Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lies We Believe about God

Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995) by James W. Loewen is an interesting and important book. Following that lead, a few years ago I did some preliminary work on a book titled Lies My Preacher Told Me. It could have been a good book—but, alas, I didn’t get it written. Earlier this year, however, Wm. Paul Young has published a somewhat related book, Lies We Believe about God.
Young’s Theology
As most of you remember, Young is the author of the bestselling novel The Shack (2007), which I wrote about in a blog article posted on March 5. (There were more pageviews than usual on that post.)
Young also wrote the fantasy novel Eve (2015). (My May 5 article on that book got fewer pageviews than usual.)
This piece is about Young’s new book, which is not a novel but a theological reflection about God. In it, Young deals with 28 different “lies” that he thinks many people believe about God.
Young also wrote the Foreword for Richard Rohr’s new book The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (2016). Among other things, Young graphically averred, 
Bad theology is like pornography—the imagination of a real relationship without the risk of one. It tends to be transactional and propositional rather than relational and mysterious. You don’t have to trust Person, or care for Person. It becomes an exercise in self-gratification that ultimately dehumanizes the self and the community of humanity in order to avoid the painful processes of humbling and trusting. Bad theology is not a victimless crime. It dehumanizes God and turns the wonder and the messy mystery of intimate relationship into a centerfold to be used and discarded.
Young thinks that many popular ideas about God are pornographic, in the way he just expressed. Those ideas express bad theology, for they are lies believed about God. So he sets out to state good/correct theological statements about God.
For the most part, I think Young did a commendable job. Naturally, there are some who disagree—and the more conservative/traditional a person is, the more they will likely disagree with Young’s theology.
Young’s Perceived Lies about God
In general, Young says that all ideas about God that depict God as in any way vengeful or vindictive are not true. All views about God that fail to embrace God’s grace, God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all people, are “lies” about God.
Further, all statements that exclude people from God’s embrace or locate them outside the reach of God’s forgiveness are also seen as lies.
“Every human being you meet, interact with, react and respond to, treat rudely or with kindness and mercy: every one is a child of God,” says Young (on p. 206).
Conservative Christians do not like Young’s emphases for two main reasons: they appear to be universalistic (everyone is forgiven/”saved”) and they deny the idea of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ.
According to Young, God does not need to be appeased. God’s wrath does not need to be assuaged. God’s righteousness does not need to be “satisfied.”
Is “Penal Substitutionary Atonement” a Lie about God?
The annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was held earlier this month. As always, there were several resolutions deliberated and passed at that meeting. One was titled “On the Necessity of Penal Substitutionary Atonement.”
In a news article about that resolution, Bob Allen of Baptist News Global mentioned Young’s criticism of that penal substitutionary theory of atonement. As noted above, Young thinks it is one of the lies believed about God.
Is he right?
Let’s think more about that important issue soon.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A Loving Relationship

As many of you know, June and I married 60 years ago, in May 1957. But another young couple who were very much in love at that time couldn’t be legally married in Virginia where they lived, for they were of different races. The law against miscegenation was finally struck down 45 years ago this month.
Meet Richard and Mildred
Richard Loving (1933-75) and Mildred Jeter (1939-2008) grew up in Center Point, a small village in Caroline County on the eastern side of Virginia.
Richard was white and Mildred was of mixed race: African-American and American Indian. In Center Point the three prevalent racial/ethnic groups socialized freely, very different from the county and the state as a whole.
Their story is told in one of 2016’s top movies, the historical drama film “Loving.” Ruth Negga, an Ethiopian-born Irish actress, won an Oscar nomination for her sparkling performance as Mildred. June and I greatly enjoyed watching the movie in April, soon after it came out on DVD.
Then, earlier this year Loving vs. Virginia, a “documentary novel” by Patricia Hruby Powell, was published, primarily for high school students. I found it to be a delightful read. Powell’s story starts in the fall of 1952 and ends in the summer of 1967. Here is a picture of Richard and Mildred in 1967:
Richard and Mildred’s Marriage
Since they grew up in the same community, Richard and Mildred knew each other earlier, but their romantic relationship seems to have started in October 1955, about the same time June and I started dating. But they had to face issues we didn’t. For example, a couple of months later when they drove to a nearby town to see a movie, they had to go up to the dirty balcony, for that was the only place where “coloreds” were allowed.
By September 1956, when June and I were engaged, Mildred realizes she was pregnant—but marriage was not an option for them in Virginia. In January 1957 their baby was born—and Lola Loving, Richard’s mother, was the midwife who delivered her own grandchild. 
The next year the couple finally went to Washington, D.C., to be legally married there on June 2, 1958. (Marriage between blacks and whites had long been legal in D.C.; two years after his first wife died, Frederick Douglass legally married a white woman there in 1884.)
Richard and Mildred’s Troubles
Five weeks after their marriage, Richard and Mildred were staying with her parents. At 3 a.m. the Caroline County sheriff broke into the bedroom where they were sleeping and arrested them. This was the beginning of jail time, trials, and their “exile” to D.C.
In the summer of 1963, the summer when MLK, Jr., publically orated about his dream, Mildred Loving also had a dream. She deeply desired for her marriage to be legally recognized in Virginia, for she was tired of living in the city and dreamed of going back home to Center Point.
So, Mildred boldly wrote Bobby Kennedy, who was then the U.S. Attorney General. Kennedy’s office recommended that she contact the ACLU—which she did. Two young lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, took the Lovings’ case.
Even though they were still in their 20s, the lawyers took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967.

