Saturday, November 4, 2017

Korban and Texas Law

Jesus notes how a religious tradition intended for good, i.e., communion with god through offering and sacrifice, is used, instead, to further greed, and to avoid caring for (i.e. honoring) one’s parents in their days of need (Mark 7.11 and Matthew 15.

The written word commands care for parents - i.e., to “honor them” …  in their day of need, a child is bound by the Word of God to offer assistance to her parents.

But as Jesus notes, a tradition had emerged by which a child might say to her parents, “Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, what you might expect in support from me isn’t available any longer - I intend to give the money to the Temple, it’s Korban.”

Jesus condemns the practice, because it was a cover for greed. I suspect that it became an easy way for a child to avoid caring for Mom and Dad, with flippant words of a future gift to the Temple,  and we all know what time does to such promises: Mom and Dad die in need, and the money promised to the Temple, oh well, the check never gets written, or at least gets written for a much smaller amount. 

It was Korban that occurred to me in mulling over aTexas bill recently passed in the House, that women should get abortion insurance, if they intend to ever get an abortion, and specifically, because the law offers no exceptions for rape or incest.

In other words, the good and righteous lawmakers of Texas don’t want Christian money to pay for an abortion through taxes and state provisions. So, if a women is raped, and doesn’t have any “abortion insurance,” she can pay for the abortion herself, or better yet, go through with the pregnancy, or better yet, teach others not to get raped, because, according to conservative minds, rape is mostly the woman’s fault anyway God-abiding women are never raped, and if they are, it’s God’s will for a greater purpose - who knows, the child so conceived might grow up to become a great leader, a scientist, or a even better, a Baptist preacher like Mike Huckabee.

As I read the article about the bill (not yet signed by the governor, but likely so, because the Senate is also considering a similar bill), I thought of the notion of Korban (Corban), wherein a religious tradition is used to avoid responsibility to one’s parents.

I can only imagine some young hotshot evangelical saying to her parents, “You should have planned better for your retirement, you should have saved more, invested in the Stock Market, put money aside for your day of need. Don't count on me to help, because I’ve promised my money to my megachurch pastor. Oh, I’ve not paid it yet, but I will. It’s promised to the LORD, so no help for you. You’re on your own, and I hope you learn your lesson, and others, too, will learn from my righteous example.”

Evangelicals don’t want their money associated with rape, pregnancy, abortion, sin and sorrow. Women are on their own in this matter, and that’s just the way it is. You’ll not see any Evangelical money helping anyone in need, because this money is promised to the LORD. So there. And if anyone is in dire straits, poor and suffering, it’s there fault for poor decisions and bad planning. And, besides, it’s all in God’s good will, and God will provide. Woo hoo … praise the LORD, and look at my bank account.

Jesus calls the crowed together in Mark 7.14-16 and says: There’s nothing outside of a person that can defile one, but what comes out of a person is the defilement. The “righteous,” who are fussy about what they eat and drink, and their pots and pans and cups (Mark 7.1-4), are mistaken. They fail to see what’s coming out of them as the issue, and what’s coming out of them is greed, all gussied up in religious jargon.

The proposed Texas law, and so many like it, have nothing to do with God’s purpose; it’s all greed, a means by which the “righteous” can keep more of their money, and the means by which human suffering can be ignored, and those who suffer can be scolded for their wayward behavior.

The story of Korban: a well-intended purpose subverted for the purposes of greed.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Better Communication Needed???

Back in seminary, in the late 60s, one of the by-words of the conflict between a "progressive" seminary staff and a conservative classis (Reformed Church in America) was "communication" - i.e. the need to communicate better.

I remember saying: "Heck, no. We've already "communicated," and have done so rather well."

The classis knew full well what the faculty generally believed and taught about Scripture and its interpretation, theology and its world views, what ministry is all about, and how to be good pastors.

And the seminary, in turn, knew full well what the classis believed and taught about all of the above.

The conflict wasn't for want of communication, but rather because communication was clear, and it was clear that we were moving in radically different directions.

Sadly, what we have on our hands, 50 years later, is mostly the same demarcation points.

We all know, rather well, what we believe, and what others believe, too, about the shape of the church, how to read the Bible, and what justice and peace are all about.

And the same holds true for government: we all know, rather well, what we believe, and what others believe, about the role of government, regarding Social Security, public education, unions, marriage equality and health care.

The conflict isn't for want of communication, but is simply the result of two competing, and diametrically opposed, world views in collision, aided and abetted by social media, talk-radio, 24/7 news, blogs and books and all the attendant media of communication.

 It's not a matter of being right or wrong, or closer to god or further away, but of sincerely held beliefs, shaped in the fires of life, and respective groups, coming to different conclusions.

There's no need to fear or lament the discord, and let's be clear: it's the progressives, or liberals, who most likely fear or lament discord, because they're "nice" people, looking for ways to build bridges. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to have no such qualms, because they see themselves as defenders of "god's truth," more than willing to blow up the bridges and instead dig the ditches deeper.

It's all about honesty.

Honestly held views, and the sometimes painful truth, about all world-views: there will be conflict, even intense conflict, and there comes a time when lines have to be drawn in the sand, and convictions be held firmly, and when and where all the little compromises have been made, and all the books written and read, that we simply admit the ineradicable gap, live with the tension, and do our best.

Biblically, I think of the Genesis story about Cain killing Abel, and then the birth of Seth ... and how the respective lines of Cain (violence) and Seth (worship) were simply incompatible, and, at best, had to somehow live in constant tension, neither one completely dominating and eliminating the other.

The conflict is revealed in the voice of the prophets standing firm and clear against the voices of power and privilege, and seen again in Jesus standing against Jerusalem, and Jerusalem, colluding with Rome, finally exasperated by Jesus and making the decision to eliminate him.

Perhaps the Korean Peninsula is illustrative, as well, of two competing systems of thought divided by a no-man's land ... their respective world-views are not compatible; it's either one or the other.

And certainly the United States itself, with all of its talk about "democracy" versus totalitarian forms of government; obviously, much of our talk has been just that, talk ... or some might say, "hot air," mostly driven by our self-interests, but the point is clear: democracy is incompatible with totalitarianism.

On a more immediate scale, the world envisioned by Betsy DeVos and that envisioned by Marion Wright Edelman, have little in common, and to expect the proponents of these respective world views to sit down and "communicate" is nothing short of ludicrous. The only agreement is that they might agree to disagree.

While the language is a bit melodramatic, it's time for progressives, liberals, to know they're in a war with those who see a world through the lens of money: 1) money for the few who will then dictate life to the rest, or 2) money constantly redistributed, to insure the greater number of people having access to the greater numbers of opportunities for education, health care, and the "pursuit of happiness."

