Sunday, September 28, 2008

Should a Pastor Preach on Politics?

I had a conversation yesterday with someone who had read my blog and was a bit horrified that as a pastor I've taken a public stance in support of a given candidate, and include visible propaganda inviting folks to vote for Obama.  I don't find it a problem because: 1) I don't preach it during worship gatherings at the church I serve, 2) my blog is my blog not the church's that I serve as pastor, 3) I try to talk in a way that invites to dialogue, or is at least funny, and 4) aren't my personal politics already indirectly obvious from my blogging and public presence?  I'm not going to end a sermon with a drive to register voters instead of with an altar call.  I don't expect everyone to vote like I do.  (Someone has to be wrong.  Otherwise who would I blame?).  I also think we should think about politics and faith.  Jesus was hyper-political.  They didn't kill him because he kept saying things that should go on precious moments greeting cards.  He pissed people off as he challenged the authorities and pushed his community to actively live their faith in the way that they lived with each other.  Isn't that what preaching is all about?

CNN posted a interesting video on the question regarding the anti-IRS-unconstitutional preaching of politics that undoubtedly took place across the country today. (If you preach politics by endorsing a candidate in the pulpit you can lose your non-profit status with the IRS as a church).  Here's an embedded version of it.

At the same time - if you're on facebook there are some really interesting things going on in terms of faith, politics and clergy.  There's a clergy for Obama group and a blog at  YES - I'm being one-sided, because in the religiously-ignorant-country I call home most folks assume all Christian clergy are Republicans.  And yes it shouldn't be so one sided, mostly because I'm not one of them :)

Part of our problem - both in and outside of the church - is that we still operate on two assumptions: 1) all pastors are old white guys, and 2) all churches communicate, relate and do ministry for older adults who have a 1950s world-view.  Back then - and for many still today - you shouldn't pronounce your political views because folks might feel obligated to follow them to the letter., but we do actually live in a different world today where people - even those in my church (all except 1 person - there always has to be somebody right?) do actually want to hear what I think politically.  Of course there is a time and a place for any and everything.  An interesting article written by PC(USA) Pastor Carol Howard Merrit on the clergy4obama site is worth the read.  So is her blog at

So what do you think?  Should a pastor preach on politics during church?  Why not?  If so how should they?  and how much?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

New Music
Amy Ray

This is a newly released album by Amy Ray, half of the Indigo Girls.  I love her raw, southern rock sound, and use of the mandolin.  Her lyrics are also authentic and real.  I love track # 4 "Cold Shoulder." No video feeds of her new stuff are online so I'm posting this older video of my favorite song she's written "Let It Ring" - one of the best political-religious songs written in the past 8 years.  Here's also a bit Amy wrote about the new album.

A great youtube video of the song

Here's a live version

Here's an interview with Amy

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Blogs - More than Read-worthy

A friend Elena has started a new blog. She's a slow-fooder, a lover of the forest (my favorite one) and also a supporter of Obama.

Another friend Susannah has come out of the blog closet with a great one about art, parenting a deaf child and thoughts on modern living.  She's posting at

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday
September 21, 2008
Jesus for President
Week 3
Jesus on the Law: a Flip-Flopper or was he Swift-Boated?
Matthew 5:17-21
Deuteronomy 6:20-25
Numbers 23:9

In this third week of the preaching/teaching series I'm doing on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) using the book Jesus for President, we come to a section on the law. Did Jesus say to ditch the Law, the Jewish traditions of the past? Did Jesus say to follow them to the "T"? Or did Jesus offer a third way? In Matthew 5:17 he says he's come to fulfill the law and the prophets, to live them out, to transform them and to set them free to be all that they were meant to be: a focused searchlight pointing us towards the unique, and justly different way that the God of Sarah and Abraham calls us to live. His opponents accused him of flip-flopping, trying to swift boat his call to a third way, a different answer to the same age old question: how do we live faithfully what God asks and why do we do it. For him, it's a call to move from a market system of tit for tat to life under the Spirit of God of abundant grace. I can't say it very well, so I decided this week to post a couple pages from Jesus for President that say it so well. Click on the pictures to enlarge them to make it easier to read. And please buy the book. It's the best one I've read in several years.

