Thursday, December 9, 2010

Socialism in America

Jim Wallis of Sojourners Magazine, a guide for Progressive Christians, just wrote a very interesting and timely commentary on the extension of tax breaks for the rich. In part he wrote:

"At the root of the [current financial] crisis was just a handful of banks -- not the banking industry, not business in general, but a handful of very rich people who took big and selfish risks. They are already getting richer because of our taxpayer bailout, and now we're giving them more tax breaks and estate tax bonanzas. There is socialism in America, but it's only for the rich. Risk has been socialized for some of the very richest people in the country, and then, the "free market" pain is distributed to all the rest.

Our national economic philosophy is now to reward the casino gamblers on Wall Street and to leave the majority of the country standing outside the casino with a tin cup, hoping that the gamblers are at least big tippers."

It's hard to know what to say, but consistently, Jim Wallis says it.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Your Life, Better

There's an excellent new resource from the UCC called "Your Life, Better" that includes spiritual practices. The most recent is called "8 Ways to Wake Up to God" by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Check it out, and all the other spiritual resources, at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

It's about the effort

Archbisop Oscar Romero said, "we don't follow Jesus with perfection, but the effort to follow him is what makes a true disciple."

I like that. It's trying. Which should be obvious given the obtuseness of the original 12. Though at times I think Jesus grew at bit exasperated as their denseness, he didn't replace them. He just kept trying to teach a better way.

Good advice for us. It's about the effort that makes us disciples.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rabbi and the Pastor

The latest issue of Greater Park Hill News included a wonderful article about Temple Micah and Park Hill Congregational Church and the relationship of their clergy. It was a beautifully done article.

Friday, August 20, 2010

One of the easiest ways to raise money for the church - or any of 90,000 different charities - is to use or For example, I buy lots of stuff from All I do is to first go to, make sure I choose "Park Hill Congregational Church" as the charity I shop for, and then click on amazon, expedia, hotwire, dell or any one of 600 different internet retailers. The church then gets a percentage of each sale. Click on "Amount Raised" to watch the progress. It adds up and makes a big difference for our ministry. Please take a second the next time you internet shop and help us. Thank you!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pistol Packin' in Church

Church goers in Louisiana can now bring their concealed weapons to church. The new law signed by Governor Jindal requires pastors to announce that there might be gun-toters in their midst. This replaced an older law that banned guns in houses of worship.

At my church in Ohio, we had to place signs at every door indicating guns may not be allowed inside. It was such a welcoming sight to see at every entrance a gun with a big red line through it. But, if it wasn't present, we could be held liable for gun violence inside the building.

I just don't get it...

(By the way, we don't allow guns in our church.)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Prop 8 Declared Unconstitutional

In the marriage rite of our Book of Worship, upon announcement of the union we declare, "Those whom God has joined together, let no one separate."

We are moving ever slowly to realize the dream when it will say, "Those whom God has joined together , let no one deny." (note, it is God who is the source of love)

The 2005 General Synod of the United Church of Christ called for full marriage equality. It was seen as a divisive statement by its opponents. But, we pray, it is simply the prophetic word which one day will be the norm.

(I was a delegate at that glorious Synod in Atlanta. Upon the positive vote of over 80% of the delegates, I blubbered like a baby in joy)

Small Churches

A recent cover story in The Christian Century - a liberal Christian magazine read by many mainline clergy and lay people - addressed being Church in the land of Mega-Churches. It has many insightful comments and I'll blog on some of them in coming weeks, but the one that struck me most is this:

"Becoming part of a small congregation can look like a lot of work" (from the perspective of a visitor who has Mega Church expectations of a full array of services to meet a multitude of needs). The author of the article, "Oversized Expectations," a smaller church pastor added, "And it is."

He adds, "Their (guests looking for a church home) criticism (or leeriness) is valid. It does take a lot of work to be in a small congregation. Many people visit a small church thinking it will be simple and quaint, when the truth is that life in small churches in complex. Members of a small church have multiple roles and responsibilities..." And one example of the need for flexibility and to improvise: "On Sunday mornings it is not uncommon for a family to show up and have all its members drafted into roles they were not expecting to play when they left home."

Recent statistics indicate that 60% of churches in the U.S. have fewer than 100 members. A mere 10% of congregations - of every denomination or independent - have 350 or more members. A Mega Church is defined as having more than 2,000 in services over one weekend.

Mega Churches are not the norm, but they are becoming normative in terms of what prospective members consider important characteristics - multiple programs and specialized staff.