From the mid-1950s until his tragic death in a car accident caused by a drunken driver, Richard and Mildred seem to have had a very loving relationship (pun intended). And they paved the way for other people in love to be able to marry legally in spite of racial differences.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Burning Bernie

Last week Sen. Bernie Sanders made some strong statements about Pres. Trump’s nominee for Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Sanders has been severely criticized for those utterances, even by some who are not Republicans or conservative evangelicals.
Bernie’s Statements
Russell Vought, Trump’s nominee, appeared before the Senate Budget Committee on June 8. There he was subjected to stiff questioning by Sen. Sanders. At issue was what Vought had written last year in support of Wheaton College’s decision to fire Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor.
As you may remember, Hawkins was terminated over the controversy sparked by her donning a hijab in a gesture of solidarity with Muslims in the U.S. She also declared that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.”
In defending Wheaton’s action, Vought wrote that Hawkins’s views were mistaken. “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology, they do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned,” he asserted.
In response to those remarks, Sanders declared that what Vought wrote was “hateful,” “Islamaphobic,” and “an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world.”
He went on to say that Vought “is not someone who is what this country is supposed to be about.” Further, “This country since its inception has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms, whether it is racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamaphobia.”
He added, “Over the years we have made progress to becoming a less discriminatory and more tolerant society, and we must not go backwards.”  
Burning Bernie
As might be expected, Sen. Sanders was widely attacked from the religious right. Some called him bigoted against evangelical Christians.
I was surprised that even some moderate Christians were also quite critical of Bernie. For example, Amanda Tyler, the new Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC), wrote critically of Sanders on June 9 (here).
Tyler averred that “Sanders’ line of questioning imposed a religious test, which is forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution.”
Michael Gerson wrote along the same lines in a June 12 op-ed piece in the Washington Post.
Agreeing with Bernie
As you might guess, there were also some who wrote in support of Sanders’ position. Here is the link to one such well-written piece, and I basically agree with it.
While I am a strong supporter of religious liberty and usually agree with the BJC, I think their (Tyler’s) criticism of Bernie missed the point.
What Vought said about Muslims, of course, he could also have said about Jews, or Buddhists—or about the large percentage of the population who do not profess faith in any religion. As a private citizen he has every right to hold to his religious convictions.
Is it not a problem, though, when people in public office openly state that everyone who has other, or no, religious beliefs is “condemned”? While personal beliefs can perhaps be intolerant, the stance of public officials must be for tolerance of people of all faiths. That, I think, was Bernie’s point.
Moreover, what Article VI of the Constitution says is that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” It doesn’t say that people can or should never be disqualified because of their religious beliefs.
Some people in the past held strong religious beliefs about the validity of slavery or of polygamy, and more recently some have held religious beliefs that condemn LGBT people. While such people have the freedom to hold such beliefs, should they be in public office?
Probably not. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