Sadly, it's all about politics and power ... these world views will come to dominate when enough people are in positions of power to insure the one or the other.

Am I being cynical?

I think I'm being honest.

Which begs the question: Is there hope?

Sure, there always is, but history doesn't allow us to be naive ... there is great cruelty in the human story, and great love, too ... war and rumors of war ... love and mercy. Cain's ways, and the love of Seth ... in a virtual dead heat. Why it should be this way is the great enigma of our journey. And though faith would have believe in the ultimate victory of love, along the way, a lot of suffering, a lot of pain and sorrow. Work for the best in our story, but be prepared for the worst, as well.

Where does that leave us?

Well, it means we have to be mindful of our p's and q's ... the stakes are high, and while we must learn, and keep on learning, all we can about how the various world-views work, we have to admit, perhaps tearfully, with broken hearts, that we're engaged in a serious conflict of values, and to "gird up our loins" and join the fray.

Fearful though we may be, dangerous as it, what we do in love, we do for one another.

And that's the way it is, to quote Walter Cronkite ... that's just the way it is.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Democracy in Chains - Study Notes

Thoughts/Questions for discussion - 8.28.17
Study Group: "Democracy in Chains," by Nancy MacLean

  1. Most Americans, I suppose, take for granted the on-going existence of the nation, Constitution and all … but MacLean suggests otherwise; her claims seem incredible, but could the Koch Boys, given their libertarian history and John Birch Society background, with their enormous wealth, be sufficient to bring about a right-wing revolution?
  2. Part of the plan is to discredit all forms of government influence (Reagan: Government is the problem), from public education to social security to medicare and so on … suggesting to the people that these programs simply can’t work any longer, they’re in state of failure and will not long exist, so let’s get out while we can, and if anyone is looking for an alternative, we have it - privatized everything. 
  3. To this point in time, people have not been willing to consider the termination of these large and successful programs, but the libertarians are not dissuaded. They remain committed to undoing FDR’s America, an America envisioned by Eisenhower (despised by the far right), expanded by LBJ and Nixon … and, of course, Obama. The libertarians rightly understand that a frontal attack on these programs will fail. In time, however, convinced that these program are failing, people will vote against their own interests.
  4. Critical to these libertarian efforts is the delegitimizing of anything pertaining to environmental matters, because the Koch Boys see the people engaged in environmental studies as the single most dangerous threat to their interests.
  5. At the heart of the libertarian effort is white supremacy - the need to severely limit who can vote, to insure the original model - only white landowners can vote, and to return Senate elections to state houses and not the people. Hence, the progressive onslaught of the libertarians to win state houses and governorships, most notably in Wisconsin and Michigan, states with a traditional progressive lean now fully in the lands of the libertarian program. Make America Great AGAIN … it’s the “again” that’s critical, as they harken back to the ante-bellum time of the Southern States, and across the nation in the early part of the 20th Century, when Jim Crow laws were in effect.**
  6. They love the distinction between “takers” and “makers.” 
  7. They’re convinced that the takers have taken advantage of American Democracy by pooling their efforts to move government to help all Americans, which is a tremendous loss of liberty, not only for the chief tax payers (the wealthy who deserve to keep more of their taxes) but also to those who are helped, because the very help received destroys their character, their initiative and their freedom to plan for their own retirement and the education of their children. If they have failed to do so, they must no longer count on the government to bail them out; they’re on their own, and tough luck if they fail. All of this will create a stronger nation and greater liberties for all.
  8. Crucial to all of this: destroy public education: 1) slash its funding, 2) destroy its unions, 3) discredit teachers. Voila Betsy DeVos. When people realize that “public education” is failing, promote charter schools, home schooling and private schools; use vouchers, and tell people constantly that this now gives them “real choice.”
  9. Along with this libertarian move, we have evangelicals signing on, condemning the poor for being lazy … evangelicalism, at its heart, is self-centered because of its 1) fear of hell, 2) its focus on the believer who made the right decision to accept Christ. All of these theological moves put the person at the center, with god more or less a bystander, offering some help, but no more than that, because it’s up to the “believer” to come forward (Billy Graham crusade) and receive Christ. And, as Joel Osteen would have it, if you do right by god, god will do right by you and give you wealth.
  10. For both the evangelical of late, and the libertarian, wealth is everything! For the evangelical, wealth proves the blessing of god; for the libertarian, wealth proves the wisdom and courage and fortitude of the wealthy.
  11. Along with this, the NRA and its need for chaos to promote guns.
  12. White Supremacists and their need for power - “the Jews will not replace us.”
  13. The angry and the alienated and their need to attack something.
  14. For me, it’s first class mess … and I’m grateful to MacLean for her work.

**the following piece, from a bio on Walter Cronkite, by Douglas Brinkley … unnerving for me to read this, it’s so brutal … Houston, 1927 …

As a liberal Jayhawker who considered John Brown a hero of the Civil War era, not a terrorist, Dr. Cronkite professionally refused to adhere to Jim Crow, taking black as well as white patients. As his son later told Ron Powers of Playboy, this ethic was reflected in a wrenching episode on one of their first nights in Houston. Dr. Finis Hight, president of the Texas Dental School, had asked the Cronkite family to dinner at his River Oaks home. After the steak-and-potatoes meal, the group moved to the porch to savor the breeze and await the delivery of homemade ice cream from a nearby drugstore. In those days, there was no air-conditioning and residential refrigeration options were limited. The Jim Crow “rules” of Houston said that African Americans could not approach the home of a Caucasian from the front. Years later, Cronkite recalled what happened next: “The black delivery boy drove up on his motorcycle and looked with his flashlight, clearly for some way to go to the back of the house.” Not finding a driveway or alleyway to deliver the ice cream, the young man started up the sidewalk. When he hit the first step to the porch, Dr. Hight, in Cronkite’s words, “jumped out of his chair like a cat, and hit him right in the middle of his face, wham!—knocked him back into the grass, ice cream cart spilling—and he said, ‘That’ll teach you, nigger, to put your foot on a white man’s front porch!’ My father said, ‘Helen, Walter, we’re leaving.’ ” 

The three Cronkites marched out of Dr. Hight’s house. When the embarrassed host tried to coax them into staying, Dr. Cronkite said “get lost” and kept walking. After that incident, Dr. Hight had the long knives out for Dr. Cronkite because of his “pro-Negro” sympathies. “I was horrified about the incident,” Cronkite recalled. “Terrified by the walk through the oak trees with their long Spanish moss dripping in them. It looked like a Walt Disney forest that I would expect all the animals jumping at us. We finally got a ride from somebody on a street corner. Got back to our hotel. But from that moment on I was wholly aware of the racial bigotry, prejudice, and treatment of blacks in that part of the world.”

