Monday, May 23, 2011

Harold Camping and End of the World

The fact that a 100 mil was spent on signage and other assorted media mystifies me - from whence does this kind of money come? But more than this, the human cost. Camping capitalized on the mystique of end-times prophecies. Folks desperate to escape, and folks eager to show their spiritual superiority, line up for this junk, and junk it is. 
As always, the church needs to have a strong educational dimension to it's preaching. N.T. Wright's work on this is extremely helpful.
If Camping had been selling stocks and bonds, he'd be arrested for fraud and imprisoned. He's no different than Madoff, who likely believed in what he was doing, too, and thought he was a pretty good guy. But a crook is a crook - whether it be a Wall Street Dandy stealing money, or a wolf in sheep's clothing stealing faith and hope.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I Am a Universalist

I am a universalist, and became so some years ago after trying to figure it all out, and I finally decided that no one can know fully the mind of God, but we can all know fully the love of God for creation, and that includes all creatures, great and small, and the not-so-bright (which I think encompasses the whole of the human race).

Having said, “I’m a universalist,” and having confessed my ignorance about ultimate things, but not ultimate means (Israel’s Messiah), I will also affirm that any firm speculation about “eternity” can only lead to deep flaws of thought and ethics.

Traditions that speak with ultimate assurance about ultimate destinies have all, to a one, crashed on the rocks of pride and judgment. And some within the universalist tradition have likewise lost their fervor for any kind of faith, and have played carelessly with what folks believe and live.

We do have a blessed assurance, and it’s Jesus, who is ours, by grace, and his destiny, wrought in the contours of his life, is ours. I agree with Barth, that in Christ, God resolved all the issues, and in Christ, we see the final Yes to all God’s creation, because whatever No any of us might say is never greater than God’s Yes.

Having become a universalist,  everything remains the same for me: Jesus and his cross, Jesus and his life, Jesus and his resurrection and ascension, but rather than focused on “getting folks to heaven and not hell,” everything becomes focused on the LORD's Prayer, and it’s central theme, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” For this we need Christ. For this, we need the Holy Spirit. For this, we need the Bible, the church, prayer and evangelism.

One still has to be saved – from ignorance and fear and pride and selfishness, to take this one singular life that God created with such passion and kindness and make it worthwhile, if not simply for the self (which it can never be) but for others, too. The children who suffer and die all around the world for want of political commitment to work for peace, for all the suffering occasioned by the greed and malice of the powerful, for all of this, we need to be saved from fear and cowardice that we might live with the boldness of Christ, and, with him, enter the temple when necessary to cleanse it, calm the crowd that is so eager to stone the woman, and challenge the blindness of the religious cognoscenti.

Give to everyone (letting God clear up all the details) the gift of eternal life with the one who made them, the one who came here to show them the way, the truth and the life, and the Spirit who opens minds and hearts and doors!

Then, we’re free to love, and free to join together in caring for God’s world. We’re free to share Jesus Christ with all, not at the point of a threat, but at the point of a celebration, that, yes, we’re all in this together, both now and forever.

For me, becoming a universalist has removed some of the worst aspects of Christian history and theology and opened up doors of joy and hope for here and now, and most surely, for eternity.

I still share Christ with anyone and everyone I can. Why not?

But heaven is no longer a goal in question. Christ took care of that.

Earth is the goal, as it should be, and that remains the biggest question of all.

And as it is for God – from the beginning, and as Paul the Apostle celebrates in his letter to the Romans – that one day, all will be made new, with a new heaven and a new earth, and every knee will bow to the wisdom and glory of God. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rob Bell, Albert Mohler and Universalism

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, calls Rob Bell’s latest, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, a “theological disaster.” And then adds, “When you adopt universalism … you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ … and you don’t need the cross…. This is the disaster of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism.”

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, even if we go all the way to universalism, we need the church, we need Christ, and we need the cross all the more. Because this life then becomes incredibly important, and how we love one another, and we love the world, all the more, the bottom line. It’s not about going to heaven (which Jesus never ever said), but doing “God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.”

Mohler’s gospel is a small gospel.

Reduced to a few clich├ęs and a “come-to-Jesus” moment.

In Mohler’s evangelical world, Jesus was born of a virgin and then he died. Everything else in between is ignored. Paul letters are stripped of their ethical orientation and turned into a Gnostic treatise – if you now this, you’re saved; if you don’t know this, your goose is cooked.

Mohler is flat-out wrong.

But there’s nothing new in that.

Mohler’s tiny little world is growing tinier, and it doesn’t feel very good, even for him. But rather than changing and growing, Mohler just grows more and more bitter.

Hats of to Rob Bell for taking up the challenge to think.

Think outside the box … because, indeed, God and God’s love are always larger and bigger than we want them to be.

Yes, I have no doubt about Mohler’s ultimate destiny. But when he gets there, he’s going to spend a few thousand years pissed off that Bell is there. And then a few thousand years pissed at God. And then more years pissed at himself, until there’s no more piss left. And from his lips, the angels will hear, Hallelujah!

If then, why not now?

