Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year of Resistance

Not many hours from now, the world will welcome in a new year, 2017. At midnight, when I intend to be fast asleep, people at parties and in public places will be exclaiming, Happy New Year! For people in Japan and other parts of Asia, that will already have happened by the time this is posted.
So, I join in wishing you a Happy New Year! But especially to those of you in the U.S. and of like mind, my greeting is this: Happy New Year of Resistance! 

Concerns about the Trump Administratio

Soon after the presidential election in November, several times I said, Things won’t be as bad as most of Trump’s strongest opponents think, but they will be a lot worse than most of his supporters think. I still believe that will prove to be the case. 

But given the PEOTUS’s picks for his closest advisors and his Cabinet, many things may be pretty bad—especially for discriminated-against people and for the environment.

Concerns about Trump’s Nominees

Many people are justifiably considered these nominees/appointees, such as the following:
Rex Tillerson – Nominee for Secretary of State – CEO of ExxonMobil and with close ties to Vladimir Putin as well as with large financial interests in countries around the world.
Jeff Sessions – Nominee for Attorney General – Senator from Alabama who has a long history of opposition to civil rights and was once blocked from a judgeship because of racist statements.
Andy Puzder – Nominee for Secretary of Labor – CEO of CKE Restaurants; among other things, he is an opponent of raising the minimum wage.
Rick Perry – Nominee for Secretary of the Department of Energy – Even though he temporary forgot the name of it, in a Republican primary debate in 2011 Perry said he wanted to do away with the DoE.
Betsy DeVos – Nominee for Secretary of Education – Businesswoman who advocates private schools; her support for vouchers, including for Christian schools, is a threat to the separation of church and state.
Scott Pruitt – Nominee for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; he wrote in a May 2016 article that the global warming debate “is far from settled.” He adds, “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”
Steve Bannon – Appointed as Trump’s Chief Strategist; until recently he was executive chair of Breitbart News, which he claimed was the platform of the Internet-based alt-right.
Leading the resistance
There are various groups working on resisting problems that will probably become explicit under the new Administration. The Sojourners, a group I have learned from and supported for 45 years, is one such group. I encourage you to take a look at this article: “10 Commitments of Resistance in the Trump Era.” 
Two of the best books I have read this year are by Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers, pastor of the Mayflower Congregational UCC Church in Oklahoma City. His stimulating book The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus was published in 2012.
Meyer’s book Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance was published last year. It was based on his Lyman Beecher Lectures at Yale Divinity School in 2013.
Those two books were written before the Nov. 2016 election, of course, but they are especially relevant now.
I also recommend careful consideration of “Joining the resistance: A 100-day counter-agenda for the Church” (see here) by Rev. Dr. Cody Sanders, pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church in Massachusetts.
These are but a few of the individuals/groups leading efforts of resistance to injustice and the political misuse of power. Let’s join together in this important endeavor. 
Happy New Year of Resistance!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Folly of Christmas

Yesterday was Christmas Day. Just like five years ago it was Sunday, an especially good day for family and friends to get together and to enjoy a festive time. But, oddly, Christmas on Sunday isn’t a particularly a good day for churches.
Most churches had scaled back activities yesterday, and some even had expanded Christmas Eve programs and no services on Sunday.
A foolish claim?
This article, though, is not about the folly of Christmas Day being on Sunday. It is about the folly of Christmas itself—and I am writing this partly as an extension of my previous blog article titled “In Praise of Folly.”
When you get right down to it, isn’t the Christian claim that God Almighty chose to send the Savior of the world as a baby born in humble circumstances in a sparsely settled place in the world a rather foolish one?
Walking where Jesus walked
In the summer of 2015, I went with my daughter Karen to Israel/Palestine. Our first time there, we greatly enjoyed traveling in a rental car from Tel Aviv to Nazareth—and then to Tiberius on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum on the north bank of that beautiful sea, down the east side of that sea to the Dead Sea, and then on to the fascinating city of Jerusalem.
Our time in the “Holy Land” was certainly interesting and enjoyable. For me, though, it was not a time of great religious impact—in a positive sense at least.
People who lead, and especially tourist agencies who sell, tours to Israel encourage people to join in their “inspirational journey” in order to have a “life-changing” experience by “walking where Jesus walked” (words from a travel website).
That wasn’t exactly what I experienced.
I visited the Church of the Nativity, the large, ancient building over the place in Bethlehem where Jesus supposedly was born. We also visited Nazareth Village, a reconstruction of what Jesus’ boyhood neighborhood looked like—and quite near to where he probably lived.
At Capernaum we walked on the seashore where Jesus called his first disciples. We then drove up the big hill north of that small town to where Jesus delivered what is called the Sermon on the Mount. Later that week we saw where Jesus was crucified and visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Jesus was buried and then resurrected three days later.
The foolishness of God
It was particularly in Nazareth and Capernaum that questions began to rise in my mind. Why would God choose such a remote, provincial, unsophisticated place as Nazareth to be the Savior’s hometown and an insignificant, out-of-the-way town like Capernaum to be the place for him to begin his ministry?
An even greater question is this: Why would Christ become a human being at all? 
As Erasmus expressed it in The Praise of Folly, Christ “became a fool when taking upon him the nature of man” (Wilson trans.; Kindle loc. 1256). The reference there, of course, is to Philippians 2:6-8, the basis for what biblical scholars refer to as kenotic theology, which explains the eternal Christ emptying himself to become a human.
The Apostle Paul’s answer, though, which Erasmus also quotes, is this: “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25).
Yes, it was through the folly of the first Christmas that the Savior came into the world. On this day after Christmas, we each one are challenged to grasp the great significance of the “foolishness” of Christ’s birth—and to live our lives accordingly. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In Praise of Folly

