” to one of the farm dogs, and the next thing you know, the dog had him pinned down and was gnawing at his face. By this time, of course, his cries of shock and panic had gotten everyone’s attention and they came running.

By the time they pulled the dog off, Mattias was bleeding from several places on his chest and head. After cleaning him up and calming him down, the injuries weren’t as serious as they could have been, but he did end up with a trip to the doctor, where he got his ear stitched and received a tetanus shot.

“I don’t like that dog one bit,” pouted Mattias. “Send him to Australia.” We had told Mattias that Australia was about as far away as you could get and still be on the planet, so he decided this was a good plan for his canine assailant.

The rest of the Pagosa trip was a delicate balance between trying to enjoy ourselves and not feeling too much like terrible parents for not being there for Mattias. Even during our time of retreat, and even with him being in the most capable care we could imagine, our hearts and minds were somewhere else.

If parenthood teaches you anything, it’s that life isn’t about you any more. We all carry that little child around inside ourselves still – you know, the one that still hollers “Hey, what about me?” when your kid gets the biggest piece of cake, or your vacation plans change, or any countless number of other things that make you realize you’re not really as important and special as you’d like to be.

First and foremost, from now until death, you are a parent. You’re a caretaker, provider, nurturer, teacher, guide, occasional inspirer and reluctant judge. More than fulfilling the dreams for your own world, you lay yourself down for the dreams of others that will come after you, and perhaps for the first time, you begin to think about what the world will be like after you’re no longer a part of it.

There’s something suddenly more important than life itself, though ironically, it is life itself, just not as you pictured it. You feel the pain of others more than you sense your own pain, and all you wish for is to take it on so they don’t have to bear it. There’s more than a small amount of insanity in signing on to parenthood. The pay is terrible too, but the benefits are something else.