Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Prince of Peace and the Cost of War

I wrote this reflection a couple of years ago and did not have the courage to anything with it. some recent reading in Theology Today opened my eyes to the reality of torture used as a method by our government and I have decided to post this piece on the cost of war. The reports that I quote will be detailed tomorrow.

How much does the war and occupation of Iraq Cost? According to some reports it costs 4 billion more dollars for our government to send adequately armored vehicles to our troops. I did some quick research on the internet. According to a report I found written by the Congressional Budget Office (a analysis of which you too can find at the occupation of Iraq is estimated to cost anywhere from 1 to 4 billion dollars monthly.
My concern about cost goes much deeper than the economics of the matter and goes straight to the spiritual cost. As shocked and saddened as we all were by the stories and photographs of prisoner abused at Abu Graif, recent government documents released by the ACLU strongly suggest a much wider swath of cruelty and violence on the part of the American guards and interrogators. Recently I read that the military acknowledges over 100 prisoner deaths due to torture at the hands of Americans. We can now see quite concretely that the danger of this war, for soldier and citizen alike. The cost is not in dollars and cents, the danger is not just the physical injury that bullet, bomb and shrapnel cause. We now see the spiritual cost and moral danger is the inhumanity and cruelty with which prisoners and detainees are treated.
The fundamental weakness of any act of violence, even for the sake of democracy which is the reported purpose of this current military action, is that the end, freedom, is sought by means opposite the goal. What we see on the internet and hear graphically reported in the television and radio is that not only is this war destructive to the geography and society of the people of Iraq, but it tears away at the spiritual and ethical fiber of American Troops and innocent Iraqi civilians. Another report suggests that the United States Military admits that roughly 70-90% of prisoners held are innocent of any involvement in terrorism. We have been told that military service would allow our children and grandchildren, our brothers, sisters and friends to realize their greatest potential. But these reports of abuse and cruelty which spread from Iraq to Guantanamo Bay show evidence that war risks the nurture also of the worst of our humanity.
I do not mean to suggest the all American Troops be judged by this standard or grouped along with those torturing prisoners. But no longer can we stick our heads in the sand of ‘its an isolated incident.’ These incidents still do not represent the vast majority of our children serving in the military. They do however show the danger of war, and the great spiritual danger of violence. Even in a just war (if such a thing should exist) where our young men and women enter conflict with the best of intentions, the highest ethical standards and the clearest moral reasoning, the violence and destruction along with fear that comprise the methodology of war have very real and tangible effects upon the soldiers; bitterness, anger, vengeance, cruelty and the dehumanization of ‘the enemy.’ Certainly these will not affect the majority of our servicemen and women so severely and adversely, but the risk is most certain and the cost real. The additional cost is that the effects of this cruelty on both victim and victimizer will last far longer than a tour of duty or even the lifetime of those directly involved.
The great witness of our the Christmas season is the advent of God’s ‘peace, goodwill toward men’ which was and is Jesus. Isaiah, the prophet, dreamed of the ‘Prince of Peace’ and Jesus himself claimed that his purpose was to bring ‘life in all its fullness.’ My fear is not only that this war will not bring fullness of life, but that its violence will only serve to drain the life from those caught up in its fog. Are we willing that even a few of our children should be placed in an environment in which their very darkest potentialities are given the chance to become reality and their best and brightest possibilities lost to them forever ? I am heartbroken at the thought, for some of the men and women put at this risk are the sons and daughters, the grandchildren of my congregation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

First my apologies to the three people who regularly read my inane ramblings. Frankly I ran out of things I really wanted to say. 'Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.' I think Jefferson said it... regardless, it is wisdom I attempt to live by, usually unsuccessfully.

On to more pointless religious stands.
In a trend that started last year as best I can tell, there seems to be an undercurrent of complaint about the use of the phrase 'Happy Holiday's' instead of Merry Christmas. It seems to be a major affront to some Christians who then go to great lengths to defend the use of the term 'Merry Christmas.'
I see these as the growing pains of living in a post-Christian era in the U.S.
By post-Christian I mean that we are decreasingly able to live our lives with the assumption that our neighbors are 'Christian' in the broadest sense of that word. We now more than ever work with Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists. In a business culture that is more and more globalized we may speak by phone or have e-mail correspondence with people who live in distant lands, country's that are largely Muslim or Buddhist or Sihk or Hindu.
To boldly proclaim 'Merry Christmas' to someone who does not recognize Jesus as the Messiah is rude and insensitive. It does not mean that one is ashamed of one's faith, but instead that one respects other faiths to offer the wish of a Happy Holiday. While I would not be offended if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Ramadan, it really would be pointless since I do not practice these holidays. Which is why 'Happy Holiday's' is such a beautiful phrase. Every religion has 'Holy Days' which is where the word 'Holiday' comes from. I may not be sure of someone else's religion, but wishing a Happy Holy Day honors and respects their religious beleifs and acknowledges the fact that there are more religions in the world than mine. To doggedly bark out 'Merry Christmas' to any and all regardless of their faith is insensitive, intolerant, and paternalistic.
And it is a pointless stand. perhaps what we should be standing for is a return to the meaning of our Holy Day which is Christmas.
When Mary sang the magnificat, she sang of Jesus bring relief to the hungry and poor
When Zechariah sang of the birth of his son John he spoke of justice and mercy, again, for the poor, the oppressed and the hungry.
Jesus own first sermon in Luke quotes a passage in Isaiah which once again
highlights the Messiah special concern for the poor, malnourished and impoverished.

Yet we will spend close to $500 Billion dollars on Christmas gifts in the U.S. according to some statistics. To truly honor Christmas and keep it holy, would'nt we make a better proclamation of the true meaning of Christmas by offering relief to the poor and sick and hungry?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Harry Potter; Another pointless religious stand

I saw a brief story on some news program a few days ago that a small town in the rural south ( I though Tenn. but aparently it was Georgia) had attempted a ban on books in Spanish. Further research shows that the uproar was a proposed budget adjustment that would not allow tax-payer money to go toward spanish language books for children.
When many citizens in the town (thankfully) responded by privately donating spanish language books, the uproar subsided...
Until Today...
Now... Let's ban Harry Potter!
Aparently a mother feels that the Harry Potter books are an 'evil' plot to indoctrinate their children with 'Wiccan' beliefs. I love the Harry Potter books. I have known wiccans and loved them too. I find nothing 'wiccan' in the HP books.
Here is an idea. if you think the books are dangerous don't let your kids read them.
Here is a better idea. read them with your kids and discuss what you think is dangerous.

Another pointless Religious stand
Another person fearful of those who are different (ethnically or religiously)

Why doesn't anyone attempt to ban the "Left Behind" series? They are dangerous, really dangerous.