As I read this section from the book and reflect upon the scriptures for this week, I'm struck by the call to be unique, to live differently, 'set apart' with different convictions, fundamentals and essentials. In a sense it's a call to live as maverick agents for change - but not just in speeches, not just in policy making in the everyday way that we live whether we live in one house or 8 or on the street, whether we're republican or democrat, whether we grew up in Indonesia or can see Russia from our house. It's about how we live, how we relate to one another, how we share, how we talk, and what we ultimately stand for. In a flipflopping, swift-boating, pointing the finger age isn't such authentic living just what we're hungry for? Isn't that what attracts so many to Palin or Obama? Yet in the end I doubt that either the governor or community organizing senator can really save us. So how do we live in the fear or the long-term and the short-term tension?
Global Banking Meltdown
& the Fundamentals in the Dimond
Jon Stewart has been killing me this week with commentary (and the lack thereof) regarding the collapses of various financial institutions. While some politicians say that healthy financial fundamentals remain in place and others place the blame on politicians few seem to actually be addresses the fundamentals of the situation: What does this mean for Americans? How will this effect Oakland? How will this impact non-profit organizations, such as the church I work for, in terms of the giving they rely upon for income?

So I was pleasantly surprised to see that Bank of America in the
Dimond - even with the pricey purchase of Merrill Lynch - is forking out money to redo the sidewalks in front of our local branch to make it more equally and justly accessible for all Americans, whether they get around on feet or in a chair and whether they bank at BofA, WaMu or used to at Lehman Brothers. Of course coming back to the office I realized that it's probably the city/state that's paying for the construction. With the budget impasse that's probably all messed up to. Good thing my great-grandkids will eventually be working to pay off some of the bills.
Caring for Trees in Oakland

I was surprised yesterday by the increase in light on MacArthur Blvd where I work. The city came and cleaned up the trees up and down MacArthur from Coolige past Fruitvale. They finished today, making a huge difference. Makes me wonder about life - how we oftentimes don't care for the things that are right there: our cars, our homes, our bodies, each other..... What a difference a little TLC made for the trees and the streets they line. Our church building looks different. I can see the facade on the buildings seen through my office window. As the banks and insurance companies fall, I wonder what it would have been like if we'd spent more time pro-actively (instead of retro-actively) caring for the people in our nation as opposed to our bottom line profit? We want the quick fix, the easy profit, the whole package....yet it takes pruning the blocked places in our lives, thinning out the dead branches, constant care for life to thrive. Where have I heard that before?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

YouTube Election Videos

Here's some more interesting videos that I found on You Tube. YES. They're pro-Obama as so am I AND the videos are still very interesting (and funny!) They point sarcastically beyond the current cult of personality worship that's going on to deep concerns shared throughout our nation's population. These are pretty funny and thoughtful. Yet as the banks and financial institutions are toppling around us like houses in Hurricane Ike I wonder why we don't hear more about the economy? If you have any comments, share them. Like a wise man once said who spoke for change: "Be the change you want to see!"

Bumper Sticker of the Week

While at Redwood Park this weekend I ran across this
sticker on the back of a car. When asked where they bought it, the owner informed me that they'd made it. Cool! Yet as I left I wondered if it was a call for unity, or some sort of extraterrestrial challenge to war. I think the woman did tell me that she was born and raised in Roswell...

Looking Up in the Dimond

In the midst of the slough of bad news last week (home invastions, drug busts and pistol whipping) I was surprised to look up Friday morning as I walked down MacArthur through the Dimond and notice the new Dimond signs that the DMA and DIA have helped to get up. They go up and down both MacArthur and Fruitvale right in the heart of the Dimond. I like the designs (there are 2 signs). They are crisp, bright and offer positive branding of our neighborhood shopping area.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sarah Palin Update

I've heard about lipstick, hockey-moms with lipstick and pigs with lipstick all week. I know FOX News says that they're reporting is fair and balanced. But they don't got nothing on me. Here's my best of news articles and creations regarding Sarah Palin this past week. Thanks to all those who collected them (Uncle Tio, Lola Sarah & Leslie!)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Blogging Towards Sunday
September 14, 2008
Jesus for President
"Who needs lipstick? We have Salt, Light & Mustard!"
Matthew 5:13-16, Matthew 13:3-8 & Matthew 13:18-21

Political talk this past week has been about lipstick: who needs it, who doesn't, what it hides and what it marks. I find myself disappointed, nearly depressed to hear that in our political dialogue it's nearly all reduced to a cult of personality cultivated through negative attacks of opponents as opposed to asserting how we might move forward, a thoughtful analysis of how we're stuck and the fear of the rapidly changing world we live in (social mores, economic forces, cultural competency and technological transformations in communication), a fear which seems to motivate so much of human nature to choose to fight (with verbal violence more than creative adaptation) or flight (back to the supposed "better" world of the 1950s).

