Saturday, March 31, 2007

Finding the Historical Jesus

When Albert Schweitzer critiqued the various searches for the historical Jesus, he suggested that they had all looked into a well and saw their own reflection. I doubt that things have changed all that much in the decades that have passed since he made that observation. We continue to seek a Jesus that either looks like us or at least affirms our own predilections.

But the Jesus of history was and is a citizen of another time and place -- a place of particularity that was Jewish and a first century Jew at that. Paula Fredriksen of Boston University provides helpful insight into our dilemma. First she points out that we must "respect the distance between now and then; between his concerns and commitments and ours." Then she makes this statement that needs to be heard: "The historical Jesus of Nazareth was never and can never be our contemporary." If we should desire to place on him our agendas and ideals, then we will distort and obscure his person. But, how tempting it is to do just that!

To make the connection between the Jesus of history and our own time and needs, we must do responsible "re-interpretation," which is doing theology and can't be confused with doing historical work. Thus:

To regard Jesus historically requires releasing him from service to modern concerns or confessional identity. It means respecting his integrity as an actual person, as subject to passionate conviction and unintended consequences, as surprised by turns of events and as innocent of the future as anyone else. It means allowing him the irreducible otherness of his own antiquity, the strangeness Schweitzer captured in his poetic closing description: "He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside." it is when we renounce familiarity proffered by the dark angels of Relevance and Anachronism that we see Jesus, his contemporaries, and perhaps even ourselves, more clearly in our common humanity. (Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews, Vintage Books, 1999, pg. 270).

Such a task will be difficult but necessary, lest we misread Jesus as did the crowd on that first Palm Sunday.

More on the Jesus Tomb -- again

This morning I ran across the fairly new blog of Bruce Fisk, New Testament Professor at nearby Westmont College. Westmont is Evangelical and can be at times conservative, but it is also known for good scholarship. Bruce is one such scholar.
In a series of posts, Bruce deals with James Tabor's claims concerning the recently revealed discovery of a tomb with an ossuary with Jesus' name on it (and the TV show based on it). The most recent post is a guest contribution by Westmont's long time NT person, Robert Gundry, author of a significant commentary on Matthew.
If you are interested in this subject, Bruce's blog seems to be a good place to go. Gundry's piece helps clarify the early Christian understanding of resurrection and notes that the idea that physical resurrection is a later addition doesn't fit the evidence. Consider Gundry's challenge:

According to 1 Corinthians 15:1–7 Paul “received” information about Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and appearances as resurrected to Cephas (Peter) and others, including James. On the basis of Galatians 1:10–23 Professor Tabor interprets this reception as a direct revelation from heaven rather than as the passing on of tradition by one or more earlier followers of Jesus.
But in Galatians Paul is talking about the gospel he preached before going to Jerusalem and conversing with Cephas three years after that direct revelation, whereas in 1 Corinthians he’s talking about the sort of information he’d get from one or more earlier believers. So contrary to Tabor’s earlier cited identification of Paul as “our earliest witness to the resurrection,” our
earliest witnesses to it are the ones or one (probably Cephas) who passed this information on to Paul. Or, rather, our earliest witnesses are those who claimed to have seen Jesus as resurrected before Paul did, as admitted by Paul in his phrases, “And last of all . . . also to me” (1 Cor 15:8). Therefore we have to investigate not only Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection, whether it was physical or nonphysical, but also what was the understanding of it by the earlier witnesses and traditioner(s). “Cephas,” the Aramaic form of “Peter,” and the two instances of “according to the Scriptures” in 1 Corinthians 15:3–7 favor that the tradition stemmed from Jesus’ original followers, Jews still closely tied to their ancestral faith, Judaism. Now Tabor correctly writes, “In Judaism to claim that someone has been ‘raised from the dead’ is not the same as to
claim that one has died and exists as a spirit or soul in the heavenly world. What the gospels [here we might substitute the witnesses and traditioners behind 1 Cor 15:3–7] claim about Jesus is that the tomb [in which he ‘was buried,’ according to the pre-Pauline tradition] was empty, and that his dead body was revived to life [‘raised,’ according to that same tradition]—wounds and all. He was not a phantom or a ghost . . .” (The Jesus Dynasty, 232). So it looks as though those witnesses and traditioners, given their Judaistic upbringing, would have understood Jesus’ resurrection as physical just as Paul did and just as we should expect in that by definition “resurrection” means the “standing up” of a formerly a supine corpse.

We’re left with this question: If Jesus’ bones were known to be lying in an ossuary near Jerusalem, how is it that the earliest literary tradition in 1 Corinthian 15:1–7, the even earlier oral tradition stemming from Jesus’ original disciples, and Paul’s properly exegeted understanding—how is it that all of them presented Jesus’ resurrection as physical? This question seems to me hard to answer.

I think that this is a good question to deal with. Physical resurrection appears to be an impossibility from a scientific perspective. I grant that, but . . . Well that requires much thought and discussion.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Spinoza, Theocracy, and loving God

I must admit, I've not read much in Spinoza, the 17th century excommunicated Dutch Jew and Pantheist. If that's not a run on sentence, I don't know what is! Anyway, Richard Beck, chair of the psychology department at Abilene Christian University, postulates a bit on Spinoza's ideas about God and theocracy in particularly. I blogged the other day in response to Richard Mouw's defense -- attempt to rehabilitate -- of the term theocracy. I don't buy it -- and Beck shows us why. Consider:

With this perspective in hand, I suddenly warmed to Spinoza's project if not his God. Given our current situation in America, Spinoza's concerns about theocracy seem remarkably relevant and timely. Further, I'm very, very tired of religious people telling me what God does or does not like. What God loves and what God hates. What God approves of or disapproves of. I'm not a Spinozist, but I can't tell you how many times a day I want to say to religious people, "You know, strictly speaking, God loves no one and hates no one." Further, I grow very tired of a religious life motivated by pleasing God. So much of religious life seems to be about managing the psychology of God. And again, although I'm not a Spinozist, I often want to say, "You know, if you really loved God you wouldn't spend so much time trying to get him to love you in return."

Because, when you think about it, those twin moves ("God hates X" and "I must do X so God will be pleased with me") sets up most of the religious dysfunction and violence in the world.

The problem with theocratic notions is that we seem intent on figuring out what God loves and hates and what it takes to please God, which Beck rightly suggests sets up so much dysfunction and violence -- religiously inspired variety.

Taking Radical Islam Seriously -- What's the Strategy?

Let's be honest -- the "War on Terror" is seen as a conflict with "Radical Islam" or "Islamofascism" as the President likes to call it. Now, knee-deep in our fifth year in Iraq and even longer in Afghanistan, with no end in sight, the question that stands before us is simple: If radical Islam is the problem how do we deal with it?
The Administration's answer is military muscle, but that doesn't seem to be working -- though many lives have been expended in a war that's gone on longer than WWII and looks to be heading quickly into Vietnam territory.
There might be a better answer, one that might ratchet down the rhetoric and find a place of common ground. It won't be easy and it surely doesn't fit with our idea that we've got the power so let's use it.
Chuck Gutenson of Asbury Seminary has written what I think is a well thought out post at God's Politics. He suggests that we as Christians, by putting our trust in the Military, ultimately betray a lack of trust in the Gospel to transform minds, hearts, and the world itself.

Finally, we Christians have to ask ourselves the extent to which willingness to embrace a military response to “radical Islam” is little more than a failure of confidence in the gospel. We seem far more willing to put confidence in our own cleverness and in our economic and military might than in the power of the Spirit. Is it remarkable how little we trust in the power of the gospel to transform the hearts and lives of those who are “other” to us. The point here is not that all will be converted to Christianity, but rather that the ability of truly evil men to recruit others can be substantially reduced. In fact, to put more trust in the power of the gospel than in our own cleverness would be to recognize that nothing has more potential for success than interacting with “others” in ways that imitates the life of Jesus. This is the longer term promise of the gospel, a thing we Christians have lost sight of and have become increasingly unwilling to even try.

Check it out! And then come back and give your thoughts. How should we respond?

