Shuck and Jive
Friday, March 30, 2007
I have to say I have RevGal envy. I don't envy everything. I don't envy lower than average salaries than the clergy boys, or the difficulty getting ordained into the clergy boy's club, or the glass ceilings which makes it really tough getting head of staff positions in the tall steeple churches, or the sexual politics in the church. That is a lot not to envy.
But I do envy the community the revgals have. I envy the cooperative, collegial spirit. The clergy girls are changing the church for the better. I wish there were more clergy girls in our presbytery (we only have 4 or 5, I reckon). But the few we do have are great. They make the clergy boys behave better, I think.
Recently, I snuck over to the girls' side and posted a comment on a clergy girl's blog. It was not unlike hanging out with my wife and her sisters, crashing a bridal shower, or walking into the Presbyterian Women's meeting. It was a little awkward, but I posted anyway. I thanked her for a real funny post about magnets.
I admit, this isn't quite as funny when I post it. If I were a revgal I could give myself to Jesus without feeling, you know, different.
As a clergy boy, I have to post something like this:
Clergy Boy (sigh)
1980 photo of Talpiot Tomb. (Credit: Amos Kloner)
I have been working today on my powerpoint presentation for Sunday's adult forum (9:45 a.m. -- join us! If ya can't stop then throw us a kiss!). The topic is the Talpiot Tomb. There are many great resources for the curious. You will want to check out The Discovery Channel website. This is a good one to explore around and get a feel for the issue. Especially helpful is the PDF Document that contains the drawings by the original excavators and their recording of the inscriptions. You will also find on that document Amos Kloner's 1996 article about the tomb and the statistics computed by Andrey Feurgverger regarding this cluster of names. You will find articles by other scholars who question that this is the tomb of Jesus.
Then, of course, you will want to go to Simcha Jacobovici's site, The Lost Tomb of Jesus. There is a great deal of speculation there as well, some of it interesting, some of it less so. Nevertheless, it is a fun exploration. I have already mentioned James Tabor's blog. Tabor affirms that there is a good possibility that this is the tomb of Jesus and his family. Mark Goodacre's blog is also quite good. Goodacre is a skeptic regarding this issue. I have great admiration for both of these scholars. They are civil and dispassionate.
As I was putting this powerpoint together, I realized that if this is not the tomb of Jesus and his family, then somewhere in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus is still under someone's porch. My point being that the discovery, debate, and analysis of the tomb is a great benefit for the future of Christianity. It is helping people get beyond the literalism that has enslaved us. Christians will be able to look at the Gospels with a more critical eye. Further, they will have a deepened understanding of faith claims and how they developed, (ie. Resurrection). Faith will not be about "believing" in a virgin birth, a resuscitated corpse, substitutionary atonement, the second coming, and an error-free Bible. It will be about trusting in what Jesus trusted.
I am learning about the importance of James, the brother of Jesus. Most of us probably aren't even aware that Jesus had brothers (and sisters!) yet James was not only the brother of Jesus, but was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Even Peter took orders from James, and Paul (according to Acts) submitted to his authority. There is a whole tradition of James and the brothers of Jesus as leaders of the movement.
There is a Letter of James in the New Testament. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, sniffed at it calling it "an epistle of straw." But when you read it, it sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount and like many of the things that Jesus said. No mythology such as a virgin birth or resurrection in that letter. In fact, the letter of James takes Paul to task. He criticizes the notion of faith without works. "It is dead!" writes James. I am not sure if this letter is by James the brother of Jesus. It could be, but it could also be by someone who carries on the James /Jesus family tradition. Because it is such a precise critique of Romans, it may be that the author has Romans before him, which would put the epistle of James after the death of James.
James was killed in 62 CE in Jerusalem. For thirty years, from 30 CE until 62 CE, the eldest brother of Jesus, James, led the movement. Saying 12 of the Gospel of Thomas reflects this tradition.
12 The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
This saying from Thomas could go back to that early period. There were other contenders for leadership. Paul was one. Paul didn't have any connection with the earthly Jesus. He prides himself in that. Paul defends himself in his letter to the Galatians:
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Paul, here is distancing himself from James. Paul is likely the one who introduced the concept of Resurrection. For him, it wasn't a resuscitated body, but a vision on the road to Damascus. The Gospels, starting with Mark, then the others, writing at least a decade after Paul's last letter, Romans (circa 60 CE), incorporate Paul's resurrection theology in their narratives, and hence move James to the margins. The Resurrection becomes literalized as the tradition develops.
Jesus has yet another brother, Jude. The letter of Jude may also be in the family tradition. Jude's letter has apocalyptic references and is basically a slam on those who have come into the community and disturbed the "love feasts." No details about what these troublemakers are saying, so we don't know who it is about. My hunch, and it is only a hunch, is that it is about Paul and his gang.
The New Testament reflects a huge tension between Paul and James. As a whole, however, the New Testament follows the mythology of Paul and reinterprets the Jesus story under Paul's influence.
But if James gets marginalized, what about Mary? You cannot ignore this woman. She is mentioned at central places in the Gospels. The writers have to include her, even though she is woman who tells "idle tales", is possessed by demons, and probably a whore. At least that is how she ends up being portrayed by the later church.
Nonetheless, there is something about Mary. We have the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, The Dialogue of the Savior, and Pistis Sophia that have a tradition of the leadership of Mary, "the Apostle to the Apostles." In these texts, she knows Jesus better than anyone.
