Sunday, October 31, 2010

Jon Stewart's Speech at the Rally to Restore Sanity

And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity. If that's okay. I know that there are boundaries for a comedian / pundit / talker guy, and I'm sure that I'll find out tomorrow how I have violated them.

So, uh, what exactly was this? I can't control what people think this was: I can only tell you my intentions.

This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke.

The country's 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the dangerous, unexpected flaming ants epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned! You must have the resume! Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker--and, perhaps, eczema. And yet I feel good. Strangely, calmly, good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us, through a funhouse mirror--and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist, and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead, and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin, and one eyeball.

So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle, to a pumpkin-assed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution, and homophobes who see no one's humanity but their own?

We hear every damned day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. The truth is, we do! We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don't is here (Washington DC) or on cable TV!

But Americans don't live here, or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done - not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.

Most Americans don't live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do! But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.

Look on the screen. (Video of cars on a busy road.) This is where we are, this is who we are. These cars. That's a schoolteacher who probably think his taxes are too high, he's going to work. There's another car, a woman with two small kids, can't really think about anything else right now... A lady's in the NRA, loves Oprah. There's another car, an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car's a Latino carpenter; another car, a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan.

But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief, and principles they hold dear - often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers'. And yet, these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze, one by one, into a mile-long, 30-foot-wide tunnel, carved underneath a mighty river.

And they do it, concession by concession: you go, then I'll go. You go, then I'll go. You go, then I'll go. 'Oh my God--is that an NRA sticker on your car?' 'Is that an Obama sticker on your car?' It's okay. You go, then I go.

And sure, at some point, there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder, and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare, and he is scorned, and he is not hired as an analyst!

Because we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is there will always be darkness, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land.

Sometimes, it's just New Jersey.But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Iowa City Rally on CBS

Tim Seymour from CBS 2 "This Morning" interviewed me about the Iowa City "Rally To Restore Civility." It was exciting to me that CBS wanted to promote a church-sponsored event that is focused on celebrating diversity. Very cool. The hope is that this event will help us reject polemic posturing in favor of civil discourse. Plus, it will be a fun event with live music, dramatic readings, satirical protest signs, clips from the Daily Show, etc. All are welcome. For more info, click here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rally To Restore Civility

Faith UCC in Iowa City is hosting an unofficial local branch of Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity." This rally/worship event is being called "The Rally to Restore Civility." Why? Because it's needed. Civil discourse has been replaced with adversarial posturing.

Liberal vs. Conservative. Moderate vs. Extreme. Democrat vs. Republican. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. Pro-War vs. Anti-Military. Communist vs. Capitalist. Mainline vs. Evangelical. Protestant vs. Catholic. Mac vs. PC. The list could go on and on. Everything gets divided up into opposing sides by politicians and the media. And profit-driven soundbites have replaced honest nuance. So, in this scenario, everyone ends up at war with their own friends and family. In reality, most of this stuff is just silly banter.

The Rally to Restore Civility is aimed at celebrating our commonalities as well as our unity-in-diversity. Hopefully events like this will help us all discover the truth of these words by Jonathan Sacks:

"Difference does not diminish; it enlarges the sphere of human possibilities. Our last best hope is to recall the classic statement of John Donne and the more ancient story of Noah after the Flood and hear, in the midst of our hypermodernity, an old-new call to a global covenant of human responsibility and hope. Only when we realize the danger of wishing that everyone should be the same...will we prevent the clash of civilizations, born of the sense of threat and fear. We will learn to live with diversity once we understand the God-given, world-enhancing dignity of difference."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

95 Theses and the Pope Ain't One

October 31st is Reformation Sunday. It's a time to celebrate the history and heritage of the Reformation. Some exciting things happened that changed the Church forever. For example, on October 31st 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, which helped to start the entire Reformation movement. But too often this time period gets remembered as just another boring, irrelevant time in the Church. Thanks to a rap song by Alexander Dominitz and Chris Ripley, the Reformation is given back some of its edge. Yup, a rap song about the Reformation. Here it is, "I Got 95 Theses and the Pope Ain't One":

I got 95 Theses and the Pope Ain't One

If you havin Church problems then dont blame God, son
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope aint one.