The word “folly” doesn’t have a very good reputation. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “lack of good sense; foolishness,” or, secondly, as “a foolish act, idea, or practice.”
It is somewhat surprising, then, that a man who has been called one of Europe’s “most famous and influential scholars” of the 16th century is the author of a book titled In Praise of Folly.
Introducing Erasmus
That man, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam (in South Holland), was born around 550 years ago (probably in 1466), and died 480 years ago, in July 1536.
Erasmus is not currently widely known by the general public, but Samuel W. Crompton closes his book Desiderius Erasmus (2004) with this assertion: “Arguably, Erasmus was the greatest intellectual of the sixteenth century—and perhaps of any other” (p. 76)—and Crompton states that Erasmus’ book, written in Latin and sometimes titled The Praise of Folly in English, has been “one of the most widely read books of all human history” (p. 35).
Considering Folly
Erasmus’s brilliant book is multifaceted. It begins with Folly speaking as a woman “dressed in cap and bells to signify her foolishness.” In Crompton’s words, she explains that “the world would not turn, people would not marry, and there would be no future generations of humans were it not for her gift to the world.” 

Indeed, “Who would be so rash as to marry if he knew what it might entail, and who would ever allow herself to become pregnant if she could foretell the arduous work ahead” (pp. 35-36).
I certainly can resonate with that. It, perhaps, was because of Folly that June and I married when I was still 18 years old and that our first child was born on my 20th birthday. What foolishness!
Still, I have never for a moment regretted either of those momentous events—so I join with Erasmus in praise of folly.
Much of Erasmus’s book, though, is satire and criticism of the political and religious situation of his day. In this work published in 1511, six years before Luther’s severe questioning of the Catholic Church’s use (sale) of indulgences, Folly spoke out against “the cheat of pardons and indulgences.”
The fourth and last part of the book goes on to take “a quiet, subdued, but unmistakable defense of the Christian faith” (p. 41).
Praising Folly
In that concluding part of his erudite book, Erasmus cites numerous Bible passages which seem to praise folly or foolishness. He especially focuses on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, such as “We are fools for Christ's sake” (1 Cor. 4:10; cited at loc. 1233 in the free Kindle version of The Praise of Folly, translated by John Wilson).
(For you who want to explore this theme, I recommend a careful reading of 1 Cor. 1:18-31 and 4:9-13. I also suggest that there is a way to understand the meaning of the cross that is decidedly different from the “evangelical” view that interprets it primarily as Jesus’ penal substitution for sinners.)
It is amazing that a book written over 500 years ago is still in print—and with two Kindle versions published this year! But such is the nature of classics: they continue to speak.
If Erasmus were writing today, my guess is he would castigate the folly of the PEOTUS and his Cabinet picks.
On the other hand, Erasmus would no doubt praise the folly/”foolishness” of those, including many sincere followers of Christ, who are resisting—and will continue to resist—the questionable stances of the coming new Administration in Washington.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Happy Bill of Rights Day!

Well, the title of this article is a greeting you don’t usually hear, I assume. But on December 15, 1941, President Roosevelt proclaimed that day as Bill of Rights Day, and it has been so designated ever since.
That first Bill of Rights Day, instituted just eight days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was on the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights—and that was 225 years ago today.
The Bill of Rights Ratified
When the U.S. Constitution was approved by Congress in 1787, there were some who were not in favor of its passage. They thought the new Constitution did not adequately guarantee the freedoms or rights of individual citizens. 

James Madison subsequently drafted twelve amendments to the Constitution. They were passed by Congress in September 1789.
Ten of those amendments were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, when Virginia ratified them, making the necessary three-fourths of the 13 states to do so. Those ten amendments, as you know, have been popularly known through the years as the Bill of Rights.
The first of the two amendments that were not ratified would have established how members of the House of Representatives would be apportioned to the states, but that matter seems to have been covered adequately in the Constitution itself (see Art. 1, Sec. 2, Para. 3).
The other amendment not approved by 1791 actually became the 27th, and most recent, Amendment, when it was ratified in 1992. It prohibits any law that increases or decreases the salary of members of Congress from taking effect until the start of the next set of terms of office for Representatives.
The Bill of Rights Disputed 
After all these years, aspects of the Bill of Rights are discussed, and disputed, almost weekly. 

Nearly everyone knows that the First Amendment guarantees freedoms of religion, speech, and the press. It also gives citizens the right to assemble peacefully and to petition the government for changes. But what, specifically, is guaranteed? 

For example, are conservative Christians guaranteed the freedom to speak out against homosexuality and gay marriage? Some of them claim their religious liberty is endangered by laws giving LGBTQ people equality and making speaking out against them “hate speech.” 

And then what about burning the American flag? On 5:55 a.m. on Nov. 29 PEOTUS Trump tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” 

The Supreme Court, however, has twice (in 1989 and in 1990) affirmed the right to desecrate the American flag as a form of free speech as protected by the First Amendment. 

The Second Amendment, of course, has over the past several years been a matter of even more contention. As I have written about that before (see especially this Jan. 2013 article), perhaps there is little reason to write much more about that here. 

