Friday, April 30, 2010

The Dangers of Spiritual Amnesia

Being a historian, I love to talk about the past.  I'm especially interested in talking about such obscure groups as the Nonjurors.  You  ask: who are the Nonjurors?   Well that is a subject for another day -- but here's a link just in case you're really curious. 

But, more to the point, American Christians have a tendency to relegate history to the back burner of the conversation.  We're all about the present and the future.  We'd just as soon not get stuck in the past, unless of course we're daydreaming about mythical golden ages when everyone was a Christian and the nation was Christian.  There is a tendency, as well to recreate history to suit our own purposes -- as we saw recently with the Texas Textbook Committee.  Or maybe we'll develop the hubris to think that our age is the beginning of the next great age of faith, surpassing all that came before. 

Diana Butler Bass wrote a piece yesterday for her new Huffington Post  blog posting entitled "Is Western Christianity Suffering from Spiritual Amnesia?"   I'd like to clip a couple of excerpts and comment on them because I believe she's raising important questions.

At the present juncture of history, Western Christianity is suffering from a bad case of spiritual amnesia. Even those who claim to be devout or conservative often know little about the history of their faith traditions. Our loss of memory began more than two centuries ago, at the high tide of the Enlightenment. As modern society developed, the condition of broken memory -- being disconnected from the past -- became more widespread. Indeed, in the words of one French Catholic thinker, the primary spiritual dilemma of contemporary religion is the "loss and reconstruction" of memory.

If we're suffering from spiritual amnesia, we're likely suffering from a spiritual identity crisis.  This is an age when the changes are coming at us fast and furious.  Many of us feel as if we're rafting the the white waters of the Colorado River.  Where is our anchor?  Our sense of identity?  One of the consequences of amnesia is a loss of identity.  You simply don't know who you are or where you come from.  That is the danger that faces us today, and its largely our own fault.  We've simply not told our stories.    

Although many recoil from the term tradition, tradition is something we need to reclaim if we're to reclaim a sense of identity that will anchor us as we shoot the rapids of modernity/postmodernity.    Diana clarifies this a bit in her closing paragraph:

About a year ago, I heard Newsweek's Jon Meacham say, "History is to a country what memory is to an individual." The quip seems particularly apt to American religious groups. To paraphrase, history is to a religion (or a denomination, church, or faith community) what memory is to an individual. To lose memory is neither funny nor sad; rather, it is a path to profound brokenness, a loss of self, meaning, and God that leaves us in darkness unable to act in purposeful ways in the world. Thus, I wonder: Is spiritual amnesia a precursor to religious Alzheimer's, a fatal loss of memory for which there is no cure? I hope not. And I hope that religious people -- especially my progressive brothers and sisters -- can tether their passion for contemporary faith to ancient wisdom.

As we seek to tether our passion for faith to the ancient wisdom, let me recommend Diana's own book People's History of Christianity (Harper One, 2009) as a good place to start.  And, if you're a bit more ambitious, you might check out Diarmond MacCulloch's Christianity:  The First Three Thousand Years (Viking, 2010).  MacCulloch's book just arrived in the mail from the publisher, and all I've had time to do is flip through the pages -- but even though it's over a thousand pages in length -- it looks as if it will be a good read. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Here be Nephites -- Sightings

I have long had a fascination with the history of the Mormon church.  It, like my own church, has its roots on the American frontier.  In fact, a number of early Mormon leaders, including Sidney Rigdon and Parley P. Pratt, were "Campbellites" prior to joining with Joseph Smith.  So, my ears perk up when I hear something new emerging from the LDS community.  In today's edition of Sightings, Seth Perry and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, writes about a new theory as to the identity of the Nephites -- suggesting a Heartland Theory that has Nativist tendencies -- a movement within the LDS church that has implications for its future and may even include Glenn Beck among its supporters.  Intriguing essay!

_________________________________________________ 

Sightings 4/29/10



Here be Nephites
-- Seth Perry


The Book of Mormon is widely viewed as the quintessentially American scripture of a quintessentially American faith, but in strictly geographical terms this designation is more complicated than it might first appear. The Book’s modern manifestation is definitely American – Joseph Smith, New York farmer, said that he dug it out of a hill near his home. Believers regard the text as having an ancient history also, though, and here the geography is less clear. According to the text, its authors were pre-Columbian inhabitants of the New World, but its geographical terms are oblique: The characters war and proselytize over a “land northward” and a “land southward,” connected by “a narrow neck of land.” Many readers have assumed that what’s described is the Western Hemisphere – North and South America connected by the isthmus of Central America. Among other things, though, this scale is too vast for the characters’ descriptions of their travel: With the farthest cities mere days apart, the whole story seems to take place within a few hundred square miles. For some time, conventional wisdom has identified that area as Mesoamerica, stretching from modern-day central Mexico to Honduras. Mesoamerica hosted advanced pre-Columbian civilizations, the thinking goes, and the land forms fit, to a certain eye. The LDS Church has no official stance on the matter, but it has tacitly endorsed this view. Significant Church resources are committed to archaeological and ethnographic projects in Mesoamerica, and Church-sanctioned visualizations of the Book of Mormon story, replete with palm trees, do not appear to be set in, say, southern Illinois.


There is a swelling movement within the Church, though, that prefers to believe that the story took place in Illinois, among other North American locales. Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum’s Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America is the latest salvo in this argument. The authors’ “Heartland Model” theory hinges on the numerous Book of Mormon prophecies concerning a future “mighty nation” in the New World, “a land of liberty” (2 Nephi 1:7), “choice above all other lands” (Ether 2:7), established by “Gentiles” who will come “out of captivity” and revolt against their “mother Gentiles” (1 Nephi 13:17). This nation, the prophets recorded, would exist on “this land” – in other words, the land on which the prophets themselves were then living. Porter and Meldrum believe that the prophets, then, must have lived within the current borders of the United States, since they don’t find Mesoamerica particularly “choice”: “In what way could any Central American nation be considered a mighty nation above all other nations?”