PHCC has around 150-175 members with an average of 82 (in 2009) adults and children on Sunday and we share all the joys of a small church - knowing many if not most people, easy to get involved - and all its challenges - seemingly never "enough" to do all the things we'd like to do.

Having always been part of smaller congregations, I wouldn't want to be the pastor of anything else. I feel blessed, if not at times stressed.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Where is God?

From Mother Teresa:
"We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature -- trees, flowers, grass -- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls"

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I attended a fantastic conference this week of the United Church of Christ Musicians National Network here in Denver. There were 80-100 participants from around the country, including many of us from Denver. I met some really great people - including the man who wrote my favorite song in the new UCC songbook, Sing! Prayer and Praise. James Martin wrote Come My People, Welcome to Worship (#12). We heard great plenary lectures (don't think sitting still and boring) from Dr. Marcia McFee and amazing music by Mark Hayes. I took some notes, but mostly I sat inspired from just listening.

One of the memorable quotes from Mark Hayes:
"We are not called to be grateful FOR all things, but grateful IN all things."

That's a challenge I'm grateful for today.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Three Faces of Compassion

According to Stephen Gilligan, compassion has three energies or faces:
Tenderness in the face of pain;
Fierceness in the face of injustice;
Mischievousness in the face of resistance.

I especially like the addition of the third face because it makes me smile, but also because it's clear that creativity is needed to fully live compassionately.

(Thanks to Tracey Dawson for the idea in her ordination paper!)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Evidence of Hope on the Reservation

Today we leave ready to experience whatever may come to pass this week. Given all the statistics we learned before leaving last year, I think many were surprised by the number of speakers and presenters who spoke in hopeful ways about Pine Ridge.

The question is frequently asked, even if only to oneself, why do people stay in a place of such despair. The answer is often, this is where I feel like I belong. That they support and care for one another in ways not found in the isolation of cities. If racism were not so prevalent still, perhaps this might be different. But it is in fact the place where the unique qualities of their cultural upbringing bring strength. The Lakota language is being reclaimed and taught at the Tribal College.

When we get back, I'll share more of what we learn - specifically about the evidence of hope.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More on Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge is roughly the physical size of Connecticut, but has no public transportation. The predominant form of travel is hitchhiking or walking. There is one understaffed hospital, consisting mostly of medical students spending one year paying off school debt. Folks rarely see the same doctor twice. There are a couple of village clinics around the reservation staffed by nurses, but they can see only six patients once a week. If you are 7th in line, come back next week. With the rate of diabetes (amputation is not uncommon), heart disease, infant mortality, and the numerous other health problems, this lack of access is deadly - contributing to the fact that the average man on Pine Ridge lives to 57 (some estimates are as low as 45 for men), the lowest rate in the U.S. and worse than any place in the Western Hemisphere except Haiti. All this despite treaties that "guarantee" that our government provide health and education in exchange for land, etc. Federal commodity programs provide some food assistance, but is high in carbohydrates and sugar - not good for a diabetic population.

One of the youth said that the thing that most impacted him last year was the fact that "no treaty between the US and the various Indian nations has ever been honored." Sobering.

Pine Ridge is so isolated that while other nations have profited from casinos, there is simply too little traffic to benefit. There are no banks so a commercial infrastructure needed for business becomes complicated. We were told that the banking system consists of a car that comes from Rapid City (120 miles) twice a week and parks in the gas station lot. Consequently, other than jobs with schools, government, or the tribe, unemployment is estimated at 80-90%. The median income on Pine Ridge is approximately $3,000. Depression, suicide, alcoholism and a general hopelessness, especially among teens, are ever present. Statistics are so bleak that they can become numbing.

However, on the other hand, resilience and resistance are high. Reclaiming their language and culture, after being stripped away in boarding schools up until the 1960s, has contributed to a reality of hope sometimes not appreciated from the outside. That will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sunday, June 6

If you are interested in worshipping with us on Sunday, June 6, we will be "out of the building" engaged in worshipful service instead of having our regular 10 am service. You are welcome to come and participate with us as we go to serve meals at two motels on Colfax Avenue. Just come to the church at 10:15 am. Then join us for our regular service on June 13. On that day, participants from our Pine Ridge Indian Reservation work trip will share reflections.

Why Use the Term Third World?

From 1980 to 2000, the counties that make up Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota comprised the poorest of our nation's 3,143 counties. The 2000 census found them the third poorest, not because things got better on Pine Ridge, but because things got worse on two other South Dakota Indian Reservations.