REMEMBERING REINIE

Reinhold (“Reinie”) Niebuhr was born 125 years ago, on June 21, 1892. His picture was on the cover of the March 8, 1948, issue of Time magazine, their 25th anniversary issue. His last major book was published in 1952 and he died in 1971. But in just the last week he has been prominently mentioned in an article in The New Yorker (here), and the major subject in some religious publications (such as here and here).
WHO WAS REINHOLD NIEBUHR?
I used to tell my Introduction to Theology students in Japan that Reinhold Niebuhr was the greatest theologian born in Missouri. (They knew that I was from Missouri.) That, I believe, is manifestly true still today.
Son of a German Evangelical Synod pastor, Reinie, as he was called by his friends, went to college and seminary in Missouri and Illinois and then earned B.D. and M.A. degrees at Yale Divinity School. But he became a pastor at an early age and never completed doctoral studies.
After thirteen formative years (1915-28) as pastor of the Bethel Evangelical Church in Detroit, Niebuhr was elected to the faculty of Union Theological Seminary in New York. He taught Christian social ethics until his retirement in 1960.
Niebuhr lectured and preached widely and wrote profusely. He gained prominence in the theological world with the publishing of his Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics in 1932.
In 1939 Niebuhr delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Those lectures were the basis of his most important book, two volumes published under the title The Nature and Destiny of Man (1941, 1943).
Reinie died three weeks before his 79th birthday (just about the same exact age that I am now). 
NIEBUHR’S INFLUENCE
Although educated in liberal schools, Niebuhr became an outspoken critic of theological liberalism. (I referred to that criticism in my book The Limits of Liberalism; see especially pages 27-28). Thus, he became one of the most important proponents of what has usually been called neo-orthodox theology.
Niebuhr’s influence, however, extended far beyond the world of theology. With his distinctive emphasis on “Christian realism,” he created waves in the secular world as well.
Reinie was criticized from various sides. As his early biographer Jane Bingham wrote in Courage to Change (1961), “. . . if his ideas were too orthodox for the liberals, they were too liberal for the orthodox; and if too secular for the religious, they were too religious for the secular” (pp. 44-45).
But Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has stated quite accurately (in this 2005 article) that Niebuhr was “the most influential American theologian of the 20th century.” And his influence was and is particularly notable in the world of politics.
Through the years Niebuhr has been highly evaluated by many in that world, including President Carter and President Obama—and James Comey.
NIEBUHR’S RELEVANCE TODAY
Two days ago (June 8) was widely designated as “Comey Day.” Former, and fired, FBI Director James Comey spent hours that day testifying before both open and closed sessions of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Recent background stories about Comey have reported that his senior graduating thesis at College of William and Mary (in 1982) contrasted Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell.
Niebuhr’s influence on Comey was/is also seen when a sleuth discovered that “Reinhold Niebuhr” was the name of Comey’s secret Twitter account.
One of Niebuhr’s central points may be particularly related to Comey’s statement about DJT being a liar. Niebuhr wrote much and convincingly about sin and emphasized, as one author succinctly stated (p. 89 in this book), “Dishonesty is sin’s final expression.”
This is a good time to remember Reinie and the relevant things he wrote.
####
NEW MOVIE/BOOK ABOUT NIEBUHR – In March of this year, “American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story,” a new documentary film was released on DVD. Jeremy L. Sabella’s book with the same name was also published in March. (June 10, 8:30 p.m. -- After posting this article early this morning, June and I were able to watch the documentary this evening, streamed from our local PBS channel. It was excellently done and I highly recommend it.)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Political Cartoons: Helpful or Harmful?

Political cartoons have had a long and venerable history in the U.S.—but are they helpful for spurring private thought and civil public debate, or are they divisive and promoters of increased polarization in society?

POLITICAL CARTOONISTS I HAVE KNOWN 
     I have long enjoyed political cartoons. During the nearly seven years we lived in Kentucky, June and I enjoyed a great many of Hugh Haynie’s cartoons that appeared regularly in Louisville’s daily newspaper.
   Haynie (1927-99) drew for The Courier-Journal from 1958 to1996. Here is one of his cartoons, showing LBJ’s opposition to the media:  
     After settling into our retirement home in Missouri in 2005, we have regularly enjoyed great cartoons by Lee Judge in the Kansas City Star. Here is one of his cartoons from 2014.  
     In recent years I have also regularly read the Washington Post online and have enjoyed the outstanding political cartoons of Tom Toles. Here is one of my favorites: 
     And here is a rather powerful cartoon that I saw just last week in the National Catholic Reporter; it is by Stuart Carlson, a cartoonist I don’t remember seeing before: 
     If a picture is worth a thousand words, as it is often said, a political cartoon (with just a few words) must be worth at least two thousand words—or more.

THE FATHER OF POLITICAL CARTOONS 
     Thomas Nast (1840-1902) was one of the first and most influential political cartoonists in the United States. Recently I have read some of two fascinating books about him: Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons (2013) by Fiona Deans Halloran and Thomas Nast: America’s Greatest Political Cartoonist (2014) by Jay G. Williams. 
      I first became aware of Nast years ago when working on a talk or article about Santa Claus. Beginning in the 1860s, Nast’s cartoons about Santa shaped the nation’s image of the “jolly old elf.” 
     Nast is also credited for being the first to use an elephant to portray the Republican Party, and he also popularized the donkey (or jackass) to symbolize the Democratic Party. 
     Through the years Nast’s cartoons appeared mostly in Harper’s Weekly, which in 1861 had a readership of 120,000 and remained above 100,000 throughout the war years. 
     It was during the Civil War that Nast’s cartoons were especially influential. On September 3, 1864, his cartoon “Compromise with the South” appeared in Harper’s Weekly
      As noted in HarpWeek.com, Nast’s message is clear: “If compromise with the Confederacy is pursued, then Union servicemen will have sacrificed their limbs and lives in vain, and black Americans will be returned to slavery.” 
     Many of Nast’s cartoons in later years were strongly against politicians he opposed. Many were so strong it some people even thought that the word nasty was derived from the name of the hard-hitting cartoonist. 
    Some of his most severe criticism targeted “Boss” Tweed of New York. Regarding Nast’s cartoons, Tweed reportedly said, “Stop them damned pictures. I don't care so much what the papers say about me. My constituents don't know how to read, but they can't help seeing them damned pictures!” 

