Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russian nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country that determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship . . . . The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country. (Crossan, God and Empire, pp. 35-36).
Friday, August 31, 2007
- Religion: Symbolized by the temples Augustus had built or restored.
- War: Accounts of his victories in both civil and foreign wars.
- Victory: The expansion of the empire by conquest.
- Peace: Peace comes as a result of victory -- for Augustus's campaigns pacify the now Roman world. (Crossan, p. 24-25).
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Some effects of the closet on GLBTs include:
Clandestine sexual practices
Anonymous sexual practices
Self-loathing (internalized homophobia)
Magnet for disease (STD and otherwise)
Truncated sense of wholeness (disempowerment)
Superficial relationships with straights and gays
Sheer pain of not being oneself
Intense loneliness of not being wholly possessed by or possessing a life companion
Senator Craig and Ted Haggard are the victims, not of hypocrisy, but of the closet—a closet of our making. This is a true case of blaming the victim when the finger should be pointing at us.
A corollary is at work here. Just as the closet makes this behavior inevitable, the elimination of the closet makes it go away. So, if you find the behavior of certain people reprehensible, instead of punishing them in the closet, allow them to live their lives in the full light of day. They and you will be all the better for it.
While this is written by a Disciples of Christ pastor and represents a Disciples of Christ perspective, its use will extend well beyond these denominational boundaries. Carson has sought to address the questioner/seeker that is interested in the Christian faith but is uncomfortable with the typical presentation that focuses on a narrow but expansive creed and a moralism focused on sexuality. In an opening chapter entitled “Why Should I Care?” Carson engages in a conversation with a person who claims not to be a religious person. Here is a person who wants to believe, is disillusioned by science and modern human behavior, is interested in the spiritual dimension, but doesn’t believe in the “supernatural stuff.” As for the seeker’s ideas of God – it’s the deity of the TV evangelist and the football players, the Old Man in the Sky, Divine Puppeteer, and tribal God who uses hocus-pocus to make sure one side wins over the other. Carson responds, correctly, that he doesn’t believe in this God either. From there he takes the seeker on a tour of a different way of seeing God.
From this invitation to take a journey toward faith in God, Carson addresses the question of how we can know – and here he explores in brief the role of science, and offers us a look at a variety of ways of discerning knowledge of God – from Aquinas’ Unmoved Mover to Calvin’s distrust of reason, from Wesley’s Quadrilateral to Campbell’s marriage of scripture and reason. As Carson lays it out, none of these approaches fully answers the questions, but all have something to offer – though he does naturally have a proclivity toward Campbell.
From there he takes us a journey toward a winsome, gracious, and yes reasonable faith. He recognizes the challenges to faith and recognizes that others have suggested other paths to faith, but in this book he lays out the “unique” path that is Christianity. Christian faith has its own integrity that must be lived to be understood. He challenges the “spiritual but not religious” crowd who believe it’s possible to pick and choose from different religious traditions and come up with a hybrid that works. Without saying that other traditions are wrong or evil, he does say that each religious tradition is a unique path that has its own endpoint. We can learn from each other, but merging paths is likely unworkable.
Taking then this unique path that is Christianity, and Carson invites us to dive in and experience the journey not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim. And at the center of this journey is Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith. He insists that the starting point is not the church, as important as the church is, but Jesus, for as Christians we proclaim not the church, but Jesus. To understand Jesus, you must understand the message of the kingdom, a message that Carson focuses in on. He defines the basic titles in ways that are understandable and to the point. He doesn’t try to push definitions beyond their original understandings, and so we have a Jesus who will challenge us as well as comfort us. To know Christianity, is, to follow it, by following Jesus.
With Jesus as the foundation, we are led further into the faith. In a chapter entitled “Taking the Plunge,” the author shows how we can make our confession and join in the body of Christ. Being the he’s Disciple, it’s not surprising that baptism has its place in this journey. We’re called to join Jesus at the river and share in the watery grave. From there we grow in faith and service. While the church isn’t the starting point, we dare not take this journey alone. We are free, but we’re not autonomous – “I am not captive to myself, but free to love God and neighbor” (p. 52). As free members of the body of Christ we gather together, work together, and worship together. And again, showing his Disciples’ roots, the Table of the Lord stands at the center of worship.
