Posted by: smstrouse | July 7, 2016

The Christ-Likeness of Elie Weisel

elie-wieselI don’t know what the person who wrote this comment after the article meant: “I do not agree with his religious beliefs, but he has certainly lived what he speaks about and that is how respect is earned.”

I’m not criticizing; he or she obviously has respect for Elie Wiesel. The commentator could be either a Christian disagreeing with Wiesel’s Judaism or an atheist in opposition to any expression of religion at all. I don’t know; it really doesn’t matter.

What got me thinking was how Wiesel transcended religious labels and calls us to a common humanity and a common wisdom. Many of the quotes I’ve been reading since his death last week have resonated with my own understanding of Christianity.

Now, don’t be alarmed. I’m not calling Elie Wiesel an “anonymous Christian” or somehow denigrating Judaism. What I’m saying is that in my understanding, Christ is bigger than the historical Jesus. In fact, we might even have other names for “it”: Buddha nature, the Tao, the Universe. So themes of grace, hope, suffering, resurrection, incarnation, light, love – which I find in abundance in my Christian tradition – can be found in others’ as well. Such as in these:

We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering; not to share them would mean to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.

People say occasionally that there must be light at the end of the tunnel, but I believe in those times there was light in the tunnel. The strange way there was courage in the ghetto, and there was hope, human hope, in the death camps. Simply an anonymous prisoner giving a piece of his bread to someone who was hungrier than he or she; a father shielding his child; a mother trying to hold back her tears so her children would not see her pain—that was courage.

I know and I speak from experience, that even in the midst of darkness, it is possible to create light and share warmth with one another; that even on the edge of the abyss, it is possible to dream exalted dreams of compassion; that it is possible to be free and strengthen the ideals of freedom, even within prison walls; that even in exile, friendship becomes an anchor.

I cannot cure everybody. I cannot help everybody. But to tell the lonely person that I am not far or different from that lonely person, that I am with him or her, that’s all I think we can do and we should do.

Every moment is a new beginning.

You don’t have to be a Christian to be Christ-like. Elie Wiesel embodied a wisdom for all of humanity.

Posted by: smstrouse | June 30, 2016

Interfaith Headcoverings?

18-oz-chow-chowSeveral years ago, when I was back home in Pennsylvania, I asked our music director/ administrative assistant, Orion Pitts, if he wanted me to bring him anything. Since Orion is also from PA Dutch country, I figured he might need to stock up on pot pie noodles, pretzels, or apple butter. What he asked for was a jar of chow chow (for the uninitiated, chow chow is a pickled relish made with a variety of vegetables).

I bought a large jar before I headed to the Philadelphia airport and tucked it into my carry-on bag for safe-keeping. When I went through security, I was pulled out of line and asked what was in the jar. “Chow chow,” I said, never expecting that a PA Dutch condiment would be seen as a threat. But it was. Orion’s chow chow was confiscated. Thankfully I wasn’t detained as a potential Amish terrorist.

mennonite3Why am I thinking about this incident when I’m writing about head coverings? Because our speakers for our Pluralism Summer series this week are members of the Mennonite church. I grew up among Mennonites in PA, so I’m remembering the bonnets worn by some women and girls in both Amish and Mennonite communities. The basis for these coverings is most definitely a religious one, based on Bible passages such as 1 Tim. 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-6, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Now, I may have some very different opinions and interpretations about these texts, but I do respect the right of members of a religious tradition to wear symbols of their beliefs.


Of course, it becomes problematic when it comes to women because patriarchy raises its ugly head. Most of the reasons for women covering their hair involve modesty, but there’s also a measure of subordination to men involved – including the Mennonite/Amish tradition. It’s always good to hear of women in all of the religious traditions questioning and/or rejecting these reasons – whether or not they continue to cover.

I don’t have a problem with anyone’s head-gear – as long as it’s freely chosen. I can’t imagine the any woman other than the most burkaseverely oppressed and brainwashed to freely choose to wear a burka. Bhijab1ut the hijab is a different. Again: I don’t have a problem with the hijab as long as it’s freely chosen. There is so much hostility these days towards Islam, including calls to ban the head covering entirely. And some of that is in response to its perceived
symbol of male oppression.

I’m not even going to get into all of that right now. I’m just wondering: will we have the nerve to include other religious groups that require women to cover their hair, including  Orthodox Jews, Sikhs, Amish, and Mennonites?




Posted by: smstrouse | June 25, 2016

I Pity the Poor Immigrant


The Supreme Court dashed the hopes of millions of immigrants this week when it was deadlocked over United States v. Texas, No. 15-674. This is the case that opposed the 2014 executive action taken by President Obama to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation and allowed them to legally work in the US.

