Monday, February 27, 2006

We Believe! Ohio

Update: A printable PDF of Rev. Ahrens letter can be found here.

Today I had the opportunity to meet with Rev. Tim Ahrens, pastor of First Congregational Church in downtown Columbus. He is the one who, as described in this article in the Columbus Dispatch, sent a letter to dozens of pastors in central Ohio, with the intent of starting a dialog about how people of faith who care about a broad range of "values" issues can begin to make themselves heard. Something I already knew when I sat down with Tim, but that he emphasized in our meeting, is that this is not a "liberal" or "progressive" group, but rather a broad coalition of religious leaders and people of faith who agree that the message of prominent religious leaders like Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson does not speak for them:
"It centers in a few issues and on a few people, and it takes the nuances out of the debate around those issues and turns them into black-and-white issues," Ahrens said last week. "Some of those issues are questions about homosexuality, abortion and a definition of Muslims that is condescending and judgmental. Those are the issues that have been posited as the issues for Christians, but there are many of us who know that Jesus had a lot more to say about stewardship for the poor, about orphans and widows and others in need.

"We are, in a sense, saying that the Jesus being portrayed is not the Jesus we know and love and follow."

One of the most important things to do now, Rev. Ahrens said, is, like those tiny people on the dust speck in Horton Hears a Who, say "We are here!"

If you agree that it is important to help make sure that the dialog about values is more diverse and inclusive, please help spread the word about the new group, We Believe! and the upcoming press conference.

February 25, 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Faith,

Since November 2005, a group of over 100 pastors, priests, rabbis, cantors and actively committed lay leaders from Roman Catholism, two traditions of Judaism, and 15+ Protestant denominations have met to discuss what we as people of faith can say as one voice speaking on behalf of the poor and on behalf of those who have a wide-ranging viewpoint on the intersection of faith and public policy.

We are black and white. We are men and women. We come from a wide range of theological diversity as well. We are conservative, moderate and liberal on the spectrum of faith and public policy! We serve urban, suburban and rural people in our houses of worship. We hold in common a deep and abiding love of the God whom we serve.

We also share in common our strong belief that we must act and speak in public ways to support the poor, the children and those who are voiceless and unrepresented in our times. We will speak with love to power as we serve God in these times.

Our name is WE BELIEVE!.

We are ready to launch our group (as ready as we ever will be). We want you to be a part of this launch.

On Tuesday, March 14, at 11:00am we will hold our first press conference. We are gathering at 10:30am at Pastor Vincent T. Frosh's church, The First AME Zion Church, 893 Bryden Road. We will gather there to pray together and prepare for our common unveiling of purpose.

We are planning for the presence of 150 people of faith at this public launch. We hope you are one of those people! We also hope that you bring 4-5 others with you. If you are a clergy person, bring other colleagues. If you are a lay person - come as a local leader - and bring your priest, pastor, deacon, elder, rabbi, cantor or imam.

Contact Rev. Tim Ahrens if you are coming - call Tim at 228-1741, ext. 13. or email at

In closing, we ask you to do three more things:

1) Read our statement and our action steps below. If you can abide in these things, join us.

2) Pass this email on to others.

3) As you do this, please know that over the past 100 days, WE BELIEVE has evolved. With our greatest attendance at 65 leaders, we have sung together and prayed together. We have listened to great preachers and theologians reflect on faith and public life. We have hammered out a statement in a democratic format. Through it all, we have determined to stay together and work out the future of our group. We admire and thank all who have been a part of this network thus far. Help us to grow and go further.

by American, Ohioan People who love our religious and civic traditions:

WE BELIEVE! We are called as people of faith and loyal Americans to be
united in dialogue and action to say:
YES to justice for all
NO to prosperity for only a few;
YES to diverse religious expression
NO to self-righteous certainty;
YES to the common good
NO to discrimination against any of God's people;
YES to the voice of religious traditions informing public policy
NO to crossing the lines that separate the institutions of Religion and Government
Approved 1/26/06


1. We will work on Voter Turn-out and an Absentee Voter Initiative with the goal of clergy turning out 80% of their members.

