Friday, April 30, 2010

A Good Sign (Sine)

Tom Sine is a name I have known for nearly thirty years, so I am looking forward to hearing him speak, and to meeting him, this evening (Apr. 30). Dr. Sine is the guest speaker/leader at the special event called “Re-Imagine 2010-2020: Re-Imagining Life, Church and Mission,” which Second Baptist Church, of which June and I are members, is having this evening and tomorrow.

Sine (b. 1936) first became widely known after the publication of his book The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World in 1981. He has written several other significant books since then, including Mustard Seed vs. McWorld: Reinventing Life and Faith for the Future (1999) and his latest book, The New Conspirators: Creating the Future One Mustard Seed at a Time (2008).

Tom Sine and his wife, Christine, live in the Mustard Seed House (MSH) in Seattle. Their website says that MSH is “an inter-generational neo-monastic, intentional Christian community” made up of people who want to live “the values of God’s Kingdom.” The Sines are also founders of Mustard Seed Associates (MSA), “a community of Jesus’ followers all over the world striving to create the future one mustard seed at a time.”

I was very favorable impressed with my recent reading of The New Conspirators, and I especially thought the last part of the book was good. That last section includes chapters titled “Reimagining Whole-Life Stewardship,” “Reimagining Whole-Life Community,” and “Reimagining Whole-Life Mission.”

In the latter chapter Dr. Sine contends that in response to the challenges Christians are now facing, “we must resolve, by the power of God, to become whole-life disciples and whole-life communities committed to placing God’s mission purposes at the center of our lives and churches, giving compassionate, creative and celebrative expression to that world [God’s kingdom] that is already here” (p. 277).

I earnestly hope that more and more of us 2BC church members, as well as more and more Christians across the country and around the world, will resolutely make such a resolve.

For our church, which celebrates its 167th anniversary in May, to be having this “Re-Imagine 2010-2020” activity and to be listening to an outstanding guest speaker/leader today and tomorrow is truly, I think, a good sign (Sine). 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Myths About Socialism

It’s amazing what some people believe about the President. As reported in the current issue of Harper’s magazine, a January survey indicated that 24% of the Republicans in the country said President Obama “wants the terrorists to win.” Writing for the March 24 issue of U.S. News and World Report, Robert Schlesinger reports that a recent poll indicated that 57% of Republicans think the President is a Muslim and about one in four suspect that he is the Antichrist!
As indicated in my last posting, one of the persistent charges against the President is that he is leading the country toward socialism. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll as reported in the April 14 issue of the NY Times, 92% of the Tea Party backers “believe Mr. Obama is moving the country toward socialism, an opinion shared by more than half of the general public.”
As I indicated in my previous posting, it might be a positive thing for vast numbers of people if the country did move more toward socialism. But there is little indication that the country has, in fact, moved very far in that direction. On April 10, Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University, New Orleans, posted “Nine Myths about Socialism in the US” on “Bill Quigley’s Blog.”
Quigley compared the U.S. with the thirty countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He says that when one looks at how the U.S. compares to the thirty OECD countries, “the hot air myths about the US government going all out towards socialism sort of disappear into thin air.” (For those who are interested, you can read about the nine myths here.)
Quigley’s conclusion: “Despite what the right wing folks are saying, the US is not on the path towards socialism.” Then he adds, “But if socialism means the US would go down the path of being more generous with our babies, our children, our working families, our pregnant mothers, and our sisters and brothers across the world, I think we could all appreciate it.”**
So, while some people charge the President with leading the country toward socialism, seeing that as a very negative thing, the facts seem to show the U.S. is a long ways from socialism at this point—and for many people who are hurting now that may be the bad news rather than the good news.
** You may be interested to know that Quigley, who teaches Social Justice Lawyering and other courses at Loyola, was awarded the Pope Paul VI Teacher of Peace Award in 2003. The first person to be given that award by Pax Christi was Dorothy Day in 1978, and other recipients include Daniel Berrigan (1989), Joan Chittister (1990), and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (1991). You may not be familiar with the latter name, but he was the bishop interviewed briefly by Michael Moore in Capitalism: A Love Story.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Who Loves Capitalism?