The proposed program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) would give unauthorized immigrants who were parents of either citizens or of lawful permanent residents the possibility of obtaining work permits.

But the Supreme Court is down to 8 members due to th2016-06-23t22-32-03-166z--1280x720.nbcnews-ux-1080-600e death of Antonin Scalia in
February and the refusal of Republicans to consider the appointment of  Judge Merrick B. Garland, the president’s nominee to fill the vacancy. The 4-4 tie leaves in place an appeals court ruling blocking the plan. According to the terse wording of the decision: “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.”

So in the midst of our splintered political system, this is just one more example of how real people are forced to suffer.

At an anti-racism workshop I attended today, we were asked the question: why should we as Christians care about ending racism? We were supposed to come up with a 6-word answer. In my small group I suggested we could cut it down to one: Duh! Of course we went on from there to expand on that flippant response.

It’s the same answer for caring for the plight of immigrants. Jesus was all about crossing boundaries, including people considered to be “other,” showing compassion, and healing what was broken – both people and systems. How can a Christian not be in favor – at least – of helping immigrant623supreme-court-immigrations who are parents of people who are already citizens or lawful permanent residents? We’re talking about families, for God’s sake.

 In our Pluralism Summer series, we’ve asked our guest speakers to address the question: how does your tradition inform your politics? In my opinion, the only answer a follower of Jesus could possibly give is to side with the justices who voted against the appeal. And if anyone has any doubts about the far-reaching implications of Supreme Court appointments, this should convince them.

In the meantime, we continue to care for those caught in the middle – in both our thoughts and prayers and our actions – which include getting into the voting booth and voting as a follower of Jesus.


I get so tired of hearing statements from people that Muslims have to speak up against violence committed in the name of Islam. It’s obvious that they’re either not looking in the right places (although these responses are hard to miss) or they’re just blinded to the fact that most Muslims are appalled by these attacks – and frightened by the Islamaphobia that gets ramped up even further.

So – here is a whole list of statements from Islamic organizations. The next time some fool says it’s time for the Muslim community to sopeak out, hand them this. Hopefully it will do some good.

The following links will bring you to the webpages of major Islamic organizations in America giving their response to the slaughter in Orlando. From the US Council of Muslim Organizations USCMO CONDEMNS THE ORLANDO SHOOTING (Washington, D.C., 6/12/2016) – The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), the largest coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations, expresses its horror […]

via Statements From American Islamic Organizations on the Orlando Massacre — A Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice: News and Views

Posted by: smstrouse | June 11, 2016

Yoga & Politics?!

swami11How does your

inform how you think about politics?

That’s the question we’re asking our speakers for this year’s Pluralism Summer.

Our guest tomorrow is Swami Ramandanda
from the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco.

Pluralism Sunday began some years ago as an initiative of
But at First United we decided that one Sunday wasn’t enough. So now, for the fourth year, we’re embarking on a summer of interfaith exploration. Each week a speaker from a different tradition will address the question of religion and politics within our regular Sunday service.

Our service, while rooted in our Christian tradition, is decidedly interspiritual. For a description of what it means to be an interspiritual Christian, read my blog post here.

Everyone is welcome – those of all faiths and of no faith. Visitors are invited to participate in the service to the extent that you are comfortable.

5:00 pm
First United Lutheran Chiruch
2097 Turk Street (at Lyon)
San Francisco, CA

For more information, contact me.

June 11, 2016

Posted by: smstrouse | June 7, 2016

Pluralism Summer: Week 1


Each Sunday, a speaker from different religious/ spiritual/ philosophical tradition will address this timely question within an interspiritual service.
Those of all faiths or no faith are welcome!

Sunday, June 12 @5:00 PM
First United Lutheran Church
2097 Turk Street (@ Lyon), San Francisco

June 12       Swami Ramananda, Integral Yoga Institute San Francisco
President of the Integral Yoga Institute and greatly respected senior teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, which is a synthesis of the various branches of Yoga.

June 19       Rita Semel, Temple Emanu-El
Co-founder: Interfaith Center at the Presidio, United Religions Initiative, and the San Francisco Interfaith Council


June 26       Dr. Peter Erlenwein
Peter Erlenwein is a sociopsychologist and transpersonal therapist from Germany. His work and life has been deeply inspired by his decade long intercultural studies in India and Namiba and his collaboration with laureates of the Alternative Nobel Prize in Germany. He has recently written a book called And I Saw the Heavens Open: Spirituality This Side and Beyond Religion.

