R2P: The Insanity of the White Man’s Burden


In a question about whether there was any situation in which a bombing campaign would be effective on the Syrian regime, Juan Cole, Professor of Middle East History, didn’t hesitate, “No.” Cole, an informed and levelheaded critic of Middle East policy, describes in bleak terms the complexity of the situation in Syria. Look at the map below, and the story about it, and one can easily see the complex and multifaceted nature of the country. It is an utterly manufactured state by the colonial … [Read more...]

Antoinette’s Babies: Radical Empathy, Radical Grace


  Religion in practice is always more beautiful than religion in words. In fact, from my study of Rob Bell, it has become clear to me that religion only becomes true in action. And there is no more beautiful example of this than what Antoinette Tuff did for Michael Hill. She loved him into lying down on the ground and giving himself up. Antoinette saved her “800 babies” by making Michael another one of her “babies.” The story of Michael Hill’s storming into an Atlanta-area … [Read more...]

‘Don’t steal my blessing…’ or Understanding the South


As some of you know I play Peter Pan part time, serving our church youth group, and frankly I have a ball doing it. We take a mission trip each summer and it’s often the highlight of my year. We go to different parts of the country, often to Indian Country, but this year to West Virginia. I wanted to have our group (eight adults and 28 youth), experience Coal Country and introduce them to the Scotch Irish and Presbyterian traditions of the South. We stayed at Bluefield College, Virginia. We … [Read more...]

Ten Ways Meaning Helps Us

I received a lot of interest in my last post on “How Hedonism Harms Us.” The point was that a happy, selfish life actually does us harm, physically. Contrariwise, a meaningful life of self-giving brings us health, though it doesn’t always make us happy, at least in the short term. So it made me think: What is a meaningful life? Mistakes matter. I’m nowhere near a perfect person and I’ve never claimed to be. In fact, I rather like my mistakes and my faults. This is weird to say … [Read more...]

How Hedonism Harms Us

Before the last presidential election a group of liberal clergy came to me and asked me to help them in getting together a panel on social justice directed particularly toward the college age community surrounding my university. And I thought about it for a moment and responded by saying, “You know the real problem is one of moral values and hedonism. The behavior that I hear about and actually witness has much more to do with hedonism than with injustice. Why don’t you do a religious … [Read more...]

Bullish Times for Religious Progressives?

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics…” is sometimes used to dismiss statistical analysis, but in fact, when dealing with statistics that have gone through the rigor of multiple peer reviews, I would say that this really isn’t always true. Some statistical analysis is revealing because it is accurate, sophisticated and really does the job. My colleague, Tony Jones, in his recent post hails the new Economic Values Survey (EVS) as calling for bullish times for religious progressives, and … [Read more...]

Mainline Resurgent: Is it TRUE?

It’s nice to hear that books on mainline Protestantism are resurgent, as reported in The New York Times. I had my own little resurgence on this topic when I published my dissertation, The Gold Coast Church and the Ghetto: Christ and Culture in Mainline Protestantism (1999), and in a more recent empirical comparison, Evangelicals vs. Liberals: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (2008). My take was that while that there are oases of vitality in what I like to call … [Read more...]

Calling for Moral Judgement: A Student’s Veiw

In a second round of guest blogging, I’ve invited Bill Harper’s son, Blake Harper, to respond to the NY Times editorial on how many forms of spirituality have tended to regress to a kind of self indulgent therapy. Blake attends Middlebury College and has been a wonderful interlocutor over the years. His interest in philosophy and religion have blossomed at college and so we asked him to join our conversation, and, as you will read he is a worthy partner in exploring these fascinating … [Read more...]

Moving From Transaction to Transformation: A Pastor’s Take

Grace Episcopal Church

Bill Harper is guest blogging for me this week. He is a long time good friend, and someone who helped found an Episcopal Church that in the last decade has become one of the fastest growing progressive Episcopal parishes in the Pacific Northwest. As we all know, a growing progressive mainline church is rare and he has done it. Check out the website: http://www.gracehere.org/index.php. The building is also beautiful, and his post is brilliant as well. Enjoy. I happily accepted Jim … [Read more...]

Selfish Spirituality, Selfish Religion

In a recent New York Times editorial, Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster made a bold declaration: “Despite the frequent claim that we are living in a secular age defined by the death of God, many citizens in rich Western democracies have merely switched one notion of God for another — abandoning their singular, omnipotent (Christian or Judaic or whatever) deity reigning over all humankind and replacing it with a weak but all-pervasive idea of spirituality tied to a personal ethic of … [Read more...]