The words of that Amendment—“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”—seem straightforward and rather clear (in spite of the questionable use of commas). But as you know, they have been vociferously debated in recent years. 
The Bill of Rights Affirmed
In spite of the disputes, which seem largely contrived and unnecessary, the Bill of Rights is a remarkable and praiseworthy part of the U.S. Constitution. All of us citizens of the U.S. should be grateful for the protection of personal freedoms guaranteed by those first 10 Amendments.
So once again I say to you USAmericans, “Happy Bill of Rights Day!”

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Can We Trust the Media?

“I have about as much faith in our media as I do in the fairy godmother!”
It was with some consternation that I read those words in an email message from a boyhood friend and a devout conservative Christian with whom I have often exchanged emails in recent years.
What about the media, though? Can we trust it?
The media under attack
It is quite evident that here in the U.S the media has been under attack in recent years. The President-elect was, and continues to be, quite critical of the media—but then he won the election perhaps partly because of all the free publicity he got from the media.
Talk radio and other right-wing commentators regularly criticize the mainstream (or “lamestream”) media, claiming that there is a definite, and despicable, left-wing bias. Conversely, from the left there is frequent denigration of Fox News.
In addition there is the perplexing problem of the proliferation of media sources that promotes the polarization of the public. Consider, for example, “Modern Media Has Turned the USA Into the Divided States of America,” which was posted (here) this year on July 4. 

The media under control
Last month June and I attended (for the third or fourth time) the Bennett Forum on the Presidency, sponsored annually by the Truman Library Institute. This year’s panel featured Douglas Brinkley, Jane Mayer, and David von Drehle.
Mayer pointed out that “media” is closely related to the word/concept “mediate,” and one problem in the current political climate is that the President-elect doesn’t want there to be intermediates. Thus, he often communicates directly to the public, bypassing the media, by means of Twitter.
On Dec. 5 the President-elect tweeted, “If the press would cover me accurately & honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’ Sadly, I don't know if that will ever happen!”
Then on Dec. 7 Trump said tweeting was better “than dealing with dishonest reporters.”
Back in November Robert Reich posted “Trump’s Seven Techniques to Control the Media” (here). He begins, “Democracy depends on a free and independent press, which is why all tyrants try to squelch it. They use seven techniques that, worryingly, President-elect Donald Trump already employs.
The first and last of Reich’s seven techniques are “Berate the media” and “Bypass the media and communicate with the public directly.
The media bias check
Just last week I discovered a website called Media Bias/Fact Check (find it here). It claims to be “the most comprehensive media bias resource on the internet”—and as far as I know, it is.
MBFC themselves, designates the media/new sources by one of five categories: left, left-center, least biased, right-center, and right.
As one who has argued that the major newspapers and TV networks are basically trustworthy, I was a bit nonplussed to see MBFC list almost all of them as having “a slight to moderate liberal bias.” This how ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC are all rated—as well as NPR.
The only major newspaper that was in the “least biased” listing was USA Today—although Associated Press, Reuters, and United Press International were also in that category. And I was happy to see that Snopes and Wikipedia were also similarly listed.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Los Angeles Times—as well as the local (for me) Kansas City Star—are all listed as “left-center.” The only major national newspaper that was “right-center” is, according to MBFC is the Wall Street Journal

MBFC does say however, that the left-center media “are generally trustworthy for information.” That’s surely more than can be said about the fairy godmother.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Should Stone Mountain be Defaced?

Ten days ago I wrote about the rebirth of the KKK, which took place on top of Stone Mountain on Thanksgiving Day in 1915. The very next year, the owners of the mountain deeded its north face to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Soon plans were underway to carve an impressive Confederate monument into that side of the massive mountain. 
A magnificent carving
The Stone Mountain Monumental Association was formed in 1916 and soon designated Gutzon Borglum, a member of the KKK, as the carving sculptor of the envisioned memorial.
However, after years of work on Stone Mountain, in 1925 Borglum left the project because of a dispute with the Association. Two years later he began carving Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, continuing that work until his death in 1941.
Another sculptor was employed for Stone Mountain, but work was suspended in 1928. Thirty years later the state of Georgia purchased the mountain and work on the monument was once again resumed in 1964. 
The dedication ceremony for the mostly-finished Confederate Memorial Carving was held in May 1970 and the finishing touches were finally completed in 1972.
As you see in the picture, three Confederate heroes--Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson on their horses--are magnificently depicted in the sculpture.
A malevolent shooting
As is widely known and sadly remembered, about a year and a half ago Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man shot and killed nine people, including the senior pastor, at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
After it became evident that Roof was a white supremacist and pictures of him with the Confederate flag were made public, there began to be calls for that flag to be removed from the South Carolina Statehouse.
On July 9, 2015, Gov. Nikki Haley, who may be the next U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., signed the bill to remove the Confederate flag. She then approvingly watched it being lowered the following day.
In response to the Charleston shooting, however, some anti-racists, especially the NAACP of Georgia, called for a much more dramatic counter-measure: sandblasting the Confederate Memorial off Stone Mountain. (See this news story.)
An imperative defacing? 
What is a fitting response to the proposal to deface Stone Mountain?
On the one hand, as indicated above, the carving on Stone Mountain is magnificent. It is a work of art. It honors three important men in the history of the Southern states. Destroying such a monument might be seen by some as equivalent to ISIS deliberately destroying the cultural heritage of Iraq and Syria—such as is summarized here.
On the other hand, the men depicted in the monument were leaders in a war to preserve slavery. That horrendous war took the lives of more than 620,000 combatants—at least 360,000 in the Union and 260,000 in the Confederacy. An unspeakable tragedy!
It is men and women, not stone monuments and skillful sculptures, that are sacred and of inestimable worth. So why should men who were so central in causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings continue to be glorified by the preservation of one splendid work of art?
True, destroying the Confederate Memorial Carving will not restore the precious lives those whose were killed in the Civil War. 
Think, though, what defacing such a magnificent work of art would say: war and slavery are evils and the primary leaders in the vile war to preserve slavery will no longer be honored!

