Sunday, February 10, 2008

What if buying a car was like buying health care?

The material below was an illustration from a sermon on health care in the U.S. that I delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett in Lawrenceville, Georgia on January 27, 2008. -- Dave


People working for health insurance companies and managed care providers are also frustrated by the inconsistencies and inequities of the system. Many hate being put in positions where they are rewarded for denying coverage. The entire system has an absurd Through the Looking Glass quality to that has us not sure whether we should laugh or cry.

Let me try the former approach to see if that provides any perspective. What if buying a car was like dealing with the healthcare system? You know I’m an amateur actor, so please pretend that I’m standing in line behind a few people at a new car dealership, waiting to talk to the receptionist, played by Lily Tomlin. She’s seated behind a tall, circular reception station, and wears a telephone headset.

The middle-aged man at the head of the line says, “I’d like to buy a car.”

“May I have your auto insurance card, please?” [in Tomlin’s voice]

“Sure, here you are.”

“Thank you.” Lily photocopies the front and back of the card and hands it back. “There’s a twenty dollar co-payment to see a sales person, sir. How will you be paying?”

“Use my Flexible Automobile Spending Account card, please,” says the man.
“I can pay for gas and oil changes and maintenance using pre-tax dollars.”

“Very good, sir. A sales person will see you shortly. Have a seat up front, please.”

The man leaves and takes a seat on some very nice padded leather chairs in the front near the plasma TV.

The next person in line is an older woman, clearly a senior citizen.

“How may I help you?”

“I’d like to buy a car.”

“May I have your auto insurance card, please?”

“Certainly. Here’s my AutoCare card.”

“Very good, ma’am. We’ll have one of our sales people join you shortly to show you our selection of Part A $500 vehicles for our clients with AutoCare. There will also be details about the Part B mechanics in our service center and our special new Part D gas and oil change plan.”

The older woman smiles and Lily looks closer at the card.

“I see you have supplemental coverage as well, ma’am. That will qualify you for vehicles with air conditioning and power steering, not just our standard AutoCare offerings. Please have a seat in the center section.”

The older woman departs and takes a seat on some cloth covered chairs next to a coffee table covered with stacks of back issues of Modern Maturity.

The next person in line is the young woman who’s right in front of me.

“How may I help you?”

“I’d like to buy a car.”

“May I have your auto insurance card, please?”

“I don’t have auto insurance.”

“Oh dear, you shouldn’t be in this line. There’s a separate line if you need to see a sales person on an emergency basis in the rear of the building. Please go there.”

“But I have money. How much is that car over there.”

She points to one of the small hatchbacks labeled AutoCare Special near the center section of the showroom floor where the older woman is waiting.

“One moment, please. This is not our standard operating procedure.”

Lily pulls out a large black binder, flips through pages for a few minutes, and finally finds what she’s looking for.

“That vehicle is $117,522.”

The young woman gasps. “Why is it so much? You said it was $500 before?”

“That is only for individuals with AutoCare insurance, ma’am. It’s regulated by the federal government.”

“But 117 thousand dollars is far more than it’s worth.”

“We have to make up the money we lose on government contracts somehow, ma’am!”

“What about that car over there?”

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Have you considered public transportation?”

The young woman, dejected, starts to walk away, then turns and asks,
“Which way to the emergency sales reps?”

“Out that door and around the back.”

Finally it’s my turn.

“How may I help you?”

“I’m thinking about buying a car.”

“Thinking, sir?”

“Yes, I’m thinking about it. I’ve got great auto insurance, but I’m not sure which car I want to buy or if I want to buy from this dealership. I’d like to get prices on vehicles, read up on performance, mileage, reliability, customer satisfaction with your service and maintenance, all that stuff, before I buy.”

“We don’t do that, sir?”

“Why not? How else can I make an informed decision?”

“You wouldn’t be able to understand the technical information, sir. It takes years of training to become an automotive engineer or a certified mechanic and it’s just not something a layperson can comprehend.”

“I’d still like to have the information.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but it’s not in your best interest for us to provide that information. It is too easy for an untrained person to misinterpret the material.”