To live this faith, we must be nourished, and so Carson speaks of the central practices of faith – Sabbath (not in a narrow way, but an intentional way nonetheless), prayer, use of spiritual gifts, study (a life long commitment to learning the faith). As we make use of these practices, we discover our purpose in life -- to share our faith, to share compassion, and to speak prophetically to our times.
Finally, there is the Christian hope – the eschaton – the future that lies before us. It is here that he speaks finally of salvation, not in an escapist fashion, but in a hopeful one. Salvation is understood broadly – to include freedom from ignorance, healing of brokenness, liberation from sin’s hold on us, and the threat of death. Without going into great depth, he does affirm the promise of the resurrection – however it occurs, he affirm the hope that in death we pass into the presence of God. He challenges the pessimism of the Left Behind Theology, but affirms the certain victory that is in Christ.
Each chapter is accompanied by a selection of texts that invite us into further reflection. This is a book that we can hand to the seeker, the new Christian, or the one who is transitioning from a more conservative to a more progressive faith. This is a gentle guidebook. It’s not the end point, but it is the best small guide I’ve seen. Read it, reflect upon it, and share it with others who wish to take the journey of faith. Faith, as we see has its particularities, and to take the journey faithfully, we must inhabit those particularities. Christianity is, as some have said, a path that is narrow at points, it is a path that in many ways few have chosen to faithfully follow, but here in Your Calling as a Christian is an invitation to take the journey together with other faithful pilgrims.
The function of Spong’s Jesus is thus simply to maintain the social and political status quo. He takes our own most cherished and self-evident Western values, and he provides them with a theological justification. Thus our own values are made absolute and unimpeachable – they are elevated to the status of ideology. Simply put, Spong tells us that political correctness is correct, since even Jesus was politically correct.
This should give pause to any reader of the Gospels. After all, the Gospels consistently depict a Jesus who is radical and confronting and unsettling – aJesus who challenges the status quo, who hangs out with the wrong people and antagonises the establishment, who resists every attempt to domesticate his message, refusing to allow his actions to be calmly assimilated into any existing religious framework. And for just this reason, the Jesus of the Gospels is finally executed. In contrast, however, it’s hard to imagine why anyone wouldbe offended by Bishop Spong’s politically correct Jesus. A Jesus whose sole commitment is to tolerant inclusiveness is simply not the kind of Jesus whom anyone would want to crucify.
So in spite of Spong’s characterisation of his own book as radical, “shocking” and “audacious” (pp. 10, 290), the real problem is that this book is not radical enough. The Jesus who emerges from these pages is ultimately indistinguishable from any other respectably innocuous, politically correct member of the Western middle classes.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Marcus Borg speaks in the video clip below of reclaiming the Bible for Mainline Protestants -- which he sees as responding to the issue of biblical literalism -- both in its hard and soft forms. It is the soft form that Wright represents, I think, and it's the form that I've been content with over the recent path.
As Borg speaks here of a Scripture that is human and not divine, and yet a collection of books and stories through whom God is self-disclosed -- his "historical-metaphorical" interpretation I hear a voice that makes sense. The truth of Scripture need not be found in the factuality of its stories but in the pertinence of them to our hearts and minds and lives.
Watch, listen, comment if you wish -- and thanks to Mike Leaptrott for the link.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
So, at this point we don't know all the answers, but what it does suggest is that as with Ted Haggard and others, we must ask the question -- is the decibel level of your statements covering up something on the inside? In the case of Ted Haggard and Mark Foley, this was true -- is it the same with Larry Craig? This remains to be seen, but the question is in front of us.
So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them -- because of the blasphemy -- If there be God -- please forgive me -- When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven -- there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. -- I am told God loves me -- and yet the reality of darkness& coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart? (Undated prayer to Jesus).
Monday, August 27, 2007
Hat tip to Aaron Krager at Faithfully Liberal for this clip.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
August 26, 2007
If by that question one means, “Which religion is dominant in America?” then, yes, America is a predominantly Christian nation - indeed it has a decidedly Protestant cast.
There are a great many Americans who believe that Christianity should have a privileged place in American society and that it should set the tone for American life. Others would disagree vehemently, even suggesting that religion should have no place in public life.
Just as Christians left and right seek to defend their own positions with biblical references, partisans left and right seek out historical proof texts that would support their viewpoints. For some, George Washington is the epitome of Christian piety, while for others the Founders not only were skeptics, they despised Christianity.