It is very likely that Mary was part of the family tradition with James and the other brothers and sisters. Hints of intimacy between Jesus and Mary are reflected in this tradition. Why not? Why can't Jesus be a sexual being? If anyone, it would likely be with Mary. Who would carry on the message of Jesus better than his own spouse and family members?
All of this is to suggest that one stream of the early Jesus movements would have been connected with the intimates of Jesus, his family. So finding this tomb as connecting with the family of Jesus, would explain a lot. It is not so unusual, once one gets beyond the literalism of dogma and creed.
Then again, it may not be the tomb of Jesus. Time will tell. Regardless of whether it is or it is not, Christianity will make a leap forward by looking at the history of the various Jesus movements.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Even after the Soviet collapse we continued to fund them. There was no hint of morality to any of this. No concern for the future or for the people who actually lived in the countries for which the U.S. supplied arms, communication, and other support for the enemies of our enemies. We have helped to create the terrorism that we claim to be fighting. Where will it end?
I am troubled by all of this. I have been trying to get a conversation going at Presbyterian Bloggers with other Presbyterian clergy and laypersons about the church's role in all of this. I admit, it is pretty difficult to get a conversation started. I have to conclude that the church is worthless. It doesn't care. It is so wrapped up in internal politics, fretting about finances and loss of members, and disputing theological minutiae, that it has lost its voice.
One person suggested that all we have left is sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps. My friend and colleague (and great lover of peace) who blogs Abundance Trek posted this article by James Carroll. I think he is the same James Carroll who wrote Constantine's Sword, but I haven't checked that out yet. The article is entitled, Americans Face a Moral Reckoning. Here are three paragraphs:
The sorrow is back. Everywhere you go, friends greet one another with a choked acknowledgment of a nearly unspeakable frustration at what unfolds in Iraq. This seems true whether people oppose the war absolutely, or only on pragmatic terms; whether they want US troops out at once, or over time. Even about those distinctions, little remains to be said. Bush’s contemptuous carelessness, his inner circle’s corrupt enabling, the Pentagon’s dependable launching of folly after folly, the Democrats’ ineffectual kibitzing, even your heartfelt concern for the troops — these subjects have exhausted themselves. The “surge” of the January escalation was preceded by the surge of public anguish that resulted in Republican losses in November. That election was a stirring rejection of the administration’s purposes in Iraq, a rejection promptly seconded by the Iraq Study Group. But so what? Bush’s purposes hold steady, and their poison tide now laps at Iran.
Why should you not be demoralized and depressed? But the sorrow of war goes deeper than the mistaken policies of a stubborn president. Next to Bao Ninh’s book on your shelf stands “The Sorrows of Empire” by Chalmers Johnson. That title suggests how far into the bone of your nation the pins of this problem are sunk. In effect, the disastrous American war in Iraq is the text, while America’s militarized way of being in the world is the context. Armed power at the service of US economic sway has made a putative enemy of a vast population around the globe, and that enemy’s vanguard are the terrorists. Violent opposition to the American agenda increases with each surge from Washington, whatever its character. Both text and context reveal that every dream of empire brings sorrow, obviously so to the victims of imperial violence, but also to the imperial dreamers, whether or not they consciously associate with what is being done in their name.
But the word sorrow implies more than grief and loss. The palpable sadness of a people reluctantly at war can push toward a fuller moral reckoning with the condition of a nation that has made its own economic supremacy an absolute value. To take on the question of an economy advanced with little regard for its sustainability, much less for its justice, implies a move away from the focus on Bush’s venality to a broader responsibility. How do the sorrows of war and empire implicate you? (Read More)
I am at the point where sorrow is all I have left.
Our Thursdays With Jesus study group is reading and discussing Marcus Borg's latest, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.
This is an excellent summary of Borg's thought about Jesus. I especially appreciate his understanding of the last week of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Borg and John Dominic Crossan provided a more complete look at the last week of Jesus (according to Mark) in The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus's Final Week in Jerusalem.
Next week beginning on Sunday, I will post day by day readings from Mark's Gospel and present Borg and Crossan's interpretations and my own thoughts.
In addition, I appreciate the insights of James Tabor in his book The Jesus Dynasty.
Borg and Crossan have a different view of Jesus than Tabor, but I think they are similar in that they all write that Jesus knew what he was doing when he led his anti-imperial parade and turned over tables in the Temple.
The Church tends to miss the very political message and activity of Jesus (probably because we are so cozy with the Empire). Jesus's final week in Jerusalem was a confrontation with the powers.
Other books of interest for Holy Week include the latest by John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Spong is always fun to read as he pulls no punches.
This book is no exception. As the title suggests, it is book for those who really want to understand the person and message of Jesus without the fantastical claims about him that so much of the church insists must be taken literally. It is a liberation of Jesus from religious control.
James Tabor recommended another book I hadn't yet read. I ordered it today. Gotta love the title:
Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Dont't Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith by Uta Ranke-Heinemann.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
1) No way. It can't be Jesus because he rose from the dead. His body cannot be found. With this view, no matter what evidence could ever be presented, it would have to be dismissed because it challenges faith claims.
2) No way. Jesus didn't even exist. His body cannot be found. It would be like finding Noah's ark or the Garden of Eden. The Gospels are fictions and have no factual basis whatsoever. Again, no matter what evidence could ever be presented, it would be dismissed because of prior claims.
3) No way. Jesus was a peasant. His body cannot be found. He was too poor to have had a burial. His body, like the thousands of others who were crucified, would have been picked at by buzzards and eventually eaten by dogs. No matter the evidence, it would be dismissed because it doesn't fit the preferred picture of "the historical Jesus."
