Thursday, February 5, 2009

Obama and Faith Based Initiatives

Today President Obama will sign an executive order creating a White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He will however slow down on his previous pledge to outlaw discriminatory employment practices by faith based groups taking government money. Instead he will order a legal review of employment practices.

This morning Obama spoke about his approach to faith based partnerships with government. This is President Obama's National Prayer Breakfast Speech

I have mixed reactions to the speech. He says some wonderfully inclusive things. He sets a clear agenda for unity in diversity. He speaks powerfully about his own faith experience as a call to compassion and social justice.

However, he still confused me with his reference to God's purpose. "It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose." He had me at "higher" purpose, and left me wondering with "His" purpose. Obama has outlined the higher purpose as unity that transcends partisanship, religion and ideology. Thats a higher purpose I can get excited about. However "His" purpose seemed to lead me back to something too specific and ideological.

Am I being too literal, or did Obama blur the lines between church and state?

What do you think?
Is Obama saying much the same as President Bush said in his speeches on faith based partnerships with government?
Should he be acting more decisively on discriminatory employment practices?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

First Prints on Snow

It doesn’t happen often. I was out early enough this morning to leave the first prints on a fresh blanket of snow. It felt exciting (almost naughty). It felt like I was part of something new and fresh, like first barefooted steps on freshly laid carpet.

Evolutionary theory is exciting, for both science and religion. For science, it explains the patterned emergence of species. It explains group behavior and motivation. For religion, it explains why people seek groups to share meaning and joy.

Evolution is also an empowering personal concept. For me, it is summarized by the phrase “there’s always more.” This phrase is loaded with optimism and forgiveness.

I tried to capture the sense of human wonder that science and religion share in my sermon last Sunday. It was an emotional experience, partly because I was over tired, but partly because the theme captures so much of what is essential to me.

As I come to understand more and more that the supernatural deity is a human invention that science can no longer sustain, I discover God as the new thing that is all around; everywhere, in all things. This experience that is beyond names invites my highest wonder and my deepest surrender.

It’s not just theoretical for me. I experience this mystery in my marriage and with my kids and whenever I observe life without prejudice. The phrase “theres always more” fills me with hope when the economy or my mood or whatever temporary circumstances bring despair close.

This quote from a 20th century mystic from Bulgaria named Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, captures it all- “Whatever your trials, remind yourself that you are a spirit and are capable of changing your destiny.”

My emotions aren’t random. They have evolutionary relevance. There is always more. Wonder teaches me to adapt to an environment that is constantly changing, and invites me to change with it.