Really? There is a debate about this?

I reserve my political and religious rants for those that I have an established rapport with and in settings that are conducive to conversation and respectful debate.  Usually.  But, this is a rant on a subject that hits too close to home for me, both in geography and in ideology, to wait for that kind of setting.

There is a group of Americans, New Yorkers, that purchased a building in Lower Manhattan over a year ago.  The building has been vacant for years and sold for an amazingly low price.  It is in a very slow part of the city without much action.  You have to be intentionally walking down that side street to even see the building.  These Americans want to renovate the building and make it a good spot for the neighborhood and a place that can revitalize this old building and this slow block in the city.

But, these Americans are Muslims.

So therefore it is an issue.

The absolute travesty of the "debate around the Ground Zero Mosque" is we even need to have this 'debate.' The fact that there are other Americans that feel that this is a contentious subject of conversation makes me extremely sad and extremely angry.  Sad that this isn't an announcement in the local paper but a debate that the citizens of the freest country in the world feel the need to have.  Angry at the misinformation and sheep-like behavior of its opponents who obviously haven't spent any time looking at the facts of the situation. The intentional ignorance and suspicions espoused by those saying that these Americans shouldn't have the same rights as any other American based on their faith is ludicrous.

The Park51 project is going to be a community center run by one of the most publically moderate iman's in the world.   Since the horrific acts of September 11, 2001, Mr. Abdul Rauf has decried the extremists in Al Qaeda and has been one of their most vocal opponents in the Muslim world.  The community center that will be housed at Park51 will be open to men and women, will have basketball courts and a cooking institute, and will also be a meeting place for the leaders of several interfaith communities that Mr. Abdul Rauf has been a leader of for years.

If could be said, that for those reasons, women and non-Muslims being allowed inside, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich share the same perspective on the project as Osama bin Laden.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was spot on when he spoke to the issue in early August: "If we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists - and we should not stand for that."

The best perspective I've heard on this ridiculousness of this controversy comes from the media personality I dislike more than any other.  But, on this subject, and perhaps only this subject, Keith Olbermann and I agree. (Seriously, I really dislike this guy, but this is worth taking the 12 minutes to watch)

But, as a skeptic of the media in general, I went down to Park51 this weekend to see what all the fuss was about. What I found was what I had hoped (and known) I would find: New Yorkers of all walks of life going about their day to day, enjoying the freedom that we all have here in America.  The freedom that was, is, and always will be worth fighting for.

Freedom of Religion from Andy Ellwood on Vimeo.

Mud Pies

"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us; we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is mean by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." - C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Working Out Religion

I had gotten away from what I knew to be true and had really slacked off on my attendance and dedication over the past few years. At first, I couldn't tell that anything was different, but after awhile I started to notice the effects. And it was really when I knew that others had also taken notice of my lack of attendance that I knew I needed to do something about it. So I joined a gym. And as I have gotten back into working out and making it a part of my daily routine, I began to notice the all similarities to working out and being involved in your faith/religious activities. * Whatever training or background you grew up with is going to be your predisposition for how your approach this part of your life. * Your background, upbringing, and current situation will undoubtibly influence the speed with which you will look for and embrace the change and results. * Some people don't even have to make an effort to appear as though they are hardcore and devoted. * If you have been away from it for a long time, or have never been involved, you may not see results immediately and it will be difficult to really get into the swing of things. * There are hundreds of nuances and slight variations of the same discipline that lead to different results for different people. * There are countless classes covering and helping to implement new and exciting solutions and strategies into your world. * If you are committed to it, you will see results. * A trip to the hospital or a near death experience will cause you and those around you to strongly think about getting back into it. * If you haven't been in awhile, people can tell. * Extensive travel makes consistent attendance a challenge. * There are countless self proclaimed experts happy to convince you that their way and their version is the best. * Excessive alcohol intake really slows down progress. * There seems to always be a lot of socializing and exaggerating going on in the lobby afterward about how great, deep, and meaningful that day's session was. * There are countless books, magazines, tv shows, and seminars devoted to it. * If you ask anyone who made teaching/training a full time career about anyone else in the business with a different take on how it should be done, the other guy is always an idiot and doesn't really understand how to do it. * Some people make very loud noises to show how into it and engaged in the moment they are. * Some people wear all the right gear but have no results to show for it. * For some people it is a fad, for some a phase, and for others it is a lifestyle.