2. We will work on an initiative to Give Children, Poor and Homeless People a Voice and Vote

3.We will work on an initiative to Preach on Issues of Religion and Social Justice in Our Society.

4. We will establish a Website and maintain it.

5. We will work on an initiative to Create Public Events for "WE BELIEVE!"

6. We will publish a Book of Sermons around these topics.

Again, bring fellow clergy on March 14th. Pass the word. See you there.

On behalf of "We Believe!,"

Tim Ahrens
If questions, call me, 228-1741, ext. 13

We are going to upload a PDF of this letter so that anyone who wishes to print and share a hard copy of this message will be able to do so.

Alternate link for comments

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Notes on the new banner

If this is your first visit to this site, please check out the post entitled A leap of faith--I could really use some help making this blog a vibrant expression of faith-in-action in our state. That particular post is where I laid out the kind of input I'm asking for.

My husband, Demetrius created a new banner for this site, after I spent a couple weeks struggling with a mental block about how the banner should look. I kept trying to think of what kind of imagery would suggest things like connectedness, big picture, "we're all in this together". Somehow I was getting nowhere with that train of thought. I also tried thinking of imagery that would be evocative of one of these verses:

Micah 6:8
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Amos 5:24

But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Didn't get to far with those, either, but I bring them up because they are integral to my vision for this site--a place where people can hear the voices of people of faith in Ohio who are striving for social justice.

I kept thinking that bread should be involved somehow--since it has both religious significance and symbolizes the need to feed the hungry. I think I also kept coming back to the idea of bread because of the Lord's Prayer, and particularly the way Marcus Borg has explained its meaning. And I liked the idea of incorporating concepts like "open table" and "radical welcome".

Someone on another blog suggested a candle, as in "this little light of mine", and "it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness". And, of course, candles are used in many faith traditions.

So, out of all of that wandering in the wilderness regarding what the banner should look like, Demetrius came up with the idea you see above.

Interfaith prayer forum links

There was an interfaith prayer forum in Columbus in late July 2005. Here are the links to the writeups I did at that time.

Notes from an interfaith forum on prayer (Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin talks about prayer from a Muslim perspective)
Interfaith Prayer Forum: A Rabbi's Perspective
Interfaith Prayer Forum: A Priest's Perspective

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Forrest Church on State of Belief

Rev. Forrest Church, Senior Minister at All Souls Church (UU) in Manhattan is going to be one of the guests on Air America's State of Belief today. The show starts at 5 p.m. E.S.T.

I keep missing this show because of my EFM classes, and meaning to download and listen to it later. I will *definitely* be doing that with this one, as I am quite fond of his writing.

Church alliance denounces Iraq war

U.S. Church Alliance Denounces Iraq War
A coalition of American churches sharply denounced the U.S.-led war in Iraq on Saturday, accusing Washington of "raining down terror" and apologizing to other nations for "the violence, degradation and poverty our nation has sown."

More here.

See also US Churches Again Denounce Iraq War, by Chuck Currie over at Street Prophets.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A just minimum wage

From Policy Matters Ohio
Fifteen states and Washington D.C. have taken action to implement state minimum wages that exceed the federal. Ohio is one of only two states to set its minimum wage below the federal, although the national rate applies to most workers here. The current proposal to raise Ohio’s minimum wage to $7.15 is comparable to laws that have passed in other states.

