Friday, November 10, 2017

Veterans’ Day 2017

Veterans’ Day we call it now. It was originally Armistice Day marking the end of The Great War at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We call it World War I now. It was to be the war to end all wars, with the hope there would not be a second. But obviously that didn’t happen. Somehow the end of one war sows the seeds of the next war. Something about fighting for peace is inherently self-contradictory. Yet, today we rightly honor those who served at great risk and cost with an abiding and deep hope for peace and justice. Perhaps the realpolitik of our world precludes the possibility of peace with justice, but as one who aspires to follow Jesus Christ as his faithful disciple, I will continue to engage in the pursuit of just peace regardless of the risk and cost to me. And I will continue to pray that the hopes for peace and justice of those who served, many at the cost of their lives, will be fulfilled, even if in small increments.

Friday, November 3, 2017

All economic and political philosophies and systems are human inventions

All economic and political philosophies and systems are human inventions susceptible to abuse, corruption, and injustice, some more than others. I do not consider myself to be liberal, conservative, or moderate and have no loyalty to a political party or group. Following the lead of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus, I seek justice, compassion, and prosperity especially for weak, poor, and powerless people and integrity and pursuit of the common good from those in positions of leadership and responsibility.

Friday, October 20, 2017

I Long for this Kind of Christian Discipleship to Awaken

I have my own disagreements with John McCain, which are rather different than Donald Trump’s quarrels with him. However, I would have to say that Trump’s threatening response to McCain’s foreign policy comments suggests he does not understand the line from Kris Kristofferson’s song Me and Bobby McGee. “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose.” McCain’s terminal awareness makes him immune to threats to his career or reputation. Trump is powerless to take anything that matters to McCain from him. Thus McCain knows he has “faced tougher adversaries.”

That sort of awareness is why the Roman Empire considered the early (pre-Constantinian) Christians so dangerous. Confident of the resurrection to eternal life in Jesus Christ, they could not be threatened, intimidated, tortured, coerced, or coopted by human power structures. Throughout history, this is why totalitarian regimes and even seemingly benign power structures (economic and social as well as political) are so hostile to such disciples of Jesus. This is why power structures are comfortable with Christendom and its “Christian nation” heirs. They can manage and manipulate diluted religion.

With the turmoil that characterizes the US and the world in our time, I am hearing and seeing a lot of people express yearnings for the security of the cultural landmarks of Christianity or at least religion. I, however, am longing for the awakening of Christian disciples who are so confident in Jesus, the resurrection to eternal life, and the Kingdom (Reign) of God that the principalities and powers will be unable to coerce or coopt us into this world that is passing away.

No Political Hay to be Made from Sexual Misconduct

No one should be making political hay out of the seemingly endless stream of sexual misconduct scandals. Harvey Weinstein and Tim Murphy are recent examples of this coming from the left and the right. Republicans and Democrats are both vulnerable. Religious identification is no protection either. While not limited to power people, I strongly suspect that power and prominence increase the propensity for such behavior. I also suspect that Donald Trump was at least partly right when he said that when you are a star they let you do it. Or at least those who think they are stars want to believe their victims let them do it. All of this is not new. Donald Trump is hardly the first serial adulterer in the White House. Because of my pastoral career, I have seen several unfortunate experiences of serious sexual misconduct by a number of clergy colleagues: some good friends, some prominent and highly respected. Since my “retirement” I have been writing fiction to work through how many of my pastoral experiences and relationships have shaped me. I am currently working on a novel built around the profound impacts of clergy sexual misconduct. Please, please never use these tragic moral failures as political or ecclesiastical weapons. Mourn and be vigilant. Pray diligently for all in positions of leadership: business, political, religious. 

A Modest Proposal for which I Have Almost No Hope

The Las Vegas mass shooting and the Texas Tech student shooting of the campus police officer have reawakened the gun rights and gun control activists hurling invectives at each other. To me the slogans and clichés seem to be ways of avoiding addressing the issues of violence in our society, gun and otherwise. As tragic and evil as mass shootings are, they account for a very small portion of the gun deaths and injuries in this country. Accidents (including children playing with and finding guns), suicide, domestic violence account for far more gun deaths and injuries than mass shootings. Attitudes as well as services for people with mental health needs is essential.  Yes, then there is intentional crime as well. And yes, the violence of our society is not at all limited to guns, though their effective morbidity makes them an understandable focus.

My proposal is that all presuppositions and preconditions be excluded from public dialog about violence and the various means of violence in our society. What we have now can’t even be called a debate. It is more like spoiled, frightened children screaming insults at each other. Can we agree that the violence that comes in so many forms is not healthy for our society and devote ourselves to working together to find effectively ways to reduce it? Though changes in laws and the legal system may be included, I’m talking about a drastic change in our social consensus that makes all such violence unacceptable and treats all implements of violence with extreme respect and caution. Of course, some people won’t comply. Plenty of drivers, businesses, private citizens already operate outside both laws and social norms, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need laws and community consensus for social cohesion. Those who suggest that we can’t or must have total compliance or results before doing anything only prevent us from doing what we can to be better.