THE PROBLEM WITH POLITICAL CARTOONS 
     Interesting as they may be, I wonder if political cartoons may often be harmful to civil public discourse. We tend to like those cartoons with which we agree and dislike those with which we disagree. Thus, I like most of Judge’s and Toles’s cartoons, but very much dislike most of those (few) I see by Glenn McCoy, such as: 
     So, are political cartoons generally helpful as a means of spurring deeper thought and civil public debate—or are they mainly harmful, promoting greater divisiveness and polarization? 
     What do you think?

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What about the Benedict Option?

Have you heard of “the Benedict Option”? It has been emphasized for years by Rod Dreher, and his new book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, was just published on March 14. On that very day, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that Dreher’s work was “already the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.”

THE AUTHOR OF THE BENEDICT OPTION
     Rod Dreher (b. 1967) is an interesting guy. He is a senior editor and prolific blogger at The American Conservative (TAC), a bi-monthly journal co-founded by Pat Buchanan. According to their website, Dreher is one of eight, all white men, on the TAC “team.”

Dreher was raised as a nominal Methodist, but he converted to Catholicism at age 26. In 2006 he converted again, this time to Eastern Orthodox Christianity. His views on Christianity are as conservative as his social and political views.

Although his only university degree is a BA in journalism (from LSU in his home state of Louisiana), Dreher seems to be well-read. His emphasis on the Benedict Option (BenOp) comes from Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s influential book After Virtue (1981).

To a large extent, Dreher seems to be a pessimist—or an alarmist. For example, he thinks the world now is “growing ever more hostile” toward true Christians (p. 2). “Progressives, he writes, “sneer at claims of anti-Christian discrimination or persecution.” But, he warns his readers, “Don’t you believe them” (p. 179). 
THE GIST OF THE BENEDICT OPTION
     Dreher’s main point is fairly simple: Christians who wish to maintain their faith (and that of their children) must separate from mainstream society and try to live in intentional communities—although not necessarily “in the hills.” This is not just for their own sake, but also for the future of the Christian faith.

Benedict of Nursia (480-547), for whom the BenOp is named, is known as the father of medieval monasticism, which, in turn, has been heralded as the “preserver of Western civilization.” If not completely in the same way, Dreher is calling Christians today to the same task: withdrawal from the dominant culture in order to help preserve traditional Christianity.

As a true conservative, in the primary sense of that term, Dreher sees the BenOp as a needed strategy for conserving or preserving the true faith, keeping it from not only from being swallowed up by secular society but also from being perverted by liberal “Christians.”

A BRIEF EVALUATION OF THE BENEDICT OPTION
     I first became aware of the BenOp when I read the Winter 2017 issue of Plough, the quarterly publication of the Bruderhof. (See here for what I wrote about Plough elsewhere.) I was both attracted and repelled by what I read.

As a committed Anabaptist Christian, I agree with Ted Grimsrud, a notable Mennonite theologian, who wrote a long (29 pages!) four-part blog article about the BenOp: “I believe that Christians should always think in terms of living in countercultural communities and having a countercultural sensibility.

I also agree with Dreher’s strong rejection of the consumerism and hedonism rampant in Western society.

My main disagreement, though, is with regard to what he says about gay rights. Throughout much of the book (e.g., see pp. 179ff.) Dreher seems to assert that being Christian clearly means being anti-gay.

According to Dreher’s analysis, the present discrimination against or persecution of Christians—harsh treatment most likely to grow stronger in the future—is (or will be) primarily because of their refusal to countenance the full equality of gays/lesbians in society.

This aspect of the Benedict Option, however, which denies some people’s civil rights, is certainly neither good nor necessary.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Night at the Elms

