Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Barack Obama speaks out on faith and politics: 'Call to Renewal' Keynote Address

by Sen. Barack Obama

[Note from Rowland. I like this guy. I happen to be a 'swinging voter' politically: I vote on issues and on the perceived credibility of the party/candidate. But from what I'm hearing/reading about this guy, I'm impressed].

Good morning. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here at the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference, and I'd like to congratulate you all on the thoughtful presentations you've given so far about poverty and justice in America. I think all of us would affirm that caring for the poor finds root in all of our religious traditions - certainly that's true for my own.

But today I'd like to talk about the connection between religion and politics and perhaps offer some thoughts about how we can sort through some of the often bitter arguments over this issue over the last several years.

I do so because, as you all know, we can affirm the importance of poverty in the Bible and discuss the religious call to environmental stewardship all we want, but it won't have an impact if we don't tackle head-on the mutual suspicion that sometimes exists between religious America and secular America.

For me, this need was illustrated during my 2004 race for the U.S. Senate. My opponent, Alan Keyes, was well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.

Indeed, towards the end of the campaign, Mr. Keyes said that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."

Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, his arguments not worth entertaining.

What they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take him seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion - he claimed knowledge of certain truths.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.

Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.

What would my supporters have me say? That a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the pope? More...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Billy Graham is a man of integrity, and during his life-time probably spoke face-to-face with more people than anyone in human history. His faith and ideas may be simplistic in some ways, but his essential message - that we need God's love and salvation and 'cleansing from our sins' - is the essence of what Christianity is all about...

Here some of his friends, especially Bono, pay their tribute to this great man:

Now my theology is a bit more 'progressive' than Billy Graham's, so what should I do with that?

Colin Morris, a modern prophet (and, incidentally, past President of the United Church of Zambia), in his challenging book Include Me Out: Confessions of an Ecclesiastical Coward says it well: 'Let it be so much as whispered that Billy Graham is en route for Britain to conduct evangelistic meetings and some of the best brains in the Church mobilize themselves to do a demolition job on him... A Church which can afford to pour that much energy down the sewer has too much time on its hands. And in the polluted atmosphere of clever malice that hangs over the Church at such a time, our claim to offer a Gospel of Reconciliation rings as hollow as the sales-pitch of a bald-headed man selling hair-restorer.'

Billy Graham made mistakes, and was willing to admit them. He had a too-conservative view of social justice issues early in his ministry, and started to agree with Jesus (! - see Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42) later on. He had an appalling and very unChristain conversation with Nixon, for which he apologised when the tapes were released. And he once claimed AIDS was some judgement from God, which he also recanted.

Here's an interesting interview in two parts Woodly Allen did with Billy Graham:

More to come... including a tribute to Ruth Bell Graham elsewhere on this Blog

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


Note from Rowland: I was first introduced to M Scott Peck in seminary (Fuller, Pasadena, California) in 1982, via his brilliant book The Road Less Traveled. Well, it was brilliant except for one paragraph, as you'll see below. If you read that book you'll need to follow it with In Search of Stones.

Pop psychiatrist who ignored his bestselling advice on adultery

Christopher Reed

Wednesday October 5, 2005

The Guardian

Psychiatrist M Scott Peck, who has died aged 69, made millions with his first book by advocating self-discipline, restraint, and responsibility - all qualities he openly acknowledged were notably lacking in himself. The Road Less Travelled was first published in 1978. It eventually spent 13 years on the New York Times bestseller list to create a paperback record, sold 10 million copies worldwide and was translated into more than 20 languages.

The opening words were: "Life is difficult." This was a pronouncement to which Peck could personally attest. He spent much of his life immersed in cheap gin, chain-smoking cigarettes and inhaling cannabis, and being persistently unfaithful to his wife, who eventually divorced him. He also went through estrangement with two of his three children. Peck wrote openly of his adulterous affairs in another of his total of 15 books: In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery (1995), based on a visit to Britain to see ancient stone monuments. Never lacking in personal honesty, at least in print, he once said he had "the rare privilege of being able to give advice without having any responsibility".

Peck, whose personalised car number plate was THLOST, also spent much of his life seeking religious fulfilment (he was baptised a Christian at 43 after embracing Zen and then Sufism), and used this to explain his infidelities. "There was an element of quest in my extramarital romances," he wrote. "I was questing, through sexual romance, at least a brief visit to God's castle." Such visits, however brief, ceased when he became impotent, he disclosed.

The Road Less Travelled was written while Peck was running a successful private practice in Connecticut, but he received only $7,500 for publication after one publisher had dismissed it as "too Christ-y". Although a slow starter, its eventual massive success established Peck on the lecture circuit as well as confirming a valuable new genre for American publishers.

Peck was born in New York, the son of a lawyer who later became a judge. His education at the Phillips Exeter academy was unhappy and he later attacked its "Spartan, almost vicious adolescent culture". After psychological counselling, he moved to the Friends seminary, a Quaker school near Greenwich Village. There he read about Zen and became a Buddhist, but retained an ambition to write "the great American novel". After briefly attending Middlebury College, from where he was expelled for refusing the required officers' training classes, he entered Harvard thanks to his father's influence. He graduated in social relations and, despite his literary desires, began studying medicine at Columbia University before graduating from Case-Western Reserve University school of medicine in Ohio in 1963.

