Monthly Archives: September 2009

Chicago 2016

image_chicago2016logo1I am not an economist.  I am not a political scientist.  I am not a resident of Chicago.

For these reasons, and for many more, I am totally unqualified for having a logical reason to support Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics.  So I won’t try to offer one.

I support the bid.

The only argument I can make with any authenticity is this.  It would be freakin’ sweet.  Having the Olympics in Chicago would probably pad the pockets of a lot of rich and unscrupulous people. It would be a feather in the cap of the Daley Machine.  It would cripple regular commerce for two weeks, and make getting around the city a nightmare.

It would also be the single coolest thing to ever happen in my lifetime.  The closest I have ever been to the Olympics was when the torch relay passed through Saint Louis in 2004.  There were a few hundred people lining the streets of Webster Groves to watch someone holding a big candle jog by.  It was awesome.

The prospect of being able to go to an Olympic event – any event – is so exciting to me.  I love the Olympics.  When the Summer Games are on TV I try to watch as much as humanly possible.  I love all the events, but especially the small-ticket events like table tennis and badminton.

In 2016 my daughter will be nine years old, and to take her to a gymnastics event or a women’s basketball game would be so amazing.  I would love to see a medal presentation.  Just to watch as some athlete is given that medal, to stand as their nation’s flag is raised would give me so much joy.

In a couple of days the IOC will make their decision.  A few months ago Chicago was in third place.  As far as I’m concerned, Chicago is not third place in anything.  Recently my wife and I were strolling Michigan Avenue on a fall evening.  All I could think of was, “This has got to be the most beautiful city in the world.  How cool would it be for the whole world to know it.”

So yes, I support the bid.  You may not, and you can quote all the figures from past Olympics that finished in the red.  You can warn me about the politicos, and maybe even mafia connections that will profit.  You can make logical, fiscally responsible argument.  You won’t convince me.

My apologies to Carl Sandburg, but:

They tell me Chicago is wicked, and I will believe them.
They tell me Chicago is crooked and I answer, “Yes.”
They tell me Chicago is brutal, and my reply is, I have seen it.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities.

I love Chicago, and I’m hoping to show those that sneer at this my city, that an Olympics in 2016 would be the coolest thing to happen in my lifetime.

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Part 2 – What is religious violence?

This is part 2 of my blog series based on the lecture of Dr. Martin Marty.  His lecture was titled, “Religion and Violence and the global searches for peace.”  He gave this lecture at Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana.  Part 1 was called, “Why talk about it?”

This post is titled “What is religious violence?” This sounds like an obvious question, so the answer seems similarly obvious.  Religious violence is God-commanded and God-commended violence.  It happens when one person feels divinely ordained to inflict physical harm another person.  There are certainly types of violence that are not physical, but for the case of Marty’s lecture (and hence this blog) we will remain in the physical realm.

So here are some things that it is not.  Religious violence is not:

  • limited to any one faith, culture or country.
  • new.
  • something that only evil people do.
  • justification for the elimination of religion (some would argue this point).

Despite this relatively obvious-sounding answer, many have pretty a narrow view of what is religious violence.  For those that watch cable news in the United States, the term religious violence conjures images of suicide bombers and militant islamists.

Yet a closer look at the history of the United States reveals more religious violence then most would be comfortable admitting.  There was  early colonialism, slavery, Civil War, imperialism, urban riots (often directed at new religious groups), and of course, “Manifest Destiny”  That is the idea that God ordained the United States to expand its borders to the Pacific Ocean.   It was real big back in the 19th century.  It was the impetus for the genocide of thousands of native peoples.  It was also largely behind the Mexican War and the Spanish-American War.

An important step in limiting religious violence is admitting our own role in it.  It is easy to point fingers to our headlines and call people evil.  It is more difficult to do a little introspection and confession.

You may be thinking at this point, “All of those things you listed happened a long time ago.”  And you would be right.  And that is why so many sociologists felt that religious violence was on its way out.  There was a feeling that religious violence was becoming more and more isolated.  It was being relegated to a few regional skirmishes that would simply sputter out.

Wars that ripped Europe apart over religious lines were a part of the middle ages, not the modern world.  Nationalism had replaced religious fervor as the justifiable reason to kill someone.  Enlightenment thinkers in the United States and Europe saw religious power as the root of many societal ills.  The separation of church and state was of vital importance to the founders of this country so to avoid the traps that had plagued Europe for centuries. The Enlightenment gave birth to liberal theology,  and in the United States the  social gospel emerged.  This movement built hospitals and schools.  It made prisons more humane, and reformed labor laws.  Religion became a domestic animal, used to make our lives a little better.

And this was the religious bubble that existed in America for most of the 20th century.  Reinhold Niebuhr called America a “gadget-filled paradise suspended in a hell of international insecurity.”

