Tuesday, March 24, 2009

An Holy Message

Heard a super Sermon this past Sunday, listen to it here.

The Lectionary readings were:
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalms 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3: 14-21

Before the Priest began speaking I was struck with a thought from the Numbers reading (the one about the Israelites questioning Moses as a result of their impatience in the wilderness, God punishing their impatience sending poisonous serpents among them, Moses praying for forgiveness, God directing him to make a bronze serpent, erecting it upon a pole and thereafter any who were bitten could look upon the pole and live.) Since I had recently finished an EFM chapter on suffering, including references to Job, it’s not surprising that the thought came to mind: “He didn’t make it easy, but He did provide the way.”

During Andrea’s message I took a completely new outlook on the second half of John 3:16. You see, I’ve long thought the first half of the verse is far and away the most salient. “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son,”. End of story, finis, nothing else need be said.

But… suppose in interpreting the second half of the verse (“that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”), we assume the “Him” refers to God (in total) and not only His manifestation as The Christ as commonly interpreted? I am not a bible scholar and while I’ve read multiple translations they have all been in English. If you asked me to read: “See Spot, see Spot run.” in Greek I’d be up a creek with no Indian outboard. I wasn’t even part of the Greek system in college a few (many) years back, so I don’t propose any level of knowledge in translation. However, following my train of thought could seem to give the passage a whole new meaning regarding inclusiveness.

Quien sabe?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Uncommon ground

I’ve got this “coffee table” book called “The Amazing Faith of Texas” by Roy Spence that I peruse from time to time. Subtitled Common Ground on Higher Ground it’s a compendium of photos of Texans from a wide array of faith backgrounds across our entire state along with comments about their faith. Sometimes even in relation to their love of Texas. I reopened it at lunch time again today and felt compelled to share.

You see, I feel it’s difficult to live in God’s Country and not be in relationship with him; lots of us down here feel that same way. This book illuminates some of their thoughts with a bit of further explanation as to why they are so dearly held.

The author defines our common ground in three categories. I’ve chosen a few of my favorite quotes from each to share:

Common Ground found in Faith
“Faith is like riding in a car with Ray Charles driving. If you can’t ride in a car with Ray Charles driving, man, you ain’t got faith” – Pastor Rudy Rasmus (Methodist)
“Don’t mix your thoughts with your heart. Because your heart is always right.” – Louis Beareagle (Shaman)
“We Texans never give up. Neither does God. Could it be that God is a Texan?” – Lynn Kindler (Seeker, believer)
“God is beyond our capacity to define.” – Rabbi Samuel Karff (Wise man, Kind man)

Common Ground found in the Golden Rule
“I say Allah, you say God. It’s the same.” – Jilan Bruce (Muslim)
“We have been put here by God, and we have an innate knowledge about how we should live.” – Garland Robertson (Mennonite, Peace Activist)

and, Common Ground found in Values.
“Your faith should be able to withstand the heaviest tearing apart you can do with it.” – Jimmie Dale Gilmore (Singer, Buddhist)
“Charity is giving up your tortilla, Honey, when it’s the only one.” – Lydia Hernandez (Presbyterian)
“I kneel, you stand. I fold my hands, you put them out. We’re doing the same thing.” – Bianca Aguilar (Catholic)
“Forgiveness is God’s way of teaching you love.” – Aniela Maree Costello (Mother, Baha’i)

Pax, y'all.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jacksie today

This year's EFM (Yr 4) has seemed to be overly endowed with modern and postmodern existential psychological B. S. understandings of God, attempting to define that which I see as indefinable and to quantify that which can't be understood. Somewhere along the journey to Faith I believe one must accept the Mystery as God's design.

Unfortunately, I happened to read an op ed piece immediately following my finishing up some more of Sewanee's dreck and was just tired of hearing and reading it. So, here’s my take.

The author calls Lewis a sophist (by modern definition and as used, sophism is "a confusing or illogical argument used for deceiving someone"). To be kind to the author, he’s full of crap, even though he tried to downplay his disdain by saying: "he fooled himself first".

He went on to say: "What's palpably ridiculous are his warmed-over medieval arguments for the objective truth of Christian doctrine. One was that Christ had to be "either a God or a devil" - or self-delusive megalomaniac, as we'd now say. While sniping at the imperfections of scientific Biblical scholarship, Lewis shut his eyes to the painstaking work of two centuries that convincingly discerned different voices, sources, periods, influences on Biblical text. There's also no recognition in his work that people from different eras might perceive and express truth differently -- i.e., that someone in an earlier era who claimed to deliver God's words directly might be neither a fraud nor God's stenographer." More CRAP! God has been debated for nigh onto 3500 years and just because someone of presumed knowledge and position offers up ideas contrary to the generally accepted wisdom of those preceding them doesn't validate their position. One can certainly examine thoughts that precede their own and form judgments based upon their own understanding; however, that does not invalidate the understanding of the multitude of prior generations. Else why bother to read and study the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles and Paul's correspondences, much less the writings of St Augustine and other early Church Fathers. We are the product of our prior knowledge.

The next paragraph states: "Then there's the cultural chauvinism in his claims that other religious traditions foreshadowed or provided latter-day distortions of Christianity ..." And the absurd argument that God would create the physical laws of the universe in part to get our attention by His deliberate breaking of them through miracles. And his over-correction of what he called (this may be a paraphrase) our era's chronological snobbery -- an assumption that new ideas are inherently superior to old ones. Lewis, making the opposite error, refused to acknowledge any lasting advances in political ethics or developments in our understanding of human rights." Regarding the bolded sentence, I see its snobbery and assumptions of superiority referred to day in and day out. "Because I have scientifically examined all the evidence and proof available, I conclude that: 1). The facts are ..., and 2). I'm right and you're wrong because I'm more educated than you are."