“You mean it’s not in your best interest.”

“That is correct, sir. Have a nice day, sir.”

And so it goes…

Thursday, March 23, 2006

UU Cartoons

Copyright (c) 2006 by Dave Schroeder

Thursday, December 22, 2005

New UUA Logo takes us back fifty years

Greetings --

I just read the email from the Unitarian Universalist Association announcing the new UUA "standard" flaming chalice logo. After taking a look, and another look, and another look at it I have to say that I still think it's an ugly, old fashioned, and unfortunate choice.

Here's a copy of the email I recently sent to the UUA expressing my feelings.

Hi folks --

Please pass this email along to the appropriate people.

I have to say that I'm quite saddened by the new UUA logo.

It would be great if we were a bank or an investment house
fifty years ago, but it is so far from feeling contemporary,
original, or lively that it's depressing for me to contemplate
having to use it in our newsletter or other publications.
Please take a look at the images below to see what I mean.

You started with a classic and powerful design featuring two
circles and a chalice and managed to change it into a poorly
rendered glowing cross.

I certainly hope the many of the more elegant, original, and
striking chalice designs continue to be used across the
association and further hope that the new uninspired and
uninspiring design meets an early end.

My apologies for the negative tone of this email, but it's very
frustrating to see us shoot ourselves in the foot regarding our
new logo when the opportunities for us to leverage publicity
about our association are so great.

Sincerely -- Dave Schroeder, long-time U.U.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Water Communion and Hurricane Katrina

This past Sunday was our congregation's Water Communion service where everyone in the congregation who wants to participate pours water with a special significance to them and their family into a common bowl to symbolize how many individuals become one body in mutual love and support.

Today, in the aftermath of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina I was struck by the many ways people are rallying around to help out the people who suffered from another sort of mingling of the waters.

In the book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, author James M. Barry tells the story of a similar natural disaster and how it transformed politics and race relations for decades.

Comments about the book from Library Journal give more details:
In the spring of 1927, America witnessed perhaps its greatest natural disaster: a flood that profoundly changed race relations, government, and society in the Mississippi River valley region. Barry (The Transformed Cell, LJ 9/1/92) presents here a fascinating social history of the effects of the massive flood. More than 30 feet of water stood over land inhabited by nearly one million people. Almost 300,000 African Americans were forced to live in refugee camps for months. Many people, both black and white, left the land and never returned. Using an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, Barry clearly traces and analyzes how the changes produced by the flood in the lower South came into conflict and ultimately destroyed the old planter aristocracy, accelerated black migration to the North, and foreshadowed federal government intervention in the region's social and economic life during the New Deal. His well-written work supplants Pete Daniel's Deep'n as It Come: The 1927 Mississippi Flood (1977) as the standard work on the subject. Recommended for public and academic libraries. -- Charles C. Hay III, Eastern Kentucky University Libraries, Richmond
Research shows that global warming is indeed contributing to the increase in severity of hurricanes, if not necessarily their frequency.

Perhaps lasting political change can come in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the trio of storms that hit Florida in 2004 like it did after the Great Mississippi Flood when African Americans were driven from the party of Lincoln and transformed into the backbone of the Democratic party.

We can hope that a natural disaster of this scale can help bring us together instead of fueling increased polarization. We're not Red and Blue anymore, just muddy brown.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The True Religion of America

Last night I was reminded of the fact that the largest group of religious believers in the United States is not Evangelicals or Roman Catholics -- it's football fans, particularly high school football fans. In certain parts of the country, like the South, Pennsylvania, Ohio, California and Texas, the holy temple is the football stadium and the primary sacrament is the touchdown.

It seems like there are more people in the stands for a Friday night high school football game in most towns than there are in local churches for Sunday morning services. One of the distinguishing factors of mega-churches is that their services tend to resemble major sporting events (or perhaps rock concerts) more than traditional modes of worship. They often feature stadium seating for thousands, have great PA systems, and encourage attendees to make a lot of noise.

