Monday, December 27, 2010

Militarism or Diplomacy?

Why is it that those whom I know who are most pro-military endeavors seem to be the least likely to support government efforts to alleviate poverty, to ameliorate power/financial class/opportunity & educational imbalances and to support reconciliation initiatives?


The correlation seems to occur far more often than is warranted by statistical coincidence. Is it also coincidental that so much of current wealth & political power are enmeshed with military power & the manufacturing and sale of armaments? Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times points out the widening chasm between military spending and better budgeting, here.

Proverbs clearly indicates that the wealthy find their refuge in their wealth: "The wealth of the rich is their fortress; the poverty of the poor is their ruin." (Prov. 10:15) The Hebrew word for fortress has military implications, too, and can also mean might, strength and fortifications (ramparts) of a town. Contrast this "strength" to the use of the same root word in Proverbs 14:26: "Fear of the LORD is a stronghold, a refuge for a man's children." (Tanakh)

Prov. 14:32 reads, "The wicked are overthrown by their evil-doing, but the righteous find refuge in their integrity." (cf., Psalm 52:7) The NT concept of being found "in Christ" has strong OT parallels to the Psalmists' and Proverbial understanding of refuge. Military images, such as those found in Ephesians, are replaced with weapons of truth, faith, the Word of God, righteousness, and the gospel of peace.

From my perspective on current events and scriptural studies, there seem to be strong indications that the hard work of developing healthy human relationships and shared community responsibility is easily deferred by most leaders and followers throughout history in favor of force, whether that force is evidenced in military power, academic/intellectual argumentation, facile rhetoric, gender or racial or ethnic domination, bullying or social ostracism, to give a few examples. The righteous are those who find their refuge in God, and whose lives evidence the integrity and holiness of God's ways.

Perhaps the name of this post might be, "Domination or Dominion?" Food for thought & prayer!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Neurotheology

The spiritual practice of meditation has been shown to have neurological benefits in this new study. The downside of this information is the tendency of humans to co-opt religious practices for utilitarian purposes which inevitably become self-serving - whether those purposes are to gain money via tithing, to feed ambition and desires for fame/infamy, to elevate or suppress people or groups, or perhaps, better brain function.

The research doctor, Andrew Newberg, who has been studying the neurological effects of meditation and prayer seems to understand how difficult it can be to maintain the balance between spirituality and science. He laid out the goals of his scholarship in his book, Principles of Neurotheology, and the 4 goals are excerpted in the NPR article. Any thoughts about pitfalls, implications, dangers, and Newberg's goals?

When considering the primary reasons for developing neurotheology as a field, we can consider four foundational goals for scholarship in this area. These are:

1. To improve our understanding of the human mind and brain.

2. To improve our understanding of religion and theology.

3. To improve the human condition, particularly in the context of health and well being.

4. To improve the human condition, particularly in the context of religion and spirituality.

These four goals are reciprocal in that they suggest that both religious and scientific pursuits might benefit from neurotheological research. The first two are meant to be both esoteric as well as pragmatic regarding scientific and theological disciplines. The second two goals refer to the importance of providing practical applications of neurotheological findings towards improving human life both individually and globally.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Golden Rule

I felt as if I virtually spent the afternoon with an old friend this afternoon. Dr. Adele Diamond went to Swarthmore College, and I got to know her a bit while she was there. Adele has strong roots in Judaism, and she reflects with that rich foundation on her field, developmental cognitive neuroscience. There is a full interview posted on Krista Tippett's On Being blog, which is over 50 minutes long. I listened to it, backed up and listened again for almost 2 hours this afternoon. Adele's enthusiasm and deep study within her field is well represented in the interview.

Perhaps most folks might be too time-constrained to listen to the full interview, even though I'd highly recommend it. If you use an MP3 player, you could download the interview and listen to it in the train, the car, while you're mowing the lawn, though!

For merely a couple of minutes, however, you can listen to Rabbi Hillel's & Jesus' different perspectives on the Torah, here.

The first snippet is from an interview with Karen Armstrong, a British author & former nun who wrote A History of God, a comparative study of major religions. Then, there is a snippet from Krista's interview with Adele, who had a different angle on the same Hillel quote. I admit to my bias! I agree with Adele's perspective!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Love or Defensive Living?