Going into politics he says: "He's one of your conservatives of doubt -- dubious about the efficacy of human attempts to permanently improve human life. He's a democrat (small d, believer in democracy) by default, of the Churchillian school that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the alternatives. His own formulation was that democracy is necessary because human corruption means that no individual or small group can be trusted with power." Before the development of an agrarian society when there only existed nomadic tribes, that tribal socialistic society worked (I would suppose) though there's no evidence to confirm or deny it. With the development of that agrarian society and all else that's followed, mankind has always striven for equality and freedom. However, in the words of Orwell (I might be paraphrasing): "Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others." I agree with each accusation he makes towards Lewis' thought process but fear he's trying to accuse Lewis of being wrong in his thoughts, though I consider him right. Mankind's propensity to serving self does mean that no individuals or small groups can be trusted with power. Witness Washington for the past 80 years or so. Both parties want to do, not what is best for the country, but what, and only what, best enables them to maintain their power and position and the public be damned. I'm speaking of both Democrats and Republicans. A BU History Prof. I know made the comment: "The last politician who went to Washington to accomplish what he set out to do and left was Reagan." I think he's probably right.

The next paragraph adds: "What Lewis lacked was any sense that participating in political life is part of what makes us fully human -- and the corollary, that a people's meaningful participation in politics could permanently advance human welfare. Strange, for a man steeped in Greek literature -- no sense that man is a political animal. He charmingly wrote, "I myself am not fit to run a henhouse." Well, neither am I. But that doesn't mean I have no role or responsibility in governance, and that if all were well I'd live like one of Lewis's Narnian badgers, in peaceful quietism. And while you, Andrew, are a very political animal, you share Lewis' unduly limited sense of what government and politics can accomplish. I recognize, with Obama, that Reagan had a lasting insight, and that the lasting pressure he put on liberalism not to bloat government, not to intrude it into every aspect of our lives, not to let it suck any more resources out of the private sector than it needs to perform its functions at maximum efficiency, is salutary. But to go from there to an assumption that government can't improve on its furtherance of commonwealth, that it can't fairly counteract rising income inequality or spread the most fundamental risks, like illness or destitution in old age, more effectively than it does now, is defeatist." Well, strip my gears and color me a defeatist. I firmly believe that government CAN'T improve on its furtherance of commonwealth, fairly counteract rising income inequality or spread the most fundamental risks, more effectively than it does now. Two hundred and thirty three years ago (give or take) the Founding Fathers created a Republic called the United States of America (note, I said Republic, not Democracy; though we could be called a representative democracy). At that time the government's main focus was joining together for the protection of the individual states. They did a good job of that; however, much the same as any other form of government, once someone attempted to determine how someone else should live, what they should have, etc., they began making a bigger mess of things than existed before they got involved in imposing their will on others. Income redistribution doesn't work real well because what happens is that without incentive there is no justification for labor. Go read Atlas Shrugged.

I was also put off by his mention of Phillip Pullman (an avowed atheist with a self spoken agenda to move children away from faith towards atheism). I’ve read his Trilogy and have fully observed and understood, the contempt he has towards faith in general and Christianity in particular. He also harbors an intense dislike - bordering on hatred - for C. S. Lewis and his works, and in fact produced his Trilogy solely in response to and rebuttal of the Narnia Chronicles.

The article ends with: "But I'd be lying if he didn't occasionally give me hope that politics can actually make our lives a little better." Politics in general and government in particular has never made things better for its subjects. I challenge you to name one political system that made things better for its citizens and that worked. If you could, wouldn't that be the model for today's more progressive governments?

So, I suppose my ultimate comment is don't worry so much and get to know God yourself. Don't trust what someone else tells you He/She is, learn for yourself. And don't expect for government to make thing better for you, it won't and can't. Don't become overly skeptical of everyone but don't trust, on blind faith, what people tell you either; for you will only be disappointed and disillusioned. Vote your conscience, but from a position of understanding and not trust, for only The Father is deserving of that.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Over and over and over again...

Sometimes messages are repeated over, and over, and over. This week’s EFM Lesson was that way. The crux of which was one of suffering and how we relate it to our understanding of God.

For unspecified reasons, I identified with this lesson and spent quite a bit more time on it than normal. I looked at the Holocaust from a Jewish perspective, read a little about Rambam, got into theodicy, and looked into evil. Even went back and reread Job, one of my favorite books of the Bible; along with Isaiah, Wisdom and the Gospels. The commentary for Sunday’s reading in my 2009 Lenten Meditations by ERD asked the question “… is God present in the terrible things, too?” Then I got an email from one of our group members this morning addressing the concept once more (an article from Slate by its editor David Plotz).

During Lent our Parish joins with 4 other Downtown Churches (Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist & Presbyterian) for ecumenical weekly Lenten Worship. A pastor from another denomination preaches at the host Church on a rotating basis and members of all 5 congregations join and listen together. It makes for some interesting messages. This noon we were host Parish and addressed by one of my favorites, the Pastor of First Presbyterian. He’s about my age and can throw a “hand grenade” better that even I (and that’s high praise indeed – just ask any of our EFM Group members).

Seems Jimmy spoke, yet again, on this week’s lesson. More references to the Book of Job, and more other thoughts than I could handle in a 12 minute homily. Two of his more salient ones were:
Good Friday Prayers are as important as those of praise.”
And “You can’t get to the prayer: ‘Into Thy hands I commend my Spirit.’ without first crying: ‘Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani’.”

Yeah Lord, I hear You.
Redemption is easy, you only have to die.