My previous posting was about income tax, and I am continuing to think about economic matters in this article. Just the evening before Tax Day, June and I watched Michael Moore’s 2009 movie “Capitalism: A Love Story.” We thought it was a good movie. But there are those who not only don’t like it, they hate it.
I was a bit surprised that the movie included brief comments by a retired Catholic bishop from Detroit and two other Catholic priests, who were all quite negative in their comments about capitalism. But through the years there has been a rather long line of prominent Christians, Protestants as well as Catholics, who have been critical of capitalism.
As you know, those who are conservative politically are strong opponents of President Obama, and there has been a steady stream of criticism calling him a socialist and decrying his leading the country into socialism (or even Communism). His pushing for the healthcare reform bill, of course, has been one of the main reasons for that attack. And, in fact, the President is probably just one of many prominent politicians who are somewhat critical of capitalism.
In the previous posting, I mentioned Ronald Dellums, the current mayor of Oakland (CA). He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1998, and he was the first openly socialist congressperson since World War II. Although I have known of him since the early 1970s because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, I did not know until recently that he is a democratic socialist. But I was not surprised when I learned that.
Are you aware that BernardBernie” Sanders (1941), the junior U.S. Senator from Vermont serving in his third year, also describes himself as a democratic socialist? He is said to be the first open socialist to serve in the Senate. There are, of course, many others, mostly liberal Democrats, who are regularly charged with being socialists. And maybe a number of them are democratic socialist sympathizers. But is should that be considered a bad thing?
If even half of the things Michael Moore says about capitalism are true—and probably more than half are, in fact, true—then it seems to me that followers of Jesus Christ ought to be among the leaders of those seeking an alternative economic system, or at least modification of the present capitalistic system.
Thankfully, there have been some modifications through the years. Michael Harrington (1928-89) was one of the outstanding socialist scholars in the twentieth century. Perhaps his most influential book was The Other America: Poverty in the United States (1962), a work that had an impact on the Kennedy administration and on Johnson’s subsequent “war on poverty.”
So, who loves capitalism? Primarily, those who have capital. And it probably can be said that, in general, the more capital one has, the more that person loves capitalism. But there is little love for capitalism by most of those who live in “the other America,” and also by those who are most concerned for people living in poverty.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thoughts about Income Tax

Well, today is the day, the day by which we USAmericans have to file our annual income tax return. I hope all of you who were required to do so have, or will before the day is over, get your filing done. (Some of my Thinking Friends are not USAmericans, so this posting may be of limited interest to them.)
Yesterday I sent in June’s and my tax forms via the Internet, and we had to pay nearly $5,000 more than we had already paid. But I was not altogether unhappy to make this payment, for there are a lot of needy people who are helped by the government each year, and I consider our tax payment primarily for their benefit.
As a pacifist, I do not like to pay taxes to support the U.S. military, and I especially don’t like to pay taxes to cover the expenses of the preemptive war against Iraq, which I consider an unjust war. So I am quite unhappy about my tax money going for that.
Years ago I toyed with the idea of being a tax resister, refusing to pay the portion of the federal tax that was used for war. Through the years there have been people who did that, and I admire their courage and consistency—but I have not able to do the same thing. Still, I am attracted by the idea and am happy that some are still working for a “peace tax fund.”
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund is a not-for-profit organization which advocates for passage of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (RFPTFB). In April of last year, Rep. John Lewis (Dem., GA), along with eighteen cosponsors, introduced the RFPTFB as H.R. 2085 in the 111th Congress. If passed by Congress, this legislation would establish a governmental trust fund into which designated conscientious objectors would be able to pay their full federal income taxes.
In 1972 Rep. Ronald Dellums (Dem., CA) introduced the first Peace Tax Fund Act in Congress. (Dellums is currently the mayor of Oakland, CA.) And since 1982, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, a coalition of groups from across the U.S., has continued to provide information and support to people involved in or considering some form of war tax resistance.
But until the (unlikely) time comes that income tax can be diverted from support of the military, I will just have to consider that, whereas some people are glad to support the Pentagon but resent their tax money being used for people on welfare, my taxes are mainly going to help people who need, and receive, assistance from the government.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"Jessie"