Last evening as it was getting dark, my husband and I were walking back from taking our dog for his evening stroll to the apartment where we've been living the last few months. This neighborhood is predominantly black and lower income. There was a new truck, an ice cream truck parked in the church parking lot we passed. As we returned an SUV had pulled up next to it, and a man was inside the ice cream truck moving around. We glanced over curiously, and the man immediately came out of the ice cream truck and emphatically said, "That's my truck!" We were a bit taken aback, but smiled and said, "That's cool, we just hadn't seen it here before." He launched into a lengthy explanation of how he usually parks it here at the church in the summer for the kids, but he was helping the church take down their old air conditioners from the roof, so he hadn't gotten to it until now. We smiled and agreed it was good for the kids not to have to walk far on the busy roads to get an ice cream, and mentioned that we'd visited the church a couple of weeks previously. He invited us to make sure we go meet the bishop and his wife at the church.


 

As we walked away, I realized that his primary response was indicative of just how incredibly sensitive and defensive blacks feel daily simply for having different skin color than the majority. We, too, have experienced gatherings where we were subjected to intensified criticism, scrutiny and judgment regarding the different choices we make every day; perhaps those experiences helped us feel more keenly his sense that all white folk default to suspicion of blacks.


 

Racism isn't an old problem (Scot posted a blog at Jesus Creed today from recent history); it's an ongoing, perennially human problem given the reactions we experience here. It seems one reason we have been so warmly received in this neighborhood may be simply because we respond with the love of Christ to those whom we meet, not with default suspicion or self-protectiveness. We've prayed with them, cried with them, spoken of our trials together, and worshiped with them. I needed to be reminded how precious the gift of welcome and acceptance is to all of us. They don't want to lose touch with us, even though we're moving closer to my husband's office this weekend. We feel very humbled by their caring.


 

For those folks with pick-up trucks, you know how often you get hit for help moving furniture. Imagine the sense of blessing we felt when one of our older neighbors offered to help us move furniture with his pick-up truck this weekend. His offer was completely spontaneous & unsolicited.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Parables, Greek Myths, Fables & Fairy Tales



Scot McKnight has been blogging about Klyne Snodgrass' book on Parables at Jesus Creed. Scot's series is entitled, "Imagine a World."

