Posted by: smstrouse | April 23, 2016

Bible Challenged Because of Its Religious Viewpoint?!

bible-with-question-markThe American Library Association’s “State of America’s Libraries” report includes a list of books that have received the most challenges from readers. A challenge is defined by the ALA as a “formal, written complaint filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness.”

Coming in at #6 on the 2015 list is The Holy Bible.

But unlike other “objectionable” books which had either sexually explicit content, such as  Fifty Shades of Grey or an LGBT theme, such as Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, The Bible earned this distinction because of its “religious viewpoint.”

Does anybody besides me think that’s really funny?!

Obviously not everyone. On one side are the Christians who have taken this development as proof of the “war on Christianity” and are warning that The Bible is about to be banned.

On the other side are the challengers. But, as Deborah Caldwell Stone, deputy director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, explains: challenges to The Bible are based mainly “on the mistaken perception that separation of church and state means publicly funded institutions are not allowed to spend funds on religious information.”

So I don’t think we have to worry about Bibles being confiscated from library shelves.

Still, I like the idea of challenging The Bible. Why shouldn’t we ask questions of our sacred texts? When were they written? To whom? Where? Why? Especially texts that are problematic: violent, patriarchal, homophobic, xenophobic, those “texts of terror” as Phyllis Trible called some of them.

We should take very seriously our culturally-conditioned responsibility to challenge our scriptures – not to ban them, but to enable the message embedded in them to shine forth through the  humanity of its writers.








Posted by: smstrouse | April 16, 2016

Resurrection on Glass Beach


After the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, it became a garbage dump. It remained a dump until the mid 1960s. But Glass Beach on the Pacific coast at Ft. Bragg is now a natural wonder.

I was in Ft. Bragg for a brief r&r this week. Glass Beach, reputed to have the highest concentration of sea glass in the world, seemed like an interesting place to check out.

What did I know about sea glass? Turns out, not much. But I learned a lot about it from the Ft. Bragg “Things to Do” website. Over time, as glass from the dump was broke800px-Glass_Beach_Fort_Bragg_3n up into smaller pieces, it was also slowly polished by the sand as it is rolled around in the surf. The most common colors are greens, browns, and clear white, which came from things like beer and soda bottles. Rare cobalt blue, the sapphires of the beach (I didn’t see any of these)  came from bottles such as Milk of Magnesia and Noxema. Also rare red glass, the rubies of the beach (none of these for me either) startd out as perfume bottles, the tail lights or traffic 12991059_10208152508343737_5030843985465295905_nlight lenses.

All this was very interesting, but the best thing was  spending an enchanted hour sitting on the beach sifting through tiny stones, shell pieces and glass. Collecting is discouraged, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t take some souvenirs home with me. Then I had an idea; I would create an altar with the best pieces I found, along with some shells and other interesting finds.

Being at the ocean is already a spiritual experience for me, so this added dimension was an exercise in wonder and gratitude.

But it was also a story of resurrection transformation. Even being cast onto a garbage heap (or being crucified in one) doesn’t mean the end of the beauty of life. How many times have I been like a shard of glass, with my sharp edges and cutting words? How many times have I felt tossed and tumbled in the sea of life, going under for the umpteenth time, helpless against the tide? Like an old beer bottle, I’ve had my moments of feeling tossed aside, broken and useless.

And yet, out of the water, through no effort on its part, the beer bottle emerges as a polished gem. Humility keeps me from claiming that I’m either polished or a gem. But isn’t that what we claim to be in the eyes of the Holy One? Beloved. Beautiful. Transformed. Precious. Loved. Polished gems. Wave_polished_glass_fragments_from_Guantanamos_Glass_Beach

Can I keep this resurrection experience in my heart to remember in my next time of feeling “down in the dumps”? I hope so. But even if I don’t, I’m sure that there will be other moments like this visit to Glass Beach to remind me.

