Monday, February 19, 2018

The Myth of Equality (Ken Wytsma) - Review

THE MYTH OF EQUALITY: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2017. 216 pages.



We live in strange times. We hear conversations in certain circles about white privilege, while in other circles we hear complaints that white men face discrimination. Which is it? Standing at the center of the last Presidential election was the claim that the white working class was being ignored. The same arguments undergird the current immigration debates. When the Black Lives Matter movement emerged after the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, many White Americans responded with a declaration that “All Lives Matter.” While this response sounded egalitarian, it failed to acknowledge that in our country the powers and principalities have valued white lives more than black and brown lives. We may have elected a Black President in 2008 and again 2012, but it’s clear from the rhetoric of the hour that we are not living in a “post-racial society.” In fact, even today we are living with the legacy of decisions made decades ago that privileged European-Americans over Americans from other regions of the world. Unfortunately, these patterns of discrimination, segregation, and racism have infected the church as well as the rest of the culture.

So, what should Christians do about the realities of our society? That is the question taken up in The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma, a White Evangelical minister and educator living in Bend, Oregon. Wytsma wrote this book because he sees unacknowledged white privilege infecting the white evangelical community. He is the founder of The Justice Conference and President of Kilns College and wrote this book at the request of an editor at InterVarsity Press who heard him address privilege in a speech. I am glad that the IVP editor made the request, because this is an honest and compelling look at a problem that will not go away. Indeed, my own denomination has pledged to be an “anti-racism, pro-reconciling” church. All clergy are required to receive anti-racism training. I’m glad the training is required, but it does suggest that even in a more liberal Mainline denomination with a General Minister and President who is African-American that problem still exists.  

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Making an Appeal to God -- A Sermon for Lent 1B

1 Peter 3:13-22


We began our Lenten journey on Wednesday by having our faces marked with ash as a sign of repentance and re-commitment to being Jesus’ disciples. This morning we hear a word from 1 Peter that invites us to share in Jesus’ life and ministry. The letter mentions baptism, making a defense of our faith, the suffering of the cross, and the resurrection. Each of these elements mark the life of Jesus’ followers.  

There is a lot going in this brief passage. It’s rich with theological content, which we can’t unpack in one sermon. So, I’m going to focus on the better story, which we have been given, and which Peter calls on us to share with the world. 

Before we move into Peter’s message, I would like to share the word from the Gospel of Mark that ushers in the season of Lent. As you’ll hear, Mark doesn’t waste time on details:
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. 
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15 NRSV)

Friday, February 16, 2018

A Lament for Parkland

I have not posted on the shooting in Parkland, Florida that left seventeen students, teachers, and staff dead until now, because I really had no words to offer. I grieve with those who grieve. I grieve with mothers and fathers, with sisters and brothers, with wives and husbands, with friends and with acquaintances, but I have no prayers or thoughts to offer. I decided to break my silence this morning. I wanted to share a Psalm of Lament. Nothing I read really expressed my feelings. Psalm 23 offers comfort and Psalm 22 expresses abandonment. I don't know of Psalm 12 speaks to the moment either, but it does seem to catch the feeling that "the faithful have disappeared from humankind." I know there are no easy solutions. I know taht there will be trade offs if changes are made to our laws that might restrict some "rights." But are not the lives of our children worth it?  So, I offer this Psalm as a sign of my frustration, my anger, my grief. 

I believe that God is love. While I struggle with this premise, I believe that God's love is non-coercive and uncontrolling, which means that if God is going to do something, God will do it in partnership with God's people.  We pray that God will do something, and God reaches out and says -- Join me. Are we willing to do so, or will we continue to let the vileness of violence define our humanity? So, I offer this lament, in memory of those who died and in solidarity with those who survived this latest attack on those whom God loves. 

Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
    the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
    our lips are our own—who is our master?”
“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
    I will now rise up,” says the Lord;
    “I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
    silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.
You, O Lord, will protect us;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among humankind.  [Psalm 12 NRSV]

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Faith and Enlightenment in Dark Times - Sightings (Martin Marty)

As a historian, I have studied how faith intersected with the Enlightenment -- the British Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Enlightenment as a movement emerged as Europe tried to emerge from more than a century of conflict. The Enlightenment gave birth to the Modern Age, of which we are heirs. For some Enlightenment and faith cannot coexist. Martin Marty, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the Martin Marty Center offers a response to one writer who sees faith and Enlightenment as incompatible, offering his hope that one can embrace both. I invite you to read and while you read, may we all give thanks for the long witness of Martin Marty. 

                     
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Faith and Enlightenment in Dark Times
By MARTIN E. MARTY   February 12, 2018
Steven Pinker at the Strand Bookstore, New York City, in 2011 | Photo Credit: jmm/Flickr (cc)
Tomorrow, Viking will publish Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, from which The Wall Street Journal ran an adapted excerpt on Saturday. To counter the profound gloom which is both fashionable and understandable these years, Pinker presents graphs and data which deserve to be reckoned with by fair-minded people. His conclusion is provocative, as anything by Pinker is likely to be. An excerpt from the WSJ excerpt:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Practicing Piety - A Meditation for Ash Wednesday


Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

We have come here today to have our faces marked with ash, as a sign of our piety. We’re doing this, even though Jesus tells us not to practice our piety to be seen. After all, God can see our hearts and our actions, even when we don’t make a big display of our spirituality. Nevertheless, we have come today to mark our piety with ash.

Jesus takes up the question of practicing piety in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells the crowd that when you give offerings, pray, and fast, make sure no one is looking. If you’re going to fast, then wash your face. If you’re going to pray, do  it in your closet. If you’re going to give offerings, well, don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t wave your envelope so everyone can see and don’t ask for a plaque to mark your gift. Just give, because God sees and God rewards.