Some thoughts came to mind, today, about where we dwell mentally and how those beliefs affect our interactions with others. Do we dwell among the people who populate Jesus' parables or among those who populate the semi-magical, often base and vindictive, partially human, partially divine characters of mythology, fairy tales, fables, stereotypes and archetypes?
The other day I was listening to an NPR story while I was driving about some day camps thematically centered on a series of novels by Rick Riordan. The novels are founded in Greek mythology. In Greek mythology, the gods are distorted reflections of humans with inhuman powers. They are replete with human frailties and are endowed with abnormal or non-human appearances and powers. They react out of petty and base desires as well as magical aspects of a pseudo-divinity. As I listened, I appreciated the focus on learning about mythology, yet simultaneously I wondered what these children may be absorbing about the identities of gods and humans.
I suspect that the reason such myths are "so enduring", as NPR's Margot Adler described it, is because they tell truths about where we naturally dwell. That very reason can also be the problem because people are never fully human and the gods are never fully divine in myths and archetypes. The gods are brought down to our base level, and the gods never demand that we rise above our own interests. The risk there is that we see others through the distorted lenses of caricature, where humanity isn't fully human. It's much easier to demean a caricature than it is to face someone such as ourselves. (Have you ever tried, politely, to catch the eye of a rude driver? Have you ever tried to correct someone else's false beliefs about you or anyone else? [Consider Obama & the conspiracy theories about his religion, citizenship by birth, etc.!]) Furthermore, when we dwell too long among the inhumans, what is human within us and within others may be swept away in the alienation that grows and spreads between us like the mountainside chasms that form from rushing flood waters.
The gods of myths and fables, the archetypes and stereotypes of literature and psychology become categories into which humans may be slotted and behind which the doors can be locked. Those gods too often justify and serve our selfish interests, choices and ambitions. The false worship and idolatry described in the Bible resides where we refuse to face truth about ourselves, the reality of the world around us, the humanity we share, the outcomes & affects of our choices, and the call to be genuinely human with every single person we encounter. The "white-washed sepulchers" of today may be those who've wrapped themselves in the pretentious garments of professional accomplishment, education, wealth, status, gender, race, "religion", ethnicity, family, titles and circles of influence to distance themselves from the "others" – the poor, the oppressed, the small, the weak, the enemies, or the ones whom they despise or disdain for any reason. Sometimes they may say the right things, but we've been warned, "do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach." (Matt. 23:3-12)
Parables differ from myths, fables and stereotypes in that, as Scot puts it, they imagine a world where God is, where Jesus is, where the reign of God exists in the fullness of shalom – a completeness of love, safety, peace, justice and forgiveness. People in the parables are fully human, loving, hateful, wonderful, flawed, glorious, imperfect, generous, selfish, angry, injured, arrogant, repentant, broken, yet also healing and being healed. The parables' God lovingly reaches out to unlock the doors with love, forgiveness, justice, grace and mercy. The doors are many: of debt (Matt. 18), of physical injury and xenophobia (Luke 10), of foolishness and self-righteousness (Luke 15), of humility and arrogance (Luke 18), among others. Every one of us is locked in and judged by others were it not for God's freeing touch. The parables truthfully expose the humanity in ourselves and others – while we may recognize others, we should also see ourselves in each of them. We never become caricatures imprisoned by God's judgment, but we always remain truly, honestly human, with sinfulness and hopefulness, meanness and generosity. God's mercy and grace are always extended to us with the power to set us free. This God judges every person with justice, not out of fickle and selfish motives, but with true justice that knows the depth of our hearts. Jesus describes the Father who yearns to teach us how to be humbly & lovingly "I-Thou" (cf. Martin Buber) to one another. It's tough love! Scot considers Klyne's thoughts on the parable of the debtors: "God stunningly forgives us of staggering debt, and God disapproves of those who fail to live out graciousness and forgiveness toward others. …As Klyne Snodgrass puts it: 'The kingdom comes with limitless grace in the midst of an evil world, but with it comes limitless demand.' (72)."
The parables call us to leave the masks behind which so many of us hide and the caricatures we make of our enemies. The parables encourage us to risk being honest, vulnerable, flawed, loving and always reaching for better than this present condition. "Limitless demand" is a tall order, but God did not leave us without grace and strength to make that journey.
Let us dwell among those who encourage us to love others as God loves us, looking to the interests of others as does the God of the parables, and not among the false gods of the stereotypes, myths and fables. This true God loves humanity steadfastly, in the Word full of grace & truth. Let us leave behind our self-deceptions, demonizations & objectification of others, and seek the shalom of all. When we use twisted methods to justify and perpetuate our false beliefs, self-serving interests, lies and harm, we break shalom. As Scot wrote about David in Psalm 28, "David's enemies are those who say they want peace (shalom) but what they really want is evil (which means the shattering of shalom)."
"So, let us learn to re-imagine our world and learn to re-imagine it as a world shaped and governed by a good God, the Father, who loves us, who cares for us, and wants to provide for us. Let us go to that God." ~ Scot McKnight

Final Note: As I was writing this blog, Jay Phelan posted his. If I'm not as clear about my thoughts as could be, his words may be clearer!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Whose Image Do We Reflect?

Observations from end of life: it's clear that the fewer/more people we have seen imaging God in our lives (in words AND deeds) and the less/more effort we have put into imaging God ourselves affects end of life belief/faith/trust in Godself. Where we have placed our focus - on the good or on the evil that seemingly overwhelms the good - increases or decreases peace at all stages of life.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

United in Christ or Puffed Up?

In the light of the current epidemic of polarizing rhetoric and enmity within our country and affecting our fellowship with one another, I was considering 1 Corinthians 4:6:

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, "Nothing beyond what is written," so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another

Paul made a deliberate contrast to the division-minded Corinthians. Paul argued that this human divisiveness is our natural state, and is spiritually immature. We easily & naturally become "puffed up in favor of one against another." Defensiveness and offensiveness to one another are our first inclinations and default positions.

The prepositions in the Greek are helpful to understand the bold portion of the passage: … i[na mh. ei-j u`pe.r tou/ e`no.j fusiou/sqe kata. tou/ e`te,rouĂ…
u`pe.r
is used to define whom we support or identify with, "be for someone, be on someone's side." kata. is used to delineate whom we oppose, and following the antagonistic verb (fusio,w) translated "puffed up", hostility and opposition are indicated in its usage.

People who don't follow the Lord cannot perceive that Christ-followers are not operating on behalf of one or another person, and against one or another, simply because they're not following God themselves. Outside of Christ, we simply don't know what it means to submit to God, and not to submit the whims, positions, voices, words, arguments, rationalizations and actions warring within ourselves & other people.

Likewise, just as the Pharisees could not perceive the humility of Christ himself submitted in love to the Father, so those of us operating with our focus on ourselves as separated from, or contrasted to other humans also cannot perceive the humility in those following in the footsteps of Christ. When we who follow Christ speak truthfully of reality, of Christ and of God, others hear opposition to themselves. They literally – not just figuratively, not just abstractly – cannot hear love with them and for them.