Posted by: smstrouse | April 3, 2016

The Theology of Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter 2In a recent video, I noticed the cross that Ann Coulter was wearing. So I was curious. What were the religious beliefs of this icon of the political right? I was watching the video in the first place because I was curious about the comments she made this past week about Donald Trump: “Our candidate is mental … I am a little testy with our man right now. It’s like constantly having to bail out your 16-year-old son from prison.”

I thought she’d finally seen the light and was ready to abandon her neo-con ways. But, alas, no. She’s decided that being a parent to a spoiled brat is better than having good government.

But back to matters of faith. Coulter is indeed a Christian. She has said, “Christianity fuels everything I write.”

Wow, I thought. How does she figure that?

“Being a Christian,” she explains, “means that I’m called to do battle against lies, hypocrisy, cruelty, and injustice, you know – all the virtues of the church of liberalism.”

I was with her up to the part about the church of liberalism. 

How can Christians be so polarized? What’s the theology underpinning the polarities of the religious right and the religious left?

Here’s Jesus according to Coulter: “People are sinful and need to be redeemed, and it’s your lucky day because I’m here to redeem you, even though I have to get the crap kicked out of me to do it.”

That’s the theology of God as the angry judge who has to send Jesus to pay for our original sin. The cross around her neck signifies the price Jesus paid for our “redemption.” It’s a theology held by many Christians. Jesus’ “sacrifice” is the main event, not so much his teachings. I can’t really blame them; the Nicene Creed skips right over Jesus’ birth to “crucified, died, and was buried.” 

But many of us have rejected theories of atonement like this one. For us the cross is a symbol of God’s unfailing promise to bring something life-giving out of any death-dealing situation. Crucifixion and resurrection are happening around us all the time. It was not a one-time event. I don’t even like wearing a cross because of the atonement associations. How can I convey a theology of a Cosmic Christ in any one symbol?

I don’t think that this explains everything about the widening gap between conservative and progressive Christians. But it’s got me thinking. Can we all claim the same symbol (the cross), the same language (redemption, salvation), the same Jesus? 

Wouldn’t it be fun to see a dialogue between an Ann Coulter and a John Shelby Spong?! Actually I think the late Marcus Borg would have been the best challenger. Maybe it’s now up to the rest us. 





Posted by: smstrouse | March 25, 2016

We Can Be Better than This

Posted by: smstrouse | March 18, 2016

The Politics of Palm Sunday


One of the coimages-1ntroversies of this current campaign season was the kerfuffle between Donald Trump and Pope Francis. When the pope visited Mexico, Trump called him “a very political person” who is a pawn of the Mexican government.

The Pope’s response? “Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ So at least I am a human person.”As to being a pawn: “Well, maybe, I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people.”

I wonde97aff4616c4f3b74b7690f9c60ae9bf7-jesus-with-a-dinosaur-16r what said candidate will make of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem this Palm Sunday (if he even knows what that is or will be in attendance at a church that observes it). Probably that it wasn’t a political act at all. Or that Jesus was a pawn of the political left of his day (although a Christian of the more conservative persuasion might say Jesus was acting as a pawn of God; but we won’t go there).

I believe that the parade into Jerusalem was definitely a political act. For a rationale for that far smarter and more articulate that I, read The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (not that Jesus rode in on a dinosaur, but after observing “An Evolutionary Lent,” I couldn’t help myself.)

So this Palm Sunday, I’m wondering how being a follower of the Jesus parade – as opposed to the parade of empire – can affect our wacky political process. I’ve been reading about how labor unions, recognizing the fear and anger among many of their members, are now stepping up efforts to communicate how some candidates are really not representing their best interests.

How are we on the religious left communicating to Christians of all political parties the same kind of  information? Will those who are angry and fearful hear us? Maybe not. Especially when we’re called socialist pawns or similar aspersions. Still, if we truly do believe, like Francis, that we are ‘animals politicus,’ then Palm Sunday is our rallying call to action.

And instead of our usual desultory processions into church, self-consciously waving little palm branches, how about we . . .

  • march on in like we’re in a real parade?
  • shout our hosannas like we really mean it?
  • unapologetically take the Palm Sunday (r)evolutionary spirit into our political arena?