The poverty on Pine Ridge can be described in no other terms than "third world." It is common to find homes terribly overcrowded, as those with homes take in whoever needs a roof over their heads. Homelessness would be far worse if it weren't for extended families living in small houses - up to 30 people in homes built for 6. Many homes are without running water, electricity, and without sewer. Part of what Re-Member has been providing are outhouses and bunk beds.

While the 2000 census reported a population of 15,521, a study by Colorado State University and accepted by H.U.D. estimated the population at 28,000. Tribal Government records show 38,000 enrolled members living on Pine Ridge Reservation.

Pine Ridge Statistics as of 2007

  • Unemployment rate of 80-90%
  • Per capita income of $4,000
  • 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
  • 5 Times the United States rate of cervical cancer
  • Twice the rate of heart disease
  • 8 Times the United States rate of Tuberculosis
  • Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
  • 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
  • Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
  • Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
  • Infant mortality is three times the national rate
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the 2nd lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.
Information provided by Re-Member

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Ready for Pine Ridge

A group of 7 youth and 9 adults from the church will leave early Saturday morning for a six hour drive to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota - a "Third World Country" by poverty and living standards. There we will participate in the work projects, cultural presentations, family interaction, and other programs of the group Re-Member - formed more than 10 years ago to work with the Lakota people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Volunteers come from across the country for a week long immersion. This is my third trip - first with my youth group from inner city Cleveland.

Re-Member is specifically a "non-evangelical mission," founded by folks from United Church of Christ congregations, particularly in Michigan. For the many church groups who come every year, it is an expression of their Christian faith. But the purpose is not to convert the residents on Pine Ridge. Missionaries bring their agenda. You might say we bring an agenda too, but it is one of listening and working with - not giving to. That is an important reminder. Though we are there to do some very hard work - especially housing repairs - we are not there to do anything we haven't been invited to do because we've listened carefully. And thus, over the years, relationships have been built and trust between members of the Lakota nation and Re-Member is very strong.

In my next post, I'll give some of the statistics that account for the term Third World Country.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's Next for the Mainline Church

This continues following posts with John Thomas' assessment of the external and internal reasons for decline. His advice to us:

1) "Get over it!" We must get past 35 years of resentment over our decline and longing for days when our churches were respected centers of religious faith
2) Move from a mainline alignment to a "missional" alignment. If we fell like the culture has abandoned us, should we run after it. Should we try to gain "respectability." Some people were embarrassed by our TV commercials such as The Bouncer and The Ejector Seat because they saw their own church's behavior in them. We can't reject evangelism and expect anyone to be in our pews. And the ads were exactly about evangelism in a UCC style.
3) Move from taking care of who is there to who might not yet be there. What are their needs? It isn't to dismiss current members, but a church isn't a club and it must examine it's practices to see whether that is indeed the biggest priority for staff time and resources. Should the clergy be focused on pastoral visitation or empowering lay people to provide such caring resources?
4) Identify our "niche," which Thomas describes as:
a) moderate to progressive
b) publicly engaged
c) belief that government is a partner in serving the needs of society, not the enemy
d) we need social institutions and support them
e) interfaith openness
f) religious pluralism
g) ecumenical
5) focus less on training young people to be "nice" Congregationalists and provide more in-depth faith formation - how to pray, how to do biblical reflection so that when they are in college, they are both prepared for their own spiritual sustenance but also to speak intelligently to the predominant presence of conservative religious groups. Teach them spiritual practices for how to live in their 20s and 30s, when most young people are not engaged in church.
6) bring rich, lively liturgical experiences to worship. An irony about young people in church today is that they are embracing such practices as weekly communion, praying with icons, lighting candles, and other ancient practices - while at the same time expecting worship to move at a different pace than traditional mainline worship, especially music
7) get more "feisty." Challenge the desire to be "respectable." He cited the example of welcoming Sponge Bob to his office after James Dobson said the cartoon character was gay.
8) invest in the church today so it may live tomorrow. Similar resources will likely not be available
9) embrace technology in worship, even if it's purpose is to enhance ancient Christian practices

John gave us much to think about. And if nothing else, how individual each setting is and how lonely that can feel. In isolation, our churches might feel like they are failing individually. But together, they might find ideas and strength for a new day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Internal Reasons for Mainline Decline

This continues the presentation from John Thomas on May 11, 2010. These are his assessments of internal reasons for mainline decline. The last post focused on external pressures.