I recently had the pleasure to see a thrilling high school football game between our local high school, Grayson, and East Coweta, a neighboring rival. Grayson's Rams scored the go-ahead touchdown in the last two minutes of play and stopped the Indians' comeback drive with an interception in the end zone as the buzzer sounded. It was quite a rush. I grew up in an area in Central Pennsylvania where football was worshipped with equal fervor, so I understand the appeal of the sport.

Local football teams pull the people in nearby areas together and give them a cause to root for. They provide a sense of local identity and pride and also allow some level of aggression to be worked off on the field instead of in more dangerous forms of violence.

It would be nice if conflicts between religious and political liberals and conservatives could be settled on the field, but I'm afraid that right now those arguments are being settled in "stadiums" in Bagdad and on the ground between the Tigris and Euphrates with weapons more potent than fullbacks and wide receivers.

I wonder if there are any sports around enjoyed by both Sunni's and Shi'ites where the two groups could work out their differences on the field instead of under it.

My best -- Dave

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Fundamentally Wrong?

Exploring Christian Fundamentalism
-- a sermon by Dave Schroeder
-- given at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett
-- August 7th, 2005

One of the things fundamentalist churches are best known for is their tradition of long sermons. In some of those churches it's said that the devil doesn't leave the sanctuary until at least the first hour of preaching is over, so get comfortable and let's get started.

There are times when I'm convinced that the only acceptable form of prejudice for UUs is against Christian fundamentalists. We stress tolerance for all varieties of philosophical and religious exploration from atheists to Zoroastrians. We try, with varying degrees of success, to appreciate diverse political points of view. We're sensitive to the needs of the poor and the oppressed here and around the world. But there's something about those Fundamentalists that really gets to us. It feels like everything we believe, they believe the opposite. Put a UU and a Fundamentalist in the same room for a while, bring up the topic of religion, and like mixing matter and anti-matter you're probably going to have an explosion.

Here at UUCG we've explicitly set ourselves up as a liberal religious oasis in the midst of a fundamentalist desert. We're surrounded by people who think the Bible is without error and people like us are headed straight for Hell. Many of us keep quiet about our beliefs to keep the peace, endure sectarian public prayers as a matter of course, and put up with the tacit assumption that everybody around here shares the same religious perspective. There are millions of them and only a few hundred thousand of us. The greater Atlanta on-line Yellow Pages lists over 5,000 churches. Only eight of them are Unitarian-Universalist. Being a minority isn't easy.

Many of us know of fundamentalism from growing up as fundamentalists, living in the midst of them, or coping with them in the workplace. But still, many of us may not be as familiar with the details as we'd like or may have moved to the South from places where fundamentalism isn't widespread as it is down here. Today I'd like to explore three main things about fundamentalism.

• It's origin and history—where it came from, what it believes, and what makes it unique

• What we can learn from it—what they're doing better than we are, and

• How we can more effectively live as religious liberals in a sea of fundamentalists

What the heck is fundamentalism, anyway? Where did it come from? Why are they such sticks in the mud? The answer to that question is to look in a mirror. There's a very good reason why UUs and fundamentalists seem like direct opposites. Fundamentalism came into being as an organized system of beliefs in direct response to religious and social liberals, like Unitarians, who applied reason to religion and Universalists, who saw God as a loving parent rather than a hanging judge. German scholars who started analyzing the Bible like any other set of historical documents also played their part, as did Charles Darwin and the evolution revolution he started.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s the United States was in the midst of a major transformation. People were moving from farms to cities, non-Protestant immigrants were arriving in large numbers, and universities were applying the tools of science and scholarship to areas that had previously been the sole realm of religion. Many of the mainline Protestant churches were moving away from treating the Bible literally and toward looking at it metaphorically. For example, pastors and congregations became comfortable looking at the days of Creation in Genesis as geologic eons rather than as seven typical twenty-four hour days.

One of the triggers that helped solidify fundamentalists' anger was an address delivered in 1909 by a Unitarian, Charles Eliot, who had served as president of Harvard for forty years. Eliot had transformed Harvard from a small college into a great modern university over four decades. He's also the guy who selected the books included in the famous Harvard Classics. Eliot was a man of science who taught mathematics and chemistry. He was one of the biggest of the big guns of reason and rationality of his day.

