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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

And Wednesday after Jeopardy!

The New York Times reported today that televised prime time presidential addresses are mostly a thing of the past. Fifty years ago, if a president wanted to communicate an important message to as much of the nation as possible, an Oval Office speech interrupting regular network programming was the way to go. Now? Not so much. We have so many other ways to occupy our time than watch the president, from hundreds (thousands?) of cable channels, to the infinite world of the internet.

Compared to the good old days when network television dominated American screen time, a fraction of us watch live prime time presidential speeches today. Does this mean people don't care about the presidency? What the president says? Thinks? Perhaps. Has the president given up trying to communicate with the American people? Certainly not.

We learn what's on the president's mind through a variety of media, some of which did not exist five years ago, and often on our own time and at our own convenience.

At the grocery store once, a woman stopped me and asked if I was Phil Waite. "You don't know me," she said, "and I attend Waterford Mennonite, but I watch the College Mennonite telecast at Greencroft every Wednesday after Jeopardy."

The worship equivalent of the prime time Oval Office speech is the sanctuary on Sunday morning. But like the presidential speeches on network television, the saints gathered on Sunday morning are an increasingly small percentage of the whole worshipping community. At College Mennonite, most of us engaged in worship are not in the sanctuary, and many of us or not participating on Sunday morning.

Some of us listen on the radio before coming to Sunday School. Others watch at Greencroft. Travelers sometimes listen to the WGCS broadcast on their smart phones. Snow birds gather in Florida to watch on-line. Some of us on Sunday morning have never been to College Mennonite, or even to Goshen.

I put on my chicken little voice from time to time and complain about the decline in worship attendance. In some ways decline is a more hopeful frame because it leaves open the possibility of going in reverse, restoring what used to be. But restoring what used to be is not a choice available to us. Not only has the world around us changed, we have changed. Maybe a more helpful response is to take a step back and observe change, not decline, and to consider what new opportunities these changes bring.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


I confess. When it comes to these massive national Mennonite gatherings, I am a cynic. Why? For whom? What do we accomplish? Given my cynicism, imagine! Phoenix 2013 is a pleasant surprise. I'm having a rich time.

Planners of gatherings like this are not known for being gutsy, making waves and courting controversy. But so it is here. By focusing heavily on immigration as a biblical, theological, ecclesiological and spiritual issue, our leaders give us something substantial to discuss in the delegate sessions, hallways, and on the steaming sidewalks.

Other highlights include a blessing of Mennonite pastors in worship yesterday, which was for me a rich and powerful experience, seeing our CMC youth entering into worship with sincerity and joy, serendipitous connections with brothers and sisters in the church, concerts, plays, workshops and activities that are engaging and thought provoking.

July in Phoenix? It's a great place to be this year.

These truths are not self evident

July 4 has me thinking about patriotism, the Declaration of Independence, and the meaning of the common good.

Defining Patriotism

The word patriotism evokes a variety of images for me: support the troops bumper stickers, flag waving, pictures of historic figures and moments, people singing patriotic songs, fighter jets over head, soldiers in uniform. These images reflect an understanding of patriotism as a political (or in our times economic) ideology and its defense. But what if we were to define patriotism as support and nurture of the common good.

The problem, of course, is that our society does not have a shared understanding of the common good. As Christians, though, we do define a common good. Using a biblical perspective of the common good, we could say teachers and those working for an educated populace are patriotic. We could say John D. Yoder is patriotic for his tireless work developing the Pumpkinvine Trail, which has contributed mightily to the peace (shalom) of our city. We could say that everyone working with and for La Casa is patriotic, along with those working for clean water, clean air, healthy food, and affordable medical care.

This July 4, I am claiming all of us working for the common good as patriots.

The Declaration of Independence

Thomas Jefferson failed to practice what he put to pen and paper in the Declaration of Independence, indeed by his own admission. Still, the Declaration is a remarkable document, and I have a great deal of affection for it. I do take issue with one of Jefferson's assumptions. "These truths" are not self evident.

The notion that all people are created equal, and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights did not enter the historical trajectory of Western culture through philosophical reflection either modern or antique, nor through scientific observation, but through God's revelation in scripture. Male and female God created them. In the image of God he created them.

Outside of the biblical witness, at least in the Western cultural tradition, little or no evidence exists to support claims of equality or the universal endowment of rights.