For those who could have their prior claims and reasons why the remains of Jesus could not be found changed if there was sufficient evidence, there, of course, is more resistance, namely to the Discovery Channel show itself.
4) No way. How could a journalist, a television filmmaker at that, beat the scholars to this scoop? If this was the remains of Jesus, surely the scholars would have known and reported it before this guy! For archaeologists who have been digging around for pots and shards for decades, it is pretty embarrassing if a filmmaker scoops them on one of the most significant finds in history. (The filmmaker didn't of course make the initial find. The tomb was excavated by archaeologists in 1980. It was not seen by them to be particularly interesting. The filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, researched this further with the help of scholars and made connections to Jesus and his family).
5) No way. Archaeology cannot find a particular person. At best it can find remnants of what life was like in the time period. This view presupposes that Jesus was not an important figure of history in his time or in the immediate years following his death. Of course, other people of history (ie. Caiaphas) have had their ossuaries found and linked to historical persons.
After one could entertain the possibilities that both 4 and 5 are not rock-solid objections, some observers then question whether the evidence could point to Jesus and his family.
6) No way. The names are common. They could belong to any family. There is no way to prove that this tomb goes back to Jesus or his family.
After one looks dispassionately at those six objections, and realizes that the objections themselves are based on prior assumptions and not evidence, then one is faced with the evidence. Of course, it is impossible to "prove" without a shadow of a doubt, that this tomb goes back to Jesus. Few things in history have that much proof associated with them. But if the evidence suggested a plausibility or even a probability, then the burden would be upon those who would say that this is not the best way to understand this evidence.
James Tabor in his March 24th post, The Talpiot Jesus Tomb: An Overview, offers his summary of the evidence and addresses some of the objections above.
As far as the first objection, it can't be Jesus because Jesus was raised from the dead and his body ascended to heaven, Tabor offers these posts, Robert Gundry's Post and "Resurrection of the Dead" and Nonsense and the Academic Study of Religion. All of his posts I think are good reading.
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
- What you do not know can and will be used against you. How can we expect our students to deal with the nonsense of creationism, for instance, if they do not have a basic understanding of the argument? A sixth grader with average to above average intelligence could read the Genesis stories and see that they are mythological, unless of course they never read the Genesis stories. The Bible is used as a weapon against gays. "The Bible says" we are told. Read the darn thing. Hardly a word is mentioned about gays in the Bible.
- It is the classic of Western civilization. As the article points out, the Bible is the bestselling book year after year. Shakespeare makes 1300 references to the Bible. It is a great work of literature and you cannot get the references of other literature without it. It speaks about great moral questions. It is a saga of a people. It has shaped our ethics, government and ideals. To not read it because we are afraid of the fundamentalists is to miss out on some great stories! We increase our stupidity by ignoring it.
- The best way to disarm the mystique surrounding the Bible is to read it. The Bible, like any other work, is not "owned" by the religious. It is a text for humanity in general. I took a Bible as Literature course and a History of the New Testament course in secular state universities. I also majored in English literature. These courses removed the film of dogma from the Bible. In a public education setting, it would not be taught as the "Word of God" but as a classic of literature. It would be taught through the lens of historical/critical thinking. We live in a time in which Americans by and large revere the Bible but do not read it. This sets us up for interpreters of the Bible (right-wing theocrats for the most part) to control its interpretation. But when people actually read it, they realize that it is impossible to take it as the right-wingers want people to take it.
I am curious as to your thoughts about this. I found the Time magazine article to make some persuasive points. Now, you liberals on school boards, surprise your comrades by introducing the Bible as an elective in your high school!
We had a great concert Saturday night and Jazz Worship Sunday morning. Rick Simerly--trombone, Fred Goodwin--bass, Eddie Dalton--drums, Todd Wright--alto, and Andy Page--guitar.
It was hot! More pics will be on the church's web page in a day or two as well as the sermon.
We ended with "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In" with some different lyrics. One our church members led us spontaneously in a parade.
When the rich go out and work
When the rich go out and work
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the Saints go marching in
When the air is pure and clean
When the air is pure and clean
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the Saints go marching in
When we all have food to eat
When we all have food to eat
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the Saints go marching in
When our leaders learn to cry
When our leaders learn to cry
Oh Lord I want to be in that number
When the Saints go marching in
Sunday's Walking Across America cartoon was a keeper. Good work Paul.
I found a few new blogs that I spy on now and then. I am adding them to the blogroll at the right. They include a couple of bright, progressive PCUSA seminarians, Adventures in Divinity School and Pomomusings. Also, Songs of Unforgetting and News from the Church Down the Street are worth checking out. I also like Michael Wilson's blog at My4Acres. Michael is the webwonder at a progressive church in Oak Ridge, TN, United Church, Chapel on the Hill.
I am in the process of making a list of progressive congregations of any denomination in East Tennessee, SW Virginia, and Western North Carolina. If you know of some to add to the list, let me know!
Who killed Jesus?
Historical evidence suggests that he was executed on a Roman cross.
What was the motivation to kill Jesus?
Romans crucified to demonstrate their sovereignty. This is what happens to trouble-makers. Romans crucified to keep the peace; that is, peace through superior firepower.
Who else might have wanted Jesus dead?
The temple authorities, perhaps. Jesus was accused of blasphemy (perhaps warranted). He challenged the “brokering system” of religion by breaking religious laws. He did things for people (ie. forgive sins) that should only be done through proper channels.
Disappointed zealots. In their view, Jesus did not come through as hoped and lead a revolt against Rome. He betrayed their cause.