Posted by: smstrouse | March 12, 2016

Bitches & Sad Ladies: Women in Leadership

5306029811_a2777d697aBack in the awakening years of my feminist awareness, I found a book called Bitches and Sad Ladies: An Anthology of Fiction by and about Women. I couldn’t tell you now what stories were included, but the title stuck with me, as did the theme of women as either “bitches” or sad ladies.

I believe that every woman who has taken on a leadership role, whether in the corporate world, the political arena or the church knows what the title means, especially the “bitches” part. And if we think it’s no longer true, we’re fooling ourselves. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Remember the “Bros Before Hoes” t-shirts of previous campaigns?

In her 1983 book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Gloria Steinem750601._UY200_ said that women are becoming the men they used to want to marry. A woman could be a doctor, lawyer, business executive, or pastor instead of simply being married to one.

That book was a game-changer for me. But in 1987, when I was fresh out of seminary, women pastors were still having trouble receiving calls. Some congregations were blunt about it: “We will not accept a female candidate!” Others were a little more subtle, asking personal questions about marriage and pregnancy, for example. The bishop of my synod at that time was adamant about advocating for women pastors. He told call committees that they could turn down a female candidate, but they’d better have an acceptable reason. If it was “We don’t want a woman pastor,” they wouldn’t get another candidate for a good long time. A lot of people didn’t like that bishop. Most of the women clergy in the synod did, though.

Now, in 2016, there is the possibility of our first woman president. Still, there are people who cannot see past their misogynistic noses. Many don’t want to acknowledge that we still have a sexism problem.

I don’t care if you vote for Hillary Clinton or not (well, I do, but that’s not the point of this post). But if you don’t, and your only reason is that she’s a b”#*%, a c*%#@ or a w*%#, i.e., a woman, then shame on you – and shame on us for continuing to allow such Neanderthal mentality to go on unchallenged.


Posted by: smstrouse | March 5, 2016

Just What Is Spirituality Anyway?


I’m curious. How do you define spirituality?

I’m asking because we’re discovering that the term “spiritual but not religious” is woefully inadequate. The “not religious” part is OK. But how people talk about “spirituality” is all over the map. Some don’t even like the world “spiritual” at all.
It makes it tricky for those of us in the church who are trying to understand the “spiritual but not religious” phenomenon. I, for one, would like to establish connection and conversation with those who are interested in spiritual matters – not as a way to get them into the seats at First United – but to be in relationship somehow. If I have an agenda, it would be that the spiritual but not religious discover that it’s possible to be spiritual and religious.

I know very well the many reasons why some people are not interested in organized religion. And I get it, I truly do. There are days when I wonder why I stay. That’s another conversation; suffice it to say there are also days when I am very grateful for the church.

Was Teilhard de Chardin right: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”?

Taking my cue from  Kelsey Grammer’s radio talk show character on Frasier:
“I’m listening.”



Posted by: smstrouse | February 27, 2016

Oligarchy or Democracy?

f7WMVyzIn a recent interview, former president Jimmy Carter called our current system of campaign financing “legalized bribery.” This isn’t the first time he’s called this out. Last summer he said that the United States is now an oligarchy in which “unlimited political bribery” has created “a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors.” He was responding in these interviews to recent Supreme Court decisions.

But this isn’t be first time Carter has criticized campaign financing. These recent interviews triggered a memory of an NPR interview back in 2004, in which he clearly listed the reasons why the US would not meet the Carter Center’s criteria for fair elections.

He said, “The American political system wouldn’t measure up to any sort of international standard for several reasons. One is that there has to be a provision . . . that all the qualified candidates have equal access to the public through the media, through television and radio, and they don’t have to pay for it. Whereas in this country, there’s no way that you can hope to be the nominee of the Democratic or Republican Party unless you have the proven ability to raise nowadays $100 million, contributions from special interest groups. We think that being considered as a candidate should not depend on how much money you can collect to pay for the right to give your campaign platform explanations to the public.”

