Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Just a thought

I just read the following blog:
Much of what is contained in it resonates with me. I, too, was indoctrinated under the western, white patriarchy that is so pervasive in our culture. I remember sitting with the pastor who was going to perform my wedding and telling him that, as the man, I was going to be the head of the household and my wife would submit. He disagreed, but did not try too hard to dissuade me. Of course, over time the reality of my statement proved untenable. But, I continued to preach the conservative evangelical position as true orthodox doctrine.
It took rubbing elbows with a variety of cultural influences at seminary to remove the scales from my eyes. As I studied with and learned from African American men and women, Anglo women and men who truly understood the cultural contexts of those who wrote and compiled the scriptures I found that the so-called orthodox position was merely a cultural expression that had little support from the scripture that they claimed to live by.
Now, I find that I must live to respect others, especially those who live at the margins of the patriarchal culture of the West.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Just something to think about for a Friday!

Saw this at my daughter's Facebook homepage. I LOVE IT! Being, as one of my dearest friends has called me, "a sensitive musician," this really resonates with me. Think about it the next time the person next to you is singing out of tune or when your kids want you to play that song, "Just one more time, mommy"!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Counter-culture or counter human nature

     In the early/mid 1970's I was a part of what has become known as the Jesus Movement. We were a bunch of young people who, having been brought up in the 60's, had the silly idea that we could change the world. And, we had the zeal to match. For our part, we decided that the best way to reveal the grace and life that we shared in our new-found faith was to build a counter-cultural movement. Some folks got together and moved into a large house in our very middle-class, very white community. Others of us moved in with them and we had our lighthouse. It was a beacon of hope and faith right smack-dab in suburbia. We were convinced that if people saw the hope and joy that we had they would come flocking in to join with us. We had a common purse and one bathroom. Imagine! Married couples, children, young men and women all living under one roof in peace and mutual respect. It was just like the early church that Luke wrote about in the book of Acts. (Or, at least we thought it did.) We believed that be providing a model of love and peace in a world that was dominated by war and hatred we were living as Yahweh desired all of humanity to live. Well, the world did not beat a path to our front door. We found ourselves marginalized by the very people we sought to influence. It seems that hope, faith and love were not commodities that were in high demand.
     Over the ensuing years many of the members of that community and our friends have moved on to buy into the very systems that we tried to contrast ourselves with. Money, power, greed, and self-service have taken up residence where selflessness, poverty, and humility once lived. Others have maintained a living faith in Christ by aligning with others who are like-minded. Evangelize and care for each other. Seems good on paper. But, even this has proven a tool that can be used to hold the "other" at arms' length. Instead of a house with 15 or so people living in it, they are part of a larger 'community' that is still trying to be counter-cultural. By standing against what they see as dangerous and immoral practices they hope to show other people how wrong they have been. They hope that these outsiders will see and taste and find that the faith they have is good. And, still others of us have continued to search and dig and cry and try to find out why the counter-cultural approach that held such hope failed so miserably.
     Over the past year I've spent a great deal of time reading and reflecting on the gospel accounts in the Bible. This has led me to look at the antecedents to the gospels, including the prophetic writings and some intertestamental material. I have also had to take a closer look at those who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Most recently, the pastorals, Peter, and James. I've come to realize that contrary to what many think and believe about Jesus and the early church being a counter-cultural movement, they actually seem to be a counter human nature movement. Counter-cultural movements seek to change existing systems. Power systems, economic systems, political systems, etc. These don't change because, while they have humans actuating them, working within them, they are actually outside of human control. Now, I know that opens up a metaphysical discussion that I'm not going to address here. But, these systems survive regardless of who is at the helm. Communism, socialism, capitalism, in fact any kind of 'ism' that is out there still has these various systems that take on a life of their own. In many cases devouring everyone in their paths. But, that's a story for another time.
     The biblical text reveals folks who are encouraged to prefer others' interests over their own. Who are to "rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ." The Master said to turn the other cheek when struck and to seek to love those who hate you. In many places Paul wrote that those who follow the Yeshua-do, the Way of Yeshua, must work to not feed the appetites of our human nature, but must allow Yahweh's Spirit to be our Guide. II Peter records that through/by the promises that have been made to humanity we "may participate in the divine nature." Ah-ha! The divine nature! So, it's not about changing things that are outside of ourselves. It's by our own nature, the human nature that we all come into this life with, being set aside in favor of Yahweh's divine nature. I'm still ruminating on this whole idea. But, it seems to me that what God desires for all of humanity, what all of humanity really needs, is a shot of this nature so that our internal systems can be transformed. Then, with all of the creative genius that Yahweh has gifted humanity with, maybe we can, in concert with Yahweh, begin to see the external systems transformed.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

One more thing...

