Monday, May 28, 2018

Economic and Political Philosophies and the Bible

Several things in the last several days have prompted me to remember and affirm that all economic and political philosophies are of human invention, not mandated by God. Justice and compassion for people who are poor, weak, needy, widowed, orphaned, foreign are consistently biblical from Genesis to Revelation. Both the “capitalism and socialism,” “conservatism and liberalism” that vie for attention in our time have features that support and undermine this fundamental biblical value. It seems to me that when Bible people (Christians of all varieties and yes, Jews too) advocate for any particular political or economic philosophy, demonstrating how it actually brings justice and compassion for people who are poor, weak, needy, widowed, orphaned, foreign is essential and central.

Of course, these are just the philosophies of our time. In previous generations the politics of empire, Christendom, feudalism, enlightenment, and more prompted other debates. In our time of multiple Bible translations, some quarters have argued for the “Authorized Version,” known as the King James Bible for literary, theological, and certainly political reasons. I find an interesting parallel to our time. The Reformation, Guttenberg’s printing press, political instability in England and elsewhere in Europe was fertile soil for the multiplication of new English translations of the Bible. King James (not church and certainly not God) authorized a translation to head off the Puritans who were a rising political force threatening the throne. So King James wanted to be sure the translation he authorized supported the principle of the divine right of kings, and insured that certain passages were slanted that way.

A related curiosity is how the translators dedicated their work to King James and called him “the defender of the faith.” His inheritance of that title came through King Henry VIII. On October 11, 1521 Pope Leo X gave that title to King Henry VIII for his book Defense of the Seven Sacraments which defended the primacy of the Pope and opposed the Reformation, especially the ideas of Martin Luther. When Henry VIII broke with Rome and made himself head of the Church of England in 1530 over his divorce and marriage and other political issues, the title was revoked by Pope Paul III, but in 1544 the English Parliament conferred the title on Henry VIII and his successors. While making exact correlations is dangerous at best, I do find it simultaneously amusing and sobering to consider the parallels with some current religious leaders’ affirmations of Donald Trump as God’s choice for US President, though his marital and sexual history is at some variance with what has been conventional Christian teaching.

Here is the King James Bible translators’ dedication of their work. I believe the all caps are original, which is also amusing in our social network norms of considering all caps to be unnecessary shouting.

TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE, JAMES, by the Grace of God, KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, etc.  The Translators of the Bible wish Grace, Mercy, and Peace through JESUS CHRIST our Lord.

I know this may seem to be disconnected stream of consciousness and different thoughts have rumbled around in my mind the last several days. You are welcome to write it off as just so much random rambling, but I do hope I evoked at least a smile or two (even if grimly) and prompted some reflection on the cacophony of ideas and words swirling around us these days.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

foolish consistency hobgoblin

Seems to me that to say that we don't need new gun laws because criminals don't follow the law anyway, and then to argue that if we had prayer and Bible in schools, we wouldn't have mass shootings is contradictory. If a criminal doesn't obey regular laws, why would we think that they would be changed by rote recitation of the Lord's Prayer and posting the Ten Commandments in schools? But then there is Ralph Waldo Emerson's line, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wartime President

Whether in hope or dread, any who imagine that for Donald Trump to become a wartime president would bring unity to the country and glory to him better think again and consider:
• Obama – Libya
• G W Bush – Afghanistan, Iraq
• Nixon – Vietnam
• Johnson – Vietnam
• Truman – Korea
• Wilson – World War I
• McKinley – Spanish-American
• Lincoln – Civil War
It may seem only to have worked for F D Roosevelt in World War II under unprecedented conditions

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Take Courage March for Our Lives People!