Harry Potter; Another pointless religious stand

I saw a brief story on some news program a few days ago that a small town in the rural south ( I though Tenn. but aparently it was Georgia) had attempted a ban on books in Spanish. Further research shows that the uproar was a proposed budget proposal that would not allow tax-payer money to go toward spanish language books for children.
When many citizens in the town (thankfully) responded by privately donating spanish language books, the uproar subsided...
Until Today...
Now... Let's ban Harry Potter!
Apparently a mother feels that Harry Potter is a 'evil' plot to teach the wiccan religion to children, and so must be banned.
Here is a thought...
don't let your kids read it if it so dangerous. I love the books. I have known wiccans in my life and loved them too by the way. And I find nothing wiccan in the Harry Potter books.
My only question is why doesn't anyone try to ban the "Left Behind" series. Now that is dangerous literature!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Steve Earle, Esther and the Riff-raff Wall

Any Steve Earle fans out there? A few years ago he released a cd Jerusalem with a song called Amerika v. 6.0. Listen to these lyrics; 'lets build a great wall around the country club to keep the riff-raff out.' Friday's paper; $1 Billion dollars toward a wall between US and Mexico. The Pope's statements about Islam, the proposed censoring of books in Tenn, books deemed inapropriate because they are in Spanish. What do we do with 'others?' Build a wall indeed. We are about to engage in the physical construction of something that has existed for many many years in America, a wall between us and the others.

This past sunday I felt I needed to approach this topic from a Biblical narrative. And that wasn't easy because if you want to find biblical support for a 'riff-raff' wall, you can. Early in Deuteronomy Moses commands the people of Israel to destroy all the other people that God delivers to them. Now that is a serious wall between us and others. Destroy them. But later in Deuteronomy God commands the people to have mercy and compassion for aliens. Same book in the Bible, very different outlook on how to deal with others.

I looked to the story of Esther for guidance. I did an informal straw pole three sundays ago; How many have ever heard a sermon from Esther. Now there are some life-long Baptists in this church and not one could ever remember a sermon from Esther. The story of Esther is an amazing commentary on 'Empire' and the place of a child of God in that Empire. In chapter 3 the King Xerxes or Ahaseuras is convinced that the Jews in his kingdom are too different, too other, and must be destroyed. The book of Esther goes to great lengths to describe the evil opulence of Empire. The opening of the book describes the beauty of the palace, a beauty that is almost, no definitely, too much. The king throws a six-month party for the elites (the little people get a few days.) Material wealth is the true god of this kingdom. parties are the worship. Not only are the poor treated as objects for labor, so are women... and then finally, the proposed genocide of the Jews. The point is obvious to me. A nation that can so easily dismiss 'others' is not a nation that fears God. No a fence is not nearly the same as genocide and I am sure no one proposing the fence is thinking anything close to violence. Perhaps I am an alarmist, but it seems to me that a fence is one step in the march of fear closer to terrible things. We have been on this march for some time. We marched to Afganistan and I'm not convinced of the purpose or the success; we moved onto Iraq, again, a changing purpose and little success; now Iran and N. Korea; and a fence around Mexico. How long will we march to this beat of fearing the other? How long will our leaders keep shifting the people to be feared and how long will we follow along being afraid?

After my sermon we celebrated communion. I have never appreciated the idea of communion as a meal of the Kingdom the way I did this past sunday. In Revelation all the nation's flock to the New Jerusalem (another song by Stever Earle by the way.) When we take communion we are meant to imagine that there are no 'others.' Instead we are all children of God and all welcome to eat from the same table.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

God Bless the ABW

This is probably a post that will mean little to any but American Baptists. ABW stands for American Baptist Women. It is a discipleship program for American Baptist Women (obvious from the name,) that encourages learning, missions and fellowship. I am lucky enough to serve in my church the president of the ABW for Rhode Island. She shared with the church the other day that over the next few years the major project that ABW national is undertaking is Slavery. Yes, slavery; the use and abuse of women and girls in the sex-slave trade around the world. ABW wants to work to educate congregations about the reality and danger of this trade and to engage in work that will rescue and care for victims of this great evil. And I thought to myself... God Bless the ABW. While American Baptist Churches USA (lead mostly by men I surmise) continues to waste time, energy and effort arguing about the issue of homosexuality, the women of our denomination (largely lay-women I might add) are engaging in a crusade that willmake a difference. Since I do love to highlight pointless Christian stances, let me take this moment to highlight an important one. So let me thank ABW for restoring my faith in our denomination. Perhaps we will not continue to shrink into obscurity if these women shine the light of what true discipleship means. And let me call to any who care to listen, get connected to ABW, if for no other reason than to work to end such a horrible thing. What better way to give meaning and purpose to your life than to be involved in efforts that will save the lives of women around the world. What better witness to others than to say that your faith leads you to fight these good fights.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Is Jenna Jameson going to heaven???

The other night I watched a strange and interesting little biographical piece on the E! Network about Jenna Jameson. Apparently she is a porn star of some renown in her circles which she calls; 'the industry.' Why did I watch it??? No, not because I'm a man. It was the oddity factor. Why would someone choose such a 'career'? What would everyday life be for someone in her 'profession.' (I use these terms loosely because I don't know what else to call what she does.) What do her parents think?? her husband??? What is the story behind being a porn star?

Most of the show was frankly boring but the end of the show was very interesting and made me glad I did watch. The end of her bio presented the question, Will Jenna go to Heaven? And that gave some insight as to how people generally think about 'getting to heaven.'

Jenna's own answer was quite interesting. 'Yes. I did what made me happy, and I am a good giving person.' (please no snickering. I think she meant giving of her possessions or money to charities, etc.)

First; I did what made me happy. In this case as odd as Ms. Jameson's career choice is I don't think her view of the highest value in life (happiness) is odd at all. She is probably like most American's thinking that the most important thing in life is to find happiness. Now while Jesus did say that he came that we might have a full life or life abundant, he did not promise happiness. As a matter of fact, on the way to Jerusalem he taught the disciples about the sacrifices and trials of following him including arrest and even death, definitely not happy stuff. The Bible does promise joy to those who love the Lord but I think biblically that is distinct from happiness. Notice that Jenna's happiness was based solely on herself, I did what made me happy.' In Luke ch 12 Jesus tells the parable of a very successful businessman who focuses only on himself and ends up in hell. Happiness can be a selfish emotion. It is not bad to be happy by the way, but to make happiness our greatest value, our ultimate concern, can lead us to do dangerous and destructive things; drugs that make us feel better, alcohol that numbs our pain... Joy, which the Bible promises, is about connecting to God and to one another. When we live our lives according to the will of God and in service to one another, we may not always be happy, but we will have joy knowing that our lives have meaning. In summary, Ms. Jameson, like many, seems to assume that happiness is the highest value in life. According to the Bible, when happiness is our ultimate concern we are disconnected from God and one another and only interested in ourselves... and that is NOT heaven.