I'm struck by the words of Jesus in the passage today.  Last week's selection Matthew 5:1-12 is the vision that Jesus has for how the world will become through the revolution he proposes.  Today's selection Matthe 5:13-16 is a policy summary of how he proposes to get there.  He then spells out the specifics of his political policy in the rest of the sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:17-7:29.  Instead of being a cult of personality about who is a real reformer and outsider who can bring needed transformation, Jesus spells out what it will lead to, how to do it and then calls people to get it in gear and get with it.  He affirms that those who follow him are called to be active agents of change, revolutionaries, ordinary radicals: light, salt, mustard and yeast - who will  change the world through day to day living.  The best description I've heard of Jesus' vision (the Kingdom of God and how to get there) comes from  Jesus for President I've inserted scanned pages of 102-105 below that say it well.  Click on the photo to make it larger and easier to read.

We're called to be like mustard seeds: to live as Jesus lived: being potent agents of power that doesn't destroy opponents but overwhelms with flavor.  We're called to be healers, living Vicks Vapor Rubs of mustard seeds in a broken world.  We're called to be ordinary shrubs that invade the garden subverting it and it's purpose.  How often is worship about that?  More often than not (even the worship I lead) is about talking about an orderly God, who is decent and in order, who wants us to not use styrofoam cups at coffee hour and to collect money to support far away kingdom workers (aka missionaries).  Yet Jesus is about revolution, living not to save the church or maintain our traditions but to live radically for a radical word:  Jesus only saves!  And because he has saved us everything is different.  Isn't such a word of change of hope of reform the breath of fresh air that we sense (depending upon our perspective) in a community organizer from Chicago or a Hockey Mom Governor from Alaska.  Jesus in the end is the real deal.  He's neither arugula nor moose meat.  He's salt, light, yeast and mustard!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Oktoberfest in the Dimond
Update on the BEER

I attended another weekly check in meeting for the ongoing organization of the Oktoberfest in the Dimond Event scheduled for Saturday, October 4th. Still lot's of details to work through, with about 3 1/2 weeks to go. And we talked a bit about the whole reason for the Fest - the beer. Did you know that historically the Dimond was known for it's Beer Gardens?

There will be both a Beer Garden (where you can purchase beer to drink while listening to music and other good fest stuff).

There will also be Beer Tasting. You pay a fee and get a Keepsake Beer Stein and then can taste from some of the following microbrews: Spaten (pictured) is a major donor. Other beers to be tasted include: Trummer, Linden Street Brewery, Pacific Coast Brewing Co. and Drake's Brewing Company. Yum!

There also will be some Local Homebrew Tasting. They're still looking for local home-brewers interesting in doing some sort of a judging thing. If you're game email Robert at .

And last but not least there's going to be ROOT Beer Garden for under 21ers including a bouncy house! Perfect combo - a keg of ROOT Beer and potentially dozens of kids bouncing like crazy on full carbonated stomachs. That alone will be worth the tasting fee!

Save the Date! It's going to be great fun as well as a chance to show off the Dimond and reinforce the emerging business dynamic among our local merchants. Here's some Yelp Reviews of Shop in the Dimond Businesses
Keepin it Real with the Kids
Free Admission to Museums
September 27, 2008
Museum Day

Saturday, September 27th is Museum Day 2008. Many museums across the country will let you and your family in for free. You have to download and present the Museum Day Pass Card which you can get online HERE and also read more about the day and how it works.