Listen up, all my people, its a story for the telling
bout the sin and injustice and corruption I been smelling:
I met that homie Tetzel, then I started rebelling
Once I seen the fat Indulgences that he been selling.
Now the Cathlics of the world straight up disgracin me
Just because I waved my finger at the papacy.
My people got riled up over this Reformation
Thats when Leo threatened me with Excommunication.
I warned yall that Rome best agree to the terms.
If not, then you can eat my Diet of Worms!
You think you done something spectacular?
I wrote the Bible in the vernacular!
A heretic! [What?] Someone throw me a bone.
You forgot salvation comes through faith alone.
Im on a mission from God. You think I do this for fun?
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope aint one.
Save me!

Ninety-five theses but the Pope ain't one.
If you havin Church problems then don't blame God, son
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain't one.

One Five One Seventhats when it first went down.
Then the real test was when it started spreading around.
Sixty days to recant what I said? Father, please!
You've had, what? Goin on fifteen centuries?
Oh snap, hes messin with the holy communion.
But I ain't never dissed your precious hypostatic union!
One place at one time. Well, thank you Zwingli.
Yeah, way to disregard that whole I'm God thingy!
Getting all up in my rosary you little punk.
Your momma shoulda told you not to mess with no monk.
What you bumpin me for? Suddenly you sore.
Keep that up, you'll have yourself another Peasant War.
You blame common folk for the smack they talkin
You ain't even taught them proper Christian doctrine.
With my hat, my Bible, and my sexy little nun,
I got ninety-five theses but the Pope ain't one.
Save me!


When I wrote the ninety-five, haters straight up assailed em.
Now they only care whether or not I nailed em or mailed em.
They got psychoanalytic. Now everyones a critic,
And getting on my case just because Im anti-Semitic.
Ive come back from obscurity to teach y'all a lesson,
Cuz someone here still ain't read their Augsburg Confession.
I said Catholicism brings a life of excess,
And we all remember what went down with Philip of Hesse!
But you forgot about me and my demonstration?
Like you can just create your own denomination?
We don't like this part, so well just add a little twist.
Now we Anglican, Amish, and even Calvinist.
I gave you the power, you gone and abused it.
I gave you Gods truth, you just confused it.
Don't you never underestimate the stuff that I done
I got 95 theses but the Pope ain't one.
Save me!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Getting Ready for Saturday Night

We're having a party tonight (Saturday) to celebrate Fall. It's going to have yard games, Wii bowling, a bonfire, chili with tequila-soaked steak, etc. Plus, we're gonna have music. But choosing good music can be difficult. Especially when it's going to be a mixed crowd (friends, family, co-workers, etc.). So we looked at our collection and found Ozomatli. Instantly, we knew we had a winner. Ozomatili combines jazz, blues, big band, latina/o, and hip-hop into unique party music. It has something for everyone. But it gets better. When we looked at the lyrics of their music, we discovered they are about having fun and social change. We looked no further. Ozomatli was our music of choice. They provide a postmodern blend of musical genres while they party for justice. It just doesn't get better than that. Jesus himself must have listened to music like this when he turned water into wine. Seriously, how can you go wrong with lyrics like these:

Uhh, imagine
Waking up, solidarity is evident
Harmony moves, time is irrelevant
People, the places, the message basic
From raised fists to sit-ins, resist the change
Peep the scenario, to the future bro
2020 and some number a year ago
People rose up, governments froze up
Worldwide block party, everybody shows up
Up on roof tops, ghettos and hot spots
People celebratin' no more souls rot
No more bloodshed over false deficit
Even hip-hop gets a face-lift
The latest fashion, stock market's crashin'
It's Saturday, time to get the party crackin'
And if the time and the day is right
The revolution will begin this Saturday night
Dip, dive, socialize
Get ready for the Saturday night

