Friday Link Love: Art Books, Mysterious Wires, and an Appreciative God

First things first… you guys know about the Sabbath in the Suburbs website, yes? I post there a couple of times a week.



The Best Art Books of 2012 — Brain Pickings

I covet them all. Here’s a page from Alice in Wonderland:


The Fear of Women as Bishops — New Yorker

I went to see the great Oxford historian of Christianity (and former ordained deacon) Diarmaid MacCulloch, and asked him to explain the roots of such lingering hostility to the idea of women bishops. He laughed and called it a piece of theatre, confabulated by men still smarting from the fact that Christ chose two women to witness and announce the Resurrection.


I quoted him then, and I’ll do it again, now: “The historical ‘against-women’ argument about twelve male apostles—it comes from the early years of the Christian era and the spectacles put forth by the male leaders, who [had] wanted to be the ones to ‘see’ Christ first. By the end of the second century, a male leadership had emerged, and after that it became the men-were-what-the-Holy-Spirit-intended argument and then the tradition-of-the-church argument. It was specious. Slavery was also our ‘tradition’ for seventeen hundred years. If you want a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, you change.”


Five Charts about Climate Change That Should Have You Very Worried — Atlantic

Most of Greenland’s top ice layer melted in four days this summer:

The event is uncommon, though not unprecedented. A similar event happened in 1889, and before that, several centuries earlier. There are indications, however, that the greatest amount of melting during the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade.

I’m sure everything will be just fine.


Gazing into the Abyss — Christian Wiman

Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. He has an incurable form of blood cancer. And he is my kind of Christian:

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it, though not one whit more than the hours I have with my wife, with friends, or in solitude, trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion.


Giving Thanks for a God That is Appreciative — Hesham A. Hassaballa, Patheos

A link from Thanksgiving week:

In Islamic tradition, it is believed that God has 99 names, or attributes, that describe God for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more…

in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to reflect over a particularly fascinating name for God: Al Shakur, or “The Appreciative.”

This is truly, truly amazing. The Lord God—Originator of the heavens and the earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, the Most Powerful of all things, the King of all kings—is al Shakur, or “the appreciative.”

Appreciative of what, however? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me?


What’s That Thing? Mysterious Wires Edition — Slate

The “What’s That Thing” series is fun. See the thin wires in the picture?

Apparently it’s a Sabbath thing. More at the link…


Moneyball and the Future of the Church — David Lose

The third in a series relating aspects of the book/film with the tremendous upheaval that’s at work (and that’s needed) in the church:

One of my definitions of good leadership is the ability to take advantage of crises.

What do I mean by that? Simply that a good leader is always tending a vision of the future. A vision that is always a little larger than the present, always moving just a little beyond where we are now.

The challenge however, is that as a species we tend to put a very high value on homeostasis. We greatly prefer, that is, stability to change. And for good reason: stability promotes growth. But that means we are often far more reactive than proactive, changing only when we have to. And that makes advancing a positive vision of the future difficult, as we would often prefer to make due with a less-than-adequate – but known – present than a promising but unknown (and therefore risky) future.

Which is where crises come in. A crisis demands immediate action and provides the thoughtful and prepared leader with an excuse to make changes that he or she knew were necessary but couldn’t enact because they seemed too difficult for most to contemplate previously.

Incidentally, I used the clip he discusses in part 1 of his series in my workshop for the NEXT Church gathering in Dallas in February. You have to define the problem accurately in order to solve it.


And the obligatory Colossal post:

The Energy Generated from a Single Orange — Colossal

It’s alive!!!!

May you be alive to your world this weekend. Advent blessings.

How to Respond to Fanatics

This afternoon at the bus stop, I had a conversation with the Muslim woman who picks up her granddaughter, a lovely little first grader with a big smile, straightforward manner and lime-green head scarf (how do they keep it fastened all day?). I told her I was sorry about what was going on. I was sorry about all the ugliness, all the scapegoating, all the offensive, hateful gestures. As a Christian pastor, I was sad, and disgusted, at what was being planned in Jesus’ name in Florida on Saturday.

I debated whether to say anything, though. I don’t hold moderate Muslims responsible for 9/11. So why should I apologize for the KKK, Fred Phelps, or pastor Terry Jones?