See Let Justice Roll for more information about the Living Wage Campaign, including materials you can download and print. If you would like to submit news or commentary concerning people of faith working for social justice in Ohio, please email me at ohiorenee at

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Arti Gras in Columbus

The Spirituality Network is pleased to present:

ARTI GRAS! Celebration of Art & Spirit
Theme: Creativity and Healing: For Our Bodies and Our World

Saturday, February 18, 2006
First Community Church
1320 Cambridge Blvd, Columbus, Ohio 43212

Registration and Coffee: 9:00 am
Program: 9:30 am - 3:30 pm

Explore art as an avenue to healing through creativity in this
one-day event featuring local artists and spiritual seekers leading
mini-workshops in a wide variety of artistic media.

Admission is Free
All materials and a light lunch provided.
Donations Gratefully Accepted (10% of all free-will donations going
to Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts.)

To help us in our planning, please pre-register by calling The
Spirituality Network (614) 228-8867

State of Belief Radio Show: February 4

A quick reminder that State of Belief is coming up on Air America.

On this Sunday's show:

* A look at the legacy of Coretta Scott King: Welton talks with one of her closest colleagues, Rev. Jim Lawson.
* Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, leader of the world's largest GLBT synagogue, joins us.
* Plus, the State of the Union vs. the state of our union; the 10 commandments making their way back into courthouses; and Your Voice: getting paid to go to church.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Bono's sermon at the National Prayer Breakfast

I just got this from Sojourners, and while it is not specific to Ohio, it certainly speaks to the values that prompted me to create this blog. It's Bono's sermon at this year's National Prayer Breakfast. Yes, I know...I did a "take" when I first read that too. I'll excerpt a couple parts of it and let you click to the Sojourner's web site for the rest. FYI, the site asks you to do a brief, free registration, which signs you up for their newsletter. Apparently you can also view this at C-SPAN, but I haven't been able to get that to work on my computer.
If you're wondering what I'm doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I'm certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It's certainly not because I'm a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I'm here because I've got a messianic complex.

Yes, it's true. And for anyone who knows me, it's hardly a revelation.

The whole sermon is worth reading, in my opinion, but I'm going to fast-forward you to the part where Bono starts talking about the difference between charity and justice.
Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill. I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff. Maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. "If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places."

It's not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It's not an accident. That's a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. (You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.) 'As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me' (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here's some good news for the president. After 9/11 we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund - you and Congress - have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here's the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There is much more to do. There's a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it's not about charity after all, is it? It's about justice.

Let me repeat that: It's not about charity, it's about justice.

And that's too bad.

Because you're good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can't afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

Sixty-five hundred Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about justice and equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what's happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn't accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the tsunami. 150,000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, "mother nature." In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it's a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It's annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren't they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, "Equal?" A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, "Yeah, 'equal,' that's what it says here in this book. We're all made in the image of God."

And eventually the Pharaoh says, "OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews - but not the blacks."

"Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man."

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

Finally, Bono ends with this challenge:
Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing.... Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional 1% of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is 1%?

1% is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

1% is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. 1% is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. 1% is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. 1% is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This 1% is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

1% is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism toward Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than 1% now. We're asking for an extra 1% to change the world. to transform millions of lives - but not just that and I say this to the military men now - to transform the way that they see us.

1% is national security, enlightened economic self-interest, and a better, safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, 1% is the best bargain around.

These goals - clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty - these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a globalised world.

Now, I'm very lucky. I don't have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don't have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don't have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give 1% more is right. It's smart. And it's blessed.

There is a continent - Africa - being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did - or did not to - to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.

Unlike any number of excellent progressive religious sermons, what is different about this one is that it was given *to* the President. I am the first to be cynical about George Bush's ability to actually *hear* this message. But maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I need to think of it like this: if *God* wants to get through to George Bush, or any other legislator who remembers the words "annointed" and "preach" but forgets the part about "good news to the poor", God can certainly do that. Using any means necessary--including *our* voices.

All God's Children - The Church in the 'Hood

The following is part of an email from Pastor Jeffrey Croft, in response to my "Leap of Faith" appeal yesterday. I thought that this part of the email would make a very fitting post for this blog, and he has given his permission to post it.