Johnson and Nixon et al did everything they could to discredit the Vietnam era peace movement. I expect we will see equally vicious efforts to discredit the March for Our Lives movement after the large nationwide turnout on March 24, 2018. I expect some who support this movement will be made to pay dearly. Those who control so much money and power do not let go easily. Take courage and do not give up! It is a long, uphill journey, but worth persisting.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

What I Do and Don't Understand about Trump, Clinton, and Obama

I understand having political disagreements with Barak Obama. I understand not voting for Hillary Clinton. I even understand voting for Donald Trump because no other option seemed viable. But I don’t understand how the real or imagined shortcomings of Obama and Clinton are a defense of Trump’s serial adultery and sexual predation. How can someone who has violated his marriage commitments be trusted to honor his oath of office? I don’t understand how what Obama or Clinton did or didn't do justifies undermining a century of hard work by both parties to establish protections for civil rights, for the environment, consumers, and workers, or for folk who are disabled, sick, young, old, and poor. I am incredulous that so many who claim to follow Jesus or the Bible so readily dismiss serious flaws of moral character with nary a hint of the fruit worthy of repentance. (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Changing the Cultural Consensus

Hans and Sophie Scholl

We seem to be witnessing a change of the cultural consensus in two arenas that have recently received considerable attention. Sexual harassment and assault; and pervasive violence that revolves so much around guns because of their lethality and availability. Both are very much in flux and lack complete clarity. The integrity of various forces and people exerting influence in many directions is being questioned. As much as we humans crave well-defined, stable definitions of what is and what is not acceptable, cultural consensus in any realm is always fluid and fuzzy. Some will always take exception to what is generally accepted.
As typically happens when a new awareness sweeps into popular thinking, not everything or everyone speaking out against sexual harassment and assault is free of flaws. But the groundswell of the #MeToo movement is evidence that the cultural consensus has changed so that it is no longer acceptable for people who wield power or think they are stars to believe that the victims of their sexual harassment and assault let them do it. Of course, some will persist anyway. But no longer will coercion and intimidation be accepted as consent. Nor will mere acquiescence be consent. No longer will victims be blamed while predators are excused if not celebrated. No longer will victims be shamed into silence.
The frequency and magnitude of mass killings has repeatedly brought the problem of violence to public attention for several years. Somehow, with the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018, the response seems to have reached a level sufficient to launch a change in the cultural consensus. By speaking out so vehemently, publically, and promptly, the survivors and families of those who were killed have unleashed a social force unseen after previous mass killings. The power of their voices is evident in the efforts to dilute, dismiss, discount, and discredit them. They have prevented allowing this to fade with the passing of the next news cycle. Large businesses have changed their relationship with the NRA. People who have avoided the fray of the gun debates are speaking up. My own 46 year old son Jon who has focused his writing on marriage, family, mission, leadership and men’s ministry wrote at length about Parkland in his Stretched blog.
In these last couple of weeks I have noticed increasingly strident messages not just supporting gun rights but warning of dire consequences if they are limited. One that has shown up is a quote attributed to Adolph Hitler about confiscating guns as essential to taking over a nation. I did some research on this (not at the level of a doctoral dissertation) and was unable to find a citation of when and where he said that. That is not to suggest anything positive about Adolph Hitler. This research pointed me in a different direction that I believe speaks to the dynamics of changing cultural consensus.
After World War I, gun ownership in the German Weimar Republic was tightly restricted. When the Nazis came to power they relaxed gun regulations for “ordinary German citizens” but they prohibited those they considered “untrustworthy” from possessing guns, most obviously Jews, but also citizens of those countries they occupied and considered inferior: e.g. Poland, France. Some have suggested that if the Jews had been better armed they might have prevented the Holocaust and brought down the Nazi regime, but most historians consider that highly improbable.
My research brought me again to the White Rose student movement that opposed the Nazis with the distribution of leaflets. On February 18, 1943 Hans (age 25) and Sophie (age 22) Scholl were caught distributing White Rose leaflets at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. On February 22, 1943 they were executed by Guillotine. (Today’s terrorists do not have a monopoly on beheading.) On her way to execution Sophie said, “Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” And Hans shouted from the Guillotine, “Long live freedom!” The Nazis were far more afraid of the leaflets of the White Rose students than all the people with guns. Though in a different time and place, with a different awareness, thousands of people seem to be awakening and are stirred to action. Perhaps not as dramatically as for the Scholls, but I suspect that some, especially the young and inexperienced, may pay a high price for speaking out.