The other side’s response has been, among other things, to demonstrate from the same texts that “this land” could just as easily mean “this continent,” which would not eliminate Mesoamerica; the debate goes on. But the fact that some people are looking for sacralization of the “heartland” in the Book of Mormon just now is interesting. Fifty-seven percent of the “quintessentially American” faith’s members now live outside the United States, and most growth is happening in those less “mighty” places, such as Central America. Scholars have long wondered how Mormonism’s American character affects its overseas growth, asking whether Mormonism can take authentic root in places where the American Constitution and apple pie are unknown. The Heartland Model, though, signals the need to wonder about the other side of the equation – how is international growth affecting Mormonism at home?

Whatever else it is, the Heartland movement looks like a ripple of nativism, a twitch of insecurity among Americans in a globalizing faith. Mormons are increasingly identified with conservative politics, and in its very name the “Heartland Model” conjures the right’s renewed rhetoric of American exceptionalism. Glenn Beck – piercingly conservative but rather quietly Mormon – shilled for an April conference put on by Porter’s company, founded to promote (and monetize) the Heartland Model. And Prophecies and Promises voices a familiar-sounding political message: Rededicating the United States as the Promised Land, the authors tell us, should give believers “a more comprehensive view of the individual responsibilities…to protect the freedoms established by the Founding Fathers who came out of captivity to create this nation in the Land of Promise.”

There is a lot more change to come if Mormonism is to be the “world religion” it aspires to be. For all of the growth overseas, for example, the vast church hierarchy is still overwhelmingly composed of white American men. When and if such features begin to shift, the impulse discernible in the Heartland Model is only likely to grow stronger.


Reference:

Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum, Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States of America (Digital Legend Press, 2009).


Seth Perry is a PhD candidate in History of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


----------


In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Web Forum editor emeritus Spencer Dew explores the relationship between Jack Kerouac’s religious thought and its expressive practice in the act of writing: “Indeed, his entire oeuvre can be read as an expression of his personal religious stance, a kind of ‘fusion’ of Catholic theology with notions taken from Buddhist philosophy and practice.” Through a close reading of Kerouac’s novella Tristessa, Dew suggests that such a fusion—despite exemplifying Kerouac at his writerly best—leads to a solipsism that is ethically troubling, and likely reflective of Kerouac’s personal and professional shortcomings—especially later in his life. “Devotion to Solipsism: Religious Thought and Practice in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa,” with invited responses from Benedict Giamo (University of Notre Dame), Nancy Grace (College of Wooster), Sarah Haynes (University of Western Illinois), Kurt Hemmer (Harper College), Amy Hungerford (Yale University), Omar Swartz (University of Colorado, Denver), Matt Theado (Gardner-Webb University), and Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College). http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/publications/webforum/index.shtml


----------

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Genesis for Everyone Parts One and Two -- Review

GENESIS FOR EVERYONE: Part One, Chapters 1-16. By John Goldingay. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 197 pp. GENESIS FOR EVERYONE: Part Two, Chapters 17-50. By John Goldingay. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 186 pp.

Genesis is the beginning of the story, starting creation and moving toward the creation of a people called Israel. Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and Joseph and brothers, these are the foundational stories, but the distance between that book and our day is quite wide and thus we need good and helpful guides. John Goldingay, David Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, seeks to offer us that guide.

The title of the book defines the audience quite well. This a set of commentaries – two in all – that focus on Genesis, written with a broad set of readers in mind. It doesn’t presuppose any expertise in the Bible, even providing at the end of each volume a glossary of words that might need some defining. A similar set of commentaries on the New Testament is being written by N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham.

In style and scope these commentaries remind this reader of William Barclay’s Daily Bible Study series that Westminster Press published a generation earlier. The difference in these two approaches is that while Barclay tended toward historical and cultural analogies, Goldingay largely integrates his commentary with stories from his life – family, friends, students. Each set of passages is usually introduced with a story from life, drawing the reader into the ancient story through the modern one. Whether that is helpful, only the reader can decide.

In terms of approach to the text, Goldingay is a scholarly British evangelical. He views the text as divinely inspired and guided, but that doesn’t mean that he takes the text with wooden literalness. He recognizes that the text Genesis came into existence over time, at the hand of multiple authors, though he doesn’t go into any detail as to the nature of that process. Indeed, he doesn’t deal with traditional authorship questions – JEDP. One would assume that the author doesn’t believe that such a discussion would further the conversation about interpreting the text at hand. Suffice it to say that God was involved and that the number of authors was several.

Goldingay sees history in the Genesis account, but he also sees parables. He likes the word parable rather than myth, due to the way many use the word myth (in a negative fashion). As he reads the text, he’ll suggest where the story is moving into the realm of history or the realm of parables, recognizing that often there is a gray area. Genesis 1 and 2 and the story of Noah, they are much more likely to be parabolic, stories that teach us about God and our relationship to God. As we get toward Abraham and the stories that follow, they are more in the realm of history, though even here there is some room to maneuver.

With regard to Genesis 1, which is often at the center of debate, he writes:


God did not design Genesis 1 to tell us what a camera would have caught if it had been present to film creation. Faulting it for failing to do so misses the point, and defending it to show that it does do so also misses the point. We have no need to try to show that science is wrong and that actually the world was created in six days, just a few thousand years ago. Equally we have no need to try to conform the "facts" of Genesis with science, for instance, by suggesting that a "day" in Genesis need not mean twenty-four hours but could cover a longer period (1:27-28).
To try to make the biblical text conform to science, or the reverse, simply misses the point that the text (and God) intend to make. The point he wants to get across is that this text has meaning for us, in our day.

If we needn’t be concerned about history and science in Genesis 1 and 2, which he sees as being a historical parable. To say this doesn’t mean that it’s not true, only that the truth is carried in a picture. But as we move along there is a movement, around Genesis 11 and 12, where parable begins to merge and then give way to history. But again, the point is not the historicity, but the story of God’s desire to reconcile and bless the world that God created (and recreated after the days of Noah). Of Abraham, he writes that here the story becomes more about real people and real places. He notes that the scholarly consensus has moved back and forth as to whether Abraham existed, so it’s wise he says, not to “hitch one’s wagon too firmly to whatever is the current scholarly consensus. Ultimately, he suggested that there will never be the kind of historical evidence that can make for “definitive judgments” (1:141). But, Goldingay sees in the way the story progresses signs that it is more than a parable.