1) churches were slow to adapt to disestablishment. "When the 50s come back, we'll be ready!"
2) weak evangelism
3) no faith formation for youth - focus on programming only, keeping them entertained and involved, but not prepared for college and young adulthood.
4) social movements confused churches - Vietnam, civil rights, LGBT issues, feminism
5) we have no "theological canon" or common theologians
6) church related colleges once could be counted on to teach our laity; most are nominal in name at best and being related to one denomination or another is mostly irrelevant
7) a focus on anxiety and uncertainty about the future

It's futile, he added, to do better what we once did.
The next post will be his advice about the future

Thursday, May 27, 2010

External Challenges to the Mainline Church

Former UCC president John Thomas was in Denver recently to talk to clergy and laity about the future of mainline churches like the UCC - adding that every mainline church (United Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, and more) has experienced relentless decline in numbers since 1968 when all their foundations from being at the center of the culture began to shift.

He cited these external challenges:
1) low birthrate and smaller families among this group of denominations
2) the religious "bubble" following World War 2 was unsustainable. We are really returning to similar rates of religious participation in the history of the U.S.
3) cultural support for churches has collapsed. There is no more "sanctity" of Sunday morning, for example.
4) greater "competition." Catholics are no longer "ethnic enclaves" and evangelicals have become more mainstream. And evangelicals have created competing "bureaucracies" such as World Vision instead of Church World Service, and many others
5) the Institute for Religion and Democracy took aim to try to destroy the National Council and World Council of Churches, labeling them communist and worse, and helped by the likes of Reader's Digest and 60 Minutes with misleading and vicious accusations
6) small town America has declined, where small towns may have 4-5 different churches that are similar but different denominations
7) the urban/suburban shift left many large churches in an inner city island that got smaller every year
8) we are in a greater spiritual marketplace and people are choosing individual approaches to combine religious insight from a larger pool
9) people are used to shopping in Big Box stores, so why not churches

In the next post, I will identify John Thomas' Internal Reasons for Decline

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Understanding "The Way of the Cross"

We must make sure that Jesus' way of the cross is understood not as a "transaction to be believed in" but rather a "pattern of life to be followed."

Phil Snider and Emily Bowen in Toward a Hopeful Future: Why the Emergent Church is Good News for Mainline Congregations

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Welcome to Our New Site!

Many months in the making, we are so happy to unveil our new website. I hope you will explore all the resources, especially on the PrayerCenter page. The Twitter devotional updates twice a day. And the daily devotional, will obviously update daily. There are many wonderful connections to the United Church of Christ and my blog will continue to change regularly.

We also welcome your comments to help make the site better.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From Leonardo Boff

One of the giants of Liberation Theology:

"How do I echo that big bang, that creativity, that outpouring... that is God."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Life Comes Out of the Darkness

"Life comes out of the darkness.
We need night vision.
Don't get rid of darkness too quickly.
Let it work in you."

Sister Peggy

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honey from Stones

Sister Peggy quoted from Honey from Stones:

"All of our knowledge is an island in a sea of mystery and we must extend the shores so more mystery may lap up on it beaches."

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Theology of Provocation

Sister (Dr.) Peggy O'Neill, a professor of liberation theology, told us that perhaps it's time to change from a theology of liberation to a theology of provocation. She said that a church that is not persecuted makes no sense. If you say truth, you will be persecuted.

Friday, May 7, 2010

How the ARENA feel about women

Among the shocking things that came out of the mouth of the AREA party congressman:

"We will always have poor people because 70% of our people are raised by their mother. The father goes away. Each woman has 5-7 children by 3 different men. The quality of our citizens is lower because of single mothers. They are the reason for our under-development.

He also complained that "Lady Judges" let too many criminals go. And that women don't want to be in political office. The FMLN, opposition party, requires that 40% of their delegates must be women, but most do not speak in the Assembly and are not helpful."

Our group left this meeting with our mouths hanging open - for many more reasons than just this one. He actually sounded like someone reading the script of Fox News commentators with the exception that ARENA isn't seeking to make El Salvador an "English Only" country.

Make sure you read the previous post to get the whole picture.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Meeting with an ARENA congressman

One of the most surreal experiences of the whole trip was a meeting with a congressman - Mario Valiente - from the ARENA party (a RAIN a). The ARENA party was the creator of the death squads, the party of the repression of the people. The party in power and whose soldiers killed thousands of citizens. Amazingly, they remained in power for 20 years after the end of the civil war, but as we were told, they are good at building roads. A new president from the opposition FMLN party was elected last year and was inaugurated in June. ARENA remains the party in control of the Congress - or they were until some of their members broke off to create a new party. GANA. The former members of the ARENA party have crosses taped over their pictures in the party conference room where we met with the word "Traitor" typed on them. Pretty scary for a party that used to literally kill their adversaries.