Bloodthirsty crowds. Stirred and caught up in a frenzy in a desire for violence, the crowds found their catharsis by cheering for execution of one who disappointed them.
Didn’t God want Jesus to die?
Now we are moving from history to theology, from the Jesus of history to the Christ of faith. In explaining the death of Jesus, the writers of the Gospels and the later tradition (that continues to this day) placed his execution under a divine plan. This is not atypical for storytelling (ie. the Joseph or Exodus story). We do this in telling our own stories. While it is important to move to faith, it is equally important to keep distinctions between faith and history.
In answer to your question, one could say that Jesus’ death was part of a divine plan.
So what was the plan?
The mystery of the divine plan for Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is to connect or re-connect humanity with God. How this connection/re-connection takes place has been conceived of in many different ways throughout the centuries. Here is one reason why we have so many different Christian denominations (and differences between Christians of one denomination). We don’t all agree on “the plan.” For the Reformed Church (which includes Presbyterians) we have not elevated one particular plan to the level of dogma. We keep the mystery of a variety of explanations. Here are three explanations of the Atonement:
Christ the Victor. This is believed by some to be the classical view of the early church fathers. Humanity is enslaved by the forces of evil and Christ is the ransom paid to the devil to free humanity from the devil’s clutches. In literature, this theory was illustrated by C.S. Lewis’ in The Chronicles of Narnia; the White Witch (Satan) slays Aslan (Christ) on the stone table, thereby freeing the inhabitants of Narnia.
Satisfaction. St. Anselm (1033-1109) created this theory that has become the dominant theory of Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Protestantism. The Fundamentalist movement has made this theory the cornerstone of its faith. Humankind has sinned and offended the honor of God. Humans must pay the debt to satisfy God’s honor. Humans cannot, only God can because the debt is infinite. So, God sends the God-Man who pays the debt and receives the penalty due humanity thereby satisfying the transaction. From Billy Graham to Billy Sunday, this view, or variations thereof, has influenced the American Protestant Church more than any other.
Moral Influence. Peter Abelard (1079-1142) gets credit for this theory, but claims few followers except for Liberal Protestants. Rather than to emphasize the transaction to satisfy God’s honor or to pay off the devil, Abelard viewed the problem of humankind’s estrangement as fear of God. God’s sacrificial love revealed in the life and passion of Christ, captures the heart and imagination and creates a change within. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King emphasized this aspect of Christ’s action through his non-violent movement for civil rights. By non-violently resisting the oppressor while retaining human dignity, the oppressor’s heart can be moved to change.
Are these the only theories?
No. These might be viewed as the basic outlines. They have been modified, combined, and elaborated throughout Christian history and will continue to be so. Marcus Borg in his book The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (HarperSanFrancisco, 2003) describes five different theories. I highly recommend this book.
Are these theories in the Bible?
Yes and no. It may be more accurate to say that the seeds or raw material for these theories can be found in scripture. But like all doctrines about God, Christ, sin, and salvation, atonement theories are part of a developing tradition. Because the sacrifice/satisfaction theory has been so pervasive in Evangelical Protestantism, it appears that it is the only theory. We tend to read the New Testament through its lens. (Read More)
Now I am not so sure about the crowds wanting Jesus dead. I don't think there was any "trial" at all. Pilate was ruthless. Josephus writes that Pilate executed without trial. Any who looked like trouble was put on the cross as an example. One can imagine that during the volatile Passover celebration, Rome would crucify a number of Jews as an example. The passion narratives in the gospels are retrojections of later theology (drawn from Psalm 22 and other places) back onto Jesus.
Also, I am not sure that I now can accept that the death of Jesus (or of anyone for that matter) is part of a "divine plan." At most, I can say that sometimes when human cruelty is exposed people can recognize that it is the wrong way to go and changes can occur. But this does not always happen. Further, to suggest that God wills or allows this cruelty so that some other good can arise is our human need to save God's honor. We would rather have a god that is cruel to us than to have none at all, or one that is powerless to stop cruelty and suffering.
Theories of atonement arise, I think, because we conceive of a god who is all-powerful. This god could stop cruelty and suffering if god wishes. So why doesn't god do so? In response to that question, humans have creatively invented theory upon theory to explain away god's inability to either care or to act.
But what if we conceived of god in a different way? What if we gave up the omnipotence of god and instead concentrated on the goodness of god? In this way of understanding god, cruelty and evil happens and god can do nothing about it. God is instead the choice within each of us to choose the good rather than the evil. The responsibility is ours. This is how I concluded my essay:
This is kind of confusing. What am I supposed to believe?
At one point in the Gospels, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Perhaps we can appreciate this question as an invitation to the spiritual life. What does Jesus’ life and death mean to you? And what will you do about it?
But isn’t Jesus the same yesterday, today and forever? Shouldn’t there be one answer that stays the same?
Jesus and God may stay the same. But we change. The universe was probably pretty much the same 2000 years ago as today. But our conception of it has changed a great deal. The same might be said for Jesus and God. It does us little good to repeat old formulas and to parrot familiar explanations because they are old and familiar. We learn from our ancestors. We are guided by them. We are foolish to ignore them. But we are not them. Each generation needs to struggle anew with the question Jesus put before his disciples, who do you say that I am?
All right, then. Who do you say that Jesus is? Can I ask you that?
Sure. First a couple of disclaimers. My faith is a work in progress. I have not arrived. Also, just because I interpret the mystery in one way, doesn’t mean you have to do so in the same way, or that I am “right.” Language that is meaningful for one person may not be for another. Finally, I prefer a variety of images. Some are more meaningful at certain times in my life or in certain situations I am facing.
