Tuesday, September 07, 2010

From Henry Nouwen:

In the sixties we were concerned with social change; we learned change comes slowly at best, and it doesn't come at all without a spiritual grounding. The real protesters, the ones who are still protesting, receive their strength and inspiration not from social theorists but from the mystics. Jim Forrest, head of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, came to see me last night. What did he talk about? He talked about Thomas Merton; he talked about prayer. We prayed more than we talked. Prayer gives him strength to continue to fight for a better world.

There is a Jewish story about a little boy who went to a prophet and said, "Prophet, don't you see? You have been prophesying now for fifteen years, and things are still the same. Why do you keep on?"

And the Prophet said, "Don't you know, little boy, I'm not prophesying to change the world, but to prevent the world from changing me?"

We must say no to war, killing, and poverty, not because people are going to listen, but because it belongs to an authentic witness of the living God. And you can do that only when your heart is rooted in the love of God. . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

George Washington and the (inaccurately described) "Ground Zero Mosque"

From today's Washington Post:


Please notice how so many of the "counter-arguments" (especially Newt's) follow this line of thought: since Muslims don't act "Christian," Christians don't have to act Christian. Gotta love it.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Can Muslims be good American citizens?

I published a link to this article some time ago, but it seems appropriate again now in regard to the plans to build an Islamic Mosque and community center a few blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Most of us know that there are many who oppose the plan, considering it an insult to those killed on 9/11. They also usually associate all Muslims with terrorism, and believe that all or at least most Muslims are bound by their religion to kill "Christian infidels," and that therefore Islam is an inherently violent religion. Therefore, the reasoning goes, Muslims cannot be good American citizens.

That reasoning is wrong at the level of its premises, and this article (Muhammad’s promise to Christians) demonstrates that fact quite well.

Muslims have historically treated Christians very well. The fact that some Muslims now have radicalized is due to other factors, not to the Quran, not to Muhammad.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Way to a Christian Virtue

From Nietzsche, Mixed Opinions and Maxims (his sequel to Human, All Too Human, quoted from The Portable Nietzsche, p. 66):

Way to a Christian virtue. Learning from one's enemies is the best way toward loving them; for it makes us grateful to them.
What a great comment not only on loving one's enemies, but on the Old Testament command to welcome the stranger (foreigner) -- and then, of course, on our current discussion on immigration and the recent Arizona law (which just yesterday was put on hold by a federal judge).

Monday, March 08, 2010

Jesus the Politician

It's cute, quaint, and totally wrong -- but I hear it frequently when I get into political "discussions" with other Christians. At some point (I suspect it's usually when they sense they're losing the argument) they will tell me: "Well, we shouldn't be arguing about this stuff, because you didn't see Jesus making political speeches and campaigning or fighting for social causes. He was all about changing lives, one individual at a time. The important thing is getting to heaven, not politics or social justice."

Seven quick points:
  1. There is no such thing as a human action that is not political. All human actions are political, because there is no human action that has no effect on fellow human beings. None. All of my actions, even if done in secret, have an effect on my identity, and unless I live in complete, total solitude somewhere, I will interact with other human beings at some later time, and I will do that on the basis of who I am, which includes every act I have ever committed. There is no such thing as a human action that is not political.
  2. Jesus died as the result of a political execution. Crucifixion was reserved for enemies of the Empire. His calls for allegiance clearly were threatening to the powers that be.
  3. The concept of the "kingdom of God" is not a call to have your mind drifting among the clouds. It is a call to live out the kingship or the reign of God in your life each day. "Kingdom of God" does NOT equal "church," though we would hope there would be a great deal of overlap. But, just as there are parts of my own life that are not fully under God's reign, so there are parts of his creation that are in rebellion against him. In fact, the whole creation is fallen, and "waits with eager longing" for the redemption promised to the children of God so that the whole "creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). Ultimately, God's plan is to bring everything he created back under his reign. That is the kingdom of God.
  4. When Paul the Apostle tells Christians that their "citizenship is in heaven," he is not telling them to abandon God's creation as if it were worthless. After all, when God created it, he pronounced it good. Yes, it is fallen, but that pronouncement was never reversed or taken back. Even the "burn it up" text of 2 Peter 3 includes a "new heavens and new earth" clause, equivalent (perhaps) to Paul's (2 Cor. 5) and John's (Revelation 22) "new creation" concept.
  5. Jesus' ministry is a revival of part of the Jewish tradition that seems to have been neglected in his day -- the tradition of the Hebrew prophets. That's why he uses Isaiah's text in Luke 4 as a paradigm for his ministry. The prophets, of course, were staunch advocates of social justice. Just as all human acts are political, all human sin is social sin. The Hebrew prophets address societal and systemic sin = oppressive social systems. The "system" was rigged to advantage the rich over the poor and to oppress the widows, orphans and strangers. God's "justice" isn't to give a person what he or she deserves, it is to defend the defenseless, to show mercy to the people who are disadvantaged. "Give the king your justice, O God," begins Ps. 72. When the king has God's justice, it is shown in his acts of mercy: "For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight" (Ps. 72:12-14; cf. Isa. 1:17, et al.).
  6. There is no concept in the Bible that is equivalent to the modern concept of the individual. Our modern concept is just that: modern, having been invented during the modern or Enlightenment era by such philosophers as Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant. This concept was unavailable to the ancient writers, for whom the human being is always a part of some community or communities. Even in the famous "the soul that sins shall die" text of Ezekiel 18 must be understood communally. The sins Ezekiel lists in that chapter are societal and communal sins (for some, you have to check their context in, for instance, the holiness code of Leviticus 18). Yes, the "individual" will be held responsible -- for sins against the covenant people and the covenant God. To break covenant with God is to mess up the people's covenant with God (the covenant context is explicitly set up in Ez. 17). So, even here it is a mistake to read into the ancient text a modern concept of the individual.
  7. Jesus, therefore, also did not have our modern concept of the individual, and salvation in the New Testament is not individualistic. Nowhere do you find one of our favorite modernistic construals of salvation: "You must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ." It's not a biblical phrase and not a biblical concept. Salvation is always corporate: it occurs "in Christ." Count the number of times in Ephesians 1 you find the phrase "in Christ" or its equivalent. All of God's blessings on Christians, including that of salvation, are said to occur "in Christ."
Summary: if you understand Jesus in the way proposed in the introductory paragraph above, you've misunderstood Jesus. That's not a judgment on your salvation, just on your scholarly preparation.