While Europe was continuing to move toward secular nationalism and imperialism, America remained in a state of ignorant bliss about what was going on around her.  Yes, we intervened in a few wars, but only did so grudgingly, and called the first one “The war to end all wars,” and called the second one “The Good War.”

There were some leaks  in the bubble along the way.  Korea, Vietnam, and Watergate eroded our Pollyanna worldview.  There were rumblings at home, and some thought the 60’s would see the birth of a revolution, but even it faded as the hippies started to grow up and get haircuts.

Then came 1979.


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Saturday Snack: Bruschetta

Everytime I make this little concoction I am surprised how good it is.  It is not something I made up, but I haven’t had it better any where else.

2 tomatoes or a bunch of cherry tomatoes
pinch of kosher salt
cracked pepper
5 leaves of fresh basil
1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 or 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar

In a bowl, put a table spoon of olive oil.  Mince up two cloves of garlic and stir them into the oil.  Add a teaspoon of red wine vinegar and whisk.  Then chop up two cups of tomatoes and mix into the oil and vinegar.  Add a pinch of kosher salt and some cracked pepper.  Then comes the key: fresh basil.

We have a basil plant that we keep in the kitchen.  It gets a lot of sun and we water it almost every day.  It is thriving.  The key is to not use too much of it at a time.  Pluck only a few of the biggest leaves at a time. Mix it all up and put it in the fridge.  Resist eating too much at a time.  It is better the next day.  Eat with crackers, bagel chips, toast, or some crusted italian bread.


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I love you one

Today I after breakfast I rose from the table to go to church, and I looked at my wife and two year old daughter and said, “I love you two.”  My daughter said, “What about Basil? [our dog]”

So I replied, “You’re right, I love you three.”

My daughter smiled and said, “I love you one.”


Filed under Personal Reflection

Religion and Violence, Part 1 – Why talk about it?

Dr. Martin Marty

Dr. Martin Marty

Last week I went to a lecture by Dr. Martin Marty.  Marty is a church historian and vital social commentator.  His column in The Christian Century has been a treasured resource for thousands of clergy and lay people.  His lecture was entitled “Religion, Violence, and the Global Searches for Peace.”

This is going to be my first post (I’m not sure how many more I’ll do) about the lecture.  I want to blog about the lecture because I believe it is such an important topic.  I want to do a series of posts because the lecture was so rich with information.

Why is talking about religion and violence so important?

1. Old theories have been proven wrong.  An important part of modern thought was the idea of secularization.  There was a theory that people and societies were getting gradually less and less religious, and during that process, the fringe radical elements would grow duller.  The belief was that as science and logic was able to explain more of the mysteries that religion had explained, religion would just slowly fade away.  While this to a large part happened in Europe, much of the rest of the world did not follow the pattern of secularization.

According to Marty, the 1979 Iranian revolution was the first sign that instead of the dulling of religious fundamentalism that was predicted, there has been a sharpening.  The attacks of September 11 showed that America was not immune to this increased radicalism.

Religious violence is nothing new.  Just ask any neo-atheist or look in any newspaper.  You are going to find evidence of violence perpetrated in the name of God.  What is apparant now, however, is that the long pattern of religous violence that is a part of our world is proceeding along a similar line as opposed to slowly fading away as predicted.

2. It is much more dangerous.  Again, religious violence is nothing new, but for most of human history, if two opposing religious people wanted to kill each other over their land, food, ports, god, ideas, money, oil, etc., they would simply kill each other.  The rest of the world could easily turn a blind eye.  Likewise, if an individual felt “called by God” to harm people in any way, that individual was very limited as to the  effect he could have.  Not so any more.

With the advent of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts can have global ramifcations.  And the impetus of a few radical individuals can harm thousands.

At the same time, mass media and communications have shrunk the world in such a way that all the violence can be broadcast around the world within seconds.  Violence in the farthest corner of the world can strike fear into the hearts of billions.  It can also inspire other likeminded religious radicals.

These reaons, among others, are why it is so important to talk about religous violence now.  The only way we can even begin to work for peace is to understand the state in which we live.


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The Poll

tcdawglogosmallNotice the new page on the top menu bar.  It is called “The Poll.”  Please, vote on whether or not I should try out for a football team.  A real football team, with pads, and helmets, and 300 pound linemen and everything.  Am I crazy?

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Invitation (or Evangelism)

Invitation (or Evangelism)
by Robb McCoy

A child reaches out her hand.
There is no fear of rejection.
There is no self conscious worry or doubt.
There is invitation.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun when you hold someone’s hand.

A child reaches out her hand and takes it.
There is no set of steps.
There are no moves.
There is no clumsiness or fear of people watching.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun with a partner.

A child reaches out her hand.
There is no stranger.
Two children dance. There is
no race
no gender
no class
no status.
Two children hold hands and jump and twirl and laugh and sing out loud. Colors swirl, hair bounces, feet move with frenetic energy as arms swing to no other rythm than what beats in their heart. There is
Only joy.