All that said, here is where I am at this point regarding Jesus:
I believe that Jesus points to God. The God to whom Jesus points is not up there or out there but within and among all things at once like the air we breathe. Sadly, I do not pay enough attention to God. I get caught up in lesser things. I worry too much about things I cannot fix. I want to preserve my life and to defend my ego. I worry about stuff. Yet God calls me to a new way of living. When I least expect it, from those whom I would rather not expect it, God surprises me. Jesus was filled with surprises. His parables are profound surprises. He showed me that I have power, that life is more complex and beautiful than any system, and that the act of loving my enemy is the key to my salvation.
I believe in something Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” He showed us glimpses of this kingdom through his deeds and words. The kingdom of God spoke about how we are to live in response to possessions, outsiders, the enemy and violence.
In God’s kingdom, here is how we are to respond to money.
We need to give it away.
To outsiders. We need to make them family.
To enemies. We need to care for them.
To violence. We need to die.
I believe that grace, unfettered access to God, is for everyone. That experience of grace is powerful beyond belief. As we connect with God’s grace through worship, study, mission, justice-making, community, and prayer we are given the courage and joy to live with integrity.
Jesus showed us that living with integrity could get you killed.
But you are going to die anyway, so you might as well die for love, justice, peace and dignity and for your neighbor. The mystery of the Resurrection is that this way of living is worth it.
I believe the only hope for humanity is to follow his path of non-violent love.
I wish I had more faith to trust in Jesus’ vision.
No More Crosses,
Monday, March 26, 2007
Many of y'all probably don't know that, in addition to standing on street corners holding peace signs, I live a parallel life as a political scientist. Some of the research I've undertaken in the past concerns the controversial relationship between successive US governments and al-Qaeda prior to "9-11". On Thursday, March 29, at 7:30 p.m., I will be presenting some of my research findings at King College in Bristol. This event is sponsored by a student World Affairs organization, and it is free and open to the public. I invite all of you to make the trip to King College for this presentation and discussion. I guarantee that it'll be worth the trip! Below are
directions to the event, as well as a blurb by the sponsors about the talk.
WHAT: Talk "The US Relationship with al-Qaeda Prior to 9/11"
WHEN: Thursday 29 March, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: King College, Kline Hall rm 122.
It is said that '9-11' changed America forever. But what were the events that preceded '9-11', and to what extent did America itself assist those who attacked it on that fateful day? Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis, who specializes in the politics of intelligence and counterintelligence, will present the murky dealings between successive US governments and al-Qaeda prior to '9-11', which include covert assistance in cash and armaments. Do you think you know the truth about '9-11'? Come and hear this lecture. The undisputed facts may surprise you.
Directions to Kline Hall rm 122: Enter King College from E. Cedar St. entrance; Kline Hall is first building on left. Parking is available on side and in front of building. Room 122 is on the lower floor of Kline Hall.
Sponsored by KWAAC (King College World Awareness and Activation Club).
A peace vigil was held at King College on March 20th. Here is news about it.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
My sermon for this Palm/Passion Sunday is entitled "Letting Go of the "Good" in Good Friday." It is the next installment in my Lenten series of sermons regarding beliefs to let go in order to grow. I and I imagine others have let go of the need for substitutionary atonement. This is the idea that Christ dying on the cross was part of God's plan. Here is the story in a nutshell:
Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden. In so doing they sinned. They committed the original sin. By sinning they dishonored God and could not be in God's presence. So they were cast from the garden. Not only that, but their sin was transmuted generation by generation. All humanity, by nature of its humanity, is in a state of sin. They owe a debt to God that they cannot pay. Humans owe the debt but only God can forgive the debt. But God just can't cancel it. So God becomes human. Because Jesus is born of a virgin, he is not tainted by human sin. Jesus, the God/human cancels the debt by dying on the cross taking the sin of the world onto himself. Jesus is substituted for us. All who believe in this story have their debt of sin cancelled. They get to go to heaven when they die. All who do not believe in this story are still in their sin. They get to go to hell. One could tell the story more elegantly, but that is the story in essence.
I raised a bit of hoopla at my previous church when I wrote an article in the local paper challenging this doctrine. I offered a critique of Mel Gibson's movie, "The Passion of the Christ." I wrote that instead of his death we could benefit more by reflecting on his life:
I believe there are more important things about Jesus' life than his death, namely his parables, which were an invitation to cross over to a new way of thinking, loving and living. Jesus' passion for justice, his acceptance and elevation of the marginalized, his love of enemies are just some of the things that mark his greatness as well as the hope for humankind, in my view.I think ultimately, it was Charles Darwin's theory of evolution that put this dogma in the museum of "fossilized beliefs that once were interesting." If humans evolved from lower life-forms and over billions of years of evolution, then the Adam and Eve story is obviously a myth. They didn't exist. There was no garden, no fruit, no command not to eat of it, no disobedience, no sin, no need for atonement. Jesus dying on the cross was not part of any great plan of salvation since humans didn't need saving. I wonder if this is the real objection to evolution by fundamentalist Christians. It isn't that they need Genesis to be literal, but the theory of evolution casts the whole theory of Christianity as it is popularly conceived into doubt.
I suppose one could find the "truth" of the Adam and Eve story, original sin, virgin birth, and substitutionary atonement in a mythical/metaphorical way, but I don't really see the point. I think the idea of Jesus dying for our sins makes of mockery of the execution of Jesus. The historical person of Jesus died on a Roman cross. There were not just three lonely crosses on a hill. There could have been hundreds perhaps thousands of crosses. Rome crucified anyone who it perceived could make trouble. Rome brought the peace that way.