Just asking … but what do I know?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Far Right and Public Education

Roman Catholics opted for parochial schools because "public" schools in America, 19th Century, were essential Protestant schools. 

When public education freed itself from the shackles of the Protestant Establishment, progressives agreed; conservatives revolted, and the biggest revolt occurred in the South when Eisenhower enforced the desegregation of the schools. 

In recent decades, the war against public education has been waged by Creationists and other conservative types who see schooling as a means to further their narrow agenda. 

Public education, that is truly public, and truly education (read science and history) is inimical to the style and purpose of the Right.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Palin - Does Anyone Understand Her?

I cannot understand how anyone could like Palin. I've listened to a lot of conservatives, and while I can't agree with their position, I at least understand what they're saying.

Palin makes no sense at all - her thoughts are ragged, and I suspect she understands very little of what she's saying much of the time, but only mouthing slogans and phrases she's memorized.

Yet, I suppose, like-minded gravitates to like-minded.

Never over-estimate the intelligence of the American people, and, sadly, our rural areas have been falling behind the curve, making rural areas a perfect target for the Koch Machine with it's billions to manipulate people for its own ends. Argh ...


We all live by our values ... whatever they may be, and that's the question. What are the values by which we live? The values of a Wall Street Banker are different than the values of a 3rd grade teacher on the south side of Chicago.

Religion, in some ways, helps folks of divergent backgrounds and interests to modify their values in the light of something "higher," but what with the diversity of religion, there doesn't seem to be a lot of concrete agreement. Lots of folks might talk about love, but just exactly what is love, and what does it look like in practice?

Perhaps what we've lost in the cyber-age is the courage to reflect upon our values, to be critical of them in ourselves, to ask hard questions of ourselves. In this respect, I think we've become a lot more self-indulgent, assuming that our personal happiness (whatever that is) is the supreme value. Narcissism is rampant in the West and in societies driven by technology!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts About Bin Laden's Death

Okay, so Osama is dead!

Last night, when I heard the news, I shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I’m glad he was killed. A trial would have been ludicrous.” I felt no joy at the announcement of his death, and watching cheering Americans on TV, I felt a sense of sadness for my nation. This “victory” can only reinforce our moral and spiritual blindness as we continue to play out our fantasy of Numero Uno.

I’m a Christian, or I’ve tried to be, and I’m not sure what it means, though my evangelical sisters and brothers always seem to know what it means.

I live out of Christ; that I know, and with that, I cannot dance over the grave of an enemy.

Perhaps I’d feel differently if I had lost a loved on 9/11 or in a military conflict in the last 10 years. But I haven’t lost anyone, and I’m grateful, of course. I can’t even imagine the sorrow and hurt of a loved one lost in such circumstances.

I was struck by LA Times headlines this morning, “U.S. KILLS BIN LADEN.”


The simple spiritual reality: those who live by the sword die by the sword, and it makes no difference who delivers the first blow, and who’s right and who’s wrong and who’s good and who’s bad. The sovereign nations of the world live by the sword, and history is full of the wreckage – millions of lives lost and countless tears shed, economies devastated and stimulated, poverty and prosperity, woe and weal – but the truth remains: those who live by the sword, even righteous swords, will, one day, die by the sword, as well.

As with Israel and Palestine, the pain continues, the death of so many adds up, until nothing makes sense any longer and all that remains is hatred.

Will Bin Laden’s death make any difference?

I doubt it.

The dogs of war have been unleashed, and there’s no calling them back. We’ll never again see anything like WW2, but what we’ll have is a world in constant turmoil, fed by the growing disparity of the nations, with age-old border disputes continuing, along with the struggle to control dwindling reserves of oil and fresh water.

The rising stars of China and India are changing the playing field in ways that no American can envision; we were the top dog, so to speak, since the Spanish-American War. And while still militarily strong, our economy is precarious, our national infrastructure is in need of massive repair, our public systems of transportation and health care are Medieval, and our sense of identity is in flux (and that’s always a dangerous time for a nation).

There is no doubt that Al Qaeda has been derailed, if not permanently as a movement, at least for a considerable time. But as long as the West continues to manipulate its own interests to the disadvantage of the Muslim nations, especially those that have oil, Muslim extremists will continue to see the West as demonic. And Christian extremists in the West will continue to foment ill-will toward Islam.

Last night, I asked, “Who will we hate now?”

Nations love to have an embodiment of the enemy, a poster-child, if you will, of righteous indignation.

In WW1, it was the Kaiser … Hitler and Tojo in WW2 …  Mao n Korea, Ho Chi Min in Vietnam, Noriega in Panama, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the Axis of Evil, Saddam Hussein and then Bin Laden. Did I miss anyone?

The world will lumber on as it always does. There will be war and rumors of war and earthquakes and famine and fire and pestilence and storms. People will love and people will hate, nations will rise and nations will fall. History will always be written by the winners; prophetic voices will cry out and identify the hubris that infects the human story. Kindly voices will speak; Doctors without Borders will continue to heal. Women and men of good cheer and good faith will build bridges and take down fences.

And in the midst and mist of it all, Jesus says, “Be not alarmed … love one another … and love the enemy, too.”