If someone were to want to do the scholarly preparation, here are three books you should start with -- all by John Howard Yoder, one of the foremost scholars of the New Testament in the last half of the 20th century.

  1. John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution (Herald Press, 1971).
  2. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1972).
  3. John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom: The Gospel as Social Ethics (Notre Dame, 1984).

Friday, February 05, 2010

Obama's Secret Prisons

Here's one that should make all my Republican Anti-Obama friends happy:

Does the Obama administration have their own "Gitmo"? If this article is true, nothing has changed except the names and locations. We're still torturing people.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The creation of a "liberal"


Point one: I'm not a "liberal," really. I'm philosophically and morally conservative.

Point two: I get called "liberal" because I don't accept the arguments about the alleged "good" of capitalism. Of course, even "liberal Democrats" in America accept those arguments. Strange world we live in.

The root issue, it seems to me, is that I really believe that we as a society have an obligation to take care of our weakest members -- those who cannot take care of themselves. And I believe that capitalism resembles the card game we used to play: "Poverty," a game in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The game is rigged to the advantage of those who are already winning. It is VERY difficult for a person who has been dealt a bad hand to EVER rise to the top of the heap.

And that's what capitalism seems to do: those of us who grew up in privilege -- in good, American middle class homes -- have lots of advantages. I'm grateful that I received a good education, that I had enough motivation (just barely!) to work hard enough in college to succeed; that my Christian parents and my church instilled in me not only a half-way decent work ethic, but the values that made me want to do "something meaningful" with my life.

But what about the people who didn't have those advantages? Unfortunately, I've seen people -- kids from areas of New York City and Philadelphia that didn't readily welcome white people -- who couldn't see college or a successful career as a real possibility for them. Of course, when working with those kids, we tried to tell them they could be and do anything they really wanted to be or do. Many times they just didn't believe us. We could not make the possibilities we took for granted seem like real options for them. All they could see, much of the time, was a future of poverty and welfare, or crime and an early death.

What made their vision so limited? I don't know all the factors, but it just seemed to them like going to college would be like, well, hitting the lottery. Sure, it could happen. But what are the odds? So, these kids needed help in reshaping their view of the world so that they might actually attempt something we would take for granted. The world they lived in had so conditioned their view of reality and of our society that they could not see my "obvious possibilities" as real for them. The "system" of our society disadvantaged them.

And then we could talk about racism. Most of the kids I'm thinking about were black. A few were Hispanic. They were certain that college was for rich white kids. So, even if we told them that racism didn't really exist in college admissions, they weren't likely to believe it. Even if we told them that racism wouldn't keep them from getting a good job after college, they would be very skeptical. They'd seen examples. Can't argue with history, right?

So, like it or not, I came to believe that some people just really do need a "boost" of some kind, and that some of those "boosts" would have to be in the form of social programs. Not just "giving a handout," but in really trying to help people better their lives, better themselves.

But, I believe it is necessary to do this because, as a Christian, I believe we have an obligation to the poor. We have an obligation to help them help themselves, and if necessary to see to it that they have sufficient food, shelter, and even health care. Does that make me a "liberal"? Whatever. What I'm talking about is conserving a long Christian tradition of taking care of the poor and helping them help themselves. I say that makes me a conservative.

Christianity and Islam -- peaceful coexistence?

See this article in the Al Jazeera magazine:

Muhammad’s promise to Christians