Much of what we hear and read, unfortunately, is more myth and legend than facts of history, and these myths are told and retold largely for political benefit. The truth, like America itself, is complex.
Fortunately there are resources that set the story straight. Among the more recent works are two books. Jon Meacham's “American Gospel” (Random House, 2006) and David Holmes's “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers” (Oxford University Press, 2006) tell a much more nuanced story, one that recognizes the contributions of Christianity to the nation's history, but which also acknowledge other important contributors such as the Enlightenment. While Meacham's book lays out the broader story of America's religious life, Holmes deals specifically with the founding generation, especially the first five presidents.
A noted historian and an Episcopalian, Holmes demonstrates that the first five presidents, along with Benjamin Franklin, were Christian deists. That is, they belonged to their respective Protestant churches but weren't orthodox in their beliefs or practices. Their God was largely disinterested in our personal daily lives, but this creator did guide the broad currents of history (providence). They believed in life after death and revered Jesus as a teacher, but they weren't Trinitarians nor did they believe in the divinity of Jesus. Their wives and daughters, on the other hand, tended to be quite pious - the exceptions being Abigail Adams and Dolly Madison. Still, this deism was balanced by other very orthodox expressions of Christian faith on the part of people like Samuel Adams (cousin to John), John Jay, and Patrick Henry.
Whether in their orthodoxy or in their skepticism, the founding generation recognized the need for religious freedom, and they also understood something that seems lost today - we can work together to accomplish great things, whether spurred on by faith or not, and our differences needn't get in the way. I'm a person of faith and my faith is the driving force in my life and in my political convictions, but I know that there are people of good faith who differ from me in their religious perspectives and their political perspectives. I should be able to work with them when and where it's appropriate.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc (www.lompocdisciples.org). He blogs at http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Regardless of the political implications, Obama is clearly right -- the only problem is, his proposal doesn't go far enough. The travel ban should be lifted for everybody, not just Cuban immigrants. It is the height of irony that Americans can freely travel to countries such as Venezuela and Iran, which represent genuine threats to our security and economic interests, but not to Cuba, whose government is a threat only to its own people.The ban has done nothing to weaken Castro, but it does keep U.S. tourist dollars out of the hands of Cubans, who might be less inclined to heed their regime's anti-U.S. propaganda if Americans were helping to raise their standard of living.
The U.S. shouldn't lift all economic sanctions on Cuba until the island's regime makes progress on democracy and human rights, but policies such as the travel ban and limits on remittances are simply counterproductive. Score one for Obama.
"They are more of a window into the sinfulness of human beings," said Fredrickson, an assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Pasadena school. "Normally when we think about praying, we're thinking about prayers of adoration, prayers of confession, prayers for someone we're concerned about who is sick or going through a hard time, or those sort of prayers for ourselves -- not the sort of vindictive, revengeful statements. These prayers are contrary to the way of Jesus."
Scripture, especially the psalms, gives humans "permission," in the worst of times, just to be human, as David is in Psalm 109, he said. That's the wonderful thing about the psalms, he said.
"We ask God certainly to do justice and to bring those who are errant to justice, but what I would consider an imprecatory prayer is not normative in Judaism," he said. "There is a difference between saying, 'May the wicked be brought to justice,' and 'May John Smith be cursed.' When we start naming names, that takes 'prayer' to an entirely different level."
Friday, August 24, 2007
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Indeed, you can argue that over the past month, Obama has been shaping the foreign policy debate for the Democrats -- and getting the best of the arguments. By last Sunday's televised debate in Iowa, nobody else seemed eager to challenge Obama's postulate that "strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries." And there was little repetition, either, of the tut-tutting that greeted his statement that he would be prepared to go after al-Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, with or without President Pervez Musharraf's blessing.
Sen. Hillary Clinton's stance has been more cautious, seeking to convey a general but vaguely defined sense that her toughness and experience would make her a strong president. Obama is taking the opposite tack.
Obama added some new (and potentially controversial) foreign policy details in an interview Tuesday afternoon, before he hopped a plane for his next stop, in New Hampshire. He said he expects there will still be U.S. troops in Iraq when the next president takes office, and he is discussing with his advisers how this residual force should be used. "For getting out in an orderly way, withdrawing one to two brigades a month is realistic," he said. With 20 combat brigades in Iraq, that would imply a withdrawal schedule of at least a year.