Thy Kingdom Come - a Review at SoMA

Randy Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come is an important response to the direction of the Evangelical Movement. Even if you don't accept his understanding of Evangelicalism, I think he raises questions that need answering. I've written a review of the book for SoMA Review, which John Spalding has graciously published. I invite you to take a look at it -- just click here.
John has paired my review with Benjamin Shobert's review of Aleandra Pelosi's HBO film Friends of God. Shobert gives an excellent intro to this film, which since I don't have HBO am waiting to find on Netflix. I found this statement of Shobert intriguing:

Pelosi’s quirky journey through evangelical America reveals just how far the Christian subculture extends. Today’s evangelicals have come a long way, baby. They encompass everything from the straight and narrows to young rebels sporting long hair, tattoos, body-piercings, and couture jeans complete with un-buttoned and un-tucked shirts. “Friends of God” buzzes through Christian wrestling events and churches whose interiors come with mall-like coffee stores and retail kiosks. It makes pit stops at tortured and sadly unoriginal evangelical rock concerts that recall that memorable episode from "The Simpsons," when Ned Flanders’ girlfriend, a Christian musician, tells him the secret to contemporary Christian music is to replace “baby” with “Jesus” in the lyrics.

Indeed, Balmer and Pelosi together give us a picture of a movement in disarray and in someways in love with itself, rather than with God. So happy reading -- the reviews, the book, and then watching the movie!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Things Don't Look Good for the AG

George had full confidence in Donald, but then didn't. Of course the nation would have been much better off if Rumsfeld had been jettisoned years earlier -- So far Robert Gates has shown himself to be one of the few competent Bush appointees.
Now we have an AG who has shown himself to be at minimum incompetent if not corrupt. Ashcroft was an ideologue, something that Alberto Gonzalez doesn't appear to be. Gonzalez is simply a political hack. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, today's hearings with Gonzalez's former deputy don't seem to be going well.
Here are a just a few tidbits!
"Right now it is generally acknowledged that the Department of Justice is in a state of disrepair, perhaps even dysfunctional, because of what has happened, with morale low, with U.S. attorneys across the country do not know when another shoe may drop," said Specter, R-Pa.

Sampson also confirmed a large White House role in planning the firings. That undercut the department's long-cherished image of acting independently in pursuing crime.

He said that White House political staffers working for presidential aide Karl Rove were involved closely in the plans to replace prosecutors - as evidenced by thousands of department e-mails released to Congress.

What Hath the Da Vinci Code Wrought?

Even if the "factual" claims in the Da Vinci Code are bogus, the book and accompanying movie have been a boon for tourism. Word comes that the Scottish Rosslyn Chapel, which is supposedly the resting place of Mary Magdalene's body, is experiencing an amazing number of tourist visitations these days. Thus, it seems that the Scottish government is now going to spend 14 million on restoration.

Of course with all the money old Dan Brown has made on this, it would be only appropriate if he helped finance the restoration of all these sites he's now made famous! Especially now that a judge has ruled he didn't plagiarize the work of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. Poor Michael and Richard, the popularizer of their pseudo-history didn't suffer for his blind use of their stuff!

The Gangs of Lompoc

I doubt that a movie by that title will be appearing at the cinema near you any time soon. Lompoc, after all, isn't New York. But the turn out at a forum last evening in Lompoc dealing with the problem of gangs is suggestive of major issues to be resolved.

The forum, which is reported on by the local Lompoc Record, was organized by my good friend Joyce Howerton, the former mayor of Lompoc and a progressive activist in a community led by conservative business types. Hers is often a lonely voice, but when a standing room only crowd shows up, you know you have an issue. Now, I must confess, I wasn't in attendance. You see, I had scheduled a forum on civility in politics and religion for the same evening. You might have guessed that my numbers were small. Unfortunately we'd not coordinated our dates --- but that's neither here nor there. The point is, there is a gang problem in our communities.
I pastor in Lompoc, which has 4 major gangs, the largest having 350 members. I live in Santa Barbara, where recently a 14 year old stabbed to death a 15 year old in a gang fight at the corner of Carillo and State -- the center of our tourist focused down town. It happened in broad day light on an afternoon when students were released early (a minimum day). Apparently a couple of gangs decided to plan this battle for that extra couple of hours of free time. People were shocked, but why?
My forum last night focused on civility, something that is in short supply today. We live in an age when the American President calls for preemptive force and bullies those who question his very questionable judgment. To the strongest belongs power and influence and he wants to flex his muscle. Is it any wonder that our young people are engaging in violence to demonstrate their power?
In the coming months further forums will take place with the focus on bringing the community into the conversation in the hope of changing the context. The reality is we have to catch these kids when they're in elementary school. If we wait until they're in HS, it's likely too late. Once you're in a gang it's hard to get out.
What my little church has to do is figure out how we can be part of the solution!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Dobson's take on Fred Thompson and the Newt

Besides the hoopla on Anna Nicole Smith, which seems to have everyone still agog, many of us are wondering who the Religious Right will annoint as their GOP candidate. Many of the candidates have made the requisite stops and have been interviewed by Jim Dobson or Pat Robertson, hoping to receive their imprimatur. So far, no one has received this coveted anointing.
Dan Gilgoff of US News reports that Dobson is impressed by actor Fred Thompson's credentials as a conservative -- he affirms all the right things. But, according to Dobson, he's not sure Thompson is a Christian --- though apparently he was baptized in the Church of Christ (which should not be confused with the United Church of Christ -- the denominational affiliation of Barack Obama). The Church of Christ is the conservative branch of my own Stone-Campbell tradition, best known for its a capella worship.
But, if Fred doesn't make the grade because he doesn't pass Dobson's "religious test," dear old Newt Gingrich does. Now Newt has recently received absolution by the fathers of the Religious Right for his confession that while he was leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton for perjuring himself about having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, he himself was having an affair. For some reason, his wasn't as morally bad as Bill's. Dobson is however very impressed with Newt's intellect.

While making it clear he was not endorsing any Republican presidential candidate, Dobson, who is considered the most politically powerful evangelical figure in the country, also said that Gingrich was the "brightest guy out there" and "the most articulate politician on the scene today."

Gingrich recently appeared on Dobson's daily Focus on the Family radio program, carried by upward of 2,000 American radio stations, where he made headlines by discussing an extramarital affair he was having even as he pursued impeachment against President Bill Clinton for his handling of the investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair.

So, stay tuned as we await the puff of smoke coming from Colorado Springs!

Democrats and Evangelicals

Amy Sullivan writes in a God's Politics blog posting that Republicans don't own Evangelicals. Indeed, Republicans have done a better job courting Evangelicals, but she says that where Democrats have engaged Evangelicals open to their ideas, they've been successful.
Indeed, young Evangelicals concerned about things like the environment, poverty, health care, war, etc. will find more like minded people in the Democratic Party than the current GOP party.

A treat from Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Thanks to the Jazz Theologian I came across this great video of Miles Davis and John Coltrane playing "So What?" Just sit back and enjoy this piece of historic video from two of the jazz world's greatests lights.

Teaching the Bible in Public School

When this week's Time arrived with a cover story entitled "Why We Should Teach the Bible in Public Schoo {But very, very, carefully} my nearly 17 year old HS junior son blurted out -- "you can't do that, it's unconstitutional." But is that true? The truth is, it's not unconstitutional to teach about the Bible in public schools, but you can't teach it from a religious perspective. You have to teach it like you teach any other subject. Now, being a historian I know that teaching things objectively is nearly impossible. I guess you can teach math objectively, but even that may not be true (I don't know since the last math class I took was in 9th grade).