Here are some of the Bay Area Museums that are honoring the card on the 27th:

East Bay:

Chabot Space & Science Center -- Oakland
Berkeley Art Center -- Berkeley
Bedford Gallery -- Walnut Creek
Lindsay Wildlife Museum -- Walnut Creek
Blackhawk Museum -- Danville

San Francisco:

Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Museum of the African Diaspora
SF Camerawork

Peninsula Museum of Art -- Belmont

North Bay:
COPIA: American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts -- Napa

You can find links to each of the participating Museums on this page of the Museum Day Site.
Bumper Sticker of the Week

I was hanging out at Peet's Coffee in the Dimond after a morning of meetings spent (re)envisioning the website and meeting style/structure for our Presbytery and ran across this bumper sticker in the parking lot.
I'm always on the lookout for unique bumper stickers, and was spastically thinking all over the place about the church, the rapidly changing world we're living in and how there is such a disconnect between faith communities and the global community. Maybe you had to be there.  In any case the sticker hit me.  The message that it communicates.  The church can trick ya.  And so can lot's of other insitutions/organizations/communities.  And it's a risk to enter into community.  I found myself wondering what made the owner of the car want to express that the church had tricked them?  And how so?  OK too deep for this weekly - meant to be sarcastically funny bsticker post - yet it still has me thinking.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Why I'm A Blogger

Friend and PC(UCA) Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow asked several folks to blog on why blog (See his entry Three Ways to Stay Connected). So thinking about it here's why I blog and what I get out of it and how I enjoy it.

1. I originally started blogging, following some discussions in a learning group with Bruce, to for two principal reasons: First) to try to foster relationships and empower new forms of discussion in and for the Christian Faith Community that I serve as pastor, and Two) to share my cynically dark sense of humor on current events. I started doing posts on "Blogging Towards Sunday" seeking to involve church community folks in a conversation around the scripture passages I'd preach on the following Sunday. My friend Marshallite did some things like this with the youth group communities she pastored. I quickly discovered that very few, if any, members of my church actually ever read my blog. I did quickly find that many neighborhood folks who call our church their "church" even if they don't ever come enjoyed my comments and snarkily expressed views of what is happening and and around Oakland and the neighborhoods of the city that I consider my parish context.

2. My most viewed entries have either presented funny home-made videos of my kids performing HSM songs, or focused around school issues, in particular the season I wrote about trying to get my daughter into a not-failing public school and the middle-class angst/guilt I felt for only being able to provide a public school in the area of our $400,000+ mortgaged-house and not in the areas of the $1,000,000+ mortgages in Oakland. I think it struck a nerve. My other highly visited and commented areas also include articles written about the emerging/gentrifying aspects of the parts of Oakland in which I move, work and live - it's my amateur way of doing investigative journalism that encourages local heroes and shopping. (I only wish I was as on the ball as the blogger at A Better Oakland). I also have had a lot of visits and conversation when I've done a Read The Bible Every Day Challenge (each year during Lent). It seems to have involved new and old-hat readers of the Bible in a quick way to experiment with this spiritual practice. The other largely viewed spirituality-related postings came from a series and class I taught at our church entitled R U A Heretic? It seems like the shorter and sweeter the faith-related postings are, the more likely folks will read and interact with them.

3. I love to blog because in a sense it's my journal, one of the primary ways in which I make meaning of my life of faith by following Jesus in an urban context, raising children in public school, working as a pastor and trying to make a difference in the universe by my presence all while trying to laugh at myself. I do edit things a bit. Not everything needs to be out there. And I find that I have many deep conversations, both in monologues, and in dialogues (Corn Dog is my biggest online discussion partner), that help me work out what I think, what I'm feeling and what I'm sensing as going on around me. I've learned much more about what it means to be present as pastor, or as "El jefe of our hood", through dialogue online with people who call the church I serve spiritual home, the church or their membership, or just that church on the corner. It's Buechner who wrote (my paraphrase), where the deepest desires of our hearts and the deepest needs of the world meet is where God calls us to be actively present. In the end, the blogging I started ended up being more about me, and inviting others to participate in my working out of that mystery of the will of God online, than it was about my original intention to involve others in discussions about faith. Yet maybe they're actually the same. I just had viewed and planned it in a backwards upside down way.

Here's some other Presbyterian Folks answering this Why Blog Question (Carol, Jan and Bruce)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Urban Oasis or Crime-Ridden City Desert?

I'm torn about living in Oakland this week. Why am I here? It seems like things are getting worse.
Many veteran Oakland-living friends have told me that things have never been this bad in Oaktown in terms of crime, danger, lack of civic pride and municipal immobility. The mayor's wife seems to be running town. Recently news highlights include a drive-by shooting of a pregnant woman. A drunk driver running a UPS driver off the road. A man found a leg floating in the estuary (ok this is in Alameda - almost Oakland...undoubtedly it was thrown into the water on the Oakland side). And as if the struggling-to-no-longer-fail Oakland Unified School District wasnt' drama enough (OK - I am supporter!) - their main school district office was robbed earlier this week by thieves. Classy!