The title of his address was "The Future of Religion" and his message really ticked off religious conservatives. Eliot believed the new religion of the future would have only one commandment, love God by serving others. Eliot thought there would be no need for churches in the future, no need for scriptures, no need for sin and redemption, because God's presence would be so overwhelming. The religion of the future would be a social gospel that celebrated secular ideals such as democracy, public education, social reform, and preventive medicine. Eliot saw love of God and neighbor, compassion for the needy and social justice as the core of his new vision. He wanted to build a faith that relied on performing good works rather than pew-sitting piety.

Fundamentalists were appalled. They thought that faith without doctrine was not Christianity, and they circled their wagons to make sure their doctrine stayed pure. They began to withdraw from secular society. They drew lines in the sand, like the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, and pushed out any ministers and congregations who didn't pass their litmus tests. They were more widespread in the South but were well represented in other parts of the country, too.

The arrival of World War I let the fundamentalists wrap themselves in the flag. In 1917 the famous evangelist and former baseball player, Billy Sunday, said "Christianity and Patriotism are synonymous terms and hell and traitors are synonymous." Sunday would often end his sermons by jumping up on top of the pulpit and waving an American flag. After the war American society changed even faster. Urbanization, secularization, technology, and immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe all increased rapidly. Sigmund Freud added his disruptive insights to Darwin's as well. As one writer put it, "…in 1900 one might have talked about religion in polite company but never would have dared mention sex, by the 1920s the opposite was often the case." A symptom of the conservative backlash to all these changes was the rise in the Klan, which saw its peak membership year in 1923.

What about fundamentalism today? What makes it distinctive? Biblical inerrancy is its best known belief, but there are several other important elements. Fundamentalism is a very personal faith, where a one-on-one relationship between believers is central, including the essential notion, based on a mistranslation, that they must be "born again." As the song Blessed Assurance say, "Jesus walks with me and talks with me and tells me I am his own." Their views on abortion are well known, though they're often in favor of capital punishment, are quite literal in their understanding of Jesus miracles, and don't allow women to be ministers. They tend to have less education than members of mainline denominations like Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians. They're big on Sin and Satan. They tend to be anti-intellectual, anti-science—especially evolution, and anti-homosexual based on various Biblical "proof texts." They tend to be anti-alcohol and sometimes seem like they're against anything, so long as it's fun. They are distrustful of secular society and have only started flexing their muscles politically in the past thirty years, though today they seem to be in charge of national policy.

Along the lines of being anti-alcohol and anti-fun, my brother, a Methodist minister in Grayson, says that the way you can tell the difference between Baptists and a Methodists in a liquor store is that the Methodists will make eye contact.

One of the most widespread theological ideas in fundamentalism today has a complicated eleven syllable name: premillennial dispensationalism. The best-selling Left Behind books are based on this belief, along with all the "Rapture" bumper stickers, like "In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned," and my favorite, "In case of Rapture, this car will swerve as my mother-in-law takes the wheel." Dispensationalism got started in England about the same time as Unitarianism got started in the United States, around 1820. It's based on the notion that history is divided up in to periods of time called dispensations. We're now in the next to the last one, before Christ shows up for his thousand-year reign in the final age, which is where the pre-millennial part of the phrase comes from. The justification for the whole idea is drawn from prophesies in the books of Daniel and Revelations and Ezekiel.

Most dispensationalists have a dim view of human nature and believe that human beings will screw things up in every age, including this one. They believe that the Saved will be taken bodily into heaven by the Rapture just before the seven years of tribulations that will occur prior to Jesus' physical return to Earth. They are big on the importance of Israel being resettled by the Jews and think the end won't come until the Jewish Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. That's one reason why fundamentalists tend to be so pro-Israel. Dispensationalists think the Anti-Christ is a political leader, not a religious one, which has reduced anti-Catholic sentiments among fundamentalists. In the old days Protestants, starting with Martin Luther, equated the Anti-Christ with the Pope.