The Elms Hotel and Spa in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, is about sixteen miles from where June and I live. Many times we have driven by the Elms but have never stayed there. That will soon change: we are about to spend a night at the Elms as so many others have over the past 130 years.
TRUMAN AT THE ELMS
The presidential election of 1948 was long ago, but it is still one that is widely known. Upon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, Vice President Harry Truman suddenly became the 33rd POTUS. He was relatively unknown when elected as V.P. and was quite unpopular during his first term.
Even though the incumbent, he was the definite underdog in 1948. It widely thought he would lose that election to Thomas Dewey, the flashy New York Governor.
According to David McCullough in his massive book Truman (1992), on the evening of the 1948 election, Truman and two of his aides “drove to Excelsior Springs, the little resort town across the Missouri [River] in Clay County, and checked into the Elms Hotel.”
This was “the same place Truman had escaped to sixteen years earlier, crushed by disappointment the night he learned he was not to be Tom Pendergast’s choice for governor.”
McCullough goes on to say,
The sprawling three-story stone-and-timber hotel was the latest of several that had occupied the site since mineral springs were discovered there in the 1880s. Its chief attractions were seclusion, peace, and quiet. Franklin Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, and Al Capone were all known to have escaped from public view at the Elms (p. 705).
It was while at the Elms that Truman learned he had won the election. The next day he posed for the iconic picture of him smiling broadly while holding the Chicago Tribune paper boldly declaring “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
THE WATERS AT THE ELMS
In the 1870s and 1880s there was a boom of resorts built to make it possible for people to “take the waters,” drinking and bathing in mineral water that supposedly had healing powers. Such resorts were built all over Missouri as well as in many other states.
Loring Bullard’s book Healing Waters: Missouri’s Historic Mineral Springs and Spas was published in 2004. “By all standards,” Bullard writes, “Excelsior Springs must be considered the state’s premier mineral water resort.” He goes on to say that “it is the only mineral water site still operating as a resort” (p. 133). And that is because of the Elms Hotel and Spa.
Excelsior Springs, now a town of some 11,500 people, has long billed itself as “American’s Haven of Health.” It became a town in 1881, a year following the discovery of natural spring water that was thought to have healing qualities.
The first Elms Hotel opened for business in 1888. After being destroyed by fire five years later, the second Elms Hotel was opened in 1909—only to be destroyed by fire the very next year. The current Elms hotel was built of native stone and opened in 1912—and has undergone many renovations since then.   
THE SEATS AT THE ELMS
For June and me, tomorrow (May 26) is our 60th sixtieth wedding anniversary. We are going to have a bigger celebration with our children and grandchildren in July. Just the two of us, though, are going to celebrate the actual date by spending a night at the Elms.
I don’t know how much we will “take the waters” at the Elms, but perhaps we will be able to reap some benefit there as we shoot for our 75th anniversary. (Is that too much for us to hope for, an anniversary celebration in 2032?)


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Honoring COs

Although largely unknown, May 15 each year is observed by some people/groups as International Conscientious Objectors Day (CO Day). So, this past Monday was a day honoring those who have resisted and those who continue to resist war.
THE ANABAPTIST TRADITION
The oldest consistent emphasis upon pacifism, non-violence, and non-participation in war is in the Anabaptist tradition, which started with the “Swiss Brethren” of Zurich, Switzerland, in 1525.
That tradition has been carried on mostly by the Mennonites, the followers of Menno Simons. He was a Dutch priest who was re-baptized and left the Catholic Church in 1536. Even a few years earlier Jakob Hutter became the leader of a smaller group that came to be known as the Hutterites.
In the late 1600s, Jakob Amman led a conservative breakaway from the main Anabaptist communities in Europe, and his followers came to be known as the Amish.
One primary commonality among these three groups was/is their pacifism and resistance to violence, based on their commitment to love of enemies as Jesus commanded. Through the years adherents in all three groups have known the story of Dirk Willems, who was imprisoned in the Netherlands for his Anabaptist beliefs.
During that winter, Willems was able to escape—but his absence was soon discovered and he was quickly chased by a guard. Willems ran across the frozen moat, but his heavier pursuer broke through the ice. Willems turned back and saved the man’s life—but then was re-captured. On May 16, 1569, he was burned at the stake. 
THE PEACE CHURCH TRADITION

Even though there was a long history of pacifism among Anabaptist Christians, there was no provision for conscientious objectors during World War I. As a result, two Hutterites who were committed to absolute pacifism became martyrs in 1918. (If you don’t know their tragic story, or would like to review it, click here to see my 11/30/14 blog article about them.)
Since 1935, three church groups have been termed historic peace churches. Those three are the Mennonites (including the Amish), the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and Church of the Brethren. During World War II, and since, members of those churches have been able to register as conscientious objectors and to be exempted from direct involvement in wartime violence.
It has not been so easy for people who were not members of a historic peace church or who objected only to a specific war—such as the war in Vietnam. (For more about this matter, see here for Thinking Friend Tom Nowlin’s lengthy and informative comments on my May 10 blog article.)
CARRYING ON THE CO TRADITION
Conscientious objectors (COs) have been active in countries other than the U.S. In fact, Peace Pledge Union (see here), a secular British group, and War Resisters International (click here) are leaders in the observance of International Conscientious Objectors Day.
This CO declaration appears on the latter’s website:
'War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war, and to strive for the removal of all causes of war'.
That is the sentiment behind the CO tradition—and it will continue to be emphasized this year.
On October 19-22, 2017, there will be a symposium on resistance and conscientious objection during WWI at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City. The theme is “Remembering Muted Voices: Conscience, Dissent, Resistance and Civil Liberties in World War I Through Today.” (For more information, click here.)
My church (Rainbow Mennonite Church) is supporting that symposium and will be displaying in our fellowship hall some of the materials from the symposium for a few days following its completion.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Watergate and "Russiagate"