Their perspective on Romero is very different. Valiente said it was a "bad idea" to kill Romero because it just created a martyr on the left. He also said it was "stupid" to kill the six Jesuit priests. It reflected badly on their country from an international perspective. Not that it was simply immoral. It was just bad policy.

He remembered Romero's radio speeches in which he ordered soldiers to stop killing the people, stop the repression. Valiente complained that he never told the guerrillas to stop killing too. (Although this all happened before the civil war). Romero was "not balanced." He respects Romero's memory, but "he was not a saint. He was a one-sided political priest." "Someone to look up to." The FMLN, party of the current president, and the political party of the former guerrillas, are "just using the 30th anniversary of Romero's death to finish creating their hero." Most FMLN, Valiente complained, are not even Christians. Why would they want a priest as their hero?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Words for our Grave Stone

We met with a dynamic nun named Sister Peggy O'Neill. She has lived in El Salvador since 1986, right in the middle of the civil war. The town where she lives - Suchitoto - had six massacres of over 150 each. And the war is still going on in the traumas faced by the citizens each today.

This is what Sister Peggy would like engraved on her tombstone:

"She died on the last day of her life and no sooner."

Friday, April 30, 2010

Immigration Challenges for El Salvador

One of the people we met with works for Catholic Relief Services in the area of immigration.

The issue of immigration is huge in El Salvador for several reasons:
1) 2 million Salvadorans live in the US; 6 million in El Salvador. Los Angeles, California, is the 2nd largest Salvadoran city in the world. Immigrants have been coming to the US for over 100 years. We were told that the majority of immigrants are documented, but some are not, including those who have entered illegally via coyotes through Mexico.

2) Remittances from family in the US provides 18% of El Salvador's GDP. It is the single biggest source of income in the country - $3.6 billion. The national budget is $3.6 billion. Remittances to Mexico are larger in terms of dollars - $25 billion - but only represent 3% of GDP.

3) Almost every family has migrant family members in the US. Some households receive up to 60% of their income from remittances - the average is 30% of household income, averaging $200 per month.

4) Because of the recession, remittances are down. And in some cases, remittances are going in reverse. Families in El Salvador sending money to family members in the US.

Obviously, immigration and remittances are high on the radar of average citizens and they watch for cues from the new administration very carefully. The social impact on families is huge as parents and children are not uncommonly separate for long periods.

The four main causes of immigration:
1) Economic opportunities. There are simply not enough jobs, especially following the collapse of the coffee market.
2) Violence. Immigration during the 12 year civil war, and leading up to it, was large. But violence is still a huge problem. The homicide rate for youth aged 15-30 is double. There were 4,368 homicides last year alone; the highest level of violence in all the Americas. One reason given is the "criminalized culture of youth" plus increased narco violence over the last 5 years. And deportations from the US have increased significantly, adding to an already challenged economy.
3) Family reunification.
4) Natural disasters and climate change. Hurricanes, drought, floods, and earthquakes - especially the deadly earthquake in 2001.

Globalization has had a very negative impact as have free trade agreements. As they described it: it's good for goods. It's bad for people.

Immigration policy in the US was described as outdated, dysfunctional, inhumane, and unjust. A law in 1965 sought to make immigration policy more equal - created a quota system that each country would be able to send 20,000 per year. But Lithuania and El Salvador have very different needs, for example, and it has created a huge backlog.

What would be just and humane immigration? The 20,000 quota should not include family unifications. Family unity should be a priority.

Final request: Support the DREAM Act

Jon Sobrino's Lecture

We were incredibly fortunate to hear a giant of liberation theology give a lecture as part of a weekend of events at the University of Central America commemorating Romero's assassination. I actually was in a separate room from the lecture in order to have earphones with translation. Others in our group wanted to be in the actual auditorium, but agreed that after an hour and a half of lecture in Spanish, they missed out. My group watched on a huge screen.

Father Sobrino would have been murdered by soldiers in 1989 along with the six Jesuit colleagues with whom he lived, but he was in Spain on a speaking tour. Just a little reminder: government soldiers came in the middle of the night and dragged the six priests out onto the lawn and shot them in the head - claiming their were the brains of the guerrilla movement. We saw a display of their blood soaked clothes and a Bible that had been cut in half by automatic rifle fire. Soldiers also went to the room of their housekeeper and daughter and murdered them too. Among the most disturbing images of the whole trip, one that is still vivid in my mind, are pictures in an photo album at the Romero Center of brains laying strewn around on the grass. They keep this gruesome record for public display in order to Never Forget.