But, should we teach the Bible in Public School? I've already posted some answers to that question from Boston University Professor Stephen Prothero, and this article by Time's senior religion reporter, David Van Biema is rooted in part on Prothero's calls. Van Biema explores the issue by offering an example of one case of the Bible being taught well in public by, believe it or not, an Evangelical Christian. He also discusses the two rival curriculum, one that is much more conservative evangelical and the other "The Bible and its Influence," which has a much broader scope. Neither of these curriculum, in Van Biema's mind, are perfect, but the more ecumenical "The Bible and Its Influence" is clearly the better choice. Van Biema offers some advice as to how this whole process might go about that is worth considering:
Prothero may be overly sanguine about the workings of the U.S. court system. But even if he's wrong, this shouldn't stop schools from making some effort to teach the Bible. The study doesn't have to be mandatory. In a national school system overscheduled with basic skills, other topics such as history and literature deserve core status more than Scripture--provided that these classes address it themselves, where appropriate. But if an elective is offered, it should be twinned mandatorily with a world religions course, even if that would mean just a semester of each. Within that period students could be expected to read and discuss Genesis, the Gospel of Matthew, a few Moses-on-the-mountain passages and two of Paul's letters. No one should take the course but juniors and seniors. The Bible's harmful as well as helpful uses must be addressed, which could be done by acknowledging that religious conservatives see the problems as stemming from the abuse of the holy text, while others think the text itself may be the culprit. The course should have a strong accompanying textbook on the model of The Bible and Its Influence but one that is willing to deal a bit more bluntly with the historical warts. And some teacher training is a must: at a bare minimum, about their constitutional obligations.
And, oh yes, there should be one faith test. Faith in our country. Sure, there will be bumps along the way. But in the end, what is required in teaching about the Bible in our public schools is patriotism: a belief that we live in a nation that understands the wisdom of its Constitution clearly enough to allow the most important book in its history to remain vibrantly accessible for everyone.

So the question remains should we do it? I think that Van Biema is on the right track. Probably not mandatory, as long as history and lit classes at least deal somewhat with the biblical allusions and contexts, but it should be offered. But training and a good curriculum are essential.

Ten Propositions on Being a Theologian

Today's 10 Propositions from Kim Fabricius over at Faith and Theology are intriguing because they deal with the person doing the theology rather than theology itself. I think you'll find them interesting. I'll give you a couple of samples and encourage further thought:

1. Actually, there is no such thing as a theologian, anymore than there is such a thing as a Christian. Theologians are not solitary creatures. Theology is the outcome of good conversation, the conversation of friends. Though – the rabies theologorum – you could be forgiven for thinking the opposite! Which is why, in the interest of world peace, it is probably wise that theological conferences are held infrequently. Theologians are like horse manure: all in one place and they stink to high heaven; they are best spread around.

Theology as good conversation -- I like that. I also must beware the warning of spreading it on too thick!!

7. All good theology is always contextual theology. Which is not to say that the context sets the agenda of the theologian, because contexts never come neat, they are not self-interpreting: the theologian must be an exegete not only of the text but also of the context. Rather it is to say that the theologian works at the interface of text and context, and seeks to address specific text to specific context. The letters of Paul – all occasional, none systematic – are the paradigm for the theologian.

Good reminder that the best theology doesn't emerge from the ivory tower, but from the practice of living life fully.

9. Strictly speaking, all believers are theologians, because all believers, willy-nilly, think about God. The only question is whether we think well or poorly. It is not the theologian’s job to think about God for us, it is the theologian’s job to help us think about God better, so that we may believe, pray, live and die better. Dorothy Sayers said that “Christians would rather die than think – and most of them do.” The theologian is out to make Ms Sayers a liar.

This is truly an important word -- that the theologian is called to help us all think about God better, not to think about God for us.

Finally, hear this tenth proposition:

10. Ultimately, of course, theologians do not know what they are talking about. So they should exercise meticulous word-care –and not talk too much. I often think that books of theology should contain occasional blank pages, to signal the reader to pause, in silence and wonder. There will be no theology in the eschaton. Before the divine doxa, we will confess, with St Thomas, “All my work is like straw.” Karl Barth famously said that when he gets to heaven he will seek out Mozart before Calvin. Quite right – and presumably he spoke to Calvin only to compare errors. Me – I’ll be heading for the choir of angels, to find Sandy Koufax, to see how he made the baseball sing.

I guess I should shut up while I can. I would choose perhaps Juan Marichal or Willie Mays, rather than Sandy. But then I'm a Giants fan and not a Dodger fan. But, I do get the point.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend -- an interview

The blog Faithfully Liberal, a blog run by 2 seminarians, offers a most helpful interview with Robert Kennedy's daughter, Kathleen, regarding the message of her new book Failing America's Faithful.

Here she answers why she wrote the book:

A:I wrote Failing America’s Faithful now because I care for my Church and my country. Churches today are failing their faithful. The Churches are failing to make the connection between faith and the common good and faith and justice.

We face great challenges in the United States—a war in which Americans have tortured prisoners and have neglected our own soldiers. Iraq itself has been ripped apart with millions of refugees searching for safe havens. Income inequity has grown so that while the few have gotten richer, many families lack health care, children suffer from a poor education and pensions have been cut. We are harming the earth that we should steward.

Yet, the churches have focused their attention not on these large issues but on abortion, same sex marriage and stem cell research. They are shrinking God—and using faith to divide, to justify mean spirited attacks and to hurt and hate rather than love our neighbor.

I am sad and disappointed and so I write. I want to awaken believers to their rightful mission which is to be a source of inspiration for justice and compassion.

I've yet to read the book, but it looks like an important read. Take a look at the interview over at Faithfully Liberal! And tell them I sent you their way!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thoughts on Theocracy

Theocracy is a bad word these days. There is great fear of theocracy, perhaps because something akin to it is present in places like Iran and because of the specter of it being present in some of the pronouncements of the Religious Right.
And so I was surprised to see Richard Mouw, President of my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, trying to rehabilitate the word. He begins his blog posting by saying: "I keep reading about how bad it is to be a 'theocrat,' so every chance I get I try to own up to the fact that I am one of them. I am a theocrat." My sense is that Mouw has a different understanding of theocrat than I do -- and indeed he does.
For Mouw, theocracy is equated with the "reign of God." If you believe that God is sovereign then by virtue of that you're a theocrat.

I made this point with a rabbi friend a while back. He was complaining about “those theocrats” in the evangelical world whose views about public policy he abhorred. I said to him, “But you’re a theocrat too, aren’t you?” “Of course not!” he replied. But then I pointed out that the Jewish prayers he regularly intoned often begin by addressing God as “King of the Universe” or “Sovereign Ruler of the Universe.” Theocracy is the rule by God, and the biblical psalms, for example, make it very clear that God rules over everything in the world: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1); “The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice!” (Psalm 97:1). That is theocracy!

I respectfully beg to differ with Dr. Mouw's assessment, because at least in our day and age that's not what it means. Theocracy may be the rule of God, but it seems to have a definite "institutional" cast, and when implemented it is usually disastrous in its consequences. I'm also not nearly as in tune as he seems to be with the concerns of the Religious Right -- but that's a whole different issue.
He writes that:

The problem is not with theocracy as such. It is with how we theocrats deal with the fact that right now we are living in a world that has not yet been renewed by God. It is not our job to rush God in bringing the Final Judgment. This year at Fuller our theme verse is Micah 6:8, and that gives us a great set of marching orders for how we theocrats are to behave ourselves in the here-and-now: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before your God.”

I agree fully that God is God and we are not. I agree that we should "do justice, love mercy, and walk humble before your God." I'm just not sure that this word theocracy is redeemable. Let's just stay with the "reign of God" and not try to implement politically God's rule. Jesus didn't try it, so maybe we shouldn't either.

Conservative Judaism and the Ordination of Gays and Lesbians

I found this position statement from the Chancellor-Elect of Jewish Theological Seminary at the Daily Dish:
What I find it interesting is the cautious way in which this decision within Conservative Judaism to accept the ordination of gays and lesbians was made. It was made carefully, cautiously (indeed, conservatively), by considering Scripture in the context of tradition along with modern understandings and deciding that the Law can be modified. I think you'll find this section fascinating for the care it takes in interpreting Scripture:

I begin by directly confronting the two major obstacles standing in the way of a credible stance allowing for gay and lesbian ordination. The first is Leviticus chapter 18, verse 22. "Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is abomination ( to'eva)." Is the text not crystal clear? Is it not God's word? Why, then, were learned rabbis (and the rest of us) even debating the acceptability of homosexuality? The question has been posed to me many times. It cannot be avoided by any Jew who takes the Torah seriously. No matter how complicated our relationship to the Torah, how much we move away from obedience to its rules, or whatever our views on the divine or human nature of its authorship — one cannot cavalierly dismiss Leviticus and then claim faithfulness to the larger tradition of Torah of which the Five Books of Moses are the core. Integrity and authenticity require more than this.