In other words -- indeed, in the most explicit words possible -- the act could not be applied to the pastors unless their sermons are unprotected by the 1st Amendment, a concept that is impossible to imagine.
Where Revelation was written to reassure genuinely oppressed believers that God was more powerful than the state and culture that persecuted them, Left Behind appears to be written to relieve its audience, which enjoys immense wealth and civil
liberties by world standards, of the burden of having faith in things unseen, or of connecting to others who have a different worldview. Forget all that stuff about people knowing you are Christians by your love – about which, more in the second installment of this review.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?
It's time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.
In light of the heated controversy that has surrounded the Turkish-Armenian issue in recent weeks, and because of our concern for the unity of the Jewish community at a time of increased threats against the Jewish people, ADL has decided to revisit the tragedy that befell the Armenians.We have never negated but have always described the painful events of 1915-1918 perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against the Armenians as massacres and atrocities. On reflection, we have come to share the view of Henry Morgenthau, Sr. that the consequences of those actions were indeed tantamount to genocide. If the word genocide had existed then, they would have called it genocide.I have consulted with my friend and mentor Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and other respected historians who acknowledge this consensus. I hope that Turkey will understand that it is Turkey's friends who urge that nation to confront its past and work to reconcile with Armenians over this dark chapter in history.
Having said that, we continue to firmly believe that a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
In this world of fear, a large swathe of Americans fear Islam -- both the Islam residing in the Middle East and the one(s) found here. Politicians, of course, make great gains by emphasizing the threat and certain Christian groups find Islam a convenient enemy (sells lots of "prophecy" books.
But America offers an opportunity for something different. My experiences with Muslims has been, by and large, positive. Many of them live with one foot in American life and the other foot in the Muslim World. They're being tugged in two directions and only time will tell how this interaction will influence not just American Islamic society, but the Islamic world as a whole. Great numbers of young Muslims from across the globe are studying in American Universities. The question is, what will they take with them when they return home. If the message they take home is one of an imperialistic Christianity that wishes to crush Islam, that message will indeed be dark. If, on the other hand, they are greeted with grace and with hospitality, then perhaps another message will be taken home.
One of the interesting facets of American Islam is the varieties of expressions and how they are melded together. Another is the current leader of the Islamic Society of North America, Ingrid Mattson, of Hartford Seminary. Mattson is a convert, a scholar, and a timely representative. Her voice is calm and her message is one of stability. She won't rock the boat, it's said, especially on some aspects of women's roles. But still, simply her role model is important.
There is a USA Today article that highlights her life and the beginning of her second year in office. As we consider the role of religion in society, we can work to build bridges or we can dig deeper canyons. I'd like to build bridges, and it would seem that Mattson is one who seeks to do the same!
But he said the war on terrorism also resonates as a values issue, especially for Christian evangelicals.
"Among evangelical voters, there is a strong sense that Islam is evil," said Olasky. "They are going to see it more as a major struggle of our era. So there is the secret of Giuliani's appeal to evangelicals.
"It's not that evangelicals are more frightened by terrorism than other people. But they are much more likely to look upon Islam as a long-term enemy," he said.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Pastors are well aware of the courage it takes for many first-time visitors to find their way into our sanctuaries. They often have to deal with poor signage, lack of a welcoming face, and even hostility over where they choose to sit. In many ways visitors are as much a threat to a congregation as promise.
Imagine then what it takes for a gay person to show up for worship. All the above is compounded by a real or perceived sense of animosity toward who they are, even if it is not obvious at first sight. After all, the church’s reputation in the gay community as a hostile environment for them is well deserved.
I often attend P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and have spoken quite often. My congregation was officially “Open and Affirming,” and I was well known as a gay advocate in the community. After a period of many months and a lot of exposure, gays began to see that even though I was straight, I was for real. Surely, I thought, some of them will attend my church, and when they do, they will find a warm and affirming welcome. Several years of regular contact went by and not a single gay person came to worship with us. So, I shared my frustration with a gay friend who knew the situation well. His response hit me like an arrow through the heart. “Oh, they trust you alright, but because of their horrific experiences in their own churches, they are unwilling to trust strangers, no matter how sincerely they are approached.”
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Here Jon Stewart's reminisces:
Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for this most insightful piece of video!