second; I am a good person. Well, that is a tough one. Apart from Ms. Jameson's career choice she may indeed be a good person. I don't know. She may be kind and gentle and caring and generous. Although I must say I find her career choice seriously lacking in morality, it isn't impossible for Ms. Jameson to be both a porn star and still have 'good' qualities too. Dr. ML King was often fond of quoting Goethe who said something to the effect that 'within me there is both a gentlemen and a rogue.' That may be paraphrased a bit by the way. Anyway, we are all a bit complicated and capable of great good and great sin. So there most likely is good in there for Jenna.
But good isn't the whole point. When people say that they are good, so they will get into heaven, they are appealing to what good Lutheran's would call 'works righteousness.' That is the idea that we can do enough good things to impress God into accepting us into the pearly gates. But Paul tells us that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.' Paul isn't doing that to make us feel badly about ourselves by the way. Paul is identifying the very human trait of judgment. whenever humans get into groups we tend to stratify ourselves into who is better and who is best and I am always more righteous than you. I have a good reason for sinning, and so God understands. But you, you have no excuse or reason for your sin... That is what Paul was seeing happening at his churches and he wanted to cut that off at the knees. We are all sinners. It is not our goodness that saves us, but God's love. We cannot earn that, but we can accept it and then be good, not to earn a reward, but because that builds up the kingdom.
In short, Jenna and many others have the cart before the horse. It is not our goodness that gets us to heaven... it is heaven (the loving presence of God) that makes us good.

Now, I am not saying that Jenna is not going to heaven because that is NOT my job. God can hand out judgment and make those decisions. But Jenna's idea of what heaven is and how one achieves heaven is not consistent with what the Bible teaches us about heaven.

At the very end the E! channel had a religious spokesman sit in holy and self-righteous judgment of Ms. Jameson and that I found terrible. Now, I'm not trying to defend her career choice or to condone what she does for a living, BUT. I do find her to be a terribly easy target for moral indignation because she does deal in sex and sexuality. Instead of asking, will a porn star get to heaven, why don't we ask some tougher questions?
Will those who make millions from developing and producing weapons go to heaven?
Will those whose companies create tons and tons of toxic chemicals that destroy the earth go to heaven? When they secretly dispose of this waste and contaminate soil and drinking water for hundreds of innocents, will they get to heaven?
Will those who profit from sweat-shop labor or poorly paid migrant workers go to heaven?
will those who run insurance companies that deny vital treatment to the sick, go to heaven?
will televangelists who build multi-million dollar mansions with grannies retirement, get to heaven?

And if we are going that far??? is any of us good enough to 'get to heaven.'

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Boycott; Ford, McDonald's, the AFA

Sorry I haven't posted in some time. Although the first rule of a blog site is 'Post, Post, Post' I don't find that every 'issue' identified by popular media is actually worth commenting on. But, a friend saved me from my self-imposed silence. I got an interesting e-mail today about the American Family Association, a conservative 'Christian' group apparently, that is boycotting Ford because they 'GASP' advertise in glbt publications and 'GASP' 'WRETCH' offer glbt agencies savings when they purchase a number of vehicles. To view more of the details go to If I haven't already said it on this site, let me say it now. If you believe that being glbt is a sin, fine, you have every right to believe that. But please explain to me why a company that makes its profits by selling vehicles to people should not advertise to people!!! If you don't like glbt persons, don't read the adds in OUT Magazine!!! And if Ford has a policy of supporting various agencies with deals for buying a certain number of vehicles, why should glbt agencies be left out? Because you don't like them? Because they are 'sinners'? So should Ford stop selling all vehicles to people who sin? Should Ford's advertising campaigns only focus on perfect people? Once again, another pointless crusade on the part of a 'Christian' group.
How about we boycott McDonald's? No I'm serious. In a recent article in Ekklesia various unethical labor practices supported by McDonald's were outlines. Workers harvesting tomatoes are only paid 40-50 cents for a 32lb bucket. They would need to harvest two tons a day to earn $50. Likewise a number of slavery rings have been found and prosecuted here in the United States. Rings exploiting foreign workers to bring in a harvest that will ensure profits for major corporations and poverty for the workers.
Is this even a moral issue?
Matt 20:8-12
"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'
"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner."
I know, we are very used to reading this as a parable about the kingdom. But what if Dr. William Herzog is correct and Jesus is also making an economic statement? What if Jesus is actually talking about paying people fair wages, suggesting that a living wage is a part of the kingdom? It seems to me that Jesus said a lot more about treating the poor and sick with compassion and kindness than he every said about people who are glbt. Why don't we take an important moral stand; stand with foreign laborers who deserve to earn enough to feed and care for their families? Maybe if they earn enough they will buy a Ford.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Revelation & Rapture Reading

If you are interested in doing some further reading on the topic of 'Second Coming' I would like to recommend two books. First, Barbara R. Rossings, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation. In this book Rossing does a number of things. First and foremost she debunks the entire 'Rapture' theory, showing that it simply does not exist in the Bible. It is never mentioned in Revelation (the best proponents can do is say that it is suggested) and the passage in Thessalonians that proponents quote is misinterpreted. Rossing goes on to offer a very thoughtful criticism of the 'Left Behind' series. Her main proposal is that the series glorifies violence and destruction of humanity and of all creation, which according to her interpretation of Revelation goes against all that Revelation is really about. Finally Rossing goes on to explain her interpretation of Revelation, one that does offer hope. Rossing obviously reads Revelation not only in the Apocalyptic genre, which it of course is a part of, but Rossing also sees a great deal of Covenental theology in Revelation. Throughout the prophets God is described as acting to re-establish a covenant with the people who broke it. Rossing correctly read Revelation as a whole instead of in disjointed bits and pieces which so many popular televangelists do (Jack van Impe and the like). Most important for this reading, Rossing begins with the ending. At the end of Revelation we are given images of the new Heaven and the new Earth. We here the words that are often recited at funerals Rev 21:4, There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." NIV Rossing suggests that we read all that precedes these passages in the light of the end result. This is a story of God restoring relationship, not destroying relationship. Her scholarship is excellent and her writing engaging.

Another book I would like to recommend is Eugene Peterson's 'Reversed Thunder'. Peterson's work is a beautifully written commentary on the book of Revelation, the very best I have ever read when it comes to explaining Revelation to the lay person. Peterson does not read Revelation as a prophecy text book like so many popular TV preachers. He reads it as poetry, a theory is explains in the book. Unlike Rossing, Peterson is not trying to debunk anything, he is simply trying to explain Revelation to the everday person. So he talks about Christ and the Church and Heaven. But he does not shy away from what makes Revelation most challenging, which isn't discerning who the anti-christ is. He talks about what Revelation says about politics and economics. Peterson is a fine scholar, an artistic writer and probably the best translator of the Bible that I have ever read.