Moreover, if one claims to be a halakhic Jew, the Oral Torah (as we call Jewish law and teaching over the centuries) also weighs in with serious objection to ordaining gays and lesbians. There is precious little legal precedent that can be invoked in favor of such ordination in the entire 2,000-year history of the Jewish rabbinic tradition. One finds instead either reaffirmation of previous opinion or utter silence on the matter — though there are legal opinions urging welcome of and compassion toward homosexuals. To Conservative Jews, the weight of Rabbinic opinion is no less decisive than the words of the Torah, and it is arguably more so. As Solomon Schechter explained a century ago, "It is not the mere revealed Bible that is of first importance to the Jew, but the Bible as it repeats itself in history, in other words, as it is interpreted by tradition." That is why the fact of Leviticus 18:22 in and of itself did not free the CJLS or any other Conservative Jew from the need to debate the matter of gay and lesbian ordination.

Our sages found ways two millennia ago to limit the applicability of biblical statutes, one famous example being Deuteronomy's injunction to put the rebellious son to death. The Rabbis effectively rendered that injunction unenforceable. They have defined and limited the applicability of numerous other biblical ordinances, including some set forth in Leviticus. I am among the faculty members (including many rabbis and experts in Talmud) who are persuaded by the argument that established procedures of halakhah allow for and mandate revision of the legal limitations placed upon homosexual activity; or perhaps one should say that these procedures allow for and mandate expansion of the welcome and acceptance accorded homosexuals under previous Law Committee rulings.

We believe that the law can be modified, and therefore should be modified, in accord with our society's changed knowledge about and moral attitudes toward homosexuality, knowledge and attitudes far different than those of our ancestors that guided their reading of law and tradition. Core Jewish teachings such as the imperative to treat every human being with full respect as a creature in God's image urge us strongly in this direction. We do not alter established belief and behavior casually. But we are convinced that change in this case is permitted and required, precisely in order to preserve the tradition charged with guiding us in greatly altered circumstances.

For we are Conservative Jews. The question facing us now, as always, is what the tradition as a whole commands us to do. Members of our community disagree about the correct answer to that question and about the proper method of answering it but not, I think, about the nature or urgency of the question itself. As Conservative Jews, we know that halakhah has a history. The fact of its development and change over time, partly in response to altered circumstances, ways of thinking, and moral convictions, was proclaimed by Zacharias Frankel at the very outset of the movement. It is a given in scholarship on Jewish law as well. The CJLS debate and the discussion in its wake follow from these principles of Conservative Judaism.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Speaking of Faith -- Martin Marty on Kara Tippett's Good Sense

I have taken up posting Martin Marty's Sightings contributions. I'm a big Marty fan and love his MEMO column in the Christian Century. I find him to be generous, gracious, and full of wisdom. When I met him a year or so back he was ever so gracious to me and I appreciate that from one who is among the top tier of my profession (clergy and historian).
This week Marty speaks of Kara Tippett's new book Speaking of Faith -- which I have on my shelf to be read, but as yet is not read. Marty speaks of her book and her work as a counterbalance to the Coulters and Dawkinss of the world. Those who take such a radically ungenerous turn. It's unfortunate, as Marty shares, that such a voice as Kara's doesn't get heard as it should. I look forward to my own reading of the book, but read here Marty's take.
Sightings 3/26/07
Speaking of Speaking of Faith-- Martin E. Marty
My website reminds readers that I cannot write dust-jacket blurbs for forthcoming books, a policy explained on the "Regrets" page. Sometimes, however, when I read a manuscript critically for a publisher or an author -- my "Regrets" page also explains why such readings are rare -- and a publisher finds something worth using, that's okay. But enough about me, except for this blurb on the jacket of Krista Tippett's new book, Speaking of Faith. "The brilliance of Krista Tippett's idea is to trust people to use the first person singular, to commit themselves with passion and clarity as they enlarge our urgent national conversation." There's more to say by way of review, but what follows is not a review. It's a case study.
My case: First, don't feel sorry for Ms. Tippett; she hosts a very widely listened-to NPR program, also called "Speaking of Faith." It is the top radio interview on religion nationally, and we are told that "millions" hear it. She just had a strenuous book-signing tour; I missed the chance to meet her in Chicago. The notices this book gets are all positive. So what's the case? I seethe and sulk when I find the media giving space and time to the Ann Coulters on the nut-right, and a good deal of space and time to those whom reviewer Brad Robideau refers to as the battle criers of "the end of faith" and "the God delusion." Meanwhile, Tippett, and others like her, while by no means out of view, still do not generate the audiences and responses that the noisy extremists do. So I seethe and sulk a bit when those who complain that they are alienated by the extremes in religions often do not bother with Tippett and her kind.
Tippett has interviewed a large and diverse cast of characters, and draws on that experience in her book, which is, in some sense, like a first draft of a memoir -- she's too young to be taking a long look back. The book offers a concise look at her Southern Baptist childhood, a temporary drift from faith, political correspondence years, learning at Yale Divinity School, and the invention of her NPR program. The result is not an egocentric program or book, but a set of testimonies filtered through her experience. Tippett neither hides her own faith nor parades it, but uses it as a base for drawing out the personal experiences of her interviewees and quotees.
Where are we? With respect to public religion I used to say that the excitement was at the conjunction of "the left of the right and the right of the left, which is not the center." Left of the right: "open," engaged and engaging evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and one kind of Catholics. Right of the left: mainstream Protestants, Reform and Conservative Jews, and many other kinds of Catholics who are mindful of and draw on tradition as they fashion new themes. Polemicists and firebrands often dismiss such people as "moderates," and imply that, because these "moderates" are not verbal street-fighters, they have nothing to say. Contrariwise, they usually have the most to say -- but in our present culture it is harder for them to get a hearing.

Tippett is not alone as author or broadcaster. I think of Bob Abernethy of "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly," who is publishing soon. I hope Tippett's example will inspire still others among her spiritual kin to be forthright, and to better understand how and that they are "speaking of faith," not shouting about it. Case closed.
The alternative to extremism is not wishy-washiness but good sense.


Krista Tippett's book Speaking of Faith is available from Viking Adult. For more information about the radio program "Speaking of Faith," visit:

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Secularism: Religious, Irreligious, and Areligious" by W. Clark Gilpin. To read this article, please visit:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Warrior Versus Priest -- Clinton and Obama

In this presidential contest within the Democratic Party, Hillary and Barack are the leading contenders. Ron Brownstein of the LA Times casts this as battle between Hillary the Warrior and Obama the Priest. The one has been able to connect with the Blue Collar while the other with intellectuals. Brownstein sees Obama in the cast of a Eugene McCarthy, Woodrow Wilson, Adlai Stevenson, while Clinton hails from the Humphrey, Mondale, cast that reaches out to the blue collar.
The question is, can Obama reach beyond the traditional sphere of influence of the priestly cast. Thus, Brownstein sees Clinton as the more likely candidate coming out. I guess we'll see. In part I think it depends on what happens with John Edwards. If he doesn't win the nomination (which I think is still unlikely), it will be interesting to see who he will endorse. Edwards has clout with the blue collar voter and could be the key.

Rudy and the Evangelicals

Maybe you've been wondering why Evangelicals have begun to warm up to Rudy Giuliani, despite the statements by people like Richard Land of the SBC and Jim Dobson, that they could never support someone so wrong on the great moral issues of our time -- abortion and gay marriage. Dan Gilgoff writes in the LA Times today -- "A New Crusade within the GOP" -- why this may be happening. Gilgoff notes that when reporters questioned Mitt Romney as he emerged from a time of questioning at the National Religious Broadcasters convention, he said that the leading question asked him had to do with how to deal with Islamic radicalism. Apparently, as Gilgoff points out, "terror values" are growing on "moral values" among White Evangelicals. Since there is no strong "moral values" candidate, it appears that "terror values" has the upper hand.
But why is this? Consider what Gilgoff reports:

Polls show that evangelicals support President Bush's "kill the terrorists over there so they don't kill us here" vision in greater numbers than other Americans. A survey by the Pew Research Center in December found that 63% of white evangelicals supported Bush's handling of the terrorist threat, while fewer than half of all Americans expressed similar support.

