Election Season

We are coming into our four year presidential election cycle.

During this time candidates will take credit for everything that is going well, and blame their opponent for everything that is going poorly. They will motivate their base by highlighting the cultural wedge issues that divide us. They will pretend to be for us only, and deny any personal motivation for power wealth and fame. They will all be properly vetted through the process of campaign contributions.

They will not wear NASCAR like jackets with their sponsors proudly showing. If they really did have a message coat it would say, “I am for you” and “My opponent is the Devil.” We know the drill. We have been through it many times before. We must once more choose the lesser of two evils.

Elections are like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the Football. Lucy,( the political establishment), coaxes Charlie Brown, (Joe Citizen), to get motivated enough to vote, (kick the football framed as his important issue). Of course Lucy always pulls the football away. Charlie Brown is suckered again. First he believed in words rather than policy. Secondly like a bull charging a red cape, fell for the particular issue (the football) waved before him rather than more substantive matters had he given it some thought. And finally because of Messiaism, the idea that all we need is the right person in power, and justice will trickle down upon us. Charlie winds up flat on his back yet again.

Emma Goldman said, “If voting changed anything, they would make it illegal.” She is about half right. Voting is the fundamental legitimizing structure of our whole political and economic system. And if governments lose their legitimacy, they are over or under-thrown. So it is a long process of necessary appeasement. We do have some influence in some matters of foreign and domestic policy.

Perhaps the important stuff has already been removed from democratic influence like IMF, and WTO, and other economically enforceable agreements. Likewise a fair bit of the Military Industrial Complex is secret and off the books. Military debt once accumulated is obviously sacred and must be paid. On the other hand we get to vote for or against our local school levy. And we get to vote for our President.

Some things are just too important to be subjected to democratic control.

Now some people think we are a Christian nation. But I’m not sure we agree on what that means. Does being a Christian mean hating Gays and Muslims? Does it mean blaming the poor and deifying the rich? Is it about making personal piety a legal issue? Or does it mean disarming in a dangerous world, and establishing a base line of food, water, housing, security, and education for all people? Is it about a graduated income and inheritance tax to fight the growth of unwholesome aristocracy, thereby making social economic justice a legal issue? Is there no middle path?Personal freedom and social justice are locked in eternal tension.  

What does it mean to be a Christian and a citizen this cycle?

In the story of the Temple Tax, Jesus famously answered, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”. It was an ironic Socratic non-answer. This means that the truth is in us, and the question is to serve as a midwife to bring our answer to birth.

We are still doing our best as good citizens and good Christians to birth this vitally important teaching of Jesus.

Bottomless Poverty

Bottomless poverty is just a nicer way of saying starved to death.

I am reading the “Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” that recalls the conditions of laborer’s during late Edwardian England. It rather reminds me of Blackmon’s book, “Slavery by Another Name.”

The similarity is that in both cases the employer owes the worker nothing nearly approaching a living wage. The employer is satisfied that in paying “market value” to their laborers they have fulfilled their moral obligations to them. If they starve it is not the employers fault.

In Slavery by Another  Name, Blackmon highlights what amounted to a work to death camp in the Pratt mines outside of Birmingham Alabama, owned by U.S. Steel after the civil war. The point was that they actually had it better as slaves. The owner would then care for them enough so that he did not have to pay replacement costs. Pratt used convict  labor.

Tressel makes the same point when he says, owners took better care of their horses than their employees. And slaves had value to the owners, so they would at least give them enough not to starve. But in the free market system, the so called invisible hand, balances the books, by eliminating excess humanity. Tressel is speaking of free laborers. They are free to take miserable jobs at insufficient pay or starve. They have the glorious freedom to choose.

Jesus teaches an insane, unworkable, impossible, alternative. Here the balance sheet is based on generosity toward the worker instead of toward the owner.

Matthew 20:1-16

 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

It seems God cares for the least of these. But the “world” cares for the best of these.

Is Jesus speaking about living wage or even more? Was  Jesus serious about wanting a different kind of world? Or is this just a parable about God’s generosity toward us when we come to heaven?

I think God is consistently just and generous, so both this world and whatever world is yet to come fall equally under God’s desired rule and order. I do not believe it is ever God’s will that someone be starved to deah by any means.

Maranatha!

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There Really Is Something About Serving God

We live in a self help culture. We study that if we exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, love the right partner in the right way, and even get the right religion that we will be happy.

The problem is that everything is viewed as a potential instrument for our own happiness and well being. Even God becomes just another instrument in our pursuit of success.