I recommend both of the these books because they explain the purpose of Revelation in a day and time in which Revelation is more misunderstood and misapplied than ever. Both authors acknowledge that Revelation is meant to challenge the disciple to greater faithfulness, but deny the fear that so many find in it. They explain how Revelation helps us to find the word of truth in today's world, but deny that it's purpose to tell the future.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

End of the world; further thoughts

Monday Mark 13:26-27
"At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens
To fully understand Mark's rendering of the second coming you must read chapter 13 in its entirety. If you read this chapter closely you will see that all the preachers on TV for the past couple of weeks citing the violence between Israel and Hezbullah as evidence of the second coming are completely undermined. War, natural disaster, persecution of believers... the things which so many interpret as signs of Christ's return... do not mean that Jesus is returning, (see v. 7 'the end is still to come.) Mark is sure that Christ will return, and equally sure that his return will bring a whole new heaven and earth into existence (which is the symbolic meaning of the destructive imagery in vv. 24-25) But apart from Christ's return all that Mark is sure of is the believer's posture. We are to be waiting expectantly. In v. 32 Jesus exhorts us to be alert. In other word's time spent reading tea leaves, checking the stars and reading the bible for secret codes is time wasted. But how should our time be spent?

Matt 25:34-36
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me...
What is the expectant and alert believer to do while waiting for the second coming of Christ? This section of Matt 25 tells us. If you read the beginning of the parable (VV. 31-33) this ethical imperative is placed in the context of the second coming. When Jesus returns to judge the just and unjust, Jesus will look at their ethics; how did they treat the poor and the sick, the abused and the imprisoned.
Matt and Mark together give a good hint at what it is the Christian is meant to believe about this second coming. While so much 'Second Coming' talk in popular American Christianity abandons this world and banishes it to destruction, and completely ignores the poor and impoverished, only focusing on personal piety, Matt and Mark show us what Second Coming is all about. Mark makes plain the notion that Christ's return is not about the sweet by and by, some magical realm 'beyond the sunset.' Jesus is returning to recreate this world. Jesus is not abandoning creation, but re-making it, so there must be something of value about this world. Matt shows us how to wait expectantly. By working to re-make this world here and now by serving, helping, caring, and giving, we are waiting expectantly. The second coming is all about finally making the world a place of comfort, compassion and peace, a world Christ will bring as we live these values while waiting.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Just War II

As I said in my first 'Just War' blog, I reserve the right to re-think. Given two weeks or so to consider my thoughts on the violence between Israel and Hezbollah I think I have missed a major point. I am still concerned with the response by Israel, but I did not give enough credence to the point that this is a response. I am still concerned about the loss of innocent life due to Israeli bombing strategy, but it is important to note that Hezbollah strategy is primarily attack of innocents, and while Israel's bombing may be stepping into a gray area in just war theory, the outright attack of innocents by Hezbollah is stepping over a clearly marked line. Not only that but engaging in violence for the purpose of destroying another sovereign nation does not keep with just war theory. I am slightly embarrassed that these points did not occur to me sooner.
As I have stated in other blocs, that which is central to my Christian faith, the crucifixion leads me to pacifism. But how can one defend pacifism absolutely given the history of the nation of Israel, especially WWII. Who am I to say that pacifism is the answer? It certainly would not have been the answer for Jews at that time. And although the crucifixion is the central lens through which I interpret the rest of the Bible, there is certainly plenty of material (esp. In the OT) in which Israel needed to defend itself from attack.
So I suppose that I am drawing a very thin line of thought. I do think that one point of the crucifixion was to draw attention to the evil and futility of violence as a social method, a call by God for a cessation in violence in humanity. But there are times practically when one's life, family, nation must be defended.
still violence must be always be a necessary evil. It mustn't be glorified, as it seems to be among radical religious groups. It may be the best we can do but it is certainly not the ideal and not what God ever wants or plans. And so the invocation of God in these conflicts by any side is inappropriate. Prayers for peace, yes, but claiming God on any side in armed conflict is wrong. God is always on the side of the innocent, the abused and the oppressed. Therefore God is not on the side of the U.S., Lebanon, Hezbollah or Israel. God is on the side of any and all who loose their lives as 'collateral.' But that seems cold comfort.

Intelligent Design and Las Vegas

Also creating some static both on the media air-waves and on Christian blog sites is the debate about intelligent design. The state of Kansas for instance is embroiled in a debate about teaching evolution in public schools. Recently they voted to add Intelligent Design to the school curriculum. I have studied some intelligent design although I do not propose to be an expert. My reading of Dembski's work with intelligent design is that he is attempting to address certain failings in traditional evolutionary theory. In my reading Dembski is not a creationist. I have never read any of his work that espoused the idea that the universe was created in six literal days, that called into question the fossil record, or any of the other creationist arguments against evolutionary theory. I still remain a bit puzzled as to why the evangelical church is so excited by dembski since he does not appear to be a biblical literalist. I am also puzzled by scientists who seem so bothered by the idea of intelligent design since I do not find Dembski's work to be a rejection of evolutionary theory, but a reworking of legitimate issues.

In a recent radio program (that I cannot now recall the name of) a doctor was asked about his view of the creation v. Evolution debate in Georgia. His response was that Intelligent Design needed to be included in school curriculum because if God is taken completely out of society, we will have nothing but chaos. Now this is an interesting argument. He does not support Intelligent Design on the merits of its own arguments, but instead as a symbol of national piety. God will bless us with peace if we utter God's name in school. That is what I heard. I was reminded of Isaiah chapter 1 where God rejects the prayers (God-talk) of the people because the words are not backed up by actions. It seems to me that all this God-talk that the evangelical church is involved in with Intelligent Design is equally empty. Why would God care that God is mentioned in science class, (or a school prayer) when the actions of the people (greed, violence, racism) do not reflect God's way of being or acting in this world.
For instance, take recent legislation in Las Vegas that makes it illegal to feed the hungry homeless. Apparently local leaders feel that feeding the hungry causes the homeless to congregate in public areas, like parks. This is not good for tourism. People might have to deal with the moral qualms of wasting thousands of dollars in casinos while people go hungry across the street. Not only do we live in a culture that is so enamored of pleasure at any cost to the point where we waste millions of dollars in casinos, in strip clubs, and on cars, boats, homes, that we really do not need; we create legislation that punishes the poorest of the poor so that we can continue to waste millions of dollars 'for fun.'
Matt 19:21-24; Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Personally I do hope that God is assuaged by something as pointless and empty as a mention is Science class. That is a lot easier to fight for than to engage in the painful personal battle of spending less, giving more, and getting close to the sick, hungry, mentally ill and homeless. And it is a lot easier to rail against the godless atheistic evolutionists than to rail against $500,000 dollar homes, $65,000 SUVs, and all the other expensive stuff that keeps us happy.