While at Columbia Peck met and married Lily Ho, a Chinese student from Singapore. This caused his father, who was half Jewish but always concealed it, to disown him (her parents disapproved, too). But he later relented and paid his son's tuition fees.

Then Peck joined the army because, he later said, he needed the regular pay to support his wife and a family; yet he also opposed the Vietnam war, then escalating. He rose to become assistant chief of psychiatry at the US surgeon general's office in Washington DC from 1970 to 1972, when he left the service with the rank of lieutentant colonel.

Years of private practice began and he incorporated case histories into the Road book and others. After its success he followed with another bestseller, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil (1983). It was well received by critics, but with reservations about "moral preachment". His books included two novels and one for children. Other non-fiction included The Different Drum (1987) and sequels to his first book, Further Along the Road Less Travelled (1993) and The Road Less Traveled and Beyond (1997). His last work was Glimpses of the Devil (2005), recounting his fascination with exorcism.

The success of his books was partly based on their mystical-spiritual content and although Peck always eschewed the idea of being a guru, there were cultish aspects to his popularity. Of this he said: "Half the time when people want to touch my robe, it feels incredibly icky - yuck! The rest of the time, it feels very good, honest, right."

He and Lily divorced in 2003 and he remarried last year. He is survived by his second wife, and his two daughters and one son by Lily.

Morgan Scott Peck, author and psychiatrist, born May 22 1936; died September 25 2005

Friday, June 1, 2007


In his biography of Thomas More, Peter Ackroyd tells how the Lord Chancellor of England was once asked to right a particular wrong. A beggar-woman lost her dog, which was then adopted by More’s wife, Alice, who became fond of it. The woman discovered where the dog was and claimed it back. More was not sure she really was the owner, so he told his wife and the beggar to stand at opposite ends of his great hall. The dog was placed between them. When it was released, it immediately ran to the beggar, whereupon Alice agreed that the woman was the rightful owner, but offered to buy the dog for a piece of gold. The offer was accepted, ‘so all parties were agreed; every one smiling to see [More’s] manner of enquiring out the truth’. (The Life of Thomas More, London: Chatto and Windus, 1998, p. 290) Would that all disputes, you may be thinking, could be resolved to such general satisfaction and by such a judgment of Solomon – even if it might be a bit risky to bring the cause of the dispute before the court!

More had, with typical homespun creativity, found a way of applying equity, which was his professional task as Lord Chancellor. The situation could not be resolved by recourse to the common law; what was needed was the application of prudential judgment in such a way that it went to the heart of the situation and enabled the dispute to be decisively resolved. You might even, following the reading we have just heard, say his judgment was inspired: ‘For the Lord gives wisdom… he stores up sound wisdom for the upright.’

Nothing is prised in the Scriptures above wisdom, for in wisdom there is ‘righteousness and justice and equity’, all of which are qualities of God. You can’t buy wisdom. It is, as we say of chocolate cake, ‘something to die for’. It comes from God and, together with righteousness, justice and equity, it is simply God’s gift. [from http://www.westminster-abbey.org/voice/sermon/archives/041001_judges.htm ]


I attended a scholarly lecture last night on this great man, and learned that:

* Apart from Shakespeare, he's the most-remembered English non-royal from the 16th century (and introduced as many words into the language as did the great bard). We know very little about Shakespeare, but a lot about More.

* His complete works - now available in print - fill a shelf 2 metres wide.

* His most famous work was, of course, Utopia.

* For most people More's death defined his life.

* He believed Scripture was compatible with Plato and Aristotle.

* He was not on a 'suicide mission': his 'refusal to sign' was not so that he would be venerated as a martyr, but to avoid being eternally damned.

* Some trivia: More may have been the first person to describe the 'death rattle'. He was fascinated by death and dying.


And here's a brief summary of his life:

Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)

Sir Thomas More (later canonized St. Thomas More) is famous for his book Utopia (1515) and for his martyrdom. As Chancellor to Henry VIII he refused to sanction Henry's divorce of Queen Catherine. More was imprisoned, tried and executed. This drama was made into a play and an excellent (though not historically accurate) film - A Man of for All Seasons.

More is an excellent example of the early English Renaissance. He was friends with such humanists as Erasmus, John Colet, Thomas Linacre and others. Renaisance thinkers were mainly concerned with four ancient schools -- Aristotelianism, Platonism, Stoicism and Epicureanism. The alliance between Platonism and Christianity was as old as Saint Augustine, but had been revived in the Renaissance by Marsilio Ficino. Aristotle had been Christianized by St Thoma Aquinas. Christianity and Stoicism had many close connections from early on. Epicureanism was being Christianized by Lorenzo Valla and Erasmus. This process was to be continued by Pierre Gassendi.

More coined the term "utopia" which is a pun meaning both "good place" and "no place." More's Utopia is discovered on a voyage to the newly discovered Americas. It is thus one of the first books to invoke the analogy between the great voyages of discovery and discoveries of the mind. Plato's Republic and the Laws provide models for More's reflections on the good citizen and the good state, but More's Utopia is significantly different from these models and blends a variety of philosophical influences. In contrast to the Platonic Republic, More's society is a communistic democracy and not an aristocracy with communism confined to the ruling elite. The new emphasis on the philosophy of pleasure comes from More's understanding of Epicureanism. From the Stoics More gets the notions that mankind form a natural commnnity and the assumed existance of natural law.

More's Utopia established the genre of philosophical utopias much the way in which Montaigne and Bacon established the essay as a philosophical form.