Thursday, March 23, 2017

Religion and Human Rights

·     Tuesday evening I had the privilege of being one of three speakers at a Niagara Foundation sponsored Abrahamic Dinner.  This event was held at Rochester College, and brought together members of the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian communities -- to promote dialog and understanding. Each of us, a Rabbi, an Imam, a Christian pastor, was asked to speak to the ways in which our faith traditions understand human rights, and whether this overlaps with or differs from secular understandings. We were asked to speak from the perspective of our own faith tradition, which is difficult when Christianity's 2 billion adherents are divided into thousands of denominations and sects. Nonetheless, I did my best!  As for my partners, the Rabbi went first, and I didn't find much if anything to disagree with. In fact, he set me up nicely! As for the Imam, I learned a lot about the flexibility of Islamic law, which allows for support of human rights (more so perhaps than secular American law).

Since this is an important conversation, I decided to share some of what I said. Below you will find my answer to the first question, which dealt with my traditions codes of human rights and relationship to secular codes.  Before I share below, I want to add that I agree completely with the Rabbi's statement that the Jewish tradition, and the Christian tradition following it, speaks not of rights but obligations.  That said, I invite you to consider my response:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Humanities Endangered -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

On the budget chopping block are the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. They make up a minuscule part of the budget, but seem easy pickings for budget cutters. After all, what "results" can be measured from the humanities? In fact, what are the humanities? Don't we need to invest in STEM, which leads to good jobs? Let me question differently: does history matter? Does literature matter? These are the humanities. The funds from this endowment doesn't just fund projects by elitist academics. It funds programs at the local historical society that help students understand their community better. Martin Marty is one who understands this question better than most, and I appreciate his word for the week, and share it with you, that you might take up the cause. That is, if you think that telling our stories is just as important as building a few bombs!

Email us
Editor's note: Sightings will be off this Thursday for the University's spring interim. See you next week!
Humanities Endangered
By MARTIN E. MARTY   March 20, 2017
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with historian and filmmaker Ken Burns, whose 10-part, 18-hour documentary series The Vietnam Warwhich will air on PBS in Septemberwas funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities | Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State
In and after the present chaos, should our republic survive as a republic, wounded but responsible citizens will need to assess what they lost and what they might recover. So many humane causes will beckon for attention. The arts and humanities may have a lower priority when it comes to the Union’s constitutional commitment to promoting the general welfare—relative to higher priorities like care for the aged, the ill, the poor, the displaced—but they deserve a glance in this time of crisis. In the proposed national budget they would be demolished. Sightings, however, has stayed alert to them. We know more about them and their place than we do about many other causes.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Revelations of the Heart -- Lectionary Reflection for Lent 4A (1 Samuel)

1 Samuel 16:1-13 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
16 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. 
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”[a] But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.


                To date the Lenten readings from the Hebrew Bible have taken us from the call of Abram to the ministry of Moses in the desert and now to the anointing of David as king of Israel. In each of these passages God acts to forward the way of blessing. It’s not that things go swimmingly. Abram and Sarai are called, but lack that necessary child to continue the line. Moses has to deal with a crew that is always complaining about something. Then comes the age of the monarchy. We know from the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, that the people demanded a king so they could be just like everybody else, but in doing so they were challenging the kingship of God. The first attempt at answering this demand was the anointing of Saul, but that didn’t work out. So, God told the prophet Samuel to go and find a successor to Saul. He was directed to the home of Jesse of Bethlehem, among whose sons Samuel would find the chosen king.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Witness of Religion in an Age of Fear (MIchael Kinnamon) - A Review

THE WITNESS OF RELIGION IN AN AGE OF FEAR. By Michael Kinnamon. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. X + 122 pages.

Once upon a time an American President declared that the “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin Roosevelt made that declaration in his first inaugural address, even as the nation was in the throes of the Great Depression. Times have changed, and we have entered an “age of fear.” It doesn’t matter what your political commitments are, fear has taken hold of our lives. While fear has its benefits, too often it takes hold of our lives in dangerous and destructive ways.

When it comes to the things we fear, the list is long. It might be changing demographics or economic uncertainty. It might be crime or unfettered access to guns. It might be the religious other who has moved into the community and erected mosques and synagogues and temples. We seem anxious about the threat of terrorism, but then that’s the point of terrorism. Terrorists win when people live fearful and anxious lives. Unfortunately, one of the contributors to this emerging age of fear is religion. Religion often is the stirrer of fear, but it can also be a calming voice in the midst of chaos.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Seeds of Blessings - a Sermon for Lent (Genesis 12).

Genesis 12:1-4

The word “bless” is found in some form nearly 600 times in the New Revised Standard Version. When I looked up the words we translate bless, blessed, and blessing in my Bible dictionary, I discovered that the Hebrew words speak of health, longevity, and fertility. I also discovered that it can be translated as flourishing. So, if you say “I’m blessed,” or “what a blessing,” is this what you mean? 

When Bruce Barkhauer was with us, he spoke of a "thread of hope" running through Scripture, linking creation to new creation. I believe that there is also a "thread of blessing" running through scripture that connects the call of Abram to Jesus, and through Jesus we are connected to the realm of God. 

This morning we heard God call Abram to leave his homeland and migrate to a new land so that God could make him and his descendants a great nation so that all the families of the earth would be blessed in him or because of him. All he had to do was pack up his family, and head out toward a new and strange land. We might call this a true Lenten journey, because Abram had a lot to lose if he took up this vocation. He also had much to gain, but that would take a leap of faith.