Its the end of the World

This past Sunday's sermon was a response to all of the second coming noise on the TV news since the violence between Israel and Hezbollah erupted. It seems everyone from Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, to Paula Zaun have been courting the 'Left Behind' demographic which caused me to look again at the second coming, something I rarely preach on.
Popular Christian 'Second Coming' talk is troubling and dangerous for a variety of reason, most notably the violence that is assumed. Pat Robertson actually stated on his program that Iran, Syria, etc. Would be destroyed by God and that God would glorify himself. This notion that God is glorified by destruction is perverse and dangerous. How far removed from glorifying ourselves with destruction if the primary image of God's glory is destruction.
Having said that I am troubled by the destructive rhetoric of popular second coming talk, how does one deal with all of the destructive imagery in Revelation? First, sociologically, I think it is helpful to remember that much of early Christianity lived in a Roman culture in which they were not respected as a religious group, many (although not all) had lived under Roman oppression, and if the work of William Herzog is accurate, many were living in poverty because of this oppression. It is open to debate as to whether Christians at this time were attacked by the government, but many converted Jews would have lived through the destruction of the temple. In short, I can understand the violent imagery in Revelation as a longing for justice. I do not understand the plagues, fire, and blood of Revelation to be the revealing of God actual plan for remaking a new heaven and earth. I do think that the early Christians believed that a new heaven and earth were a part of God's plan and because of their own social location, they chose battle as the over-arching metaphor.
What seals my own non-violent interpretation of revelation is the crucifixion. On the Cross God began the redemption of creation. 1 Cor 15:20-22 'But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.' In the Christ event both justice and mercy were shown and the beginning of a new world was revealed. And in that event Jesus rejected violence 'put away your swords.' Viewing the second coming through the event of the cross suggests to me that God's way of recreating will not involve wanton destruction. WE may cause wanton destruction and from that God may rebuild, but I do not believe that destruction is God's way of working in the world.
Is this the time? who knows? Jesus said 'no one knows,' but televangelists who LOVE to quote scripture always seem to forget that one. In Matt chapter 25 Jesus instructs the disciples that what is important about the second coming is not to spend (waste) time looking for it, but instead to use our time to live into that second coming. If Jesus return means justice, peace and plenty for all humanity, we should spend our time seeking justice, making peace and providing plenty.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Just War?

I hesitate to write this post because I am pitifully lacking in the detailed knowledge of the many complicated political issues in the Middle East. So this is a first hack at my theological response to the recent violence between Israel and Lebanon, and I reserve the right to refine my thoughts.

According to Just War Theory in order for a war to be just it must be defensive first and foremost. The recent actions between Israel and Lebanon suggest to me that Israel does feel the need to defend itself. As defense is the first requirement of a just war, the war in Iraq becomes more hazy. Many try to define the terrorist attacks of 9/11 as an act of aggression that we must defend ourselves from. While I agree that 9/11 was a horrific and tragic day and definitely an act of aggression, cruel and inhuman aggression, the connection between 9/11 and Iraq has never been established well enough for my comfort. It is this aspect of just war theory(defensive action) that the Bush Administration was appealing to in stating (falsely) that Iraq posed a serious threat to the U.S. Just War does allow pre-emptive strikes in cases of extreme threat. Now of course, lacking proof of threat, we are engaged in a war to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq, but that does not meet the requirements of Just War theory. Apparently few care about that.

Getting back to Israel and Lebanon; Just War Theory goes on to state that a defensive war is justified given that fact that the action 'outweighs the risks and losses of war.' This is where just war theory breaks down in my personal opinion. Since our own Civil War this matter of weighing the losses of human life and natural resources, and choosing other means of finding justice given armed conflict resulting in too great a loss, has been all but forgotten. For details on this see On the Altar of the Nation: a Moral History of the Civil War by Harry Stout. Quoted in an article from the NYTimes and printed in the Providence Journal the Israeli defense minister, Amir Peretz says, 'We have no intention of occupying Lebanon, but we also have no intention of retreating from any military measures needed. Hezbollah must not think that we would recoil from using all kinds of military measures against it,' (emphasis added.) Just war theory goes against just this kind of thinking... any measures needed, all kinds of measures.' A just war not only looks at the gross affront to the attacked nation, but to the losses that will be sustained on both sides, and is supposed to weigh losses as well as gains. According to this same article over 300 people have been killed, largely civilians. 'Any military measures needed,' leads to civilian casualties and deaths (you can call it the wonderfully sanitized 'collateral damage' but it is still a child, someone's mother or grandfather.) This is a direct violation of Just War in my opinion. Over 300 largely civilian casualties cannot and must not be an acceptable risk and loss in war.
What is the alternative? Well, I admit that here is where my knowledge runs short. Unfortunately our modern world has become so used to the idea that violence is the quickest, easiest, and only cure for social ill, even I have a hard time coming up with an alternative. Jim Rice the editor of Sojourner Magazine has a piece entitle 'New War in the Middle East' in which he discusses non-violent options. You have to sign in to read the piece, but it costs nothing and only takes a minute and I highly recommend it to you.
Stubbornly though I hang on to my main point. Regardless of my own lack of a viable option, as Christians we must take an ethical stand against violence as an acceptable social method. We may not have any great ideas or answers, but to fall back upon violence and the destruction of human life as the only answer never lifts up the best of humanity, it only sinks to the least of who and what we are. It does not honor the Imago Dee in ourselves or 'the other,' and therefore we need to wean ourselves from this addiction to violence. That recovery program 'Violence Anonymous' will be painful, but so is it painful to read about the stacks of bodies that are building up in the hospitals in Lebanon, bodies of children. How much more painful to be the mother or father who must claim their now dead child.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

American Baptist Ethics

Yesterday I received word of a new statement by Rev. Dr. Roy Medley the General Secretary of ABCUSA. It is a call for American Baptists to live lives of high moral and ethical standards. Sounds good right??? I got excited!!! Dr. Medley then goes on to whack at the favorite dead horse of the mainline church, homosexuality. Here is a brief quote; 'while not the most important discipleship issue in the New Testament, nor our highest priority of ministry lest we focus on one set of sins above others that afflict us such as racism, greed, sexism and gluttony, nonetheless, sexual concerns increasingly dominate our attention (Romans 1:28). We live in a culture obsessed with sex. We see evidenc of sexual abuse every day. We are stunned at the reports of sexual impropriety by persons in caring professions (1Corinthians 6:18). Many persons have been victims of these abuses. The result is an environment of deep suspicion regarding the sexual integrity of persons in authority. In this context, the matter of homosexual practices continues to divide American Baptists.' You can view the full letter at

I sent Dr. Medley a response. First and foremost I take issue with the context in which Medley places GLBT lives, the context of abuse and impropriety. Dr. Medley is at least suggesting that GLBT persons are to be categorized with rapists, child molesters and pastors who abuse members of their congregations and nothing could be more wrong. People who are GLBT are not acting out in anger, violence, or coercion of others as are those who abuse and attack women or children. Homosexualtiy is a relationship between two equals, two consenting adults who are expressing a deep emotional connection. Some may not approve of this expression, but that disapproval should not and cannot be couched in terms of abuse. The two, abuse and homosexuality are exclusive, the first about violence, the second about love.