The teaching of the culture is essentially that nothing in life is greater than you. Maximizing yourself is the way to help others. Selfishness is a bad name for responsibility and drive. And God is a tool we can use to reach our intended ends of perfection, success, and happiness.

I saw Rev. Dr. Cornell West said something like, “We told our children to be a success. We should have told them to become great. There is a qualitative difference.” And he is right. How many persons have diminished themselves by making themselves the end of everything?

Ayn Rand is dead. And in addition I believe she is dead wrong! Selfishness is not the path to happiness. And pride is not the path to wholeness. When Nietzsche wrote of the over man, and the will to power, he was not talking about cold calculating bourgeois competitions in soulfulness!

We must admit that there really is something greater than us in the world. We must permit that there is something greater than us in the world. We should submit to that something which is greater than us in the world.

I am talking about God. I am not talking about nation, passion, or fashion. I am talking about God, of whom nothing greater can be conceived, as Anselm said. I am not speaking of God as an arbitrary tyrant megalomaniac that projects our hatreds and fears onto others. I am talking about the wonderful order of the universe, the mind, the spirit. I am talking about energy. I am talking about authentic love. The God who is Spirit, Light, and Love, is worth serving.

We find our selves when we lose ourselves. We rise up when we bow down. Our ego’s may hate it, but our whole self needs it. We can stop playing God when we give our self to God.

We find peace when we are able to admit that everything is not on us. We do not have to be everything to everyone. We do not have to buy into some one else’s prescription for our success.

It is good not to be God. It is good not to have every success or failure blamed or attributed to you. It is good to join the universe rather than try to rule it.

Try this as an experiment. Tell God, “Today you be God, and I’ll be your servant, and together we will get through this day.” I believe you will find abundant life.

The Virtue of Being Human

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’
Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

That about sums it up.

“The virtue of a knife is to cut well; the virtue of an eye is to see well, and the virtue of a person is…” -Jonathan Haight

Are people how the universe becomes self conscious? Is our human virtue the ability to see the moral nature in the fabric of life? Is philosophy the fundamental essence of humanity? Are we wired to be religious?

Isn’t it amazing that exploding plasma cooling to hydrogen and heleum can make stars, planets, life, a diverse biosphere and a moral universe? Is this just as powerful as the Adam and Eve story?

What is the virtue of being human?

 
 

Graduation

Graduation is around the corner for our college student.

On the one hand it is an accomplishment. He did it. He got the grades, and accepted the debt that sadly comes to those whose parents are not wealthy enough to pay tuition. Congratulations!

On the other hand it is not an end as much as a beginning. Now he will be looking for a full time job. He will be looking to see if independent living is possible. He may even be looking for a life partner in time.

Life marches relentlessly or wonderfully on.

God bless you Aaron. We love you!

I have Readers!

During the last Association meeting I discovered that This blog does have some readers. This was encouraging to me. So it looks like I will raise my quill again!

Our library is growing. The shelves of religious, political, and economic books at my office are full. At home Hafidha’s ever growing collection is piling up on shelves and along the walls. I have a bulging shelf of chess books at home as well. Life is good.

I have seen some sites on tumblr that show nothing but bookcases in houses. Others show books as art. One is a pile of green books in the shape of a Christmas tree. Another is a half igloo. I think I have heard it called book porn. I must admit I have a fantasy room where all four walls are floor to ceiling bookshelves!

Why do I love books so much? My dad says that it is a form of novelty seeking, and that it has a genetic correlation. Some of the most important books I have read in my life have been recommendations from my father.

Education as an institution is out of balance. It spends more time on blind loyalty, unquestioning obedience, and trivial information retrieval. Noam Chomsky calls it “Miss-education”. It would be better for society if we remembered Dewey and put our faith in democracy and an informed citizenry. Education should be about questioning authority, making connections, and thinking for ourselves. Tillich called it moving from heteronomy to autonomy. In addition he saw the ideal as Theonomy, when we discovered that thinking for ourselves makes a divine harmony.

Are we cognitive mizers or are we informavores? The cognitive mizer theory  is that thinking for ourselves is hard work, and without much of a payoff. Studies show that very few people read books at all, let alone non-fiction. On the other hand, I can see my College Student at home, hammering out combinations on his xbox. This is a kind of learning which provides immediate rewards for control and mastery. If we were not informavores these games would not sell.

What does all this have to do with Jesus Christ, a man who wrote no books, but made his impact through direct presence? Is our study of Jesus a retreat into intellectual games while neglecting the necessity of direct redemptive living? Perhaps.