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creating a Complaint-Free Church

Complainers abound. They are in families, offices, parks, classrooms, etc. They are the Debbie Downers of any group. For the most part, they are easily identifiable and their words are easy to brush off. Especially when there is a pattern. Let's be honest. Everyone knows who they are. And we often have nicknames for them. People say things like, "Oh yeah, that's just Bad News Bill" or "It looks like Connie Complainer strikes again." We've all seen this play out in our lives. So we ususally know how to bypass or avoid their negativity.

But complainers in the church are a whole different breed. They seem more free to...well...complain. One of my professors from seminary once said, "If people complain at their jobs, they get fired. If people complain in their families, they get divorced. But if people complain in the church, they still have to be loved. So they save their negativity for church." Sad yet true. Obviously, complaining is easier to do when people have to love you despite your negativity.

Some church complaints include: "I didn't like those hymns." "You spelled a word wrong in the bulletin." "The music was too fast (or slow or loud or quiet)." "The sermon was too long (or short or boring or exciting)." "There were too many (or too few) kids in worship." "That worship service was too long (or short or dry or showy)." The list goes on and on. After working hard to plan, prepare, and lead worship, these complaints can be tiring for pastors. Plus, to make matter worse, compliments are often few and far between. In fact, one pastor told me this: "When people aren't complaining, they are giving you high praise. They may never say 'Good job!,' but that's what a polite smile after worship typically means." So if you're looking for overt validation or frequent compliments, you might not want to be a pastor. At the same time, however, even thick-skinned pastors can get worn down by complainers.

One of the most destructive kind of complainers in the church are the "save-and-unload" types. They save up ammunition for months, carefully memorizing every negative thing they can muster. Then they send the pastor an e-mail full of negative comments. Or they trap you in a corner and give you a lecture about all the things that are wrong with the church. Or most destructively, they pass along their criticisms to someone else to tell you (anonymously, of course). In all of these cases, these complaints are unhelpful, unhealthy, and counterproductive. There is no discussion. No dialogue. No resolution. No healing. No plan. It's just a laundry list of complaints that the pastor is supposed to hear and validate. Responses other than the validation of the complaints would look defensive. So, these situations require pastors to be loving-yet-boundaried.

Pastors need to set boundaries with folks. Anonymous complains are inappropriate. Long lists of complaints are inappropriate. Saving complaints over a long period of time is inappropriate. The list could go on and on. The boundaries needed in a church can be established through sermons, prayers, newsletter articles, adult education, book studies, empowering lay leaders who are attentive of such dynamics, etc. The important thing is to be assertive and proactive when establishing and teaching these boundaries.

Pastors also need to encourage healthy communication in the congregation. Direct communication is expected. Open communication is expected. Dialogue is expected. Respect is expected. Christian love is expected. The list could go on and on. The healthy communication needed in a church can be established through modeling, sermons, prayers, adult education, book studies, etc. The important thing is to be assertive and proactive when establishing and teaching healthy communication.

Something can (and should) be done about complainers. They need to be stopped before they stop the joy of the congregation.

One more thought for today. The next time somebody complains, validate their complaint. Then ask them to list two positive things they see in whatever they are complaining about. It might just make 'em think differently!

Perhaps we should all work on not complaining. Wouldn't the world (and church) be a better place?! Well, there are people all around the world who are trying to kick the habit of complaining. It's being led by a Kansas City pastor. Click here to check out Rev. Bill Bowen's plan to build a complaint-free world. The video of his appearance on the Today Show is posted below. The basic idea is to try to go 21 days without complaining. For the people who are able to do this successfully, the result is increased happiness. This sounds like something that would benefit everyone. May happiness abound!