A good read for "good" Friday is Josephus. You can read his works on-line. He describes the bloody executions by Rome. Jesus wasn't alone. He was executed as a Jew like many of his countrymen. To suggest that his death was somehow "good" is to suggest that the burnings of Jews at Auschwitz was "good" or that the genocide in Darfur is "good." There is nothing good about it. The cross symbolizes the meaninglessness of terror, cruelty, and violence for which there is no answer. If the cross is to mean anything for us today, it is that it represents the absence of goodness. It is the horror of humanity's crimes against humanity.
What does the cross mean to you?
Saturday, March 24, 2007
But even people who don’t consider themselves religious recognized some kind of spiritual dimension to the war and their protests.
Steven Denton, for instance, calls the war a “moral-politicalethical issue” because of its heavy costs.
“What could we have done with that money, not to mention the loss of lives, the cost of taking care of the wounded?” he asked. This is a spiritual matter “on a human level — and a humane level.”
Several participants sounded similar notes that night. While the war isn’t necessarily a religious issue for them, at least in the formal sense, neither is it a mere matter of partisan politics. Their protests apparently rise from a deeper source. “A person’s faith should drive him,” Garrett said. “Regardless of a person’s religion, how we treat each other really defines who we are. Morality and the need to do good — that’s not a matter of religion. It’s a matter of humanity.” (Read More)
You don't have to belong to an organized religion, or to believe in a creed, or even believe in God to make ethical decisions or to have a deep spiritual life. Spirituality, for many, is connected with the deepest sense of being human. I think Sandra put it well: "Regardless of a person's religion, how we treat each other really defines who we are. Morality and the need to do good--that's not a matter of religion. It's a matter of humanity."
It is a bit of a challenge to have peace vigils that tend to touch on the spiritual--the deep issues that are more than political--while being senstive about the use of religious symbols. Even though it is a challenge, I think it can be done. Using a variety of symbols from different religious traditions as well as humanistic poetry etc. can make for an experience that is deeply ecumenical and powerful as well.
Sunday morn we jazz again. The band is playing a jazz worship service at 11:00 a.m. The sermon topic is "Letting Go of Staying Still" in my Lenten "Beliefs to Let Go in Order to Grow" series. For a preview of Palm/Passion Sunday, my sermon title is "Letting Go of the 'Good' in 'Good Friday.'" This will be about, among other things, moving beyond the need for doctrines such as substitutionary atonement. For Easter, the sermon is entitled, "What if We Found the Body of Jesus?" We will explore the power of the symbol of Resurrection without resorting to literalism.
Friday, March 23, 2007
I am in the process of reading James Carroll's, Constantine's Sword This is a book that should make Christians think twice about calling the execution of Jesus, "Good Friday." Carroll takes us through the history of the church's attitudes and actions toward Jews arguing that anti-semitism is at the root of our Christian conviction. He begins by reflecting on the cross at Auschwitz. Why is a cross there? Should there be? What does it mean for Jews?
Reckoning with this work will be on my agenda as I seek to construct my own theology for the twenty-first century.
Here is an excerpt from his book:
Perhaps the voice a troubled Christian most needs to hear is that of the Jew who says the Holocaust must be made to teach nothing. "What consequences, then, are to be drawn from the Holocaust?" asks the theologian Jacob Neusner. "I argue that none are to be drawn, none for Jewish theology and none for the life of Jews with one another, which were not there before 1933. Jewish theologians do no good service to believers when they claim that "Auschwitz denotes a turning point." That voice is useful because if Jewish responses to the Holocaust, which range from piety to nihilism, are complex and multifaceted, Christian interpretations of the near elimination of Jews from Europe, however respectfully put forth, must inevitably be even more problematic. The cross signifies the problem: When suffering is seen to serve a universal plan of salvation, its particular character as tragic and evil is always diminished. The meaningless can be made to shimmer with an eschatological hope, and at Auschwitz this can seem like blasphemy.
But what about an effort less ambitious than the search for meaning or the imposition of theology? What if the cross at Auschwitz is an object before which Christians only want to kneel and pray? And, fully aware of what happened there, what if we Christians want to pray for Jews? Why does that offend? How can prayers for the dead be a bad thing? But what if such prayers, offered with good intentions, effectively evangelize the dead? What if they imply that the Jews who died at Auschwitz are to be ushered into the presence of God by the Jesus whom they rejected? Are Jews then expected to see at last the truth to which, all their lives, they had been blind? Seeing that truth in the beatific vision, are they then to bow down before Jesus as Messiah in an act of postmortem conversion? Shall the afterlife thus be judenrein too? Elie Wiesel tells "a joke which is not funny." It concerns an SS officer whose torment of a Jew consisted in his pretending to shoot the Jew dead, firing a blank, while simultaneously knocking him unconscious. When the Jew regained consciousness, the Nazi told him, "You are dead, but you don't know it. You think that you escaped us? We are your masters, even in the other world." Wiesel comments, "What the Germans wanted to do to the Jewish people was to substitute themselves for the Jewish God." Here is the question a Christian must ask: Does our assumption about the redemptive meaning of suffering, tied to the triumph of Jesus Christ and applied to the Shoah, inevitably turn every effort to atone for the crimes of the Holocaust into a claim to be the masters of Jews in the other world? Read more
This is from the Publisher, a review from atheism.about.com, a review from Catholic theologian, Robert Coates, and some Questions for Discussion.