Goldingay is open and yet cautious. Yes, I would use the word cautious rather than conservative. He seeks to anchor his commentary in the scholarly mainstream, but doesn’t push the envelope too far. There are not many surprises to be found here, but then this is written not for scholars but for lay people seeking to understand an ancient text so that they might find instruction for the faith.

On a personal level, I was interested in seeing how he handled the Sodom and Gomorrah story. He starts out his comments with an acknowledgment that this text stands at the center of contemporary debates. He writes about friendships with homosexuals, and recognizes their humanity and decency. As to where he stands on the issue, he writes:

I don’t take the view that same-sex relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships, but neither do I think they are inherently more terrible than various other ways of falling short of God’s vision for sexual relationships (2:27).
With that introduction to his own sensibilities, he goes on to say that this passage doesn’t speak to the nature of same-sex relationships that are under discussion today. The outcry that reaches God’s ears, that leads to judgment isn’t the sexual behavior of the people of Sodom, but rather “the violent way weak people are being treated by powerful people. The implication is that the issue in Sodom is the affliction of the powerless by the powerful” (2:28). The attempted rape of Lot’s visitors is just one more example of the violence and faithlessness of this city.

The book of Genesis is central to the Jewish and the Christian faith traditions. In it we find the roots of our faith. We hear of creation and covenant. We receive our commissionings from God and yet we see the ways in which we can be faithless. Goldingay, is in the end, a trustworthy guide. One need not agree at all points, to find in these two volumes a lively and instructive commentary on this most important text of scripture.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Being Church in Cyberspace (Kimberly Knight)

While at the Theology after Google conference in March, I had the opportunity to meet in person Kimberly Knight, someone I had earlier met on Facebook.  In the course of our conversations I discovered that she was ministering in an on-line world called Second Life.  Now, I've never ventured into the Second Life world, but found her descriptions of the potential for being church intriguing.  So, I asked her if she'd like to share with my readers something of what this all entails.  Here is the first offering, which is reposted from the blog Sacred Space in Cyberspace.  I invite you to explore with Kimberly this idea and share your thoughts -- how do you feel about worshiping in cyberspace?

****************************************

Just over 3 years ago when I had been in Second Life (SL) for barely a month I began to get an inkling of the powerful potential for ministry - real connections, real community in an online world. I am not entirely sure why it just made sense to me – it seemed completely natural while I was sure it was totally oddball.

I started with a little parcel on Skybeam Estates,




and opened a "theology pub" which is where Arkin Ariantho (founder of the Anglican Cathedral in Second Life) and I met. We were both still quite new to SL, a few weeks old maybe and we started talking and he was very excited. He saw great potential too. At the time he was focused on non-profit work but would soon start building the cathedral on my first sim Xenia. I had been talking a lot to the owner of the Skybeam (Charlene Trudeau) about the notion of a dedicated sim and before I really even knew what I was getting into, I looked into buying a sim.

Now this his was till a little early enough in the history of Second Life when Linden Labs was still figuring out all the non-profit and educational rates. So when I contacted them via phone and talked about a nfp sim for a student doing a project and they said that they would extend the reduced pricing to me for the first sim Xenia on which Koinonia is located. I had visited some lovely worship spaces – and one of my favorites is still the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Second Life. I was truly inspired by their community – and by their grasp of just how powerful this medium could be.


I built our first little church and thank goodness it does not rain in SL because we would have taken on water! We were a little catty-whompas but we held our first worship service on


Easter Sunday 2007 and we had a great group gathered.


After some time had passed and it was becoming more clear that this is a viable ministry and with the help of a colleague and friend (John who is still with us) (and we had a spiffy new sanctuary built by Troy Vogel).


Ordained ministers from the United Church of Christ and The United Methodist Church (Ian and Kathy) joined our leadership team and we offered five services a week. The Second Life bug was no-where close to wearing off and next I wanted very much to open an interfaith sim as a neighbor. A place for conversation and education – that sim is Qoheleth.


I worked hard on a grant through my church and received a one year grant from the E Rhodes and Leona B Carpenter foundation and it included money to maintain the sim for one year and a small stipend for my work as pastor of an open and affirming congregation.

All the while I was still in school full time at Candler School of Theology (I worked my new obsession into a directed study and later even an article for a Yale journal - I'll share that with y'all later). It was clear that the money would run out of course so I opened one more sim as a somewhat commercial endeavor, but also as a chance to offer small parcels of land to folks who wanted to give SL homesteading a try. That sim is Ex Nihilo and the revenue from rent on Ex Nihilo helps keep all the current ministries afloat. All three sims are still thriving and include many different ministries. PC(USA), Spiritual Peacemakers, A Catholic Meditation Center and more. We even have neighboring MCC community and the Anglican Cathedral which quickly outgrew Xenia.

There is so much to tell – so many lovely, heartwarming, true stories to tell (including the day my partner and I were married by a UCC pastor from Massachusetts IN Second Life). I hope you will come back often and meet the people, hear the stories and be a part of Koinonia in Second Life.

Grace and peace,
Kimberly – Sophianne Rhode in Second Life

Kimberly Knight received her M.Div. from Candler School of Theology at Emory University.  Prior to seminary she worked nearly five years as a pubic school activist in the city of Atlanta where she worked to help launch the very successful charter school - The Neighborhood Charter School.  She is the Circuit Rider for The Beatitudes Society, to which she brings more than fifteen years of experience across a broad spectrum of technology settings including multimedia production and instructional technology.  She currently serves as the pastor of an online congregation that has been gathering for two years in the cyber-world of Second Life. Kimberly, her partner and their two children are active members of Kirkwood United Church of Christ in Atlanta, Georgia.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Double Vision of our Conquest Narratives

How do you feel about the book of Joshua?  It's the story of a conquest, the story of a displacement of a people already living in the land, so that another people can have a place to live.  In fact, according to the narrative, God unleashes genocide upon the inhabitants.  Consider the story of Ai in chapter 8, where God commands the slaughter of the entire population, including women and children -- 12,000 in all.