If any of this seems confusing to you, you're not alone. Sometimes I just have to marvel at the creativity of theologians and their ability to use the Bible as a giant Rorschach test where they can project their own needs and desires. Quite a few people just can't handle uncertainty. They want to know that their car will be unmanned and want to be sure that they're going to heaven. Given the insecurities of the modern world, it's easy to see why such beliefs are appealing.

The concept of dispensationalism has been embraced by a wide range of conservatives across many denominations, but there are other distinctions within fundamentalism that tend to result in new denominations, like the Pentecostal and Holiness churches.

Pentecostals are named for Pentecost, which according to the book of Acts happened fifty days after Jesus' resurrection when the Holy Spirit descended on the Disciples. Pentecostals tend to share fundamentalist beliefs like the inerrancy of the Bible, but they stress the Spirit over the Word, speak in tongues, and focus on physical healing. One of the biggest differences between Pentecostals and other fundamentalists is that the Pentecostals welcome women as ministers, which is anathema to most Southern Baptists. Charismatics are much like Pentecostals in stressing the power of the Holy Spirit over the words of the Bible, but tend to work within existing churches rather than form new ones. A growing percentage of Catholics, for example, are Charismatics.

The Holiness movement is similar to Pentecostalism, too, and stresses the power of the Spirit to cleanse our carnal natures of sin and make us pure. The Salvation Army is a Holiness group as was Aimee Semple McPherson and her Foursquare Gospel Church. From the beginning it's been an integrated movement with a large number of African-American adherents.

Billy Graham was a fundamentalist who focused on issues that united, not divided. He brought respectability to fundamentalism. His influence has substantially declined as the power of more conservative leaders has increased. Jerry Falwell of the Moral Majority is a non-charismatic fundamentalist who helped churches reduce their emphasis on separation from secular culture and got them involved in political action. Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, and Jim Bakker of the PTL Club are all charismatics. Swaggart and Bakker were caught in sexual improprieties, and Bakker was caught in financial chicanery as well. There's a lot of jockeying for power and market share among the fundamentalist movers and shakers and sometimes doctrinal differences translate into political differences, too. For example, when the charismatic Pat Robertson ran for President, Jerry Falwell and his non-charismatic Moral Majority backed Dubya's daddy, an Episcopalian, instead of his fellow fundamentalist.

It's easy to stand up here and criticize fundamentalists, taking potshots at Pentecostals and throwing rocks at charismatics, but the fact of the matter is that there are at least 250 million fundamentalists around the world and more like 250 thousand Unitarian Universalists. We may not agree with their theology but fundamentalists have a lot to teach us about growing churches and reaching out to youth.

My wife Amy and I recently attended Grace Community Fellowship, the mega-church down the road a bit on Ronald Reagan in Snellville, to see what it was like. It had lots of parking, great coffee bars in the entry hall, a professional caliber house band, and a welcoming atmosphere. There wasn't a pulpit and the minister sat on a stool wearing a black t-shirt and jeans and just talked to us without preaching, like Jay Leno doing a monologue on the Tonight Show. Until they started bashing gays we felt quite comfortable. Grace had done a very good job of sending us information about their church when we moved to town, but didn't try to "sell us" on coming when we attended one Sunday. They have a tremendous youth program across all ages and noted that they were committed to infiltrating local high schools and middle schools to reach every student they could. It was incredibly impressive and somewhat scary in its effectiveness. Another mega-church in Duluth, called Perimeter, with over 10,000 members, looks more like a corporate campus than a church. The people running Perimeter think they can do a better job reaching secular people for whom the entire idea of a church is off-putting by not looking like a traditional church. North Point, a mega-church in Alpharetta, has opened a "campus" in Buckhead that looks like an office building just to be more attractive to the "unchurched." Fundamentalist churches tend to have extensive small group ministries as well, keeping people involved.