I ultimately decided that in this case, “I’m sorry” meant “I share your sorrow.” And that’s always a good, worthwhile message. At the end of the conversation I was surprised when this reserved, soft-spoken Muslim grandmother from Pakistan hugged me. We live in a very tolerant melting pot here in Fairfax County, but she seemed… relieved? I share this story in case there’s anyone out there thinking, “Surely my Muslim neighbors know I’m not one of those people.” Maybe not. Or maybe they do know, but it’s still nice to be reminded you’re not alone.

Here is something I struggle with: I don’t want to give those attention-mongers in Gainesville one iota of additional publicity. This is a meaningless stunt, and it’s a tiny, fringe group of people behind it. Yet some things are so egregious that they must be answered with action. I know folks who are going to donate $1 to Park 51 for every Qur’an burned. Others are scheduling a “read the Qur’an” day. I’m considering a pastoral letter to the congregation asking people to consider similar actions on the anniversary of 9/11.

How do we thread this needle?

I wrote on a friend’s blog this week, in response to a different topic:

Karl Barth once preached an entire hour-long sermon in the 1930s to a group of German pastors without once mentioning Hitler. He was accused of being irresponsible, but he said, “Hitler is a nothing. I am called to preach Christ crucified.” …Hitler is not a “nothing,” but Barth’s point is, we sure can get blown off course… And we can get mired in the pointless kerfuffles that don’t ultimately matter. I think it’s time to stop talking about Glenn Beck, for example. We’ve said our piece and will continue to preach social justice and it’s time to move on.

Hitler was not a pointless kerfuffle, of course. But are we going to let the fanatics define what we say and do? Talk about being blown about by every wind of doctrine! (Ephesians 4)

The tension is this: When must we stand up and say, “No,” and when does standing up and pointing at the thing we’re condemning increase the attention to (and thus legitimize) the fanatics?

Last Sunday’s Sermon on Park51

Several people have asked to read the sermon from Sunday. I’ve been waiting for it to go up on the church website, but until then, here it is.

It’s funny, looking at it now. It really doesn’t feel all that controversial.

MaryAnn McKibben Dana
Idylwood Presbyterian Church
August 22, 2010
“God’s Greatest Hits”: Sermon Series
Baby Moses: Exodus 2:1-10

Among the Reeds

We’ve heard a lot of great stories this summer in our series, many of which were chosen by members of the congregation. Today’s text is one of my choices. I distinctly remember learning this story as a child in Sunday School, and can picture the coloring page that our teacher handed out with an adorable baby Moses nestled in the basket while his big sister looks on.

As I learned the story, Moses’ sister (Miriam) was the clear hero, quick to jump in with a solution, ready to manipulate Pharoah’s daughter into not only allowing their mother to continue to nurse him, but to get paid for it! Quite a clever girl indeed. In my childhood remembrance of the story, Pharoah’s daughter has a less prominent role.

Now, it’s certainly possible that Pharoah’s daughter is “played” by Miriam. It could be that she’s set up to be nothing more than a dumb member of the ruling class. This is a well-established framework for these kinds of stories, from the book of Exodus to Br’er Rabbit. But I think Pharoah’s daughter knows exactly what’s going on. I think she understands the situation quite well: that this baby, and the young girl looking on, and the woman who will nurse him, are all part of the same family, victims of a heinous plot cooked up by her father to decimate the Hebrew people by eliminating the sons (see Exodus chapter 1).

But what is it about Pharoah’s daughter that gives her the generosity to let the woman nurse the child—and pay her for it? Where does she get the compassion to let this Hebrew child, a child of another race, not only live, but be raised as royalty?

The other night I was working on the computer and a friend (who’s a big fan of musical theater) sent a message: “Hey, South Pacific is on Live at Lincoln Center!” I had some laundry sitting in the basement to be folded so I thought Sounds good! Many of you know South Pacific; it’s one of the great musicals from the 20th century. It takes place during World War II and addresses themes of racism.

I tuned in just in time to see the scene in which Nellie finds out Emile (her love interest) has fathered two children. Nellie, from Arkansas, just cannot handle the scandal of this news. In the next scene, another character (dealing with his own prejudices) says such feelings are “not born in you” and he sings the famous song:

You’ve got to be taught To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught…

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I’ve read that Rodgers and Hammerstein were under great pressure to change the song and to soften the themes of the show. In fact the Georgia legislature wanted to outlaw entertainment they saw as sympathetic to communism. One legislator said interracial marriage was “implicitly a threat to the American way of life.”[i] Sad, isn’t it?

