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Showing posts from August, 2012

Beware the Specter of American Exceptionalism

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We’re in the eye of a political storm, sitting in that moment between two political conventions.  The Republicans have had their turn to nominate and hail their candidates.  Next week the Democrats will gather to renominate the President.  One theme you’re undoubtedly to hear in both conventions is the extolling of American Exceptionalism.   You have heard and will hear the United States described not only as a unique nation, which it is, but the greatest nation that has ever existed.  You’ll hear calls for God to bless the nation in tones that invoke the idea of chosenness.  There has long been a theme in this country that we are the new Israel, the Chosen People, whom God loves more than any other.
                Now I’m proud to be an American.  During the Olympics I root for the American athletes.  I don’t have any desire to live any place else in the world.  We have a lot to offer the world.  We’re a gathering place of the world’s peoples, and this mixture of cultur…

Rules, Regulations, and the Christian Life -- A Lectionary Reflection

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Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
James 1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Rules, Regulations, 
and the Christian Life
Do we need rules and regulations to govern our lives?  Or should we be free to make our own rules?  Those are the kinds of questions that are permeating the political realm.  As the election cycle nears its climax, we hear some politicians claim that there too many regulations and these regulations hurt businesses and raise the cost of products for consumers.  On the other hand, there are those who say that that if we water down regulations then unscrupulous corporations and individuals will harm the citizenry.  Do we really want to weaken the clean air act? 
It’s interesting that some of the political talk reflects theological perspectives, even though they do so unwittingly.  Libertarian types seem to have a rather view of humanity perfectibility.  In other words, it would seem that they believe that humans are by nature good and just need to be set free to do what comes naturally.  …

Postcards from Claremont I – An Adventurous Interlude (Bruce Epperly)

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Dr. Bruce Epperly, a frequent contributor to Ponderings on a Faith Journey, is set to begin another series of  of conversations with my readers.  Serving this autumn as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University, Bruce is going to be offering weekly reports/reflections on this latest holy adventure.  In this piece he sets out the parameters of the adventure and invites us to join him for the journey.  So, for the next number of Wednesdays, Bruce will be present with us.  Join with him on the journey and share your responses!
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Postcards from Claremont I –  An Adventurous Interlude – August 26, 2012 Dr. Bruce Epperly

Our lives are holy adventures and I feel like I’m beginning an adventure as I wing my way from my home in Washington DC to Claremont, California, where I will be Visiting Professor in Process Studies this fall.  I have joined a new demographic, known as bi-coastal commuters.  Every f…

Anybody Sitting Pretty?

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Are you "sitting pretty" right now?  Do you live a life without trouble or concern?  hat's a question that was raised in a sermon more than sixty years ago by the founding minister of the church I now pastor.  Using Luke 12:19 -- "I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself" -- as his text, he suggests that no one ultimately ends up "sitting pretty."  No one can just sit back and rest on their laurels.  
Edgar DeWitt Jones speaks: Common sense and experience alike tend to explode the belief that anybody can "sit pretty" long.  The facts of life are against the possibility.  Nothing is static here; fortunes fluctuate; riches take wings.  To have and to hold any desirable thing or place or office means perplexity and perchance disappointment and disillusionment, while accident, illness, and death itself crash devastatingly into the prettiest picture, marring it a…

Are real cross-party political conversations possible?

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For the past few weeks my Monday posting has answered a political question offered by my publisher.  The intention was for a conservative voice to join me in a conversation or debate.  I didn't really like this described as a debate, because debates tend to separate rather than bring people together.  Although I am, according to a little Pew Research Quiz a radical left winger, I don't see myself in that way.  My own self-perception is of a person a bit left of center.  Back to the conversation with Elgin Hushbeck -- I found his answer over the top and decided I couldn't go further.  You can decide for yourself whether I over-reacted. In any case the conversation is on hiatus, but with the start of one party's national convention this week and politics on everyone's mind, I thought it worth devoting at least a little time to the conversation -- after all, on Wednesday evening I'm hosting a conversation on Faith in the Public Square that will include a book sign…

Where Else Would We Go? -- A Sermon

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John 6:58-69

Has a preacher ever said something that offended you so much that you never went back to that church?  I hope that none of you will take offense at what I say today, or if you do, I hope you’ll come back next week!  
And what about Jesus, is there anything that he said that offends you?  
I’d be surprised if you said no.  After all, Jesus did have a tendency to say things that got him into trouble.  Remember how his sermon back at his hometown synagogue went?  He was just coming off being baptized by John and had begun to gain a following.  But as they say – you can’t always go home. 
On that evening, after Jesus read the text from Isaiah, he began to preach and before too long, the people were getting restless and just a bit angry with what he had to say.  So, instead of celebrating a triumphant homecoming, the hometown crowd tried to throw him a cliff.  Fortunately, Jesus escaped this fate and headed off to a friendlier venue (Luke 4:16-30). Of course, in the end, the relig…

Is this Class Warfare?

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You may have heard it said by Jesus that it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24).  Would you call that an example of class warfare?  
There is a a lot of political rhetoric going around that raises the specter of class warfare.  People who suggest that the wealthy in America should bear a greater share of the burden, because they have more to spare, are accused of engaging in class warfare and of being envious of the rich.  Well, to be honest, sometimes I am envious of the rich.  I live in the middle class.  I have a good education, but my income doesn't cross the six figure-line, let alone the seven figure line.  But, all in all, I'm pretty content with the life I live.  But it's increasingly clear that those in the top 1% are doing much better than those below that number.  It's not just in the Obama years that the middle class has failed to make strides.  Things have not go…

God Bless America?

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We Americans have for a very long time imagined ourselves being a rather unique and special people.  This view served as the basis of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism.  Manifest Destiny drove the nation’s expansion across the continent and beyond, fueling the imperialism that took hold after the “frontier” was conquered and the indigenous peoples displaced.  We have envisioned ourselves as a chosen people, a new Israel.  But why? And what are the implications?
                In considering this question, the words of Greg Garrett serve as a clarion call to think carefully about this issue. When the two are combined, religion and state are no longer purely one or the other. American civil religion is a Constantinian faith— which, in theological terms, means that it represents a wedding of Christian religion and personal and political self-interest. To think of oneself and one’s nation as chosen is to think that one’s purposes and God’s are a…

Gotta Serve Somebody -- A Lectionary Reflection

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Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69





Gotta Serve Somebody
You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody Bob Dylan, 1979
It could be the devil, or it could be the Lord, “but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  So who is it going to be?  Bob Dylan’s question of thirty years back is reflective of the questions asked by Joshua and Jesus.  Who are you going to serve?   
            Since we’re all freedom loving people, especially those of us living in the United States,, this kind of question could offend.  If we’re going to serve anyone, then it will be the self and no other, with the exception perhaps of one’s family. Indeed, the philosopher of the moment i…

The Color of Christ -- A Review

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THE COLOR OF CHRIST: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.By Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey.   Chapel Hill:  The University of North Carolina Press,  2012.  325 pages.


A young African American boy – he might have been twelve years old – came to the microphone and asked the panel of religious leaders gathered to address issues provoked by Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and askedWhy is Jesus always pictured as being white?  The venerable and to many saintly Catholic priest took the microphone and intoned – “Why, because he was Jewish.”  Is that really the reason?  Or is there more to it than this?  Could it be that there is a link between our vision of Jesus and a sense of cultural and even racial superiority?  I should add that the Imam responded that in the Qur’an Jesus is said to have brown skin – sort of like a Palestinian. 
Why do so many of us think of Jesus being white?  Could it be that through centuries of images we have bought into a view of Jesus’ body tha…