I learned this morning that at least the gang of thugs robbing area restaurants nightly while families ate out was arrested. What is troubling about it is that the mastermind of the whole gang lives 2 blocks up the street from the Cooperative Preschool that is one of the primary communities our family lives in.

I received an email last night from a friend who opened and operates a small business with their partner in the business district I call home. The owner of store across from their store, a consignment store, had her car keyed (parked in front of her store in daylight) with the creative keying artists finishing their masterpiece by carving "bitch" into the top of her car. She had recently been complaining about some crime and blight in the neighborhood. Is it a chance random crime? Or is it retribution for daring to speak up and name crime, crime.

Another store in that same block was discovered to be re-selling stolen merchandise. This was discovered by a neighbor, who having had their stroller stolen from their house went to purchase a used one. What luck they found their recently-stolen stroller in the stock of the store. Is that chance? Or is this a store that is funneling and intentionally selling stolen merchandise? I'm not pointing fingers. How would I know? But it makes you wonder.

Then my good blogging and urban-rant friend Corndog recently blogged about discovering a dead body in a body bag at the end of her street (a block from the church I serve). Ironically it's neither the first or second such body to be found on that street in the past weeks.

What the *%&#? Is it worth paying down a nearly half-million-dollar mortgage to live in such blight that is commonly billed and marketed as an "URBAN OASIS" by real estate agents? I'm not sure. I'm all for the neighborhood, and I still wonder.

Then about an hour ago I went to the Post Office in the Dimond to mail a package. As I approached the entrance I saw two girls throw down a piece of paper and walk on without batting an eye. I picked it up and pursued the adolescents, pointing out that a grabage can was right there (a whole 5 feet away), that I live in this neighborhood, am proud of it and care about it. Like good 13 year old girls they never made contact. But I hoped that they at least heard me impress (without jumping on them in a verbally violent kind of way). I then went into the post office and the 8 people in line all looked me in the eye and applauded me with comments such as "Good for you!" "Way to go!" "Right on!" They'd witnessed the whole thing.

It doesn't make up for the body bags, restaurant robberers or revenge keying, yet it makes me want to stay in Oakland, at least for the weekend. Maybe we need more community organizers. Maybe the mayor's wife needs to work harder. Maybe we should just elect Corn Dog as mayor!?
Why I'm an Abusive Junkie

I was at a preschool gathering today and in the context of 50 minutes heard 4 different people say to others, "You're not on facebook? You've got to do it!" Now it sounds like a peer pressure sort of thing that you got to do to fit in like smoking something behind the backstop. But here's why I've become an addict and also some easy to follow steps should my example (and peer pressure perspective) encourage you to sign up. I write this realizing the serendipity of PC(USA) Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow asking a few folks to share why they facebook on the morning before I went to the preschool gathering. Bruce responded with Three Ways to Stay Connected and also a past post on His 3 Favs of Facebook)

1. I initially joined facebook and created discussion groups etc. in order to facilitate relationships and networking between members of the church community I serve. As of today (nearly 2 years later) there are 4 other people than myself (of our 65 members) on facebook. No one visits our church group or responds to discussion questions. So that was a bust.

2. Since facebooking I've reconnected with numerous folks (some I'm still actively in relationship with others who I'd lost track of):
*High School Friends from School and Church Youth Group Acitivities
*College Friends
*Friends from the faith communities I participated with in France
*Current Friends from Preschool and Elementary (not mine - my childrens!) Communities
*Adults who I knew as children in youth groups/summer camps that I helped lead as a young adult
*Work Colleagues
*Family Relatives (I have over 40 first cousins)

3. I actively communicate with between 10-30 of these people each day through conversation, jokes, and pictures. I work alone. Facebooking helps me to feel that I actually work with a group of friends.

4. I find it a great avenue for me to try to be funny with cynical status updates, photos and comments. It feeds my needy narcisism.

5. My wife thought it was a waste of time. So to retaliate I signed her up one night while she slept, creating a profile for her, finding friends and then gave it to her in the morning to run with. Within 48 hours she too was an addict reconnecting with a college friend who now lives in the South Pacific.