Here is the link to “On Cross Burnings and Stone Mountain,” a 2014 blog article (with pictures) by Civil War historian Brooks D. Simpson.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Economic Justice for All

This month’s election was full of ironies. One was that many blue collar voters in the so-called Rust Belt were so worried about their stagnant, or disappearing, wages that they voted for a billionaire who has a history of mistreating workers to be their rescuer.
Another irony is that neither of the presidential candidates made much mention of a major problem in the U.S.: poverty and the lack of what some term “economic justice.” In spite of all that was said from both sides, there was little attention given to the worrisome conjoined twins in contemporary USAmerican society: racial injustice and economic injustice.
The Bishops’ Document
Ten years ago, Diana Hayes gave the annual Romero Lecture in Camden, New Jersey. The title of that significant talk was “The Color of Money: Racism and the Economy.”
Dr. Hayes is an outstanding person: she was the first African-American woman to earn a Pontifical Doctorate in Theology, and until her retirement in 2011 she was Professor of Systematic Theology at Georgetown University.
In her 2006 lecture, included in the book Romero’s Legacy (2007), Hayes introduced “Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy,” a document the National Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted in November 1986.  

Ten years later the same Conference issued a new document: A Decade after Economic Justice. In the “Introduction” the bishops noted three nations in our midst: one “prospering and producing in a new information age,” one “squeezed by declining real incomes and global economic competition,” and the third “an American underclass.”
My guess is that in this month’s election a majority in the first nation voted for Clinton, a majority in the second nation voted for Trump, and a great many in the third nation didn’t vote at all.
Six moral principles
In the original document issued 30 years ago, the bishops set forth six moral principles—all of which still need to be considered conscientiously today:
Every economic decision and institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person.
Human dignity can be realized and protected only in community.
All people have a right to participate in the economic life of society.
All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable.
Human rights are the minimum conditions for life in community.
Society as a whole, acting through public and private institutions, has the moral responsibility to enhance human dignity and protect human rights.
Concerning the fifth principle, the bishops quoted Pope John XXIII, who stated that “all people have a right to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, education, and employment.” The bishops then explained that this means that “when people are without a chance to earn a living, and must go hungry and homeless, they are being denied basic rights.”
A small step forward?
Given the problem of economic injustice in the nation, the lingering question is, What can be done?
Ten years ago Hayes averred that justice is not being done when a “million or so have slipped into poverty because of our refusal to raise the minimum wage” (p. 87). One presidential candidate did promise to reverse that refusal. Unfortunately, she lost.
Under the new President-elect and Republican Congress, raising the minimum wage doesn’t seem likely to happen, nationwide at least. However, in the Nov. 8 election voters in four states did approve raising the minimum wage—a small step in the right direction.
Then yesterday (Nov. 29) there were widespread strikes and rallies pushing for increasing the minimum wage—perhaps another small step forward in the struggle to create economic justice for all.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Rebirth of the KKK

As I mentioned in an article earlier this year, the Ku Klux Klan was first formed 150 years ago. It was mostly suppressed, however, during the first term of President Ulysses S. Grant as the Ku Klux Act of 1871 gave the President the power to impose heavy penalties against terrorist organizations and to use military force to suppress the KKK.
A novel and a movie
Over thirty years later, though, Thomas Dixon, a pastor from North Carolina, glorified the Klan’s activities during the first years of Reconstruction. His 1905 novel was titled The Clansman, and I found it quite fascinating when I read earlier this fall.
Dixon’s book largely about the mistreatment of Southern whites after the Civil War is skillfully written. By the time I finished it I momentarily felt like saying, “Thank God for the KKK!” Of course I knew better, and knew more than what was portrayed in a novel. 

In the years following the publication of Dixon’s book, however, there were those who didn’t seem to know better. One such person was William Joseph Simmons, who became the founder of the second Ku Klux Klan. 
Simmons (1880-1945) decided to rebuild the Klan in 1915 not long after he had seen it favorably depicted in the newly released film “The Birth of a Nation,” which was based on Dixon’s novel.
That over-three-hour silent movie was the first movie to be shown in the White House. Woodrow Wilson was the President in 1915, and he was a Southerner (born in Virginia) and perhaps more racist than any his predecessors all the way back to Andrew Johnson (from Tennessee).
When I watched “The Birth of a Nation” on my computer this fall, I was surprised to see that after the intermission, the second part begins with three screens showing statements by Wilson.
The movie is different from the novel in several ways—but it equally glorifies the Klan. And based on the inspiration gained from seeing D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster movie, Simmons recruited 34 men to become his first Knights of the KKK.
A fiery cross
On November 25, which was Thanksgiving Day in 1915, Simmons and 19 of his Knights marched up Stone Mountain (near Atlanta) and lit a cross on fire. That marked the rebirth of the Klan, which grew rapidly and peaked with over four million members in 1924.
The reborn Klan was dedicated to keeping the country white and Protestant and to saving America from domestic and foreign threats—and one can’t help but wondering if the same kind of thinking is not behind you-know-who’s slogan “Make America Great Again.”
In his book The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America (1987), Wyn Craig Wade links the Klan to the religious fundamentalism of the 1920s—and to the Christian Right of the 1980s. Now in 2016 we see many evangelical Christians, perhaps inadvertently, linked to rejuvenation of the KKK—or at least of its main emphases.
And now . . .
It is no secret that the KKK and other white nationalist groups are ardent supporters of the President-elect’s and of his selection of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.
Recently, Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, said: “It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of White Supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide.”
Admittedly, things may not turn out as bad as many fear—but they may also turn out a lot worse that many others think. It is troubling that 145 years after the first KKK was suppressed by the President, current Klan members are now cheering the President-elect.
 Two more resource books worth noting:
Baker, Kelly J. Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930 (2011)
Rawlings, William. The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s (2016)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Barnet's Brilliant Book