For some time those who have advocated more restrictions on guns have been told, “We do not have a gun problem; we have a heart problem.” The typical logic is not to change laws but things like bringing back rote prayers in public schools. The assumption seems to be that individuals who have not had that exposure are more prone to kill. I do not want to get side tracked into debating those sorts of arguments. I do believe that what we all think and how we all feel about guns is a matter of the heart. From my experience as a spiritual director, I have written an inventory that anyone can use to explore the place of guns in their hearts regardless of their views on guns in our society. I invite you to visit this site and see what you learn.
I would also suggest that our cultural consensus is a question of the heart. I am not meaning what particular religious tradition one identifies with or follows, but in the sense that what we value in our hearts blends together into a picture of what we aspire for our society to be and become. In general laws reflect the cultural consensus on many things. Sure, not everyone agrees, and some disregard and even break the law for their own reasons. As cultural consensus changes, laws are adjusted accordingly. And, yes, laws also shape the cultural consensus. Open housing laws enabled more people of different races, ethnicities, and cultures to become neighbors and friends, promoting acceptance of diversity. So we have laws prohibiting theft and assault, even though we know some people break those laws, because we want to live without being robbed or attacked. In this time of changing cultural consensus, we are seeking a new vision of the kind of society we want with regard to violence, and yes, firearms.
We are seeing a rising groundswell of calling for change in our society’s cultural consensus about violence, much of it directed at doing something specifically about gun violence. While an outcry follows every mass killing, they have not launched the kind of speaking out we are seeing now with things like students walking out of schools. We may disagree about whether this is good or effective, but I would suggest that if it persists it could begin to precipitate a change in our cultural consensus about violence. If it reaches a critical mass, it will result in political and legal changes to reflect the emerging consensus, which will in turn, reinforce the emerging consensus. Mass killings get public attention that seems to be prompting unprecedented action, but it will also affect the much more common but hidden tragedies of accidents, domestic violence, suicide, and even criminal acts.
I am no prophet and have no idea where this might head, but something tells me we are not going back to business as usual any time soon. I don’t think we can project a trajectory from the last couple of weeks that will tell us what to expect, except that I am sure the law of unintended consequences will play a part. Without a doubt, this will be messy and the consensus might not be crystal clear. I am also sure that some people of nefarious intent will seek to capitalize on the shifting winds of change, wherever they blow. I am also certain those who have substantial investments in the current consensus or the confusion about it, will push back vehemently. I am sure we will not find one grand, sweeping solution to the problems of violence, but take small incremental steps that will not end mass killings or other acts of violence, but may slow down the pace of death, perhaps imperceptibly at first, but relentlessly sparing lives of loved people one by one.
I have tried to write about the changing cultural consensus about violence in our society that seems to be developing and not make this a polemic about guns one way or another. I have written not only where I stand on this but also why I must focus on caring for my wife, Candy, and not engage in that discussion any further. 
I believe I have contributed what I can to the discussion of violence in our society, of which guns are such a prominent lightening rod. Rather than try to convince, I have tried to promote thought and discourage either-or and all-or-nothing wrangling. I have no illusions that what I have written is any more persuasive that the flood of words that are out there, but they are available to anyone who cares to read.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Susanna as a Case Study in Sexual Harassment

For my Protestant friends who do not have a copy of the Apocrypha, writing it off as non-historical legends that the Roman Catholic Church has used to support doctrines Protestants don't accept, here is the text of the story of Susanna. Like much of the Apocrypha, it encourages righteous living when the culture is hostile to faith and righteousness, so the moral intent seems particularly relevant today when those who we might have expected to be most vigilant have fallen prey to the lure of money, sex, and power under the guise of self-righteousness. 