Just so that no one misunderstands my desire to post on politics...
I am not so politically minded that I think that the upcoming election is a 'be all and end all" for our society, culture or way of life. I am simply offering a point of view that I have spent much time reflecting on. As far as this election is concerned, it is important, but not of ultimate import. I am providing a link to a blog by Dr.Peter Enns. I think that the piece is well-written and presents a balanced approach to politics in our culture. BTW...I agree with Dr. Enns' on this.

Thoughts on ethics, justice and the upcoming election

I know that there are many who take issue with my politics. That's ok. This is America. I must, however, give a bit more clarity to my position. I don't want folks to think that I'm simply being "contrary." I apologize in advance for the length of this post. But, there are issues that I think are deserving of thought and reflection. Especially, as we are presented with such disparate positions as we are in the current campaign. So, I hope that you are provoked to think and discuss openly and respectfully about things. I don't presume to think that this will change anyone's mind about which party or candidate to support. But, hey, why not stir the pot a little?

As the American election season continues to move forward to its climax in November I felt an uncomfortable urge to throw in a bit more of my slightly, (?), biased opinion. I have made it fairly clear that I do not support the GOP platform nor its banner-bearer, Mitt Romney. This has made many of my Evangelical sisters and brothers look at me suspiciously. After all, isn’t Christian ethical and moral identity tied to a politically conservative position? Isn’t it for the sake of a “Christian America” that we contend vigorously with the evils of progressive and liberal thought? I think that there is more to consider in this run-up to November than the current economic conditions in this country, and the world at large. I don’t think that we can separate economic issues from issues of justice and ethics. However, both political parties would have us believe that just such a position is not only possible, but proper. Let me take a quick look at some of the issues I see.
Mr. Obama has, at the very least, been a mediocre manager and administrator. However, I believe that his naiveté and lack of consensus in the other branches of government have been mitigating factors in this. The statements and policies emanating from the current White House have had, if nothing else, an egalitarian flavor. Look at the positions on Mexican immigration, rights for the marginalized, i.e. gay/lesbian, Muslim, and other peripheral groups. While many on the so-called political right see this as a threat to the American ethic, others see this as the practical working of Paul’s view that in Christ there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Greek nor barbarian. All are equal in the sight of Yahweh and have inherent worth as eikons of God. I think that his desire for equal healthcare availability for every citizen is praiseworthy. However, I’m not convinced that the current method is the best. What is good, however, is that something other than talk has actually been implemented. They say it’s easier to steer a vehicle that’s moving than one that is not. Hopefully, the conversation will continue toward policies that are just and equitable.
The GOP, on the other hand is championing the right of the American people to be free from government interference so that they can move forward and achieve their share of the elusive, if not mythical, American Dream. In promoting this they have become, in my view, ethically utilitarian. In a nutshell, utilitarianism is “The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”[1] This is long-winded way of stating that the ends justify the means. In the New Testament, Caiaphas stated this idea clearly when he said that it was better for One to die for the benefit of the entire nation. Or, for the trekkies in the crowd, Mr. Spock’s declaration that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.
How does this pertain to the current political campaign? The GOP has taken a stance that what benefits the many, namely the white, middle class majority, is the direction that government must take. In their view that is to create policies that make it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to function. Thus, in theory, this will create job opportunities and an environment for the marketplace to flourish. This is wonderful! But, it is an end that has consequences along the way. Consequences that the GOP thinks are worth the final “good.” Let’s take a look at a few.
Mr. Romney made a statement in Feb. of this year that caused the first red flag to be flown in my mind. He said, “I'm not concerned about the very poor," Romney said. "There's a safety net there, and if it needs repair I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the heart of America, the 95% of Americans who are right now struggling."[2] This is as utilitarian a statement as anyone could make. By alluding to a non-existent safety net Mr. Romney can justify putting the concerns of the very poor on a back-burner. So, after 4 years of a Romney presidency, he can conceivably state that the goal of helping the 95% may be successful, but we never got around to fixing the net…it was not the expedient thing to do. Yes, I am speculating here. But, it is a valid question for people to consider.