So, on to the lecture. Sobrino told us that after the first priest was murdered in 1977, (Father Rutilio Grande, whose grave we visited. A young boy and old man were in the car with him and also killed) Romero, as Archbishop, declared that that weekend there would only be one mass spoken in the entire country. At the Cathedral in San Salvador. Other church leaders objected and created a controversy. "Mass is for the glorification of God," conservatives argued. They were on the side of the government which didn't want too much attention paid to this atrocity. In return, Romero quoted 4th century bishop Iraneus: "The glory of God is the human alive. And therefore, the glory of God is that the poor live." Romero prevailed.

A couple of other quotes from lecture:
"One must accept conflicts that come from fidelity to God."
"A martyr is consequently merciful." This one has particularly stayed with me. The word martyr is used in public frequently in El Salvador. It's a word that most of us have difficulty with, especially given the terrorism of our current age. But Salvadorans consider the word necessary when describing the acts of terror against them and to honor those who died speaking out for the poor.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Moved Romero?

What moved Archbishop Romero from conservative priest to outspoken critic?

From Archbishop Romero's last pastoral letter:
1) Extreme Poverty and Social Injustice
a) faces of hungry children
b) faces of peasants denied land to work
c) faces of workers not allowed to organize
d) faces of the sub-employed
e) faces of the urban marginalized
f) faces of the elderly marginalized

2) Deterioration of the Political System
a) no citizen participation
b) violence because of repression
c) inability/unwillingness to resolve crisis

3) Government Attitude
a) a suspicious tolerance of violence
b) no toleration of protest

4) Ideological Foundation of Repression
a) everything was couched in protecting "national security"
b) no freedom allowed to organize
c) opponents are "enemies"

He also denounced the lack of judicial administration and impunity of crimes. He said, "justice has been prostituted."

All of this moved Romero from conservative priest to outspoken critic of the government. And hero of the people.

Presentation by Carlos Ayala at the Romero Center at the University of Central American, March 19, 2010

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Internet Commercial

Hi all,
Check out the new United Church of Christ ad called "The Language of God."

Friday, April 9, 2010

During the Civil War

El Salvador's civil war began in 1981 and lasted almost 12 years - but only because a huge infusion of cash from the United States kept it going. Ten days after the war started, Reagan was inaugurated. He declared, "no more communists" - like the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. However, before placing all blame on Reagan, Archbishop Romero had written several times to President Carter, pleading on behalf of human rights, to stop funding El Salvador's right wing military. Carter didn't respond.

In 1981, $150 million in military aid was spent to destroy the FMLN (the left); $277 m in 1982; $378 m in 1983 and increasing to $531 million in 1984. In total, $6 billion was sent by the US to aid the military in El Salvador, not including training for assassins at the School of the Americas. That is $1.5 million per day of the war, or seen another way, $1 million spent per citizen - resulting in the deaths of over 70,000 citizens. Imagine what spending $1 million dollars per citizen would have done to eliminate the very poverty that was at the heart of the struggle.

The war was brutal and bloody - and dirty. In 1989, six Jesuit priests were shot in the head as the "brains of the opposition." Their housekeeper and her daughter were also assassinated by soldiers at their residence on the campus of the University of Central American in San Salvador. It was this outlandish occasion that caused even the United States to question their support of the government and led in part to pressure to sign peace accords in 1992.

Since the signing, they have had 18 "conflict free" years. But the origins and reasons for war were not solved - such as land ownership, unemployment and poverty. And added to the mix - terrible violence. El Salvador has the highest level of violence is all the Americas. Last year, 4,368 homicides.

For 20 years following the end of the civil war, the party that created the death squads and fought the war against the people had been elected over and over. However, a president from the opposition (FMLN - former guerrillas) was elected in 2009 and took office on June 1st. It's a difficult time to govern given the world economic recession, but the new government has begun to offer state apologies to victims of the war (to the consternation of the right) and has publicly embraced Romero as a hero, promising stamps in his honor, a mural at the airport, and other ceremonial honors. The task of addressing the poverty and violence remain enormous challenges - overcoming the debt of the previous government and the fact that the national assembly is still dominated by the right wing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Influence of Liberation Theology

Continuing the talk at Equip Maiz:
The reforms of Vatican 2 had a major impact on change in El Salvador. Latin American bishops met in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968 to interpret the meaning of Vatican 2 for their countries. From this meeting grew what is called liberation theology. Most importantly, that the poor had the right to dignity in this life, not wait through suffering until the next. This was put into practice in local parishes through small Base Christian Communities, first formed in 1969. The purpose was twofold: evangelism and raising consciousness. To teach that every human has dignity and rights. Many peasants didn't know about the constitution and the rights it already contained. They began, with the help of priests and other community organizers, to demand their rights. The growing left wing in El Salvador can be credited in large part to the Church, which is so central to public life in El Salvador (plus student groups, unions, community groups). An amazing thing to ponder given the current situation.