July 3          Ed Driskill and Jim Lichti, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco

July 10        Dolores White, Baha’i Community of Martinez, CA
Former board member Interfaith Center at the Presidio and the Contra Costa County Interfaith Council. Certified Laughter Yoga leader.

17               Middle Circle

24              TBA

July 31        Laura Magnani, American Friends Service Committee
Director of AFSC’s Bay Area Healing Justice Program. Author of America’s First Penitentiary: A 200 Year Old Failure; co-author of AFSC publication, “Beyond Prisons: A New Interfaith Paradigm for Our Failed Prison System.”

August 7        TBA

August 14       Mark Carlson, Director of the Lutheran Office of Public Policy–CA

August 21       TBA

August 28             Hatice Yildiz, Pacifica Institute
Doctoral student, Graduate Theological Union

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

At First United, we believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.

Posted by: smstrouse | June 2, 2016

Pluralism Summer: Week 1


Each Sunday, a speaker from different religious/ spiritual/ philosophical tradition will address this timely question within an interspiritual service.

(What is interspiritual?)

Sunday, June 12 @5:00 PM
First United Lutheran Church
2097 Turk Street (@ Lyon)
San Francisco

Oswami11pening up this summer’s series on religion and politics:
Swami Ramananda
from  the  Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco

“Swami Ramananda is the President of the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco and a greatly respected senior teacher in the Integral Yoga tradition, who has been practicing Yoga for over 35 years. Ramananda offers practical methods of integrating the timeless teachings and practices of yoga into daily life, and transforming the painful aspects of human experience into steps toward realizing one’s full potential.

“Ramananda trains Yoga teachers to bring Yoga into corporate, hospital and medical settings and has taught mind/body wellness programs in many locations. He is a founding board member of the Yoga Alliance, a national registry that supports and promotes yoga teachers as professionals. His warmth, wisdom and sense of humor have endeared him to many.”

Pluralism Summer is an initiative of First United Lutheran Church, a progressive church, rooted in the Reformation tradition, which says that the church, our worship, and our music must always be re-forming. We believe that it’s more important to ask the questions than to know all the answers.

We believe that, as theologian Hans Kung wrote:
“There will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions.  There will be no peace among the religions until there is dialogue among the religions.”

At First United, we believe our wisdom will only be enhanced by continued conversation with all of our neighbors. Together we work for peace, justice, and the good of all people and all creation.


Posted by: smstrouse | May 24, 2016

Pluralism Summer IV

firstsundayheader1It’s hard to believe that at  First United we’re gearing up for our fourth interfaith summer series! Pluralism Summer IV begins June 12.

Pluralism Sunday began back in 2007 as a project of the Center for Progressive Christianity. We’ve always observed the day, but four years ago we decided to extend it for the whole summer.

And now we’re already halfway there in lining up twelve different speakers – one for each Sunday from June 12 to August 28. The truly wonderful thing about being here in the Bay Area is the wealth of awesome people who are willing to come and share themselves with our little congregation.

I learned a  l0t the first year. The main thing was that it’s easier for the speakers when we have a theme. It also creates more interest in the congregation and curiosity about how each tradition will address a particular topic.

Nina Pine BuddhistFor example, two years ago the theme was the environment. We asked our guests to answer the question: how does your tradition inform how you think about caring for the   environment? The variety was amazing. Nina Pine, a Buddhist originally from Nepal, talked about the environmental degradation of Mt. Everest.

Linda Crawford ICP and Don Frew COG

Don Frew (seen here with me and Linda Crawford, executive director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio) is an elder in the CovenanSridevi Ramanathan Hindu1t of the Goddess. He led us in an earth-based meditation.

Sridevi Ramanathan, a Hindu, laughingly told us that, “Of course Hindus believe we should take care of the earth. We believe in reincarnation, so we want the earth to be here when we come back!”

Last year, it was gender.
11539775_10206233265883875_663553422419599292_nMitch Mayne talked about being an openly gay, active Latter-day Saint (Mormon), who has recently served as the executive secretary in the ecclesiastical leadersh11705140_10206182129445496_6793989997650344369_nip of the LDS Church in San Francisco.

Sister Chandru from the Brahma Kumaris (our neighbors over on Baker Street) taught us that the Brahma Kumaris (“daughters of Brahma”) movement is known for the prominent role women play in the movement and led us in a meditation.

And this year? The theme is – what else? – politics: How does, does your, what aspects of your tradition inform your politics? So far, we have speakers from the Baha’i, Muslim, Mennonite, Jewish, and Integral Yoga traditions. We even have a Lutheran (how could we not ask about Luther’s theology of “Two Kingdoms“?).