Blogger and Psychologist Richard Beck reports from the APA meeting in San Francisco some interesting information. He writes:
Later in the symposium, Sharon Lamb, author of the book Packaging Girlhood, spoke of how in the media childhood, particularly girlhood, is becoming sexualized. Girl models in the media are made to look like sexy adults and adult models are often dressed like little girls. The total effect is a sexualizing of childhood and innocence. Much of this can be read by downloading the report from the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. One disturbing trend they found: Apparently thong underwear is being made for young girls. (I think the APA report is very worthy of discussion in our churches.)
And not only is this true, but the color pink has become sexualized -- as it moves from pink to hot pink.
As a parent I don't have to deal with this directly -- I've got a son. But it would seem to me that parents need to step in and say no to those who would sexually objectify their daughters. Yes, we need to get manufacturers to stop -- but it's going to take a bit of parental responsibility as well.
August 19, 2007
No one likes to think of themselves as bigots, but unfortunately bigotry remains a present challenge to our society. Discussions of immigration policy, national security, even marriage often contain veiled and not so veiled statements about “them.” “Them” is code for those we deem undesirable; those who would steal our jobs, pollute our culture, waste our tax payer dollars, or undermine our morality. Yes, bigotry remains a problem in our day.
But such bigotry is never right and is often a pretext to discrimination and to violence. It is, in fact, repugnant to what's right and honorable and decent, and contrary to the teachings of my own faith tradition. Which is why, of course, we should heed Harry's message and stand up for what is right!
August 19, 2007
Saturday, August 18, 2007
I think you'll find this profound. And if you find it compelling then pass the word.
Enlightenment does not mean merely shining a light into the darker recesses of the world but must also mean a liberation of people out of darkness into the light. What progressive religious thought has to contribute to that process of liberation in an age of tumultuous social change is the preservation of human dignity against both reactionary religious obscurantism and value-free scientistic rationalism. To label all forms of religion as part of a general delusion, therefore, does a disservice to both progress and reason. Where we are offers us no home. That is why we constantly feel it is time to move on. As long as that is the case there will be the need for religion. The point, however, is to make it a religion which will be happily complicit in its own earthly fulfilment. And I say that as a good atheist.
Friday, August 17, 2007
David L. Holmes. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. 225 pages.
There is great debate about the piety of the nation’s founders. There are those who claim that ours is a Christian nation and that the founders – with perhaps the exception of Thomas Jefferson -- were pious Christians. On the other side of the coin there are those who insist that the nation was as pluralist as today and that the Founders were to the man (yes they were men) non-Christian Deists. In large part this debate has political implications, for it is a debate about how great a separation there is between church and state.
- Examine the actions of the founders in the area of religion. Do they belong to a church? Attend church? Serve on governing boards? By itself this criteria offers little help, for Jefferson and other Deistic founders held roles of importance in their churches. But, the more active, the more likely one was to be orthodox.
- Reception of “ordinances” or sacraments. While baptism is not a good marker – they likely did not have a choice in the matter (infant baptism being the predominant mode) and the baptism of children could have been done at the behest of wives, but other ordinances such as confirmation (which was available among Episcopalians in the colonies after the appointment of the first bishops in the 1780s), and reception of the Lord’s Supper were more telling. Deists tended to shy away from both sacraments, believing them expressions of superstition. Many Deists, such as Jefferson and Washington, would either avoid Eucharistic Sundays or leave prior to the celebration of the sacrament.
- Dimension of Religious Inactivity versus Activity. Few thorough-going Deists took an active role in Christian rituals, and Deistic Christians were less observant and active than orthodox ones. In other words, Deistic Christians would participate in more passive forms of Christian life such as listening to sermons, but tended to avoid active expressions such as being confirmed or receiving communion. It is noticeable that Jefferson left out the Last Supper from his retelling of the Gospels.
- The Use of Religious Language. The way God was referred to and the use of distinctly Christian language can be gauged from the writings and speeches of the Founders. Some like Monroe hardly even mention God or religion. It is almost totally absent from his public expressions. Words like Providence, Creator, and Nature’s God were used by non-Christian Deists like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen (though Allen was even more radical than Paine). Deistic Christians would make use of the same terms, but they tended to add modifiers such as “Merciful Providence” or “Divine Goodness,” and they were more likely to speak of Jesus – even if not in orthodox Christian ways. Positive references to the Trinity and use of terms such as savior and redeemer would be found only among the orthodox.