What explains that gap? "It's that evangelicals often look at the world in terms of good and evil because of their understanding of the Bible," said Joel Rosenberg, a Jew-turned-evangelical-Christian who writes novels dealing with terrorism. His books, including "The Last Jihad," have sold millions to a largely evangelical readership. "Because we understand that there's evil present in some foreign leaders," Rosenberg said, "we understand they are capable of committing acts that most people think are impossible."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, holds a similar opinion. "This is a fundamental clash of world views," Perkins said after he and other Christian-right activists met with McCain at the NRB convention. "More than any other segment of the American population, the evangelical movement understands that because they operate from a
biblically-centered worldview."

Ah yes, it's that good old biblical world view at work. And so these new Rudyites are seeing the world through a crusading prism. And so, Rudy is the knight in shining armor.

But Rosenberg, the evangelical novelist, is not so sure. "With [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's nuclear weapons program, a lot of evangelicals are going to have to say, 'Look — we need somebody who can defend Judeo-Christian civilization,' " Rosenberg said. "If the election comes down to Giuliani against Hillary [Clinton], the evangelical base … will have to ask who they want sitting in the chair if we go to war with a nuclear Iran." For many evangelicals, that question could deem Giuliani not just the lesser of two evils but a national savior.

Ah, not just a crusading night -- but our national savior. I hear some priestly faith in this!

Speaking of Impeachment

Since the question of impeachment has been coming up, here's some Sunday Funnies featuring Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- via YouTube. Enjoy.

Kudos to Al Rodgers and Daily Kos

Impeaching Bush?

It's one thing when a Democratic die hard like John Conyers says that impeachment might be a possibility, it's another when a member of your own party like Chuck Hagel broaches the subject. That Hagel, who is in his own right something of a maverick is upset enough about President Bush's disregard for the voice of the people and of the opposition party that he broaches the impeachment question.

“Any president who says, I don’t care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed — if a president really believes that, then there are — what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that,” said Hagel, who is considering a 2008 presidential run.

I'm not sure impeachment would be good for the country, at least at this point, in part because Cheney is next in line, which would likely lead to another impeachment trial. Yet, it's getting a bit scary here as the President is acting more dictatorial every day -- not just on Iraq, but also on the US Attorney's issue. Power has definitely gone to his head!

Oregon's Dream Season Falls Short

Ah, I had visions of the Ducks facing the UCLA Bruins to determine which Pac10 team would fight for the national championship. They ended up losing 85-77, but they still pushed the defending champion Florida Gators hard, and so I'm happy. It could have been better, but this is really pretty good!!! So, good job guys!!!

Considering Conservative Values

Faith in the Public Square
Published in the Lompoc Record
Robert Cornwall
Sunday, March 25, 2007

My politics and even my religious perspectives tend to be left of center. If you read this column regularly, that confession shouldn't come as any surprise. Last week I tried to reclaim, even redeem, the “liberal” label. Having made my point, I want to say that I also value the true conservative voice. Indeed, I welcome the conservative voice as a necessary caution to the liberal's advocacy of progressive ideas and actions.
This is, of course, the American way, for we've never been a one-party state. Multiple voices can make for disharmony and confusion, but the alternative is quite unappetizing. If only one voice is heard, then freedom of expression has been effectively eliminated.
Our government's system of checks and balances helps prevent one branch of government from dominating the other two, and it keeps us tied to the rule of law. Now, from time to time one party or another will gain ascendancy, but the people have the power to adjust the balance, and often they do just that.
If a liberal is, by definition, open minded, tolerant, and change-oriented, the conservative, so the dictionary says, is to be “averse to change.” Conservatism ties itself to the values and institutions of the past, which means the idea of a radical conservative is kind of an oxymoron. I don't know about you, but I find a bit of irony in the label “conservative revolution.” Because a true conservative is cautious and committed to tradition, to pursue a revolutionary agenda and remake the American way of life, which some modern expressions of conservatism appear to be doing, is anything but conservative.
True conservatism is, however, a check on an overly optimistic and radical liberalism. The conservative voice should caution us against grandiose schemes and ground us in reality. It should call us to be fiscally sound so that the institutions of today may prosper (the Social Security debate?).
True conservatism remembers and treasures the traditions of nation and religion. As one church historian said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” There is much value to be found in our shared traditions, just as long as they don't become rigid and unreformable. The value of tradition is that it serves as an anchor, without which we tend to lose sight of our purpose and values - such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion.
The phrase “throwing the baby out with the bath water” is apropos here. While some things need changing (even radical change), not everything needs changing. Some things are best left alone, like a pristine forest or the habitat of an endangered species. Old buildings may be less efficient, but they give character to a community. Remember that the word conservation derives from the same root as conservative!

'What is true of the environment and local architecture is also true in religion and politics. In many ways the American political system has worked quite well for a very long time - 230 years and counting. It has needed tweaking and even significant reform, but the basic structures have held up quite well.

Regarding religion, I must confess that my faith is rooted in a book that in its most recent parts is more than 19 centuries old. I recognize that not everything contained within its pages applies today or even makes sense today, but when responsibly interpreted, it remains the anchor of my faith and millions of others as well.
Although I enjoy contemporary forms of worship and new musical expressions, I also love the old hymns and symbols of my faith. In my tradition we practice weekly communion to remember an event that occurred centuries ago. It's not very modern, but it's still an anchor of my faith.
In many ways I am a liberal, but I appreciate the cautioning voice of the true conservative. This voice allows us to reform our structures and traditions, while keeping us anchored. Change is good - like the growing numbers of women clergy or the prospect that most Americans seem ready to elect a woman or an African-American president - especially when it's tempered by a wisdom that's informed by tradition.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( His blog is found at and he may be contacted at or at First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.March 25, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Biblical illiteracy is a civic problem with political consequences.

This is the subtitle of Stephen Prothero's column in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor. Prothero has been hawking his new book, which is due to come out any day -- maybe today -- entitled Religious Literacy! Again, I'm awaiting a free copy to review here, if the publisher is seeing this!!
In this column, Prothero writes that it is important to America's civic life that every high school student take a course on biblical literature. Why? Because the Bible plays such an important role in American life. The problem, Prothero believes, is that politicians and others regularly use Scripture in speeches and writings and the American people are completely unaware of its use and how its being used.
Of course the issue is how such a course is to be taught. Back in the day, the Bible was taught, but usually from a Protestant/devotional perspective. Thus the Christian faith itself was being taught by the government. This isn't what Prothero advocates. Instead, he wants it to be taught academically.

One solution to this civic problem is to teach Bible classes in public schools. By Bible classes I do not mean classes in which teachers tell students that Jesus loves them or that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, but academic courses that study the Bible's characters and stories, and the afterlife of the Bible in literature and history. Recently, the Georgia Board of Education gave preliminary approval to two elective Bible courses designed to teach, rather than preach, religion. As long as teachers stick to the curriculum, this is a big step in the right direction.

I do see the value of this, but the problem is finding suitable teachers and a willingness to have the Bible taught in such a way. Many evangelicals aren't going to be happy with a presentation that doesn't privilege the text as sacred scripture. Creationists are going to want to insert a literal interpretation. There is some good curriculum out there, but there is also stuff that you might call "wolves in sheep's clothing," curriculum that seek to insert a definite religious perspective. It's important to remember that America's Catholic parochial schools emerged because nation's schools were using only the Protestant KJV and the Catholic translations were excluded.
And so, any such effort is going to be tricky! I'm curious as to what others think!

A Politicized Justice Department?

The Soviets were famous for their show trials. Trials that where the decision of guilt or innocence was known in advance. That is a form of politicized justice, but at least at this point that's not what we're talking about here in the current Washington scandals. But it does appear that the Justice Department, under Alberto Gonzalez, has become increasingly politicized, so that the US Attorney firings may just be the tip of a very large iceberg. Whether or not crimes have been committed, it is obvious that the White House and the Justice Department have misled Congress and the American public.