Second I take issue with Dr. Medley's suggestion that his interpretation is the only viable one for Christians. While a respectfully disagree with Dr. Medley's interpretation about homosexuality I afford him every right to believe the way he does. That being said, as Baptists we stand on the foundations of religious Liberty and Soul Freedom. The idea of Soul Liberty states that every person is gifted by God with the ability and the right to interpret and apply scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. While this should be done in the context of a believing community (the church) that does not give the church the right to dictate belief to the individual. religious Liberty states that all individuals have the God given right to respond to God as they see fit. In his clumsy use of 'proof-texting' Medley has suggested that there is only one way to interpret the Bible on the issue of homosexuality. There are many faithful Christians and knowledgeable scholars who have different interpretations of the Bible regarding this issue and although we may not agree, as Baptists we are to afford all the right to their interpretation of the scripture.

Third and finally I took issue with Dr. Medley's call to ethics. Yes, we should take ethical stands. Let's take important ethical stands as did Jesus. Jesus took a stand for openness and inclusion of all genders and ethnic groups. Lets take a stand on the subtle racism that treats undocumented workers as second-class humans, and that see inordinate numbers of persons of color in the prison system. Jesus took a stand for economic equality. Lets take a stand against poverty, the cost of oil, the cost of health care, the way American's choose to spend their money, the lack of foreign aid to Africa for the AIDS epidemic. Jesus took a stand for the hungry. Lets take that stand. Jesus took a stand against violence. Lets take a stand against the treatment of detainee's in Gitmo or the war in Iraq. These are ethical stands. Jesus never preached about homosexuality and rarely about sexual ethics. What Jesus said about sexual ethics is important, but Jesus talked a lot more about economics that sex... Why don't we do the same.

We need to raise the level of discourse in the American Baptist Churches, a level of discourse that addresses real issues, like homelessness, poverty and violence among nations and in our homes. Dr. Medley had a chance to do that and failed. I hope and pray that he will try again and next time take an important stand. I firmly believe that if/when churches take stands and offer guidance to families about these issues, they will want to come to our churches.

Bush's Life Ethic

"I made [it] very clear to the Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayers' money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life, I'm against that," Bush told reporters. "Therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it." I found this quote of President Bush on CNN. Since much has been made of President Bush's 'faith' I thought it might be important to place this quote in the context of some of his other decisions regarding Life Ethic issues.

First let me say that I do not pretend to be an expert on the theological implications of bio-technology. I do lean toward being sympathetic with President Bush and the Catholic Church on the issue of stem cell research because I fear the commodification of human embryo's. Although embryo's are not a 'viable life,' in my opinion we do know what these embryo's have the potential to become given the chance...Human. It is a slippery slope in my opinion, when humanity, even potential humanity is treated as technology to be developed, used, bought and sold, even for 'good' reason. Although stem cell research is a far, far, far, cry from the enslavement of Israel in Egypt... There is a connection, the use of human life for technological advancement and the good of all. Both are using human being (potential human beings) as objects. This is not a clear and simple argument I know, which is why I say I lean. I'm still trying to learn and think about this issue.

But, to the point. According to the quote above part of President Bush's Life Ethic is to be against, '[destroying] life in order to save life.' He is making an appeal then, to the sanctity of all human life. Theologically he is making an appeal to the Imago Dei, the Image of God that every human is created in; Gen 1:26-28Then God said, "Let us make man in our image , in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created man in his own image,in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number

The question is however, how consistently has Bush applied this ethic, that all human life is to be respected and preserved, that destroying life is not an option for saving life?

according to article about Sister Helen Prejean while George W. Bush was the governor of Texas he presided over 152 executions, which according to Prejean was more than any other governor in recent U.S. History. My understanding of the point of capital punishment is to ensure and preserve the safety of society by ridding that society of a dangerous and violent criminal. It is not an argument I personally buy and it goes directly against Bush's purported 'Life Ethic.' It is the destruction of one life to save others. Not only does capital punishment fly in the face of Imago De, that all humans even violent criminals are created in the image of God, it flies in the face of the N.T. ethic of reconciliation, and forgiveness. (I am not saying let them loose to continue the violence. Violent murderers, rapists and molesters need to be kept separate yes, but their life is still a gift of God that none should take away. 'Not even the wise can see all ends' Gandalf says to Frodo...) So while President Bush takes are hard line with Stem Cell research in preserving the sanctity of life, his ethic is completely reversed when it comes to capital punishment.

What about Gitmo? According to extensive reports by Amnesty International the 'illegal combatants" (is that the right word since prisoner of war would mean that we have to abide by the Geneva Convention?) have been subjected to loud music, bright lights, forced nudity and any other number of humiliating and degrading treatments. They are regularly denied exercise often locked-down for 24hour stretches and they are denied legal rights such as representation. How would President Bush's Life Ethic apply here? Well, they aren't being killed, (although some commit suicide.) But if Imago Dei is the governing thought, how is torture and humiliation honoring the Image of God in these prisoners?
They have lost the right to be treated as human some might say.
I refer you to Jonah 3:10-4:4
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, "O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live."
But the LORD replied, "Have you any right to be angry?"

Jonah does not want to forgive the people of Ninevah their violence against his people. They are beyond the pale of God's compassion in Jonah's mind. But not beyond the pale for God. Now one could argue the detail, they did repent and ask forgiveness. I feel that the ethic remains the same... God's love for the Ninevites and honoring of his own image in them, was the governing ethic... None are beyond the pale of God's compassion.
The same ethic is told in the story of the 'golden calf' in Exodus 32. The people have made an idol of gold to worship after being freed from Egypt by God. God wants to destroy them, but relents at Moses' intervention, begging for mercy. God forgives even before they have asked forgiveness. For God destruction is not the answer, even when dealing with the violent and injust in Ninevah, or the disobedient in the desert.
Once again, President Bush's life ethic is inconsistent; in its application and in keeping with the Bible. We can 'destroy' the lives of these prisoners in order to save the lives of Americans.

Finally, the war in Iraq. If we are in this war to bring freedom and democracy to the nation (which I do not believe. We went because of imminent danger posed by WMD's which were never found or substantiated,) Then once again we are destroying life in order to save life. According to my research U.S. casualties have reached 2,554 dead and 18,988 wounded in the current conflict. Estimates of Iraqi casualties conservatively reach 39,250 according to one source. Must I say more? Why is President Bush so staunch on the sanctity of the potential life of stem cells and yet the great numbers of actualized lives that are ended and/or maimed are treated so cavalierly? If presidents Bush's ethic is not to destroy life in order to save life, how can we fight this war? Look at all those who have died to bring 'freedom and democracy' or to 'save us from imminent danger?'