Somehow, Pharoah’s daughter was not taught to hate the people her father hated. For whatever reason, she missed that lesson. Which is amazing, really. Her father had a campaign underway to slaughter the Hebrew sons, because he felt threatened, because he hated and feared the people, but somehow his daughter didn’t get the message. Something in her took pity on the baby in the reeds. Something in her heart softened toward him and his plight. And thank God for that, because if Pharoah’s daughter hadn’t done what she did, the little baby among the reeds would not have grown up to be a man who would one day stand before Pharoah’s corrupt regime and say, “Let my people go.”

I remember watching South Pacific as a teenager in Dallas—and I specifically remember this scene in which Nellie finds out about Emile’s interracial relationship. And I remember thinking Really? This was an issue? Thankfully we’ve moved on though. How quaint this show is—a period piece, for sure—but how relevant really is this musical to the world that we live in now?

Oh, how naïve I was… to think that we were past all that.

You only need to listen to the rhetoric of the past several days, over the so-called “ground zero mosque,” and the fact that many think anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise, including a Christian church that is planning a “burn the Quran” party[ii], to see that issues of race, and culture, and how we accept people who are different, are absolutely still of utmost importance today.

I’m going to thread the needle as best I can with this, because tempers are hot around this one, and a sermon is intended to start a conversation, not finish it. This conversation takes place among you and me and scripture and the culture, with the Holy Spirit knitting it all together.

I must first say three things:

  1. 9/11 is a terrible wound. The trauma of that day may never fully heal.
  2. There are people in the world who want to do harm.
  3. Good people can have different ideas about the appropriateness of Park51 (the community center and mosque project) at this particular place and at this particular time.

That said:

What an opportunity this public discussion could have been—an opportunity to talk with one another about who we are and who we want to be as a society. What is appropriate? What does sacred space look like? If not a community center, built by a Muslim group (with the approval of rabbis and clergy, by the way, who will serve on the board), then what do we want to see in that space? How do we react to the two mosques that are already in the neighborhood? If there can be a Muslim place of prayer at the Pentagon, how is Ground Zero different? Is it different? How do we uphold the values of our nation while acknowledging the pain of those who grieve?

That would have been an important discussion, a healing discussion.

That is not what has been happening.

Instead, most civil and respectful debate has been drowned out by fear-mongering and scapegoating. One person has called the planned project a “command center for terrorism at the 9/11 site.” Imam Rauf, who has a long history of interfaith work, who attended Daniel Pearl’s funeral and spoke as an honored guest, who is widely considered to be a moderate Muslim, who somehow earned the trust of two administrations such that he is on a State-Department-sponsored speaking tour, has been branded as a radical. An extremist. Someone who is out to get “us.” The evidence for this is sketchy, to put it kindly—the best people can do is a kind of guilt by association.[iii] One person even said, “after you’ve killed 3,000 people, you’re going to now build your mosque?”, as if the 9/11 terrorists and the Muslims involved in the Cordoba Project are one and the same.[iv]

To put it bluntly, the Muslims we know in our workplaces and neighborhoods have as much complicity in 9/11 as you and I do for the KKK. Our former President, George W. Bush, said, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.”[v] He said that six days after 9/11.

Salman Hamdani was a police cadet, part-time ambulance driver, incoming medical student, and devout Muslim. When he disappeared on September 11, law enforcement officials came to his family, seeking him for questioning in relation to the terrorist attacks. His remains were finally identified 6 months later. He was found near the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably doing everything he could to help those in need.[vi]

The God I believe in was as heartbroken at the death of Salman Hamdani as with the death of any other innocent victim that day.

Pharoah’s daughter peeked through the reeds of the river and looked into the face of the stranger. The other. Different race, different culture. It would have been no skin off her nose if she had just put that basket back and tiptoed away. Let someone else deal with him, or not. It’s not her problem. But she couldn’t ignore him. She couldn’t leave. I hope we as Christians, who are supposed to be about loving our neighbor, would be no less compassionate with the other than she was.