What are your thoughts on complaints, complainers, and/or creating a complaint-free world?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bill McKibben in Iowa City

World-famous environmentalist Bill McKibben will be at the Englert Theater in Iowa City this Wednesday, October 13th at 7:00pm. The event is free and open to the public. He will be speaking about creating a sustainable world. For more info click here. Or for his recent article in Newsweek click here.

McKibben's new book, Eaarth: Making A Life on a Tough New Planet, is described by Publishers Weekly in these words:
"The world as we know it has ended forever: that's the melancholy message of this nonetheless cautiously optimistic assessment of the planet's future by McKibben, whose The End of Nature first warned of global warming's inevitable impact 20 years ago. Twelve books later, the committed environmentalist concedes that the earth has lost the climatic stability that marked all of human civilization. His litany of damage done by a carbon-fueled world economy is by now familiar: in some places rainfall is dramatically heavier, while Australia and the American Southwest face a permanent drought; polar ice is vanishing, glaciers everywhere are melting, typhoons and hurricanes are fiercer, and the oceans are more acidic; food yields are dropping as temperatures rise and mosquitoes in expanding tropical zones are delivering deadly disease to millions. McKibben's prescription for coping on our new earth is to adopt maintenance as our mantra, to think locally not globally, and to learn to live lightly, carefully, gracefully—a glass-half-full attitude that might strike some as Pollyannaish or merely insufficient. But for others McKibben's refusal to abandon hope may restore faith in the future."

Friday, October 1, 2010

God's One-Sidedness in the Battle Against Breast Cancer

Some people don't like the war images in the Psalms. These images make God sound like a God of war. And that can be dangerous. When we start to think that our wars are holy wars, it can give us divine sanction to think we are holy and our enemies are evil - and therefore our enemies deserve obviation. Throughout human history, this idea has led to some ugly outcomes. But the images of war in the Psalms don't always have to be about humans fighting other humans. They can offer images of other kinds of wars or battles. One example is the battle against breast cancer.

Breast cancer is something that is worthy of the war images in Scripture. It is an enemy of humanity. It is an evil in our lives. It is something that God works to help us to defeat. And it's something that deserves our battle cries and prayers for victory.

After reading through Psalm 3, a Psalm of war, we wrote a song about God's solidarity with us in the battle against breast cancer. It turns out that some of the battle images in Psalm 3 can be powerful reminders of God's one-sidedness in this war. God wants us to win. God wants the enemy to be defeated. God is clearly on our side. And God wants our victory to be soon.

We want this song to be a prayer for victory in the movement and research to overcome breast cancer. And God's biased, one-sided support of those efforts. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this is our prayer for every person who has been impacted by breast cancer and every person who works to defeat it. May our victory come soon!

The lyrics and video are below:

Victory (Psalm 3)

Facing before us our enemy
Frightened, we go to war, fearing defeat
It rises against us so strong
Tries to break us down, make us weak
Says to us, “All hope is gone.”

But God, Your shield surrounds us
And You are the fortress within us
When we cry out in agony, pain, and fear
From the sacred earth
And within each person
You reply, “I am here.”

So we march, march on like soldiers
Victory’s ours to be won
Holy and healing, God strengthens us
Rest we’ll find
And peace of mind, knowing,
We’ll wake with the sun

Rise up within and around us
We call out, “Deliver us, God!”
Help women strike down this enemy
Like those before
We’ll win once more, lead us
To victory

Healing and strength, God,
We ask for your blessing
Lead us like Esther to victory
You are our hope and in
You we take comfort
Grant us the will and
the courage we need

Then we’ll sing, sing out like songbirds
Knowing in You we have hope
Only from God does our strength come
We sing Your praise
Our voices raise, knowing
This battle’s won

So we’ll march, march on like soldiers
Victory’s ours to be won
Holy and healing, God strengthens us
Rest we’ll find
And peace of mind, knowing
We’ll wake with the sun