This immaturity is reminiscent of the immaturity of children, and the struggle of parents to teach their children wisdom and healthy choices. When we scold or discipline our children for doing something dangerous or inconsiderate out of our love for them and understanding of life, they "hear" opposition and criticism. They don't hear "love." I blogged on that difficulty, here. Paul used the same analogy to describe the Corinthians' childish divisiveness in the previous chapter (3:1-4) which had led them to favor Paul himself or Apollos.

So, for those of us who follow Christ, Paul called us to stick to "nothing beyond what is written." Just as Jesus is God-with-us, so we who are conformed to Christ are called to be God-with-others.

We bring this immaturity into our churches. It's inevitable, because everything we've been taught in human words, deeds and education draws lines between ourselves and others. If a brother, sister or enemy speaks truth to us, we revolt against them, instead of honoring the truth, trusting and heeding the Word that is faithfully with us. It takes humility to hear the truth in the Word who convicts us of sin. We naturally want to reject the person speaking truth, rather than face that Word coming in another person's words.

I trust that we who long for the Word, the truth and the grace found in the person of Jesus Christ will humble ourselves, hear his voice, listen to the Word from whomever God uses to bring it. Some days it will be through you, other days through me, another day through our friends, another day through our enemies, and yet another day through Balaam's donkey. Humility is our posture before Godself: "My soul clings to the dust, revive me according to your word." We, in the Covenant, are companions of all who are committed to live the way of the truth and the light, who fear the Lord. We shouldn't be surprised at the lack of companionship we encounter because we're all lost and alienated without our unity in Godself. Our natural human response to such aloneness and alienation is to puff ourselves up, rather than humbly to rest with and steadfastly to love one another. Our natural response to being told the truth by a person or to encountering the truth in an obstacle is to strike out at that person or obstacle, just as Balaam struck his donkey. May our ways before God and one another not be perverse, so that our primary reaction is to strike at those whom God uses to reflect truth: "The angel of the LORD said to him, 'Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.'" (Numbers 22:22-35) The only thing missing in the story is Balaam contritely petting his donkey, giving him an extra measure of feed and rest, and apologizing profusely!

Psalm 119

57    The LORD is my portion;

    I promise to keep your words.

58    I implore your favor with all my heart;

    be gracious to me according to your promise.

59    When I think of your ways,

    I turn my feet to your decrees;

60    I hurry and do not delay

    to keep your commandments.

61    Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,

    I do not forget your law.

62    At midnight I rise to praise you,

    because of your righteous ordinances.

63    I am a companion of all who fear you,

    of those who keep your precepts.

64    The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love;

    teach me your statutes.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Thousand Questions

We've been on a journey through a harrowing valley in recent months. One night, I woke at 2:00 am and couldn't go back to sleep until 4:30am. (I woke my husband at 4:15am to talk to him, and passed on the sleeplessness!) Each of us walks "through the valley of the shadow of death" every day. Some days, we're don't encounter death as closely as on other days, but then there may be weeks and months on end where death, to all appearances, reigns unchallenged. Death takes various forms in our communities: injustice, slander, deceit, lies, avoidance of the truth, covering up and rationalizing evil choices, breaking one's word (unfaithfulness), assault, greed, partiality toward one's social/ethnic/racial/gender group, friends, or cronies, coveting another's gifts or accomplishments, sloth, irresponsibility, arrogance, insolence, boastful words, conflicts, ruthless behavior, theft, and of course, the final enemy - death itself...

On that one night of many that I lay sleepless, Psalm 23 kept running through my head. I thought through each verse over and over again, and suddenly I was riveted by a new facet of a verse I'd had memorized since childhood:
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for You are with me..."
The LORD is our shepherd.

Who are you walking with in the valleys shadowed by death, today? Is it the one who will kill you in the dark, or abandon you, or who will lay down his life for you? Who comforts you? Whom do you follow there? Is the shepherd you follow the one who teaches you to rationalize lying to others, covering up sin, dismissing or deceiving others to win in "business," taking credit for others' ideas or work, and favoring people who have money, position and status? Or, is the shepherd you follow the One who authors truth, grace and life? Does your shepherd drive you down paths of unrighteousness, spurred and goaded by fear, loss on income, and threats of retribution? Or, does your shepherd lead you gently in paths of righteousness in your relationships with everyone your life touches? If you find yourself reacting unrighteously toward others and toward loved ones, check whom you're following and what belief has led you astray!

