Thursday, March 30, 2017

Is Truth Dead?

This week's edition of Time, a magazine to which I've subscribed for years, asks this very question: "Is Truth Dead?" The context is the Trump Administration and the President's penchant for sharing "alternative facts." He has a history of making outlandish and often untrue statements, one of which was the accusation that President Obama wiretapped his phones. There are many examples of false statements on his part, which include his leadership in the Birther Movement, which in many ways propelled his rise to political fame. He has branded the traditional press as purveyors of "fake news," even as he draws from less than reputable sources for his own declarations. At one point in the lead article, the author, Michael Scherer, notes that "Trump has discovered something about epistemology in the 21st century. The truth may be real, but falsehood often works better."

Donald Trump has found a way to use falsehoods to further his own agenda, but he isn't alone, and it's not new. We seem as a people susceptible to embracing ideas that match our ideologies, even if they aren't true. There's a word for this. It's "truthiness." It has it's origins with Stephen Colbert, but has become a well-worn term. So the question is, does truth matter? Have we entered a "post-truth" era, because as Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men told his interrogator, "You can't handle the truth." 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Not Wishy-Washy -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

In this week's edition of Sightings, Martin Marty, who continues to offer words of wisdom (as a good historian should) about matters involving religion and society, introduces us to a new effort housed at the University of Notre Dame, and led by his former co-author/editor of the Fundamentalism Project, Scott Appleby.  The word "wishy-washy" as used here his reminder that the way forward to peace in the world doesn't meant that people of faith should half-believe and half-practice their religions. Instead, the way forward involves principled engagement. This effort may be one important way to move forward.  I invite your attention to his words of wisdom.  

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Not Wishy-Washy
By MARTIN E. MARTY   March 27, 2017
The University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Indiana | Photo Credit: Greg Nelson via Flickr (cc)
“Watered-down,” “characterless,” “irresolute,” “sapless,” “bland,” “namby-pamby,” and “diluted,” are some synonyms for “wishy-washy,” a word some critics say I use too often when I write about or discuss what is unproductive in interfaith (and other “inter-“) relations. A good antonym for “wishy-washy,” whose usage is first traceable to 1693, is “principled,” but there are many more. Well-intentioned, tolerant folks are properly repelled if not threatened by the murderous language that frequently finds its way into expressions of religious faith, life, and culture. Some of them believe that if they only half-believe or half-express elements of their own faith and tradition, they will help bring about a new peaceable kingdom.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dry Bones and the Breath of Life - Lectionary Reflection for Lent 5A (Ezekiel)

Ezekiel 37:1-14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
37 The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10 I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 
11 Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12 Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14 I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”

                The Babylonian exile was a tragic, and yet fruitful event in the life of the people of Israel. It was tragic, because the nation was torn apart. Yet, the exile also gave Judah an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a people. Much of what we know as the Old Testament emerged in the context of the exile. While, it was a challenging time for the people of Judah, who found it difficult to live in hope of a new and better day.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Rebuilding the Foundations (John & Walter Brueggemann) -- Review

REBUILDING THE FOUNDATIONS: Social Relationships in Ancient Scripture and Contemporary Culture. By John Brueggemann and Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. Xii + 211 pages.

                The Bible is an ancient book that several billion people look to for guidance on all manner of concerns, spiritual and otherwise. There is much distance separating the ancient world and the contemporary world, which has led many to cast aside the Bible as a collection of outmoded and irrelevant stories from another era. To read the Bible as anything other than literature, might be akin to watching Leave It to Beaver for guidance on family matters. Perhaps it would be helpful to experience a conversation between two people who have expertise in matters biblical on the one hand and contemporary on the other. That is just what this book, Rebuilding the Foundations, attempts to do.

The authors of the book are a father/son duo. The father in this case is biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who is well known in my circles not only as a biblical scholar but as a prophetic figure. He has a knack for connecting ancient and contemporary worlds, bridging the perceived gap between eras, bringing modern culture under the lens of the biblical narrative. He certainly believes that the Bible has something worth hearing today. His partner in this conversation is his son, John, who is a sociologist by trade, teaching sociology at Skidmore College.  This combination makes for a most interesting and thought-provoking book.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Don’t Judge by Appearances - Sermon for Lent 4A

1 Samuel 16:1-13

You’ve heard it said: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” There is great truth in this. I have first hand experience, because one of the reviewers of my first book, which was a revision of my dissertation, did just that. He made disparaging remarks about the book’s cover, and said next to nothing about its contents. Now, I will admit that the book’s cover is a bit odd, but I had nothing to do with the cover design. This lead me to think that he judged the book by the cover, and never read a page of what lay inside. 

It’s easy to judge people based on their appearance. We do it all the time. But when we judge by appearances, we often get things wrong. I once took a man whom I knew fairly well to the ER. He looked dirty and disheveled, and was dressed in the blue overalls a car mechanic might wear. The ER staff looked at him and asked if he was homeless. I told them no. In fact, he probably had more money than all of us in the room. That’s just the way he lived. On the  other hand, there was a homeless person who would come to the church for help, and he always wore a white shirt and a tie. Appearances can be deceiving.