I’ll be posting more as the rest of schedule gets filled in. Visitors are always expected. If you’ve ever thought about visiting a funky, little, progressive church, this summer would be a great time to do it!




Posted by: smstrouse | May 21, 2016

Has Phoebe’s Day Come at Last?

St-Phoebe-Tradition-of-the-Deaconess-Stayer-Karras-final_21There is one moment that stands out very clearly from my first year of seminary, way back in 1982. That’s when New Testament professor and Greek taskmaster, Dr. Richard Jeske revealed that the Greek word used for Phoebe in Romans 16: 1-2 is the same word used elsewhere for male followers of Jesus. Diákonos, is defined as servant; deacon; minister. However, when the word was used for a woman, translators steeped in patriarchal assumptions would call her a “deaconess.”

It’s gotten a little better since 1982; Phoebe has graduated (in some churches) to “deacon.” But back then, this was a revelation to those of us who – even thought we were in a church that had voted to ordain women – were still fighting to be recognized as equal partners with men. My copy of Biblical Affirmations of Woman by Leonard Swidler, published in 1979, was well-worn and heavily highlighted as I learned how to biblically justify my existence. 

101326c59411b77caf01b70832d75bc1And now Pope Francis has announced that he’ll create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church. Don’t get me wrong; I’m very glad that the pope is trying to bring reforms into the church. But this one is a no-brainer. “Allowing” women to serve as deacons doesn’t even address the issue of translating the same word as “minister.” It simply returns to the practice of early Christianity.

The question for the Catholic church is whether it will be faithful to the biblical witness or stick to tradition, with all its patriarchal baggage.

Sure, there are many who will see this as a toe in the door for women to become priests. And I say, what would be so bad about that? Even the oft-accused misogynistic St. Paul recognizes the ministry of Phoebe.

profile-3-600x600So, c’mon Francis. Get with the program.
Phoebe’s day has come at last!


CNS-Berrigan BANNER_croppedWhere is the anti-war movement today? I’ve heard – and asked – the question often in these past decades.

Who are prophets of the stature of Phil and Dan Berrigan (sheesh, even spellcheck keeps changing it to Kerrigan)?

I know. There are many, many people speaking up and working quietly for justice in many areas, e.g. Black Lives Matter, Sojourners,  Veterans for Peace.

But where is the kind of outrage that drove the Berrigan brothers (part of the Catonsvilleplowshares Nine) to burn draft records with homemade napalm in 1968 and to lead the Plowshares Eight into a GE plant in King of Prussia, PA, pouring blood on company records and damaging nuclear warhead nose cones?

There are many reasons why times have changed. In my own admittedly very simplistic analysis, I can see three. One is that we don’t see the war on TV. Those of us who can remember Viet Nam surely were affected by nightly footage of coffins being unloaded at Dover Air Force Base. In fact, the phrase “Dover Test” became an indicator of public tolerance, or lack of it, for war casualties. That is, until 1991, when the media were banned from covering the arrival of remains at Dover. The ban was lifted in 2009, but the media itself seems to have gone MIA on war coverage.

Two: where they have done a good job, though, is in defusing any criticism of the war by equating it with “not supporting the troops.” So we’ve bent over backwards to reverse the stigma of the Viet Nam era when returning vets were called “baby killers” and the like. I do not want us to go back to that kind of behavior, but my concern for returning vets does not depend on my opinion of our foreign policy. In fact, I lament that those who send them off to fight do not “support our troops” by providing adequate medical care, housing, job training, etc.

The third reason for our malaise, I think, is that getting out of the mess we’re in today is a lot different from the quagmire of Viet Nam. We created the disaster; just picking up and abandoning the people caught in the middle won’t make anything better. Except that nothing appears to be making anything better. We’ve created an “Apocalypse Now” horror show with no end in sight.

It seems hopeless. Even for Dan Berrigan. In an interview with The Nation in 2008 (which could have been written today), he said  “This is the worst time of my long life. I have never had such meager expectations of the system.” Still, he also wrote elsewhere that what made it bearable was a disciplined, implicitly difficult belief in God as the key to sanity and survival.

The Berrigans and all the other anti-war protestors of the past can still be role models for us today. Maybe war is different and the world is different. But our ability to live in the world with conviction, faith and courage does not have to change. WE can be the prophets. The spirit of the Catonsville Nine and the Plowshares Eight can live on is us, in whatever ways we are called to embody peace and justice in the midst of a very difficult time. lxiRc7HngdkqN1uxCsRAiQ-smallw



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