I don’t usually read novels twice. But I decided to make an exception for Jessie (1993), a novel written by pastor/professor/theologian/author John Killinger. I first read Jessie in the 1990s and recently read it again, finishing it on Easter Sunday as planned. (As it turned out, about the only thing I remembered about the book was that it ended with events that occurred on Easter.)
I was not disappointed in this second reading, although there is much in the book that is somewhat incredulous. Jessie is the name of the thirtyish women who is the central character of the book, and she is very much a Christ figure, in spite of the gender difference. In fact, the idea of gender equality is one of the main themes of the book, and Jessie elicits strong opposition because of that emphasis.
Here are quotes from the novel that I thought were worthy of inclusion in my diary/journal: Early in the book Jessie says, “God is not like a medicine you have to take. God is the sum of everything good and clean and pure and wonderful about the world” (p. 25). Throughout, Jessie calls God Baba, her childhood name for God which she continues to use all her life. At the very end of the book she remarks, “Baba is love overcoming hate and darkness and prejudice and everything that stands in the way of love. One day, Baba will have conquered everything and all the hate and darkness will be expelled” (pp. 287-8).
Jessie very much lived by, and expressed, the resurrection principle that I wrote about in my previous posting—and that is one reason I like the book so much.
Dr. Killinger (b. 1933) has written more than sixty books. Jessie was his first novel, and he has written only one other novel. A former pastor in Baptist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches, he also taught for fifteen years at Vanderbilt Divinity School and was Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Samford University in Birmingham. He is now retired and living in Virginia.

Dr. Killinger’s newest book is If Christians Were Really Christian, published in October of last year, and I have just started reading it on my Kindle. I don’t know yet how he will develop that topic. But I do know that in his novel Jessie, Dr. Killinger depicts a woman who really lived as a Christian. That’s another reason I like the book and recommend it. But even more, thinking about Jessie—and about Dorothy Day, whom I wrote about recently—makes me want to become more Christlike in the way I live.

I wonder if any of you, my Thinking Friends, have read any of Dr. Killinger’s books or have heard him speak. If so, I would enjoy hearing your impressions. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Resurrection Principle

On this morning after Easter Sunday, I hope you are energized by the celebration of new life at this auspicious time of the year and by the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the pivotal point of the Christian faith.
My new book, The Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism, should be released next month. In it, one of my criticisms of liberalism is related to its understanding of the resurrection of Jesus. Here is an excerpt about that:
John Shelby Spong [a retired Episcopal bishop and widely-known contemporary liberal Christian] writes about the resurrection of Jesus as occurring in Galilee, rather than in Jerusalem. That is because there was nothing “objective” that happened in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified and buried. The “resurrection” was only something subjective that happened in the hearts and minds of the apostles who had fled to Galilee. Spong and other liberals talk about resurrection, to be sure, but it is a watered-down resurrection, one devoid of any factuality or any “taint” of the miraculous—expect in the sense that the Apostles “miraculously” experienced the spiritual presence and ongoing influence of the crucified Christ in their hearts as they were imbued with new faith and courage to carry on the teachings of the Jesus movement.
On the other hand, I also reject the over-literalness of some fundamentalist views of the resurrection. There is a tendency on the theological right to emphasize the historicity of the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus so much that its significance for our daily lives today is largely lost.
More than once I have preached an Easter sermon titled “The Resurrection Principle,” emphasizing the practical difference the resurrection makes (or could or should make) in our lives today, if we live by the resurrection principle. That principle emphasizes that life overcomes death, love overcomes hate and indifference, hope overcomes despair, and joy overcomes sorrow. These affirmations are all grounded in a firm belief in the actuality of Jesus’ resurrection, and they make a huge difference in the living of our daily lives.
Regardless of what happened on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion, the effects of the resurrection principle in our lives today are of great importance. But if nothing factual or objective happened on that first Easter morning, aren't the effects of the resurrection principle little more than wish-fulfillment? Are our affirmations of life, love, hope, and joy based on an actual event, or are they only fanciful fabrications? I firmly believe they are rooted in a real occurrence and not merely in subjective experiences.
On this day after Easter, it is my prayer that on the basis of the good news about Jesus Christ all of us can affirm the resurrection principle and will, accordingly, truly rejoice and enthusiastically celebrate life, love, hope, and joy.