6. Another friend had his wife do the same thing for him. He refused to do anything with facebook until he had 100 friends. He's now well above that line and recently asked me if facebook is modern or post-modern friendship. I'm not sure what to answer. But I do know that it doesn't replace, but rathers empowers my existing and emerging relationships.


*Go to
*Sign-up with your email and a self-created password.
*You can then create, tweak and re-tweak your profile page with pictures, background information (schooling, work, tastes in music, quotes, books, tv, etc.)
*You can upload pictures of yourself, and or other people and "tag" them to share the fun.
*One of the best aspects is that when you sign-up your email server may be connected to facebook and if so can nearly instantly inform you who of your existing email contacts is on facebook and ask you if you would like to "friend" (create an online network relationship with) them.
*My other favorite thing is to find old friends through existing friends list of friends.
*Plus you can make it as private and protected as much or as little as you like.

If you facebook what do you like about it? Why is it worth your time?

Friday, September 05, 2008

Obama Video Fun

Here's are 2 great video clips I received by email yesterday.

The first is a clip from Jon Stewart's Show following the speech of Governor Sarah Palin, focusing on gender-equality and statement-flopping.  Very Funny!

The second is a video made by a friends brother.  Very Cool.

Blogging Towards Sunday, September 7th
Jesus for President

Jesus' Acceptance Speech & Laying Out His Vision
Luke 4:18-21 & Matthew 5:1-12

I'm starting the Jesus for President Series at the church I serve. I'm taking inspira
tion from the book of the same name as I work my way through the Sermon on the Mount (the main teaching of Jesus in Matthew 5-7) This first selection comes in two parts: the equivalent of Jesus' acceptance speech of nomination for President in his hometown of Nazareth as told in Luke 4 and then what we often call the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. The latter is a sort of preamble, or introductory statement preceding the main teaching and vision of Jesus in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. The preamble, or introductory statement, of the US constitution defines the essence of our nation's vision of itself and expresses the sort of citizenry it hopes to embody. In a similar way the Sermon on the Mount is the "constitution" of the Church of Jesus the Christ and the Beatitudes are its "preamble." [Credit for this comparison]

Jesus lived in a time of great social and political turmoil. His native land had been taken over by the Roman Empire. Some patriots advocated violent revolution to overthrow the foreign occupiers. Some patriots advocated compliance, adaptation and what some might call being "sell-outs." Other patriots advocated a more fundamentalist, in the sense of returning to the bedrock values/fundamentals of the past in order to survive in the changing times. Some patriots advocated total separation from all foreigners in order to stay pure and true. In the midst of these policy platforms of violent uprising, fundamentalist flight into the past, and ethnic purity Jesus preaches a different way, one that calls for a nonviolent reversal of the way the world operates, for the peace of God to come about in the world not by force but through active relational resistance. Here's a page I scanned from the book Jesus for President that lays out the context of his day.

So if the Beatitudes are the Preamble to our Constitution as the Church: the community of those that follow Jesus, How are we doing? Are we - as the church - as individual followers - are WE living up to the call Jesus gives us? Are we enacting the policies that he advanced in Nazareth and on the Mount? Or have we muddled things and compromised Jesus' platform for nonviolent transformation as ordinary radicals living the Way?

Education as the Civil Rights Issue of the 21st Century
Back to School Night 2008

I went to Back to School Night at my daughter's public elementary school in Oakland Unified School District last night. Proud to be at a public school and committed to seeing it be a successful place of learning and growth, not just for my children, but for all the children there, I was awestruck as I noticed the reoccurring theme of the evening. We need money. We need more money. Help us raise money for the PTA. The need isn't to raise money for flush expense accounts or company cars. The $100,000 + that the PTA of our school seeks - and has - to raise in order to pay the salary of the school computer teacher, the school music teacher, the school art teacher, the school PE Teacher, an assistant to help the lone school secretary do all she does, and to pay several part-time specialists to help students catch up. The money allocated by the State of California is 95% used up once the Principal hires the necessary teachers (1 per class) and covers the expenses of their salaries and health benefits.