What do we make of these conquest narratives?  The biblical one and our own?   How  exactly was the West won?

Dr. Daniel Hawk, an Old Testament Professor at Ashland Theological Seminary, has a new commentary out on this book and this subject.  It's entitled Joshua in 3-D.  I've not read the commentary -- though if you stop by Allan Bevere's blog you can order it for 40% off (I must do this!).  Dan Hawk is in the midst of a series of guest posts at Allan's blog, the latest being entitled "Double Vision."  As with earlier posts, Dan weaves together commentary on Joshua with comments about American understandings of Manifest Destiny and the anti-conquest images of Avatar (I must confess to being among the few Americans to have not yet seen the movie).   

In today's posting, Dan speaks of the images with which the conqueror uses to describe the other.  Often we use negative terms like savage and uncivilized to describe the people in the land, while the invader takes on the aura of civilized and noble.  And yet, there is at the same time counter images, that seek to picture the other in a different manner.  It's one of ambivalence. 

One problem is that reality exposes these projections for the pernicious fabrications they are. The early colonists would not have survived had not indigenous peoples imparted to them their rich agricultural wisdom. The eloquence and acuity of indigenous orators consistently impressed colonial listeners. Indigenous cultures were so strong and sophisticated that many scholars have conjectured that were it not for the epidemics that ravaged Native peoples (at mortality rates that in some cases approached ninety percent), the whole colonial enterprise might have turned out very differently.

The other problem is that even the invader recognizes the falsity of the constructions. Guilt and misgiving leak through in stories that exemplify the nobility of the indigenous peoples and portray invaders “going Native.” The result is an ambivalent, schizoid invader identity.
On that last point, I'd suggest another movie adaptation of the idea -- Dances with Wolves

But in terms of our biblical narrative, the writer of Joshua does find a people in the land, the Gibeonites, who are even more faithful than the Israelites.  They become, in a sense, the "noble savage" of our "Manifest Destiny" lore.  Both Allan and I -- and Dan -- would welcome your thoughts about conquest/invasion stories, and how they shape us. 

One thing that I'll add in closing relates to comments I made on Allan's post -- we have a discomfort with narratives that speak of ethnic cleansing and genocide, especially if God is involved.  And so, we create alternative myths.  That is, we picture the land as uninhabited and needing settlers.  This was true of the American scene.  It was true of the Afrikaner conquest of South Africa.  It is true of the Israeli conquest of Palestine.  If the land is sparsely populated, then surely we have the right to take it -- especially if God has promised it to us (whether we're the old Israel or the new Israel). 



Good News from Progressive Christianity (Bruce Epperly)

Bruce Epperly returns with the fourth in his series on the nature of Progressive Christianity.  In today's post, he takes on the question of evangelism, and why Progressives have good news to share.  Bruce's previous post gave a basic definition of a Spirit-centered Progressive Christianity. 

__________________________________________________

GOOD NEWS FROM PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIANITY
Bruce Epperly


Just mention evangelism among a group of progressive Christians and typically you’ll be met with an uneasy silence. Many of us remember the hard-sell “turn or burn” evangelistic techniques of our childhood or recall unpleasant encounters with street corner revivalists. On more than one occasion, most of us progressives have been told that we’re bound for hell because of our theological beliefs, gender identity, or openness to persons of other religions. But, since most of us don’t believe in hell, and, in many cases, do not have strong images of the afterlife, we lack incentive to share the good news of our faith. We may believe that persons can live good lives and find meaning apart from sharing our beliefs or going to our church. We’re more likely to share about a book we’ve read or a movie we’ve seen than our spiritual lives or invite a friend to church.

For fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals, the primary motivation for evangelism is “fire insurance.” In the words of a conservative Christian I met once at a wedding, “I accepted Christ to escape hell; heaven is my reward.” In contrast, we progressives often fit the joke, “What do you get when you mix a Unitarian with a Jehovah’s Witness? Someone who knocks on doors for no apparent reason.” When progressive Christians talk about evangelism, we often consider the primary purpose of evangelism to be church growth or to balance the congregational budget.

We progressives should not let our negative associations about evangelism prevent us from sharing our good news. Faith lives by what we affirm theologically, not by what we deny theologically. Faith involves creative, yet humble, affirmations that we can live by. I believe that spirit-centered progressive Christians have good news to share, and a good reason to share it! We have a lively, global and inclusive theology, and an affirmation of God’s world in all its diversity. We have an alternative message to share – one that encourages questioning, justice-seeking, and hospitality to all of God’s children. This message is increasingly important as an antidote to the growing influence of individualism, indifference about global climate change, and polarization over the relationship of science and religion, marriage equality, and the role of government as a force for good.

We aren’t interested in “conversion” for conversion’s sake, and we don’t see our “salvation” as saving people from the flames of hell, but we need to tell our story passionately, humbly, and with confidence – a story that will provide meaning for persons in this world and this lifetime, and, I personally believe, in terms of life beyond the grave. Indeed, our story is rooted in the gospel and deserves the same media and public attention as more conservative faith stories.

Historically speaking, I believe that when progressives and moderates no longer connected evangelism with heaven and hell, they were unable to find a “spiritual equivalent” to motivate them to share good news. Still, I believe we progressive and moderate Christians truly have a strong motivation to share good news – it’s not primarily about the afterlife, but experiencing grace, transformation, and joy in this life and in joining with God in creating structures of wholeness and justice. The lives of marginalized persons, the non-human world, vulnerable children and adults, and the planet are at stake, and that should be enough reason to share God’s good news.

Let me suggest the good news we can share, that is an alternative to the consumerism, polarization, alienation, individualism, and fear characteristic of much popular religion and culture. Our good news is not entirely novel. In fact, I believe it’s the gospel, but a gospel that excludes no one and welcomes everyone to God’s banquet. When we share this good news, it’s not about “we have it and you don’t,” but that here’s some good news that can change your life, especially if you’ve given up on God or want to deepen your spiritual life. Here are some progressive “good news” stories:


  • God loves the world, human and non-human.

  •  God rejoices in diversity in the human world as well as the non-human world.

  •  We are in God’s hands in this life and the next.