The break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., occurred 45 years ago (in June 1972). As virtually everyone knows, repercussions of that single event led to President Nixon resigning in August 1974, prior to almost certain impeachment and removal from office.
THE WATERGATE COVER-UP
As is widely recognized, it was not the Watergate break-in itself that led to Nixon’s resignation. Rather, it was his attempt to cover-up that ultimately did him in. Barry Sassman was city news editor at The Washington Post during those years, and he called it “the great coverup”.
Sassman (b. 1934) authored The Great Coverup: Nixon and the Scandal of Watergate. It was named by the New York Times as one of the best books of 1974.
In that highly-regarded work, the author wrote, “It is sobering to realize just how reluctant Congress, including Democrats as well as Republicans, was to take action against the President. Congress acted only when an outraged public demanded it” (p. 298)
The impeachment process against Nixon wasn’t formally initiated until February 1974. On Feb. 6 the House passed a resolution giving its Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach the President primarily because of the Watergate scandal.
That investigation wasn't undertaken until a whole year after the Senate established a select committee to investigate the Watergate break-in and of the Nixon Administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement.
Impeachment is a long, drawn-out process.
IS THERE A RUSSIA COVER-UP?
Are there parallels between the actions of the Pres. Nixon and the current POTUS? There certainly seem to be some parallels, but at this point we don’t know to what extent.
Ironically, Pres. Trump tried to make a parallel between his predecessor and Nixon. On March 4, DJT tweeted, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
There has been no evidence found to support Trump’s charges—but there has been growing suspicion that he may be trying to cover up his connections with Russia and Russia’s influence on the 2016 election.
During his May 10 monologue, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel remarked, “When we said Trump should act more presidential, we probably should have specified–we didn’t mean Nixon.” This was the day following Trump’s sacking of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the FBI probe into Russian election meddling. 
IS THERE A CASE FOR IMPEACHMENT?
The second chapter of Allan J. Lichtman’s book The Case for Impeachment (April 2017) is “The Resignation of Richard Nixon: A Warning to Donald Trump.”
Lichtman (b. 1947) is a Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C. He gained considerable notice last year when he predicted that Trump would win the presidential election—in spite of all the polls suggesting otherwise. What made that prediction noteworthy was the fact that he had correctly predicted every winner of the Oval Office since 1984.
In the second chapter of his book, Lichtman points out that “Donald Trump exhibits the same tendencies that led Nixon to violate the most basic standards of morality and threaten the foundations of our democracy” (p. 21).
On May 12 Lichtman talked to Newsweek about Trump’s sudden firing of Comey. “The only parallel is Watergate, and this is much more serious,” Lichtman said. “What Trump is involved in is more serious because it involves a foreign power and the national security of the country.”
Is it now time for an outraged public, Republicans as well as Democrats, to speak up again as they did in 1974?

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Honoring Harry

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri, is a major tourist attraction in the Kansas City metropolitan area. This article was spawned partly because of June’s and my visit there on Monday, May 8.
REMEMBERING HARRY
Harry S. Truman was born on May 8 (in 1884), and that date is now celebrated as Truman Day, a state holiday. On Monday morning that special Missouri holiday was celebrated with ceremonies in the courtyard of the Truman Library where both Harry and his wife Bess are buried.  
Truman Library Institute photo taken on 5/8/17 (June and I are next to the last people on the right.)
Harry was born in Lamar, Mo., and although he lived there for less than a year, the house in which he was born is still maintained as the Harry S Truman Birthplace State Historic Site. It is a modest house, indicative of the middle-class roots of the man who became the 33rd POTUS.
The small town of Lamar is a little over 100 miles due south of Grandview (on the south side of Kansas City), the town nearest to where the Truman family moved in 1887 and where Harry lived from 1906 to 1917.
Harry was baptized in the Little Blue River in Kansas City in 1902 and in 1916 he joined the Grandview Baptist Church (as it was known then) and remained a member there the rest of his life—although for most of his life he attended very infrequently.
Truman helped finance a new building for the Grandview church, and he spoke at its dedication service in 1950. One Sunday morning many years ago, coincidentally on Pearl Harbor Day, I had the privilege of preaching in that church. Truman’s Bible, which he regularly read in the Oval Office, was on display in the foyer.
MIXED FEELINGS ABOUT HARRY
While I can understand the pressure Truman felt to use the atomic bombs he first learned about only after he became President in April 1945, and while I realize it is much easier to second-guess hard decisions in retrospect than to make those decisions looking forward, still I have serious doubts about the morality of his authorizing the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. The bombing of Nagasaki only three days after Hiroshima was bombed on August 6 is especially problematic.
Still, Truman is to be commended for firing General MacArthur and for refusing to escalate the Korean conflict even to the use of atomic weapons there. Truman did threaten to use atomic bombs in Korea, but he didn’t use them as MacArthur possibly would have.
Of many other things that might be said about Truman’s presidency, two are worthy of special note.
In November 1945, Truman proposed a national health insurance plan. Although it was never enacted, it did lead to Medicare. When President Johnson signed the Medicare bill into law at the Truman Library in July 1965, he said that it “all started really with the man from Independence.”
Truman also significantly furthered greater racial equality in the U.S. by issuing an executive order in July 1948 that desegregated the armed forces.
APPRECIATING HARRY
There is an enormous difference between Harry Truman and the current POTUS. While the latter campaigned as a populist candidate, it was Truman who was truly a “man of the people,” to use the title of the lengthy 1995 tome on Truman by Alonzo L. Hamby.
And after watching the HBO movie “Truman” (1995) on Sunday evening, I was also struck by the marked contrast between the honesty and integrity of the man from Missouri compared to the current POTUS.
It was an honor to be among the people who gathered on Monday to honor Harry on Truman Day.