I watched John McCain's speech that ended a few minutes ago at the Republican National Convention, in which he said that Education is the Civil Rights issue of the 21st Century. That there is a need to take on the special interests in education, unions, and bad teachers. I was struck by his comments. I agree it's a HUGE issue yet we're quick to point fingers and place blame on unions, bad teachers, and school district bebeaurcaracy. Yet I learned last night that the starting salary for a new teacher in the Oakland Unified School District (required to have a Bachelors Degree and a Credential that takes 12-18 months of schooling) earns $37,000 for working more than full-time. I was intrigued so I did some research:

$37,000 was a pot of gold starting salary for lawyers in 1980

$37,000 was how much the government spent to house a homeless family in New York in 1986.

An Office Manger with a 2 year Associate Degree and no experience can obtain a starting salary of $37,380.

The Median Salary for Oakland Residents (all careers) with 1 or less years of experience is $48,000

While $37,000 can seem a lot in comparison to starting salaries in other places (Texas for example has a starting salary of $33,000), it isn't sufficient here in the Bay Area where the median income for a 4 person family is $83,000 (according to the info on this page a starting teacher salary qualifies as a very-low income) and the median home price as of this month is $499,000 and where we need quality teachers committed to public education

Undoubtedly Education, free public education, is a huge Civil Right that is absent and quite possibly disappearing today. We want qualified teachers - yet when I look at these salary statistics I wonder why anyone with 5-6 years of higher education would choose to work for $37,000 when they didn't have to. Why if public education is so important to us do we spend such little money on it and expect those that work in Education to make ends meet with little or no resources. What do you think?

I have to go. I need to start trying to find items to auction off at the School Auction seeking to raise nearly $60,000 (that's one and a half teachers for my daughter).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jesus for President

From now until mid-November - election-time - I'm preaching and teaching on the Sermon on the Mount, the principal teaching of Jesus of Nazareth as retold in Matthew 5-7:29. I'm also using the recently published book Jesus for President for inspiration and as a context for some discussion groups both online, and offline at the church I serve and in local cafes. We, as North Americans, tend to approach faith & politics in extreme ways: either we're convinced that they inseparable and that we can only elect the God-chosen predestined person (usually a man) to lead our country as some sort of quasi-clergy-statesman or we completely divorce faith from politics saying that one doesn't have to do with the other, refusing to let not just creationism into the schools or our public discourse - we go so far as to negate any notion or reference of a divine presence that gets slightly specific. I think we lose perspective in the midst of it all, forgetting that our worldviews are shaped by our religious or spiritual foundations and inextricably linked to the way we treat each other, imagine a better society, and articulate our hopes for the future: in short our politics.

In the explosively covered last 10 days of the presidential election there has been more and more, what I'd call extrem-izing, coverage of hot topics, crucial concerns for voters. It's nearly impossible to escape. Several friends have expressed that they're not sure that they can survive the constant media onslaught until that Tuesday in distant November. Another friend told me that I might be searching for trouble in preaching about politics and faith for the next 10 weeks. But it's not about taking a political stance. In fact my political thoughts are rather evident. Yet I'm not interested in towing the party line. I'm interested in getting underneath things to see how Jesus of Narzareth is calling me to value other human beings, envision the future, and work to make the Kingdom of God visible here and now.

Our political parties play to the "christian" (yet what they really mean is evangelical) crowds, thinking that they're the unique focus group that once won over to a party will magically deliver the needed electoral college votes. Yet not all Christians are for creationism taught in schools, for the war in Iraq, indifferent to renewable energy concerns and our emerging focus on ethanol, and for teaching only absitence. In the end I base my political thoughts on my experience and context: living in Oakland, struggling in the public school system, having lived in France with their socialized medical system, being brought up in a highly conservative evangelical suburb of Sacramento, and my reformed life-transforming perspective that Jesus is the one to follow.

What do you base your political views upon?

How does your faith journey impact your political perspective? Why?

From now until E-day I'll be blogging on "Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals" you can join the discussion online here at Monteskewed, you can read the book for yourself, check out the book's website, and even attend 2 very cool faith encounter discussions led by Rabbi Harry Manhoff of Temple Beth Shalom (San Leandro) who is a New Testament Scholar and will lead a study of the Sermon on the Mount at Bethel Community Church on Wednesdays, September 3rd and 10th at 7:30pm.
Bumper Sticker of the Week

In honor of the Slow Food Festival in SF this past week - and the end of the summer I had to post this new sticker that I've never seen before but ran across while having coffee at Espresso Roma on Ashby this week.