A "left wing" president was elected for the first time in 1972, but the military wouldn't let them take power. This was repeated in 1977. Again thwarted by electoral fraud. Some wonder whether the civil war would have occurred if these presidents had been seated. After the second flawed election, the left began resistance, including taking over the block outside the Cathedral. Eighty days later, the army shot into the people gathered in the square and killed more than 100 and captured many more.

From 1977-1980, the left grew and the country underwent a political convulsion. The government pushed back. Disappearances grew, persecution increased, torture, maiming and more. This was the time that Romero was archbishop. He was assassinated in 1980, while saying mass at the chapel of the hospital where he lived, by order of military commanders from the highest levels. (This was confirmed by the driver just last month). He was killed on March 24, 1980. On May 15, 50 people were killed in a massacre. On November 27, leftist leaders were tortured and killed. On December 2, four North American Catholic sisters were raped and killed. A civil war was declared on January 10, 1981. It lasted for almost 12 years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some Insights on Early El Salvador

Hi everyone. I'm kind of caught up now that Easter has passed, so I can share some of the information and experiences from my trip. I'll break the information into smaller pieces and add a little every day.

This is information from the group Equipo Maiz that teaches the history of El Salvador from a "People's" point of view. They gave us an excellent overview.

The indigenous peoples of El Salvador have had a very difficult history. The Spanish arrived in 1524 and imposed harsh violence. Resistance lasted 15 years, but they eventually became a Spanish colony. But the Spanish didn't want the corn (maiz) that was their major crop. They wanted to grow indigo for export back to Europe (used to dye clothing blue). This meant that all the people living on the flat lands by the ocean (very little of El Salvador could be called flat) were relocated to the hills and mountainous areas. When the price of indigo dropped in the late 1800s, coffee plantations were started, but they needed the hills and mountains, so another forced relocation of the people. Anyone who resisted was killed. The lands of the indigenous were given to people with enough money to start coffee plantations - by decree of the president. They were kindly given shacks on the edges of the plantations, but with such a good deal - free rent - they were expected to work for free. Their lands taken, they became virtual slaves.

A peasant uprising in 1932 failed and resulted in a coup by General Martinez who ruled in a Hitler-like manner for over 30 years. This was followed by a succession of presidents chosen from the military who brought constant persecution. It was during this time that many Salvadorans began leaving for the United States. And the seeds of the coming civil war were planted.

This is a very brief, simplified, version, but it did help provide us with the context of violence and repression that has been part of this country's history.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I'm sorry I gave you the wrong web address. It is

It was an amazing experience that I'm still trying to process. Some of my reflections will find their way into my Easter sermon. And then I'll do a Search and Discovery on April 18th. And I plan to share my notes in future blog entries.

Thank you for your prayers for our safety.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

For more on the trip

I am not having time to blog regularly with 24 people using one slow computer during the one or two hours we are not busy '
However, there is a blog being kept by the whole group and I encourage you to visit it for more information on what we are doing

I will just let you know, I am doing well. The accomodations are sufficient and not having hot water is NOT a problem. The weather is not too hot, but it´s hot enough! The experiences we are having are priceless. Last night we walked in a candlelight procession to the Cathedral, after hearing the president of El Salvador address the crowd. Everyone marveled because that has never happened before. I walked two feet away from him during part of the procession. Really cool. Today we drove out of the capitol a few hours to a mountain village where they are trying to keep a mining company out. Very interesting international tale, and learning alot about CAFTA. Tomorrow we go out into the country again.

Thank you for your prayers. We are well and learning a lot.

Friday, March 19, 2010

We made it

Hello. I´m in El Salvador now, at the guest house where the group of 23 we are staying. San Salvador is a beautiful city, surrounded by mountains, although, not mountains like we´re used to in Denver. So far everything as been smooth. Today is a big day. We´re going to the University and will hear one of the giants of liberation theology speak ' Jon Sobrino. Yesterday we learned about the history of the country and US involvement over the years...especially the massive amounts of military aid given during their civil war. The saddest comment by the presenter was that things have not changed with the new administration. They had great hopes that the foreign policy of the US would substantially change...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Preparing for El Salvador

I'm leaving for El Salvador on Wednesday, part of a group of students, faculty and alumni from United Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities - my alma mater in 1990. The biggest reason, for me, is to participate in the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He is a hero of liberation theologians and a big influence on me during seminary. Romero was killed by a right-wing government out to silence anyone - including many priests and nuns - who spoke up for the poor who were being oppressed. For a good movie on the subject, watch Romero, starring Raul Julia.