Friday, May 5, 2017

The Gospel According to "Eve"

Wm. Paul Young, as perhaps most of you know, is the author of The Shack (2008), which was made into a movie by the same name and released earlier this year. Some of you may also remember the blog article I posted on the book/movie back in March (see here). Then in April, I read Young’s 2015 novel, Eve.
A FANTASY NOVEL
Eve is classified as a Christian fantasy novel. For some reason, though, I have never cared much for fantasy books, Christian or otherwise. I have not read the highly acclaimed fantasy fiction of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien, although some of my children and grandchildren have greatly enjoyed their books of fantasy.  
An online dictionary defines fantasy as “the faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.” Maybe that is my problem: I just don’t have enough imagination to enjoy fantasy. At least that was my main problem in reading Eve.
Looking at the reviews of Eve on Goodreads.com was interesting (see here). Some readers gave it five stars and praised the book. Others gave it one star. One such person is Megz, a young white woman in South Africa. She is a fan of The Shack, she said, but then stated bluntly, “I don’t have a nice way of starting this review: I hated this book.”
I certainly didn’t hate it—but I had trouble appreciating the fantasy.
SOME FANTASTIC STATEMENTS
While I had trouble with much of the fantastic (= “imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality”) parts of the book, which was most of it, I was, nevertheless, impressed with some fantastic (= “extraordinarily good or attractive”) statements in it. Here are some examples.
Near the end of the book Eve says, “Perhaps this desire to reach out to the other [to Adam in her case], to make amends and repair loss, to build a bridge and heal, is a part of God’s maternal being that is in all of us” (p. 282).
One theme of the book is human freedom, which includes being able to make bad choices. In that regard, Eve says, “I have learned that God has more respect for me than I do for myself, that God submits to the choices I make, that my ability to say no and turn my face away is essential for Love to be Love.
Eve then goes on to state,
Adonai has never hidden His face from me, nor has He kept from me the consequences of my choosing. That is why many of my sons and my daughters curse the face and name of God. But God refuses to be like what we have become and take power and dominion. He has the audacity to consent and even submit to all our choosing. Then He joins us in the darkness we create because of all our turning (p. 283). 
A THEOLOGICAL NOVEL
There are some appealing theological aspects to Eve. As in The Shack, the feminine aspects of God, whom (because of his strong Trinitarian ideas) Young regularly refers to with plural pronouns, are highlighted. That maternal side of God is also portrayed as a part of all humans, made in the image of God.
God allows human freedom, as mentioned above, even when that leads to turning away from God. But they (God as the plural Trinity) still love unconditionally those who turn (sinners), and they are very eager to embrace all those who re-turn.
Another Goodreads reviewer, Rhonda in Virginia, wrote, “This book caused me to think deeply about my own brokenness.” Perhaps it also helped her, and others, to see the gospel (good news) according to Eve: God’s love is always available for the healing of every broken person.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

An Ethical Analysis of DJT’s First 100 Days

As has been widely covered in the news media, yesterday was the 100th day since the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America. What can be said about these 100 days from the standpoint of ethics and religious faith?
SEPARATING ETHICS/RELIGION AND POLITICS
One of my good friends from way back recently sent me an email with this candid statement: “I do wish you were a bit less hard on the Right & Republicans, but I realize we are all partial.”
Here is part of my response:
To the best of my ability, I write what I do because of my Christian faith not because of any political affiliation. And if I am partial, it is, I hope, partiality to the teachings of Jesus. If I am hard on the Right & Republicans it is because of what seems to me to be their words and/or actions that contradict the teaching (and the spirit or Spirit) of Jesus.
It is in that vein that I have sought to make an ethical analysis of DJT’s first 100 days in office—and on May 12 I am scheduled to give a talk and lead a discussion on that topic at the regular meeting of a group known as Provocateurs and Peacemakers. (Here is the link to a promo for that meeting.)  
SOME OF MY MAIN POINTS