A child reaches out her hand to another reaching out hers.
There is simply music, and dancing is more fun when you dance with a friend.

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The Great Response

On the first day of seminary one of my professors said, “Seminary is not about telling you the answers.  Seminary is about helping you ask the right questions.”  There was a part of me sitting in that room thinking, “Who is this guy kidding?  All I have is questions.”  Yet that statement helped shaped the rest of my seminary experience, and continues to shape my ministry as a pastor.

I started this blog not because I thought I had all the answers.  I started this blog because I thought I’d be able to offer some questions, start some conversations, and encourage some thought.

Before “The Great Disconnect”, the most popular day on my site was when I commented on the wedding dance, and I had 89 hits.  On the two days after I made this post, I had 270 visits, only a few fewer than my previous busiest week.  Thanks to the help of people posting my link on their facebook pages, and 67 “followers” through Networked Blogs, my posts are reaching more people than ever before.

What’s even more exciting then the numbers is the response I’ve gotten, with the comments here and on my facebook page.  Several people have said things like Sarah May, who commented, “This is the best thing I have heard since this whole Health Care situation began.” 

While comments like that certainly stroke my ego, the ones that I cherish even more are the ones that said, “You made me think.”  As far as I’m concerned, that is the best thing I can do with this site.

If you are interested in more of what I have to say on this topic – espcially in response to some very thoughtful comments, please go back to the comments section of “The Great Disconnect,” and join in the conversation.  But beware, doing so might make you think.

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The Great Disconnect

A recent mini-movement on facebook has people posting this as their status: Name “thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. If you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day”

Most people agree with this statement.  The question is, what are we going to do about it?  Some believe there needs to be some form of government intervention to prevent people from dying due to lack of health care.  For others, the idea of the government being asked to sort out the mess is like asking a pig to clean up your room.  It’s not going to be helpful, and will probably make things worse.

People that want the government to fix the health care problem are not socialists.  They do not want to wage class warfare or kill your grandmother.  People that want the government to stay out of it are not heartless.  They are not greedy, corporate thugs, hording all the medicine so that poor children will die.

There is however, a great disconnect that few on either side recognize.  Those that want the government to stay out of health care often make the argument that the government is not effective or efficient.  They resent the idea that BIG GOV will come in and make decisions for their lives and their money.

They want to trust competition and the market to regulate health care.  They want private charities, churches and philanthropists to be freed of burdensome taxes so that they may help those in need.  I read on some message board that, “Jesus never told me to give away other people’s money.”

On the other side, people that want the government to do something do not trust the goodness of corporations.  They feel that health care has spun out of control becaue of greed and fiscal iresponsibility, and to think that same group will somehow reform a wildly profitable system is crazy.  They feel that it is the role of  government to take care of those that cannot take care of themselves, and that those that benefit most from the systems in place in our society should bear the brunt of the cost.

And here’s the disconnect.  Many that feel that government cannot be trusted to reform health care have no problem trusting government to defend our borders.   They are all-too-ready to have the government tell people who they should marry, what can be on their TV,  and tell women if they can have a safe abortion.

Likewise, those that trust the government to reform healthcare also want the government to get out of their bedrooms and churches.

Certainly there are those that break these lines, but there is a disconnect, and there are inconsistencies on both sides of the debate that few want to acknowledge.

Liberals trust the government to help take care of the sick and the poor, but do not trust the government to regulate “morality” issues.  Conservatives trust the government to regulate “morality” issues, but want government to stay out of health care and the economy. (I put morality in quotes because I believe all of these issues are about morality, not just the ones that have to do with sex and gender.)

I’m not sure of what the implications of this are, but I cannot help but feel if more people at least understood and acknowledged their own inconsistencies, they would not be so quick to point out others’.

It seems like all can agree that sick kids should get medicine, abortions need to be reduced, and lives need to be defended from invaders and terrorists.  The question is how can we do those things most effectively? That is why this conversation and debate can be so good.  Maybe we can come up with some answers.

Unfortunately, the debate has been more about shouting, rumors, lies, and fear.  Above all, it seems as if many are out simply to win, and be right,  instead of doing what is right.  If the debate were about humility, compromise, questions, compassion and honesty, we might get somewhere.  I’m not sure if we are any closer to an answer now then we were three months ago.

In the meantime, there is another sick kid not getting medicine.  There is another single Mom dying slowly of a disease that could be cured.  This nation’s life expectancy is among the lowest of industrialized countries and our infant mortality is among the highest.

In the end, I cannot help but think that no, Jesus might not have told me to give away other people’s money.  But the prophets told me something very simple.  Kings and kingdoms are judged on one criteria: How do you take care of your children and widows?  It’s a question not enough people are asking.


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