I am thinking of suggesting this book for our next study group.
Have a thoughtful "Holy Week."
Thursday, March 22, 2007
This is the blog of Jim Wallis, God's Politics.
This is the link to Sojourners Magazine.
I only had one beef with the otherwise incredibly prophetic call to action by Rev. Wallis. Here is the portion that caused me to wince:
Ironically, this war has often been cloaked in the name and symbols of our faith, confused American imperial designs with God’s purposes, and tragically discredited Christian faith around the world, having so tied it to flawed American behavior and agendas. Millions of people around the world sadly believe this is a Christian war. So as people of faith, let us say tonight to our brothers and sisters around the world, and as clearly as we can – America is not the hope of the earth and the light of the world, Jesus Christ is!I agree that America is not the hope of the earth and light of the world. I can also see how Jesus Christ is the hope and light for Jim Wallis, even for me for that matter. Jesus is the Christian symbol for hope and light which in turn are mysteries that are larger than the symbol of Jesus Christ. This hope and light can be symbolized in other ways by other religious and secular means. Jim Wallis may mean that or he may not.
But all of that subtlety can get lost when we speak about Jesus Christ as the light and hope of the world. In the end, it is simply Christian exclusivism and triumphalism. I am concerned that all the good he said before could get lost in that exclusivistic phrase. I am proud to participate with evangelical Christians as far as I can. Let's work together and stop this war. But I cannot go there with them in their exclusivistic religious claims. I think those claims have done tremendous damage to relationships between people and nations. I don't think there will be peace in the world until religions give up their exclusive claims to truth.
Oh, bury me not on the lone prairie
These words came low and mournfully
From the pallid lips of a youth who lay
On his dying bed at the close of day
Oh, bury me not and his voice failed there
But we took no heed to his dying prayer
In a shallow grave just six by three
We buried him there on the lone prairie.
--Johnny Cash, "Oh, Bury Me Not"
I have been following James Tabor's blog with interest. I have read his book the Jesus Dynasty (and have reviewed it here).
I have also read the book by Simcha Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino The Jesus Family Tomb. This book tells the story of the making of the DVD with a lot more information. It is great fun!
I am finding this whole thing fascinating. What is fascinating is not only the discovery itself, but the hoopla surrounding it. It is vicious out there! But through it all, Tabor is cool and professional. His post today demonstrates that. In an essay he addresses two common objections to the Talpiot Tomb being the tomb of Jesus and family:
1) that Jesus would not have had a family tomb in Jerusalem, either because he was from Galilee or that he was too poor; andYou can read his essay for yourself. I post his conclusion here:
2) that since the “names are common” in the Talpiot tomb (Peter, Paul, & Mary) the site can not possibly be connected to Jesus of Nazareth. (Read his essay, Tomb Mantras)
Taken as a whole it seems to me that this tomb and its possible identification with Jesus and Nazareth and his family should not be dismissed. The evidence from the gospels I have surveyed, coupled with the cluster of significant names that fit our hypothetical expectations for a posited pre-70 Jesus family tomb, is strong, and should be further tested. Of course, if the ossuary inscribed “James son of Joseph,” is added to the cluster, and the evidence for that possibility is unresolved at this point, the correspondence would be all the more striking. What is needed is further work on the epigraphy, expanded patina tests, further DNA testing if that is possible, and since the tomb in 1980 had to be excavated so quickly, but now has been located, a fuller archaeological examination of the site itself.
I have no clout or authority. But whatever I have I will summon with this request. Check this out, scholars. Explore this with an open mind and examine all the evidence. Get those DNA samples, excavate the tomb again, and debate this. That is the job of scholars.
For clergy, we have the job of engaging congregations in conversations about the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament as both literary and theological products that developed over time. We need to talk about resurrection and all that it might have meant in the early centuries and what it might mean today. We will need to talk about the distinction between resurrection and resuscitation of corpses.
For laity in the church, you have the job of asking questions and of encouraging your clergyperson to talk about these issues in classes and in sermons.
It will be important for us to address questions about religion, Jesus, Christianity, life, and meaning. If Jesus is dead in what sense is he alive? Is Christianity the only true religion? Are heaven, hell, and the afterlife meaningful? For what do we hope? For what do we live? What is most precious? Good questions, I think, for religious communities. What are yours?
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
And, I just put the bulletin together for Sunday. It is a jazz worship service with Rick and the band at eleven a.m. It ain't your father's church service (although I bet he'll like it too). Here are just some of the songs the band will play and to which we will groove:
I Want Jesus to Walk With Me
Oh When the Saints Go Marching In
The sermon is entitled, "Letting Go of Standing Still" continuing the Lenten theme of beliefs to let go in order to grow. Check us out and invite your friends!
Author of that story, Eva Stimson, also wrote this piece, Thousands Gather in Washington for Ecumenical War Protest:
WASHINGTON — Calling the war in Iraq “an offense against God” and warning that America is in danger of losing its soul, speakers at an ecumenical “Christian Peace Witness for Iraq” in Washington, D.C., March 16 drew thunderous applause.The Presbyterian Outlook reported on the Peace Witness, Christian Protesters Arrested at White House.
– More than 220 Christians, including Rick Ufford-Chase, executive director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, were arrested Friday night as they knelt and prayed at the gate of the White House. WASHINGTON, D.C.
Their action was part of the Christian Peace Witness for
demonstration planned to protest the war on its fourth anniversary. Several thousand Christians also worshipped in the National Cathedral, and marched to the White House. (Read More) Iraq
The story is larger than meets the eye. This was not a typical anti-war demonstration or peace march. The center of the event was a worship service in the National Cathedral, led by Christians (and evangelical Christians at that) calling the administration to account. This is Nathan taking on David. This is Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, John the Baptist telling truth to power.