Brinkley, Douglas. Cronkite (Kindle Locations 425-441). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

No Escape!

I continue to read theology and scripture, and so there are times when I wish I could simply retreat into points of doctrine and exegesis.

But every page of Scripture screams of politics, because of the Kingdom of God, and there Lordship of Christ ... and everything I read of theology demands a decision about how we treat one another, and the hope we have in Christ ... not simply for some distant future after death, but here and now, because "this is my Father's world," and the little children need to see and feel the lap of Christ.

Anything that ignores this joyful and demanding reality, anything that dismisses this world as of no concern, anything that smells of rapture, or some bizarre kind of escape clause from this life and its goodness, and its need of redemption from the forces of evil, is a contradiction of the gospel, a crucifixion of Christ all over again ... as the powers that be, in love with themselves and their glory, despise the glory of God, which is humble and kind, merciful and forgiving - values that the powerful, the comfortable, can't stand, because Christ shames their greed and reveals just how paltry are their riches.

So, for me, longing for escape, there is none. Longing for a retreat from this world and its present sorrow, there is no place of retreat from the command of God to Elijah to leave the cave and get back to work.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Poor and the Needy

Further musings ... Psalm 113:

"He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people."

And the princes howl like mad ...
we're not sitting with these "takers,"
we're not putting up with unfair taxation that
redistributes our hard-won monies and gives
them to freeloaders and the lazy.

We're the makers, and it belongs to us.
Not to them.
Not to the poor, who deserve their dust.
Not to the needy, who need to spend more time
on their ash heap.

Uh uh God.
We'll have none of that.
To hell with them all.

And, god, think about it.
We're on your side.
We work hard.
And give our millions to charity.

Sure, we enjoy it ourselves,
Our caviar moments.
And if you need a loan.
Heck, it's yours, interest free.

Just don't make us sit with the poor and the needy.

Friday, June 30, 2017

I Love to Write

I love to write,
and these days, it's virtually all done via the keyboard.
But writing it is:
Words, phrases, paragraphs -
always amazing to me how things flow, or not ...
how the right word at the wrong place,
or the wrong word at the right place,
doesn't fly.

So, try it again ...
delete ...
add a new word,
play with the old,
reposition, eliminate, add, twist and bend the sentence,
the paragraph ... like clay in a sculpture's hand - squeeze and push and shape and change ...

And with a little luck, or grace, or mercy.
Something takes shape.
An idea is expressed.
Insight offered.
Or a good joke.
Or just plain silliness.

Or a matter of life and death.
Social issues.
History and philosophy.

Or maybe a recipe.
Two cups of milk and some flour.
Some oregano and thyme.

Or a cry for justice.
A prayer for peace.
A tear for a family's loss.

Or maybe just a rant and a rave.
When complaint seems to be the only recourse.
The only thing that makes sense.
Because a rant and a rave still shed light on the issue.
This is the reason we're in trouble.
This is the problem.

We don't always have to solve it.
But examine it we must.
From every angle
Like a good detective holding a piece of evidence.
From whence did it come?
Who put it there?
What did it do?
If not who, then how?

And maybe the idea will sparkle a bit.
Maybe the Word will again become flesh.
And dwell among us.

Is not this the goal of every writer?
I think so.
That the word would become flesh.
And maybe, just maybe, we could see some glory.

I love to write.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


The past instructs.
The future entices.
The present bewilders.

What have I learned?
That history can go bad.
Really, seriously, bad.

What have I learned?
That history can move to the light.
That people wake up and make the better choice.

What have I learned?
That the moment can be horrible.
That people can shout Heil Hitler and never bat an eye.

What have I learned?
To be brave.
As brave as I can be.

What have I learned?
Some are a whole lot braver than I am.
Thanks be to God.

What have I learned?
That such bravery is never lost.
Never wasted.

What have I learned?
Keep on learning.
Keep on trying to be brave.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Was He Guilty?

Was he guilty?

Maybe ... or so the court said.
Or was it a jury?
Or a judge?
Or a failed system?

So, maybe he was guilty.
And lets just say, "Guilty as sin."
He caused pain and death.
For another human being.

And the family of the killer will have to live.
Live with the painful memories of a love one's life.
Dead and gone.

Was he guilty?
Looks that way.

So, now what?
Kill him, some say.
The state can kill, they say.
It's okay to kill, if the state does it, they say.

Angry preaches love to talk about wrath.
God's wrath and all those folks who should be snuffed.
Snuffed out like a candle.
Kaput, done away with, killed.

So, maybe we kill the man.
Then what?
The world goes on as it has.
Kill or be killed is the code for too many.

The death of the killer makes some feel better.
Would I feel better if it were my kin being avenged?
I don't know.
Maybe ...

But, then, on the other hand.
Does the killer's death right the wrong?
Make things better in this sad and broken world?
Are there other ways of dealing with loss?

Other than killing the killer?
Killing the man who did the first killing?
I mean, killing.
Cold-blooded killing, by the state.

On a gurney.
With straps.
And tubes.
And chemicals.

So, we kill the killer.
Now what?
Death wins.
Life loses.

Anyone keeping score?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Can a Nation Hate Itself?

Is it possible for a nation?
To "enjoy" such a misery?
To lacerate itself with its own contempt?

When hope is gone for reason and wellness?
Then to jump into a cauldron and be done with it?
To make a mess of the mess even messier?
To cheer the insanity of failure?

Because self-hatred is the flower of all hatred:
Our racism, a cancer of the soul.
Our misogyny, a disease of the spirit.
Our willingness to throw one another away.

And our religion:
Oh God, what a foolish business it is.
From Billy Sunday to Billy Graham.
Megachurches and miracles and always the quest:

For the golden day, the 5 easy steps.
Into the kingdom of fraud, and to be with Jesus.
And along comes the pretender king.
And all the pretending grows all the more harsh.

And foolish.
And ugly.
And full of deception.
And all the more, the lies.

When there's no one else left to hate?
Can a nation hate itself?
... out of shame?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Making Jesus

Jesus is, in part, what we make of him.
Because the very gospels are what:
Have been made of him.
By Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It ought to warn us to make Jesus, then.
With care.
With attention given to what we want him to be.
And why we would want such a Jesus, after all.

The fact that we have four distinct gospels.
Reveals, for me at least.
That God is okay with how we do this.
Yet, only four, makes it clear: there are some boundaries.

Which makes it a requirement that when.
We say something about Jesus.
We be sure to say: As I see it.
And then God's not offended, but pleased.