  •  God wants you to have abundant life; God does not cause cancer, heart disease, or earthquakes.

  •  Our spiritual lives can shape the health of mind, body, and spirit.

  • Faith and science can be partners, whether in the quest for meaning in evolutionary theory; moral use of genetic research; or in caring for the earth.

  •  God is on the side of justice for the vulnerable and forgotten.

  •  God calls us to be partners in healing the earth.

  •  We can experience transformation and new life.

  •  We can beyond polarization to the relationship even with persons we disagree.

  •  There is more to life than money, power, or consumption; you can experience the beauty of relationship, nature, and everyday life.

  •  You don’t have to die to experience salvation or experience God.

  •  There is no one way to be a Christian.

  •  Doubt and uncertainty cannot separate us from God’s love.

  •  Faithful people can ask questions about key issues of faith.

  •  Christians can share and learn from persons of other faiths, new spiritual movements, and no faith tradition at all.

  •  In life and death, we are God’s beloved, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Think for a moment: what are your good news stories, both at the level of theology and personal experience. These affirmations find concreteness when they connect with our lived experience. This is what “testimony” is all about, and conservatives don’t own the words “testimony” or “witness.” For me, some areas of testimony that reflect my experience as a progressive Christian:


  • God gave me the strength to respond creatively to an unexpected mid-life job loss.

  •  I experience peace and well-being through spiritual practices.

  •  I learned that faith and doubt aren’t contradictory.

  •  I have experienced God’s presence in conflict situations.

  •  God’s presence sustained me during our son’s cancer.

  •  God opened my heart to the gifts of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered persons.
For progressive Christians, good news sharing is mutual, a matter of give and take, of sharing and learning. Our sharing involves inviting folks to share an adventure that affirms their experience and vision of reality, whether they belong to a faith tradition, struggle to believe, or see themselves as atheists. God is at work in all persons, and because there are no God-less zones, we can deepen our faith as progressives even while we’re sharing our good news.

Bruce Epperly is a seminary professor and administrator, pastor, theologian, and spiritual companion. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. His Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, written with Katherine Gould Epperly, was selected Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. (http://www.bruceepperly.com/)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Down on the Border -- Wrestling with Arizona's Inhumane Anti-Immigrant Law

I was hoping to get Robin Hoover to write something up for the blog about the situation in Arizona.  Robin is a Disciples pastor in Tuscon, AZ and a tireless worker on behalf of migrants who founded a ministry more than a decade ago called Humane Borders.  I said, I hoped to get a piece from him.  But all he had time for was this brief statement sent via his Blackberry:

No time to write. Get goups down here. Protest where you are. Send resources for migrants, dollars for advocacy.
Maybe that's all that needs to be said, but of course more needs to be said.

It is interesting that right now, as Arizona seeks to clamp down on migration from the south by requiring the police to stop and question anyone who seems suspicious -- a law that, despite the promises by the governor that such a thing won't happen, is bound to lead to racial profiling and infringement on civil rights, efforts are underway to delay discussion on immigration reform.   It is our unwillingness to deal with immigration reform, including making provisions for guest workers, family unity, and paths to citizenship, that has led us to this point. 

In an earlier post I quoted scripture, but today I quote the words found on the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"   (Emma Lazarus)
Of course, we've never truly embraced this motto, and our immigration laws have rarely reflected the realities that confront us.  The reason why migration is happening, is the same reason that it's always occurred.  Changes in global economic, social, cultural, and religious conditions.  Workers come north in search of jobs and the opportunity for a new life.  The trek is dangerous and often ends in tragedy.  Migration makes major impacts on communities, and they are often unable to handle the realities.  It is time for Congress to act, but already we're seeing efforts to delay and bury such things.  But if we do this, then Arizona will be just the first of many.

Robin Hoover is working on a plan that would, if enacted, bring fairness and justice to the conversation.  It's extensive and deals with economic and social issues.  It involves with providing migrants with legal ways of coming into the country, that would end the chaos at the border and make the nation safer.  I think it has promise -- but it will take political will not yet shown by our government.  Let us use this new law to stir the conversation in Washington, demanding that they deal with the issue now.   

Israel's Holy War -- Sightings

In recent months we have watched as the government of Israel has consistently rebuffed the requests by the White House to freeze its settlement building activities.  All of this is to no avail -- perhaps in part due to the fact that members of Congress are unwilling to support the President -- as the settlements expand and the situation becomes more dire.   Those of us who want a just peace in that area are continually frustrated by the actions on all sides, but the ideological direction of the Israeli leadership is troubling. 

Martin Marty notes that rarely if ever has his Sightings column ventured into the Israeli situation, but a review of four books on the Israeli military in the New York Review of Books caught his eye.  There is a dangerous trend in Israeli military circles as more extreme religious views take root.  Thus, just war is being replaced with holy war ideas.  That does not bode well for peace.   I invite you to read and respond.

************************************

Sightings 4/26/10




Israel’s Holy War
-- Martin E. Marty


In eleven years of weekly Sightings I can’t find that I ever commented on “public religion” in Israel. The U. S. is usually in our sights, and we are aware of participation in or leadership of holy wars by Hindu militants, Muslim extremists, Buddhist monks, and Christian forces around the world. Israel, a close ally and, religiously, a kin, must have flown under the radar here, because it is on page one or in prime time almost daily, and religious themes – for example, Gush Emunim in support of illegal settlements – are prominent.

One can begin catching up on holy war in Israel in Eyal Press’s notice of four books on the subject in the April 29th New York Review of Books. The book titles are revealing: Israel and Its Army: From Cohesion to Confusion; Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2000; Israel’s Religious Right and the Question of Settlement; and Israel’s Materialist Militarism. Press supplements these with his own reporting. The authors are consistent in noting that the IDF, Israel Defense Forces, is infused and in some outfits virtually taken over by non-secular officers and enlistees who make no secret of their intent to replace “Just War” with “Holy War.”