Three years ago, I started a new church in inner-city Mansfield. This church is truly a church for the poor, not just an outreach. Our goal is to connect with those who have fallen through the cracks of the traditional church and society. We are all about social change through the gospel message. People literally come in off the street and find the love of God like they have never experienced before. It's amazing what can happen when we simply be authentic and genuine about our faith.

Our newest project is Street Law, which will begin mid March. It is a program that helps urban youth understand their rights and responsibilities as citizens. So many of our youth are involved in the "system" and have a very negative view of the police. Street Law is designed to help them understand that they have a voice in their city, and can contribute to improve where they live. Youth will learn the basics of law and what the role of the police is, from the police themselves. We hope that both sides can be able to understand who the other is and strengthen their relationship.

I invite you to take a look at the church's website and my blog for a little commentary on what's happening here (addresses below.)

Jeffrey R. Croft, Pastor

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Statewide Candidates Forum

FYI from Upper Arlington Progressive Action
Saturday, Feb. 4, 10 am - 3 pm at the IBEW, 23 W. Second Ave., 43201, in Columbus, statewide and local candidates will appear at a forum to share their views and answer your questions.

Click here for more information.

A leap of faith

About three years ago, troubled that the public face of Christianity often seemed to be pro-war and anti-compassion, I started a web site called The Religious Left. Now that the voices of groups like Ohio Restoration Project and Reformation Ohio are growing louder and more strident, and seeking to use their numbers and influence to promote an agenda that is harmful to "the least of these", it is vital that other voices of faith speak out.

As you can see from the posts below, some have already begun to do so. Another group has started to meet, focusing not on fighting Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson, but by offering an alternative message.
In November, about 150 religious leaders quietly gathered Downtown at the First Congregational United Church of Christ on E. Broad Street, where Ahrens is senior minister. And from that meeting, a movement is budding – a push back of pastors and rabbis.

"We intend on organizing and having pastors and rabbis talk about issues that are important to the community through their sermons and in the media," said Eric McFadden, Columbus-based field director of the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, a Washington-based nonprofit group.

"We want to bring attention to many issues we feel that this movement on the right is not conveying to the public – issues of poverty, job loss, health care and a general lack of humanity."

This development is exciting and encouraging to me, and I want to do what I can to help this group, and other compassionate religious voices in Ohio, be heard. And to help us find each other--sometimes progressive people of faith can feel a bit isolated, and it is reassuring to be reminded that we are not alone.

But while I felt moved to start this blog, I know that I won't be able to keep it going without help. What if I build it, and nobody comes? Could be embarrassing. So, starting this blog, and publicly announcing it, is a real leap of faith on my part.

Here is what I am asking for.

I need:

--help watching for relevant news articles, like the one I linked above.
--relevant links to add to the sidebar
--submissions from people in Ohio, expressing how your faith compels you to work for social and economic justice.

Please email ohiorenee at if you have something to submit.

Interfaith prayers for peace

Interfaith Prayers for Peace: Sikh Faith
When: Thursday, February 2, 2006, 12 noon - 1 PM
Where: St. Thomas More Newman Center (near OSU campus), 64 W. Lane
Ave., Columbus OH 43201. Ample free parking
available in church parking lot

The worship service will focus on the Sikh faith and will be led by
Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia. All are invited to attend.

We gather together as communities of diverse faiths to:
- pray for peace
- promote peace, harmony, restraint, and interfaith understanding, and
- foster unity among people in Central Ohio and around the world.

Sponsored by
Faith Communities Uniting for Peace

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

More on the IRS challenge

I found this from NPR
A group of Ohio clergy has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against two of the state's evangelical churches. The group alleges that the churches have abused their non-profit status by indirectly endorsing a Republican candidate for governor. A lawyer for the accused churches calls the clergy 'hypocrites." Bill Cohen of Ohio Public Radio reports.

Click this link for the audio.

Here's what Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has had to say about the Ohio Restoration Project