E.J. Dionne takes up this issue in a well worded column this morning. Entitled "Inserting Politics into Justice", Dionne compares the current efforts by the Bush administration to stonewall Congress by claiming executive privilege. Yes, Bill Clinton did much the same thing on White Water, but back then it was the GOP that was crying foul, now they're trying to hide behind it. Dionne writes:

To investigate Clinton -- even his Christmas card list -- was God's work. To investigate Bush is "to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials," as the president put it this week.

Ironically, the President is trying to cast this issue as a partisan battle on the part of the Dems, and yet the question surrounds whether partisan politics is driving the Justice Department. And thus:

There may be innocent answers to all these questions, but the questions need to be asked. The administration should not be allowed to turn attention away from substantive issues by pretending that this is only a "partisan" battle over "subpoenas" and "show trials."
This administration came into office claiming that it would restore integrity to the White House, apparently we were misled then too!

Ducks Make Elite Eight

Led by 5'6" freshman guard Tajuan Porter's 33 points (8 treys), the 3rd seeded Oregon Ducks outran the Runnin' Rebels of UNLV (76-72) to advance to the Elite 8. They join UCLA as a Pac10 rep in the Elite 8. Now, only last year's champ, Florida stands between them and the Final 4!!!

Go Ducks! May this be your year to pull the big upset!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Oscar Romero -- Martyrdom

March 24th marks the 27th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Prophet and pastor, Romero spoke for the poor and the dispossessed. He opposed the powerful, and he was gunned down in his own cathedral by right wing death squads. Although his protege, Jon Sobrino, has been disciplined, his voice remains with us.

Romero, perhaps like John XXXIII, was a surprise. According to Renny Golden, he was a compromise choice of the conservative elite, and yet something happened that changed his life. Sonn after becoming Archbishop of San Salvador, one of his priests, Rutilio Grande, was murdered after challenging the wealthy elite whose dogs, he said, ate better than El Salvador's poor. When Romero drove out to view Grande's body, the peasants asked if he would speak for them as had Grande. He had a conversion experience of sorts and took on the mantle of spokesman for the poor. His choice to take this calling isolated himself from the hierarchy, who turned their backs on him and even reported on him to the Vatican.

In his final homily, just moments before being gunned down, he is reported saying: "One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives." He lost his life because he stood alone against the military and for the poor.

During this period of service thousands died, even more fled the country, but Romero was unable to stop the violence. All he could do was speak out, his weekly homilies being broadcast on the radio as a voice of conscience. He said to the people: "If some day they take away the radio station from us . . . if they don't let us speak, if they kill all the priests and the bishop too, and you are left a people without priests, each one of you must become God's microphone, each one of you must become a prophet."

On March 24th we remember one who came unexpectedly to a calling. His prophetic role is a reminder that we too can be God's microphone.

Moltmann and the Resurrection

Yesterday I posted on the Resurrection as process. I'd like to add a bit more to that discussion. If you read through Moltmann's Jesus Christ for Today's World, which is a shortened version of his The Way of Jesus Christ (Fortress, 1990), you discover that Moltmann is less interested in the question of history and more in the impact of the resurrection.
Regarding the "factuals" he writes:

Jesus was crucified publicly and died publicly. But the only people to learn of his resurrection were the faithful women at his tomb in Jerusalem, and the disciples who had fled into Galilee. The disciples then returned to Jerusalem and proclaimed the crucified Jesus quite openly as Lord and redeemer of the world, whom Jesus raised from the dead. Those are the relatively well-attested historical facts. And they are astonishing enough. But at the same time, all that can actually be proved about them are the assurances of the women that at Jesus' empty tomb they heard an angelic message telling them of his resurrection, and the assertions of the disciples that they had seen appearances of Christ in Galilee.

Of course the question remains -- what is the nature of those appearances. Moltmann notes that after his death, many of Jesus' disciples, both men and women, experienced various manifestations of Jesus' presence with them.

In the earliest testimony to the resurrection we have, in the First Letter to the Corinthians, written in the year 55 or 56, Paul cites testimonies that Christ had appeared to Cephas, to the twelve, and then to five hundred brethren at once. At the end he adds himself. Paul's account is especially valuable because it is a personal record of what he himself experienced when Christ appeared to him. According to what he say says, Paul "saw " Jesus, the Lord (1 Cor. 9:1), but this "seeing" evidently took the form of an inward experience: "It pleased God through his grace to reveal his Son in me" (Gal. 1:15f).

It has been noted in comments to my previous post that Paul's account predates the Gospels by at least a decade or more. The question then is pretty simple: was Paul's experience of Jesus' presence the same as or different from the original appearances (what we might call pre-ascension appearances)? Moltman points out that in Paul's experience, he reports being "seized by Christ" (Phil. 3:12). So, whatever we're talking about it doesn't seem to be something sought out, but is unexpected. And whatever is true of the other appearances, they are also reported as being "unexpected."
Reference: Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today's World, (Fortress, 1991), 73.

Being Prophetic and Being Pastoral

This morning I had the privilege of participating in a clergy breakfast with George Regas, the retired pastor of Pasadena's All Saints Episcopal Church -- the same George Regas whose challenge to George Bush got All Saints into trouble. George was in town to give the Walter Capps Center's Martin Marty Lecture (UCSB).

George engaged us in a fruitful conversation about being prophetic. He lamented that preachers these days aren't as prophetic as they were back in the 60s and 70s. There may be several reasons for that, one being fear of the IRS, but more likely fear for one's job.

In our conversation we focused on how and why we can be prophetic, and the key maybe the pastoral support for one's prophetic work. More than anything, to be prophetic in our churches we must have a group of folk who will support us in our preaching. They don't have to agree, and George pointed out that back in the day when he first went to Pasadena, a group of about 12 members offered their support, even though only 2 agreed with his positions, during a difficult time. I'm blessed in Lompoc with a congregation that may not agree with me on everything, but they do let me speak, which I greatly appreciate.
And of course, it takes a willingness to hear the other side.
I did share my own journey and struggle with being prophetic. I pastor a small congregation in a relatively conservative and military impacted community. And so my prophetic work must be ground up, educational in the main. But I'm seeing movement and growth, and hopefully in time the congregation will see an influx of those who want to share in kingdom work!
So, I just want to thank George Regas for being out there showing us how it can be done!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Process of Resurrection

For Paul the resurrection stands at the center of the Christian faith. Without the resurrection then our preaching is in vain, and our faith is in vain as well (1 Cor. 15:12ff). Our own resurrections, Paul asserts are caught up in Christ's resurrection. No wonder Easter stands at the center of Christian experience.

In a scientific age that looks for that which is historically or scientifically verifiable, the resurrection is a difficult concept to embrace. Talk of empty tombs and such, well, that is so far back in history. Discoveries of Jesus' tomb are more conjecture than historical proofs. As a historian, I put great stock in what history demonstrates, but I also know that the historical record is not just incomplete, it is a finite discipline dependent on human records and observations, combined with what we believe is possible. Now, talk of resurrection becomes difficult. Still, I find the hope of the resurrection to be central to my faith.

In thinking about the resurrection, in anticipation of Easter, I did a bit of reading around in my books. I plan to offer some more quotes, but being that I'm a Moltmann fan, I had to start with an excerpt from his writings.

When we talk about Christ's resurrection from the dead we are not talking about a fact. We are talking about a process. We are talking in one and the same breath about the foundation, the future and the practical exercise of God's liberation of men and women, and his redemption of the world. So what we can know historically about Christ's resurrection must not be abstracted from the question of what we can hope from it, and what we have to do in its name. Kant made this intrinsic connection clear. It is only in living unity of knowing, hoping and doing that Christ's resurrection must be understood in its true historical sense. (Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today's World, Fortress, 1994, pp. 79-80).

Here I think Moltmann is talking about the transformative nature of resurrection. It's not simply belief in a doctrine, it is letting God's life transform us and empower us to serve the world in which we live. I will publish further paragraphs that hopefully will extend this idea of resurrection.

Stephen Colbert "pontificates" on the Religious Right

Stephen Colbert gets it right. The Religious Right has "found success by doing one thing and doing it right" -- focusing on sex. Evangelicals like Richard Cizik, says Jim Dobson dilute the message by getting away from what works.