That we have the courage of our convictions.
To state our case as our case.
And not put words into God's mouth.
Or claim that our opinion is God's opinion, too.

What's wrong with humility?
We can state our case firmly.
But it's still our case.
What with study and prayer and consultation.

It's still our case.
And maybe God will push us in some other direction.
Sometime along the road.
And our case may change.

It's happen before.
To Saul.
And to Luther.
And to all of us.

It's a good thing we can change.
To make a case and it keep it small case.
Bearing the finitude of our thoughts and opinions.
Taking care to take care.

About what we say.
And say it with heart and mind and soul and strength.
But always open to something more.
As God makes God's case for the world.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Not a Happy Note

This is not a happy note.
It speaks of God's abandonment.
When God turns her back to all.
And walks away in sorrow.

Only for a time, of course.
But time enough to undo God's blessings.
And give the nation what it truly wants:
Money, power, prestige and wantonness.

And in getting what it wants, it dies.
And the good, the bad and the ugly die right along with it.
There is no choice in all the dying.
Once the wheels of divine abandonment are set in motion.

No choice at all, once the choosing-time passes us by.
And then the course of history.
The slow grind of time.
When all is lost, and tears flow hard and hot.

And people wonder where their god has gone.
And why now all of this horror.
Because the choosing-time is gone.
You had your chance, but Baal you choose, and so the story goes.

This is not a happy note.
It speaks of God's abandonment.
When God turns her back to all.
And walks away in sorrow.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Nearing the End - from a good friend, Tom Lenert

I've had the pleasure of knowing Tom Lenert since moving to Los Angeles now almost ten years ago. Tom's been an inspiration to me, in so many ways. 

As a boy, 14 years old, it was off to a Roman Catholic Seminary, then studying in Rome for seven years, and then heading a university in the Philippines.

And then love ... marriage ... children and career ... and years of involvement with social causes and the hopes and dreams that everyone has.

Yesterday, April 17, 2017, in our study group, Tom shared these thoughts about life, aging, death and dying - now in his "twilight years" as he says, in his 86th year of life, soon to turn 87.

I think the reader will find his reflections helpful, because they're honest in all regards. In such things, fluff and bluff are not helpful. Tom is the kind of guy, given his keen education and training, who can only speak the truth, as clearly as he can.

Thank you Tom, for your friendship, your inspiration, your thoughtfulness and your witness to the power and goodness of the Christian Faith.


Discussion Paper

Some thoughts, personal observations and several questions

As I approach the twilight years of life, I become more aware of the inevitable end of my earthly existence. I am staring death in the face. As such, I am confronted with many basic questions of life. My body requires more rest. My spirit says get up and exercise but my body says no. It the old story “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” Even my mind is slowing down as my eyes tire and reading becomes more difficult. I often lie awake at night ruminating over my many experiences in life.

Why was I born? Why me? I did not choose to be born!

What am I? Who am I?

Is there some superior being that gave rise to my being?

Does my life have any meaning?

Does God have a plan for my existence? Though I didn’t have any choice in my birth, It seems I must make the best of it.

Have I taken advantage of the many opportunities presented me?

Can I give an accounting of the talents given me?

How many times have I failed to respond to the promptings of conscience?

Awareness of our mortality is unique to human beings. All living sentient beings suffer and ultimately encounter the finality of their corporeal life, but for human beings a kind of reckoning persists. The very fact that I pose such questions suggests that there must be an answer to them, that there is something more to life than this bodily existence. Throughout history there has always been a sense that death is not final, that there is more to life than mere earthly existence. But is there?

Human consciousness allows me to reflect on my existence. Life is a mystery in search of answers.

As I look back on my 86 years of life, I am aware of the vast advances and radical changes that mankind has achieved in fields such as travel, communications, agriculture, medical science, education, understanding of the evolution of the universe and of human life over the span of my lifetime.

As a child, I accepted the biblical history of creation literally. Now our growth in scientific understanding shows that we are the result of billions of years of evolution. Does it still have meaning in this world of change? Beyond its primitive cosmology, I believe there is much wisdom in those chapters of Genesis. Evil exists. Why does God allow it? Man’s innate selfishness is the cause of much of the evil we see in the world. But much of human suffering is due to natural causes. Though the human spirit seems to growing towards a greater sense of justice, yet it remains ambivalent. War among nations, genocide, innocent refugees struggling to survive, hunger, starvation, killing of enemies and theft from those who have more are still commonly chosen means of settling differences. Yes, the problem of evil is great. There seems to be no satisfactory answer. Do you believe in the devil?

As the human spirit expands, our physical bodies remain limited. In spite of the advances of medical science, our bodies wear out with time, our joints become arthritic, our skin loses its texture, cartilage grows thin and our inner organs begin to fail, our hearts grow tired pumping blood until they finally cease to beat. Then the lights go out! But is that all there is? Does the story end there?

One thing I fervently subscribe to is embracing the fact that life without death would be unbearable in our human condition. When the body wears out, the time to welcome death has come. It is the only alternative worth considering. Already at my stage in life, many of my bodily failures are unwelcome and embarrassing facts of life. Flagging eyesight, hardness of hearing, rusty joints, blatter leakage, indigestion, constipation, shortness of breath, difficulty in sleeping, forgetfulness are just a few symptoms of old age that have made themselves painfully obvious of late.

Something within us suggests that there must be something more. Humankind has always shown an understanding of right and wrong, even though studies show a gradual growth in moral sensitivity. The fact that we have consciences and a sense of accountability for our behavior implies that there must be some kind or reckoning. It is obvious that justice is not always attained in this life. Is there a time and place for an accounting in some kind of afterlife?

What about hell as a place for those who die unrepentant of the evil they have done during their lives on earth? May I suggest replacing the concept of hell with the idea of purgatory as a time and place where sinners are cleansed of their sinful ways before being admitted to the company of the saints and the heavenly presence of God? It certainly better suits my idea of God. Eternal banishment from the sight of God seems inconsistent with the belief in a loving, forgiving and merciful God that offers a chance for conversion.

Heaven remains a bit hard to imagine what with the number of heavenly citizens crowded into one place. Does it consist of physical companionship of loved ones living in eternal bliss where suffering, hardship and want are no more, or is it a place of everlasting happiness contemplating the beatific vision of God. These questions defy satisfactory human answers.