That was 2004. Obviously (to put it mildly) things haven’t improved.

Carter has also said, “We have a responsibility to try to shape government so that it does exemplify the teaching of God.”

Through the work of the Carter Center, he’s doing his part. Unfortunately, they won’t be monitoring our election process. So it’s up to us.

How will we take our democracy back?

Posted by: smstrouse | February 20, 2016

The Pope vs. The Donald

Best quote frimages-1om Pope Francis after the smack-down with Donald Trump last week: “Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politics.’ So at least I am a human person.”

Take that, all you critics who say that religion and politics should never mix!

I do have to say that I’m not a fan of making a judgement about whether or not someone is Christian. My own faith has been called into question too many times. But I can understand the Pope’s reaction. Contrary to Trump’s charge that he doesn’t understand the situation on the US/Mexican border, Francis knows very well the suffering of those fleeing poverty, violence and oppression. So his response to a question about what he thought of the plan to build a wall across the border was a statement of theology not of pdt.common.streams.StreamServer.clsolitics. Because he hadn’t heard before of  Trump’s border plans, Francis said he’d “give the benefit of the doubt.” Then he added: “I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that.”

I hear that as a wake-up call to anyone who identifies themselves with the teachings of Jesus: are you really following those teachings? It’s not enough to “sip the wine and eat the little cracker;” you have to walk the walk.

It’s not just about one egregious sinner (although he makes a good target of himself). It’s about all of us and how we hold ourselves and one another accountable to the way of Jesus. I may hesitate to make a judgment on someone’s faith, but I don’t think it’s wrong to question behaviors that go against the principles which we say we believe.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners said in a post responding to this kerfuffle: “I know this much: our relationship with God is personal, but it’s never private. The public practices and policies we choose to support demonstrate what we mean by the gospel and about the world we believe God calls us to help create.”


This cartoon is not my political endorsement, but it certainly illustrates the bad name some self-identified Christians give the whole religion. So, yeah, I’m going with the Jewish guy, too. That would be – Jesus.

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Posted by: smstrouse | February 12, 2016

Great Jesus on a Dinosaur!

fish-kissWoo hoo! We finally made it onto the reactionary anti-ELCA blog for our participation in Evolution Weekend again this year. The blog shall remain nameless because it is so far off the deep end that it’s ridiculous and I don’t want to give it any publicity. Suffice it to say that it accuses the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) of “trying to discredit the historical account of Genesis . . . because they have decided that God did not, as He said, create the universe in six 24 hour days.”

Well, yeah.

I find it hard to believe that anyone in a mainline denomination still reads the creation story as literalJesus_dino_cowboy fact. Still, even among us liberals and progressives – there’s work to be done. In “Christology-Cosmology,” Zachary Hayes wrote:

For those educated in the Western world in the 20th centu­ry, the physical vision of the cosmos has changed drastically. But our religious language, shaped at least in part by what is now seen to be an archaic physics, has remained largely unchanged in theology and liturgy.

“As contemporary believers, we live in two worlds. In our everyday experience, we live in a culture deeply conditioned by the insights and theories of modern science. But in the context of the church, its theology, and its liturgy, we live in a premodem world.

That’s why this year at First United we’re having “An Evolutionary Lent.” We’re going to look through the lens of science to see if we can make sense of the statement by the evolutionary Christian mystic, Bruce Sanguin (author of If Darwin Prayed,  “The Cross is not a shadow of death, but a sign of progress.”

I am continually dismayed by the disconnect between all the good scholarship that’s being done in theology, christology, and biblical studies and what comes down to us on the parish level. I’m grateful this year to Pastor Ruth E. Shaver, who created A Service with Communion for Faith, Science and Technology Sunday. It appeared in the Evolution Weekend newsletter and I hope that more and more resources like this will be forthcoming.

We are listed as participants on the website (which is where the aforementioned blog found us) Although the official Evolution Weekend is this coming weekend, our main event will be next week when we’ll have an evolutionary biologist as our speaker. More about that later.

For now . . .



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