In language that recalls the religious rhetoric of Lieutenant General William Botkin, who regularly framed contemporary American military ventures as Christian holy wars, or Air Force Academy leadership that wanted to Christianize our warrior efforts, militants in IDF leadership echo an invited rabbi who “cast the Gaza war as a battle between bnei ha-or – the children of light – and bnei ha-hasheh – the children of darkness: “In Hebrew literature, this is an eschatological war, a messianic war.” The religious nationalism of the Orthodox after the Six-Day War in 1967 has been replaced by hard-line religious conscripts, according to Press.

Senior military officers tell the International Crisis Group that they will not help evict illegal settlers from “Jewish land” that “is promised to us by the Bible, by God,” as one of them said. “This ideology is the backbone of the army, and so I will not obey such an order.” Some observers – including Stuart Cohen, author of Israel and its Army, mentioned above – believe that the threat of insubordination is overblown, and that cooler heads in the military and government find strategic ways to “cool it” when the scene is dominated by hot-heads. Higher officers get lessons on how to handle outbursters who can quote Scripture against the more political and disciplined religious leadership.

No one, however, foresees a future in which religious, in this case messianic, influence will not be growing; such forces make any diplomatic moves toward peace vulnerable. The author tells how after November 25th and the announcement of a ten-month freeze on settlements, some settlers torched and desecrated a mosque, “part of a new strategy to exact a heavy ‘price tag’” for any measure they deem detrimental. Followers of Rabbi Kook and other Gush Emunim leaders who called for disobedience to uncongenial orders grow in number and power.

Progressively replaced by holy warriors, the “just-warriors” lose influence. It is hard to see how diplomatic and conciliatory calls and practices stand a chance in this “take no prisoners,” make-no-compromises, setting. We are used to hearing messianic, Raptural rhetoric by American Protestant Zionist allies of the Israeli militants, but their power has been limited by their distance from the scene. The people being noticed by Eyal Press are up close, so the risks are higher, the scene dangerous.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at http://www.illuminos.com/.


----------


In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Web Forum editor emeritus Spencer Dew explores the relationship between Jack Kerouac’s religious thought and its expressive practice in the act of writing: “Indeed, his entire oeuvre can be read as an expression of his personal religious stance, a kind of ‘fusion’ of Catholic theology with notions taken from Buddhist philosophy and practice.” Through a close reading of Kerouac’s novella Tristessa, Dew suggests that such a fusion—despite exemplifying Kerouac at his writerly best—leads to a solipsism that is ethically troubling, and likely reflective of Kerouac’s personal and professional shortcomings—especially later in his life. “Devotion to Solipsism: Religious Thought and Practice in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa,” with invited responses from Benedict Giamo (University of Notre Dame), Nancy Grace (College of Wooster), Sarah Haynes (University of Western Illinois), Kurt Hemmer (Harper College), Amy Hungerford (Yale University), Omar Swartz (University of Colorado, Denver), Matt Theado (Gardner-Webb University), and Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College). http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/publications/webforum/index.shtml


----------

Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Following the Good Shepherd -- Sermon

John 10:22-30


I would like to begin this morning by reading the Twenty-third Psalm from the King James Version, because it is the version that we know best.

 1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. (Psalm 23, King James Version)
It’s a commonly held belief that sheep are dumb animals. This belief has given rise to the phrase "to fleece," which is used in reference to stealing from a person who is unaware of what is taking place. With our common presuppositions about sheep, could it be that Jesus is insulting us by calling us sheep?

Before we go looking for a new metaphor, one that may seem a bit less derogatory, perhaps we should first reconsider the reputation of sheep. Are they really as dumb as we’ve been led to believe? Could it be that they’ve just gotten bad press?

This seems to be the case. Apparently sheep have had their reputations smeared by cattle ranchers. As you may know from watching westerns on TV, cattle-ranchers hate sheep and their herders with a passion. Ranchers, who are predisposed to cattle, decided that sheep are dumb because sheep don't act like cattle. For instance, when you herd cattle, you drive them from behind by whooping and hollering and cracking whips. If you try this with sheep, they’ll just circle around you. It seems you can't drive sheep; you have to lead them. Sheep won't go anywhere unless they know that there is someone out in front making sure that everything is okay. So who are the dumb ones?


1. HEARING THE VOICE OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Sheep and shepherds are prominent images in Scripture. Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds, and according to Luke, shepherds were the first people to receive the message of Jesus' birth. In John 10 we find a series of statements from the lips of Jesus, in which he describes himself as the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11). There is a good reason why all these biblical characters were shepherds, and why sheep figure so prominently in biblical imagery: Sheep were, after all, the primary form of livestock in Palestine. It’s important to also note that the people of Israel didn't consider them to be stupid. They knew what sheep were capable of and so they didn’t take offense at being called sheep.

In this morning’s text, Jesus lifts up a specific attribute of sheep – they can recognize the voice of their shepherd. Not only that, but they will only follow the voice of that one shepherd. The reason sheep will only respond to the voice or call of their own shepherd is because they know that they can count on their shepherd to keep them safe. When danger comes, they won't run off like the hireling. Therefore, sheep get very attached to their shepherds.

Barbara Brown Taylor tells of a conversation with a friend who grew up around sheep. Her friend told her that "he could walk right through a sleeping flock without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium." If you meet up with a group of Bedouins today at an oasis in the Middle East you will see a scene very similar to what was common in first century Palestine. Although several flocks might gather at the same watering hole, the Bedouin shepherds don’t try to keep them apart, because when the shepherd is ready to leave, he or she gives off a distinctive call or whistle and the flock gathers to that shepherd. Taylor writes: “They know whom they belong to; they know their shepherd's voice, and it is the only one they will follow.”* It would seem that sheep aren't all that dumb after all; they know whom they can trust and whom not to trust, and they respond only to that one voice. If, then, we are part of Jesus’ flock, then we’ll recognize his voice and follow him.

In our day there are many voices calling out to us. They appeal to our emotions, our needs, our desires, our pride., and our fears They prey upon our sense of rootlessness, that nomadic spirit that has infected our age. And into this spiral of confusion, we hear Jesus saying to us: “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).