Vern Barnet has long been one of the outstanding religious leaders of Kansas City. The accompanying picture was taken of him at the 2016 Annual Interfaith Community Thanksgiving Dinner, held for the first time on the campus of William Jewell College.
The Barnet Award
At that most enjoyable gathering on Nov. 13, the Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award was given to Lama Chuck Stanford, a retired Tibetan Buddhist leader who has long been active in Kansas City.

Barnet founded the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989, and after his retirement as head of that organization, the Vern Barnet Award was created in 2010—with him as its first recipient.
(Last year’s recipient of the award was my good friend Ed Chasteen, former professor of sociology at William Jewell College. June and I enjoyed sitting at the same table with Ed and his wife Bobbie at last week’s Thanksgiving dinner.)
For many years Vern (b. 1942) served as a Universalist Unitarian minister, and he is minister emeritus of the Center for Religious Experience and Study (CRES), which he founded in 1982. In 2011, however, he was baptized in an Episcopalian church, and is now said to be an active Episcopalian layman.
His main love, though, still seems to be interfaith activities.
The Barnet Book
Vern is also an editor and author. He co-edited the 740-page Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers (2013). The most recent book he authored, however, is not directly about religion.
Vern’s book Thanks for Noticing: The Interpretation of Desire was published in 2015. He describes the book as a “prosimetrum of 154 sonnets, glosses, and other commentary, in which the sacred beauty of sex and love is explored.” (A prosimetrum is “a text composed in alternating segments of prose and verse.”)
Vern’s sonnets are consciously linked to Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. But, to be honest, I am over my head in trying to expound upon the meaning and significance of either Shakespeare’s or Barnet’s sonnets. But I have been moved by many of Vern’s sonnets I have read.
For full disclosure, I must admit that I have not read nearly all of Vern’s book, although I do intend to keep reading it little by little--which is the way it needs to be read. Thanks for Noticing is quite obviously a brilliant book as well as a very erudite one.
Barnet’s Sonnets 78 to 86
The 154 sonnets in Vern’s book are grouped into eight sections with titles taken from the parts of a Catholic mass. The most theological part is the one titled “Credo,” and those sonnets, numbers 78 to 86, are the ones to which I have paid the most attention.
(Many of the 154 sonnets are about sex and sexuality, and I will leave it to others to write about the meaning and importance of those.)
Sonnet 78 is titled “Advent,” and as next Sunday, Nov. 27, is the first Sunday of Advent I have read and re-read that insightful sonnet—although the Eucharist does not have the same meaning to me as it does to Episcopalians or Catholics.
“Postmodern Faith: What is Truth?” is the title of Sonnet 84, and it ends with this couplet:
                                I know the Gospel is a pious tale,
                                                But who cares facts when worship cannot fail?
By these words Vern seems to urge us to a pre-modern/post-modern “mysticism” that is not fettered by facticity. Direct experience of God (Ultimate Reality) is more than, and far greater than, having (or seeking) only factual knowledge.
That is one important lesson bundled in Barnet’s brilliant book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Maybe the Amish are Right (but Probably Not)

Mrs. Kikuko Fukuoka (June’s and my good friend from Fukuoka, Japan, whom I wrote about here four years ago) came to visit us again this month. I can’t remember why, but on her first evening here we talked some about the Amish.
What my Amish friend said
Fukuoka-san had never seen an Amish person and was interested in learning more about them. So the next day we drove up to the Jamesport (Mo.) area where I had gone in September. Among other things, we were able to talk briefly with Melvin Yutzy, my new Amish friend whom I wrote about on Sept. 30.
During our brief chat on Nov. 4, I asked Melvin about whether he and the other Amish in his community were going to vote on the following Tuesday. He quickly replied that he and all the Amish he knows have never voted and didn’t intend to this year.
(I had seen articles this fall about Amish voting—and voting Republican; for example, see this. But another article I saw said that perhaps only 10% to 15% of them do vote.) 