Take a look:

Due Apologies

A lot of people are apologizing about their judgments that led to the war in Iraq, not that it'll help now.
Christian Century Senior Editor Debra Bendis writes at Theolog, the Century's blog, a pointed response to two "apologizers," Peter Beinhart a former editor at conservative New Republic and Kenneth Pollack, a writer who in the days before the war, raised the specter of Iraq's dangers. Both now say they were wrong.
Bendis responds:

I know that all of us—academics, writers and publishers—may work with inadequate information and can make poor judgments. What angers me about public figures like Beinart and Pollock is that they underestimate the amount of power they wield. Their misguided opinions brought them fame and book royalties—and now a few sleepless nights. But an admission of mistakes is quickly presented and just as quickly becomes more archived literature. Meanwhile someone's kids are paying for the mistakes with their lives.


Cancer, Politics, and Perspective

David Kuo blogs on his own cancer and his conversations with Elizabeth Edwards about her own struggles. He shares from his conversations with John Edwards about his struggles and how the death of their son and Elizabeth's cancer have led to his "faith 'roaring back'."
I don't know what I would do in his shoes. Since my wife isn't thrilled about politics I wouldn't probably be in that situation in the first place, but personally I would probably be calling a halt to things. But each of us has to make own own decision. I'm assuming Elizabeth Edwards told her husband, we need to move forward. We can't stop now. My only hope is that the stresses of the campaign, and if he wins, office doesn't put debilitating stress on her health.
Again, we remain in prayer.

Hush -- The Secret Presidency

Secrecy has become the name of the game in the Bush White House, from Dick Cheney's secret meetings with oil companies to the secret spying on Americans, the Bush hallmark is keeping things from the people. This topic is taken up in a Boston Globe editorial regarding the recent firings of US Attorneys. What Bush has forgotten is that this isn't a dictatorship -- he serves at our behest and should honor the requests of those we've empowered to give oversight the proper respect.
Here is part of that column entitled Let in the Light.

The White House offer of closed-door, unsworn interviews, with no transcript, was slapped down by congressional leaders yesterday almost as fast as it deserved to be. White House spokesman Tony Snow said weakly that the officials shouldn't be required to give sworn testimony since it is a crime to lie to Congress whether under oath or not. But if that is the case, what is the argument against Rove, Harriet Miers, and the others raising their hands, as thousands of other citizens, and a number of top White House aides, have done in the past?

Bush's clutching reliance on secrecy has been a stain throughout his administration. Even as Gonzales is now twisting in the gale of outrage over the US attorney scandal, his FBI is conceding abuse of the records checks allowed by warrantless national security letters not a few times but perhaps thousands. Secret prisons, secret memos justifying torture, secret meetings with industry leaders producing pro-industry policies, unprecedented attempts to keep public
documents from the public -- these have been a Bush hallmark.

This is hardly government of, by, or for the people; it is an affront to the nation's proud democratic principles.

And especially in the case of the fired US attorneys. There is no national security issue here, no reason for secrecy -- other than shame. If Rove and company refuse to testify voluntarily,
Congress should follow through on its threat to subpoena them.

.any day a beautiful change.: The Verdict on Mr. Emergent

Katherine Pershey writes about her experiences with the Emergent movement and her reading of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy at .any day a beautiful change.: The Verdict on Mr. Emergent.

She likes the phrase "Generous Othodoxy" and is attracted to McLaren's embrace of the Eucharist. This is something we Disciples like, of course, as it's at the heart of our worship life.

Update on John Edwards Campaign

The first report I saw this morning at the LA Times online was that John Edwards had halted his campaign. Apparently that report was premature. The most recent report is that he will continue his campaign. What that means in the long run is uncertain of course. (The LA Times report includes video of the press conference).
The report is that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has returned and spread to the rib. When cancer spreads to the bone, it is considered incurable but treatable. They will be working with chemo and radiation in the hope that this will stop the spread of the cancer and enable Elizabeth to live a long and productive life. They compared it in the video feed to dealing with diabetes. It doesn't go away, but people live long lives with the disease.

Edwards says that if he can't deal with this crisis then he shouldn't be president. It is true that there is no greater crisis than when it hits home in the family. May he draw strength from this event, whether or not he ends up as our next president.

I will try to keep up with this and share what I know. Again, I extend my prayers to both Elizabeth and John in this time of crisis for them.

Episcopal-Anglican Rift Widens

It should come as no surprise that the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the US have rejected calls from the larger Anglican communion to stop its progress regarding the place of Gays and Lesbians in the church. US bishops meeting in a conclave in the Houston area have released a statement rebuffing the demands made at the recent meeting of Anglican leaders in Tanzania.
Of course, the momentum is moving to much in the other direction for the church to turn back now or even suspend those efforts at inclusion. There is of course another issue on the table, one that riles the bishops I'm sure, and that is the meddling in the inner workings of the American church by forces from the outside. In some ways this is kind of a role reversal -- the mission is now challenging the missionaries.
In the Episcopal Church, indeed, in the Anglican Communion, national and diocesan boundaries are sacrosanct. For a rival bishop to mess around in your diocese is tantamount to sheep steeling. Now, I'm not a part of a hierarchical church, but for Anglicans who value the hierarchy, this is a big deal.
It also seems that Rowan Williams is politically paralyzed. The LA Times reports that his calendar is too full for him to make a visit tot he US this year. I'm sure that if he wanted to, he could do so. From all that I know of Williams, his instincts lie with the American church, but as the church at large splinters, he's left picking up the pieces. It also seems as if things aren't rosy in England either.
Is schism likely? Probably. There is strong opposition in many quarters to the American position, and yet, as with the role of women in the priesthood, the future probably lies with the American church's vision.
Here is an excerpt from the LA Times article :

Though the bishops issued no direct statement on those issues, they overwhelmingly passed three carefully worded resolutions that appeared to send a message.

"We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ, all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's church," one of the resolutions says.

Bishops at Wednesday's news conference said that though there were differences among American church leaders on issues of theology and sexuality, the leaders were largely unified on the question of outside interference in the governance of their church.

The plan for an alternative leadership "is spiritually unsound," says one resolution issued by the bishops, who had met in private at an Episcopal retreat near Houston. It "encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation.

"We cannot accept what would be injurious to this church and could well lead to its permanent division," the resolution says.

The bishops have requested an urgent face-to-face meeting with Williams to discuss their concerns.

The presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, told reporters Wednesday that during the Tanzania meeting, she asked Williams to visit the U.S. this year, but he "indicated at that time that his calendar was too full," she said.

Reaction to news of the bishops' decision included applause from liberal church members and organizations but concern from traditionalists.

John Edwards Campaign Halted

Unfortunate news is coming out that John Edwards is suspending his campaign because of his wife's health issues. This is really disheartening news. Even though I've put my hat in the Obama ring, I have great respect for John Edwards, supported him in 2004, and welcome his strong advocacy for the poor and the working class of America. He had yet to take off in the polls, but his lead in the Iowa polls suggested a real opportunity to do just that.
Therefore, my prayers and thoughts are reaching out to Elizabeth Edwards as she deals with her breast cancer and to John as he focuses on family rather than nation. At this point, it's unknown whether this is permanent or not, but it looks as if that is what is happening. So, we pray.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Who's Watching over GW?

LA Times columnist Ron Brownstein writes an important column on the dangers of inattention. For six years a GOP led Congress basically let GW do what he wanted, with nary a challenge. Iraq went from bad to worse, money got spent willy nilly, but nothing happened. The problem was, GW had a management style that despised details and he is loyal to a fault. No one raised questions and so nothing was done.

Now, that the American voter has reestablished some of that equilibrium. Rumsfeld, the Secretary of the Army, others involved with Walter Reed, etc. have all resigned. Though Bush is resisting and AG Alberto Gonzalez is heading out on a mea culpa tour of US Attorney's offices, how much longer before he bites the dust. I mean, now even formerly loyal GOPers are saying enough is enough. Freed from their subservience in pursuit of dominance, some are getting their spines back.

The key in all of this search for effective oversight, something sadly lacking these last few years, is a wise Democratic course of action that doesn't fall into the trap of seeking revenge or settling scores. That will not do, and its not what the American people want.