Are there some times when Bush should be released from his reported Life Ethic? Yes. Just war theory gives Bush his out. When the nation is attacked. Iraq did not attack us. When we are in eminent danger. Where did those weapons get too? To fight a war just to bring democracy doesn't meet just war theory. Just war theory also asks the question of casualties. Will the victory justify the casualties? Will the end justify the means. Only you can look at the numbers and answer that question.

What is my point?
(1) Beware political God-talk by anyone Democrat, Republican, Cool Moose. Anyone can quote a hymn, invoke the Almighty, and talk about 'faith.' Anyone can take a stand one issue and I tend to agree with President Bush on the issue of stem cells. But look at all the issues. Tough stance on cells, weak stance on human rights for detainees, convicted criminals and the sanctity of the lives of our military men and women and the Iraqi people.
If the President were truly leading according to Christian morals and ethics, his decisions would be consistent, there would be a moratorium on capital punishment, the illegal detainees would be prisoners of war with human and legal rights, and we would not be in Iraq fighting this war, which simply does not meet just war criteria.

(2) We do need to carefully consider Stem cell research from an ethical and moral standpoint. this is difficult. But to look to politicians to provide clear leadership in this area will get us nowhere. President Bush's own ethical stance on the matter of Sanctity of Life waivers and is at best a situational ethic. We do need a clear ethical and moral path but that will come not from politicians, pundits, or even scientists themselves, but from people of faith.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Gospel or Garden, which do people need more?

I wrote this 'essay' last year at garden planting time. I thought it might be encouraging as we have planted again this year. It also reminds me that I need to put some time in with my hands in the dirt gospel.

Planting a Garden
One pastor said to me once, ‘I don’t know why my church puts so much time and energy into feeding a free breakfast to ‘those people.’ I wasn’t sure who ‘those people’ were. Hungry people I guess. ‘They need the gospel,’ he rambled on, ‘more than anything else.’ They need the gospel more than food. I didn’t know whether to find a nice big Bible and whack him with it, or just walk away. I just walked away feeling pretty good that I was a pastor who had flipped pancakes for the poor and the undocumented and the hung-over. I thought that was the gospel. More gospel than most sermons I’ve ever preached.
His comments reminded me of an old labor union hymn that mocked a song sung in many churches; ‘You will eat, by and by, in that glorious land in the sky, when you die.’ Is that what the church stood for I wondered to myself, go hungry now, happily singing of heaven, loudly singing for your soul so as to drown out the sound of your stomach rumbling and your hungry children crying? Is that the gospel? Cotton for our ears to block the pleas of the hungry, a gag for the tongues of the underpaid and the underfed?
What if the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with a few slices of wonderbread and some fishsticks wasn’t meant to teach a new ritual to be practices or some deep truth about the afterlife or even God? What if Jesus just wanted us to actually feed take care of each other and call that gospel? ‘Feed my sheep’ Jesus says to Peter at the end of the Gospel of John. What if he wasn’t initiating an institution or creating a hierarchy? What if he didn’t mean feed them ideas or platitudes or a system of beliefs? What if he really did mean for us to start flipping pancakes on Saturday mornings, or stirring stew on Sunday afternoon (instead of watching TV)? What if he meant for us to raid our fridge now and again, not for a can of beans that has been there since 1963, but for some tuna or peanut butter or the bread box for a loaf of whole wheat bread?
I learned something new this week. I learned that all of the fancy theological terms I parroted from seminary, terms like disenfranchised, downtrodden, marginalized, terms that peppered my sermons didn’t really taste too flavorful on my tongue. They were oatmeal without brown sugar, not much meaning. I learned that my own judgment of that other pastor was pretty baseless because I thought different thoughts about what ‘gospel’ means, and had different ideas about what feeding the hungry meant (actually doing it) I hadn’t been. Actually doing it I mean. I had this epiphany while I was elbow deep in mulch, hands brown from newly turned soil, and soaking wet. My congregation invited me to help them plant a garden the produce of which will go to help feed the hungry in our community. I learned how little I knew of the gospel until I got my hands dirty. I learned how empty my sermons are until they are built upon an aching back and a sweaty face. I sowed the gospel this week with the very real seedlings of tomato, bean and squash plants. I learned who Jesus was in that garden because I saw him in the people who gave up a beautiful sunny Saturday to plant a garden. I was saved that moment because the gospel changed from words and ideas into action and labor. I found church without walls or organs or committees. Church was time and place of working to make life a little better, easier, more fair for someone else. I found Jesus, the gospel and church in a garden this week. Thank God.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

In the Sweet By and By

Attempted a sermon on 'Heaven' this past Sunday, but I don't think I did the concept of heaven (or the congregation for that matter) justice.
As of late I have been intrigued with the idea of re-thinking ideas, such as heaven, hell, Satan, the second coming. I haven't done much theologically with them partly because they were so prominently and for the most part (accept heaven) frighteningly portrayed in the church of my up-bringing. Also, any thought on these matters is largely conjecture as none of these items can be experienced and experimented with and is so totally subjective and theoretical.

The point I was trying to make with 'Heaven' was that 'Kingdom of Heaven' and 'Kingdom of God' both of which figured prominently into Jesus' teaching as recorded in the gospels, serve as the major binding and motivating vision for the early church. It was 'Heaven,' that empowered and inspired the early church (as portrayed in Acts) to serve, grow, sacrifice and spread the good news of Jesus the Christ. But their idea of heaven was (I believe) different from our own. Acknowledging that very little historically verifiable information can be gleaned from Acts, the story would have us believe that the early church was lead to great things by the Holy Spirit, by their hope and trust in the coming Kingdom. But I do not think that they thought of Heaven as 'the sweet by and by,' some place completely outside what N.T. Wright often calls, 'the space, time continuum.' Granted, God is separate from creation and utterly 'other than' what has been created. But,Kingdom of Heaven/God is not just about God. The Kingdom metaphor is built on other themes from the Hebrew scriptures; Eden, the perfect created embodiment of the God and creation intersecting; the Land, a place of interim intersecting of human and divine that will lead to the re-creation of Eden, (see the covenant with Abram; I will bless you.. And through you all nations will be blessed); Israel, the first step after 'land' of recreating the intersection of God and creation, a earthly kingdom that was intended to live and thrive under God's direction.
When Jesus says 'Kingdom of God/Heaven' I believe he is bringing all of this meaning to his own time and to explain his purpose. The ideal connection between God and creation, Jesus will both embody and arbitrate. Jesus will live and teach the life of safety, abundance, and purpose of 'the land,' and as the heir of David he will institute the new Israel. Kingdom language is not meant to either point us to 'the sweet by and by' as if this creation is unimportant to God, nor is it 'just' a symbol that forces us to think only of this creation. Kingdom of God/Heaven is the idea of the intersection of God and creation, the incarnation if you will, of God's will for creation at its inception in Eden. To forget heaven or just give the idea a passing nod, leaves us to look only at our own work, our own ability, to make the world a 'better place.' We are left to trust technology and economy and ourselves, and although we have done great things, some atrocious actions have been taken to make the world 'a better place.' Take the invention of T.N.T which lead to so many deaths in military usage, Zyclon-B, a poinsonous gas used by Germany in W.WII, created by a Jewish chemist to rid crops of raiding insects, not to mention nuclear power which largely goes to weaponry at this point. Technology, and our own dubious morals and limited foresight become substitutes for the heavenly, the transcendent. To look at heaven as only transcendent leaves us to abandon the beauty and the potential of what God has created. There is no investment in creating just societies, protecting the environment, working for lasting peace, if we are just going to jump from the sinking ship called earth. Kingdom language does not abandon creation, nor does it glorify it. Instead it honors and transforms it, makes it a temple, a sacred space in which Creator and Creation can be reconciled or atoned.
We need to think of Heaven and of the Kingdom, but in terms of
God's intimate presence with creation
God's gifts of safety, abundance and purpose for all creation
God's transcendence realized not far away from us, but with and among us (see Rev.)
in part now (through the church) in full someday!
That is the guiding vision
God Bless