Beside the obvious, like the great coffee bars, fundamentalist churches just seem to be doing a better job of adapting to modern times than we are. At the heart of the difference is the concept of evangelism—taking joy in sharing the good news about what they believe. I admit, it's easier to push your beliefs when the stakes are high and you think everyone who doesn't believe the same way you do is in for an eternity of torment after they die. What human being, believing the fundamentalist message, would not have the compassion to spare all of us unbelievers that fate? UUs, on the other hand, aren't very good at sharing the good news about what makes us unique. We are often shy about inviting people to come by visit our congregations. People tend to hear about us second or third hand, check out the UUA on the web, and find us on their own. We're just not into evangelism and are thereby one tenth of one percent as large as the conservatives.

Think what it would mean if our denomination was more widely known as a welcoming place for people with religious doubts and questions? Slogans like: "To question is the answer!" could help, but it's taken us a long time to wake up and adopt more modern approaches to growth.

Things are starting to change in our denomination, however. There's a new marketing program launching in San Diego for UU congregations around the theme of diversity called "I believe…" for example. The UUA has put together a newspaper, radio, and television marketing program billing Unitarian Universalism as the "Uncommon Denomination." Small group ministry efforts like our chalice circles are catching on around the country and are helping our congregations retain members we might otherwise lose. We've become more effective at reaching young people by expanding the presence of UU thinking on college campuses and through the YRUU program for Young Religious Unitarian Universalists for ages 14 to 20. These changes will be critical for our future.

One last thing we can learn from fundamentalists. They know how to put their pocketbooks where their prayers are. The bar is set high for fundamentalists' giving, based on the Biblical concept of giving a tithe or 10% to the church. Not everyone hits that goal, of course, but that number is one reason why they've got mega-churches while the largest UU congregation is under 2,000 members. The fundamentalists can teach us that asking for commitment can be a positive for congregations, not a negative. Indeed, not asking our members to be committed, to have their membership in a congregation mean something, is likely to lead to demoralization and decline. Our dedication to social action is a good step in that direction. People come to churches for community and compassion, but they stay with them for commitment and challenge.

To wrap things up I'd like to note a few ideas that may be effective in helping us cope with being liberal islands in the midst of a sea of conservatives and fundamentalists. The first is something we're all very good at--asking questions. Meeting fundamentalists trying to convert us head on, as mentioned earlier, can be explosive because we don't use the same rules of reasoning. Asking questions, however, can plant seeds that may later flower or may at least give them pause long enough to grant that we may not be total infidels. For example, drawing on our Universalist heritage we can say, "I've never understood how an all-loving God could condemn so many people to eternal suffering." Or you could draw upon the more rational, Unitarian tradition and gently guide them to logical contradictions, with questions such as, "If you believe that homosexuality is sinful based on Romans 1:26-27," why don't you follow verses like Mark 10:17-30 that encourage us to sell all we have and give to it to the poor?"

Another approach is to get more familiar with the Bible ourselves so we can more easily handle the fundamentalists quoting of biblical "proof texts." For all that they seem to worship the Word, without the insights of modern analytical Biblical scholarship fundamentalists tend to appreciate the Bible in a very narrow way. Knowing more about the Bible can help us gently raise issues and illustrate that there may be more to a particular set of verses than they might see. The Scholars' Translation of "born again" as "born from above," in John 3:1-5, for example, makes it clear that the writer is talking about traditional baptism, not the fundamentalist interpretation.

If we learn more about fundamentalists and listen with love to the fear and uncertainty that comes through in their hopes for eternity we can at least have a deeper understanding of their mindset and a greater appreciation of what makes us as Unitarian Universalists truly special.

Reading from The Battle for God, by Karen Armstrong
"One of the most startling developments of the late-20th century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a militant piety popularly known as "fundamentalism." Its manifestations are sometimes shocking. Around the world, Fundamentalists have gunned down worshippers in a mosque, have killed doctors and nurses who work in abortion clinics, have shot their presidents, and have even toppled a powerful government. It is only a small minority of fundamentalists who commit such acts of terror, but even the most peaceful and law-abiding are perplexing, because they seem so adamantly opposed to many of the positive values of modern society. Fundamentalists have no time for democracy, pluralism, religious toleration, peacekeeping, free speech, or the separation of church and state. Christian fundamentalists reject the discoveries of biology and physics about the origins of life and insist that the Book of Genesis is scientifically sound in every detail. Muslim and Jewish fundamentalists both now interpret the Arab-Israeli conflict, which began as defiantly secularist, in an exclusively religious way, fighting and killing to bring the sacred into the realm of politics and national struggle."