Throughout human history we have lived and died fighting personal, tribal and lately national wars to stake out our place in life. In our time, however, there has been a tendency to grow in acceptance of new ways to settle differences. As a child, living in an all-white suburb of Chicago, there were only two Jewish families, and no blacks (they had to be out of town by dark of night). The only Latino people living in town worked for the railroad and they lived in shacks along the tracks at the extreme end of town. Jews were labelled ‘perfidious’ because they failed to recognize the Messiah. In any event, they were considered to be interested only in making money. At that time, the only serious division was the clash between Catholics and Protestants. We were taught that they going to hell because they rejected the one truth faith. Protestants considered us Catholics as unfaithful to and ignorant of the revealed ‘word of God,’ which we replaced with the Baltimore Catechism.

Within our lifetimes, we have witnessed a rapprochement of the various forms of faith. One of the triumphs of the Second Vatican Council was the acknowledgment that the covenant between God and the Chosen People is still valid because God does not go back on his word. Furthermore, that God rejects nothing that is holy in other religions. Today it is my affirmative faith that it is incumbent upon us to be open to dialogue, participation and cooperation with other people of faith by respecting their consciences.

Does life have meaning? Though we did not choose to be born, we still have to face the choice of accounting for the many blessings we have been offered in this life. Facing the inevitable fact of death, we acknowledge that, like life, death is a mystery to be reckoned with. St. Bob Quinn, were you satisfied with the answers you so diligently hoped to learn?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Bless the LORD - Psalm 34

Psalm 34, from the Lectionary ... some thoughts ...

It begins with a blessing, a blessing of the LORD, a blessing to be uttered, contemplated, thought about, "at all times."

If read in isolation from the rest of the Psalm, one might be given to a particular kind of spirituality that lives in dreamy lands and exulted places, far away from the maddening crowd, lost in wonder and lost in praise ... or something like that.

Which, sometimes, is very attractive, as the maddening crowd is just that - maddening. Who doesn't want some escape now and then?

But the Psalm presses on, relentlessly, taking the reader into the world, even as the reader blesses the LORD. The upward gaze, to the LORD, is very quickly matched by a searing awareness of the surrounding world and its times.

vs. 4 - a hint of hard times for the writer, and, yes, the LORD's deliverance.

vs. 6 - "the poor soul" it says - again, hinting at spiritual poverty, harsh times, troubles, and, yes, again, deliverance.

vs. 7 - "angels encamped around," as guardians of the reader, needed guardians, in times of distress, and, yes, again, the note of deliverance.

The Psalm presses on with notes of deliverance and provision. The phrase, "fear of the LORD" occurs - that strange and powerful image of devotion, dedication, allegiance, awe and mystery. To fear the LORD is to cleanse the soul of all other fears, imagined or real ... to set the self before the majesty of sovereign love, a love that will never ever let the reader go; a majesty unto whom all hearts are open, and to whom all belong, with provisions of mercy, without question.

vs. 11 - teaching others ... and the hint of what is to come, "keep your tongue from evil" ... and if one wonders what "evil" may be, the writer clarifies, and speaks of "deceit."

vs. 14 - "depart from evil," that is, an evil tongue (to read the Book of James right now might be appropriate), and all the deceit that characterizes evil ... with then the positive note: "do good," and "seek peace" (which is the opposite of deceit, and then, not only "seek," but pursue ... run after it, don't let it get away, pursue until caught, full-out effort, full speed ahead.

vs 16 - evildoers (those who rely upon deceit to further their own interests) do not fare well ultimately.

vs. 18 - the LORD is near to the broken hearted and those crushed in spirit ... reality ... REALITY ... broken and crushed for good reason, because of the evil, the deceiver, the topsy-turvy times, when evil has its day.

vs. 19 - no laughing matter, no momentary glitch ... "many are the afflictions of the righteous," but rescue is at hand.

vs. 21 - death is given to the wicked, and "those who hate the righteous" ... and why do the wicked hate the righteous? Because the righteous remind the wicked of how wrong they are with their deceit, with their self-serving ways, their lies and corruption. As long as there are good and decent people who love the LORD and pay attention to the needs of others, the wicked will always gnash their teeth (Psalm 37.12) and be angry.

vs. 22 - the final note of the Psalm, deliverance, redemption, great promise for those who take refuge in the LORD, who stand by truth and love, social awareness of the poor; people who are willing to be broken and crushed by the trials of the times, not just personal trials, but the trials of a weary land gone berserk, which happened a good many time in Israel's story.

And so much of this, a hint of what is to come in the preaching of Jesus, his beatitudes, his life, his cross and death ... and the ultimate and final word, deliverance!

Such things, considered at "all times," is what it means to bless the LORD.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Daily Bread and Work

"Give us this day our daily bread" is a prayer for work, employment, a job.

That this prayer is directed to God, the work thus desired has to be godly, conforming to God's purpose - i.e. the welfare of others, the abundance of life, sustenance of body and soul, happiness, safety, well-being, the care of the earth, from the rocks and the trees to the teeming oceans, and all creatures, great and small.

Not all work is godly, and to simply suggest that work is the only thing that counts is a violation of God's purpose for human endeavor (to care for the Garden, and to make the Garden prosper).

The Bible offers a reminder that those who don't work shouldn't eat ... but the target of Paul's words here are not the indigent, the poor, the folks lined up at the market hoping for day-labor ... but rather, I think, the idle, the busybodies - the indolent rich? those who benefit from the system without getting their hands dirty? the mega-rich?

Such folks are not likely to care for the earth, other than whatever pleasures the earth might give to them.

Nor are they given to working with others, but primarily against others, to gain all the more, to be the winner, to be king of the hill.

Which is why the indolent rich have destroyed unions, which promote commonality of purpose, working with and helping one another - we're all in this together, and that's a godly thing to know and to live.

But those who destroy this kind of community, may, indeed, work hard at it, but their labors are in vain, they're sweat, blood and tears, are not given for the wellbeing of humanity, but rather for their own gain, their own status, their own pleasure and profit.

As for the LORD's Prayer and bread and work, it's not just any work, but work that suits God's love and grace ... work that builds up and sustains and protects and empowers.

The indolent rich would offer employment contrary to most or all God's purposes, pitting one worker against another worker, in industries pillaging the environment, creating weapons of mass destruction, reliant on lousy wages, nonexistent benefits ... keeping the employee in a state of constant fear of losing the job, enabling the mentality of enslavement and helplessness - none of which is consistent with God's purpose, all of which must be challenged, and with Moses and with God, telling the pharaohs of the world to "get a job, a real one, something godly and good, and let my people go."

Oh well, just a few thoughts on "give us this day our daily bread."

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Good Friends

I have so many good friends here.
Who share this burden with me.
I do my best to honor them.
With my best efforts to see.

Thank you one and all.
Even those who think I'm nuts.
That's okay and it's all just fine.
No ifs ... ands ... or buts.