Anabaptist roots
There have been many Anabaptists through the years—and the Amish are clearly rooted in Anabaptism—who have taken a negative view toward not only voting but toward any active involvement in politics. At the beginning they even held that a Christian should not become a “magistrate.”
Unlike the Lutherans or the Reformed Church from which they separated, Anabaptists largely rejected Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine and opted for identifying wholly with the Kingdom of God and living as fully as possible by the values of that Kingdom—which notably included peace and justice.
Maybe the early Anabaptists and most of the current Amish are right: maybe we who are followers of Jesus Christ should be living in and working for the Kingdom of God rather than becoming involved in the “kingdoms” of the secular world.
Jesus, after all, called his followers to be salt, not the whole bowl of porridge.
When the followers of Jesus were a small minority, perhaps that was the optimal stance. But things changed. Christians came to make up a larger and larger segment of society. Of course, that led to what the Anabaptists have often called the Constintinian fall of the Church.
Accordingly, the 16th century Anabaptists refused to entangle themselves in political affairs in the same way the first followers of Jesus did.
More than six years ago I posted an article about Arthur G. Gish, a former Amish man (and then a member of the Church of the Brethren) who was the author of The New Left and Christian Radicalism (1970). That was one of the most influential books I read in the 1970s—or maybe have read in my lifetime.
In his seminal book, Gish writes about his Anabaptist forefathers with great appreciation—but then talks about the definite need now for those in that tradition to become more intentionally involved in the larger society. And that has, indeed, increasingly happened over the last 45 years.
Quite some time ago I started, but sadly never finished, writing an article about Neo-Anabaptism. Such is what Gish was advocating, for what I thought were legitimate reasons.
Rainbow Mennonite Church (in Kansas City, Kan.), the progressive church I belong to now, is a good example of a Neo-Anabaptist church, and I am happy to be a part of it.

So while I briefly wondered last week whether perhaps Melvin and his Amish friends are right about not voting, I have decided (again) that no, most probably they aren’t.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

In Memory of David O. Moore

Yesterday’s wonderful memorial service was a fitting tribute to an outstanding man. Dr. David O. Moore passed away on October 28 and a large number of family and friends gathered for the service yesterday (Nov. 12, 2016) at the Second Baptist Church in Liberty (Mo.) where he had been a member for more than 60 years.
The homily was given by Dr. Gordon Kingsley, the inimitable past-president of William Jewell College, where Dr. Moore had taught from 1956 until his retirement in 1986. 

I first met Dr. Moore in 1957 when I transferred to Jewell as a junior and he was one of my Bible professors there. He was an impressive teacher, but my greatest debt of gratitude to him is for what he did for me outside the classroom.
On June’s and my graduation day from William Jewell College in 1959, Dr. Moore approached me soon after the ceremonies were over. I had just been awarded the centennial scholarship to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, which was a surprise to me but not to Dr. Moore. He had been on the selection committee.
Dr. Moore asked me if I was going to accept the scholarship. I told him that I would like to if I could see any way we could financially make the move to Kentucky. At that point, June and I had not only been married nearly two years, we also had a nine-month-old baby. I was pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a small church in Windsor, Mo., and was planning to commute from there to the new seminary in Kansas City, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I was dumbfounded when Dr. Moore told me that he had just been to Louisville for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. While he was there he visited the church where he had been a student pastor when he was in seminary. That church, Ekron Baptist Church about fifty miles southwest of Louisville, was looking for a new pastor and Dr. Moore had recommended me.
Dr. Moore said all I needed to do was to give him a date on which I could go preach a trial sermon at Ekron and he would call to tell them I was coming. So arrangements were made, June and I drove to Ekron and I preached at the morning and evening services on that Sunday in the middle of June. The church had a business meeting following the evening service-- and they extended the call for me to be their new pastor.
Thus, on the first of July in 1959 I became pastor of the Ekron Baptist Church and remained in that pastorate until September of 1963. To this day I remain grateful to Dr. Moore for being the one who made that significant time of service and learning possible.
On our second and third furloughs from our mission work in Japan, Dr. Moore was the chair of the Religion Department at William Jewell College, and he asked me to teach part-time at Jewell during the academic years of 1976-77 and 1981-82. That first time was especially meaningful because my son Keith and his fiancee Brenda were first year students at Jewell and took one (or maybe two) of the classes I taught that year.
Michael Willett Newheart, who has for many years been a New Testament professor at Howard Divinity School in D.C., was one of the outstanding upperclassmen I had in one of my classes that year—and we have been friends ever since. He flew to Kansas City late Friday and spent two nights with us in order to attend Dr. Moore’s memorial service.
Michael’s roommate at Jewell was Steve Hemphill, who was listed in the bulletin as Dr. Moore’s “former student & life friend.” As a part of the service he gave a touching talk titled “Requiem for a Fellow Pilgrim.”
Dr. Moore was on sabbatical in 1981-82. He invited me once again to teach at Jewell that year, and I had the privilege of using his faculty office (and library) during that wonderful year. On the wall of his office was a horseshoe with the accompanying words, “God loves a happy workhorse.” Those words were an appropriate reminder for me as well as for him.
Dr. Moore, who was born on March 11, 1921, was an excellent preacher and much in demand as a supply preacher in churches in a wide circle around Liberty—and he knew how to communicate with the “common” people in the pews. My home church was about a hundred miles north of Liberty and he preached there on more than one occasion—and my parents, who were north Missouri farmers, were highly impressed with and appreciative of him.

As you see from the picture of bulletin, yesterday's memorial service was “in praise of God and in memory of Dr. David O. Moore”—and it lived up to its billing. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Standing with the Losers

The long, acrimonious U.S. presidential election is over—and with an inexplicable result. The man whose election was unexpected by most and unthinkable by many is now two months away from becoming the 45th POTUS.
Winners and Losers
Who are the winners and losers of Tuesday’s shocking election? You know how the election turned out for the candidates, but who are the groups of persons who won and lost?
It seems quite clear that the main winners of the election (by how they voted) are white men, conservative Christians, and people with limited education. More than those of other demographic groups, they seem to be the victorious ones.
It also seems quite clear that the main losers of the election (by the voting results) are women, the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics, LGBT people—and probably the U.S. as a whole.
In his infamous statement regarding John McCain (in July 2015, here), the President-elect said, “I don’t like losers.”
It remains to be seen how the new President will treat, or mistreat, my list of losers. Perhaps it will not be as bad as many of us fear. Perhaps it will be a lot worse than those who voted for him think. Only time will tell.
Standing with the Losers
Since my prior article was about voting for justice, I here state clearly that I am standing with the losers that I mentioned above and am committed to continuing work for greater justice for those in each group.
Perhaps it somewhat overstates my stance, but I agree with the following statement which I saw on Facebook early Wednesday morning: 