One of the huge barriers to this kind of dialog and hard work is our human propensity to locate problems outside of ourselves and put blame on others. The sorts of “we don’t have a gun problem, we have a heart problem” does exactly that. Those who spread such clichés presume that their hearts are ok, and other people have a problem with their hearts.  Similarly, blaming the NRA is a cop out that results in paralysis. I suggest Jesus’ approach of taking the logs out of our own eyes first would go a long way toward addressing this gigantic, lethal stalemate in our society. (Matthew 7:3-5) As long as we refuse to move our positions off dead center until someone else moves, we will be hopelessly trapped in this death spiral.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Not So Modest Proposal to Memorialize the Victims of Lynching

I just finished reading D. L. Mayfield’s lengthy cover feature article in the September 2017 issue of Christianity Today (pp. 34-42), “In Memory of These – How a Montgomery Lynching Memorial Could Help Christians Repent and a Nation Heal.” She began with her investigation and personal memorializing of the 1902 lynching of Alonzo Tucker in Coors Bay, Oregon, not far from where she lives. She makes some allusion to the current turmoil around Confederate monuments, but she goes back much further and deeper than that to affirm how essential repentance for communal and historic sin is for healing.
She affirms the proposed memorial to the 4,000+ confirmed lynchings of African-Americans from 1877 until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s. Her own experience with memorializing Alonzo Tucker suggests a further step to personalize and localize this plea for repentance. Only a few people will trek to Montgomery to see it, and those would be sympathetic. I wonder what would be the effect of placing a lynching memorial within sight of every monument and memorial of the Civil War/War Between the States, both Union and Confederate. And besides the listing of names, as Christianity Today did in the graphics of the article indicating the massive scope of lynching, each of these bear the name (when known) of a specific lynching victim. Perhaps much as portrayals of the Apostles are frequently shown with the instruments of their martyrdom, these lynching victims be shown holding a noose or having a noose draped around their necks.
A lot of talk about Confederate monuments has been about not erasing history. The history of lynching and other abuses of former slaves and their descendants has not only been erased, for the most part it has been excluded from how history is told and taught. I would suggest (not that anyone will take my suggestion seriously), that a lynching memorial be placed at every monument to Union “heroes” and “victories” be included as well. There is plenty to repent of on both sides and for the inheritors of both traditions. This would prompt serious reflection of a more complete if uncomfortable look at history.
D. L. Mayfield introduced her article with the story of a lynching in Oregon. I have a friend who as a child witnessed the lynching of his teenage uncle in the 1950s in New Jersey, because someone did not like the way he looked at a white woman. The history of lynching is not a southern problem. It is the gaping but hidden wound of the racial divide that has stained the US for centuries and continues to strain relationships and progress toward justice today. Also, keep in mind that this article appeared in Christianity Today, not something from the liberal left, but from the core of evangelical Christianity in the US.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

What Do We Celebrate at New Years?

Yes, indeed. Happy New Year! Having said that, I have long puzzled over the significance of January 1. It seems to be an accounting and tax convenience but have little if any real significance. As you might expect from me, The first of Advent seems like the real beginning of the year and the journey through the liturgical calendar which traces the life of Jesus and the Church. As kid, the first day of school in September (definitely not August that seems to have become common) made sense as the beginning of the year. I could make an astronomical case for the winter solstice after which the days lengthen, or an agricultural case for spring equinox to celebrate the new growing season (the Hebrew calendar recognizes a new year with spring planting and another one with fall harvest). I'm not really complaining or expecting any sort of change, just sharing my reflections on the 71st New Year's Day of my life. What were we all celebrating last night - the closing of financial books? We somehow endue each year with a significance that we are usually happy to leave behind and welcome something new. Though we don't really leave the old year behind but have to live with its consequences in the new year, yet perhaps we are celebrating the persistence of hope in the human heart. Isn't that the message of the Hebrew prophets we heard through Advent: hope in God in the face of the most devastating events and circumstances? Isn't that what rises from the Gospel: through Christ hope of being freed from our past sins to live into a gloriously free future? I doubt many in Times Square were thinking about that last night, but it seems so much better to me than partying for partying sake in the vague farewell to one calendar year and hello to the next with no real anchor for hope. Interestingly, the Christian symbol for hope has long been an anchor, which few of us understand today. In the days of sailing ships we could consider small, the anchor was the hope of surviving a storm. Tied to the bow of the ship, it kept the ship facing into the wind so it could ride up and down the waves without being capsized, and when it was doing its job, the anchor was unseen. Our hope in Christ is not seen ("who hopes for what is seen?" Romans 8:24) and faces us into the storms of life (rather than fleeing to a futile imaginary save harbor). So though January 1 seems not to celebrate anything specific (unless you are a tax accountant), it does give us opportunity to affirm and celebrate that Christ had taken us through the storms of the past year and can be depended on to take us through the coming storms.