I'm a terrible poet, and I know it.
But what fun I have with words.
To touch the heights and plumb the depths.
Keenly sharp, but better than swords.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's Wrong with Evangelicalism?

Evangelicalism needs a good dose of Reformed Theology to correct its self-centeredness.

Which explains, by the way, why so many evangelicals dislike the poor and are quick to render a negative judgment on them as "lazy." A self centered upon itself, it's good works and spiritual devices, always renders a negative judgment of others who, in whatever form of evaluation is used, are somehow less than the person making the assessment. A self-centered life always needs to have "folks below" in order to sustain the illusion of superior value.

Evangelicalism talks endlessly about God's love, but it's really all about how smart evangelicals were to "receive Jesus" and thus be saved by their own decision, their will, their ability to grab the prize offered by God, and hold on it to it.

The whole business of "going forward" at a revival service to get saved advances the ego, creating an attitude of elitism among the "true believers" who bolster one another with ever-intensifying efforts of high-energy worship and prayer, to sustain their sense of power and the rightness of their beliefs.

Such an effort requires living in a bubble, where all who are within are friend, and those without, foe.

And tied into "saving one's soul from hell" confirms the self all the more, as various preachers play upon the fears inherent in human weakness.

Turn this outward to others, and it very quickly becomes a harsh and judgmental attitude that the poor are poor because they're making all the wrong choices, as opposed to said evangelical who made the right choices. That some should be making poor choices only serves to confirm the ego of the evangelical, because in the end, they will be saved for paradise, and others will be sent away to darkness and everlasting death.

Powerfully, clearly, the believer is at the very center of evangelicalism.

Truth be told, in evangelical circles, God plays a relatively small part ... God offers something, or does something good, "like dying for our sins," but to no avail unless someone realizes the error of his or her ways ways and decides to accept Jesus, be baptized, and stay the course.

"Let me tell you all about the day I accepted Jesus ..." goes the evangelical witness, which is a very clever way of maintaining the ego.

Whereas in the Reformed World, it's all about God from A to Z ... God does it all ... not only offering what is supremely good, but enabling the power of faith ... at no point in time, then, can the Reformed Christian speak of "accepting Jesus," but only of how God/Christ has accepted the believer from before the creation of the earth, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, revealing such to the believers and confirming that in the believer's life, protecting the faith, and bringing it to perfection.

From beginning to end, the work of salvation is an operation of grace ... none of it deserved, all of it merciful, all of it rooted in the heart and mind of a loving God, whose love has no boundaries, who loves has said a magnificent Yes to all of creation.

In terms of building community, community built upon gratitude, and the humility of gratitude, there is no firmer foundation. If God has done it all for us, and if we then discover that we love God, and love God's ways, God's ways become our ways, and to everyone around us, we turn the face of love, and will do everything we can to ameliorate suffering and promote the welfare of all, body and soul, and we do this cooperatively, which, of course, means government, the means by which we live together and protect and promote the welfare of society.

This is not simply charity, which mostly serves the ego of the giver, but a systemic effort to create a just and loving society, a society that maintains the means to help the poor, to help everyone and anyone who, for whatever reason, cannot run the race of life as well as others can. And those who the race well, turn with gratitude to God, who enables all of it, and turns toward the other with kindness, and a willingness, indeed, a desire, to share the blessings of life with everyone.

This is the Reformed notion of life and society.

Sadly, the Reformed World lost out in America ... with the Anabaptist/Methodist mode of thought prevailing, wherein the believer remains at the center, by the power of choice, displacing God, moving God to the margins. Such a mode of thought corresponds well with the American self-made-man attitude, the guys and gals who conquered the frontier, got rid of the despised heathens and made America great, in large part, built upon the backs of slaves, who were themselves less than human. The exulted white man, hero and defender of truth, didn't want to hear the message of grace, but rather the message of self-improvement and God's pleasure in those who take the bull by the horns and make this a righteous world. Everything from Billy Sunday to Norman Vincent Peale to Joel Osteen and the mega-rich, mega-churches, promotes the self at the expense of God, and creates the elitist attitude that looks down its nose at the poor, and just about everyone else who is either "too dumb" to make the right choices, or "too rebellious" to care.

Hence the American revival service, which is all about the self - all the noise, the energy, the tears, the loud music, the hellfire and brimstone preaching, dancing and prancing - it's about saving yourself. God has come this far, but it's up to you to go the rest of the way.

The hardness of evangelicalism is rooted in this world-view of God offering, but of the believer choosing, claiming ... so that in the end, salvation is an accomplishment of the self, a work, an achievement of some merit of believer, and given time, this merit soon consumes the whole of the mind and heart. Once this kind of spiritual pride is loosed, there's no stopping it.

God may have provided the way, but it's the believer who chooses it, and, of course, hats off to the believer, then, who was smart enough to make the choice, and smarter still to stay the course.

Evangelicalism is corrupt at its very core by the clever but decisive way it puts and maintains the self at the center.

In the end, evangelicalism has no mercy, because it's god is of limited mercy ... and if there's a screwup, the evangelical god is more than pleased to maintain justice and pronounce the death sentence.

And so the need for a healthy dose of Reformed Theology, a theology that exults the goodness and mercy of God, and God's good work, from A to Z, to save the world - not only the intent of God, but the realization of this work ... indeed, from beginning to end, for God is the Alpha and the Omega, and all along the way, it's God who brings us into fellowship with God, it's God who sustains the relationship, and it's God who brings it to culmination.

Reformed Theology can save the evangelical from the suffocating ego and turn the believer outward with a merciful eye to all who need help ... those who need clothing, good schools, medical care, and all the rest. And with a merciful eye, full of gratitude to God, working with others of good heart and mind, to build a town, a nation, a world where life is given, help is provided and like Micah the Prophet put it:

 God shall judge between many peoples,
      and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
      they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
      nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
      neither shall they learn war any more
       but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
      and no one shall make them afraid;
      for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Disturbing Bible Passage

Today's Lectionary (March 7, 2015) includes Deuteronomy 9.1-12.

As I read it this morning, I was disturbed, seriously disturbed, by the ease with which the writer speaks of "dispossessing" nations, with great cities, well-fortified, "a strong and tall people" ... offspring of the Anakim, i.e., a bastardized race.

But don't be afraid, says the writer, the LORD will go before you so that you may dispossess and destroy them quickly. I chilled when I read those words.

Sure, the writer wants to keep Israel's ego in check by reminding the readers that all of this has nothing to do with their sterling character, but rather God's promise and because these nations are "wicked."