Obviously, I can’t write in 600 words here all that I will have from 60 to 90 minutes to present on May 12, so I have selected only a few points that I plan to emphasize in my upcoming (and as yet unfinished) talk.
There are many specific questionable ethical statements/actions of DJT that could be mentioned, but here I will just indicate some of the general or catch-all issues:
1) In the realm of personal ethics, DJT’s propensity for telling falsehoods is a major problem. From his statements on Day 2 about the size of the inauguration crowd, outright lies or misleading statements have been numerous, and troubling, throughout his first 100 days in office.
2) DJT’s (and his children’s) use of his (their) position to make money for the Trump family also seems highly unethical. His (their) trips almost every weekend to his privately owned resort and his conducting official business and entertaining heads of other nations there further raises serious ethical questions.
3) This month, DJT’s launching Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian air base and dropping a MOAB on Afghanistan as a show of power is ethically questionable and potentially dangerous. Those bombings had little apparent effect in Syria or Afghanistan. Their use, however, perhaps encourages Kim Jong-un to use his weapons against the U.S. before missiles or bombs are preemptively used against North Korea.
4) There are also ethical questions about several other matters: for example, his proposed budget, his support of repealing the ACA without a suitable replacement, and his proposed ban on visitors from Muslim countries and refusal to accept refugees from Syria.
5) There are also problems with his various actions that dismantle protection of the environment. In the long term, failure to protect the environment may be one his greatest ethical errors.
ONE OF MY MAIN HOPES
From what DJT has said and done in these past 100 days, it is hard to be hopeful that things will get better in the months and years ahead. But there has, thankfully, been softening of some positions which seemed to be ethically questionable.
My main hope is that the widespread resistance to and protests against the many unethical positions of DJT will continue, and will become even more effective. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What about Blue Ocean Faith?

While some of you may have heard of it already, perhaps most of you haven’t previously heard about the Blue Ocean Network. A few of you may have seen my friend Bill Tammeus’s recent “Faith Matters” blog article titled “Diving into ‘Blue Ocean Faith’,” but allow me to tell you more about it.
LEARNING ABOUT BLUE OCEAN FAITH
Last year on April 10 I made this entry in my diary/journal: “Interesting Sunday School class with a video of a talk by Rachel Murr. Learned about the Blue Ocean church movement for the first time.” Ms. Murr is a member of Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor, a church in Michigan. Her partner, Emily Swan, is co-pastor of that church.
This month I have read the new book titled Blue Ocean Faith. It is a compelling work written by Dave Schmelzer, a former atheist who in 1998 became the founding pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Cambridge, which grew into a large church—and eventually changed its name to Reservoir Church.
That church, near Harvard University, formed the Blue Ocean Network. In 2013 Reservoir Church left the Association of Vineyard Churches—and Schmelzer (b. 1962) and his wife Grace, who is his co-pastor, left to start a Blue Ocean church in Los Angeles.
The website of the latter says their church seeks to be alive in God, diverse, inclusive, politically nuanced, and attractive & comprehensible (to non-churchgoing people.) Good stuff.
The name of this new movement seems to have come from the book Blue Ocean Strategy (2005), which is about economics not about religion. But that book, as well as Schmelzer’s movement, is about connection rather than competition (which causes a “red," as in bloody, ocean), and about dynamic movement rather than boundaries. (More about the latter shortly.) 
DISTINCTIVES OF BLUE OCEAN FAITH
There are eight chapters in Schmelzer’s book, and chapters two through seven set forth the six distinctives of Blue Ocean Faith. They are:
1) Our primary framework is SOLUS JESUS.
2) Our primary metaphor is CENTERED-SET.
3) Our approach to spiritual development is CHILDLIKE FAITH.
4) Our approach to controversial issues is THIRD WAY.
5) Our approach to other churches is ECUMENICAL.
6) Our approach to secular culture is JOYFUL ENGAGEMENT.
All six of these deserve careful consideration, but it was the second of these that I found most instructive, so let’s look at it a bit more.
UNBOUNDED BLUE OCEAN FAITH
Schmelzer contrasts “bounded set” mentality with “centered set” mentality. The former draws a circle that separates those who are “in” from those who are “out.” The latter emphasizes a center but no boundaries. Rather, there is constant dynamic movement toward or away from the center.
This illustration shows those contrasting viewpoints: 

(This is not the illustration in Schmelzer’s book, although it is nearly the same. The only difference is that at the center of Schmelzer’s centered set is a cross rather than the target labeled “God.” I like this image better, and one of my few criticisms of Blue Ocean Faith is the emphasis on “solus Jesus” rather than upon “solus Christus”—in the broadest sense of a “cosmic Christ,” not as articulated in the Protestant Reformation.)

Blue Ocean seems to be a very attractive new Christian movement, which I hope will grow and become increasingly influential. Its distinctives could, with intentional effort, be incorporated into churches of most any denomination—and I pray that that will be increasingly done.