On the other hand, the lack of a systematic faith can lead to an incoherent and wasted life. Our faith can be directed towards an undeserving leader or goal for example. We could replace God with an idol of nation, wealth, or status, and see success as a form of divine approval.

I think the ancient Shema is still says it best. “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul (mind) and with all your might.”

Heart. Soul. Might. Amen.

John Shelby Spong and Michael Goulder

Bishop Spong, wrote a book way back in 1996 explaining the work of Michael Goulder. It is called “Liberating the Gospels.” It proposes that the Gospels emerged from the Liturgical readings, and holidays of the ancient Jews. It is quite convincing.

The thesis is that the early Christians were Jews. The early Christians experienced Jesus as a true transformational and infused person. They then explained their understanding of Jesus through the religious language and stories that were how they as ancient Jews viewed the world.

So Jesus was understood as the new Moses, Joshua, and Elijah. Jesus was the Passover sacrifice, and the animal of atonement. They searched their scriptures and applied their dreams to Jesus.

Furthermore the ancient Synagogues read the Pentateuch every year. This yearly formulaic cycle meant that certain readings would often come up during the same holidays year by year.

The critical insight of Michael Goulder was to cross reference the readings of the Pentateuch and Jewish Holidays with the Gospel according to Mark as if it were a parallel lectionary tool. It turns out to be a very good fit.

Because  Mark only covered the readings and holidays from Rosh Hashanah to Passover, Matthew needed much more material to extend the Jewish Christian readings to cover a full year. As corroboration early copies were divided in a way that would meet the needs of the full Jewish Calendar.

Luke and Acts then were a a rewrite that fit the later context, with the Acts of the apostles, replacing the readings of the prophets.

Why does this matter?

It matters because I believe “God is light.” For me this means God is all about truth. And when information is more inclusive like this and fits a model so well, it reaches a more sustainable level than other theories of the origins of the New Testament. Understanding is its own reward. And in addition, the more accurate the orientation, the more accurate the diagnosis and skill of living the salvific life together.

It goes back to the small brush versus big brush understanding of the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ.

Seeing Jesus as the archetype of the human-divine, the moral, and the compassionate still holds. A life in union with God is a life that serves and transforms people. Incarnation, liberation, confrontation, and vindication remain.

But it must now be fully accepted that the New Testament is the night language of spiritual truth, holy mythology, and sacred story, not the day language of the historical biographical genre of the modern enlightenment mind.

Yes, we see through a glass dimly. But we can still see the big stuff. Overfocus on the small stuff then, is to miss the effective point of the gospels. It is to miss the forrest for the trees. An educated person knows that path is ultimately a dead end.

I find the research invigorating and inspiring because it builds a bridge in my heart and mind back to the faith and practice of the early church. I find it inspiring because it provides a new diagnostic tool for understanding the intended outcome of the Gospel authors. We will be starting a study of Genesis soon. I am looking forward to making the appropriate lectionary, and holiday parallels in the New Testament.

Maranatha!

 

Spamalot

I remember the Monty Python Spam skit. I don’t know how it got connected with unwanted electronic solicitations. But I went through more than 30 comments today and all of them were Spam.

The Parliament of World Religions and Marriage

What does it take for religions to work together? Is it similar to two persons working out a marriage?
Yes. In a way, it is.

A few years ago the Multifaith Council of Northwest Ohio was blessed to have Dirk Ficca educate us.

He thought that each faith community has to look within itself and see why participation in a multifaith group is a good expression of its faith.

For example as a Christian I participate because I love my neighbor as myself. I participate because I pray every day “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” I see this as a diverse community of understanding, justice, and compassion.

In the same way, in a marriage, each partner, hopefully has truly chosen to enter into the  covenant out of their own free choice and understanding.

In addition we learned that it was better to trust someone than to agree with them.

In a marriage with high trust, high disagreement is possible. But where there is low trust often the agreement is some sort of combination of placating and dominating.

A wholesome marriage can be cultivated by rewarding disagreements. For example when I disagree with my spouse, sometimes she says, “Ooo I like a strong man who thinks for himself.”  This is a form of permission giving to be my own person.

In addition Dirk taught that Harmony is possible but unity is not. Convergence is more practical than consensus, and facilitation is more important than structure.

In short, a wholesome marriage takes two whole people.

The way one of our wise friends said it is, “Show me two people who have become one, and I’ll show you two half people.”

In Bowen family systems this unwholesome state is called fusion.

So cultivate trust by practicing holy disagreement. Then your love for each other will be for who you really are.

Honesty and acceptance is what marriage is about. Give it. Take it. Make it good together.