Wicked? You bet. Thus, demonizing a people who are otherwise worthy, strong, creative, talented, with families and farms and hopes and dreams, but they have what we want, and so we're gonna take it, and take it violently, because these people are unworthy to own the land, and besides, they're wicked, because they worship "other" gods, and shame on them, and thus have no right to even exist. Dedicate them for destruction.

I'm in the midst of reading a WW2 novel, featuring a Polish girl held in Ravensbrück and the hideous medical experiments performed on her by another young lady, a German doctor ... who, like all the Nazis, demonized the Poles and other nationalities as "bastardized," half-human, or sub-human, not worthy of life in the Third Reich, and not worthy of life at all.

I think of the Europeans coming to America and looking upon the land as if it were Canaan, and the peoples here were not entitled to this land, because they were "wicked," i.e. they weren't christian.

Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, Nicolas Poussin, 1625
And, then, of course, slavery - millions of good and decent people yanked from their homes, with families broken, put on slave ships and condemned to a brief and brutal life of harvesting sugar cane or cotton.

But it was okay, you see, because the slaves were "wicked," i.e. not christian, and slavery at least saved them from the darkness of their paganism, and in spite of their slavery (because they were not fully human anyway), this gave them a chance to become christians and go to heaven when they died. That they should live in hell here is fitting, because of their sub-human character and their history of wickedness.

Jesus offers some serious alternatives to this bloody self-justification that to this day undergirds the State of Israel's abuse of Palestinians and America's continuing racism, homophobia, and, as of late, Islamophobia.

And, of course, all of this "dispossession and destruction" of peoples is undergirded by religion, because people doing horrible things to other people need to feel "good" about it, and no greater "feel-good" potion than religion, when twisted and turned to self-interest.

Sure, it's a human problem, spread around the globe and defining virtually all of human history.

But I can't accept any of it, because of what I know of Christ, and because of Christ, it's something that I have to fight against, with all that I have, of mind, body, spirit and strength.

Because God so loved the world ... and in Christ, reconciles the world to God, and the world to itself.

Passages like Deuteronomy have to be soundly and quickly denounced for what they are: lies that we tell one another to justify the most brutal of behaviors toward one another.

And as for me, God never said it ...

Or if God did, then God apologized in Christ ... God got out of the land business, for it sullied God's hands, and filled God with self-loathing, as this kind of behavior always does.

If God said it, then God no longer says it.

If God never said it, then we have to come to grips with the sad that truth that we said it, and still say it, "creating god in our own image," to satisfy our bloodlust and justify our inhuman treatment of other humans, deemed unworthy and wicked.

Christians have to read the text carefully, and so must Jews and Muslims ... every sacred text has more than its share of bloodlust, but also of love and the grandeur of mind and heart ... to either pick up the sword and kill one another in some fit of self-interest, believing that god justifies this violence, or turn the sword into a plowshare, so we can feed one another unto life.

The choice is ours. May we choose wisely.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Blessed are those who ...

A bit of bite in all of this ...
Doesn't take much to see ...
That Jesus put forth reality ...
Kingdom kind.

Mourning ... and not just for the privations of death.
But the spiritual mourning of lament.
The sadness one feels when things just ain't right.
Not so much for me, but for someone else.

And righteousness.
Well, it ain't about cussin' and drinkin'.
It's about bigger things.
Throw the greedy ones out of the temple kind of things.

And peace.
Oh, give me a break.
From all this inner peace crap.
But the peace of goodness.

So kids can go to school and teachers can teach.
And cemeteries are honored.
And people of faith are respected.
Even when that faith ain't yours.

Yeah, big things here ...
As I see it ...
It would be great if Jesus had kept it small ...
Then I could nod my head and find inner peace.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stands firmly with undocumented immigrants and their families in opposition to the wave of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in migrant communities and the threats posed by the new Department of Homeland Security memos that pave the way for mass deportation. Click HERE to register for a Webinar on expanding the Sanctuary Movement next Wednesday, March 1!
As a faith community called to “seek justice and defend the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17), we are deeply disturbed by these actions. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has affirmed its support for immigrants many times. The 221stGeneral Assembly (2014) affirmed the formation of the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative,[1] a campaign to “empower Presbyterians to work to change policies and practices that infringe on the human and civil rights of immigrants in our communities including immigrant detention, streamlined deportation, and the executing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by local law enforcement.”
According to government officials, a series of raids over the past weeks led to the arrests of at least 683 undocumented community members and targeted people who faced criminal charges.  These actions did not represent a major change from Obama administration policies. But immigrants, their advocates and lawyers say that many people without criminal records also were taken, spreading fear in cities and counties that are home to many foreign-born people.  The intention to focus on immigrants with criminal convictions has the impact of criminalizing the entire immigrant community. Undocumented immigrants may have an immigration related conviction or they may have been targeted by a policing system that is racially biased and unnecessarily focused on low-income people of color. Even more troubling is the administration’s guidelines that grant law enforcement agencies broad latitude about whom to arrest and approval to target a broad portion of the undocumented population for deportation.  
We would like to lift up in prayer the arrest and detention of DACA recipient, or “DREAMer,” Daniel Ramirez. Beneficiaries of the DACA program like Daniel have been promised a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit, paid nearly $500 in fees every two years, passed a background check and met a number of other requirements. Within the faith community, we believe in transformation and forgiveness.  Even if someone has made a past mistake we do not believe that  they should be deported and separated from their family. Daniel is a father of a 3 year old, is falsely accused of being a gang member, and belongs with his family in Seattle. Sign HERE to petition for his release. 
One of the most powerful ways churches can act in solidarity in this moment is to join the Sanctuary Movement. To learn more about the process of providing sanctuary, please join the OPW for a webinar on Wednesday, March 1 at 3:30 pm EST. Click HERE to register, and share this invitation widely! If you can’t attend the webinar but would like to be involved, click HERE for a list of resources and background on the Sanctuary Movement.
In Faith We Share,
Rev. Jimmie Hawkins

[1] “On Recognizing the Presbyterian Immigrant Defense Initiative to Affirm and Promote the Civil and Human Rights of Immigrants in Our Communities—From the Presbytery of Central Florida.”
Approved by the 221st General Assembly (2014).

Judge Not

"Judge not" is a good word, spoken by none other than Jesus himself. With the proviso, "lest ye be judged."

Which is a good thing, both to be judged by God, and then, with all sincerity and whatever shreds of integrity we can gather around ourselves from the bits and pieces of life, to render judgment.

Here's the full text of the Matthew 5 passage:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with thejudgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you givewill be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out ofyour eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, firsttake the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly totake the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Judgment, as Bonhoeffer did ... a slow and arduous process ... but called for by the very nature of history.