“You’ve got to be taught…” the song goes. What are we teaching as this debate rages? What are we teaching about Jesus? What are we teaching about hospitality? There’s a lot of heated rhetoric, not just about the Park 51 project, but all kinds of issues of the day. And as I said, good people can disagree. But are we going to add heat or light? Are we going to speak out against the hate and noise? Are we going to bear witness to the Prince of Peace? You’re a teacher. I’m a teacher. What are we teaching about the God we follow?

. . . . .

My poor children have my seminary training inflicted on them from time to time.

Years ago I was reading this story to Caroline from a children’s Bible. The last line was “and she named the baby Moses.”

What I said was, “she named the baby Moses, which is Hebrew for ‘pulled out,’ because she ‘pulled him out of the water.’ ”

From the other room I heard Robert say, “Give the poor child a break, she’s four!”

But you see… the name of Moses is the key to the whole thing.
This business of being “pulled out”—that’s the beauty of the whole story.

And you know, it wasn’t Moses who was pulled out.
It was Pharoah’s daughter who was pulled out.

Somehow or other God reached into her sheltered upper-class existence and pulled her out to a new place.

God pulled her into a place of empathy for the oppressed.
God pulled her out of the cocoon of self-interest and said, “This foreigner needs your care. ”

And God’s pulling us out—
pulling us out of our own agendas,
our own tightly-held prejudices,
into a new place, an uncomfortable place, to be sure, a vulnerable place, where not everybody looks like us or dresses like us or thinks like us or worships like us.

But it’s a good place we’re being pulled into.
It’s a place that looks a whole lot like the kingdom of God.

This I believe.

[i] references the following article:

Andrea Most, “‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” Theater Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.

[ii] Religious Freedom, Free Speech Face Off Nationwide, by David Shaper on NPR,

[iii] For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act, New York Times, August 21, 2010




how statistics lie

There’s an old episode of the West Wing in which a pollster is trying to get the President to sign onto a measure that would ban flag-burning. It’s an easy way to gain a few votes, the pollster said. A constitutional amendment to ban flag burning is never going to happen, so what’s the harm? It shows the POTUS to be a patriotic American. Is there anything wrong with that?

The president’s staff arranges for Bartlet to sit through various town hall meetings with people hectoring him over the issue. Finally he asks, “Is there an epidemic of flag-burning I don’t know about?” and walks out.

Later, a couple of staff people are talking about the polls in which a majority of Americans support a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag-burning. A cool-headed pollster points out the flaw: that figure may be true, but the percentage of people who rate that issue as important or very important is low. Very low. A simple yes-or-no question is not going to capture the intensity of the opinion.

I’ve been thinking about this since the controversy over Park 51 has begun.

Apparently, around 70% of Americans think that the community center and mosque shouldn’t be built so close to Ground Zero. Let’s set aside whether constitutionally protected actions should be subject to the will of popular opinion. (Here’s a thought: No.) What I haven’t seen is anything about the intensity of that 70%. People are certainly pontificating about it in the media and on the Internet, and unfortunately, it’s the panderers and bigots who seem to be loudest. And those folks keep trumpeting the 70% figure, as if every one of that 70% is as deeply offended as they are. I would be willing to bet good money that they aren’t.

My guess is that if you take out the members of Shoutytown, and the people who have been convinced by them that this is a “victory mosque” or that all Muslims are evil, that much of the opposition is somewhere in the universe of “I know there’s no rational reason why this should bother me, but I have to admit it does. 9/11 is such a profound psychic wound for our nation that we need to proceed with utmost caution. If another site could be found that wouldn’t jeopardize the project’s mission, I would favor it. But if this is the location, eh, the world will go on.”

The only thing I have found that even comes close to addressing this is a poll of New Yorkers. A majority favor another site, AND a majority agree that the Cordoba folks have a right to build there. This suggests to me that people are able to separate their personal feelings about the project from whether it should be allowed to continue.

Absent some nuance, we will continue to have political figures exploiting this for cheap electoral gain and using this as a litmus test to show who’s more patriotic and reverent toward the events of 9/11.

Meanwhile, some more people starved to death in flood-ravaged Pakistan today.

Photo: Off-track betting; one of the many businesses located near Ground Zero. More here.