This event could be a turning point for our nation. Who are we as Americans? Are we an Empire? Is the Bush Doctrine truly America's doctrine? This event was not about economics, politics, strategy, or foreign affairs. This event was about morality. This event asks America a moral question: Is the war morally justifiable? Is this war just? We cannot shrink away from that question. That is why I think this event is a turning point. We have been asked the ultimate question regarding war, this war in particular, and the path the United States has taken.
No longer can we say, "We didn't know. We couldn't do anything. It's all too complicated."
We should have asked this question again and again before the war started. Some did, but not enough. But now, at least, we need to ask it, "Is this war just?" College kids, aged people, people in wheelchairs, women, men, are now saying "No" to that question. It is not a just war and therefore it cannot be supported.
The language and symbols of the Christian faith have been hijacked in support of this war and in support of U.S. aggression all over the world. Christians are slowly waking up to this and finding a moral backbone.
Asking this question is only the beginning. We are four years late in asking it. We must keep asking it. We must keep it before the people in our churches and before anyone who identifies as Christian. This will take time. It will take courage. It will take persistence. It will take more than anything a strong personal center.
I included this quote in Sunday's bulletin:
"Have courage," we often say to one another. Courage is a spiritual virtue. The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means "heart." A courageous act is an act coming from the heart. A courageous word is a word arising from the heart. The heart, however, is not just the place our emotions are located. The heart is the center of our being, the center of all thoughts, feelings, passions, and decisions.
A courageous life, therefore, is a life lived from the center. It is a deeply rooted life, the opposite of a superficial life. "Have courage" therefore means "Let your center speak."
Fires rage in Baghdad as U.S.-led coalition forces attack the city
Time Magazine has a recap via pictures and quotes of the Iraq War, Four Years in Iraq.
You can see more links to press coverage here of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq.
Thanks to Faithful Agitation for the link to the National Cathedral's website. You can watch the worship service, download the bulletin, purchase a DVD of the service, see some photos, etc. like the one below. In response to the evil of shock and awe, people are responding with truth and love:
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Thanks to Blogging Faith for a roundup of blogs and links including this Fox5 news coverage on YouTube.
ConcernedTNCitizens has a recap of vigils in the area last night. The Johnson City Press covered the vigil in Johnson City.
We have pictures of the vigil at Elizabethton on the church's website.
Nancy Barrigar put a great story to the pictures of our trip to DC for the Christian Peace Witness. Go here for those.
This one is my personal favorite. I don't think I have ever seen such a huge shrimp. Nance made peace with it...
before she ate it.
Here is a pic of last night's peace vigil in front of the church. I am on the left reading the names of the Tennessee soldiers (women and men) killed since the invasion four years ago. We paused after each name was read and said together, "We remember you."
I am against this war. I think it is wrong. I have deep respect, admiration, and gratitude for our armed forces and their families. On this day, the fourth anniversary of the invasion, I remember all of you who are serving. Be safe.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Justice and Peace Kiss
Twenty-three of us gathered in Elizabethton tonight for the peace vigil. Pictures will be on the church website soon. On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the illegal, immoral, and unjust invasion of Iraq by the United States, people around the country and around the world are increasing their efforts to end this war. Congress can do it. But they need to know that we want it ended.
Christianity in the United States largely serves as the civil religion for the American Empire. As such it gives the current administration religious legitimacy to its foreign entanglements. But there are dissenters. Christianity also has a prophetic stream.
At the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq worship service, Jim Wallis of Sojourners gave the Call to Action. He said,
For all of us here tonight, the war in Iraq has become a matter of faith.Since Rev. Wallis alluded to Augustine and the Just War Criteria. I thought it would be helpful to provide a list of these criteria so that those who identify as Christian can see if the war in Iraq measured up. Theories and debates, papers and books have been written about this since Augustine, and before him. However, we can identify six basic principles. I took these from Wikipedia:
By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG - AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.
- Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other;
- Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may use deadly force or wage war;
- Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
- Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
- Proportionality: The overall destruction expected from the use of force must be outweighed by the good to be achieved.
- Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted.
All six criteria should be met before one nation attacks another. When Bush attacked Iraq four years ago, none of these six, in my view had been met.
1) The United States did not suffer from anything Iraq had done. There was no threat to the United States by Iraq. The terrorist attacks of September 2001 had nothing to do with Iraq. The "weapons of mass destruction" were fantasies.
2) The United States was not a legitmate authority in this instance. If Iraq was a threat, it was a threat to the world not just the United States. The United Nations was the legitimate authority. The United States did not attack under the auspices of the United Nations.
3) The administration deceived the American people regarding its intentions and it still does. Oil, anyone?
4) Bush Sr. stated very clearly why he didn't go after Saddam in the first Gulf War--as it would result predictably in a disaster.
5) Is the world better off than before? You decide.
6) There were numerous options available for containing Saddam Hussein including working with the United Nations. Bush rushed the U.S. into this war. It was not a last resort.
For more information on the Just War Theory you can go to, Atheism.about.com , The National Catholic Reporter, and to Vincent Ferraro of Mount Holyoke College.
You can order one for yourself from the Mennonite Church (USA)
Be warned! You may become what you wear!
There were a lot of people!
I like this cartoon special effect.
The Washington Monument and the White House is in the distance.
More pics later! Don't forget the peace vigil tonight at 7 p.m.!