In response to this I would like to quote one of my professors, Wyndy Corbin Reuschling. She wrote, “this emphasis on the greatest good for the greatest number and what serves their needs is in contrast to the scriptural obligations to care for the least of these, for the minority and for those on margins of social and political power. This is especially problematic if one has even a cursory view of human history, and even church history, and the tyranny of the greatest good defined by the majority and their tyranny over the minority. We know that the majority can be wrong and often have the resources to muster the ideological power and political support to enforce the view that might makes right and the majority always wins.”[3] The case for working for the happiness of all, especially those who have little or no voice in the process, is of paramount importance for those who claim allegiance to the text of Holy Writ. The God of the Bible mandated that it was the responsibility of those who would follow the Way to care for the widows, orphans and aliens among them. Jesus, in his first recorded message to those in the synagogue, quoted the prophet Isaiah saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[4] It seems that there is a kind of ‘entitlement’ that has been proclaimed by divine fiat that we who choose to follow Christ must consider seriously.
Mr. Romney is also on record in favor of the construction of what is known as the Keystone Pipeline. This is a project that will allow oil extracted from Canadian oil sand to be transported across the U.S. to refineries and export facilities. Much ink has been spilled on this issue. Most of which, I fear, most Americans are utterly unaware of. Allow me to share a couple of concerns. While many still think that global warming is simply a political ploy to add regulations and burdens to business and industry, the evidence is mounting to prove it. The extraction of oil from Canada may very well add to the problem of increased greenhouse gases in ways that boggles the mind. One source states,
“The oil sands are Canada’s fastest growing source of GHGs,” said the document. It estimated that the industry’s annual greenhouse gas emissions would rise by nearly 900% from 1990 to 2020. By the end of that period, the oil sands — with an estimated annual footprint of 90 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent gases in 2020 — would exceed the carbon footprint of all cars and SUVs on Canadian roads from 2008, according to the Environment Canada document.
The document also warns of other rising air pollutants that could cause acid rain or other forms of acidification to damage lakes in Saskatchewan and Alberta, along with particulate matter that could be toxic to rivers, the landscape and wildlife.”[5]
Besides the atmospheric threat, there is the threat to the environment from the path of the pipeline itself. It has been the plan of the developers to build the pipeline across the largest fresh water aquifer in the U.S. This link will allow those interested to read just one of many articles that voice concern for this major source of drinking water and irrigation, http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20110811/keystone-xl-pipeline-route-ogallala-aquifer-nebraska-sandhills. Yet, those who favor the project state that the benefits far outweigh the risks. Jobs will be created and money will be made, (at least by those at the top of the investment food chain). There is reason to pause and consider this, though. There are some who would contest the optimistic view of the project. One such sources states,
“According to the U.S. State Department the pipeline would create at most 6,500 temporary construction jobs, and would leave only "hundreds" of permanent jobs, according to TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline. Claims that the pipeline would employ tens or even hundreds of thousands of people are simply not true. A Cornell University study concludes the pipeline would kill more jobs than it would create, by reducing investment in the clean energy economy”[6]
(On this issue I think that Mr. Obama has taken the prudent position to deny the project’s access and to encourage further study and conversation.)
Utilitarianism is a normative ethical position that may help people when making moral decisions. It is not, however, the best way to proceed. What constitutes the ‘good of the many’? Who is able to render that position for all concerned? Pope John Paul II had concerns about the tendency for utilitarianism to make people, individuals and groups, objects of use. He wrote, “Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used.”[7] It is this philosophy as espoused by the GOP that causes me concern. It does not seem to matter to them what happens to the few, as long as the many benefit. In civilized society we are, in fact, our brothers’ keeper. For those of us who accept as normative the admonition of Scripture, we have a mandate from Yahweh to care for the marginalized in society. And, I feel, that the government that is elected must share in that mandate. To not do so evidences a considered disregard for justice for all.
So, what does that do for my personal position? Well, none of the choices available are ideal, or even really good. However, when presented with a choice between a well-meaning, yet naïve incumbent who seems to be clear on what is just and a challenger who is equally clear in what is unjust, I must choose justice.

[1]Mill, John Stuart, Utilitarianism, in The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill, (Modern Library: New York, 2002). Qtd. In Corbin Reuschling, Wyndy, Reviving Evangelical Ethics: The Promises and Pitfalls of Classic Models of Morality, (BrazosPress: Grand Rapids, 2008).
[3] Corbin Reuschling, Wyndy, Reviving Evangelical Ethics: The Promises and Pitfalls of Classic Models of Morality, (BrazosPress: Grand Rapids, 2008).
[4] Luke 4:18-19, NIV 2011.