So, let's hold George W. Bush accountable. He'd rather be an absolute monarch, but Henry VIII he isn't. And that goes for his henchman, Sir Dick.

The GOP Line on Science and Global Warming

This article by Nicole Gaudiano of the Daily Times, from which I provide an excerpt from the opening paragraphs says it well:

WASHINGTON -- House Republican Leader John Boehner would have appointed Rep. Wayne Gilchrest to the bipartisan Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming -- but only if the Maryland Republican would say humans are not causing climate change, Gilchrest said.

"I said, 'John, I can't do that,' " Gilchrest, R-1st-Md., said in an interview. "He said, Come on. Do me a favor. I want to help you here.' "

Gilchrest didn't make the committee. Neither did other Republican moderates or cience-minded members, whose guidance centrist GOP members usually seek on the issue. Republican moderates, called the Tuesday Group, invited Boehner to this week's meeting to push for different representation.

The select committee's purpose is to investigate and recommend ways to reduce dependence on foreign energy sources and reduce "emissions and other activities that ontribute to climate change," according to legislation that passed March 8 creating the committee. Some Republicans worry that restricting greenhouse gas emissions would have a negative effect on businesses.

Boehner's spokesman Brian Kennedy said he doesn't comment on the private conversations Boehner has with members of his conference, but "the only criteria set for potential members of the panel was that they must undertake a thorough review of the facts, the empirical data and the science to determine how Congress can craft the best possible legislation going forward."

Gilchrest, who co-chairs the House Climate Change Caucus, has long been an environmental-protection advocate and has co-sponsored the Climate Stewardship Act designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to 70 percent below 1990 levels.

He expressed his interest in the committee several times to Boehner and Minority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, telling them the best thing they could do for Republican credibility was to appoint members familiar with the scientific data.

I guess it's like the US Attorneys -- you got to play ball or you're out! Scientific credibility apparently isn't of great importance to the party leaders, which shuts out those party members that want to help.
Thanks to the Daily Dish for the original link. Andrew Sullivan writes there: "One more reason to be depressed about what has happened to honest, empirical, inquisitive conservatism."
Ah, what happened indeed!

Ponderings on a Faith Journey: Former Abp of Canterbury Calls for Possible Disestablishment

Ponderings on a Faith Journey: Former Abp of Canterbury Calls for Possible Disestablishment

Interesting column from Ruth Gledhill, Religion writer for the Times on-line that makes mention of my posting about the George Carey call for disestablishment of the Church of England!

Not that I'm an expert on English affairs!

Obama and His Church

An AP story sorts out the issues of Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and Trinity UCC in Chicago. It's a good article that notes that Wright insists there is no rift, that Obama apologized for disinviting him to pray at the campaign kick off, and that we shouldn't believe everything we read and hear.
Here is the closing portion of that article that speaks to Obama's spiritual journey.

Obama's spiritual journey

The son of a white mother from Kansas, who was skeptical of organized religion, and a Kenyan father, Obama was raised in a secular household. He spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, where he attended a Catholic school and a public school where he took Islamic religion classes.

He explained how his spiritual journey culminated that day he walked toward the
altar at Trinity in a 2006 article on the United Church of Christ's Web site, writing that as he knelt beneath that cross, "I submitted myself to (God's) will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

He added that he was drawn to activist churches like Trinity because, in them, "I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world."

Trinity's critics, though, say it emphasizes black causes to a fault.

Fran Eaton, who writes for the conservative blog Illinois Review, singled out Trinity's 12-point value system, which includes a commitment to "pledge allegiance to all black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System."

"I would feel uncomfortable with a church that used the word 'white' instead of 'black' when it talked about these things," she said. "It seems to me we are going backward if we're basing our churches and the help they give on skin color."

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a politics and African studies professor at Princeton University and an Obama supporter who attended Trinity when she lived in Chicago, dismisses such criticism, saying it only shows "most white Americans, most of the time, can be utterly ignorant of how black people worship on Sunday."

She added that pinning Wright's left-leaning politics on Obama isn't fair.

"The question is what Barack Obama believes, not what Reverend Wright believes," she said, "because Barack Obama and Reverend Wright may be in agreement on some issues and deeply in disagreement on others."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Happy Easter!!

We remain on our Lenten path, but Easter is on the horizon. Yes, we must process into Jerusalem with palms laid before us, gather in the upper room and then in Gethsemane, before going to the cross, but Easter remains on the horizon.
Because I know several of my regular readers -- and commenters -- have a difficulty with the doctrine of the resurrection, I thought it worth giving a link to Kim Fabricius's "Ten Propositions on the Resurrection." Now I don't expect these 10 propositions to prove convincing to my blogging friends, but they are worthy of consideration. If I find time I'll add some thoughts of my own over time on the resurrection -- maybe before Easter or maybe afterwards.
Fabricius notes the problems with the "courtroom" style apologetics that tries to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the historicity of the resurrection. Whatever we say about the resurrection contains within it a degree of mystery. So, is the resurrection non-historical? Here is Fabricius's answer -- I will say upfront that I'm with Moltmann here.

4. Am I saying that the resurrection was not an historical event? That depends. If your understanding of “historical” is based on the famous criteria of Ernst Troeltsch – probability, relativity, and analogy – then, no, it was not an historical event. But why, asks Wolfhart Pannenberg, accept these criteria? Why accept a definition of history that rules out, ab initio, the singular and unique (and its presupposition of an ontology incarcerated in immanence)? Why, pace Bultmann (who here follows Troeltsch), indeed. Yet Pannenberg also maintains that the conventions of modern historiography, including its procedures of proof, can successfully be applied to the appearances of the risen Jesus, such that we can infer the resurrection from the evidence. And this is where I part company with Pannenberg and join Barth. The resurrection is historical – i.e. it happened in space and time – but it is not historically demonstrable. The resurrection is, in principle, historically falsifiable, but not historically verifiable. With Moltmann, its verification can only be eschatological.

Whatever verification there is, it is to come in the future. And as for the empty tomb, ah, here is the dilemma -- as the recent controversy over the "Jesus Tomb" presents.

6. Was the tomb empty? Of course! Not least because “no Jew would have used the word ‘resurrection’ to describe an afterlife in which the physical body was left to the grave” (George Caird). The (liberal) notion of a “spiritual” resurrection is irredeemably docetic. It is the perishable, corruptible physical body that must put on immortality (I Cor. 15:53). Nor should we miss the gnostic understanding of creation – and the new creation – that is implicit in a Jesus who is risen only in our hearts – or, for that matter, in the kerygma (Bultmann). “Let us not mock God with metaphor”:

Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body;

if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall. (John Updike, “Seven Stanzas at Easter”)

Here is where the issue becomes difficult for we moderns. But the resurrection leads to mission and to the eschaton!

9. The risen Christ meets no one without calling them to witness and service. The meaning is in the mission. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus leads to two missions. Did you ever notice that, according to Matthew (28:11), it is the soldiers, professional killers, who first bring news of the events at the tomb to Jerusalem – to the chief priests, who then bribe them and commission them to spread a lie about what had happened (28:12-15)? By contrast, in the closing verses (28:16-20), Jesus commissions the disciples to make more disciples, teaching them what they had learned from Jesus (in particular, Ulrich Luz suggests, the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount). Lies and violence, very lucrative – that is the one mission. Truth and peace, very costly – that is the other mission. On this mission, the risen Christ said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

10. Finally eschatology (of course!) – or doxology. “Jesus,” says Robert Jenson, “is risen into the future that God has for his creatures. What certain persons saw after his death was a reality of that future.” Which is another way of saying that Jesus is risen into the glory of God. The resurrection is, as it were, the coming attractions of the Coming Attraction, the human being fully alive who is the glory of God (Irenaeus).

In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is,
since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins, “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire”)

And so we come to the question: resurrection or not? I guess I'm too much the traditionalist to say no to the resurrection. It forms such a central part of the Christian message. It remains God's no to death and God's yes to the mission of transformation. Could the resurrection be a spiritual thing and not a physical thing. That's possible, but for some odd reason I can't get it out of my head that there is more to this than a spiritual experience of Jesus. Can I verify it historically or scientifically, most assuredly not. But I still believe. I know that's not satisfactory, but I can do no other.