So, that was the question that stuck with me and kept me awake. That was the question I turned over to my husband so I could sleep again. WHO IS WITH US, AND WHO ARE WE FOLLOWING in this valley shadowed by death?

We recall, "There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death." (Proverbs 14:12) "He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."

In the Day of the Lord, we will be accountable for our choices, for whether they have harmed or blessed others, for whether we loved or hated, for whether we strove for ourselves or served one another. This video gives a glimpse of the magnitude of each person's choice: A Thousand Questions. "Here I am, send me!" (Isaiah 6:8) Although each of us seems small in contrast to the pervasiveness of injustice, each of us can stand in the power of the Holy Spirit against the enemies which are not flesh and blood.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

best answer to gun scopes with Scripture verses

There is an editorial printed in The Seattle Times that expresses my thoughts very well. Since I've not had the opportunity to sit and write my thoughts down, I'll offer you Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s thoughts!

'Jesus rifles' lose sight of faith's true aim

Pitts wrote: "Truest faith is not seen in a secret code on a gun sight, a trinket from a store or words on a rock. Rather, faith is seen in the substance of a life lived in service to others, lived as if God were not in fact one's personal echo chamber in the sky."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Shooting Others for Jesus??

This manufacturer's idea of what is appropriate on the gun sights they make is disturbing on so many levels, I can't think where to begin to discuss it, yet!

Article: US troops issued with gun sights carrying coded references to biblical passages

The biblical passages which seem completely misappropriated, from my POV, are to 2 Cor. 4:6, and John 8:12.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lie of a Haitian "pact"

Can anyone find primary historical texts or sources that can refute this Haitian author's claim that the purported pact with the devil is gossip and slander spread via credulous people? I applaud his reference to 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 - "Do not despise the words of the prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; refrain from every form of evil." That includes refraining from passing on unsubstantiated gossip, folks!

In the meantime, let us heed the words of the prophet Isaiah in 1:16-17:
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good,
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

Article: God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti

Check out Larry's post, too, which goes more into detail of what really IS demonic in this worldly order -- the oppression of the poor, and the ghastly disparities in wealth, power and privilege.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Breaking the Chains that Bind Women & Girls

How we need to love one another! How we need to be reconciled in Christ and being God's hands acting redemptively in love to the poor, the oppressed and the abused!

Break the Chains - a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church to get behind.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

International Peasants Movement and Violence Against Women

It was heartening to hear an agreeing voice, tonight. Raj Patel, the economist and author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing, referred to the International Peasants Movement during his interview on Democracy Now, today. Patel is particularly interested in "food sovereignty" and the inabilities of capital markets to price goods appropriately, accounting for a wide variety of factors - including environmental impact of production, ecological sustainability of production, cost in carbon emissions, societal costs, etc. He noted that the International Peasants Movement has principles of justice for all people underlying its advocacy. The IPM sees the equalizing of power relationships as one of the root causes behind the injustice that characterizes contemporary capitalism. One of the IPM's platforms, according to Patel, is that, "Food Sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women."

Consider that statement against the backdrop of Genesis 3 and the "fall" from grace of humanity. Consider the implications of what it should mean to be restored to grace and relationship with God and each other because of Jesus Christ. Consider the deeper theological implications of heterosexual marriage "in Christ", and the marriage between Christ and his Bride, the Church.

As a Christian and an academic who studied and worked in Government & Economics, it is clear to me that "equalizing power" isn't the final remedy. Equalization of power in the world's terms is meeting force with opposing force. People get squashed and decimated in such contests of force, and the most squashed are the poorest and the most powerless (more women and children than men, too). God's power, as revealed in Christ, is all about emptying ourselves, dying to self, loving & serving others. How fascinating it seems that wise "peasants" are more clued into the dynamics of systemic injustice and gender violence than are the educated and wealthy! Wisdom certainly can't be purchased with tuition payments!

"Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters! Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs in the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" (James 3:5-8)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

License Plate Frame on Lutherans

"Lutherans: More than Good Looks and Jello"

I was driving home after dropping our daughter off at her January internship with a local shelter for homeless women and children, and I read this on the license plate frame of the car in front of me. I laughed aloud, but my laugh was tinged with incredulity.

What in the world would the point of this license plate message be? It's too lame to be a really good joke. (in my opinion!) It's not an invitation to get to know anyone better. It's not direct enough to inspire anyone to seek out a Lutheran Church to visit...

Any ideas what the frame's creator was thinking?

What would your reaction be?