Anyway, my hope is to blog from San Salvador. I'm told there is an internet cafe down the street from the house where we are staying (no air conditioning or hot water for showers... yikes). So, keep checking. I will return on March 26.

Peace and Blessings to you, David

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What to Give Up - Part 3

Give up negativism - be positive
Give up anger - be more patient
Give up pettiness - grow up!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Social Justice, Social Justice, Social Justice, Social Justice

Glen Beck directed his viewers this week to scour the website of their church for the words Social Justice - and that if they found these words, to leave their church and report them to the "church authorities." I wanted to make sure that you didn't have to look too hard. We are proud to be Social Justice Christians. Actually, it's not about pride. It is simply the heart of the gospel. It is impossible to read Jesus' words (or the Torah, the Prophets) without noticing that the requirement of our faith is to build a society in which justice and peace reign. This is the Kingdom of God. It is simply not negotiable.

What to Give Up - Part 2

Give up discouragement - be full of hope
Give up bitterness - turn to forgiveness
Give up hatred - return good for evil

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


"Repentance is more than being sorry. It means being different." Brian McClaren

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

God Has a Dream

"God has a dream for creation. And humans are turning it into a nightmare." Brian McClaren

Monday, March 8, 2010

"Our Best" vs. "Their Worst"

Why is it that whenever we try to mount a persuasive argument, we always try to compare "our best" people with "their worst" people. This question was part of the lecture series by Brian McLaren at Montview Presbyterian Church on Friday night.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What to Give Up

Give up complaining - focus on gratitude
Give up pessimism - become an optimist
Give up harsh judgments - think kindly

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who's the real cheat?

"For years I heard from legislators and television pundits that they would not support food stamps for the hungry, welfare for the poor, or housing for the homeless because poor people would just take advantage of it all. Even though fraud in food stamps and other government programs costs the American taxpayer only pennies a year, those arguments worked almost every time. Now, instead of a safety net for the poor, we have one for some of the wealthiest people in the world, and one that costs us not pennies, but billions of dollars." Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine, February 2010 - from his new book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Changing Direction

From one of my favorite Maya Angelou stories: "Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we much be ready to change that as well." New Directions from I Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now

Monday, March 1, 2010

Why are politicians so mean?

"The culture wars are not about the truth; they are about power" Dr. Joel C. Hunter, Sojourners Magazine, February 2010

Sunday, February 28, 2010

He's not all serious

So the last post was a deep quote from Whitehead. He also said, "If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

I've been chewing on this one for a while

"Without the high hope of adventure, religion degenerates into a mere appendage of a comfortable life." Alfred North Whitehead, an English mathematician from the early 1900s who became a philosopher and greatly influenced the development of process theology

Friday, February 26, 2010

Four more...

I've given you three Anthony Robinson quotes the past three days - from a resource called Generation to Generation (Or Not). Great title! Here are the final four suggestions for opening our doors to the next generation:
Make it spiritual
Make it personal
Make it real, authentic
Make it work for busy lives

See the three previous posts for the rest

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Get over the idea

"Get over the idea that every member of the congregation has to be on a committee or somehow involved in managing the church." Anthony Robinson. Pretty bold stuff, Tony.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Make it about God

"Make it about God. People want to experience the divine, the sacred, the holy. They are dying for want of grace, wonder, mystery, and not for want of by-laws, committees, and sign-up lists." Anthony Robinson

Monday, February 22, 2010

We are not just...

"We are not just borrowing the earth from our children; we are consuming it, devouring it, and destroying it." Rt. Rev. James Jone, Anglican bishop, Sojourners Magazine, January 2010

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What does this say to us?

"The UCC does wider better than deeper." Insight from a Church Vitality Workshop in Cleveland, February 12, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The question is not...

The question is not, "What does your church stand for." People want to know, "What does your church do."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Watch this Youtube Video

"What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church?" Watch and see if you can find your church's hospitality reflected in this video parable:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A New Beginning

Hi all,
I am sorry to have not posted for so long. But I have found a way, I hope, to keep this current. As I read, I am always finding great quotes. Most of them I won't use in sermons, at least right away, but they are ones I'd like to share. So my plan is to use this blog to share some interesting ideas - not original, but ones I think we might share in common.

"Some of those banks that were too big to fail have now become too immoral to succeed." Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine, February 2010