2. THE CARE OF THE SHEPHERD

Despite the bad press that sheep tend to receive, the reason we’re attracted to the images of sheep and shepherd, is that they provide us with a sense of comfort and well-being. This sensibility is reinforced by the 23rd Psalm, which begins with the line: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." By describing himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus takes over the imagery of the Psalm, imagery that is used by the Psalmist to describe Yahweh’s relationship to the people of God. Indeed, in John’s account, Jesus goes so far as to say: “the Father and I are one.” That is, when you think of the Lord being your shepherd, think also of Jesus, because they are of one purpose.

As we ponder the meaning of the claim put on the lips of Jesus, "I am the Good Shepherd," it would be appropriate for us to consider how this Psalm defines what that means. We love this Psalm because it speaks of God's comforting presence in difficult times. We love the images of green pastures and still waters, because they speak of peacefulness and serenity. But, earlier readers of the Psalm likely would have heard something different. They would have heard a word about God's provision for his people. Green pastures suggest food and still waters a safe place to drink, things that sheep living in a desert climate couldn't take for granted. They trusted the shepherd to scout out and find food and water for them. They also had confidence that when trouble came, the shepherd would protect them.

The traditional rendering of verse 4 of Psalm 23 says: "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil." It is this verse that leads so many people to choose it for funerals, but a better translation of the verse would be:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff -- they comfort me.
The sheep have confidence that when they walk through even the darkest valley, their shepherd, armed with rod and staff, will not let anything happen to them. They will make it through the difficult times that face them. If God is our shepherd, we need not fear, for God stands with us.


3. RESPONDING TO THE MESSIAH

This discussion of the Good Shepherd comes in the midst of a discussion about the identity of the Messiah. The religious leaders of the day couldn’t accept Jesus in this role, because he didn’t act as they expected a Messiah to act. In John’s account, Jesus responds by telling them that their opposition stems from the fact that they’re simply not his sheep. If they had been his sheep, they would have known his voice, and responded to his promise of protection and security. I should point out here that there is another audience in mind as well – it’s the opponents of the Beloved Disciple. There was division in that early Christian community, and the one who wrote this account is speaking to them, calling on them to heed the voice of Jesus that came through him. Who is the Messiah, the one sent from God, the one who will speak a word of comfort, of challenge, and guidance? And will we know this voice?

Although we hear a word of comfort in the image of the Good Shepherd that doesn’t seem to be the point that John wants to make. He places this image in the midst of a discussion that Jesus has with these opponents that continue to question his authority to speak. So, when we hear Jesus talking about heeding the voice of the shepherd, he’s talking about allegiance, loyalty, and a willingness to follow.

There are many voices in the world that are calling out to us. The question is, which one will we hear and abide? I think sometimes we falter in our allegiance because we’re fearful. Maybe we’re afraid that God won’t come through in our time of need, and so we switch our allegiance to the one who promises us peace and security. And, in every age there are demagogues promising us peace and security, if only we will follow them. It’s tempting to listen and follow, but will these voices lead us through the darkest valleys?

Our hope lies in hearing and following the Messiah of God, the one who is the Good Shepherd. If we’re to do this, then it’s important to get to know this Shepherd’s voice, to learn the uniqueness of his call. This involves all of the Christian practices – prayer, study, meditation, conversation, listening, worshiping. Yes, sheep get lost only when they stop listening for the shepherd’s voice, and this happens when the sheep lose contact with the shepherd.

Remember the sheep have confidence in the shepherd because the shepherd has been there for them, and the same is true of us. Without taking exclusivist detours that build fences to keep others out of the conversation, there is in John’s message, the reminder that through an act of grace, God seeks out God’s sheep. Therefore, if we hear the Shepherd’s voice calling out to us, if we’re willing to attune ourselves to the Shepherd’s voice, then we can have confidence when we walk through the darkest of valleys of life, whether they are sickness, loss of jobs, a disaster, or death of a loved one. We have this confidence because we know that in Jesus, God has already gone before us and scouted out the path. If we stick close to him, we will make it through safely. That doesn't mean that the wolves won't nip at our heels, but the Lord is with us, to lead us safely through the danger.

*Barbara Brown Taylor quoted in Pulpit Resource, 29 (April, May, June 2001): 30.
Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
April 25, 2010
Fourth Sunday of Easter

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Stranger in our Midst

The people of God have long been a wandering people.  The Old Testament is filled with directives concerned with the way the alien is to be treated -- because they had been strangers in a strange land.  From the Torah we hear this directive:

33When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. 34The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.  (Leviticus 19:33-34)
It is in the light of passages such as this that we must hear and consider the debates in this land concerning immigration.  Immigration reform has been stalled for years, in large part because there simply is not the political will to get done what must be done.  The parties are too polarized and thus we find ourselves stalled and the problem worsens. 

It is in that context that the state of Arizona has taken matters into their own hands and enacted a new law that gives the police almost unlimited powers to stop and question a person, whom they might deem to be illegally in the country.  What they have done is criminalize being present in the country without proper documentation.  The possibilities of misuse and abuse of the law are endless.  While nativist sentiment fuels this movement in part, there are a lot of other factors involved as well.  I my mind no good can come of this law.  It will only exacerbate the problem. 

Now, having lived for much of the past 30 years in Southern California (until my recent move to Michigan), I understand the complexities of the issues facing Arizona.  Due to an unwillingness on the part of Congress to address immigration issues, the states bordering Mexico have become increasingly agitated about the costs and dangers of dealing with immigration issues.  Immigration issues impact hospitals, schools, housing stock, crime, and more.  People are exploited for economic gain. 

Although border states must deal most directly with immigration related issues, it's important that we all contribute to them.  Our desire for cheap labor and cheap goods, combined with business interests wanting to make the most profit, has led to the increased use of undocumented immigrant labor.  Undocumented workers don't tend to be unionized, don't complain about hours or pay, will work in less than savory conditions -- but often pay taxes, including Social Security (for benefits they'll never claim).  As for the illegal drug trade -- we fuel this by our insatiable demand for drugs.  It is obvious that the "war on drugs" has failed, and that the demand from the north keeps the drugs flowing.   If immigration reform is to happen, we must take responsibility for our own actions.