Speaking of Facebook and one group of losers, LGBT people, here are posts from two Facebook friends. One, a gay college student, wrote to his family members who voted for Trump: “I hope your racist bigotry toward Mexicans was worth risking my livelihood as a gay man. You frankly disgust me.”
Then there is this that Robert, a gay Hispanic man who attends the same church I do, posted on Facebook: “If you voted for Trump . . . delete me from Facebook. . . . . a vote for him is a vote for my destruction as a human being.”
I stand with these two friends—and with other losers in Tuesday’s election. I will continue to advocate social justice for them all, and I hope you will, too.
The Arc Bends toward Justice
On Wednesday morning I read an excellent article on “America is not, it turns out, better than this.” At the beginning of that piece the writer tells about President Obama’s new (2010) Oval Office rug.
There are five quotations embedded in that rug. One is that of abolitionist Theodore Parker as paraphrased by MLKing, Jr.: “The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, but It Bends Toward Justice.”
In my book The Limits of Liberalism (see p. 106) I was a bit critical of Parker’s words as they tend(ed) to feed into the over-optimism of some forms of liberalism. Things are not inexorably getting better and better every day in every way.
As the writer or the Vox article acknowledges, sometimes there are “kinks in the arc.” Tuesday’s election was, I fear, a major kink, a sizable setback for justice in this country—and I may not live long enough to see all the negative effects of this election bent fully back to even present-day justice levels.
So, while I am greatly disappointed in the outcome of the election, my disappointment is not primarily that Ms. Clinton and the Democrats lost. My great sorrow is for the losers who will quite likely encounter increased injustice.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Confession: I Am a One-Issue Voter

Don’t be a one-issue voter! That is a common admonition made by people writing or talking about voting.
A one-issue voter, of course, is someone who feels so passionate about a single subject that they are willing to cast their vote based on a candidate’s stand on that issue alone.
For example . . .  
To give an example from long ago, my father was not a highly political person, but he self-identified as a Democrat. Nevertheless, he did not like Franklin Roosevelt. In 1936 my father turned 21 and voted for the first time—but he voted for Republican Alf Landon for one reason and one reason alone: prohibition.
Roosevelt was elected in 1932 partly on the basis of his promise to end prohibition—which did end in 1933. My father thought that was a mistake--and held it against Roosevelt in the 1936 election, and as far as I know in the following two elections as well. That is what it means to be a one-issue voter.
From what I hear, some people are going to vote against Hillary Clinton next Tuesday (or have already done so) mainly because of one issue: abortion. As I wrote in an earlier blog article, many conservative Christians will vote for Donald Trump primarily because they know Clinton will support abortion rights—and would appoint Supreme Court justices who would do the same.
“Pro-life” should mean far more than “anti-abortion,” but some think that voting in opposition to all abortion is more important than anything else when casting one’s ballot.
In my case . . .
But why do I now identify as a one-issue voter?
While working on the sermon I preached last Sunday (Oct. 30) at the Rosedale Congregational (UCC) Church (in Kansas City, Kan.) I decided that, alas, I am one.
I used the alternate Old Testament reading from the lectionary, Isaiah 1:10-18, and titled my sermon “Seek Justice,” taking those words from verse 17. 
In my sermon I also used one of the most important verses from the New Testament, which in one version is translated, “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Douay-Rheims, 1582, 1899)
Writing about the Kingdom of God as God’s reign, Stephen C. Mott translates that verse, “First of all seek the Reign and its justice” (Biblical Ethics and Social Change, 1982, p. 104).
It was my reflection on this verse, and the emphasis on justice in Amos 5 as well as in Isaiah 1, that led me to the conclusion that the candidate (or Party) most aligned with justice should be the one I vote for.
What this means
First, it is important to note that justice in the Bible is most usually not about punitive (criminal) justice or about restorative justice, a rather new and important emphasis. In the Bible justice is usually what can be called “distributive justice” and is often, rightfully, called “social justice” and includes racial justice and economic justice, among other types.
Thus, voting on the one issue of justice means voting for candidates most likely to work against oppression of people because of race, class, or gender.
So, here’s how I plan to vote on Nov. 8—and how I urge you to vote if you haven’t already: I will vote for the candidates who seem most likely to oppose oppression in order for there to be justice for women, for people of color, for LGBT people, for economically poor people, for American Indians, and for immigrants. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Elections of 1868 and 2016