From his book, "Ethics,"

The responsible man acts in the freedom of his own self, without the support of men, circumstances or principles, but with a due consideration for the given human and general conditions and for the relevant questions of principle. The proof of his freedom is the fact that nothing can answer for him, nothing can exonerate him, except his own deed and his own self. It is he himself who must observe, judge, weigh up, decide and act. It is man himself who must examine the motives, the prospects, the value and the purpose of his action. But neither the purity of the motivation, nor the opportune circumstances, nor the value, nor the significant purpose of an intended undertaking can become the governing law of his action, a law to which he can withdraw, to which he can appeal as an authority, and by which he can be exculpated and acquitted. For in that case he would indeed no longer be truly free. The action of the responsible man is performed in the obligation which alone gives freedom and which gives entire freedom, the obligation to God and to our neighbour as they confront us in Jesus Christ. At the same time it is performed wholly within the domain of relativity, wholly in the twilight which the historical situation spreads over good and evil; it is performed in the midst of the innumerable perspectives in which every given phenomenon appears. …. … responsible action is a free venture; it is not justified by any law; it is performed without any claim to a valid self-justification, and therefore also without any claim to an ultimate valid knowledge of good and evil. Good, as what is responsible, is performed in ignorance of good and in the surrender to God of the deed which has become necessary and which is nevertheless, or for that very reason, free; for it is God who sees the heart, who weighs up the deed, and who directs the course of history.

None of us can escape the judgment of God, and none of us can eschew making judgments about the people we know, or hear about ... judgments not made hastily, or without deliberate consideration and humility, or without regard for God's judgment upon our own life - what we value and how we conduct ourselves.

When reminded by others about judgment (which is a good thing of which to be reminded), I remind them that all the writers of Scripture rendered judgment on others ... and made it clear that there are boundaries, rules of engagement, doctrines, ideas that define the heart and soul of faith ... and there are those who take license with such things, who, for devious reasons, alter the "truth of Christ" and create "another gospel."

In 2 Corinthians 2.17, Paul writes:

For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.


Rather a stunning judgment, would you not say?

Yet Paul had all the right in the world to render such judgment, not because he was always right, but because of his labor of love, his learning and experience, his determination to set people free from the horrible superstitions and moral codes of so much religion. I'm not suggesting that Paul was always right, but I'll take Paul anytime, even if a grain of salt is sometimes required.

So ... Paul makes it clear: he's not a "peddler of God's Word" ... but, rather, someone who speaks with sincerity as a person sent from God.

Huge claim for himself.

But in a world of all sorts of competing ideas, Paul took a stand.

So did Moses and Jeremiah and Peter and down through the ages, folks like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Huss and Wycliffe, Luther and Calvin ... and of our own time, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa or Pope Francis on poverty and justice and immigrants.

It's this, and not that.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King makes is clear, abundantly clear, what he refuses:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction

And then offers a litany of what he believes:

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow. I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men. I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!

And that's a judgment ... so help us God.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Forum, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, Feb . 19, 2017

Feb. 19, 2017 Forum,

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
December 10, 1964

When Laura approached about what I’d like to do with this series, it didn’t take me long to choose this piece of it, with its focus on two remarkable prophets, and how two “simple” verses were woven into Dr. King’s acceptance speech.

The Peaceful Kingdom
Isaiah 11
1      A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
      and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2      The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
      the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
      the spirit of counsel and might,
      the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3      His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
      He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
      or decide by what his ears hear;
4      but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
      and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
      he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
      and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5      Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
      and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6      The wolf shall live with the lamb,
      the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
      the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
      and a little child shall lead them.
7      The cow and the bear shall graze,
      their young shall lie down together;
      and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8      The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
      and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9      They will not hurt or destroy
      on all my holy mountain;
      for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
      as the waters cover the sea.

Peace and Security through Obedience
Micah 4
1      In days to come
      the mountain of the LORD’S house
      shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
      and shall be raised up above the hills.
      Peoples shall stream to it,
2      and many nations shall come and say:
      “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
      to the house of the God of Jacob;
      that he may teach us his ways
      and that we may walk in his paths.”
      For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
      and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
3      He shall judge between many peoples,
      and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
      they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
      and their spears into pruning hooks;
      nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
      neither shall they learn war any more;
4      but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
      and no one shall make them afraid;
      for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.
5      For all the peoples walk,
      each in the name of its god,
      but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God
      forever and ever.

*The film clip …*

Both Isaiah (the text for today) and Micah (737-696 bce) are 8th Century Prophets, a time wherein the Judean Kings were at their greatest level of power in a kingdom now divided.

After Solomon’s death, his son, Rehoboam, assumed the throne and issued a number of mean-spirited “executive orders” (1 Kings 12.6-11) and so the Kingdom split into Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) … ultimately the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria (722 bce) and the Southern, or Judah, fell to Babylon (587 bce) and led to the “Babylonia Captivity.”

The Northern and Southern Kingdoms were often enemies and combatants. After Israel’s fall (the remnant of which was know in the New Testament as Samaritans (treated by the Jews {Judeans} as half-breeds and spiritually defective). 

Jesus, himself, from the “northern” area, while not a Samaritan, was still considered an outsider to the true land of Judah that saw itself as the pure expression of faith and blood.

By the time of the 8th Century, Israel was gone, so the prophets in our purview are directing their thoughts to the Southern Kingdom, i.e. Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem. 

The prophets grew in influence as the kings/queens grew in power, along with their religious support staff (ha!) … the prophets challenged the kings/queens and the priestly guild of Jerusalem, with all of its pomp and circumstance and its enormous wealth (certainly the case which Jesus addresses time and again). The prophets were bold, frequently in trouble, accused of treason and heresy, suggesting that if Judah continued on its way, it would all end badly.

Yet the prophets also looked to better days … days of peace and prosperity … the peaceable kingdom wherein opposing realities would come together and people were no longer prepping for war, but for peace, and would thus experience a great sense of safety and comfort - not just psychologically or spiritually, but materially, with everyone enjoying their own figs and vines.

All of this and more was in the mind and heart of Dr. King, a man of the Bible, engaged intelligently (as opposed to ideologically, or literally) with the text, and with theologians who tackled the vast social questions and systemic systems of the day, as well as the personal matters that so occupied evangelicalism (i.e. swearing, drinking, dancing, smoking, card playing, theater attendance) … on these good thinkers, like Paul Tillich, Dr. King built his ideas, his resistance and his blueprint for a just society, upon their work, and that of the Prophets, and the Prophet we honor in life and faith, Jesus of Nazareth.

Gandhi, and others, too, were influential … those who worked for peace, but never at the expense of justice, those who saw life in all of its wholeness … and for his work, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and for his work, his faith, his vision, we honor him today.