So, as an op-ed in the Arizona Republic suggests, Arizona has taken on the aura of a police state.  The people of Arizona recognize that civil liberties are at stake, but they don't seem to care.  And, the likelihood is that a rather extreme sort of leadership likely will come to the fore in Arizona.  Similar movements could emerge in other states -- including California. 

So what do we do?  Jim Wallis has called for churches to not cooperate.  Some are calling for a boycott of Arizona.  But, perhaps the best thing we can do is push for Congress to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform that is fair and just, that recognizes that you can't simply move 11 million (whatever the current number) of people out of the country.  Many of these families have children who have lived all their lives in the states.  For all intents and purposes they are as "American" as I am, only they lack the proper papers.  Businesses also must come clean and obey the law -- as a commentator on NPR said yesterday, if there are no jobs people won't be moving north.

Let us reason together on this and come up with an equitable solution. 

1Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:1-2)

Friday, April 23, 2010

An Alternative to Warren's "Purpose Driven Life"

Ethics Daily has posted an edited version of Bruce Epperly's post from last week concerning Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life.    Bruce offers a vision of a holy adventure, in which we participate with God in co-creating our future.  It's not quite as cut and dry and maybe not as "safe," but is this not a better way to experience life?

Challenging Rick Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" is like David going up against Goliath, especially if you're the pastor of a small congregation who also teaches at a small seminary.

When the call came, I had to respond. You see, for a few years I had seen signs announcing "Forty Days of Purpose" and had heard from pastors and church growth consultants that "if you really want folks to come to a church program, you should offer the 'Purpose Driven Life.' Nothing succeeds like success, after all." And, folks came to Purpose Driven Life studies, often in record numbers.

But, I heard other messages, ones that pastors and congregants whispered to me and one another in private. Many didn't want to contradict the new congregational orthodoxy being promoted in the "Forty Days" studies. In private conversations, I heard pastors and congregants admit:  (to continue reading at Ethics Daily, click here).

Shame, Honor, Homsexuality, and Romans 1

My recent posting of an interview I did with Steve Kindle a few years back generated quite a few comments.  Indeed, this is a topic that always engenders conversation, which probably stems from the fact that it is one of the political dividing points in modern society.  It divides the body politic and the faith communities.  In most of our conversations, we end up with questions of the Bible and its interpretation and application.  Those taking the conservative position on the issue, will tell you that the Bible is very clear -- Homosexuality is contrary to God's law (usually pointing to Leviticus) and contrary to nature (references to Romans 1).  I'll not take up the issue of law in this post, but the issue of nature is an intriguing one. 

In Romans 1, Paul is setting out his understanding of the human condition, suggesting that God's wrath is revealed against the wicked who suppress the truth.  He is arguing that the Gentile world, though bereft of the revealed truth, have sufficient revelation in nature.  Unfortunately, the Gentile world has chosen to ignore this testimony, and have created idols rather than worship the true God.  As an example of this renunciation of truth, they have engaged in sexual behavior that is contrary to nature.  It is this passage, that ultimately stands as the foundation for most Christian opposition to same-gender relationships. 

This is the foundational passage for some Christians who would be otherwise open to full inclusion of homosexuals into the church (this is the view of Richard B. Hays).

24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.



26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.  (Romans 1:24-27 NRSV).
The question is, what does Paul mean here?  And is this passage the key to our understanding of this issue? 

One of the problems that faces us today, is that there is this gulf of cultural experience that separates us from the 1st century.  What was considered "natural" 2000 years ago may not be so now, or at least what was contrary to nature was different.  In this regard, I appreciate the thoughts of James McGrath.  James is a bible scholar and knows his way around the text better than I do.  He makes this point about shame and honor as it relates to the issue of same gender relationships.  His interpretation makes a lot of sense to me.  He writes:

If we look carefully at the language Paul uses, we notice that the terminology Paul uses for such intercourse not that of sin but that of shame and dishonor. Looking at the background to this language may help us understand why Paul could think of homosexuality as a punishment from God. Paul's viewpoint appears to be that homosexual intercourse is shameful and contrary to nature, and it is important to look to Paul's ancient historical-cultural context in determining what such language would mean to him and his readers. Our idea of "natural" intercourse more often has to do with "tab A fitting into slot B." In Paul's time, the thinking about nature, gender and intercourse was that men are by nature active and women by nature passive. What would seemed shameful in this ancient honor-shame cultural context was the transgressing of such gender roles, with men demeaning themselves by taking the passive female role, and conversely women taking on the active role which is by nature male.

In other words, if James is correct, Paul is working off the assumption that same gender sexual activity isn't sin, but it is a sign of punishment, for they are acting shamefully and dishonoring their bodies, by doing what is contrary to nature.  What is contrary to nature is, according to this view, taking on sexual roles inappropriate to one's gender.    Beyond that, as James points out the most common form of same-gender relationship in that era was pederasty -- as is depicted in the picture I took from his site.  Note one person is bearded, the other is not.

A Little Football for Detroit

The city of Detroit generally gets little if no respect.  The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, but most Americans aren't big NHL fans.  The Tigers and the Pistons have had some good teams, even championship ones, but the team that seems to have epitomized Detroit in the eyes of Americans has been their NFL franchise -- the Lions.  They have been for many years, at best, inept.  They were the first NFL team to go 0-16, just 2 years ago.  At the same time, the auto industry was in free fall and Detroit was unsure of its future.

Well, the auto industry has begun to stabilize.  While Toyota has had lots of problems, Ford has taken off, and GM seems to be righting itself.  Even a much smaller Chrysler seems poised to make a rebound.  Detroit, it seems is ready for a new day.  But, of course, there's the Lions. 

Well, last night the Lions poised themselves to rise from the ashes.  With the number 2 pick they chose a young man who hails from my home state of Oregon and who played for Nebraska.  He has an interesting name -- Ndamukong Suh -- but it will be a name that likely will be remembered.   So, will this young man be the foundation of a new day for the Lions?  Oh, and to help out their young QB from last year's draft, Matthew Stafford, the Lions went out and got themselves a speedy running back from the University of California, named Jahvid Best.  Both young men are known both for their talent and their character!  And will the rising star of the Lions signal a new day for Detroit?  Here's one west coast transplant who hopes that this is true!