It is, thankfully, just nine days until Election Day. Earlier in the year this was touted as one of the most important elections in U.S. history. Much of the tension in the presidential election, though, has been erased by HRC’s huge lead in the polls.
However, which Party controls the Senate, and even the House, rides upon the outcome of the Nov. 8 election, so it remains an extremely important election.
As the first presidential election after the Civil War, though, the election of 1868 was perhaps even more important than the one this year. 
Background: Pres. Andrew Johnson
As you know, Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, was the Vice-President who was sworn into office on April 15, 1865, three hours after President Lincoln died from the assassin’s bullets. 
Johnson (1808-75) was born in North Carolina but lived in Tennessee from his teenager years. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1857 and became the Vice-President on March 4, 1865.
Even though he was not opposed to slavery, Johnson did not support secession and thus opposed Tennessee joining the Confederate States of America in June 1861. He was the only senator from a Confederate state not to resign his senate seat.
Johnson, however, was a southerner, and after the war he wanted to protect the interests of the whites in the South and to welcome them back into the Union quickly and easily. 
In 1866 Congress passed the Civil Rights Bill to protect the rights of the slaves who had been freed, but Johnson vetoed that bill.
Even though Congress overrode Johnson’s veto, he still did much to benefit the white southerners and to repress the equality of the freed slaves. As Hans L. Trefousse writes in Andrew Johnson: A Biography (1989), Johnson “preserved the South as ‘a white man’s country’” (p. 334).
1868: racist Democrats
Johnson’s main political opponents were not just the Republicans but those who were generally called Radical Republicans—men such as Rep. Thaddeus Stephens and Sen. Charles Sumner. They were the leaders in the impeachment of Pres. Johnson in February 1868.
Johnson was so unpopular that he was not chosen to be the Democratic candidate for President in the 1868 election. Horatio Seymour, a former New York governor, was nominated for the office, and Francis P. Blair, Jr., a former U.S. Representative from Missouri, became the nominee for Vice-President.
In his campaign Seymour advocated a policy of conservative, limited government. He also opposed the Reconstruction policies of the Republicans in Congress. His campaign was marked by pronounced appeals to racism with repeated attempts to brand General Ulysses S. Grant as the “Nigger” candidate and Seymour as the “White Man’s” candidate.
Likewise, V-P candidate Blair used “blatantly racist language” in his campaign speeches, setting the tone for what Eric Foner called (in 1990) “the last Presidential contest to center on white supremacy” (A Short History of Reconstruction, p. 145). 
Thankfully, Grant was elected President.

2016: racist Republicans
It is quite obvious that the position of the two Parties have completely reversed since 1868. This year Donald Trump’s main support, by far, is by white voters—and he has the overwhelming support of white supremacists. (See my June 5 article “Can Trump Make America White Again?”.)
While candidate Trump is not as blatantly racist as Seymour and Blair were in 1868, it seems clear that he and many of his supporters are racists. 

Like 1868, the election this year is partly about the equality of all Americans, and I am glad the result will most likely turn out the same way, against racism, as it did then.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Significance of the Pony Express

As a boy growing up in rural northwest Missouri, St. Joseph was the nearest big city and a place of fascination to me. As a schoolboy I no doubt learned that the Pony Express started in St. Joseph, which we usually called St. Joe. For some reason, however, I grew up not knowing much about the Pony Express.
Learning about the Pony Express
Not long after moving to Liberty in 2005, June and I visited the Pony Express Museum in St. Joe and learned a lot about it then. That is a certainly a place worth visiting, and you can check it out online here.
Ms. Kathy Ridge (May 2016)
I learned the most about the Pony Express, though, from hearing Ms. Kathy Ridge give a talk about it on May 29 this year at the Memorial Day gathering at my father’s (long-closed) home church in rural Worth County, Mo. 
Ms. Ridge, a retired elementary school teacher who works as a volunteer at the Pony Express Museum, told not only interesting details about those who rode for the Pony Express but also shared something of its historical significance.
The Pony Express began operation on April 3, 1860, and was a response to the need for faster communication with people who lived in California. After the discovery of gold there in 1848, the population of Calif. grew rapidly and it became a state in 1850.
The Pony Express was made obsolete, though, with the completion of the transcontinental telegraph on October 24, 1861, and it ceased operation two days after. (The transcontinental railroad was then completed in May 1869, only 7½ years later.)
The Pony Express and the Civil War
Because of the Pony Express, people in California received news of the beginning of the Civil War just 12 days after it began, rather than weeks later as would have been the case earlier. The Pony Express helped keep California aligned with the North in spite of many Confederate sympathizers living in the state.
In addition, partly because of the Pony Express, California’s gold was secured for funding the Union forces rather than the soldiers of the South.
The Civil War threatened the operation of the Pony Express in several ways.
For example, the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, the first railroad to cross Missouri, was completed in February 1859, making St. Joe the westernmost point in the U.S. accessible by rail. It is said to have carried the first letter to the Pony Express on April 3, 1860. During the Civil War, the first assignment of Col. Ulysses S. Grant was protecting that railroad and Pony Express mail.
Grant was re-assigned in August 1861, and the Platte Bridge Railroad Tragedy occurred shortly thereafter, on Sept. 3. The bushwhackers caused the bridge over the Platte River a few miles east of St. Joe to collapse, and the train from Hannibal, which included a mail car, plunged into the river, killing about 20 people and injuring 100.
The St. Joseph newspaper
The St. Joseph News-Press, the main newspaper of northwest Missouri, traces its roots to the St. Joseph Gazette, which was first published in 1845 shortly after St. Joe was founded just two years earlier. The Gazette was the only newspaper to be sent west on the first ride of the Pony Express.
Earlier this month the News-Press became only the second newspaper in the country to endorse Donald Trump for President.
That is not too surprising, though, as most of its readers across rural northwest Missouri are strong Republicans and will most likely vote for Trump anyway—even though for a great many of them that would be against their own best self-interest.
Selected Resources
“The Story of the Pony Express” (1992) by Nancy Pope, accessible online here.
The Story of the Pony Express (1960), edited by Waddell F. Smith, grandson of William B. Waddell, one of the founders of the Pony Express