There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. He married the daughter of Hilkiah, named Susanna, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich, and had a fine garden adjoining his house; the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honoured of them all.

That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: ‘Wickedness came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people.’ These men were frequently at Joakim’s house, and all who had a case to be tried came to them there.

When the people left at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk. Every day the two elders used to see her, going in and walking about, and they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering their duty to administer justice. Both were overwhelmed with passion for her, but they did not tell each other of their distress, for they were ashamed to disclose their lustful desire to seduce her. Day after day they watched eagerly to see her.

One day they said to each other, ‘Let us go home, for it is time for lunch.’ So they both left and parted from each other. But turning back, they met again; and when each pressed the other for the reason, they confessed their lust. Then together they arranged for a time when they could find her alone.

Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was a hot day. No one was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, ‘Bring me olive oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I can bathe.’ They did as she told them: they shut the doors of the garden and went out by the side doors to bring what they had been commanded; they did not see the elders, because they were hiding.

When the maids had gone out, the two elders got up and ran to her. They said, ‘Look, the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us. We are burning with desire for you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.’

Susanna groaned and said, ‘I am completely trapped. For if I do this, it will mean death for me; if I do not, I cannot escape your hands. I choose not to do it; I will fall into your hands, rather than sin in the sight of the Lord.’

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and the two elders shouted against her. And one of them ran and opened the garden doors. When the people in the house heard the shouting in the garden, they rushed in at the side door to see what had happened to her. And when the elders told their story, the servants felt very much ashamed, for nothing like this had ever been said about Susanna.

The next day, when the people gathered at the house of her husband Joakim, the two elders came, full of their wicked plot to have Susanna put to death. In the presence of the people they said, ‘Send for Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.’ So they sent for her. And she came with her parents, her children, and all her relatives.

Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement and beautiful in appearance. As she was veiled, the scoundrels ordered her to be unveiled, so that they might feast their eyes on her beauty. Those who were with her and all who saw her were weeping.

Then the two elders stood up before the people and laid their hands on her head. Through her tears she looked up towards Heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. The elders said, ‘While we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who was hiding there, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. Although we saw them embracing, we could not hold the man, because he was stronger than we are, and he opened the doors and got away. We did, however, seize this woman and asked who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify.’

Because they were elders of the people and judges, the assembly believed them and condemned her to death.

Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, ‘O eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be; you know that these men have given false evidence against me. And now I am to die, though I have done none of the wicked things that they have charged against me!’

The Lord heard her cry. Just as she was being led off to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel, and he shouted with a loud voice, ‘I want no part in shedding this woman’s blood!’
Daniel Rescues Susanna
All the people turned to him and asked, ‘What is this you are saying?’ Taking his stand among them he said, ‘Are you such fools, O Israelites, as to condemn a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to court, for these men have given false evidence against her.’

So all the people hurried back. And the rest of the elders said to him, ‘Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you the standing of an elder.’ Daniel said to them, ‘Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them.’

When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, ‘You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgements, condemning the innocent and acquitting the guilty, though the Lord said, “You shall not put an innocent and righteous person to death.” Now then, if you really saw this woman, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?’ He answered, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ And Daniel said, ‘Very well! This lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two.’

Then, putting him to one side, he ordered them to bring the other. And he said to him, ‘You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has beguiled you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you have been treating the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not tolerate your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?’ He answered, ‘Under an evergreen oak.’ Daniel said to him, ‘Very well! This lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to split you in two, so as to destroy you both.’

Then the whole assembly raised a great shout and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they took action against the two elders, because out of their own mouths Daniel had convicted them of bearing false witness; they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour. Acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was spared that day.

Hilkiah and his wife praised God for their daughter Susanna, and so did her husband Joakim and all her relatives, because she was found innocent of a shameful deed. And from that day onwards Daniel had a great reputation among the people.