Ben Affleck and the Bible

Recently I came across this book review by Ben Affleck. When asked what some of the most important books he had ever read were, one of them was the Book of Matthew. His thoughts after reading it are sobering and, I am sure, not unique. Coming from someone who has never had the chance to read it and didn't grow up around it, his perspective is terribly insightful.

"I chose this Gospel because saying the Bible is one's favorite book is both too glib and too broad. For this list, I leave aside questions of my own faith (which I consider a private matter), for clearly the book stands on its own as a piece of literature, philosophy, and a means to understanding our culture. I never read the Bible as a child, and I expected that it would be full of fire and brimstone. This notion had only been reinforced by hearing one angry, hateful person after another claim to represent all Christians, as they wagged and pounded the Bible. Reading the Bible disabused me of any sense that a hateful person could represent this faith. The book is beautiful and exquisitely written—but it is characterized by one quality that colors every page: love. Beyond giving me a way to question the theological firmament of "tax cuts for the rich" by invoking "the eye of a needle" and "a rich man," reading the Bible made it harder for me to accept its being used to propagate damaging and small-minded beliefs in the name of Christian values. In the Book of Matthew, those values sound like this: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. … Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.""

End Times for Evangelicals

This morning, after church, my girlfriend Annie and I went to the Starbucks at Highland Park Village like we do most Sundays to read the New York Times. The Sunday Edition is always insightful and offers a lot of opinions and info that I don't get from Dallas media. While we were reading it this morning outside a man with a slight back east accent walked passed and said, "It is always nice to see some NY Times readers in Dallas."It was especially great to read this morning since we were just in NYC this week. All of the pictures and recommendations were even more potent since they were to places I had seen just this week. Also, there was a terribly interesting article that both Annie and I poured through and couldn't stop from nodding our heads and smiling because of the perspective and truth we found in the article. (Not the norm for me and the opinion pieces or editorials) The article was the cover story in The New York Times Magazine and is called "End Times for Evangelicals." (Read the whole article) The driving question of the article is how did the power house that was the Religious Right come apart so quickly? (some excerpts) "After the 2004 election, evangelical Christians lookiked like one of the most powerful and cohesive voting blocs in America. Three years later, they can't find a candidate and their leadership is split along generational and theological lines...."

" 'Even in Evangelical Circles, we are tired of the war, tired of body bags,' said the Rev. David Welsh of Wichita's Central Christian Church. 'I think it is to the point where they are saying: "Okay, we have done as much good as we can. Now let's just get out of there.' "

"For many younger Evangelicals, the "born-again" experience of accepting Jesus is just the beginning. What follows is a long-term process of spiritual formation that involves applying His teachings in the here and the now."

"If Giuliani captures the nomination, despite the threat of an Evangelical revolt, it will be a long time before Republican strategists pay attention to the demands of conservative Christian leaders again."

"People in that age group (20-30 year olds) are much more attracted to participatory theology, very resistant of being told what to do or what to think."

This article's premise and the information presented was very timely. I have been having similar conversations with friends of mine over the past few months. We have been thinking through the church experience that we were brought up with and the way we experience our faith now. The question of the relevance of the church and it's future has occupied more than a couple cups of coffee and glasses of wine recently. My friend Skinner Layne blogged about this recently: The Radical Message of Christ, The Mediocre Message of Christianity and expounds further upon that idea. Questioning the church and the direction that the leadership of the Evangelical movement has been an eye opening experience. The close minded and judgmental positions that are espoused by the national leadership of some of the big organizations and their loyal followings are repulsive to me and I can only imagine what they look like to those without any religious bacjground. The outward facade of 'we're right and everyone else is wrong' looks more like the second coming of the Pharisees than manifestation of Christ's message in today's world. What is the answer? Where will the American church find itself in 10 years? 20 years? If we take a look at the church in Europe as any indication, things don't look good. In less than two generations an entire continent moved to a predominately post modern "worldly" culture as the church went from a relevant and alive representation of Christ and His message to a fundamentalist and closed minded religion of dos and don'ts unable to adapt. If that is the case and something doesn't change, then we may have a whole new tourism industry popping up across America: Tours of now empty former Mega-Churches.