Friday, July 14, 2006

We and I

Read a brief article in the latest Christian Century about changes proposed by the American Council of Bishops to the Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church. What interested me most was the change at the recitation of the creed from 'We believe,' to 'I believe.' Strange I thought.
I don't like to pick on any denomination and pride myself on being the kind of Baptist that respects other beliefs, practices and traditions. In trying to get a clergy association started in my hometown I have had the best relationship with two local catholic priests. But changing We to I???

I am afraid that Christianity in America is already too individualistic and that may be largely in part due to Protestant even Baptist theological focus on personal salvation. Now Baptist have long focused on 'Soul Liberty' the right and responsibility of the individual to respond to God as they feel called. But I fear for the 'I' focus in worship. I once heard a person new to Christianity say, 'I get all I need from my small group. I don't know why I need worship.' Faith for this person was all about self, what do I get; how do I feel, what do I learn...
While Baptist do uphold the importance of the individual response to God we must keep that in tension with the purpose of the response. I am choosing on my own to be a part of the we, the family of God, the body of believers.

'I' faith misses the point of salvation, which is to empower the individual to live into the kingdom, the community of God. 'I' faith is only focused on self and not the community, not the renewal of all creation.

So please my Catholic brothers and sisters, don't loose the 'we.' Stick to 'we believe,' Not only for your sake, but for mine. In the end 'We believe' is the prayer that one day we will truly live as 'One Lord, one faith, one baptism...'

Thursday, July 13, 2006


This past Sunday I attempted a sermon on forgiveness and reconciliation and was struck by the difficulty of making sense of such a difficult topic. It is fairly apparent that Jesus expected his disciples to be aliens in this world by being forgiving of others; teaching them to pray for enemies, to be peacemakers, to forgive 70 x 7, and by making the forgiveness of our own debts to God contingent upon our forgiveness of others.

I didn't want to approach forgiveness in the fashion of C.S. Lewis whose basic thought was, as I understand it, that we forgive because we have been commanded to. If we are forgiving unkind words, a broken window, a scrape to the paint of the car... Commandment could very well work. But for bigger issues such as spousal abuse or the abuse of children by adults, murder, racial crimes of violence, genocide, commanded forgiveness just doesn't work.

In the end I'm afraid I made forgiveness sound very self-serving. My point was that we forgive so that we can become and remain our truest selves. I connect forgiveness to the first commandment's urge to have no other gods. If we cannot forgive we constantly live in an emotional, psychological and spiritual orbit around the wrong done to us and the wrong-doer. Our values, reactions, decisions are made in reference to that wrong. This is perfectly understandable from a psychological point of view especially in reference to trauma, and I am not judging that having had to forgive some traumas myself. My idea is that we forgive so that God remains the focus of our lives; what God wants for and expects of us is the star which marks our navigation, not the actions of another person. Forgiveness is the act of freeing ourselves from external influences so that we can keep God the god of our lives.

Some found this helpful... forgiveness as a way of connecting to God and becoming our true selves. Others felt that it was still too simplified a discussion of a difficult topic.

From a global view reconciliation is a necessary and this was Jesus perspective I think. Looking at the prevailing forces of rebellion and strife in Roman occupied Palestine and knowing that at least some of his fellow Jews help a militaristic view of the Messiah, when Jesus spoke of forgiveness, he was looking at genocide, ethnic cleansing, economic cruelty and bloody rebellion and attempting to lift up a different and better way to seek and find justice for his people.

How this translates to a mother who has lost her son to a drunk driver or a wife beaten by her husband, I still struggle to work out. That it is necessary to find peace somehow with a painful past in order to imagine a 'new Jerusalem' for our lives in God seems the ideal, but the practicality of that process still evades me.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Alien nation church?

Why Alien Nation Church?

I was raised in church, practically birthed in a pew. church was always home for me. But the state of popular American Christianity left me feeling like an outsider. I was raised to beleive that the universe was created in six literal days, that drinking alcohol, listening to 'secular music' watching movies, playing cards and dancing were great sins. That anyone who wasn't 'born again' was destined for hell, and that other denominations of Christians (Catholic, Methodist, Episcopalian, etc, might be dancing close to the line of damnation too, because they were Baptist. In other words I was taught to take a stand for my faith, but the stands that were taken didn't make sense to me. So I felt like, still feel sometimes like an alien.

Read the gospel of John and the book of Revelation however and disciples of Christ are meant to be aliens. In John 1:10 the writer says, 'He (Jesus) was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.' Jesus was alienated, born to a people alienated in their own land, by the Roman Empire. More properly the world was aliented from God. Later Jesus, before the crucifixion, will pray for the disciples (John 17:14) and say, ' the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.'

We are to be aliens of this world. Not judging aliens. I can't stand christians who run around complaining about everything and talking about how they can't wait to 'go to heaven.' We've been given this world and this life to enjoy and for a reason. To be resident aliens, to live God's way (what that is I'm still working out) not the 'world's way,' (that too, I am still working out).

So this little project is most likely a place for me to rant and rave and preach and vent, to myself. But hopefully it will also be a place for alien Christians to talk about what it really means to 'not belong to the world,' and to figure out what God expects of us while in this world.

My first suggestion, having just read of the SBC's latest 'stand' against alcohol, is that the American church often chooses foolish wind-mills to battle. Why take a stand against people who can reasonably and responsibly enjoy a good beer or scotch or bourbon? Take a stand to help recovering addicts? Absolutely! Take a stand for prohibition? Why? Take a stand for 10 commandment statues? Why? Take a stand for school prayer? Why? Gay marriage? Why? Let's be true aliens in this nation and take a stand against domestic abuse, the rising cost of housing (in Rhode Island), the war in Iraq, poverty... The list goes on.

What should Christians stand for... and against???