"This religious resurgence has taken many observers by surprise. In the middle years of the 20th century, it was generally taken for granted that secularism was an irreversible trend and that faith would never again play a major part in world events. It was assumed that as human beings became more rational, they either would have no further need for religion or would be content to confine it to the immediately personal and private areas of their lives. But in the late-1970s, fundamentalists began to rebel against this secular hegemony and started to wrest religion out of its marginal position and back to center stage. In this, at least, they have enjoyed remarkable success. Religion has once again become a force that no government can safely ignore. Fundamentalism is now an essential part of the modern scene and will certainly play an important role in the domestic and international affairs of the future. It is crucial, therefore, that we try to understand what this type of religiosity means, how and for what reasons it has developed, what it can tell us about our culture, and how best we should deal with it."

Luke 2:41-52 from The Scholar's Translation Read by Liz Schroeder
Now his parents used to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover festival. And when he was twelve years old, they went up for the festival as usual. When the festival was over and they were returning home, the young Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, without his parents knowing about it. Assuming that he was in the traveling party, they went a day's journey, and then began to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

And after three days it so happened that they found him in the temple area, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who listened to him was astounded at his understanding and his responses.

And when his parents saw him they were overwhelmed. "Child," his mother said to him, "why have you done this to us? Don't you see, your father and I have been worried sick looking for you."

Why were you looking for me?" he said to them. "Didn't you know that I have to be in my Father's house?"

But they did not understand what he was talking about. Then he returned with them to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother took careful note of all these things. And Jesus, precocious as he was, continued to excel in learning and gain respect in the eyes of God and others.

John 3:1-5 The King James Version
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him."

Jesus answered and said unto him, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God:"

Nicodemus saith unto him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?"

Jesus answered, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit."

John 3:1-5 The Scholars' Version
A Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Judean leader, came to (Jesus) during the night and said, "Rabbi, we know that you've come as a teacher from God; after all, nobody can perform the miracles you do unless God is with him."

Jesus replied to him, "As God is my witness: No one can experience God's imperial rule without being reborn from above."

Nicodemus says to him, "How can an adult be reborn? Can you re-enter your mother's womb and be born a second time?

Jesus replied, "As God is my witness: No one can enter God's domain without being born of water and spirit. What is born of the human realm is human, but what is born of the spiritual realm is spirit. Don't be surprised that I told you, 'Every one of you must be reborn from above.' The spirit blows every which way, like wind: you hear the sound it makes but you can't tell where it's coming from or where it's headed. That's how it is with everyone reborn of the spirit.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wonderful Bittersweet Wizard

Tonight was the last of my four public performances as The Cowardly Lion in the New London Theatre's production of The Wizard of Oz. Friends who have seen the other shows say that this was the best of all our performances.

It's been great to get to know the cast, crew, and staff of the show and to work together to make something special for an audience. Theatre clearly demonstrates the necessity for teamwork, since it takes techs, set builders, costumers, makeup people, musicians, prop creators, directors, fund-raisers, ticket takers and more to put on a show.

There's something bittersweet and ephemeral about doing amateur theatre. When you finally get good at a show it's typically time to strike the set and move on to another one. I've moved around a lot and have seldom had a chance to do multiple shows with the same theatre group. Maybe now that I've stopped being such a rolling stone I can enjoy the cameraderie of the group and keep the great feeling going by doing more shows together.

In theatre, like life, the cast of characters is always changing. Some are headed off to college. Some move away. Some are caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Some just don't have parts in the next production. You're never sure what's next and every show has its own special chemistry. As the Lion would say, "You've gotta have courage!" You just have to put yourself out there, audition, and see what happens next.

Still, I'm enjoying finding community here in Georgia -- at our congregation, at the New London Theatre company, and more. It will be fun to build on these new connections and see where they lead.